I’ve changed the dynamic in the greenhouse these days by moving the little hens out of the teenager house and into the big coop. Every night I reach into the teenager house, gropw around and pull out the four hens and Yin and Yang, put them in the big coop and leave the roosters.
Hopefully they’ll learn to go in the big coop by themselves soon. Then I leave the roosters locked up until last in the morning, after the hens have had priority seating at breakfast. The boys have an entirely different attitude, now that most of the birds are already about their business when they come out. They don’t act so important.Yin and Yang and a young white hen aren’t sure about how to get out of the coop in the morning either.Mushroom run! She’s got a mushroom and just wants to eat it in peace. (The lads are still locked up in the frat house there) A few guineas on their fave hay tower.
Brown Bonnet is outside now, in the Chickery 2.0. She already has an avid suitor. I’ll be your baby daddy!
At night she goes in the box with the brood, and we close the box and carry it into the house, and then back in the morning. The chicks are still so little, I don’t want it to be too much of a strain on her to keep them warm.They’re under her here, but all you can see are a couple little feet sticking out.
Jack, the former Oreo, is not popular with the ladies. I was hopeful he’d be the next boss rooster, but he’s not turning out well. First he mounted the hens backwards (cue hen eye-rolling). Once he figured out his directions, the hens indulged him for a while. I hoped the daily rampage around the greenhouse first thing in the morning was a hormonal phase he’d grow out of.
Well, that’s over. Most of the hens have cut him off. I think this is hilarious. Since it’s all done with body language, it’s strongly reminiscent of the pick-up scene in a bar.
The Brahmas are having none of him. They meet his aggression with a solid un-intimidated square off. Think again, punk!!!
Think you’re hot stuff? I got a neck ruff too. I can take you. Peck me again, I dare ya!
They’re a tough audience. How you doin!?
I knew you when you were an egg. Keep it moving.
Then he usually tries some conciliatory dancing. Dancing before mating is a desirable behaviour of roosters. It signals to the hen his intentions and gives them time to decide, and respond. It’s not a very impressive performance, objectively. It entails fanning one wing, sort of dragging it and doing a quick pattering sidestep around or toward the intended.
Hey baby, I just think you’re hot, ya know, we got off on the wrong foot there, can we start over?
And boy do they respond:
Too little too late, buckaroo. Take your sweet moves elsewhere, you’re getting the laser glare!
(These are actually different hens, which makes it even funnier). Now cowed, he’s going for the meek approach, the sidestep. Hey Sugar. You know I used to be really something. I was even twice voted Cock of the Walk, eh, eh?
Do I look impressed? This is my impressed face.
Hey, if you’re not busy later, I thought maybe you and me could….
Talk to the beak.
….ok, ok, I get the picture, I’ll just…go get some corn.
The Brahmas just stare him down, hold their ground, flare ruffs or peck back, if it comes to that. He never wins a glare down.
With the smaller, springier and quicker layer hens, I don’t get to capture the action, but it’s no less funny. They jump in the air at him, stretch their necks tall and flash neck ruffs like lizards, and the rage just shoots from their eyes. How DARE you!
Sometimes he’ll use his weight and sneak attack a layer hen, jumping on her while she’s busy eating, and then (hell hath no fury), she’ll bounce up and peck him, and squawk! and then chase HIM around the room shrieking in a froth of indignation. Hilarious! Like He just grabbed my butt! Did you see that!? The nerve! And don’t show your comb here again, creep!
They also get increasingly irritated, like women who start with a polite no thanks, and it quickly escalates to F off and die, a-hole! when the guy can’t take a hint and keeps following them around, grabbing. The rooster’s lurking around Maybe now she’ll be in the mood, I’ll surprise her on the other side of this hay bale… and the hen is all You again? Not if you were the last rooster in the coop, jerk!
Unwanted mating rarely goes unretaliated. Either the hen delivers furious payback, or the deputy (Silkie roo) will come in, flying dropkick style, to hit the offending rooster, and knock him off, and then he does the chasing.
The Colonel and the Deputy are still the wingmen for the entire layer hen flock, although the Colonel only mates his own. The deputy mounts the red hens, which is a bit weird, considering the size differential. The Brahmas recognize no male authority, and the other young hens are still deciding and/or developing their self-esteem. Sometimes they refuse applicants, sometimes not.
