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.

First Snow

A wintry mix started blowing in yesterday, with freezing fog, beautiful frost, and the winter weather we’ve been anticipating for a month and a half. When I locked the chickens up last night, they had all put themselves to roost with their feather puffed out, covered with a sparkling crust of frost. They were entirely unbothered by the cold.

This morning, a beautiful dusting of snow had transformed our frosty landscape. We’ve had snowfall, but nothing that stuck. I bundled up and lugged my jugs of hot water down to the chickens. When I opened their door to the run, they eagerly piled out, but stopped short in a pileup on the ladder, starting disgustedly at the white stuff on the ground.

Not everyone is excited for that first snow!

Spreading Little Wings

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know by now how much I love my critters. My teenage chicks got to taste their freedom for the first time a few evenings ago with some supervised time outside their run. It was so fun to watch them come bursting through their run door into the big wide world, and their explorations began. Curious little things.

I had been intending to start integrating them into the big girl flock for awhile, but this was prompted in particular by my rooster, Bernard, who is honestly just a jerk to all of his flock mates. He may end up in the soup pot if he isn’t careful. I have to say, I’ve enjoyed the big girls putting him in his place on a number of occasions…They came to inspect the proceedings and definitely aren’t impressed with Bernard.

The last few nights, they’ve gone out with the big girls, interacted pretty seamlessly with the hens, and managed to put themselves away successfully at sundown. How easy is that?

Chicken Math

My husband is a very patient man.

Somehow two chicken fatalities several weeks ago strongly suggested an immediate need for a whole new flock of chicks, so two weeks ago that exciting noisy box came to the post office and eighteen chicks took up residence in our spare bedroom. Much to my delight, and to Pearl’s, who was overwhelmedly thrilled to have baby chicks to stare at for hours at a time. We actually caught her perched on top of the brooders, absolutely fascinated by her chicks, and without any intent to injure them. My husband says she and I watch the chicks with the same expression on our faces.

I steered away from Buff Orpingtons due to their apparent lack of healthy fear (they were the two fatalities) and instead leaned heavily on Ameraucanas and Light Brahmas, and also added a few Delawares. McMurray Hatchery threw in three freebies for the total of eighteen chicks. What fun. I split the Brahmas and three Delawares off from the Ameraucanas after the first day or so, since the latter were all on the smaller size and I wanted to avoid picking. I used the same brooder setup as before, made from large Rubbermaid tubs with screen inserts in the lids, but was able to get by very easily with one heat lamp for the two brooders, rather than one lamp each.

The chicks have done really well over the last two weeks, without any losses. One chick, who has been named “Little Betsy,” or “Little Bee,” for short, one of the seven Ameraucanas, got some hand feeding for about five days due to her small size. She took readily to the egg yolk on a Q-tip and loved feeding time. She’s still petite and does have a slight cross beak, which doesn’t seem to be affecting her ability to eat, and gives her the funniest quizzical expression. She’s a gentle little bird.

Today was moving day and the chicks, just starting to reach their awkward adolescent stage with pin feathers and scruff, were graduated from the nursery brooders to their grade school brooder, made of an old Lumix feed tub, about 4×8 feet in size, with plenty of room for them to spread their little wing stubs. The two mini flocks had shown a little schoolyard hostility over the last few days, when one chick would manage to get into the other brooder, but they combined rather well this afternoon, without any issues. The warm summer weather will be to their advantage, only needing supplemental heat at night, and they will enjoy all the extra room. It really is amazing how fast chicks double and triple in size!

At least now Pearl can do her chicken chores without running back and forth from the house to the barn and back again. Maybe she’ll even take up her old hobby of bunny hunting. Meanwhile, I can try to figure out how it is that 18 chickens – 2 chickens = 34 chickens. Math never was my strength anyway.

Nesting

In spite of a beautiful set of heirloom nesting boxes, compliments of my husband’s grandma’s chicken coop, my chickens are determined to lay their eggs in a certain corner of their coop on the ledge of the floor sill, tucked behind the bin I store their feed in. A few days ago, I didn’t find any eggs and assumed they all just took a day, but the next morning I found a stash of four eggs in this choice corner, three of which were broken, with a chicken getting ready to deposit another in the same place.

I took away the feed sacks they were clumsily using as a sort of nest, tried to block the corner off, with the only end result that two chickens still managed to squeeze into that space and lay their eggs, one of which rolled off the floor sill and cracked. Foiled, by a critter with a brain the size of a lima bean.

Since they were insistent, I played along, if for no other reason than to keep the eggs from getting broken. I was also suspicious they were then eating the broken ones and was eager to nip that unsavory proclivity in the bud. So I made a makeshift nesting box with a 5-gallon bucket tipped on its side, and also did the golf balls in nesting box trick to try to con them into laying where I wanted them to lay. A few hens have seemingly caught on to the nesting boxes, with a little encouragement (i.e. actually placing them in the boxes and then babysitting them) and have used the nesting boxes without supervision since then, but there are apparently four hens that literally wait in line for that special corner, since all the eggs today were placed oh-so-nicely in the bucket, not in the nesting boxes.

I’ll keep working on getting them in the nesting boxes, but as long as they aren’t cannibalizing their own eggs, I honestly don’t really care where they feel compelled to put them. And if they’re patient enough to wait in line until their friend is done in that special corner, well, bless their little hearts.

Thankfulness, Like the Rain

We were sitting down for supper last night after a busy Sunday, listening to the sound of rain on our roof. Our weekend was a blur of county fair busyness, fire department busyness, hot weather, and lots of people we don’t get to see very often.

It was a hard week. Not a bad week, just long, hot, and dry. We could gripe about a lot of things. We could gripe about the hot and dry weather we’ve been having. The pastures that are so sparse they almost look grazed out even though they haven’t been grazed yet. Dry dams. Politics. Sturgis rally traffic. Or any other number of things we humans are great at coming up with to complain about.

Or we could find something to be joyful about and thankful for. Thankfulness breeds thankfulness, and once you start finding things to thank God for, it really just keeps going.

Like the rain.

Like a repreive from the heat.

Like that first full dozen eggs I got from my chickens.

Like all of our crazy, loveable critters.

Like getting the chickens moved into their new coop.

Like a weekend full of those once-a-year county fair festivities that wear a person out, but also fill a person up.

Like the community we are so blessed to live and work and worship with.

Like faithful neighbors.

Like a loving, God-provided spouse.

Like a wonderful Sunday evening supper of homegrown steak, zucchini, and dill cucumber salad, a meal entirely harvested from this ranch.

Like a million other things.

So we sat listening to the music of rain on our roof, watching the downpour so heavy we lost the horizon, thanking the good Lord for a much needed wetting-down of this parched piece of earth, thanking God for friends and neighbors and cows and chickens and thanking God for each other.

What a good end to a hard week.