Thursday, December 16, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Feeling Bad for Roosters

I live in the city and one of the cardinal rules for city flocks is: No roosters. Nothing is going to get complaints faster and make people cranky quicker than a rooster crowing early morning. Acutally, I don't even think I could tolerate it myself.

I was just on craigslist, thinking I might surprise my husband with a Polish or a Silkie. About half the posts said "Free Chickens". Of course, if it's free, I am going to check it out. Invariably, they were free roosters.

When you order all females chicks from a hatchery, they throw in some males "for warmth". And if you're like me, you don't know you have a rooster till you hear it. Then what? Our local chicken rescue is overrun with them.

I guess there just aren't a lot of options for roosters that don't involve a stock pot.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The O' Possums are back

Last night, I saw an armadillo-shaped silhouette moving across the back yard. It was trying to run fast and looked like a cartoon. Sure enough, we went out and found this guy. I like the Eddie Haskell look he's giving us, like: Who, me?

We've called Animal Control because we think he's looking for a chicken dinner.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Well, turns out, giving away egg layers is a bad idea. Go figure, huh? But I really didn't enjoy taking care of the three I gave away, and I thought I was doing Red a favor by finding her a new flock. However, I now have a flock of 13 and am getting only one egg a day!

So, now to configure a new set of rules on flock management. Maybe I can keep only two nonlayers, and they have to be my favorites? Or I go above the husband-recommended number of 12 to 14 hens?

Not sure, but I am going to have to triangulate some sort of new plan.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Red, Jackie Chan, Wink and Madeline Albright

Woefully misnamed, Madeline Albright turns out to be a rooster. So do Wink and Jackie Chan. They are joining Melissa's flock, recently reduced significantly by a fox or a coyote. So Squirt is now officially the youngest, and only, chick in the flock. She will do OK, but I feel like I did when I sent my daughter off to kindergarten. ("Bye! Things will be OK! Have fun! You'll do fine!")

We sent Red to Melissa's flock as well. She had been relentlessly mean to Blanche - actually pinning her down to pick on her. I've had to squirt her with a garden hose to get her to stop. As Marcy said, "Ever since Peanut died, Red has been a jerk." I had a stronger four-letter word for her, so Marcy said it well, in a G-rated way. I hope she will be happier in a new flock. She's beautiful and I hope she finds a new Peanut.

Twelve to fourteen is the chicken-to-ground ratio my husband says works best for our run. We are now at 13 and it feels right.

Legs Goes Broody for an Hour or So

Found Legs sitting on eggs that were bigger than her.

Another Visitor

This is our 4th or 5th hawk to swing by for a chicken dinner. Since the run is covered, they quickly figure out that there is no drive through (dive through?) and fly off.

Blanche and I Come to an Understanding

Growing up in a big family, I understand the need for alone time. So when I see that being a flock member is too much for her, I let Blanche out the coop door. At the end of the day, I open the door and she walks back in.

She mostly hangs out in the tree above the run, or outside the fence that is the run. But still. She's alone. Kind of. I get it. It's like being alone in your room in a big house full of noisy people. Crank the Journey and tune out for a while.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tucking in the chicks

This is how I protect the chicks at night.

Holding zone

Photo of the holding zone, where I introduce chicks to the established flock slowly. They get used to seeing one another and sharing food and water.

The four chicks move outside

This batch of chicks is killing me they are so cute. Wink, Squirt, Jackie Chan and Madeline Albright are one adorable little flock. I won't allow my hens to harm them again, that's for sure.

I have developed a new way to introduce chicks to an established flock. First, I set up a holding zone, which is a puppy fence set up next to the run. This allows the hens and chicks to share food and water and to get used to one another's presence. They see each other every day and the sharing of food happens with a safety zone for the chicks. I will keep them in this holding zone for two or three weeks. The warm weather meant I could move them out earlier than the previous three.

At night, I put them in a plastic shoe box, the kind from Target, which is lined with some aspen bedding. Then I slide them into one of the nesting box slots. This way, they are safe at night and cannot get pecked at by the hens. They have plenty of room to move around, and could get out if they need to or want to.

At night, I have to get out there to get them into their slot right at sundown or they start to panic. Last night, I got out a little late and they were all lined up, looking into the coop and peeping wildly.

