Tag Archives: winter

Winter Storm

Times like this I love that we don’t have power to go out, because it surely would.  We’re getting a storm more appropriate to January, not March.  After a month of no snow, lots of sun, and temps so warm I was able to feed my bees (so glad of that now), wham! Dumping snow, howling winds.

Sticky snow, that looks so cool stuck on the windward side of everything. The house is being battered by wind, but really, sound is dampened by the think blanket of snow on all the trees.
And in the peaceful woods, there’s a chickadee bopping around.  It popped out of one of the laden spruces, which strikes me as an excellent choice of hideout:And in the middle of it, some birds still avidly feeding.  From bed we watch the horizontal snow, and birds riding it out on the waving branches, beaks into the wind.

The Pufftail stage

Three little chicks.  See how they drink. This is the pufftail stage. They’re still in the chickery with Mom (now in the slightly larger chickery), and they’ve graduated from the cardboard box and the nightly flight in to the house.

The other chicks, the two dwarves, have graduated up to the girls only fort.  The sisters are not as accepting of the two dwarves (they soon need better names).  Perhaps they are roosters.  But their mother, Snow White, decisively declared she was done with child care by flying out of the chickery.  I thought it might be a fluke and put her back in.  She let me know it was not an accident, she was moving on to the next phase of her life and chicks weren’t a part of it.

I love it when they tuck head under wing. Real birds.

I tried putting her in the fort too but she just paced the fence.  She had a boyfriend on the outside.   Straight back in the nesting box. In other news, Lucky Stewie is a reformed rooster.  He’s been on his best behaviour.

Snow White and the two dwarves.

Snow White and her two dwarves ave been reincarcerated in the Chickery I all month.After being integrated into chicken society at large, and even going to bed in the coop, HW put them back in the chickery while I was gone because they weren’t doing well.  He deemed them still too small.

They sure aren’t to big to be above cuddling with Mom at night.  They get closed into the covered wagon at night, while Brown Bonnet and her three, weeks younger, still get an airlift into the house on cold nights.I love the pompom tail stage.  Following pants.

Garden Plan

The garden looks a little bit like a graveyard, one total blanket of white with all the beds smooth bumps.  There are perennials, and enduring kale, under that blanket, and a million organisms living and waiting for reemergence.

It’s time to plan!  Very soon comes seed starting.   Garden planning is a big day’s work, because I’m new at it, still working out the timing and quantities and integrating conclusions made from learning experiences.

This year I’ll have a much bigger area to plant too.  Moving the greenhouse one step to the side means that 720 sq ft of premium, weed free, amended soil must be covered deliberately, by me, or else Mother Nature will cover it with maybe not my first choice of plants, just as deliberately.

 

Dawn in the chicken dome

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.

Chicken spa!

Today I gave the hens a warm dirt bath, and it was the biggest event of the new year.

So if your page takes a while to load, it’s because there’s 30 pictures, but they’re funny!I had the metal fridge drawer, aka dirt bathtub, on the woodstove for a few days, yes, full of mud.  The dirt wasn’t completely dried out to dust, but it was warm.  Dirt holds heat well.I delivered it, turned around to minister to some other chickens, and turned around to see the first hen standing in the earth with a look coming over her face.  Neck disappearing, head sinking, eyes closing, and then lowering herself into the dirt.

I’m so getting in there.

It was jean jacket, actually, first in, with the hot bath expression coming over her face.

Comin’ in there!

Then it was a riot of interest, with all the hens cycling by, test pecking, and trying to take a turn. A faint mist of steam rose from the dirt bath, and the hens – it was like they were melting, eyes closed, faces down in the pan.  Flopping around and self- agitating like a washing machine drum. Jean jacket is still in there, fiercely protecting her end of the tub.

Cream Puff on the left is determined to get in there

And she’s in! This tub holds four!

 

Oh yeah. There’s the hot bath face.

