posts tagged with 'chickens'

no eggs?!

Our hens stopped laying for the winter a couple weeks ago, and I haven't totally gotten used to it. We've been buying eggs, but yesterday I used up the last three making french toast (Harvey's friend Jack slept over and we had to give him a good breakfast before we sent him off on the school bus!). We were planning to stop by the egg farm this afternoon on the way home from our outing, but then some friends said they could come over so we skipped the shopping in order to be at our house before them. And they stayed for dinner, which was great! But we still have no eggs. It's hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact: I keep thinking of things to make and then remembering that, no, those things require eggs. Like, literally, I was shocked to realize our egg-less state two or three times in a ten-minute span. Tomorrow we'll get out to buy some. And the hens should be laying again in a couple months!

good morning hens

Sunday we were out late, playing Pokemon and eating lots of delicious food a our friends' house (I'm told there was also a football game on the television, but I didn't attend). So yesterday morning I wasn't ready for the hens to enthusiastically up and about before 7:00. In late May, on the cusp of summer, having them wake me up isn't so big a deal... but in February I'd rather not have to think about them that much.

Of course, I can't complain too much: ten of seven is not really anything like ten of five, and I should probably just be rejoicing that I can even think about sleeping in til seven on a Monday morning. Yes, the life of a home education consultant is a good one. And the hens have been laying all winter long, so I suppose they're entitled to some attention of a morning.

new year's musings

the moon over some trees

New Years Eve moon

It's a new year! As always, we begin it full of hopes and aspirations, and also exhausted and ill from partying the old year away. Today the boys and I tried to pause and take stock, and set some goals for the week (it's good to start at a reasonable scale; years are intimidating). The older two want to work on building better Pokemon decks, which is reasonable considering the amount of time and mental space Pokemon has occupied for us over the past week. I want to do better at scheduling working time and playing time, so we can all play—including Pokemon—without me feeling stressed and guilty and yelling at everyone for not working.

It's hard, as the holiday season hangs on to the bitter end. Today we spent all afternoon playing at at our friends' New Years Day party. But before then I managed to get some important work done, installing a heater for the chickens' water. See, it's been really cold here—never above freezing since Christmas Eve, and well below most of the time. In the past I've just brought the waterer inside overnight when it's cold, and then let the hens drink in the morning until it froze up again for the day... but that happens in less than an hour lately. And when it freezes solid, after three hours or so, it takes like half an hour under the hot water in the sink to thaw out. So, the heater. Which we've actually had for while; Leah bought it a few years ago, when she was the primary chicken caretaker. But we never used it since I was nervous about water and electricity and hot surfaces around the hens. We'll see how it goes, but right now those seem like lesser problems compared to them dying of thirst in this bitter cold desert.

Another result of the bitter cold desert air is that it's keeping us inside. The boys, anyways: Zion's and Lijah's little bodies cool down so fast, and when Lijah wears all the clothes he needs to stay warm he can't even move. But we're staving off cabin fever so far; there's so much to do in the house. So far, at least. Take a look at this seven day forecast!

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our perilous mornings

Once again, we had an exciting morning with the local wildlife. No sooner had Leah let out the hens than a fox dashed in to grab one. Hearing the commotion we drove it off empty-handed (-mouthed), but then I couldn't find the hen who had been attacked even after an extended search. After half an hour I was convinced there were two foxes in on the raid—or more!—and one of them had carried her away. Because it turns out we're surrounded by fox dens: there's one under our across-the-street neighbor's shed, and I've noticed another couple kits playing every morning outside a shed a few houses down through the back. Or maybe they're the same two, with a second home?

a pair of fox kits seen at a distance

kits taking the air

Happily, our poor hen had only fled the yard in panic, and before too long she wandered back in. Unlike last Sunday's victim, she's rather the worse for wear, with all the feathers missing from the back of her neck—clearly the Plymouth Rock breed isn't fluffy enough for complete protection. Still, I couldn't see any blood; and while she was clearly shaken for a while after the attack she seems to be entirely back to normal this evening.

