posts tagged with 'chickens'
This morning a fox got into the yard and attacked the hens. It wasn't even that early—just around breakfast time. I heard the commotion and ran outside; before I even yelled the fox saw me and took off, dropping the hen he was trying to carry away (Springdot the Speckled Sussex). My first instinct was to call for the dogs, who were upstairs with Leah settling in for a morning of office work. They didn't respond instantly, which is probably just as well: unlike Rascal in his prime, Scout and Blue aren't trained to chase away foxes and ignore chickens. The hens were already panicking, and adding two excitable puppies to the scene would probably have made things worse rather than better. Oh well, we're working on it. And they did get come out a little later, once all the hens were safely locked up, to check out the scene of the crime and get their first scent of fox. Next time, they'll be ready!
I wrote last time I talked about fences that I had mostly sealed the chickens out of the garden. Of course, "mostly" is pretty useless when all it takes is a few minutes of chicken presence to do a whole lot of irrevocable damage. The thing with chickens is, they feel no shame, and they don't at all respect a boundary that doesn't physically prevent them from getting into something. That is to say, they can't be trained to get into the garden. And while they're not single-mindedly dedicated to trying, eight hens moving around for eight to ten hours a day are statistically likely to find their way in there. And then I get mad. So for the sake of our relationship I spent some more time working on fences—this time the tricky spot where the new deck meets the corner of the house. There will be a gate there, but there's a lot of other infrastructure to establish first: four posts and two fence segments in a space not much more than five feet across. It took a surprisingly long time, but I pretty much finished it off today. The gate itself is still a gleam in my eye, but at least now the doorway is easily blocked off by an old baby gate (we have the telescoping wooden ones because we're classy that way). Now the hens are at least 50% more likely to be good chickens.
As promised—theatened?—here is a farming movie. I made it in response to a prompt from church asking "in these pandemic days, what is giving you life?" Chickens are just a small part of what's giving me life, but they're the most photogenic part. I only had 20 seconds to show them off, and you better believe I used up all 20!
(With appreciation and apologies to Danny Barnes for the unauthorized music sample...)
Between the sadness at losing one of our hens last weekend and the ever-growing longing for animal companionship shared by many members of our household, it was perhaps inevitable that some chicks are now living in our house. We've never had chicks in consecutive years before, but then again, everything these days is different than it's ever been before. I'm very pleased to see the chicks—because they're super cute, because I like eggs, and because the probable alternative was a hairless cat. (If Leah were still writing in the blog here she could defend her love for the hairless cats, but I'm not really a fan.) In other years our chicks made their first public appearance on the blog, but not in 2020; I haven't even taken any pictures of them yet. No, today's world calls for live video, so yesterday morning I set up a chick cam (over Zoom, natch) and sent the link out to everyone we know. That link isn't up now, because we have limited equipment and because it turns out Zoom isn't actually designed to keep a meeting running indefinitely with nothing happening, but if we figure out how to do a more traditional web-cam setup I'll for sure let you know.
Because this was a sudden decision we didn't order the chicks by mail, like we have in the past. Instead Leah went to the feed store to buy them—and because everybody else in the world wants chickens right now that was harder than it would have been in a normal year. She left the house at 6:00 yesterday morning in order to get to the store and line up before it opened at eight; when she got there at 6:30 she was number ten in line. Luckily she only had to wait in line in the snow—yes, it was also snowing yesterday morning—for an hour and a half before she was able to get out of there, because the kids folks at Erikson Grain Mill got going an hour early in order to avoid a possible riot in their parking lot. And she was glad, because she escaped just as the police were arriving to investigate what was backing up traffic on area roads. I kind of want to know how the situation resolved, but I'm happier to have the chicks.
The new members of our flock are a Black Copper Maran, a Barnevelder, and a Lavender Orpington. They're happily established in the office, where they can keep Leah company during her long days in the video-call mines and amuse (or confuse) her remote coworkers with their cheeping. The boys are desperate to play with them, which makes me nervous. Now we're looking into getting a dog.
