posts tagged with 'chickens'

goodbye to Leia... or is that Luke?

Back in the spring when we got our latest batch of chicks on what has come to be known as Star Wars Day (locally celebrated as Zion's birthday) all three boys thought it made sense to name their personal birds after something from Star Wars. For his chick—an Easter Egger—Harvey picked "Leia", which I thought was just the best name ever for a hen; he didn't see the pun at first, but eventually came to appreciate it. And was he proud when his chick grew faster and bigger than the other three! For the fair, where we weren't allowed to show birds because of avian influenza, he made a beautiful poster of Leia filled with information all about Easter Eggers and their beautifully colored eggs. And then, not a month later, I started to notice how big and full Leia's tail was becoming. Uh-oh... When, a week or two ago, she he let loose his first tentative crow what I had heavily suspected was revealed to be true.

an Easter Egger rooster on a roost in our chicken run

what a beautiful rooster!

Yes, Leia (or should that be Luke?!) is actually not a hen. As I said to the rest of the family when I knew for sure, "Leia will never lay a single egg." We had ordered sexed chicks, but sexing chickens is not an exact science, I suppose. It's too bad—but not because we don't like roosters! They're lovely, and as I've said before I think that the crowing actually adds a lot to the general ambience of the neighborhood. Most of the time, at least; Leia has been kicking off the morning's crowing at around 5:00, which isn't terrible, but we're into the winter half of the year now... that translates to 3:30 at midsummer, if not earlier!

Well, whether or not we could get used to it—I think we could!—doesn't matter, because the neighbors can't be asked to. Roosters aren't allowed in our part of the world. At least not yet; I can see that changing in 15 or 20 years if interest in backyard farming keeps developing at the pace it has been lately. So we had to find Leia a new home. And being part of the 4H poultry club really helped! One of the member families had lost their own rooster a few months ago, and were thrilled to take Leia off our hands. So with a mix of sadness and relief we packed him up Saturday morning (in a carrier borrowed from another 4H friend!) to bring him to his new home in Newton.

Leia in a home-made chicken carrier, Springdot the Speckled Sussex looking on

"why am I in this box?!"

They're not actually allowed to have roosters in Newton either, but this family has done better outreach work with their neighbors, and they're also prepared to use a crow collar on him. Aside from the collar I think he's going to have a great life down there: they're actively wanting to increase their flock naturally, so if all goes well he'll get to see lots of his chicks grow up amongst the bamboo and cherry trees in his new yard. With the stress of potentially angry neighbors hanging over me I would have paid someone to take him; instead we got to give him to grateful friends, and we got a big bag of black walnuts in return! Plus we can even go visit him some day. I wonder if he'll remember us?


outdoor birds

The chicks are growing up. We've been weighing and drawing them every Monday, and today we did it for maybe the last time—it was almost impossible to keep them on the scale. They've got real feathers and tails and everything, and it's about time for them to be living outside. Our brooder is very small, and as rambunctious young things they need to be moving around way more than they're able to when stuck inside it. So yesterday I fixed them up a little mini run, and closed the "chick coop" off from the main coop so that they could have a place to hang out without being bothered by the main hens. I finished that all up at about 4, and brought them out thinking that I'd leave them to make their home there overnight. But as the temperature dipped into the 50s and I heard their concerned cheeping drifting in the windows I felt sorry for them and, as dark fell, bundled them back into the brooder for one more night indoors. Today they were out first thing in the morning, and it's supposed to be a lot warmer, so I'm leaving them no matter how hard they cheep. They'll get used to it, right?

chicks in the world

Chicks grow fast. The boys take turns caring for them, week by week: whosever rotation it is has to refill their feeder at least twice a day. It doesn't help that, despite having all that food delivered up to them in a container designed for the purpose, they just can't resist practicing their natural behavior of scratching violently at the ground with their feet. So they scatter their food everywhere, and fill their feeder with with shavings. For sure, they're growing birds and they need their exercise, and their brooder is very small. So now that they have some proper feathers and we're confident they can regulate their temperature, we're giving them some time outside.