It's a little stressful, I admit, having to be on guard like this. But the need for vigilance is at least motivating me to spend my early mornings outside, where besides getting to enjoy the loveliest part of the day I get to put in some serious work on the garden. Just the thing ahead of a day at the office (I don't have very many of those so I'm not really good at them).

I don't know much about foxes. Will they move on once the kits are big? Or will they all find homes around the neighborhood and continue to terrorize our flock—now with even more hunting adults? I don't have a plan in the latter case, except to keep up with the early-morning gardening when I have the energy, and when I don't leave the hens penned up until it's too bright and lively for foxes to be out and about. They might complain some, but as a creature with forethought and awareness I'm going to say that, considering the alternative, their temporary annoyance is something they ought to be able to bear!

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our exciting Sunday morning

Yesterday morning I was up early to let the chickens out before we had to go to church. As we were getting ready there was a tremendous burst of alarmed clucking from the yard—the sound the hens only make when they're running from something. I had just come downstairs so I was ideally situated to run right out the door, and right away I saw all the hens in panicked flight from a fox. Well, all but one, who was firmly grasped in its jaws.

some feathers on the grass

an alarming sign

Sure it was too late but determined not to let the fox eat my Buff Orpington, I dashed down the stairs, grabbing up a stick as I went. The fox headed for the woods with me maybe 15 feet behind, and it slowed only a moment to dive under our fence—but in order to fit through the gap, it had to let go of the hen. Who, to my complete surprise, hopped up and ran the other way! On the other side of the fence the fox paused, but when I went through the gate it took off again. I chased through a couple yards before giving up; I figured I'd do better to check on the victim!

Who turned out to be much better than I expected, than anyone would have any right to expect: a little shaken maybe, but otherwise unscathed. The Orpingtons are our fluffiest hens, and it very well may be that all the feathers kept the fox's teeth from doing any actual damage. A lot of them sure fell out—it looked like about two chickens-worth scattered over the lawn in three or four clumps.

a lot of feathers on the grass

that's a really lot

We got all the hens into their run—it took some doing to find the last one cowering in the lilac bushes by the driveway—and I was a little disappointed to see the other hens didn't show the slightest bit of consideration for their sister who had just escaped, literally, from the jaws of death. She's pretty far down the pecking order, and as they squabbled for the scratch I tossed into the run they didn't hold back from pecking her away from her fair share. As we were leaving, she sensibly retired to the roost to recover.

I half expected to find her dying when we got back, but she was still fine; she was fine all day today—totally normal in fact, and not even much thinner for having lost so many feathers. So all's well that ends well—better, even, for the house sparrows and other little birds who snatched up all the downy feathers for their nests. I only wish I'd gotten a photo of the fox, who was a fine-looking specimen; as it happened I didn't really have time.

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hens, what are they good for?

our red hen eating grass in between patches of snow

little red hen

Eric at Root Simple wrote a post last week wondering whether it made sense for them to be keeping chickens. I was surprised to read it: they wrote a whole book on "the Urban Homestead". And here I am going around saying that everyone should have at least a little flock—not least our friends who will soon be moving out here to the country slightly more spread out suburbs. So why do we keep chickens?

Reason 1: for eggs. We can get great local cage-free eggs at a reasonable price at the farm around the corner, or expensive pastured eggs at Whole Foods, or, seasonally, local super-expensive eggs at the farmers market. All of which are fine, but how much easier is it to be able to pick up hyper-local, free-range, sometimes-organic eggs right in our own backyard every morning? How much do we pay for them? Um, I'm not quite sure. But I don't think we pay much more than $30 in feed a month, and we're getting maybe 120 eggs per month this time of year, so around $3/dozen? We spent some money on the coop too, but not much, and a long time ago.

Reason 2: as pets. While our hens don't have names—well, not names that we know, anyway—we feel like they're not just livestock. Like, when they stop laying we'll be happy to keep feeding them in recognition of their service. And the boys would be more than happy to hold them and pet them, if they would ever let themselves be held and petted (I guess we didn't socialize them super well to people). I still don't like when they get in the house—but they're part of the full prayer-time roster ("...and Rascal, and the chickens").