I had kind of a tough Holy Week. On Palm Sunday we had somebody "Zoom Bomb" our church service—a ridiculous name for the kind of dumb prank that's unfortunately entirely commonplace on the internet. But lots of people on Zoom now aren't used to the internet, so they reacted very strongly to the intrusion. Besides making everybody on the church staff do more work as we struggled to plan a safer service for Easter, it also prompted lots more people to question whether they, or anyone, should be using Zoom at all. That question is very troubling to me for lots of reasons, the most salient being that I need to keep using Zoom myself, and I need other people to use it too, or else I might go crazy. So that made for a stressful week. Then on Saturday morning one of our chickens got taken by a fox or a coyote or something... we didn't see, but we noticed her missing a little later and we noticed lots of feathers all over the yard. I'm not always hit super hard when one of the hens dies, but this one was tough. I was feeling pretty sad to begin with, which obviously played a part. And then too in this pandemic time we were glad to always have plenty of eggs, including lots to give away to friends and neighbors; being down one hen won't cut the output too much, but with things as they are I still wish we had nine hens laying instead of eight.
Then despite all that, Easter was lovely. Maybe I'll write about that tomorrow.
Now that the light is returning, the hens have started laying in earnest. We missed our trip to the egg farm last Thursday because our homeschool day in Concord was cancelled, but that didn't matter—we ate the regular amount of eggs this week and we still have almost a full dozen waiting on the counter (as I think about it, it helps that our broken oven is keeping me from baking anything...). As they collect the eggs the boys have restarted the recording that we did a couple years ago, keeping track of each day's counts. We're planning to make a graph when we have enough data, but I can already say that it will have a curious spike in it: a couple days ago we discovered a cache of eggs hidden underneath the hen house, and with some good careful work with a long stick the boys brought in nine that day. After that we left a couple old eggs in the nesting boxes to let the hens know where they're supposed to be doing their laying. It seems to be working. A great start to the farming season... now it's time to get some seeds going!
I've written about our hens' winter cessation of egg production before, more than once, and I almost did again about a month ago. But this year the drought didn't last long, and it's even better to write about the return of home-grown eggs. We've had six already, all from the young hens—which I know because they never managed to secure a place in the henhouse for themselves and so laid them on the ground in what was meant to be the chick house annex, where they're still sleeping. Or were, until I closed it off: I can't be crawling in there every day looking for eggs. We have nesting boxes for that! We'll see if being denied any other option will get them sorted out.
Sadly, we now have only three young hens: one of them disappeared just before the new year. There's been a very bold coyote around, one that we're calling a wolf, because it's so big. I noticed the hen was gone when I went to let them out in the morning—they had been putting themselves to bed—and though I looked all around I couldn't find any trace of her. I can't imagine anything could take a hen on snowy ground without leaving remains, but a 50-plus pound wolf (if I were to take a guess!) would probably have as good a shot as anything. We're sad—the missing hen even had a name, thanks to Harvey's friend Jack. Penguin, you'll be missed—and so will your eggs.
Surprise update, January 10: Penguin has been found! A neighbor from the next street over came to tell us that she had a hen that had been living in her side yard—she'd been feeding it for the past week or so. So we went and got her... not without a struggle, since she clearly thought she'd found a new home. Now she's back where she belongs, and we're going to keep her—and all the hens—locked up for a couple days until she gets settled in again.
Every year we have to renew the "keeping of animals" permit that says we're allowed to have chickens. As I understand it, the Board of Health wants to make sure that the livestock in town is being treated well and isn't making too much of a mess. Well, it may be that I don't fully believe in their mandate or could be that I'm just lazy and disorganized—maybe both!—but there has never been a year when I managed to respond when they reached out to me to schedule an inspection. Every year they start with a letter in October, then they follow up with a couple phone calls, one every three weeks or so. If I manage to answer the phone in that time I'm delighted to set up an appointment, bit if I don't—and I'm really not good about picking up the phone for numbers I don't recognize—I have a lot of trouble taking time to get in touch with them. And unfortunately the pressure to get the inspection done seems to fall mostly on their end. So this year the very kind inspector just showed up at our house on a Tuesday afternoon to make it happen.