Later on, I saw a Brahma in there alone, so presumably Jean Jacket eventually had her toes wrinkle up, or something, and got out so more birds could get a turn.

So bath day was a huge hit.

They can, and do, dig divots in the floor anytime and writhe around in them, but I guess the warm and drier earth was especially exciting.

House chicks!

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:)

Freshly washed

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.

She’s got a chick growing out of her cheek!

Chick warming

I would like a warming and to eat, please

 

Take a look at her now!

The chicken formerly known as Jean Jacket has fully refeathered, and come out of her winter coat.

Now
Before, in her fleece jacket (looking quite wretched)

It’s nice to see they can come back so completely and rapidly.  It seemed like only two weeks to full fletching.  Now she looks like a perfectly normal chicken again.  Good, in fact, with a fresh “pelt”.

Stop following me around!

Away from the storm

Maritime Canada and Eastern US is being pummeled by an epic storm, and I’m not at home.  HW is holding down the fort, (perhaps literally, in the gale), and I hear a chick has hatched for Brown Bonnet in the broody kennel.  She’s now comfortably in the house, working on her pet chicken status. (It was only a matter of time.  Whomever I once confidently told that I would “never have hens in the house” … yeah, yeah, ok). All the hype about these storms rolling through is making me suspicious.  Isn’t this phenomena also known as … winter?

And why all these names?  There really isn’t anywhere to go from “Bomb Cyclone”.  That seems to set up an expectation, like it might be disappointing if it turns out not to be aggressively destructive; if it turns out to be, simply, a storm.  With rain, snow, and high winds.

To compare, this is the 20 year anniversary of the truly epic cataclysm in Ontario and Quebec, and it’s known as “The Ice Storm” (dignified and deserved capitalization).

The birds have been at work, preparing.

I’m a cozy chick!

The two white chicks are alive and well.  Recently released from the chickery:Major Fowler has been dying for her incarceration to end, paying tribute and bowing from the wrong side of the mesh.

They reintegrated very well, Snow White immediately bringing her chicks up into the coop, which she seemed very happy to return to.   I’m ready to be in my own bed, and warm for a change!  Only two days of chick ramp shenanigans before they were following mom in on their own.  They’re never sorry to be picked up and tucked in a coat.This one was snatched up for a photo shoot and contented to be pocketed for a warming.  They always have surprisingly cold feet. I’ve got wings!!

Broody kennel

I have a broody hen (she’s lost her marbles, didn’t get the winter memo), so I built her a new special broody box for her own comfort and safety, out of hardware cloth, with a plywood base.  A lobster trap meets a mailbox:First I put in a piece of foil, to reflect her heat on her eggs.Then cardboard.Then a “nest” of hay. A clutch of eggs (her eggs-I actually did the transfer very quickly from where she was setting in the main coop)A wall of hay bales around her, liberal hay underneath her box, and canvas for drafts and darkness (now it’s a covered wagon). There she is, settling in, front “mailbox” door shut.  The first thing she did was throw a tantrum and knock over her dishes, but then she saw her eggs and simmered down.Naturally I had the usual helpers, doing anything in the GH:

Is that…Aluminum foil?

What, is it arts and crafts time?!

All done and closed up.  Completely safe from any ground predators, just like the birds that get shut in their coops at night.

Now she gets breakfast in bed, in her prairie schooner.  I plan to make a series of reusable kennels, for the broody hens next year.  The cardboard box has many limitations.  This is the right size for the first few days after hatching, when the chicks start to eat, but don’t go very far, and then they will go into the chickery after that.Snow White and her two white chicks lounging in front of the broody kennel installation on a warm day.

Inevitable, perhaps.

The temperature dropped over the holidays to “very cold!”, and I brought her and her mailbox into the house.  She lives in the mud room now.  I candled her eggs and they seem to be alive.

If she’s so determined to sit on eggs in the winter, well, we’ll try and give her a shot at success.

We’re gonna have house chicks!

At this time of year?

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).