Reason 3: as lifestyle accessories. Seriously! We can't call ourselves suburban homesteading hippies if we don't have chickens around the place. And they really liven up the property: visiting kids and people walking by on the street alike seem to appreciate them.

our different-colored hens eating spilled scratch

bad photo, pretty hens

Even the work involved in their care is a positive in my book. Sometimes I even wish there were more of it!

Of course, there are downsides. The permitting process in our town is a little annoying (not to mention costly). And this time of year, as the hens' wake-up call inches backwards past 6 am, I sometimes wish I could feel a little less like a farmer. But never for long. One issue I've heard from a lot of people is trouble with predators, but we've been lucky in that regard. I built the coop pretty secure, with multiple latches to the doors... but in all our years of chicken keeping I don't think we've seen any serious attempt to break in (and now Harvey leaves the nesting box lid unlatched almost every day). We have lost two hens to hawks over the years, but that doesn't seem unreasonable. Maybe Rascal keeps away other potential—more persistent—predators.

So while I won't say categorically that you should get chickens... if you've got any sort of yard at all, I don't see any reason why you shouldn't.

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a story about chickens and snow

I'm not sure, but it feels like in past winters the hens pretty much never went out at all. With the dark mornings I never felt like I had to let them out early, like I do in the summer; failing that prompt I pretty much kept them shut up all the time. With nine of them sharing the space now, though, I feel like I want them to get as much time in the open as they can, at least when there's grass showing—as there was this morning. With snow in the afternoon's forecast I was extra motivated to get them their pecking time before all the good pecking was buried. Only, the snow came a little early, and it fell fast.

four chickens making their way through the snow

snowy trek

I was distracted by moving around all the furniture in the house—a perfect snow day activity!—so I didn't think of the hens at all until nap time (2:30 these days, at our house). When I went out to check on them I found four inches of snow on the ground, two hens in their run, and seven cuddled up under the shed. It's dry and cozy under there, with just a chicken's-height of head-room, so it's their favorite place to hang out in inclement weather. Except, as I knew and they did not, the weather was going to get worse before it got better and I was worried they'd get stuck for the rest of the winter! So I had to get them out.

It wasn't easy; there's no way I can drive them out from under, even with a long stick (I did try), and they showed absolutely no inclination to put even a single claw out into the snow. So I trampled down a pretty good area out in front of the shed—the snow was so light I could get right down to grass pretty easily, and tossed out some scratch. Slowly, slowly a couple of the braver young hens poked their heads out. I threw a little more scratch a little farther away and waited. It took maybe five minutes, but eventually they were all out from under and far enough away from the shed that I could dart in behind them. Then I mercilessly drove them through the snow back to their coop.

Actually, I didn't need to drive them far: once they were actually in the snow they knew that home, where their food and water and nesting boxes are, was a better bet then back under the shed. But it was slow going. They ignored the path I'd tried to make for them and picked their way along the fence, as pictured above; with each step they hesitated, clearly reluctant to put a foot back down into the cold and wet. The older hens, who lived through the terrible winter a couple years ago, were the most indignant about it.

Oh well, sorry girls: the rest of the inhabitants of this household love snow, so we'll be wishing for lots more of it this winter!

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hens sleeping rough

Who knows why chickens do the things they do. The other night we had friends over in the evening, so it wasn't til late that I went out to shut the coop door. Stepping onto the porch I almost tripped over a hen sleeping on the porch floor; there were two more on the railing. The other six were crammed into the small open coop I made for the little hens to live in at the end of the summer. None of them were where they were supposed to be, in their own house. When it's dark chickens don't really move around much, so it wasn't hard to grab them one at a time and carry them to the henhouse, but it did take a fair while. I figure that the wind must have blown the door shut in the evening when they were still out, and when they couldn't get home they had to make other arrangements. It was open when I got outside, but whatever.

The next night I was late again. It looked like everything was as it should be—door still open, no hens to be seen outside—but I thought it would be ok to check just in case. And count. Seven hens roosting comfortably... out of nine. Hmm. This time it took me a little searching before I found the other two, cuddled up on the ground at the base of a tree. I picked em up and threw em back in. Last night it was just after dark when I got out, but dark comes early these days and the hens were once again abed—eight of them this time. The last one didn't take any trouble to find, though: she was right where she'd been the night before. Today it was wet and snowy (and we had our health department inspection) so I didn't let them out. Everyone will be sleeping where they're supposed to be!