There’s a cheeping box in the house! It’s a big box, big enough to have an inner box cave, where the chicks like to hang out in the dark all day.Three little chicks:)
This one is Brownie, HW’s favorite, who was hatched first, with a little help. This is the most vigorous and adventurous chick, but oddly, it’s been getting pasted butt. I’ve never known a hen-raised chick to get pasted butt. I thought the mother hen was proof against it somehow. While I was gone HW was washing chick butts (he really likes this chick), and today I had the pleasure. It’s a lifesaving necessity for pasted butt.
It takes a while to gently soak and wash, and mama freaked out a bit at the absence of her first-hatched. She jumped up on the side of the box, then thought better of the mission and hopped back down in.Lowering Brownie back in.
Whoa, this guy has grown up! I didn’t recognize him for a beat. When I left he was a teenager.These two think well of themselves. No self-esteem issues here.
The Brahmas persist in using the roof of the chickery as a hangout spot, and they’ve had some friends join them. (Snow White and the dwarves were reinstalled in protective confinement in my absence- they sleep in the covered wagon now inside the chickery)Another rooster doing his best guinea impression. Very few chickens are interested in perching so high (6′).The inseparables, Yin and Yang, who seems like only yesterday got their pants, but now look like complete chickens, only miniature. They’re almost always right side by side. And they like to sit up on a hay bale.
Now the snow and ice has socked the birds into the greenhouse, but in the salad days of the shoulder season when they were confined but had a yard, there were adventures.They really loved the pine tree. The Silkies loved the pine tree. And this one loved the pine tree. She was always going a branch higher, or creeping out along the branch.And got really clever about walking along the branch out of the needles of the pine tree, to a viewpoint.I came out and found this, I’m like “What are you doing out there!?”
Oh, am I in trouble? When I made noises and gestures at her she demonstrated her side stepping skills and scuttled back down the branch to the trunk. I was just here all along! She’s going to grow up to be an interesting hen. She’s clever, and not a joiner.
That explained the mystery of how hens were sometimes escaping from their yard, though. They were getting out where the mesh didn’t enclose the tree.
Note white chick behind screen door middle lower left. It’s crazy out there right now. I’m safe behind here. We like this side.Or maybe this side. You put these sticks here for us, right? (I didn’t. I set them there and turned away.)Guineas maximizing their perching under the canopy.
The Silkie chicks are in their semi-independent stage (now they have pants). They aren’t always with Mom, but they are always together. The Chanticleer teenagers are now very large, still growing every day, and coming into their gender. White one on the left is the fastest developing roo, and he is refining his crow. So far he sounds like Frankenstein laughing with marbles in his mouth. The guineas on the header. And experimenting with their special sticks (they do roost on their sticks most nights. The Silkie pre-teens sunbathing. The hens are enjoying their designated dust bath. Note the approaching teenager – Oh, I might get in here… getting rebuffed- Snarl! No you won’t! That hen wants it all to herself.She’ll share it with a guinea hen though. It’s so cute when they share. There’s the keet right by the door and plywood, up on the hay bale. Usually all the Brahmas stand on top of the chickery, most of the day.
Haybale sunbathe! On the ground sunbathe…What’s in the bucket?There’s the chicks. Alas, the brown one was lost. Two healthy white chicks. The Oreo hen chilling under the coop.Guineas chilling behind her. There’s fleece jacket, feathering up magnificently. She never goes outside, preferring to stay warm. Her fleece jacket must agree with her. But the black really shows the dirt!
Doesn’t she look proud of herself? All fluffed up. Grrrr! She really puffs up when you poke her, but I want to see who’s under her?Who’s under there?There they are! This is how you clean your beak, kids. No one’s looking.
Settling on the brown chick.We don’t need a nap!Well, maybe a nap, it’s cozy in there.
I have two broody hens. Why. Why now? Anyway, a broody hen is about the stubbornest thing there is, so all I can do is give them eggs, see what they can do. Maybe they change their minds when it gets colder.
The chickery is a duplex again, with the Oreo’s mom (white) and one of the Heathers, each with a box, sharing the “yard” and snack bar. I covered the chickery with canvas, I was thinking to reduce light and distraction, and especially reduce the chance of birds falling in, because all the birds like to perch on the edge of the chickery. They switch boxes multiple times a day. They come out to eat, or poop, and then the other hen comes out, and the first one back gets on the first eggs she sees. This used to provoke very loud outrage, but now they’ve both learned to just go find the other box, and so far they are pretty responsible. Snow White’s a proven mama, she raised the Oreos (now gigantic and disrepectful).