partially fledged chicks among sun-dappled weeds

hard to photograph them, they move so fast

I do feel a little bad for them not having moms to take care of them and show them the ways of the world. If they did, they'd be able to enjoy the outdoors way longer and way earlier. But even without it's amazing to see how naturally they take to the outside world, where all that scratching makes sense! A much bigger variety of things to peck, taste, and fight over! And most importantly, room to stretch their wings! Before too long they'll be living out their permanently. I wonder how the old hens will take to them?


chick season

As I mentioned, one of the thrills of Zion's birthday yesterday was the arrival of our latest batch of chicks. They were highly anticipated, since our friends got theirs a couple weeks ago. And, as always, they've lived up to the hype!

a 3-day-old chick looking at the camera

look how cute!

Back in the winter at ordering time I picked out the four different breeds I wanted for the optimal beauty of our overall flock, but then the boys each chose one of the prospective birds to claim as their own (not quite counting your chickens before they hatch, but definitely in the same neighborhood!). They've got naming rights as well. The only problem is, it's hard to tell a three-day-old Welsummer chick from a three-day-old Silver Penciled Plymouth Rock chick, so it's possible some names may have to be adjusted in a couple weeks. In any case, one of the chicks is Leia, one is Jawa, and one is Ewa (as well as Zion's birthday the day they arrived is "Star Wars Day," which may have influenced the names). I haven't named my one yet.

the four chicks in their brooder

so I don't know which is which

Like they do, the post office sent someone right over with the peeping box as soon as it came in, without even calling us. Luckily we were only walking to the car, not driving away, so we were able to let our friends know we were going to be late and let the chicks out into their (already-prepared) brooder without delay. Then we waited a bit to watch them get accustomed to their new home, and to make sure the dogs weren't going to eat them. They were certainly very interested.

Harvey and the dogs looking at the chicks in the brooder under the red lights

no color correction can compete with a heat lamp

So much so that I put the chicks up in the office before we left, where they can be shut behind a door. So we don't get to watch them all the time. On the plus side the heat lamp makes the office very warm indeed, just what little chickies like. And so far their cheeping hasn't bothered us at all at night. I think we'll keep them!


good morning to you too, hens

I like lots of things about this time of year—it might be my favorite, even. I love the spring flowers and the fuzzy green on the trees, and it's great working in the garden when it's all unlimited promise. And I'm enjoying the late light that's letting us read stories in the evening without turning on any lights. But on the other end, I could really to without the chickens' early wake-ups these days. If they could be relaxed about their morning it would be fine; I don't usually pay much attention to them in any case, so if they were just casually scratching around their run enjoying the first rosy blush of dawn in the sky, I wouldn't care a bit. Too often, though, they're so excited at the prospect of another beautiful day that they want to let the world know about it. And let me know that they want to get out into the yard! At least, that's how I interpret their frantic bawking at ten past five. It's a good thing they're giving us as many eggs as we can eat!

(Also, I see that last year I was complaining about their noise over a month sooner, so I guess we're catching a bit of a break this time around...)

just-in-time logistics

We've been buying eggs here for a month or two: the hens don't lay in the darkest days of winter. Or hardly at all; and the few eggs we do get generally freeze before we get them. Well, it's February now so it's time to start relying on our home-grown hens again. At least, I relied on them this morning, because I forgot to go out to Chip-In yesterday like I said I was going to and we needed two eggs for the pancakes (pancakes being an absolutely essential part of Friday morning). We did have one left, so I sent Elijah out in the rain to check the nesting boxes and told him that if there wasn't at least one egg there we weren't going to be able to have breakfast. And there was! Pretty good, since I don't think we've gotten one for four or five days. I guess that means we were due!


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.