It's not that I mind them making alternate sleeping arrangements if they don't care for the home I built for them. I'm not offended! But I do like to see them in the morning, and given the wildlife running around here I wouldn't be too sure about their survival chances outside their hardened shelter. We're hearing owls—multiple owls—hooting around the house just about every night lately, just for one example.

That said, they'd probably be fine most evenings. At least twice I've closed up the run without counting and had a hen spend a night out in the open, with nothing bad happening. The only two hens we lost to predators were both in the daytime, to hawks. But there's no reason to take chances. So at least when I'm paying attention, I'm going to take the trouble to put all of them in. Hopefully they'll figure it out on their own and stop trying to make alternate arrangements. But, as I say, they think for themselves—there's no telling the mind of a chicken.

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egg-citing news!

In case you're keeping score at home, we have nine hens now, the most we've ever had. One left from our first batch (five years old now!), three from the second, this year's four "chicks" (now full-grown, of course), and one bonus hen that was delivered to our doorstep in early fall (a story of its own). The is year was the first time we got spring chickens—the other two batches were born in August—so I didn't know what to expect in terms of the egg production schedule. Well, never mind the cold and dark: they've started it up now!

11 varied eggs in a carton

look at the variety!

Harvey is in charge of collecting the eggs these days, so I don't know if he experiences a thrill when he sees three eggs in the box this late in the year. Visiting children certainly seem to appreciate finding even one, but they aren't out in the cold before 7:00 in the morning doing a chore they have to do six days a week. Either way, though, I'm pretty thrilled when he brings in a haul like that. Here it is the end of November, and our egg carton is still just about full! I think we've bought five or six dozen for fall baking, but for eating we've been doing pretty well with what our farm can provide. I can't wait to see how many eggs we'll get come spring! Strangely, it makes me want to get even more hens...

It's a good thing the egg numbers are holding up, because we now have another egg eater in the family: Lijah has finally realized that scrambled eggs, at least, are delicious, and now happily shares in the breakfasts we make for the other two boys (that's his little hand reaching out for a raw one in the photo above). Since Leah's not doing breakfast these days I get by making four eggs on egg mornings now, though I understand from friends who have bigger kids that that won't suffice for long. But for now we're doing well, and I feel confident about the future. Keep up the good work, hens!

Lijah looking thoughtfully at the full egg carton

Lijah saying, "which egg should I want..."

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chickens in our kitchen

One thing I had forgotten about having chicks in the house was the smell. No, it's not bad, it's a delightful mix of pine shavings, heat lamp, and a little something from the chicks themselves. When they start smelling worse it'll be time to send them outside; for now they're totally indoor cuties.

Zion looking at the chicks, Mama holding one

new tenents

Leah was standing by the phone all morning yesterday, but once again the post office was happy to make a special delivery and brought the box by this afternoon at around 1:00. We had some new friends over—another local homeschooling family—and they were just about leave; naturally they waited a couple minutes to meet the new arrivals!

Mama and Harvey opening the chick package

opening ceremony

All four chicks were alert and active in their packing box, but super ready to get out and start eating and drinking, which they were able to do without any intervention from us. They were plenty warm enough too, and didn't feel any need to huddle under the heat lamp; we've already moved it up twice.

the chicks in their brooder under the red heat lamp

red-light district

Our second-grade visitor wanted to know right away if we had named them—were we going to name them? None of our current hens have names, since we look at them more as livestock than as devoted family pets. And yet, we did get all of our chicks from MyPetChickens.com, so a little petting seemed fair—once they had gotten used to their new surroundings, of course. All the boys were very gentle.

Zion and Lijah petting a chick

petting the pet

Our friends had to leave before that point, so now we can be sure they'll want to come back. We'll have the little cuties in our kitchen for another couple weeks; come visit them in their fuzz-ball stage, before they turn into gangly chicken teenagers!

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