Henopause

October 24th, 2014

I come up with a lot of different ideas. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they’re so bad they’re good. And sometimes I think I’ve really hit on something that no one else possibly could have thought of before. I am almost always wrong. When thinking about how egg production is slowing in my older hens, I had a flash of genius. Surely, the thing to call this was henopause, and I absolutely had to the be the first person to think of this. Upon consulting the internet, I might actually be the last person to think of this. I’m going to use the term anyway, since it’s a good way of describing what happens with chickens after a while. They have a finite amount of eggs, and so one day, sometime between ages two and three the eggs are going to stop coming. My chickens are just a little over two. Henopause looms.

henopause looms

(Henopause may not actually be a dark cloud that says “Henopause!”)

At one time it seemed like our chickens would never start laying eggs. I had heard they could start as early as 18 weeks, or as late as eight months (which I suppose is 36 weeks). The average seemed to be about six months. I was eager for it to begin, but knew that all things come in time. However, everyone knew I had chickens, and everyone was asking if they had started laying yet, and that starts to get to you. Every day I would go out and check the nesting buckets, but there’d be nothing in there. I took plastic Easter eggs, filled them with dirt, and put them in the buckets as a hint that hey, this is what goes in here. They may have gotten the hint, but hints don’t magically make eggs fall out of chickens that aren’t ready. I tried to be patient – both with the chickens, and the people who kept asking me about eggs. I had an easier time with the chickens.

shake out an egg

Can’t shake ‘em out, either.

Then, at about the six and a half month mark, in mid-December, the egg floodgates opened. It was a trickle at first. I got one egg, then nothing, then a couple more a day or two later, and then suddenly the ladies were firing on all cylinders. We had six chickens, and were getting half a dozen eggs every day. That is a lot of eggs. I went from “where are my eggs?” to “what are we going to do with all these eggs?” Luckily, home-raised eggs are not hard to get rid of. I brought some into work, gave some to my parents, and soon learned that fresh eggs can be used as currency in some situations. This was a great development. What was nuts was that chickens generally don’t lay much in the winter. Egg laying depends on how much sunlight the chickens get, and there’s not a lot of that in the middle of December. But this one magical winter, they laid eggs like there was no tomorrow.

plague of eggs

A plague of eggs upon me.

The next winter wasn’t as fertile. They got the memo about the sunlight, and I had my first day of no eggs being produced. In fact, there were no eggs for exactly a week before the winter solstice, and for exactly a week after. Even before this they had stopped all laying at once. Instead of six, I’d average about three eggs a day, which was more than enough. I had plenty for my family to eat, and some surplus to trade or give away.

memo

Translated from the original Chicken.

This summer things started to slow down. We hit the two year birthday of the original flock, and the days of no eggs sometimes started coming for several days in a row. This was when I knew henopause was coming home to roost. I can keep varmints out of the coop, but some things come from within.

roost

It’s difficult for a dark cloud that says “Henopause!” to rest on a stick, whether or not it is actually a dark cloud that says “Henopause!”

I had known this was coming, which is why I got a few new chicks this year. They can start fresh while the old guard gets ready to retire from the egg business. I assume we’re looking at December before we see any eggs from the new jacks, though. That seems like a long way away, and some weeks we don’t get enough eggs to have enough for breakfast on the weekend. Aging and the waning sunshine that comes with Autumn are working together to grind the egg factory to a halt. That’s o.k. Eggs are only part of what’s great about having chickens. They’re still hilarious to be around, and they eat ticks, which is why we got them in the first place. We’ll be keeping them around for a long time after the last egg is laid. We just may be having oatmeal for breakfast instead.

 

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Don’t Drink Nothin’ But Corn by Black Twig Pickers)

 

Time For Some Names

October 17th, 2014

Naming your chickens is a very important step in your role as one who chickens. Or at least I think so. There are plenty of people out there who are fine with chicken anonymity. It probably makes it easier if you’re the type who lops their heads off and then gets on with your life, but that’s not my style. I’m not a head lopper, or a neck twister, or whatever other ways there are of dispatching a chicken. To me, they’re pets who happen to also produce food, which puts them slightly above our cats. I’m not about to eat what those ding-dongs produce the most of. But pets need names, and I am not one who enters into giving out names lightly. But if I do give a name, I don’t always stick to it. My attitude is that you don’t always know what to call someone until you really get to know them. Because of this, I find myself in situations like where my cat Hamish is known as “The Bone,” thanks to the convoluted logic of my mind. If you know him, it makes sense. My wife often has to tell my son, “you know how daddy always calls things by different names.” I need to experience your essence before I can figure out your true name, man.

essence

Your Essence, available wherever horrible smells are sold.

