Baby Eggs

January 23rd, 2015

If you’ve been paying any attention to me at all lately, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been a little concerned regarding my egg supply this winter. If you haven’t been paying attention to me, well, I suppose you missed that part. Take a moment and look over the last couple of posts, and then come back. It’s fine. I’ll wait.

hurry up

Hurry up, already!

Ok, now that you’re all caught up, things are getting slightly better. Boss Chicken, the Old Faithful of chickens, continues to chug along, producing an egg every other day, even though I had to move her back inside after winter remembered it was winter and got cold again. To make up for this inconvenience, I give her quite the feast every morning. A scoop of layer feed, a handful of scratch, a splash of apple cider vinegar, topped off with a blob of yogurt, and our girl is dining in style. It’s the least I can do. I’d be pretty bummed if I was inside all the time, but I think she’s much better off protected from the elements. If we ever get some days above freezing, I’ll bring her back out, pronto. The important thing is that she started laying again, and doesn’t seem to show any signs of stopping.

egg  laying

(Laying, frequent or otherwise, does not actually make a “pow” sound.)

Meanwhile, the other grownup chickens maintain their vow of eggless silence. Henny Penny had a really long molt this year, but I think the end may be in sight. The Mandrell Sisters look like they’ve finished molting, but are also holding out on me. It’s been pretty cold, and laying eggs is pretty energy intensive. I’d actually prefer they stay warm rather than lay eggs, so they’re off the hook for the time being. But sooner or later I’m going to suspect they’re staging a “job action.” Or you know, getting older.

chicken protest

They are quite active on some issues.

So that brings us to Steve, John, and Suzy Creamcheese Junior. What’s their deal? They’re “of age,” so shouldn’t they be laying eggs? Probably. Could it be a case of nerves? No positive egg-laying role models? Just plain lazy? I’d been checking all the inappropriate spots for eggs to get laid by beginners, and I hadn’t found any. A popular place is always at the far end of the run, under the coop, in the furthest corner. A lot of the early eggs of the grownups ended up in there, and I had to keep a golf club handy to reach all the way under there and roll the eggs back, as gently as possible. Somehow I never broke one, and that’s the most use my golf clubs have gotten in years. But I looked every day, and the outside areas were eggless.

golfing chicken

The chickens use my golf clubs a lot.

I had dusted off my “decoy eggs” from the first generation and put them in the nesting buckets as soon as the n00bs were freely mixing with the old guard. These are plastic Easter eggs filled with dirt (for heft) and glued shut. It doesn’t matter that they’re the wrong color, it’s just supposed to give the chickens the idea of where eggs go. One night someone had knocked one out of one of the buckets, but hadn’t left anything in return. That seemed promising, but was still a false start. And come on, put things back where you found them, everyone.


Signage is ineffective.

And then it happened. I opened the coop in the morning to pile chips on the previous evening’s poops, and there, under the roost, somehow un-pooped on, was a tiny egg. Not like, quail egg tiny, but smaller than what I’m used to. The n00bs are still little, so it makes sense their eggs might not be full-sized. While I didn’t entirely approve of the setting, at least it required little effort to get at the egg. Two days later, another egg appeared in the same spot. I considered taking it from under the roost and putting it in the nesting bucket to emphasize the point about where eggs are supposed to go, but I figured it would freeze there, since it was another cold day. I brought it inside and waited. Two days later, there was another egg, but this time, in the bucket! Someone (and I don’t know why, but I assume only one of them is laying right now) is getting the hang of it. She kicked almost all the chips and the decoy egg out of the bucket, but she’s still learning. Hopefully, when the others are ready, they’ll see what she’s been doing, and everything will end up in its proper place. If not, I’m used to it, and chickens do figure stuff out eventually. I’ve been this patient waiting for the eggs, think of how patient I can be when I’m actually getting them.

extra help

Sometimes they need a little extra help.


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: King Of The Air March by Charles Daab)

My Mother’s Eggs

January 16th, 2015

I don’t know, doc. When I first got my chickens a couple of years ago, I was very excited to get some eggs. I had gotten the chickens to eat the ticks in my yard, but egg laying was an extra bonus. Vermin control that comes with breakfast should be the standard. Mouse trap companies should be hiring me for this stuff, man. If they threw a bagel in the package, they could be throwing huge piles of money at me, right? The thing about chickens is that they are ready to eat ticks much sooner than they are ready to lay eggs. So while they were out there laying waste to the tick population in the yard, I was wondering when they were going to lay eggs for the human population of the house.

bagel mouse trap

You’re supposed to eat the bagel, but I guess this works too.