Yesterday morning, I went out to put them back into the holding zone and they were already there! They had found their own way in, probably squeezing through the run so they could get into their own area. The cute thing was that it was wide open; I hadn't shut it the whole way the night before. They just knew that was their place, I guess.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Saturday to detox

The day after Stretchie attacked the chicks, it rained all day. I sat by the window, with the chicks in the aquarium, and taught myself to knit. I was leaving an intense writing gig and the day felt like a wrap down of sorts.

We cleaned all the blood and tissue off the chicks under water then slathered them with neosporin - so much neosporin that Wink didn't have any down on her neck at all. Jim came in and in a really alarmed way asked, "Why doesn't that chicken have a neck?" I told him she has a head and there's got to be a neck there somewhere.

But he was right. The neck bone was thinner than a pencil. Thinner than an old thermometer. More like a few threads. It just showed how these little things are 90% fluff. No wonder you have to keep them at 95 degrees that first week.

The chicks nodded off most of the day. Squirt would lean against Wink and Wink would lean against the aquarium wall or a paper towel I wadded up as a kind of pillow. They did not eat or drink. That's normal for day two but I was a little concerned.

Catching up on two or three weeks

A lot has happened in the flock this June. Blanche has finally - finally! - found a direction in life and decided to sit on some hatching eggs. She was so excited about it she stole some of the nonfertile eggs and sat on those, too. She took this job very seriously, bristling up like a linebacker when I'd enter the coop.

In the end, she hatched out 4 of the 7 eggs. She was very protective and patient.

Then Stretchie came along. She apparently got jealous and decided to try to kill the chicks. Luckily, my daughter had been checking on the hatching on an hourly basis. She found two of the four chicks with their eyes pecked at and bleeding. They were in really bad shape, especially being hours old.

I put Stetchie in solitary confinement, outside of the run. I've never been so mad at an animal in all my life. She has a long neck that I really thought about wringing.

It's been about 8 days since the attempted chickicide, and I am happy to report, the chicks are alive and well. Squirt, the one who had both eyes attacked, is healing up nicely. Wink is healing up even better. They were pretty jumpy those first few days and I felt they could use a few more chicks to hang out with. I added a few more from Mary's hatch: Penguin, whom I had renamed Jackie Chan, and a pretty yellow one I decided to name Madeline Albright.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Which Chicken Are You?

If you're sweet, unaware and a wanderer, you are Legs. Not really part of the flock, not really not part of the flock. Kind of whatever. She's a little spacey but always approachable. Connects once in a while. Once laid an egg.

Which Chicken Are You?

Stretchie - and I wish I could get a shot of her long neck when she telescopes it up - is an ugly duckling that grew into a swan. When we first adopted her, she had no feathers on her neck, and was picked on by the others. She would peck at me, peck at you, peck at anyone because she was just tired of being pecked on. She was Bitter Chicken.

I decided to mix up a tea tree oil blend. I figured it smells bad, and might stop the others from pecking at her. And it has healing properties, so it might get those feathers growing again.

It worked!

Now, look at her. Mother to be and the first to commit to laying on those eggs. She is patient with the chicks when they hatch, and readily shares her mom duties with Lulu.

However, she still has a dark side.

Time for: Which Chicken Are You?

Each of my hens has a personality. Coco has the most. There isn't a single time I've gone out to the coop that she hasn't been the first to come over and say hello. I can tell her cluck and trill apart from all others. She's always got some news to tell or a greeting to give. Outgoing, friendly, even likes being petted.

The value of older hens

Coco, Stretchie and Lulu are the oldest hens I have. Stretchie and Lulu took on the task of hatching the eggs we sprung on them. I've learned since that putting in a few decoy eggs is a good way to get the hens broody. Then switch the decoys out for real eggs.

I like having a mixed crowd. I know they aren't egg layers, but they're darn good mothers, and I think the first to co-parent as well.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Our chicks first day outside

We spent a great Mother's day at a llama and sheep festival. Then we came home and put Luigi, Moon and Angel outside for the first time. They didn't know what to make of it. Moon and Angel sat on my lap a good deal of the time. And Luigi -- who we maybe should not have named Luigi -- took on Georgia. So, we now suspect Luigi may be our next rooster.

