posts tagged with 'chickens'


Lots of people, including us, got chickens at the beginning of the pandemic. For us the experience was old hat, but I heard that for some of the new chicken owners it was a bit of a challenge. I wonder how many of them are thinking of adding to their flock this spring? The subject comes to mind because this morning I was awakened by a strange yet familiar sound... which after a few repetitions I finally realized was a rooster! Actually, to be fair I don't think it was the rooster that work me up but rather the way the dogs were reacting to it; there was so much barking after each crow that it was clear the sound was new and alarming to them, unlike, say, the cry of the male turkey which we hear a lot more often.

So where did this rooster come from, and why haven't we heard it before? My first thought was that someone got chicks early this spring and one of them has now revealed itself as male—but I feel like they'd have to be really early to be outside overnight already. Could the sound have carried from a proper farm thanks to some unique atmospheric conditions? The closest farm is Chip-In, but they don't have roosters either—they're just about in the same neighborhood as we are and it's kind of a dense one, and I bet their neighbors wouldn't appreciate it. Personally, though, I don't know why not: I think they're a delightful addition to the ambience of a community! I wish I could wake to roosters every morning... especially since that means the dogs would have to get used to them.

chicken chores a-changin

I always tell people that chickens are easy to take care of. And they are! But sometimes there are challenging moments, like when your flock gets attacked by a hawk or a fox or your own dogs. Or when a windstorm blows a hole in the henhouse roof and you have to make emergency repairs, and then subsequently build a whole replacement roof (that's a recent story for us). But aside from those sort of rare occurrences, the hardest thing for me in chicken ownership is keeping their water filled in the winter. In the past it was even harder, because it froze every night, so every morning (and sometimes more often!) I'd have to bring the waterer in and melt the ice so I could get it refilled. Now we have a heater, so that doesn't happen; but because the outside tap gets turned off for the winter, I still have to bring the waterer in to the kitchen to fill. It's big, so there needs to be no dishes in the sink. And compared to the tap outside, the kitchen sink takes forever to fill the two gallons or whatever the hens need in a day. So it's not too much trouble, but it's enough that it seems like occasion to rejoice when it's warm enough to turn the water on outside again. Which I did yesterday. Just another way we're celebrating spring around here!

spring chickens

I don't feel completely confident assessing their mental state, but it might be that the creatures happiest about the warmer weather at our house are the chickens. Some chickens walk on snow; ours do not, so for the last month plus they've been confined to their coop and enclosed run (which I spiffed up with a snow-shedding roof last summer). But over the last two weeks the snowless expanse has been slowly growing towards their front door, and early this week they finally had a snow-free pathway out into the yard. They appear delighted with their freedom.

some of our chickens pecking at the ground

peck peck, peck peck, peck peck

They show their delight early every morning, which has been a *little annoying, since the way they show it is by making lots of noise before I'm necessarily ready to be getting out of bed. At least that's one good thing about the upcoming time change: Sunday morning they'll be making all that racket at 6:30 instead of 5:30! And I can't begrudge them the noise too much, because the extra sunlight means that egg production has ramped back up almost to summer levels. No more buying eggs for us until next winter! (or until we need to have a big brunch...).

eggs in a bowl on the back porch

one days' haul

My only concern is that we still haven't figured out how the hens and the dogs can share the yard. Right now they can't; the dogs will try and kill the hens if they're out together. So that's a little stressful. Something to work on this spring.


eggs in February

Other people's hens lay during the winter, but not ours; they take a break from mid December until mid February or so. It's not the cold that stops them, as I understand it, but the light. The light is definitely coming back now, so at least one of them has started up egg production again. But until this week it wasn't at all warm, which led to an interesting moment at breakfast on Sunday. On Sundays the boys like to have cereal, so I'm my own for breakfast; I decided to have a fried egg, and I decided to use the freshest egg, the one I'd just brought in from the coop half an hour before. I had the pan all heated up and buttered, I moved the potatoes I was also cooking out of the way, I cracked the egg in... and I was very surprised when the yolk clanked into the pan and didn't compress at all from it's spherical shape. Ah yes... it was 11°F out, after all! I probably could have cooked it anyway, but what's the point of having a fried egg if the yolk isn't perfect?! So I scraped that egg out to give to the dogs and cooked the second-newest egg, from the day before. It was fine. The moral of the story is: it's possible for something to be both fresh and frozen.

egg consumption outpaces production

It's surprising to me lately how many eggs we eat. Our friends with a new flock of chickens just told me that their hens kept laying right through the solstice; ours do no such thing. While it's true that they kept up production a little bit longer than last time I complained about it, they closed up shop for the winter after the second week of December. I can't be too upset: we do live just down the road from a farm where we can get day-old cage-free eggs for under $3 a dozen. But we need so many! When our hens are laying I don't really notice: we get four or five a day, and use as many, so it was kind of like water from the tap. Now with having to go to the store it's like we're in bottled water mode, and I have to pay attention in case we're going to run out. So, say, I can't plan to make french toast for breakfast and a Spanish tortilla for supper on the same day. It's hard!

On the plus side, visiting the store is a delightful experience, and the kids can use the trip to buy candy. So, while I'm looking forward to the return of the light and the eggs, I bet they're fine with things the way they are!

I'm not dead

When I stop writing in the blog it's sometimes hard to get going again. Here's what happened. With the election outcome in doubt, I couldn't focus on anything, and certainly not writing. Any time I sat down at the computer I was drawn inexorably toward checking the news, and then reading to the same contentless words over and over again. You know, there wasn't actually that much happening between when I voted on Tuesday and we heard the results the following Saturday... but people were happy to pretend there might be, and I was primed to listen to them!

Then almost immediately after we got the happy news about Biden's victory, we had a personal farm tragedy: the dogs got out in the yard unsupervised with the chickens and attacked them. They killed one right away, and wounded another very seriously. She lingered for almost two days in our little chicken hospital box, but there was nothing we could really do for her besides making her as comfortable as possible, and she died Monday afternoon. Goodbye, Brownie and Ramona: we all miss you. There were many tears shed. Then after that the rest of the week was pretty normal, but the psychological fatigue and inertia kept me from getting back into writing. What would I say?

So that's what happened. I plan on going back and adding photos for the past two Sundays I missed, and as Thanksgiving gets closer I'm sure there will be more things I want to write about. So I guess you haven't heard the last of me yet.

natural enemies?

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!

good fences make good chickens

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.

chicken video

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...)

chicks, man

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.