With our chickens, I had tried to not give them names the first time around. Since I didn’t know what I was doing, I really thought I was going to mess it up and kill them somehow, and I figured no names would give me some sort of emotional distance. But because it turns out chickens had more personality than I was expecting, I found myself referring to them by names in my head, and those names stuck. Boss Chicken got her name because from day one she was all up in everyone else’s business, pushing them around. Henny Penny, as cliché a name as that is for a chicken, got her name because she was afraid of everything. Suzy Creamcheese . . . well I suppose she just seemed like a Suzy Creamcheese. And then there’s The Mandrell Sisters. They got their name because there were three of them, like the actual Mandrell sisters, and I couldn’t tell them apart, so a group name was the only way to go. I couldn’t just not give them a name after I had named the others, now could I? That’s just rude.

Mandrell Sisters

They even had their own TV show at one time.

Now that we’ve got three new ones, I knew the naming issue would come up again. My parents, who I split the chick order with, first considered doing a Mandrell Sisters type group name for their chickens, and then settled on Gladys Knight and the Pips. It works out well, since Gladys is a different breed of chicken than the Pips, and she’s also the Boss Chicken of that bunch. We didn’t have any strong personalities here with our new ones, so that made it harder to come up with anything. I wasn’t too worried about it, though. I knew with time I’d figure something out, and I was so focused on getting the new chickens integrated with the old ones, that I barely had time to think about names anyway.

midnight train to georgia

Leaving on the midnight train to Georgia, by way of Tidmouth Sheds.

Then my son began to ask what I was going to name them. I told him I hadn’t thought of any names, and suggested that he could name them if he wanted to. I knew the risks involved here. When my wife was his age, she named her dog “Oscar the Baseball Player.” To be honest, that’s not too far off from some of the names I come up with anyway. The new chickens are two of one breed, and one of another. My son said he wanted to name the lone one Suzy Creamcheese, since the original Suzy Creamcheese died back in spring, and he had been fond of her. I said we couldn’t name her Suzy Creamcheese, because there had already been one, but we could name her Suzy Creamcheese Junior. He was o.k. with that. That left the two of the same breed. He thought about it for a few minutes, and then decided he wanted to name them Steve and John. My wife pointed out that the chickens were girls, but he didn’t care. Seeing as how I once had a girl cat named Phil, I was in no position to complain. And frankly, I don’t think I really have anything to complain about. Steve, John, and Suzy Creamcheese Junior are names that any chicken would be happy to have.

name day

Chickens are so excited the day the new names come out.

 

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Dance Of The Priestesses of Dagon (Saint-Säens) by The Victor Herbert Orchestra)

 

The Return of Vent Gleet

October 10th, 2014

I’ve apparently been doing this chicken stuff long enough that I’m beginning to forget some of the things I’ve experienced. I mean, you never forget the first time you stick your finger up a chicken’s butt, but some of the less glamorous  problems may begin to fade from memory after a while. Because of this, I almost missed a nasty disease that snuck back into my flock. The following account may be considered shocking to some listeners, but if you have chickens, you know how gross they can sometimes be.

gross chicken

They know how gross they can sometimes be, too.

On one of my nightly egg checks, I opened the coop door and found that there was a chicken sitting in the nesting bucket while all the others were roosting for the night. This is never good. I figured if I was lucky, she was just broody, and I’d separate her from the others until the urge to hatch an egg subsided. But when I reached in to move her out of the bucket, she got up and ran away, and there was a real mess left behind. An egg was cracked in the wood chips inside the bucket, and her rear end looked really bad. I panicked that I had another chicken with a prolapsed vent, so I ran inside, got rubber gloves, and began my examination. It turns out that she merely had pooped and it had stuck to her butt because the broken egg had made everything super sticky. That was a weird thing to make me feel relief, but believe me, it was better than a prolapse. I tried to clean her off as best I could, but ended up trimming the soiled feathers, since it would not just wipe away.

chicken barber

At this rate, I’m going to open a chicken barber shop soon.