Greenhouse peace

I hope it means the guineas are happy to be in the GH, that they don’t spend half the day yelling anymore.  They are much quieter.

The GH is a chaotic scene littered with debris- just the way the birds like it.

The hens and guineas pretty much completely ignore each others’ existence.  They hop through the door right next to each other, graze, and show no sign of noticing each other.  All the chickens notice each other, all the time, though.

It’s colder now, so the layer hens, who still have their coop outside, drift inside, to where it’s warmer, while all the teenagers like to hang outside.

Four little chicks are alive and well.  Two guineas and two Silkies.  So cute.The two hens who were broody are sort of co-parenting the chicks. The one who seemed to stay broody changed her mind and is now the main Mom (after the other being the main Mom for at least a week).  Now they tend to hang out together with the chicks. 

Oh, just hanging out!
I don’t think I’m going to get my clothes rack back
What’s that, a box!? We love a good box.

 

Chicken Disneyland

Finally moved the layer hens into the fold, and surrounded them with fence, and draped them with bird netting, so the birds are all confined now, and all safe!  Ahhhhhhhhhh…hhhh….In the morning before opening we moved their coop (that’s a heavy coop full of birds) to the end of the greenhouse, made a yard with snow fence, and then let them out.  These birds have spent the whole summer, if not their whole lives, unconfined, so the first order of business was to keep them entertained and convince them that the party is inside the fence.  I need them to not be fixed on jailbreak, until I can get the bird netting in place too.  Pretty II and III were right away up on the coop, longnecking for a way out.Here you go!  Hay bales, kale, eggs, pumpkins!   They were entertained.  They didn’t know what to focus on.  Then I got the bird netting up, a string from the GH peak to the pine tree anchoring the bird yard, and the sides tied out to the fence. I got a “helper” wading around in the big clump of netting.  Not helping!  Bird netting requires the patience of a saint and is no fun at the best of times, without helpers with talons.Once we had full enclosure, then I could open the GH door and allow contact between the tribes.  The guineas and all the teens were already living in there.

Out come the guineas, right away up on the coop.  They can see the netting though, they know they can’t fly up in it.  No interest in “escape” though, just investigating.  They quickly made a game of running outside and jumping on the coop, and then running back inside the GH.  Last one on the coop’s a rotten egg!

The total peace was remarkable!  I was expecting some squabbling, some frantic fence running, but there was nothing.  The layers took a tour inside the GH and came back out, settling under the pine tree.  The teens came hopping out in their own time and milled around, the guineas found a pile of hay they liked… The great integration was notable for its complete lack of drama.  The layers decided they really like the pine tree, piling up under it in a lazy grooming and sunning bird pile. Inside, the birds are flaking out in their hay piles.  The teen Chantis are just impossibly cute. Both pairs of chicks are alive and well, phew!

Meanwhile, at the other end of the GH, there’s the other yard, but I don’t have netting for that yet.  These birds will be temporarily put inside the GH and this yard blocked off, until I get my netting.  Then there will be a three part chicken world- two covered yards and the GH between, until the snow limits them to only the GH.  That should give them plenty of space to organize themselves in.

The point of all this is to protect them from aerial predators, as I’ve learned the hard way that my chickens start getting struck in daylight in November.  So I have to have them “in” Nov 1, or else.  At night they are in their safe boxes, but the daytime threat has to be managed come November.

The guineas have been suffering already from night attacks, and that’s because they are half wild and roost outside, sometimes in ill advised locations.  I haven’t been able to help them without the GH.

Finally, I’ve got them all safe; I can sleep!It’s really funny how chickens can’t resist a hay bale.

They get so excited.  Stand on it, peck at it, lean on it.   The possibilities seem limited, but put a hay bale in with some birds, and immediately they’ll have it surrounded.

 

 

Livin’ in the greenhouse

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:

A box? Let’s all get in!

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.

Here we have a guinea perching on the chickery, all the teens, Silkies and Chantis, chilling on the hay bales, and the Oreos, now big grown birds, visiting.
From the other direction. One teen perching, and the guineas, Hey, that’s OUR clothesrack.