In the morning you always have to check on the chicks. They can get in trouble, get stuck in the coop, whathaveyou. They’re creative.
This morning one guinea chick was gone, no body, no ideas:( Now the last keet has no little friends to grow up with. And the white Silkie chick was MIA too. I went hunting in the small coop, yep, she was in there, in the corner, and I poked her, and she came scampering out.
Covered in shit.
Her mom just looked at her as she ran by. I don’t know how hens can be so expressive. They’re masters of body language. Like, what have you done NOW? and/or That’s gonna get all over my feathers when I have to sit on you!
This chick took a direct hit between the shoulders. A big, wet poop. I can’t say I’ve ever had to deal with this before.
It was time for a washing.
I thought I could get some water and a washcloth and wipe her down, but now, it was beyond wiping. It was all under her wings, down her back, dripping down sides. Pretty much only her head was clean. She got a thorough bathing, and because their feathers are yellow when wet, I wasn’t sure she was really clean.
She enjoyed the bathing, by the way, nice, warm water. So then I thought I’ll let her run back to mom and mom will sit on her until she’s dry and warm again, right?
So she runs, shivering, and then mama is reluctant to settle on her. The little chick is huddling, and standing on tiptoes, trying to push herself up into her fluff, crying, but she wasn’t getting the warming she needed.
Plan B then. I grabbed her up, stuck her in a pocket (it’s so automatic now. I can stick a chick, or several, in a pouch or pocket, or down my shirt, and they instantly go quiet – dark and warm? No further questions). It’s when they have a head out and can see what’s happening they cheep like the sky is falling.
I brought her back to the house, wrapped her in a washcloth, and stuck her under the covers with HW (Huh? What? I hear a chick…). He didn’t object to the excuse to stay in bed.
There was some mild, curious cheeping for a bit: I say, this seems irregular. Not that I’m complaining, mind you!
Then the chick conked out for a long nap. Very long. Very quiet.
Eventually she wiggled out of the washcloth and went for an exploratory crawl with her little talons (Hey! Ouch!). She came out fluffy as anything, and passed the sniff test, so I returned her to mom in the greenhouse, who also smelled her!
HW (skeptical): How do you know that she smelled her?
Me: Oh I know a smelling when I see one. She leaned over, beak an inch away, and then was satisfied and resumed her business. It was a sniffing.
Spent the day redoing the emergency windstorm work to rights (baseboard, bolts, adjusting all plastic- no small job), and installing everyone in the greenhouse. Alas, one tiny guinea chick was found dead in the morning, possibly of exposure. It was cold, but still – odd to keel over in the GH, mom right there.
The two broody Silkie hens co-hatched two chicks. What with all the competition and apartment swapping, there is no apparent parentage of the two new chicks. Even the hens don’t seem to be clear. I installed both of them in the chickery with a broody box and new eggs. This is for their comfort, for protection from the amorous roosters (How I have longed for you!), and the teenagers who pile in at night. No one wants teenagers around, even your own.
Broody hens are so funny, they act like it’s Christmas when you give them eggs. Eggs?! You shouldn’t have! Cluck cluck cluck, and they settle right on, like they’re slipping into a warm bath.She’s been sitting on eggs more than a month, and she’s still thrilled about it.
The cohabitation seems to be great for the chicks. One mom seems pretty into mothering, but the chicks can go in the box anytime to second mom for a warming, which they do. I think I’ll have a nap with you now.Especially when Mom A is getting down in the dirt bath. We’ll leave you to it. We’ll be in here.They all pile in the box at night. TOO cute!
Before I took their box away, the teens were playing house in it:
The guinea chicks are so tiny, smaller than the Silkie chicks, perfectly camouflaged, and slippery. After the morning death, I was keeping a close eye and an ear open for their car alarm cheeping, and sure enough, one slipped under the baseboard. There it is outside on the wrong side of the plastic. Mom tried to give me a good thumping through the plastic.
The greenhouse is chaotic and messy. I strew hay bales around for them to distribute, make it less of a mud hole. They love a good hay bale.
It was a stressful day, because it was beautiful outside, and all the teens were determined to get outside in it, and were sneaky and extremely clever about slipping out behind me. I’d herd two back in and three would come shooting out. But there were no attacks, and I got everyone back in the GH eventually.