This happened right around the time I had put our new chicks in the run, with their chick food, which the adult hens kept eating. I thought that maybe she wasn’t getting all the nutrients a hen that lays eggs needed from eating baby food, so I added more calcium chips to the run to try to compensate. I figured that would be the end of it, but about a week later, the same exact thing happened. Broken egg, stuck to butt, combined with poop. Nice. I again trimmed the feathers as best I could, and thought about how to stop them from eating the chick food, as I was convinced this was the culprit. I then made a mash of layer food mixed with yogurt and calcium chips, figuring the novelty would attract the refined adult hen’s palate. They did eat it, so I kept doing it, figuring once she got her good nutrition, all would be well.

recipe for a mess.

Recipe for a mess.

Until the night she came outside and laid a brittle egg in the run, which she also sat on. I was now really beginning to worry. Then I remembered my run-in with vent gleet from last year, and it all started coming back to me. Vent gleet is a fungal infection of the vent, a.k.a. the chicken’s butt, which can cause strange chicken behavior, and egg problems. I hadn’t considered it as a possibility because I give the chickens apple cider vinegar in their water, as well as yogurt every day, both of which should ward it off. She also didn’t have the diarrhea that you usually see, but I was pretty sure this was what her problem was. Luckily, I wrote about this last time it happened, and I now suspect I have a chicken that just may be prone to it. The chicken having issues now is a Mandrell Sister, and the chicken who had it before was also a Mandrell Sister. Of course, I can’t tell them apart, so it might not be the same one, but for now I’m thinking it is. I brought her inside and began the treatment.

The doctor is in.

The doctor is in.

The first thing I did was clean her up as best I could. It’s not easy. When the poop gets mixed with egg, it’s like cement, but I trimmed the dirty feathers again. You can bathe them to break it up, but my attempts to do that before have ended with me blow-drying a chicken in my front yard, and I’m not going back. Once she was clean, I gave her butt a quick spritz with athlete’s foot spray to kill any bacteria. Then the real fun began.

blow dry a chicken

They may have enjoyed the blow drying more than I did.

The best method to cure this is to give the chicken a dose of epsom salts and water. Getting it in their beak is not easy, or enjoyable. You can get the beak open by gently tugging on their wattles, and then you drip a little of the solution in there, and repeat. It takes a long time to give the suggested amount. Also, I do this while straddling the chicken. When you miss the beak because the chicken moved, you then spray your crotch with epsom salt solution. The chicken will move a lot. Then you go back into your house and everyone wonders what you’ve been up to. Your explanations do not help your case.

excuses

Honesty is the most embarrassing policy.

Anyway, I got her to drink as much of it as I could. You’re supposed to keep the sick bird away from the others for about a week, but much like last time, she wouldn’t eat or drink while isolated, and after the epsom salts, she should really drink a lot. After a day of her rejecting a mash of water, apple cider vinegar and yogurt, I put her back with the others. She seems to be doing fine, but I know she’ll probably need a second dose. They usually do. Maybe I’ll put on some waterproof pants next time. But regardless of my pants, vent gleet is going to be something I remember from now on.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Frog In The Well by Lucas Gonze.)

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Introducing New Chickens Part 3!

October 3rd, 2014

At the end of last week, I was thinking that maybe it was time to get the new chickens sleeping in the coop with the old ones. There had been an incident in which the alpha hen attacked one of the n00bs when I tried to put her in the coop, and so I began a slow process of acclimating the two groups of chickens to each other. This involved leaving the new chicks in the run in the protection of a dog crate, and then building up to leaving the crate door open during the day so everyone could mingle if they so chose, but the teen chickens could hide in there if they felt threatened. I also threw in a hearty dose of group free ranging. The free ranging really seemed to be helping. The old guard was surprisingly tolerant of the new school when they were out in the yard together, and so I knew it was only a matter of time before they began to accept them in the coop as well. Just how much time was proving to be the big question.

bad clock

I really wasted money on this clock.