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.

Now with only two:(
Mom’s stopping for a snack on her way back in

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.

Almost all safe now.

Rare sighting: the bathing chicken

At the beginning of the winter when the chickens were first incarcerated in the greenhouse for the season, we prepared some bird baths.

Inspired by my neighbour, who brings warm (room temperature) sand from her house to the hen house (hot bath!), I put a bunch of mud on the woodstove to heat up.

I shoveled the mud out of a couple of popular summer-time hen bathing holes, where, when it wasn’t soaking wet, it was fine dust.  The old style metal crisper trays were perfect for heating on the wood stove.

It took days to dehydrate the dirt.  It cracked like the desert, made little popping volcano vents, and then we’d break it up and cook it some more.  HW stirred it assiduously,  raving about how much those lucky birds were going to enjoy these baths, and pronouncing it not yet ready, day after day.

Finally, the bird baths- heavy with warm, finely stirred, premium dirt- went out to the greenhouse.   I was looking forward to seeing the birds enjoy them, too, probably in the lazy, sunny, afternoon.  I expected to hear excited clucking, to find two hens and the oversized rooster jammed in one bin at once and overflowing the sides, legs sticking out in odd directions….

and I never saw them.  Not one single solitary sighting of a chicken getting her dirt bath on.

They were definitely using it.   They were using it with vigour.  There was a dirt radius around each bin.  Feathers in the dirt.  Week by week, the level in each bin went down.  Every time a chicken bathes, she covers herself thoroughly with dirt, then gets up, walks out, and shakes herself off like a dog, making a Pigpen puff of dust.  This slowly erodes the dirt capital.

Months passed.  Then last week, I caught a brown hen in the bath!  I crept back from the door, went for my camera, and of course, she was finished her ablutions  by the time I got back with it.  One sighting in months – the odds were poor that I’d ever catch another.

But I did!  I didn’t waste time going for my camera but used my damaged phone – a sighting!

Seen as though in a dream…

 

Nor’easter

A proper storm’s blowing up.  The kind where snow swirls in the door when you open it and the wind is biting.  Sleet is skittering on the steel roof and the white stuff is starting to accumulate.

The hens are conserving their energy.  Only two eggs today – two!  Today was a nice days, but obviously their inner barometers consider the future, and said to hold on to their egg energy.

We’re supposed to get 30-40cm (1ft), which will be cool in ways- it will be normal; feel like a proper Canadian winter.  The winter so far has been weird as heck, with yoyo-ing temperatures, and not very much snow.  It might be a snow day!  It’s fun to be snowed in.  It would be nice for the ground to get a blanket on it.

Not so cool – it’s bound to knock half the province out of power again and make it dangerous and miserable for anyone who can’t have a fun snow day.  Plus it will be mad drifted with the wind.

Shifting play structures

I moved the haybale play structure from its former location in the south corner of the greenhouse…

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…to the opposite side of the greenhouse.

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Long necks- everyone is curious

I have about 9 bales left, that are very dry and falling apart, that I am cycling through the coops as bedding and then to the garden for mulch.  img_4595While stored in the greenhouse, the bales  are providing caves, entertainment, and vantage points for the bored birds.  And carbon for the ground.

I dropped one unstrung bale into the middle of the room.  There’s little they like more than to take apart a bale of hay.  The normally uptight guineas, in a rare moment of repose, used it to cash out in the sunshine, and fell mercifully silent for a good hour.

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The haybale move –my every move closely monitored by short attendants – served two purposes.  The sitting haybales had kept a big patch of dirt wet and scratchable, so each bale I moved, the hens rushed in behind me to dig. It’s fun to work among the hens, them all up in my business, making interested noises, having their own dramas.

The new play structure was a novelty, therefore highly entertaining to explore.

You know when something is overwhelmingly interesting when ALL the birds fall silent.  They’re that busy.  Too absorbed to talk about it, to make announcements. Then little burbles of speculation.