Chickens Food!

In sorting through old papers, I found this handy dandy chart that Marcy created. She was 11 at the time. I guess DQs and hot dogs are on the menu. Who knew?

Chicks move

I had to work, so I asked Mary to check on the chicks. On Friday, when they were, what, 48 hours old?, she found them wandering around the run! That means they had to jump down from the nesting box, down the step out of the coop and around the run. Mary scooped them up and brought them to her house. Stretchie and Lulu did all they could to keep it from happening, but in the end, Mary won.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Chicks born today!

I guess fate would have it that I am home with a sinus infection. I went out to check on Lulu and Stretchie, and look what I found!

The yellow one was out first, trying to wander away from Lulu who kept nudging her back. Independent at a few hours old, so I named her Liberty.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Hatching eggs

Mary brought over some beautiful hatching eggs. She just picked up some Sussex chickens, and they are really a nice looking chicken. If these hatch, they would be a mix.

We marked them all with Xs, and put them in the nesting box. There was almost immediate interest, with CoCo the first one to sit on them.

Next, we saw the Brown One sitting on them.

Then Lulu.

Now Stretchie.

And, for some reason, we've gone from 12 hatching eggs to only 10 hatching eggs, even though Marcy biked all over the neighborhood trumpeting the news. Whoever took the eggs with the X didn't know us or the flock. Maybe the O'Possum family that moved in next door?

My buddy Blanche

I had a realization on the way home from work today. I just could not stay at my desk the full 8 hours today. I was driving home a whopping 15 minutes early, feeling the freedom, when I realized that I am Blanche.

Why else would I put up with her going on walkabout, sitting sullen alone in the corner and flying up in people's faces? Not that I am a loner, or mean like her. But I understand that need to do what you want to do once in a while, with no one telling you to do it. Put me on a budget, I'll go shopping. Put me on a diet, I'll eat chocolate. Tell me I must sit 40 hours a week in a cube, I'll leave early even if it is only a few minutes and of course I would deduct it from my timesheet. (I was raised Catholic; it's not in me to lie.)

Who can blame a person for wanting a little freedom in life? Who can blame Blanche?

Don't fence me in must be Blanche's motto, even if it means simply spending the day on the other side of the fence or in the pine tree above it.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Three new chicks the day before Easter

We attempted a photo shoot with these three new little ones, and as you can see, it went real well. They stayed in position, didn't make the shot blurry, very well behaved.

Martha Stewart had an entire show devoted to chickens on Friday, and chick fever struck again. I told my husband we would just get three -- each of us could pick one out. No, no, no, he said but around two in the afternoon, off we went to the farm store.

When we got there, the farm store guy asked if we had called ahead. We had, so I said yes. For some reason, there was a hold slip for three chicks with the name Sarah on it. Sure, that's me, I said. I don't remember holding any, but there must be enough chicks in the world. I didn't know there would be a gatekeeper process.

So once that was figured out, the farm store guys says, "You want yellow or black?"

I hadn't expected this question.

"Could I just see them?"

He hemmed and hawed as if I was asking for jewelry from the back safe or something.

Finally, I said, "We're here to pick three out for pets." I think they're so used to chicks being a product, not a pet, that he just was going to throw some in a box.

He nodded to three being overly petted by three giddy kids. No, I want to see others, I said.

Finally, he brought out six, and of those six, we picked Angel, Luigi and Moon. They're healthy and supposedly had been sexed by the hatchery as being hens. Marcy's is yellow, Jim's is black, and mine is the blackish-greyish one.

The farm store guy, for working at a farm store, didn't know anything about what breed they are. Just that they are yellow or black, which any 6-year-old could discern.

So it will be another adventure, seeing what these little guys become.

Three new chicks

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Just some photos of happy chickens

No Camp Cous Cous

Well, spring is here and Hedwig is laying her beautiful green/blue eggs again and Stretchie is laying her little whities. Legs laid her biannual egg. Life is good. Freeranging is good. Not having to deal with freezing water is good.

I forgot, my chickens are pets that happen to lay eggs, not egg layers who happen to live near my house. That's how it felt all winter, but now I am able to enjoy them again.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Worth it

The chickens were out freeranging a couple of times this week, and it all seems worth it all over again.

