Chicken Tales

One thing I sure didn’t anticipate when I got chickens was just how downright comical they can be.

…Correction…how comical they are. They just are. Whether it is their quirky personalities, their poor decision making, their difficulty in tasks as simple as finding the coop door, their strange and irrational fears, or the fact that they manage to survive at all, there is never a shortage of laughter-inducing antics.

I love watching them around their feed pans when I put scraps out. There is always one hen who finds something extra good (whatever), and rather than quickly eating it before it can be stolen from her, which it probably wouldn’t be anyway, she takes off running with it, drawing undue attention to herself whereupon the entire flock sees what she has and gives chase. Or there’s Little Betsy, my cross-beak hen. I try to wear a hat every time I go down to the coop because I’m not always fast enough or observant enough to see her little cross-beaked face staring up at me from her telltale crouch before she launches herself into the air, landing on my head with her dirty little chicken feet. One of my favorite things is chicken doctoring. The patient is wrapped snugly in a towel with her head sticking out through a hole cut in the towel, and is pretty effectively immobilized. But unless I kick everyone out of the coop to do my doctoring, I end up surrounded by an audience of concerned and fascinated feathered citizens as I’m sitting on a sack of feed with the immobilized chicken in my lap and who then proceed to accost me. They peck my fingers, try to steal my earrings, peck at my hat, or even climb into my lap on top of the immobilized chicken.

Shortly after getting them over into their new coop this summer, I was putting out feed for them in their run. I give two different types of feed, a high protein pellet (which I ferment and which the chickens absolutely love) and a 16% protein layer crumble, and I store that in a metal bin with a lid. As I was dumping a pail of crumbles into their feed hopper outside I heard a crash from inside the coop. I didn’t think anything of it. Chickens are clumsy and curious, a comical combination. Anyway, I opened the door to go back in the coop, expecting to find my clumsy and curious hen, but to my surprise found no chickens. Huh, funny. Then I heard a faint and faraway chattering, rather hollow-sounding. I lifted the lid of the metal feed bin and there was my little red hen looking up at me with a rather puzzled look on her funny face. Oh, did I laugh! I had left the lid only partially on when I went outside and she had jumped up on it, flipping it over on herself, dumping her inside. Needless to say, I don’t leave feed bin lids partially on anymore.

Lately, one of my Australorps has been apparently discontented with the laying box accommodations. Not sure what triggered this, but after all these are animals with brains the size of lima beans. After months of consistently laying in the boxes, I found her nestled in an open bag of pine shavings, and for several days found eggs in that bag of shavings. Last week, I found her multiple times in the bag of layer pellets. I just haven’t the heart to chase her out, she seems so contented in her strange choices of nest. As long as she’s doing her job, I really can’t complain. I rather wonder if she’s the same hen that I watched very carefully steal a golf ball from one nesting box and scoop it into her box so she could lay on it. I wonder what she thinks would have hatched out of that?

Chickens are always good for a laugh.

The Winter, It Will Pass

We’re only a calendar month into winter but already we’re enjoying hints of the coming spring. The first hint is that Runnings has their seed display up! There has been moisture in the air, bluebird skies, and the excitement of springtime approaching! It has been a whirlwind of sourdough baking and chickens, puppies and our first two calves, housework and laundry and getting ready to visit my sister in Illinois.

Calving has officially started for us with the excitement (and puzzlement) of our first two calves of the year, beautiful full-term babies in spite of being born a solid month sooner than expected. That’s called a bull with initiative. The first calf showed up on Sunday, and the second one was found Monday. Both pairs are safely settled into the nursery pen on our end of the ranch. What a beautiful sight! Gorgeous, lanky-legged, satin-sleek calves tripping along daintily behind their protective mamas.

Puppies are (literally) underfoot during most of chores and throughout the day, finding everything absolutely fascinating. They watch attentively while chickens get fed, torment the cats, and come running in a black and white wave when they’re called. It takes about ten times longer just to walk up the hill to the house, with half a dozen puppies chasing my feet and scheming to trip me. All our females are spoken for and we are looking for homes for our two boy pups, Max and Teddy. We’re excited to see how they all turn out. They are so smart, it’s a little scary!

The chickens are already going gangbusters (for a flock the size of mine), with fourteen eggs today and a dozen yesterday. They have come through their first cold snaps beautifully with only a couple mild incidents of frostbite on a couple larger-combed hens, have been healthy overall, and I’m excited to embark on my second year of chicken keeping. I have learned so much this year, dealing with coccidiosis in my chicks, bumblefoot in a few hens, a few unfortunate dog attacks and resulting chicken first aid, and dealing with a crossbeak chicken who, after today’s beak work, is able to eat again!I’m very thankful for the customers I have and am looking forward to being able to provide eggs for more people this year! It was satisfying to know that my family always had eggs, even when the stores didn’t! And they’re better eggs anyway.

I hauled a bunch of loose hay up from the stackyard this week to give the chickens something to scratch in when they’re locked up and to help with mud when we get snow. The run looks better and the chickens love it. I’m excited to work on making chicken farming more sustainable this year and to try growing some fodder crops specifically for feeding my flock.

So we are off to a running start this year, excited for calving, excited to get planning my garden, excited to grow my flock, excited for what this year will hold. Spring really is just around the corner. The winter, it will pass.

Yesterwisdom: Poultry and Freedom

This picture has been circulating the internet. What an amazing and simple glimpse into the mindset of our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generations.