All three of the resident breeds explored the new apparatus, hopping up and over it and sidestepping along the high poles, but – I didn’t anticipate this- the Silkies wholly claimed it as their own.

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Tentative inspection
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Heads down, butts up. At least three days worth of fascination in the former location.

Three dead mice were unearthed, precipitating the inevitable lively mouse run.

img_5064After a thorough inspection and finding it pleasing, the Silkie tribe moved in en masse… img_5057

and settled in for some hard lounging.

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I’m going to move the bales at least once more, and I expect similar excitement and results.  In return they will thoroughly distribute a mulch layer in the greenhouse for me.

 

 

Three nests

In the winter, all the nests become apparent.  img_5176

Completely hidden in plain sight when the leaves are on, exposed when they come off.  These well-made little nests are sewn right on to the branches, feats of micro engineering that stay whole, bowled, and upright in the storms.

The first is in an alder between the greenhouse and the beehive.  Well traveled spot.  They don’t seem to go to too much trouble to avoid us and our movements.  img_5175

The next is on a long arm of one of the big regal apple trees right by the farmhouse.  Also in the thick of activity.  This may have been a robin nest as the robin was acting furtive around the apple trees quite a bit.  But it seems so small.  Also precarious, but looks are deceiving.

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The third I found earlier in the winter when a guinea fowl was snatched in the middle of the day (ending the hens’ good-weather outdoor privileges).  There was no sign of foul play, and hopeful she was only lost, I mounted a search, walking in ever wider circles, becoming upset and resigned to the truth.

Thrashing through the brush, I ran into a knee-high nest, a precious little thing built by some grass-nester.  Two dead leaves that happened to fall into it curled up in it like they’re at rest.

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This is why we can’t get anything done in the spring.  If we’re not early enough, there are birds nesting everywhere we want to clear brush or trees.

It’s a big playground in the greenhouse now

I can’t believe it but I’m SO happy.  ALL MY BIRDS ARE GETTING ALONG!  The one silver lining to the loss of my big rooster is that I don’t have to segregate my birds.  Two winters I’ve attempted to divide the greenhouse into two territories, Silkieland and Layerland.  I say attempted because there were always breaches no matter what I tried.

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When they were small

img_4449 First there were the guineas, with the GH all to themselves.

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Hey can we come in there?

Then there were the two Silkie moms and their nine chicks between them, who got to stay in the greenhouse mostly because of inclement weather.

img_4604Then I moved in the layer coop, the day after the rooster was killed.  The Silkies had the yard outside for a week of lovely weather, from whence they could see inside through the screen door.

img_4578Next I opened the door dividing the flocks, and waited to see what would happen.  A few red hens popped out, looked around, ate some grass, and went back in.  Hey, the guineas came outside, flew over the fence, and were walking around the other door looking confused.  The Silkies did not drift into the greenhouse.

The next morning, the Silkie rooster came barrelling inside when I opened the layer coop.  The reason:  one of his hens is sleeping in the wrong coop.  He chased her a merry race and taught her a lesson, and then raced back outside, where the other rooster was taking advantage of his absence to get some.  Life’s hectic for Snowball.  He’s got a lot of responsibilities.

They did not integrate on their own until, due to a bad forecast, we lifted the Silkie coop into the GH.  These long-suffering coops (Oh, they’ll last a year) are still enduring, still doing their job.

And then, miracles!  they all just … got along.  The layers drink side by side with the guineas, and the chicks are all up in the middle of everything, as they always have been.  Infants of any species seem to get big tolerance passes.  They can poop anywhere they like and be grabby and no one pecks them.  The guineas are smaller than the layers right now, but they seem to know that’s a temporary state of affairs, and they face off.  Staredowns, with their necks stuck out.  I’m gonna be bigger than you real soon.

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The layers are a bit bossy to the Silkies, but I’ve also seen the rooster run off a rude big hen.  YES.  I’m so glad it’s working!