Late in the day, Mama got out with her chicks! I didn’t see how. The guineas all seemed to be fixing to roost at large, so it was time for another chicknapping.
Then all the other guineas trooped in.
Mama found a real nice spot in the corner of the bales to bed down.She has a very interested observer.
Guinea update: they did all survive the night, and again skipped dinner (thus not giving me the opportunity to attempt to trap them again) and went to roost where they did night before last, which they also survived. So I’m just moving the GH as fast as I can to put them in it.
It will still take awhile. I’m interested to see whether it will take longer to take it down and then put it up again than it did for me to put it up in the first place. If it were a house, then it’s always faster to just build a new one. I’m thinking the GH could be faster to move than it was to build new, but we shall see. I’m also weaker and less healthy than I was the first time.
I was in there half the day ripping it out, which meant a party of epic magnitude for the young chickens that live in there, the kegger that will not be forgot.
They were always underfoot, interested in the volume of green mass I was dropping to the ground, and the climbing and rummaging and scratching was such as had never been seen before. So good the room was mostly silent, with all the chicks individually occupied throughout. They know every inch of the GH, it is their whole world, so change must be very interesting to them.
Come dusk, I was still working, so I got to see the goings in. I’ve been stuffing the chicks in the coop every night, and although there’s plenty of room, they squabble all night. What the?
So I tried something new. I tacked up cardboard, dividing the coop into apartment A and B, and I put a hen in each one. One (mud head) is legitimately broody, I can’t tell if the other one is for real, but she’s acting as if.
As it got dark, the Chanticleer chicks went to bed first, and they all came along one at a time, long-necking and then hopping up in with Mom.
Or two at a time.
This one chose wrong. And tentatively settled in.
And then, RRTROWWR! She came bursting out, having been forcibly ejected by the resident hen. So she‘s been the nighttime rabblerouser; she doesn’t like the chicks of another colour.
The Chanticleers eventually all loaded in, to the right apartment.It’s very cozy in there. I don’t know how they do it.
That left the Silkies out, who much later started to think about bed, and went trouping around, looking like they might consider the possibility that they might sleep somewhere other than a pile in the corner.
I spent some time trying to marshal them towards the coop, and grabbed a couple and tossed them into Apt A, but they kept missing it, and going around it, then going under it, and a few hopped in on their own, yay! Definite progress.
But I could’ve almost sworn I saw a white one dart into Apt B, which is already suffering overcrowding. I groped around but couldn’t find her, until I took a picture.Aha! Lower right, the couchsurfer.
I have some confidence that they will all go to bed tomorrow, or definitely the next night. Unless the hens decide to switch apartments.
Having a mud bath late afternoon at this time of year? It’s not that warm. They’re into it, though.And after a good restful mud flop, it’s time to go ruffle up one’s hay bed.And then get food stuck in your forehead hair. The Colonel got into the greenhouse today, laid down the law. I left the door ajar while I was cleaning coops, and then there was a kerfuffle inside, and then there was a bigger kerfuffle outside, as the Deputy seized the moment and tried to seize the Colonel’s hens while he was otherwise occupied.
Funny, I tried and tried to get the Colonel to go in the greenhouse a month ago and fertilize the GH hens, but he wasn’t having it then.
Back to coop training: Well, that looks exactly like yesterday. The Silkie chicks are all This is what we do, we huddle up in a pile on the floor, and the Chantis are cramming themselves in the broody box. I’m sure Mom loves that. She’s still got her mud dreads, I see.
Maybe it has something to do with these little scamps.
It’s also a mystery why they enjoy pepper leaves so much. They must be sweet. The hot pepper plants don’t get defoliated (the eggplant leaves are ragged too). Doesn’t bother me. They leave the peppers alone, and the plants will be out soon anyway.
There are 12 chicks in the GH, with two Silkie moms. They have they’re hands (beaks?) full.
They’re at this point where the Silkie chicks (coming into fluffy tails), are the same size as the Chanticleer babies, who are eventually going to be huge.
There´s a tribe of chicks in the greenhouse. One mom has 5 Chanticleer chicks, and the other has seven Silkies.
They never shut up! PeeppeeppeepPEEPpeeppeeppeepPEEPpeep. Wow. I don´t know how the Moms handle it, unless lots of it is inter-chick chatting that they can tune out.