After a week or two of the free ranging togetherness, I decided that this was it. They were getting along fine, or at least ignoring each other, out in the yard. If they could do it there, they could do it in the coop too. So finally one night, when the grownups were in the coop and the youngsters were roosting on top of their crate out in the run, I decided to try putting another youngster in the coop. I picked one up, hoping it wasn’t the same one who got pecked so badly the first time around, apologized quietly for what might be about to happen, and put her right inside the door. There was what amounts to the chicken equivalent of a growl, but there wasn’t an attack. Seeking to capitalize on this moment, I put another one in there. Another chicken growl, but peace. Going for the hat trick, I put the last new chick in there. Still just squawking. This was the moment I had been waiting for. Except that the chicks all piled on top of each other with their heads sticking out the coop door, rather than hunkering down inside. It was a start, anyway. They were in the coop.

heads out the coop

In, but out. Very Zen.

My original group of chickens took under a week to figure out that I was going to put them in the coop every night so they might as well just go in on their own. These new ones either weren’t so fast to figure it out, or were too afraid of what might happen if they went in on their own. After a week of putting them in every night, I decided it was time to take the dog crate out of the run. That would get them to mingle even more with the adults, and would take away their default nighttime roosting place. So I took it out, and that night I came out and found them all roosting on one of the roosts I set up in the run for daytime use. So I continued to put them in by hand, and they continued to stick their heads out the doorway. I guess this was like sticking their heads in the sand. If they couldn’t see the adult chickens, they weren’t there, right? And if they’re not there, they can’t peck you.

head in sand

Their necks are too short to actually stick directly in the sand, so they make do.

I didn’t mind leaving the coop door open at night when it was warm, but it was getting colder. There were several nights in the 40s being forecast, and I wasn’t going to leave the door open for that sort of cold. So the night before the first cold snap, I put the chicks in, and then pushed them far enough into the coop so I could close the door. They made agitated noises, but the grownups were silent. The next morning, everyone was in one piece.

That day when I went to check for eggs, it was already getting dark. As I approached, I noticed that Henny Penny was actually herding the babies up the ramp into the coop. She had finally taken them in as members of the flock, and was making them sleep in the right spot. Or, sort of. They still sat in the doorway, but at least they were going in on their own. I crammed them in and shut the door again.

That Saturday I cleaned out the coop, and the youngsters came in to watch me. They were very curious about what I was doing, and then they saw the roost, and that seemed even more interesting. They all sat on it and made excited chirping noises. I think they had been so intimidated by the older chickens that they were afraid to even try roosting in there. But they gave it a shot when the grownups weren’t around, and they seemed to enjoy it.

on the roost

The thrill of the roost!

The next night when I went to check for eggs, it wasn’t quite getting dark, but when I opened the coop door, the youngsters were all in on the roost, ready for bedtime. I sometimes want to go to bed really early too, so maybe they’d also had a bad day at work. Or maybe they were getting there early to get a good spot. Either way, after attempting a lot of different techniques for getting everyone together, it had finally worked. At last I had a happy chicken family.

Visual evidence that I had achieved my goals.

Visual evidence that I had achieved my goals.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Little Nemo Selection by The Victor Herbert Orchestra.)

 

Introducing New Chickens, Part Two

September 26th, 2014

When we left off last week, I had let my new chicks get to know my old chickens by putting them out in the run in the protection of a dog crate. I figured after a while, everyone knew each other, so all I had to do was show the chicks that at night they went inside the coop, and then we’d just have one big happy family. When night fell, I went out, took one of the chicks out of the dog crate, and put her just inside the coop door. Within seconds there was a loud squawk and a blast of feathers, and that poor little chick came running out at top speed with my alpha hen right behind her. Henny Penny, the leader of the flock, stood in the doorway making unhappy noises as I put the hopefully not too scarred chick back in the dog crate. This would take some more work, it seemed.

getting the boot

Well that’s a fine how-do-you-do!

I decided to return to the idea of letting everyone free range together and see if that helped. The coop was like the big kids’ clubhouse, and maybe the little kids needed to hang out and show that they were cool before they’d be allowed in. With humans, this means proving you’re not going to tell mom what they get up to in there. With chickens, I wasn’t so sure, but I figured there was less smoking and fewer dirty magazines. What I did was let the grownup chickens out into the yard, and once they were on the loose, I opened the dog crate door so the babies (well teens, but they’re still my babies) could stretch their legs a little. Just like the first time I opened the crate door to let them out, the first to the threshold took a triumphant leap into the outside world. This time, she stayed out though, and then she and the others began to explore the run. More importantly, they began to explore the run without the older chickens there to bully them. They checked out every corner, and after they felt they had seen it all, one or two of them even made the trip out of the run and into the yard. Nothing too crazy, though, they kept to around the doorway, or hung very close to the edge of the run. But this was huge for them.

chicken trip

A hero’s journey awaits

Even more interesting was that one of them wandered up to two grown ups, including Henny Penny, Queen of All She Surveys, and everyone pretty much shrugged it off. “Maybe there’s something to this letting them free range together after all,” I thought.