Often the guineas are up on the haybales, just watching everyone else.

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Or behind it
Or behind it

They still move as an inseparable unit, even if they’re doing different things.  Some will be drinking, or eating, and the others will be curled up resting, but right next to them, and then they will all shuffle along together to the next stop.

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Now there are five.  One guinea disappeared as a very small chick, in the first few days.  Actually vanished – I’ve never found a body, and there were no signs of foul play.  In September, I found one hen dead in the morning, of unknown causes, like she died in her sleep.  All the others came shuffling out of their hay-cave, and one was left, still.  I believe there are now two guinea cocks and three guinea hens, judging by size – the differential is growing.

They look much like turkeys to me now, with bald-ish necks, sparse feathers, and they stick their heads out long.  So funny/cute!  They are “the Africans” or the “little clowns” because they do funny stuff.  They are starting to make their weird sounds, and 5pm is the time to practice, every day.  Can hear them ten acres away, shouting.

I “cleaned it up” some in the GH.  Made some chicken play structures, which they dutifully appreciate.

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All the vegetative debris and dead tomato/squash vines are just entertainment for them.  Places to run around and hide, and lose a pursuing rooster.  They pull down old tomatoes, eat any leftovers,  dig, and dirt bathe.  It’s a big party. The cardboard boxes too.  They always like standing up on things.img_4586

There’s still a truckload of wood chips in there that I pushed aside to plant in, and a great deal of hay, so lots of carbon, and I’ll bring in more if I need to.  It smells good, not like a chicken concentration camp.  My hens will lay all winter in the greenhouse.img_4574 img_4577

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At first the layers weren’t sure.  They weren’t allowed in the GH all summer, now they aren’t allowed out?  They like to slip out the door behind me when I carry something in.  Then five minutes later they’re outside standing on one foot in the frost, looking at me.  This was a bad idea!  All the food’s in there!

Soon I’m going to introduce a new rooster.  He’s a gorgeous young bird, a Copper Maran, big but gentle.  I’ve been telling my hens I’m about to set them up with him. I have a younger man for you to meet! I’m hoping that if he’s introduced to an unfamiliar room where the Silkie rooster already rules the roost, they won’t have a bloodbath fight.  Because the Silkie would lose.  This is why I’ve had to keep the flocks separate before.

I know that the space is too big for one rooster to rule, because the second rooster has started to crow!  The poor, put-upon, brown beta rooster, who’s molting with anxiety, has enough literal space now to figuratively spread his wings.  I hope to give them each a flock and enclosure of their own next year.

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The mother of seven sleeps in here, and lays in here

All the birds love salad.  I thought I was just being lazy, letting a patch of salad greens go to seed, the mizuna growing into beachball sized clouds, and mustard greens into stalks my height and as thick as my wrist that tipped over under their own weight, but I was actually being brilliantly foresightful.  I’m going to do it on purpose next year.  The chickens love a good salad.  I carry in an armload of greens, sprinkle it in a line along the open side of the GH, and all the birds move in, ripping and picking, all mixed up together in inter-avian harmony.  Makes it quiet real quick.

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The Silkies especially think that the thing to do with turnip tops is to pick them up and whack! them on the ground. It’s not the usual chicken lift and drop, it’s very aggressive, like they’re flail threshing. What’s really funny is a chick trying to do it to a foot-long turnip frond.  That’s like a person taking a 30 foot pine tree and whacking it on the ground.  It works about as well for the chick, but they try.

I thought they might be into cold-hardy greens considering what they did to the volunteer kale.

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The incursion of the birds has pushed out the rodent population, as I hoped.  The numbers are now down to one very bold resident squirrel.   I hope he gets pecked.  Chipmunks are gone.

Now that the coops are in the greenhouse the first Silkie with aspirations above her station has told a friend.  Two Silkies are going into the layer hens’ coop to lay eggs!  The one is still sleeping in there. Her chicks are convinced they sleep in the cardboard box still, and every night have to be chucked into their coop.