Otherwise, it´s Mom, Mom, Mom! MOM, Hey Mom, Look at this Mom, Hey Mom can I eat this? What about this? What´s this Mom? Look what I found Mom, Look at me Mom, I flapped! See how fast I can run? Watch this, Mom!
All. Day. Long.
The Silkies are a week older than the Chantis, so they´re all the same size (so far). The Silkies are already entering their scruffball transition from fluff to feathers. There’s three white and four brown.
Most of these chicks I’ve never even touched. They´re going to be the wildest bunch yet. They were born in a box with an open door, and Mom’s been totally in charge from day 1. I don´t even see them every day.
But boy do I hear them.
They’re all so happy and safe in there, savaging the low-hanging tomatoes, rearranging my mulch, tasting stuff. It’s a rooster-free zone. One Silkie rooster is wont to stand looking in the screen door, fantasizing.
The pigs are rooting. I give them a nice new grassy area that looks like a green pig paradise for about an hour. They like to customize their environment, which means turning over every inch of sod. Very diligent workers. And fast.
What have we here? A pile of chicks trying to perch like grownups on the coop, next to mom.
But look closer. Who’s that IN the greenhouse? I don’t know how the F they got in there, maybe the gap above the screendoor?, but there were three little guineas on the door header on the wrong side. Frantic!
I get involved, scare them off the door, thinking they’ll come out the open door after they’re on the ground. Nyoooo! Mom is on the ground now too, so they run towards her and out of my sight behind the cucumbers.
Mom can see them running back and forth through the plastic and starts pecking at them. Naughty! Get out of there! Chicks: We can’t, we can’t!
The plastic is like the skin of a drum, and her pecking it is frightening the daylights out of the chicks. Boom! Boom! It’s frightening me too.
HW swings around outside to get Mom to cease and desist, I undo the wiggle wire on that corner, and after rattling the cucumber vines, the chicks come popping out the hole and it’s all over but the storytelling.
The wild Oreos and their fluffy stepmom no longer slip under the fence into Pigland but are content in the partially desertified former Pigland. They tower over mom now. One is coming into slate shingle colouring, and the other has developed coppery neck feathers.
The light is shortening, and it’s that glorious time of year when when the chickens feel like going to bed lines up with when I want to go to bed. Midsummer is awful. The chickens outlast me every day. I’ll be so tired I’m struggling to stay awake long enough to close them up, because they’re out there hopping around! Not a care in the world! SO not ready for bed. Today, I’m like, What? Are you guys seriously all in bed at 8:20!? I could weep with joy.
Inside the greenhouse Brown Bonnet is proudly bringing up 7 chicks.
These chicks have a different start because instead of chickery time, when they first emerged I lifted her box out of the fence because she was sharing, and trusted mama not to lose any chicks in the jungle.
Funny, the first three days, she barely went two feet from the box. Now she’s using half of the tomato aisle as the chicks increase in ability. Soon they will be anywhere, and I’ll think twice about slinging buckets of water.
At night they all go back in the box to sleep, which is adorable. They are going to be so wild, never getting the daily airlift touching.
It´s a HOT day. (30C, haha!) No one has much energy, including me. It´s hard to move quickly or remember things.
The hens are rolled on their sides with their wings spread like fans and legs stuck out at anatomically improbable angles.
The Colonel usually doesn´t let down his hair like this.
The pigs just sleep in their wallow when it’s this hot, and they get two deliveries of water poured over their backs. They are very happy with their last move – more buckthorn forest to laze around in.
I’ve got another broody hen, so now the eggery is a duplex.
The first broody – the most tolerant little girl who was keeping the orphan guinea warm for a few days (that little keet expired after all) – is due any day, if she was successful. Her attachment to a daily meal may have left her eggs cold for too long.
I haven’t really thought through the extra occupation of the the chickery, but I’ll probably release the first set of chicks into the greenhouse jungle when they come.
The new broody is the biggest of all the silkie hens; she’s easily covering 9 eggs.
The first broody has stuck to her daily break time throughout her term- a new quirk, and the box inside the chickery has worked perfectly. She comes out, eats, poops, and then creeps back into her box, talking to her eggs the whole time, which is adorable. I’m coming back…here I am.