You’d expect that at this point I was setting you up for someone pecking the chick within an inch of her life, but that didn’t happen. They continued to peacefully co-exist the whole time. I was as shocked as anyone.

Eventually I ushered them all back into the run. I decided to not press anyone’s luck, and put the chicks back in their crate. The next day I let everyone out again. There wasn’t quite as much hobnobbing, but there also wasn’t any aggression, so I figured this was real progress. I still had learned my lesson though, and didn’t put the chicks in the coop yet, though I wanted to.

survey

Pollsters were on the scene.

After two days of milling around together, I felt it was safe to leave the crate door open during the day so everyone could continue to get to know each other. If there was any bullying, the chicks could run back into the crate to safety. That was my thinking anyway. When I got home each day, everyone seemed happy, if a bit weirded out by the new arrangement. But weirded out is better than covered in blood, so I didn’t let a little avian awkwardness get in the way of my new system.

A less than happy development I noticed was that the grownup chickens learned about the chick food in the dog crate, and that is apparently the donut of the chicken world, because they gorged on that like you wouldn’t believe. I would chase them away whenever I saw them eating it, but since I’m gone all day, I could only do so much. I ended up putting the food up on top of the dog crate. I don’t know why, but I figured it would somehow stop this. And the weird thing is, it sort of did. The adults did go up on top of there, and I had anticipated this by putting cardboard over the top, so as to prevent them from pooping on their new friends. That’s a bad first impression. But they didn’t go up there as much as I thought, and so the food got eaten less.

marketing

This stuff is marketed so shamelessly to older chickens.

After a few days, the chicks went from sleeping inside the dog crate to sleeping on top of the dog crate. I’d fill their food up each night, so they could get access to it first thing in the morning. Once they got hunkered down, I figured they weren’t going to eat much, but it was there for breakfast. This way I at least knew they were eating. Eventually, I decided they couldn’t just sleep on top of the crate out in the run every night. It was getting colder, and they needed to be inside. But just how to get them into the coop?

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Naughty Marietta by The Victor Herbert Orchestra.)

Introducing New Chickens, Part One

September 19th, 2014

As summer was winding down, I had three chickens out in the coop, and then I had three baby chicks that eventually grew into three teenage chicks. What next? Seeing as how I didn’t have any extra coops lying around, it seemed like I had to figure out a way to get these two groups together and have them form a united front. I had space in the coop due to a couple of chickens dying in the spring, but it wasn’t really the space I was worried about. I knew that chickens get territorial, and I knew whose territory the coop was. My older chickens, while generally docile, were going to have to meet their new roommates, and I was bracing myself for it to go poorly. Better to be prepared and surprised than unprepared and en route to the vet.

not good at mingling

Not good at mingling.

I knew the best way to ease new birds into the flock was to do a slow period of getting familiar. Since I was keeping the chicks in a dog crate, I figured the easiest thing to do would be to put the dog crate next to the run and let everyone say hello. However, I had forgotten how much chickens freak out over change. The mere sight of the crate anywhere near the run sent the old guard into freakout mode, where they hid inside the coop and made unhappy sounding squawks for at least an hour. They eventually wandered back out, but were still quite vocal in their disapproval of this new object. Imagine the 2001 monolith scene, but with chickens. After a while, I brought the dog crate back inside. I began to bring it out every day for a little while in the hopes they’d get used to it. There was still a lot of angry squawking, but I worked on it. I would have left it out there all day, except that it’s totally not a secure device, and there are lots of clever varmints around who would really be excited about an easy to obtain chicken dinner. The thing that was killing me in this whole process was that I had used bricks to prop up the chicks’ food and water to keep shavings out, and these made moving the crate a very heavy endeavor. I could have taken them out each time, but that would have made it a very time consuming endeavor. So I went with back pain instead.