In the morning, I let the Silkies out first while I do everything, to give them a little advantage, first beak in the trough, before opening the layers.  They know.  They can hear, and they grumble!  The rooster comes and waits at the bottom of the ramp for the Silkie hen to traipse out, then he pounces!  Every morning.  He knows she’s in there.

 

Chicken Vay Cay Day!

On warm days, I let the chickens out  to play.  Whoohoo!

They resent their incarceration in the greenhouse in the winter.  They  glare balefully.  We are bored out of our tiny skulls!  They do not buy that it’s for their own good.  We’ve got survival skills, yo!

Which they do.  They make themselves at home all day in the forest, scratching.  They can take care of themselves outside, even doing some winter camping, but I prefer them to have more protection against the raptors that are hungrier in the winter.  So they must mostly stay in.

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This winter has been weird.  Three times now, all the snow has been swept away in a big rain and warm spell.  It’s not a good look.  But the hens are happy.  They get periodic outings.  Not like last winter, when the snowpack stayed a meter thick, and no one came out of the greenhouse for the entire season.

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…with songs they have sung, for 1000 years

Whahoo!

My bees are alive!

(with the sound of buzz-ing)

We had an extreme cold snap (relative, very relative) here with a -20C night.  I didn’t think they’d made it.  I kind of had a feeling.  I’m really on the fence whether this hive will make it through their first winter.  Neither death nor survival will surprise me.

They had honey, but such small numbers….luck, chance, and the weather all have to weigh in before the winter’s out.

After that cold night – brrrr!  I couldn’t hear anything when I pressed my ear to the front of the box.  The wind was whistling hard, but still.

We’ve had a warm snap.  The kind where the above freezing temps suddenly expose all the old dog bones and buckets that blew away and random flagging tape on the ground, and you’re wishing for a snow asap to cover it all up again.

Today-lively humming.

The Mighty Vole Hunter

The snow is deep, but the voles should not feel relaxed.

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I don’t know if he hears them mousing around or smells them, but without warning, he will suddenly leap in the air off the path and come down, plunging his head into the snow and sometimes snuffle-plowing around for a while.

Depending on the surface of the snow, he may smack the crust with a paw to crack it, and then thrust his head in and burrow around.

If he’s lucky, he comes up masticating ostentatiously with disgusting crunching sounds, tails or feet hanging out the side of his mouth.  EWW!

If the vole’s lucky, he comes up only with a face full of snow.

He is really very good at hunting voles.  As good as a cat.  He gets one almost every day, sometimes two.   In the “grassy” wasteland adjoining the Walmart parking lot, of all places, he caught the vole of voles, a trophy the size of a squirrel!  Proving some things are flourishing around Walmart.

Sometimes the vole escapes.  Yesterday he flipped the tiniest of voles out of the snow next to the path.  Somehow, it escaped between his back legs, flopping around while he was looking under his front paws- Where’d it go?

Barely two inches long, it righted itself and darted to take refuge- under my boot, where I stood behind him.    I saw the tail slip in under my foot and was standing there thinking  Seriously?  Is it hiding?  Under my foot?  Yep.  I lifted my boot and it dashed away a second time, while Snowy snuffled around mystified.  It was right here.  I had it!

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What we want to know is: Does he keep his eyes open under the snow?

Time to feed the birds!

It snowed last night, so it’s time to put out a birdfeeder for winter (I’ve cast some seeds out before on the cold November days, but now I’ll maintain this food source so the birds may become dependent).

This means, what’s in the recycling right now I can make a feeder from?  Rather than walking all the way to the shop for the one I made last year.

It’s always fun to see how long it takes for the birds to find it.  Under an hour for a full banditry of chickadees to show up.  Then song sparrows and a purple finch, just like that.

A troupe of Eastern Grosbeaks comes through periodically, every 3-4 days in the winter.  They must be making a circuit of local food sources.