What? My mother? What does she have to do with this? We’ve already talked about her. No, you’re always trying to drag her into it. Fine, yes. My mother had taken a particular interest in my chicken project, and yes, when my mother takes an interest, my mother asks questions. And when my mother asks questions, she asks a lot of them. And she sometimes asks them all the time. And this is what she did when we were wondering when the eggs would come. Chickens generally start laying eggs when they are six months old, but everyone’s different. Some may start sooner, some may start later, but when you’re in the middle of the general time frame, and there are no eggs, the pressure’s on. I was excited for it, and my mom was excited for it, and it seemed like every day after month 6 she asked if I had eggs yet, and every day I had to disappoint her. Like I always do. Until that glorious day when I finally found an egg in the coop, and we could go back to living our lives like normal people. Yes, normal people who have chickens for eating ticks.



This year my mother got into the chicken lifestyle herself. We split an order of chicks, and so she looks after three little ones, Gladys Knight and the Peeps. We got them slightly later than I had gotten my original chickens, late June instead of early June, but I knew December was our six month line, and “eggcitement” was going to kick in. No, I was not wrong. This time around, though, there was less pressure on me, since she had her own chickens to worry about. She would occasionally ask if mine had laid any eggs yet, and then confirm that December should be the time, but I felt much less harassed this time around. I can’t say what her chickens went through, though. Are there therapists for chickens? They might need it. Do chickens get neurotic? “After all I’ve done for you! I bring you food, I clean your poop, I give you shelter, and I don’t even get any eggs for my troubles!” Whatever did go on, they didn’t seem to mind, since they follow her around wherever she goes in the yard, though, maybe that’s just out of guilt. But it sounds like she did something right. Mine regard me with vague suspicion, and really only stick around because I’m the guy with the treats.


Sometimes the eggcitement comes with added eggscrement.

Her first egg came right around Christmastime, which was probably one of the better presents she got. Since then, she’s gotten eight total, and she’s convinced it’s the littlest Peep who’s been laying them all. I’m not sure how she came to this conclusion, but I will admit that a lot of my chickening isn’t exactly scientific either. I can tell which egg came from which breed I have, but unless you catch them in the act, there aren’t really egg fingerprints, which I suppose technically would be cloacaprints, what? I told you, it’s their butt/egg hole. No, I don’t have cloaca envy, thank you very much. Anyway, until it’s clear they’re all laying, she can develop whatever theories she wants. She was a little nervous to take on this project at the start, but has since totally gone cuckoo for chickens, even before the eggs arrived. Now that they’re here, she’s even more into it. Meanwhile, I’ve only gotten one egg from one of my new chickens. I guess that also gives her something to feel good about. She’s leaving me in the dust, egg-wise, because I can never do enough. I had chickens first, I taught her everything she knows about chickens, and yet here I am with one lousy egg to her 8. She texts me every time she gets a new egg, and my chickens can hear when I get a text, and they know what that sound means. Yes, I know that this is not a competition, but why can’t I ever come out on top for once? What do I have to do to . . . oh, time’s up? See you next week, then. NO, I don’t know when I’ll have eggs for you.

chicken text

I ought to just put them on my family plan.

(The voice I use to imitate my mother is for comedy purposes only. My mother is a good sport (I hope). Hi mom!)

(Also, thanks to Wren Ross for her always helpful guidance, but particularly insightful suggestions on this one.)

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Childhood Memories by Beluga Ten, kitchen timer sound by maphill (with some looping on my part), and the ding sound effect by JohnsonBrandEditing)

Winter Eggs

January 9th, 2015

Winter is a pretty rough time for everyone. Where I live, we have to deal with cold and snow, and then get grief from people who live in colder, snowier places about how we don’t know from cold. If it’s so warm, perhaps you’d like to cover my heating bill, Minnesotans? Anyway, regional temperature disputes aside, winter can be rough because we also get less light. I might be able to handle the cold if it was at least not dark when I both leave for, and return from, work. Probably not, but it’s worth a shot. The issue with the light is that this is what also helps chickens lay eggs. They need a decent amount of it for eggs to happen, and in the winter, the amount we get is hardly decent.

light bulbs

Skip the one on the right.

Of course, I do have new chickens, and they sometimes start laying in the winter without realizing they don’t normally do this. At least in the first year. My original flock was dropping half a dozen eggs a day on us from December to around June their first year. Their second year, they didn’t lay any eggs from exactly one week before the Winter Solstice to exactly one week after the Winter Solstice, which really underscores the need for light. It also kind of freaks me out. I guess I’m intimidated by how in touch with nature they are.

singing chicken

From the “Songs For The Winter Solstice” record.