 

doan's pills

I sure could have used these.

I had heard that letting chickens free range together would sometimes help them accept one another, so I put the dog crate in the yard and let the other chickens out. Then I opened the door to the dog crate. Immediately one of the chicks took a majestic leap right out the door into the yard. This seemed great. Then she realized she was in an unfamiliar place, and immediately ran back into the crate. Each of the three of them took little trips just outside the door, but always went right back in after a second or two. Meanwhile, the adults were steering clear of everything because they still didn’t trust the dog crate. Didn’t matter where it was, that thing was trouble, so they avoided it.

flying chick

Like an airship of yore.

After a couple of weeks of putting the crate next to the run, I decided it was time to put it in the run, and let everyone get a little closer. The rungs in the crate are big enough that someone could stick their head in and get a good peck at someone else if they wanted to, but I figured there was just as much of a chance that the chicks would stay away from anyone who approached the side, so I put it in there. I lugged it out in the morning, listened to the adults angrily yelling at it, then brought it back inside at night, since I was worried it would be too cold outside for the chicks just yet. I did this every morning for about two weeks, and my back would have made angry chicken noises if it could have. Everyone was getting used to each other though, which was good. The squawking happened less and less, which seemed to indicate some level of acceptance had occurred.

science

Science!

At around their 10 week birthday, I decided the chicks were ready to stay out all night. They were feathered out, and the nights were pretty warm, even though it was the beginning of September. This saved me a lot of time both in the morning at night, and it really relieved my back. After a week, it seemed like they were getting along well enough that maybe it was time to even let them sleep in the coop. All I had to do was move them inside, right?

 

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Down On The Farm by Pryor’s Orchestra.)

Chicken Sitting

September 12th, 2014

Almost as soon as I got my mother to get chickens, my mother called upon me to chicken-sit. At that point in time, it wasn’t actually that big a deal, as they hadn’t been put out in their coop yet. They were still in a cardboard box in my parents’ house. Of course, they had been in that cardboard box for about 10 weeks, and that box had seen better days. My mother complained about how often they knocked their water over, and I had visions of the 200 year old pine flooring under them being destroyed, and me taking the blame. Happily, when I went to pick up my charges, I saw that my mother was smart and had put a tarp under the box. Crisis averted.

It's a tarp!

It’s a tarp!

I was not only chicken sitting, I was chicken sitting at my own house. Which meant I had to get these chickens to my house somehow. My mom had a box she thought would be perfect for transporting them. It was a nice box, formerly home to a microwave. However, not the most compact microwave, and I have a fairly compact car. Could we make it work? Yes, we could, but barely. The box filled the whole cargo bay of my car (if you can call it a cargo bay at this capacity), but it fit. That would at least keep them from sliding around. Or it kept the box from sliding around. The chickens were free to slide around inside the box as much as they wanted, or didn’t want to.

chicken car

If my car were any smaller, they could drive themselves.

We loaded them in, and I told my son that he was in charge of monitoring the chickens on the ride home. This meant I got a report any time the chickens made a noise, or anytime the chickens didn’t make a noise. Many reports were generated on the two hour ride home. I would get nervous if there were no noises. If these things died on my watch, I’d be the next dead thing, and if I couldn’t even keep them alive on the car ride home, this was going to be a bad week. But thankfully the noises would always start right back up, because chicks don’t like to be quiet.

We arrived home fine, if a bit freaked out. Well, the chickens were freaked out. I was mostly just tired of driving. Right as I got home, my mom let me know that the original box they had been in had basically disintegrated when she moved it to clean under it. This put a lot of pressure on the microwave box. It was like their home planet was destroyed, and now they were colonizing the moon, or something. Except that they have a nice coop waiting for them once my parents get back from vacation, so maybe this is much less sci-fi than I’m making it.

chicken problem

Houston, we have a chicken problem.

I brought them in the house and wasn’t even sure where I was going to fit them. Have you seen my house? It’s a mess, even in the non-chicken parts. So I suppose sticking a box full of chickens in any available free space is not a big deal, so that’s what I did. It was near an outlet, so the heat lamp was all set, and in front of a door, so if I wanted to move the whole works outside, that was almost easy enough, except for the part where you had to lean over the chickens to push the door open, and then had to move the box out before the door automatically closed back on you.