Which was perfect! Even better than having to talk to someone on the phone! And the surprise inspection removed any stress I might have had about sprucing things up, but not in a way that left evidence of last minute work that might suggest I had something to hide. I think about those things. Nope, we run a tight ship here, and even without any warning (well, besides the two months of letters and calls...) our coop was clean and presentable and full of happy hens who have free access to food and water.
Still, I do feel a little guilty about not having things together. So I just made a reminder in my calendar: in 11 months it'll be time to make that appointment. Do you think it'll work?
Last time I wrote about the chickens, we were having trouble getting the younger ones to go back into their coop. Well, I'm pleased to report that they've now mostly got it figured out. As before, it seems like the death of one of the older hens reshuffled the pecking order and helped the remaining chickens feel more like one flock. Now the nine of them are running in the same direction when I let them out, and for the most part they're all running right back when I call them. I got them put away in just a couple minutes when we needed to leave for homeschool Park Day at 10:30 this morning; what a relief.
It did take a couple minutes rather than 30 seconds or so because there is still one of the young hens that isn't totally sure about joining her elders in the coop (she's a Barred Rock, the first one we've had since our initial batch of hens oh so many years ago). The others run right in, but I need to do a little bit of work to corral her in the right direction. It's either than she's too smart to submit to being shut in all day for a few pecks of scratch, or too dumb to find the door. It's hard to tell with chickens. She may well be the bottom of the pecking order; the Buff Orpington, the former lowest hen, did the same thing in her younger days. If that's the problem, she just has to wait: the next batch of younger hens should be around in 19 or 20 months!
Our chickens aren't having the best time of it lately. The main thing I feel bad about is how much time they've had to spend confined to their coop. See, the older hens are great about coming back when I call them, so a few months ago I though nothing of letting them out first thing in the morning, even if we were due to leave the house at 9:00 or something. They could get a few good hours foraging, then when it was time for the humans to hit the road they'd happily return to captivity for a treat of scratch. The four young hens aren't anything like that though. In fairness, it's because the coop is much less comfortable for them: the older hens bully them unmercifully. So there is no chance they're going to come back voluntarily. Instead, one of us—maybe two or three!—has to spend five to twenty minutes getting them all secured. Needless to say, that means I'm not as ready to let them roam.
Take this morning. Our plans included a mid morning trip to Costco and an early afternoon errand to the farmers market in Lexington. Even though the hens were awake by 6:30 and could have enjoyed three hours of early-morning frolicking, I didn't want to deal with the struggle when it was time for us to leave. The four hours before our next outing didn't seem worth it either. So it wasn't until 4:00 that we were finally ready to let them out. I feel like our schedule is a little full for the humans in the household—and look, it's even affecting the livestock!
We also lost one hen about a week ago. She was looking sick, and I figured she probably wasn't long for the world. I couldn't do much for her—our hens aren't at all comfortable being handled, so when I tried to examine her and move her to a more comfortable spot she freaked out, and I was afraid I was going to kill her trying to help. So I let her be, chilling out right outside the coop next to the compost pile, with plenty to eat. When I went to close up the coop after dark she wasn't there, so I figured she was better enough to have gone in with the others... but then in the morning she wasn't there. Or anywhere, that I've been able to find. We've certainly had chickens spend the night in the open before without anything untoward happening, so it's not like being outside the coop after dark is a death sentence—but I can only imagine that in this case an opportunistic predator was there ready to take advantage. It's sad; but then again, I don't mind not having to dig a grave. And I like foxes and raccoons fine, and they need to eat too.
But needless to say I like chickens—my chickens at least—a lot better, and I'm thinking about what I can do to improve their lot this fall. They may have been stuck inside—well, in their capacious run—most of the day, but I made sure to give them a big pile of straw to scratch around in before we left. Maybe I'll get a squash or a melon for them next time.