It’s been six months since I got my new chickens, so they should be starting to lay any day now. I actually picked breeds that are good winter layers, to try to help me through this dry period we get in the winter. But they have to start laying before they can be good layers. It could be solstice-based, or maybe they’re just not ready, but they have yet to get into the egg business. All things come in time, but it’s hard to be patient when you want a nice breakfast on the weekend. The time will come, and then I’ll be worrying about whether or not I need more egg cartons, or who at work has asked for eggs but not gotten them. But right now, there is little on the egg horizon.

on the lookout

On the lookout for eggs in the crow’s, er, chicken’s nest.

That is, except for our old friend Boss Chicken. I had brought her inside at the beginning of December, as I mentioned in a previous post. It got too cold at night, and I was worried about her being alone in the cold, with no one to clump with for extra warmth. Of course, in our storage room, I also worried about mice trying to get at her food, until the day I came home and there was a dead one in her cage. Leg problems or not, she is not to be trifled with, and my mice worries lessened. She might actually have a higher body count than our very lazy cats.

cat vs. chicken

Not that it’s a competition or anything.

Christmas Day was so warm (relatively, at least) that I figured I’d put her back outside to enjoy the weather. She hadn’t been out there for more than 10 minutes when she laid an egg. She has a window in the storage room, so she gets natural light, but either it wasn’t enough, or she was so happy to be back outside that she just egged herself. Either way, I’ll take it. She’s always been a pretty reliable layer, and seems to be easing back into her every-other-day routine, even if I bring her in at night and put her back out the next day. The other grownup chickens are either still molting, or at the tail end of a molt, so they’re not going to be laying just yet. That leaves Boss Chicken as head of egg production, at least for the time being.

egg manager

Egg Manager/Big Chicken On Campus

The days are getting lighter, and the new chickens are getting older, so it’s only a matter of time before we have an egg surplus. I hope Boss Chicken can keep up until then. She’s approaching henopause, so I actually wasn’t expecting many more eggs from her. But maybe my worries about aging chickens were unfounded. If so, the others need to step up their game. Then the youngsters can see how it’s done, and we’re back to a fine-tuned egg machine. Basically, I’m sick of oatmeal. Won’t these chickens think about my diet?


Boredom really cleans out your colon.


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: My Isle Of Golden Dreams by Selvin’s Noevelty Orchestra)

Who Says Roosters Can’t Be Cuddly?

January 2nd, 2015

Video proof they can!

I’m not saying you should date one or anything, just that they aren’t always as mean as you may have heard.

(Remember, new full Too Many Chickens! posts start next Friday!)


Happy Boxing Day!

December 26th, 2014

My present to you is a video of a chicken sneezing.

(Click the speaker in the bottom right of the video if you’re not getting the sound. You want the sound, trust me.)

Holiday break!

December 19th, 2014

Hi everyone,

I had planned on taking a short break during the holidays, and it looks like I’m starting a week earlier than originally planned.  I’ll still be posting something each Friday, just not a full Too Many Chickens! Those will return January 9th. In the meantime, enjoy a classic bit of Sesame Street “chickenery.”


Happy holidays,


The Recurring Winter and Chickens Question

December 12th, 2014

Did you know that winter happens every year? There’s a fun science fact for you. I’ll even throw in a bonus fact. Every year when winter comes, people start asking me what I do with my chickens in the wintertime. It’s as dependable as the seasons themselves, but requires less snow shoveling to deal with. (Some of you may accuse me of shoveling other things, but perhaps that’s a discussion for another time). I’m not annoyed by this, as clearly I enjoy talking about chickens, and I’m happy to share my tricks with people who show an interest.

chicken trick

Not actual chicken trick. Do not attempt without cape.

So then, what are these tricks I speak of? Well, there really aren’t any to speak of. For the most part, keeping chickens in the winter isn’t a whole lot different than keeping them the rest of the year. You feed them, make sure they have water and shelter, and try to keep varmints from eating them. A key thing is to have made sure that the chickens you got were a good match for the climate you live in. There are breeds that can deal with the cold, and breeds that can’t. Likewise, there are ones that can deal with heat, and ones that can’t. So, if anything, if you’ve done your research before you got your chickens, you’re most of the way there.

california chicken

I wish they all could be California birds (provided I lived in California).

Where it gets a little confusing is the need in the winter to keep the birds out of drafts, but to make sure the coop has adequate ventilation. Moisture in the coop is bad at any time of year. It can cause respiratory issues, but when it gets below freezing, that moisture in the air is what’s going to freeze to the exposed parts of the chicken, like their combs. When I built my coop, I read a helpful bit of advice. It said “consider how much ventilation you think your coop needs, and then double that.” What I’ve done is to put vents in each upper corner of two sides of the coop, using heating vent covers to try to minimize drafts. I then made sure the roost sat directly between these, so no one would be right in front of the air flow. I’m sure there are windy nights where a breeze can still get in there, but if they’re not directly in it, they should be good. Also, given my skills at building things, there are spots where parts of the coop come together that are less than airtight. I originally was going to seal them, until I learned about the ventilation rule, and suddenly, my flaws as a craftsman became strengths. These gaps are near the ceiling, so again, nothing will be hitting them directly, but air can move in and out. People sometimes ask if on cold mornings I see steam coming out of the coop. If I did, I would panic. That would be a sign that there is way too much moisture in there. I haven’t ever seen this in my coop, so I think I’ve done ventilation right.

steamed chickens

No steamed chickens.

