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.

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.

Pearl’s Shenanigans

So it was at the very end of September, I had just emailed a friend and asked if she knew of anyone with a intact male cow dog, since we were looking to breed Pearl. Well, roughly a day later we were helping a neighbor work some cows and I made some offhanded remark that Joe, his dog, seemed to be kind of distracted by Pearl. He was kind of making eyes at her. You know what I mean. Joe even got knocked over by one cow and stepped on by another and ended up in a cast with a broken paw. Apparently Pearl was super distracting.

Later that day, we (ahem) caught them together, if you know what I mean. Very together.

About, oh, a month later I started noticing just a slight fullness in Pearl’s midsection. Then it became very obvious. Pearl was pregnant. We did the math and we figured she’d have her pups…well, right now. The first week of December.

This morning, Brad left early to haul some open cows to the St. Onge sale barn and Pearl didn’t even budge from her little bed. A couple of hours later, the first pup showed up. I was in the living room and heard something in the mud room and thought a cat had sneaked in. There was Pearl standing in the corner and a little wet pup was wailing on the dog bed.

Pearl seemed confused about the presence of the little alien and paced around looking guilty. I coaxed her over to the dog bed, made her lay down and helped the pup find a teat. Maternal instinct was quick to kick in. It is so amazing to watch!

And just a few minutes ago the second appeared! And then a third. That’s all for now. But I’m pretty darn sure there’s more to come.

Pearl thinks they’re beautiful. I agree.

Blue-Eyed Banshees

A tragic incident on Friday bereft me of my favorite hen, and has rendered Pearl unfit for and relieved of chicken duty. My very kind husband never once laughed at my copious tears for poor Amelia who got her little head ripped clean off and the next day he brought home three cats. Three beautiful, white critters, with toffee-colored point markings and the bluest eyes. And they are wild as little banshees. Considering that, and they fact that they will never lay blue eggs, I’m not sure it quite replaces my poor beheaded chicken, but I’m willing to be open minded.

They were born to a neighbor’s barn cat and haven’t really ever been handled. As long as I keep both my eyes and all my digits, the two girls will be mine, and the male, provided he’ll let me shape and mold his disagreeable disposition, will be sent up north to my mother-in-law who lost one of her mousers (supposedly a mouser; I’ve only ever seen them snoozing) about a month ago.

Amelia (in honor of the deceased chicken, may we always fondly remember the dead) and Madeline are capable of the most withering looks of disdain, with their slightly crossed and very blue eyes, and such scornful looks they don’t hesitate to cast in my general direction if I offend them. As long as I mind my manners and don’t talk too loud, they’ll deign to emerge from their little corners and frisk about at a royal distance. Occasionally one might sneak closer, but stop far enough away to remind me of proper etiquette and the fact that they don’t appreciate having been cat-napped.

I rather have my doubts that they understand yet that all parties on this ranch will eventually be expected to fulfill certain obligations, but I’ll let these blue-eyed banshees bask in the warmth of their deity and their self righteous indignation for a little longer.