When dealing with baby chicks, my plan is always to prop the food and water up on bricks to try to limit the amount of shavings that get into the food and water. My mother commented on how her chicks liked to sit on top of the feeder and poop down into it, and I haven’t figured out a fix for that yet, but raising things up at least handles the chips.

I figured I could beat the chicks at the knocking over the water game by putting a brick in the corner of the box, putting the waterer on said brick, and then taping the waterer to the corner of the box. It worked like a charm in the sense that they couldn’t knock the water over. It worked like a curse in that they somehow managed to splash water all over the side of the box, and every day the hole this made got a little bigger, and I put a little more tape over it. It then began to spread along the bottom of the box like a lava flow. I continued to apply tape to the weak spots.  I assumed that soon they might just be in a giant cube of tape. I decided to focus on silver linings, and hope that all that tape would help catch some of the dust they kicked up. No one said silver linings had to be realistic.

My water bottle tape experiment was not to last though. About two days into their stay with me, I went in to check on them, and one of them had something weird on her foot. I picked her up to see what it was, and it turned out to be the tape I had used to hold up the waterer. And it was no longer in a nice strip like when I had applied it, it was now a knotted mass wrapped around her foot like someone had tried to mummify it. This was the worst mummy movie ever. Holding her in one hand, I slowly peeled, pulled, and cajoled the tape until her foot was finally free. She had managed to even poke one of her toes through several layers of tape. This would have been hard to undo if I had two free hands to use, and I only had one, but I finally did it. It was a miracle of patience both for me and the chicken. From that point on, the water stayed untethered, and I would keep the tape to the outside of the box, trying to contain the inevitable collapse before my parents returned.

mummy chicken foot

Hollywood is out of ideas.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Clarinet Squawk by Louisiana Five.)

 

Too Many Chickens! is now on iTunes!

September 11th, 2014

For those of you who like get your podcasts via iTunes, Too Many Chickens! is now available.

Since searching there is confusing, just use this link.

 

Just really another excuse to put this picture somewhere.

Just really another excuse to put this picture somewhere.

Rebuilding The Flock – The Thrilling Conclusion!

September 5th, 2014

At the end of last week, I was worrying about whether to bring my chicks home a few days shy of two weeks, and risk exposing them to Marek’s disease (the vaccine needs two weeks to be effective) or to leave them at my parents’ house for another week, since I can only get out there on the weekends. What I ended up doing was leaving them at my parents’ house for another two weeks, since at that point I was bringing my son out to stay with them for a week. I didn’t want to be making a trip out there every weekend for a month, as much as it pained me to not get to hang out with the chicks at their cutest. But I could at least rest easy that they would be safe from Marek’s.

When I did finally get out to see them, they had gotten pretty big. They weren’t babies anymore, they were more like teenagers. Teenagers in their weird, awkward stages. Some of their real feathers were coming in, and their necks were getting long. They weren’t the little fuzzballs they were when they arrived, but it’s not like they were hideous monsters or anything. I was just happy to have them.

nerd chicken

Portrait of the artist as a young chicken.

My mom had really become fond of the little brown ones, which were Speckled Sussexes, the breed I had ordered at the last minute to make the minimum order. My father, who all through this had been complaining about not wanting chickens, was especially attached to the smallest of these. Of course, at this age, they grow fast, so the small one one day might not be the small one the next day. However, it was still important that they got to keep the small one. I decided they could have two Speckled Sussexes, and I would get one. They could then have one Silver Laced Wyandotte, and I would get two. That part was easy. The hard part was figuring out which one was the “small one,” and making sure I didn’t take her, which would break my father’s chicken-hating heart.

My mother stood over the box and grabbed the first “brown one” she could get. “I think this is it,” she said, looking the chicken in the eye.

I looked at the ones in the box. “I think that one is smaller,” I said, pointing at one in the box.

“I think you’re right,” she said, and put the first one down, and grabbed another.

“Wait,” I said. “I think that one is definitely bigger than the other one.” Then I grabbed one. We compared them. They seemed about the same. Then we looked at the one left in the box. It seemed small. “Is that the one?” I asked my father, motioning towards the box.

“Yeah, maybe, I think,” he said.

chicken rules

So many rules.

