Tag Archives: Chickens

Damnit Chickens, You Win

The mystery began with shards of egg shell in the arena. I pondered the source and had suspicious thoughts about the usual predators about the yard. The dog seemed most likely innocent as this scene lacked the limp corpse that usually marked her interactions with small animals. A racoon snack? The hens, you may recall, had been sleeping in the trees for months at this point so a night raid of the coop might only turn up eggs. Perhaps a very vigorous someone who enjoys both collecting eggs and performing daring acts of speed and agility dropped an egg on his way to the house?

The mystery was solved some days later when I spotted this thief winging his way off with his prize:

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This whole super-extra-free range chicken situation was going from mildly worrisome (What will they do when it rains? When will the racoons wise up and start picking off the lowest roosting ones?) to frankly irritating.

Enjoying the fresh air.

Good night, bad chicken.

After deciding they preferred open air sleeping, the chickens began fancying themselves entirely feral and began making nests willy nilly all over the paddock. They got terribly good at it and sometimes we wouldn’t discover the hidden clutches for days. The crows, however, were not so impressed by the chickens’ egg hiding prowess and, faced with such bounty, took to just pecking out and eating the eggs right at the nest. If we were really diligent with our egg collection we could beat them to it, but really diligent has never described my relationship with the chickens. Meanwhile, proceeds of our 36 dollar bags of organic layer pellets and lovingly tossed kitchen scraps were going directly into making the next generation of genius crows. I had to take action!

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So I did it. I locked them up. A few of them I could lure into captivity with treats, but I figured not all would go so gently. I purchased the long, metal, chicken-catcher hook that I had always looked at with curiosity/apprehension at the feed store and slunk around the yard after the last 2 stragglers until I could slip the hook onto a leg and drag each poor thing into my clutches. Our coop was once a duplex sort of a situation for chickens and rabbits, but has been all chicken space since our last Angora rabbit died several years ago. As such, it’s not perfectly designed to be an all-the-time space for chickens. It’s long and narrow and has a wire floor them keeps them off the ground. They hated it right from the start, pacing the cage most of the time, looking longingly at the two loose bantams (uncatchable, I didn’t even try) who were still able to roam. I had convinced myself that this was the practical thing to do. We have our chickens for eggs! We will eat all the eggs! I let this sadness persist for a few months.

Until I couldn’t stand it anymore. Having unhappy animals just isn’t part of our deal, not worth it. For awhile I thought the answer was to build a fabulous new, larger coop that would showcase all the innovations I was discovering on line (a poop hammock under the perch! chicken-weight-operated rat-proof feeder!). Ben, however, thought this kind of job would realistically not happen until the Summer, which sounded approximately 50 years away.

Instead we just opened up the door. The ladies have never looked back.

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There has already been evidence of egg theft, but I have a new answer: more chickens! I figure with enough chickens we won’t miss the eggs too much. I also hope to soon have much of the detritus and hiding spots around the yard cleared out so that the nest box in the coop looks most inviting. I have some ceramic eggs in the nest which are supposed to help. And, sigh, I’m working on that diligence thing- collecting eggs more than once a day to stay ahead of my competition.

It’s all worth it when I pull into the driveway and see the gals loose in their Redwood habitat. I have always been enchanted by even the most banal of chicken behavior. I stop the car sometimes and just sit, taking in the awkward flailings of a dust bath or the precise, repetitive strike of a beak into a nook of bark. Great stuff.

 

 

2013 Family and Farm Round-up!

I haven’t carved out the time for a blog update in forever and ever, so here’s a slapdash tour of the whole darn year to make up for some lost time. If you’re not my mother, you might just want to skim the pics. It got a bit looooong. Here goes:

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I got suuuuuper duper pregnant! If I had a nickel for every person who asked if I was having twins… I would tie them up in a small sack to tote in my purse and use to whack those people upside the head. Most especially those who followed with “Are you sure you’re not having twins?”