Now they are scampering around outside with the big flock wearing proper wings and tails and surely thinking they are all grown up, but when they were merely days old…
I was working in the greenhouse, the Chickery was in there with me because the chicks were brand new (they have a few chickery days in the greenhouse before going outside), and the Blondies and their mom were rummaging around in it, as they do.
I noticed she seemed to be digging with unusually single-minded determination in one corner.
I looked in on them once and she had dug a hole. I thought, any minute, a chick is going to be able to slip out of there.
Before I turned away, one did.
When she would pause her digging efforts, a chick would dive in to see if there was anything interesting in the hole, and retreat when dirt started flying again.
Once all the chicks were popping in and out like electrons, I decided it was time for them to go outside.
I popped a box over top of Mom (highly offended noises), lifted the chickery off and wrestled it outside while the chicks cheeped in the corner.
Then I grabbed the chicks and introduced them to grass. Then I went back to the grumbling, rattling box, and returned mom to the chicks.
I think, maybe once, this mom and the Blondies got put to bed in the box. As soon as I put the chickery outside, it started raining, so I turned them loose in the greenhouse, which they love, for the rain days.
But here they are, as dusk falls, all in the box. This is where we sleep.
I wish I could have seen how that went down. OK, kids, time to get in the box! That´s quite a jump.
And then, in the morning, they´re all out of the box and back to work!
To the tomato forest!
They love the tomato forest. So much mulch to kick around.
I turfed them all out into the big world, though, because it was too hot in the greenhouse. Even though they were all hiding under a squash leaf.
They got readmitted late afternoon, and tonight, they´re all back in the box!
They were just standing in the shade together for a few minutes, while the other Silkies dust bathed on the other side of the tree.
Granny even offered a little grooming.
Granny is doing extremely well. I thought she was on her way out a while ago, but since the hens all moved outside for the summer, she´s been toddling around with the best of them. I think she can´t see as sharp; she doesn´t bounce out of the way like the others and you have to not step on her.
No one expresses the joy of summer quite like the Silkies. They sunbathe hard.
A bunch of white snowballs wriggling in the dirt or spread out flat like they´ve deflated.
Or for variety, going for a hike.
Sometimes the red hens get right in there too for a bath.
What I wonder is, songbirds take exuberant baths in puddles all the time. Chickens are birds. Why don´t they like the water?
The biggest Silkie news is that the oil of oregano treatment is totally the cure for Scaly Leg Mite! So exciting! I´ve got a few drops of oil of oregano in a bottle, and I shake that vigorously, and pour some of the mix in their water dish, not even every day, just enough to get a bit of a rainbow on their water. Their legs and feet are obviously so much better, although I haven´t been doing Vaseline treatments. Just the oil of oregano, or OOO, as I call it. I´ve got plenty around for human health; now recommended for chicken feet health. The layer hens have entirely cleared up – their feet look so good now, and I´m sure the Brahmas will respond too.
Another hen is boxed, with more pretty blue eggs. Broody 2, 2017. I have a special variety of hairless chicken that seems to go broody first. I don´t know if broodiness goes with molting or not – do they need the long break of setting to reset themselves and regrow after a molt?
Hens are usually pleased to go in the box, and get their private trough. This one is just attacking the food. I of course provide a buffet during their confinement; in the wild they would be able to pop out for a snack when they got peckish but not so in the box.
There is an important rule though: Thou shalt know the difference between sloth and broodiness.
They might be doing this:
They might be in there all day. They might slam their wings down and growl if you try to take eggs, but they may not be broody. They might be laying an egg, or just thinking about it.
I was impatient to set someone on eggs and boxed one I thought was broody – she was NOT. She was pleased at first with the snack, but upon finding herself trapped, she loudly registered her outrage, drawing the Colonel to pace at the screen door, and effected a dramatic eruption out of the box, after kicking all the eggs around. A broody will be thrilled to have eggs, and keep them in a tidy group.
So I´m waiting for one to turn. They´re just having too much fun outdoors right now to think about motherhood.
This is from a month ago, May 1, but I was so demoralized by how the day ended that I didn’t finish posting. Until now.
The chickens no longer live in the greenhouse, and it’s time for the green things to go in. I got in there with the broadfork, breaking up the rows. Tomatoes first, against the north wall.
After having all the birds wintering in the “chicken dome”, the soil looks, well, awful. It looks compacted and desiccated. It would have fooled me. But that´s not the case.
