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.

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!

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?

Ranch Wife Musings: Good Mornings

“Good morning!” There’s a lot tied up in that little greeting, depending on the recipient. My husband gets the first “good morning” of the day, for obvious reasons. After coffee and breakfast, the dogs get a “good morning,” then the cats, the chickens, the horses, and sometimes even the garden. It just depends on how personable I’m feeling.

It’s hard to have a truly bad morning when it starts with coffee and is followed by the cacophony of grateful little noises of a passel of chickens and two-month-old chicks. This little chicken here is Bianca. She loves to be scratched under the chin. As an aside, my husband complains that I have more pictures of my chickens than of him. He is absolutely correct, and I gently remind him that they outnumber him and are uniquely cooperative. I also want to make a disclaimer: I really don’t like selfies, and pretty much the only times I take them are either with a chicken or with abnormally large vegetables.

In spite of some very chilly nights and actually resorting to turning on the furnace this morning for the first time this fall, the garden is as of yet unfrosted! This coneflower has been getting more and more beautiful for about the last week, and if the warmish weather continues, there are a few more buds trying to bloom.

The turnips got thinned this morning and the mature ones planted much earlier this summer got fully harvested. They’ll make a delicious turnip green soup!

Now to put the kitchen to rights after all the canning yesterday, tidying the house, drying herbs, and a long walk. Doesn’t get much better.

I love a good morning.

Tough Love

This is Amelia.

She really does have as much personality as it looks like in this picture. As a chick, even just a week old, she was feisty and would frequently attack my hand when I reached into the brooder. A chick can’t really do any damage, but fast forward a couple of months and I had started wondering if Amelia was actually a rooster. Once she flew at me and to my surprise made it about to eye level, which was a little startling.

Well, Amelia has since started laying eggs – the most beautiful blue eggs, as a matter of fact – so clearly she isn’t a rooster, but prior to that she was really just a pain. Literally a pain. She’d run up and peck at my hands and fingers or anywhere else she could find to peck, and I got sick of it pretty quick. And by “peck,” I really mean that she’d run over and grab me by the finger and just hang on. It was annoying. Finally one day she ran up and bit me pretty hard, so I grabbed her by the legs and held her upside down and spoke sternly to the little wretch. She didn’t like that. But she tried the same stunt again and received another round of being held upside down by the legs.

It took one or two more of these little confrontations and she eventually got the picture. She settled down. One might think she’d behave herself sullenly and sort of keep to herself and away from the mean lady who grabs her and hangs her upside down, but that would be incorrect. Amelia is now the first one to greet me whenever I come into the chicken coop, and basically begs for attention. She loves to be scratched on the head. And hugged. Yes, hugged.

A little tough love goes a long way.