It was not a delightful 9 months. I will absolutely miss some things- the feeling of having a mysterious, kicking creature inside me and all the wonder and joy it inspired, but mostly the rest of it was rough. I had amazing, intense nausea and please-let-me-lie-down-on-the-floor-right now-to-sleep fatigue for the first 17 weeks, followed by some absolutely crazy making insomnia and pelvic discomfort for the remainder. I was so darn happy to have that baby for all the usual reasons, but also to end that pregnancy!

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But who wouldn’t go through that if it meant you got to have this guy in the end??! Baby R- way beyond worth it.

He’s in that exponential growth period of life these days, so looking at pictures like this one is a trip. Moments ago he was a grub and today he was ransacking our cabinets and burning holes through the knees of his tiny track pants in an all out crawl-sprint for Bonnie’s dog food bowl. Nuts!

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Yep, here comes trouble!

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O has proven to be a superb older brother. There have been some minor recent frustrations as R has gone from a largely sedentary guy that a big brother can interact with or ignore ad lib in the course of an afternoon’s play to a roving Lego hoover that must be constantly monitored to keep from destroying and/or being destroyed by a person’s favorite toys, but overall it has been quite a smooth transition. O is enjoying R so much he’s even had moments of lobbying for another baby (gasp)! R is one lucky guy.

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For the chickens it has been a year of declining productivity and tree roosting naughtiness. We got our newest round of chicks in the Fall to get a jump on Spring laying and all was going great until one of our young ladies started crowing yesterday. Another rooster! Sigh. The four standard size hens we had ranged in age from about 4-7, so it was time to also retire them to the big hen house in the sky (a.k.a. my friend Catherine’s freezer). I was more hands on in the slaughtering and dressing this time around, so I think in the future we’ll be keeping our old birds on site for our own stew pot. I’m also thinking of a more rapid turn-over plan in the future so that we have more consistent laying through the winter months. Catherine and I tried a couple of new techniques in processing the hens this time- using garden shears for the beheading and skinning rather than plucking the birds (Catherine doesn’t like the skin), both of which I highly recommend.

The chicken above, Amelia, will certainly be remembered. She was constantly in search of a better place to hide her eggs, a trait which led to many misadventures. The first time she went missing I just assumed the worst after a few days, but B, in a rather surprising moment of chicken tenderness, flyered the neighborhood with “Lost Chicken!” signs. Turns out she had just been on a walkabout and taken to roosting in a tree outside our neighbor’s bedroom window. The second time she was lost B found her splayed out in such an awkward pose in one of our compost bins that he was sure she was dead. A loud screech and panicked flapping set him right on that account when he went to pick her up, uncovering the 17 eggs she had been secretly laying and attempting to hatch. Often, though, it would be Bonny the Bloodthirsty who would find her after she had flown from the safety of the fenced chicken paddock. Three separate times the chase ended badly, but each time Amelia managed to escape death’s fluffy blond jaws. Some chicken!

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Here we find Bonny terrorizing other small animals across the West.

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Ferocious!

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As mentioned before, my fabulous dressage trainer Sue and Sebastian The Wonder Mustang absolutely kicked butt this year while I was busy being hugely pregnant and then hugely tired postpartum. I couldn’t be more pleased with Sebastian’s progress! Certainly some credit goes to him being a really wonderful guy, but the layering of well done dressage training over natural horsemanship foundation training is just dreamy. He is a pleasure to be around and he’s really learning to use his body correctly. He and I are even moving up to First Level this year! I took him to a show and rode him at Training Level in October. He was a total champ (as expected) and I managed to mostly keep my wits about me and steer the proper course, so onward and upward we go!

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That one is me! In full dressage show gear- Hah! I thought showing hunter/jumpers was silly with my wool coat in the heat of the Summer, but check me out now- white pants and gloves for riding horses. Who thinks that’s a good idea?? After finding that the dressage coat that fit me well was 480 bucks (AK! I could adopt 3.84 more BLM Mustangs for that price!), I dyed my old hunt coat black and put on silver buttons to emulate dressage fashion. Totally passable, I think. I had a lot of fun at this show. I can’t wait for our next one in February.

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B did manage to go skiing in the back country- once, last April. As a guy who grew up in the mountains, skiing all through the winters, B really recharges on these kind of trips.  Once is not nearly enough! Jeez. This life balance thing is tough.