The top quarter inch or so is dry, and compacted. When I crack it with the broadfork, that top crust breaks up in scales, and right underneath, the ground is wet as anything, no harder than anywhere outside where chickens haven´t been trampling, and so very full of worms.
Really big worms.
So the hens got very excited. They were following right on my fork, poking their heads down into the holes to fish out worms, and vigorously scratching up the flakes of crust. They were feasting.
Until I decided they were being a little too hard on the worms, who didn´t have a fair chance, and I evicted the chickens.
I hung up a sheet of row cover (if there´s anything else around I use for so many things it wasn´t intended for, I don´t know) the length of the greenhouse to wall off the side I was working on from the side I wasn´t going to get to today. The birds can play on that side.
I let one chicken stay with me – my favorite low chicken.
She can use some extra worms. She was actually perturbed at being alone with the others on the other side of the cloth (they could see each other through it), but she was consoled by the worms.
You see, it was a rainy day. A drizzly morning, forecasted to be a thundering downpour day, so I didn´t have the heart to shut my birds out of the greenhouse to crowd, disgruntled and soggy, under their coops.
As it got wetter, the birds steadily found their way into the vast shelter of the greenhouse.
Inside, I kept working, attended by low chicken, while the rain drummed on the plastic and the birds all trickled in, chirruping and shaking off, pleased to be let back into the greenhouse.
It was really very cool to spend all day with my birds. It´s nice to listen to them chat, complain, brag; I could peek over and see what they´re up to.
They´re always doing something funny: piling up on the hay sacks, trying to have a bath in the roots of the fig tree (naughty!)
Planting the tomatoes out is a big day.
From past experience, I just break up the ground a bit with the broadfork, and plant directly into the ground as is. No turning! After I drew the rows with the broadfork, it was time to plug tomatoes.
Here´s where I found out how well my newspaper pots made out: the answer- excellently.
I tore off the top ring where I had written in Sharpie the kind of tomato, and left that by or around the plant as a marker. Then I tore off the rest of the paper and was left holding a tall root ball.
On the other side of the wall, the chickens had the time of their life shredding all that scrap newspaper that I´d put in a box, and littering it all over the room, the scamps.
Chickens, I´ve observed, spend a lot of time lounging. Most of the afternoon is devoted to sunbathing, dirt bathing, combing their feathers, or napping. On this rain day, they were piled up, murmuring, dropping their heads for a nap or settling right down into sleep pancakes. Others would be active, picking at something – they never all fall asleep at once, but it seems like someone´s always contentedly napping in the afternoon.
At the end of the day, tired, with 70 tomatoes and a few pepper plants planted, I turned in. It was still pouring rain and the chickens were awake, so I just them in the greenhouse. There´d been no attempts on the wall, or breaches, so I was confident.
I was working on this post, before going out to close them up. There had also been a surge in squawking I was wondering about. …
The wall was breached- one end down, and every single tomato plant was defoliated- not a leaf left! Just a roomful of puny green stems. A couple of hens not gone to bed yet, finishing off the devastation. Next time you can get wet, you ingrates!
Before I went to bed I planted some more tomato seeds, but to say it was a major loss is a major understatement. I had some spare plants, but not an entire spare crop. I was NOT HAPPY. Completely defeated, more like.
As it turned out, despite the significant trauma of being beheaded, the same day as transplanted, almost all the tomatoes survived. Only five were broken off by the hens and therefore terminated.
It was a definite setback, but in the next couple weeks they regrew some awkward leaves, and then left that early bad memory behind. Now you wouldn´t know it had ever happened, although they might be a week or two behind where they might have been.
It was supposed to be a nice day, so Mom and the Oreos (Thanks for naming them, Mom) got to move outside! I transplanted the chickery from the arid hard packed environment of the greenhouse, where they spent a couple days, to the outdoors it was designed for.
Mom was so excited about grass – I can believe it- she was broody for so long she´d probably forgotten about grass – that when I lowered her into place she didn´t take a single step, just started gobbling grass where I set her.
Then the roosters came. The two remaining “exile” roosters, that stay apart from the main flock, and continue to sleep in the small coop, alone (I´m waiting for an opportunity to rehome them), lost no time discovering the new mama.
They made fools of themselves staring longingly through the mesh and giving some dancing performances.
I don´t get it myself, but she´s always been very popular.
They were resoundingly ignored by the object of their attention, but hovered around devotedly all day.
Will it rain or won´t it? Foggy, misty day – the chickery gets a rain cape.