For St. Patrick's Day, the O'Possum family is apparently drinking a few green beers at Half Time Wreck, as we haven't seen them.

At work today, I was the only one wearing green. My coworkers said black is the new green.

Life is better for the chickens and for all surrounding families.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Chicken camp

My friend Mary is married to a guy from Morocco. He and his brothers are very used to "dispatching" chickens and that is what happened to her little flock of Aracana - they are in freezers around the Twin Cities. Mary is way smarter than me, obviously, because she hasn't had the winter problems I have had.

My chickens can be dispatched using this method as well, one that I've devised a code name for: Camp Couscous. I am considering sending them to camp next fall, but it goes against all the vows I made when I started this project: that all my chickens can live out their full lives in our backyard, egg layer or not.

So, I've got a dilemma. I am hoping spring and summer can renew my interest in the flock, and that seeing them back out in the garden will remind me why I started this project in the first place. OK, OK, I'll up my Vitamin D levels, too.

Uninvited guests

It appears that a new family has moved into the neighborhood. Don't know if they are Irish, but their name is opossum. We have spotted them leaving the coop itself, probably after eggs. Of course, the chickens have much to say about it - it's our neighbor who told us the chickens were worked up about something. While she was delivering eggs to Mr. Kolden, Marcy and Mr. Kolden discovered some scratch marks on one of the eggs.

I love animals but possums are ugly - there I said it. The one I saw slowly ambled its way across the yard in broad daylight, brazenly showing off its ability to stay awake during the daytime.

Since the coop door is frozen open and has been pushed off its hinges, there isn't much we can do about it. I know if Big Mama were here, she would not stand for it.

The chickens know

Last night, in light of having three dogs, too many vet bills (Fetch, the Jack Russell had pancreatitis), two parents working full time and a kid who doesn't help out, we discussed the fate of the flock.

There are certain chickens I would have a hard time parting with. Hedwig, Coco, Legs. Maybe even Blanche, because you just can't replace her weirdness factor.

But this winter has meant only chores and frozen open doors and fences. No time to enjoy, no temperatures allowing anything more than running out with food and water then running back in.

They must have overheard us, because today, there was a record 10 eggs in the nesting boxes. "Let's get to work, girls!" Hedwig must have told them. And they did.

Monday, February 8, 2010

More snow and everything frozen shut

Winter has been tough on my flock. The snow is so deep that Pumpkin, my little 14-pound beagle, can now climb over the fence with almost no effort. It is also so deep that I can't open the fence to the run, nor can we chisel out the coop door to shut it at night. It's almost like the chickens are on their own - not that I want it that way. I can't even put leaves down in the run so they can walk around outside.

Despite a winter storm warning and blizzard conditions, I went out with fresh food and water and the biggest little comfort a chicken can get when stuck inside: fresh cedar chips. They smell great and clean it up a little in there.

I also put up (hastily) a new string of Christmas lights as the other string had burned out. Now I can see which chickens are braving the cold and walking around the run.

Myself, I have started Vitamin D and upped my fish oil. Winter is getting the best of us all, I'm afraid.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Winter storm

Lots of snow today and a wind chill advisory saying it is going to get to -25 tonight. Took 1.5 hours to drive home. Had to shovel a path out to the coop. Had to shovel in front of the little door to the run just to get it shut. Inside, I found a frozen egg and some chickens looking at me like WTF?

Last year when it was this cold, we brought our bantam Legs inside and kept her in a 30-gallon aquarium. She loved it! Whenever we went near, she'd start talking to us, letting us know how much she was enjoying her secluded vacation spot.

She's a people chicken. I saw her writing "Wish You Were Here!" postcards to the rest of the flock.

Every time we went to check on the chickens after that, Legs would lift her leg up to alert us to her being cold. I fell for it a few times.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


There is something very strange about coming upon a dead chicken. I've lost 3 now: Big Mama, the Brown One and Peanut. With the Brown One and Peanut, their eyes were not shut but glazed over with that second eyelid that looks gray and translucent. And their legs were straight out, their toes splayed rigidly. Even though they had each fallen over onto their sides, it seemed like they were trying to perch or grab at something. Is this a last fight for life or the natural way that a chicken dies?

We miss you, Peanut. God speed.