I ended up taking one of the ones we were holding, and two of the Wyandottes. I picked the Wyandottes at random, since my father had no allegiances to them. I put them in a box to transport them back to our house, and it seemed like we were more or less ready to go.

My father, in spite of the scene we had just created involving his favorite chicken, was still putting up a front like he wasn’t happy about having the chickens, but cracks were beginning to appear in the façade. “I don’t know, the chickens are cool,” he said, “but I don’t know why your mother wants to do this.”

“Well, you did decide to name them the Andrews Sisters,” I said. “It’s not like you’re totally not enjoying it.”

“No, I changed my mind,” he said. “Now I want to name them Britney, Madonna, and Cher.”

Meanwhile, my mother wants to call them Gladys Knight and the Pips. I would point out that Gladys Knight and the Peeps might be funnier, but even though I kind of created this situation, I’m not sure I want to be involved.

chickens at home.

They did make it home safely, in case you were wondering.

 

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Cacliz March by Athenian Mandolin Quartet)

Rebuilding The Flock Part 2

August 29th, 2014

When we left off last week, I had ordered new chicks, and my mother was going to take care of them for a couple of weeks until their Marek’s vaccines had kicked in. I had forwarded her the email about new chick care, and was waiting for her to read the part about “pasting up,” also known as when their tiny butts get clogged with tiny poops. She did get there, and seemed less than thrilled about this prospect, but on the other hand, didn’t really dwell on this part, because she felt pretty overwhelmed by the whole email. I assured her that like most sets of instructions, it seemed like a lot, but wasn’t so bad when you actually got into it. It boils down to: keep them warm, make sure they have food and water, and check their butts for the first week or so. She calmed down, and shifted back to being excited about the chicks arriving. I did get the occasional text message with a question, but this was more out of wanting to do a good job with the chicks, rather than “oh no what have I done?” This was a good sign.

text

Usually with more swearing and sad faces.

Then, the chicks arrived. As soon as she opened the box and saw them, it was all over. She was no longer worried, she was thrilled to death over how cute these things were. The question texts turned into texts about how adorable they were and how much she loved them. Another convert to the chicken side had arrived! My father apparently had yet to come around to them, but it didn’t really matter because my mother was so into them.

When I first got my original batch of chicks, I didn’t have a coop. I managed to build one, but not without a large amount of stress during the whole process. My parents learned from this experience, and ordered one online. Of course, they were only getting three chickens, which gives you many more affordable options than I had when I started with six. More than five chickens puts you in a whole different coop bracket, and it gets expensive. Maybe this was why my mom was being relatively relaxed about everything. They had the coop issue sorted out. They even have a dog kennel to put the coop in, and use as a large run. A little hardware cloth on that, and they’ve got a pretty secure chicken space.

dog jail

Formerly dog jail.

My father did slowly begin to start coming around to the chickens, though he wouldn’t admit it. Since they were keeping three of the chicks, and I had three chickens that I referred to as the Mandrell sisters, he wanted to give theirs a blanket name like that. He was leaning towards the Andrews Sisters, though he admitted it wasn’t as catchy as the Mandrell Sisters. If you’re going to name your chickens, this can be a good way to go, since it still gives you a tiny bit of emotional distance. You’ve still named them, which means you’re attached to them one way or another, but a general, catch-all name keeps you from getting too attached. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. The important thing was that if he was thinking of names, that meant he must be coming around to the idea of keeping chickens. After all, if he hated them, why would he bother to give them names? Unless it was the kind of thing people tend to do to identify anonymous people they always see and dislike, like “creepy thong guy,” “leg disease lady,” or “that smelly guy on the train with the big bag of equally smelly garbage who in spite of it all seems to have a job he goes to every day.” This didn’t feel like that, unless my father secretly had a vendetta against the Andrews Sisters. He was getting there, but still gave me a line of, “I don’t think this a good idea. I don’t know why your mother is doing this,” when I was visiting.

andrews sisters

All packed into the same nesting box.

Almost two weeks had passed, and so it was almost time for me to take my half of the chicks home. But I hit a snag. I could only get out to my parents’s house on a weekend, and the closest weekend to the two week quarantine period was slighty earlier than two whole weeks. How exact was the two week window of the Marek’s vaccine? Did a few days make a difference? Would they be fine, or should I wait? Now who was worrying needlessly?

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Fourteen Days by the Blue Ridge Highballers)

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