When evening fell and mama settled down for the night, she and the Oreos got airlifted into a bucket to go in the warmer greenhouse for the night.
She was not impressed. I´ve never used a bucket before. The bucket is not very roomy, but it was handy (I got her a box tonight).
Gosh, it´s been too long – I´ve been so busy! It´s garden and greenhouse time – very busy. Everyone is well, the piglets are no longer -lets, just pigs, the bees are busy, the hens are entertaining and entertained. I have lots to share…but for now, a glimpse:
The bunnies are grazing in the field alongside the hens and robins. They are almost all brown- some have tufts of white fur that haven´t fallen out yet, making them distinguishable. There´s always a rabbit around with a frond of greenery hanging out of its mouth. Low-speed chases happen – I suspect they are mating chases.
Sometimes I accidentally count the bunnies in with the guinea fowl.
The guineas stick closer to home than I initially expected.
And traveling as a pack, which I love. They´re all friends.
They can really get into a good dust bath too.
The dust bath is the most popular activity of the season, now that there are warm sunny days to laze around in and wile away the hours sticking a leg out awkwardly…
This is the guinea spot in the woods, right by our path. I suspect she´s laying her eggs here. Can you see all three?
This is the hen who thinks she´s a Silkie, always hangin´ with the fluffballs.
The Silkie tribe is becoming adventuresome (safety in numbers?), and every day venture a little farther into the woods to skritch in the leaves, or come a few feet farther down the path to the house.
Led by their intrepid leader, the Colonel:
The bees are full team ahead hauling in pollen. (I meant “steam”, but that makes more sense)
Returning a soggy bee to the hive, incoming bees use my hand for a landing strip.
There´s been a full scale cooporate takeover. The Colonel has moved in, and brought his ladies with him.
There´s been a couple Silkie hens that decisively moved in with the big girls weeks ago, but HW noticed the Colonel exiting the layer coop in the morning, and told me he suspected a relocation.
I think, because of the rain the last few days, that the Silkies couldn´t be bothered to walk the 40 feet back to their own coop, and just went up the proximate ramp.
The flocks hang out surprisingly intimately all day, piled up in the same dirt bowls, eating together, laying eggs in each other´s coops, and when it rains, huddled shoulder to shoulder under the nearest coop with their shoulders hunched up (the guineas too). I LOVE this! I´m so happy they get along.
I´m over the moon that since the integration of the flocks this winter and their coexistence in the greenhouse, that I can retire the tiresome, rickety Silkie un-“tractor”, and all the birds are fully free again. What they do with their freedom is sometimes unexpected, and usually entertaining.
Sometimes a name alights on a being like a hawk landing on a fencepost. Here to stay. The rooster formerly known as Snowball (we do our best, until their real name arrives), is now irrevocably, unquestionably, the Colonel.
The Colonel is the Big Boss of All the Chickens around here, ruthlessly laying down the law and keeping Jacques in line (that´s the big Copper Maran rooster at the back of the coop), despite Jacques being about 5 times his size. This was very unexpected.
Any human visitors think it´s absolutely hilarious when I point out the big boss. They point; that guy? The pint sized pompom? That big rooster is scared of HIM? No way! Then they are usually treated to an exhibition – the Colonel marching authoritatively towards the giant, showy rooster who dared to come too close, and Jacques the Giant hastily looking for somewhere else to be.
Jacques gets no respect. The Colonel keeps him looking over his shoulder. HW calls him a punk. He´s still growing into his leadership role, I think. He´s pretty good with his hens, unselfish and a food announcer; they like him, but he can´t count, and doesn´t organize them very well; they scatter, and scattering is not good for chicken longevity. Also, he attacks me daily. I whack him with sticks and throw water on him; he has a short memory. The Colonel doesn´t hesitate to rescue me, which is nice, but feels like the wrong order of things.
The Colonel keeps track of eleven Silkie hens, and they typically flow in a big group without stragglers (It´s awesome to observe chickens in as free a state as possible- they have a culture, and it evolves; they are in charge, and I serve them, with shelter, food, and evening security lockup). The Colonel has one young protege, a blond rooster that rolls with the big flock, but there are four more roosters that are exiles and just huddle at a distance. These poor roosters are due for rehoming – they´re on Kijiji. They´re quite gorgeous, and they´ll make great rooster-leaders if they get a chance.