posts tagged with 'chickens'
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.
Some of the time I put a lot of energy into gardening. It would be better maybe to put a consistent amount of energy in, but this is where we are now. And besides garlic probably my favorite this to grow is tomatoes. There's nothing like a sandwich made with a tomato fresh from the garden, a little salt, and plenty of mayonnaise... (this time of year I regret our picnic lunch days because you just can't pack up a tomato sandwich). When everything goes well, life as a tomato farmer is just amazing.
But sometimes—often—things don't go as well. Lots of things can go wrong. Gardeners everywhere live in fear of the fungal blights that can devastate a previously healthy crop in just a couple days; and then there's less dramatic afflictions like blossom-end rot and tomato hornworm. Besides all those we have another challenge: our chickens. They like nothing better than to get in to the garden and peck bites out of every single one of the almost-ripe tomatoes in the row. It's brought me close to tears before. Today I finally just went and put a fence around the tomato bed. I should have done it a couple weeks ago but it makes it a pain to weed, and to pick tomatoes ourselves. But it was either that or kill and eat all the chickens.
We've still been able to pick plenty of unpecked tomatoes. And even the ones they got too still have food on them, if you're not too picky. Which I'm not. After all, these are home-grown tomatoes we're talking about!
Did you know that "rooster" used to be the generic term for any gender gallus gallus domesticus, which you may know as the chicken? It was only when certain people decided that the older name for the male of the species—"cock", if you were wondering—was something they didn't want to say in mixed company that "rooster" came to be the term for the big ones with the spurs and the cockadoodledoo. That means that we only have hens here at our house, but the point is that, in a less prudish world, they could be called roosters. Because roosting what they do. Or they're supposed to... only our small hens didn't get the memo.
We moved them outside about a week ago, when their smell prompted me to finally finish their house. They liked having more room to roam (inside their enclosure; I don't trust them enough to give them the run of the yard yet) but when it got dark they missed their comfortable box and all huddled up near the door. That meant if it rained they were going to get soaked; I knew if I left them there and it did start raining in the middle of the night I'd have to go save them. So I brought them in before I went to bed. The next night it did start raining, right as I was about to go to sleep, so once again I went out and got them (they hadn't gotten too wet, nor did I).
We persisted. There was finally a clear night and, though it was a bit chilly, I left them to huddle in the straw by their door. They survived. But I started to despair that they'd ever figure out that they could use the nice roosting pole I made them, or at least, you know, go to sleep under their roof. Then yesterday saw more rain, but this time perfectly timed: it started in the late afternoon, driving them into the roofed part of the house (they're not idiots when they're fully awake) and continued until after dark. I went out to check on them just in case, and there they were, cuddled together on the pole like proper roosters. Hooray!
And they've figured it out. Today was clear and dry, but at bedtime they once again flew up to the roost. I feel like a parent whose child just passed their first spelling test. Now all we have to do is get them integrated with the rest of the flock in a month or so. That couldn't possibly be hard, right?
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!
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.
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!