“Even the smallest back yard has room for a flock large enough to supply the house with eggs. The cost of maintaining such a flock is small. Table and kitchen waste provide much of the feed for the hens. They require little attention – only a few minutes a day. An interested child, old enough to take a little responsibility, can care for a few fowls as well as a grown person. Every back yard in the United States should contribute its share to a bumper crop of poultry and eggs in 1918. In Time of Peace a Profitable Recreation; In Time of War a Patriotic Duty.”

What a contrast to today. But 80 to 100 years ago, freedom and a free people were really desired, victory over enemies and national flourishing weren’t viewed as ills, and the people in government at least had a better understanding that a free nation is made up of free people who have a level of self sufficiency and aren’t reliant on the government. And just look where we are now.

Food production has become centralized and so many of our foods are imported. Just look at the recent “egg crisis.” When the bulk of the nation’s eggs are produced by a few huge producers, what happens when those producers go under or are struggling with diseased flocks? Or when flock management becomes an issue of governmental concern (i.e. tyranny)? On top of those issues, people have been stripped of their self sufficiency due at least in part to increased urbanized living, and we’ve bred a culture that values cheap plenty (ironically now not so cheap) over quality. But then there is the weird dichotomy where people are willing to pay $5 multiple times per week for a fancy coffee at Starbucks that is consumed in ten minutes, but $5 per dozen for eggs seems like a lot to pay. Or people go to Walmart expecting and willing to pay a given amount for cheap Chinese junk and mass produced food, but go to the farmer’s market and expect to pay less for goods produced by the small grower or local business. Clearly we as a culture need a change in mindset.

So go get your chickens or buy eggs from a small farmer. Grow your garden. Go to the farmer’s market. Make food from scratch. Pick a few things you consume a lot of and figure out how make them yourself. Learn to reuse and repurpose and become less reliant on stores and big businesses. Enjoy the satisfaction of capability. Enjoy the fruit of engaging with your community. Bring industry back to the local sphere.

Back in Business

As of today, I am back in the blue egg business! One of my Ameraucanas, which I actually was concerned was a rooster, left me this beautiful blue egg.

There’s just something about a colorful egg basket. And now I know my young flock is starting to lay!

Seeing Black and White

When the puppies were first born, it was impossible to really distinguish one from the other, at least as far as four of them were concerned. Bessie was named pretty quickly, because of her milk cow markings, and there was an all black male that was quickly identifiable, but for some reason hadn’t earned a name.

They are now coming up on 7 weeks old and are a riot of activity, eager for attention, friendly, boisterous, and just a bundle of fun. We’ve got the sweet and sleepy one, the go-getter, the playful and clumsy one, the smart one, and a couple that haven’t really distinguished themselves but are plenty adorable with more energy than should fit in a body that size. It doesn’t get much more fun than going down to the barn and yelling, “Puppies!” and have six puppies and sometimes their mother come pouring out of the barn or out from under the trailers.

Over the last couple of weeks, we have let them start to explore outside and it is hilarious to watch the fat little pandas barreling full-tilt across the yard in protection of their pinecones, tumble down remnants of snow drifts, and learn the about the delicacy of horse manure.

They also enjoy terrorizing the cats, many of which actually invite the terrorizing and enjoy a playful romp with the pups. Polly in particular. It is only since the puppies have significantly outweighed her that the novelty of them is wearing a little thin. One pup is generally tolerable, but four or more is less so. But she still comes back and invites another mauling.

It doesn’t get much cuter.

Picturesque Pandemonium

I really don’t know how it happens. I blink and almost a month has gone by! Christmas was three and a half weeks ago. The New Year came and went. And we are already well into January. Where to even start? What a beautiful blur it has all been.

These last weeks have blended and melded into each other, a pleasant, quiet chaos of life on the ranch, enjoying a slow down, yet somehow never having enough time in the day for everything. My days have been filled to overflowing with the general flurry of activity that happens this time of the year, with canning and baking, sewing, writing, chickens, piano teaching, and so much more. Add to that the variety of ranch-related tasks, sorting calves, vaccinating replacement heifers, helping feed cows, pouring bulls for lice, and the delightful mayhem of six puppies, and we’ve had ourselves plenty busy. Plenty.

I have had a little extra time indoors with the blustery, chilly days we’ve had, and am thoroughly enjoying bread baking. Food independence, however little or much, happens a little at a time, and I’m excited to be contributing to my family in this way. Baby steps!

We’ve done our share of contending with winter, with a bitter cold snap that lasted a good week followed by a week a snow-scarce, wind-wicked storms. We enjoyed a warm up, with T-shirt days and bluebird skies, and now a weather shift of foggy, frosty days. We’ve reveled in the mud and the damp, thankful for every bit of moisture we get.

The chickens have been really picking up the laying, to my immense satisfaction. Brad thinks I’m weird when I say things like “I don’t recognize this egg,” but I do suspect that my new layers are slowly getting started, both due to the increase in egg production and because of a handful of eggs I “don’t recognize.” Yes, dear, you married me. It’s fun to see this next flock get going!

The puppies have been relocated to the barn, after many mornings and nights of carrying them back and forth from our dining room (where they stayed at night) down to their pen in the barn. Let me tell you, those puppies are heavy and our hill started feeling very steep and tall. The puppies collectively have a crush on Polly, and it is a frequent sight to see anywhere from two to five of them pile on top of her in a frisky mass of black and white. Now that they outweigh her, her enjoyment of them is waning, but she still comes back for more. The pups have had a couple of run-ins with Bernard, the rooster. Their little antics are wildly funny.

We’ve been reveling in a picturesque pandemonium.