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The bees! Oh, the bees. This first year as a beekeeper has been, well, very mixed. I have loved everything I have learned and the hands on care has been amazing, BUT I think most all of my bees are dead. I found that sad, sad fist-sized clump of dead bees surrounding the dead queen of the far hive after the cold snap in the late fall. I imagine they were just too small and weak to stay warm. At last check a couple of weeks ago the near hive had a smattering of brood on two medium frames and not a lot of bees. A few days ago I watched a sort of sputtering bee topple off the landing board and found that she had the shriveled little nubby wings that come from deformed wing virus- a sure sign that the mite levels in the hive are overwhelmingly high. The virus enters the bees through openings made when mites feed on their bodies.

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I guess it’s possible that they will come back, but I can’t help but think they’re pretty much done for. They have all the leftover stores of honey and nectar from the far hive and in theory there should be Eucalyptus to forage now, so we’ll see.

It’s hard to know what did almost everybody in, possibly a combination of robbing wasps (there were soooo many this year!), mites, and stress from me checking in on them as an eager first year beekeeper trying to learn the ropes. Next year I’m going to get packages of bees from a new source and be more vigilant in some ways (robbing screens on earlier, more intensive mite control) while less invasive in terms of hive inspections. I definitely love the practice of beekeeping, so I’m going to keep at it. The dry, dry California weather (it’s eerie, I can barely remember the last rain) will present a new problem in the coming year, however, with much less forage available. Please wish us luck, it seems we will need it!

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Of course the year involved a good deal of crafting. Between O and I there are always a project or two and various supplies littering the house. O is particularly fond of anything involving tape or string, but my only-for-work pens and any strap-like horse tack also do quite nicely when constructing elaborate art installations in the house. I got really into making paper flowers. This is my New Year’s wreath:

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So there it was, a loooong glimpse at Full Hearts Farm 2013. We send our best, best wishes and lots of love to all for the coming year!

Whatever Did Happen to All Those Bantams Chickens?

The bantam chicks of 2012 were an ill fated bunch. There were the early mortalities from shipping stress, the cat attack, the skunk attack, the unusually high number of male specimens and the neighbors who did not appreciate the chorus of croaky attempts at rooster sounds.

Chicken dierama.

Chicken diorama.

Many returned to the soil on an abbreviated timeline, but a few are still with us. Four out of 28, to be precise. Four! Never again will we buy un-sexed bantam chicks. Not worth it.

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Mille Fleur d’Uccle

They truly are lovely paddock ornaments and I delight in the ridiculous sight of a mini fried egg, but even these girls may be rehomed soon. Laying is slowing down, so we will be “retiring” the old ladies of the flock this year. The replacement gals are in the tiny dinosaur stage of life at the moment (half feathered, fully awkward), being fostered by O’s kindergarten class. Once they are big enough to go outside we fear these flightly little bantams will be bad influences.

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Silver Sebright, beautiful menace?

We had a wild night of terror a couple of months back- chickens freaking out, loud and feathery mayhem in the coop. It seems a predator must have been harassing them through the walls of the coop. A couple gals were quite wounded in some chicken-style friendly fire- bumping into one another during the crisis and being mistaken for the enemy. Since then all the girls have been suspicious of the coop but the above pictured Mille Fleur took matters into her own claws and started roosting in the redwood branches at night. Soon all the other bantams and both Ameracaunas were following her lead. Now we have a half flock of tree roosters. While I find this charming in some ways (trees full of hidden chickens! Ha!), it makes leaving for a weekend difficult (can’t lock everyone in for a few days) and I wonder how they will fair when the rains start. I fear the new babies will learn these tree roosting skills and that would be very inconvenient. So they may have to be Craigslisted. Sigh. Zero out of 28.

The Survivors

The title of this post was going to be a cheerful “Chicken Update!” I was going to write something light about how I hadn’t been taking any pictures of the babies to spare them the humiliation of having their awkward adolescent weeks immortalized on the internet, etc.. That was until the events of this past Wednesday night wiped out half of our hens.

Spared all the roosters. Sigh.

It was 2:30 am and our dog Bonny was demanding to be let out. Bonny is not a dog to waste any time not sleeping, so when she didn’t trot right back in B went bravely out to investigate. He discovered the unmistakeable sight of an erect skunk tail running frantic laps around the run of our chicken house. An occasional chicken flapped through the air with much squawking to punctuate the sad peeping of the confused flock huddled at ground level. Also, there was the stench. B only has one pair of pj pants and needed them for a pending trip, so he ran back in the house to strip down before confronting certain doom again in his briefs. Yes. He was going back out to confront a skunk. This time in his underwear.

Fortunately this wardrobe change gave the skunk some time to escape back through the 2″x4″ openings in the fencing around the outdoor part of our chicken house. Sadly the skunk killed three of our tiny ladies in the mayhem. I would have felt so much better if it had at least been a creature that wanted to eat them. They were just senseless collateral damage.

This is the chicken I was most worried about losing:

Note the crooked beak. If I were a real chicken fancier it would have been cull city for this hen, but look at her beard! Too good! Her behavior is also terribly endearing. B says she and her manly counterpart (both Bearded D’Anvers bantams) are the Golden Retrievers of the chicken world. They do stuff like this:

You don’t even need a food lure!

I’m so glad they both made it through the attack.

The rest are merely pretty friendly.

None have names yet. Initially I wasn’t naming them because half were going to be roosters and therefore not for keeping here in Oakland. This last incident reminded me that it might be wise to wait until full maturity to really help lessen the blow of the random, surprise chicken slaughter. Indeed, this was not our first night of losses over the years. Unfortunately O had named one of the hens before she died. RIP Rainbow. I waited until O was engrossed in a Busytown Mystery before breaking him the news. After an initial “but I WANT Rainbow!” he decided it would be okay. Okay as long as we rename all the big chickens Rainbow.

The head count is now as follows:

3 baby hens

3 baby roosters

5 big chickens (Rainbow 1, Rainbow 2…)

1 dog

1 cat

2 horses

assorted fat squirrels and other garden vermin

Phew!

Just minutes after publishing that last post our goldendoodle Bonny started boofing to announce the arrival of the postman inside our front gate. He was carrying this:

It was very loud! Chock full of hungry, thirsty babes peeping vigorously for their first meal.

I gave each chick the obligatory beak dunk, so they knew where the water was, and they were off!

The best thing about little chickens is how very much they act like big chickens- they scratch, they do the wing/leg combo stretch, they peck leftovers off one another’s beaks, and they pick up tiny sticks and run like hell until it is plain to every other chicken anywhere in the vicinity that a prize has been found.

One thing particular to the tiny guys is their cat naps. Frequently as they walk into the range of the brooder light and warm up they do clumsy, slow-motion face plants and pass out instantly in the bedding. They nap until they are stepped on enough times by the others, and then get back to the important work of growing up. One little one tumbled and capsized right under the light. After an unsuccessful attempt at righting himself he got so cozy he fell asleep with wings splayed out, toes in the air. I think it has been a long 3 days for this brood.

I could watch these babies constantly. It’s going to be hard to do much else!

Waiting for The Stork

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I am writing as a means of quelling my anxiety. As I type, somewhere in Oakland a box of baby chickens is accompanying a USPS worker on his rounds. Last week I ordered 25 chicks (+ 1 free! Rare Exotic Breed) from McMurray Hatchery and according to my tracking info they will arrive sometime today. Hopefully sooner than later, as their window of possible survival is closing soon. Before they are born baby chicks absorb the nutrients from the egg yolk and can live for 3 days after hatching without food or water.

Today is the 9th. The babies shipped on the 6th.  Everybody cross your fingers for a box of *live* babies.

7 Sleeps Until Easter

Excitement about Easter has really been building around here. O has been counting down the sleeps for weeks.

I’d like to say I awoke at dawn in order to chop beets and gather lichens from the forest to make my own natural dyes, but really I couldn’t pass up the Paas dye kit. Ah, the brilliant, artificial dyes of my childhood. O seemed quite satisfied.

Our chickens lay blue, green, and brown eggs, so revealing the colors was extra exciting. Good work O!