A different moisture issue is what to do about their water when it’s below freezing. You can get all sorts of electric water warming devices, but there’s no electricity near my coop, and running an extension cord from the house out to there is generally considered a bad idea. I have seen people who’ve made battery powered heaters using cookie tins and car headlamps, but I’m not sure I’m quite that skilled. I can eat the cookies in the tin, but my electronics abilities might make this more frustrating than useful. I’ve ended up doing two things. One is to put apple cider vinegar in the water. I do this anyway, since it’s good for them, but it also lowers the freezing point of the water a little bit. Then I bought a device that’s meant to keep pet beds warm, but is easily adapted to chickens by just putting it under the water. It looks like a fat frisbee, and it’s as wide as the base of my small waterer. Each morning I microwave it, and then I supposedly get up to 8 hours of warmth. I’m sure it’s somewhat less when you place it out in the elements, but it keeps the water unfrozen for long enough. If it’s extremely cold out, chances are they won’t even leave the coop for water anyway. Last year during the polar vortices they didn’t, and still lived to tell the tale. If they do end up getting thirsty because the water froze, they’ve learned to come right out and drink up first thing in the morning before it happens again.


disk o' heat

Not to be confused with Disco Heat, which is a surprisingly good record.

Finally, as I’ve mentioned before in various posts, I just make sure they’re getting enough protein when it’s cold. Keeping warm takes energy, so they can load up on scratch or black oil sunflower seeds, and burn it off just by staying warm. It’s a pretty good workout routine.

chicken workout

Molting To The Oldies

You have to remember that these are animals that are basically wearing down coats. They are probably much warmer than I am when I go out in my pajamas every morning to let them out. That’s no excuse to slack, but keeping a few key points in mind, winter can be pretty manageable for chickens. For me, not so much. I’m still not over last year.


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: That Moaning Saxophone Rag by Six Brown Brothers)


We Need To Talk About Boss Chicken

December 5th, 2014

Those of you who are regular listeners and readers know about Boss Chicken. For those of you who aren’t, or are just forgetful, let me give you a crash course. Boss Chicken was my first alpha hen, who we really worried might be a rooster until she started laying eggs. She was that aggressive, and had been since she was a week old, when we got her. She and the late Suzy Creamcheese had a real rivalry going for a time, which involved a lot of chest bumping, and basically Boss Chicken being up in Suzy Creamcheese’s business at every turn. I suppose you don’t get to be called Boss Chicken without having to constantly remind people why that’s your name. But one morning I went out and found that Boss Chicken had spent the night under the coop, in temperatures in the teens. “What’s up with that?” I asked. The chicken didn’t answer, but when she tried to walk, I figured it out. Her legs no longer seemed to work properly, so she obviously could not have gone up the ramp into the coop. The vet said it could be Marek’s Disease, a potentially deadly affliction that can affect the legs, and can be fatal. There’s no way of knowing though, until you do a necropsy, which you need a dead chicken for, and she was still very much alive. I later met another chicken enthusiast who described a chicken with similar issues, and he was under the impression that his bird had had a stroke. So I suppose that’s a possibility too. Whatever the cause, she got way less aggressive, and since she couldn’t move quickly, we had to keep her separate from the rest of the chickens. You’ve heard of the pecking order, right? It involves real pecking. Gruesome “Planet of the Chickens”-style pecking. Suzy Creamcheese now rose to power, and in order to assert her position, pecked Boss Chicken bloody the first time they met post-injury, and so Boss Chicken now lives in a nice rabbit hutch. She can see the others, but at a safe distance.

chicken fight

A tense peace.

Since Boss Chicken lives by herself, she doesn’t get the benefit of clumping together with other chickens on cold nights. Her hutch keeps her out of the wind, which is very important, but I often worry that on really cold nights, how cold is too cold? Minnesotans and Canadians often post online about how cold it gets where they are and their chickens are fine. But that’s usually a flock, not a lone chicken. And I am a worrier. So is one chicken capable of withstanding extreme temperatures? Is this a test I’m willing to undertake?

america's test chicken

My new reality show.

As we entered our first cold snap of the Fall, this was on my mind. Some people wonder, “when is a good time to turn on the heat?” I wonder about when a good time to bring Boss Chicken inside is. I have a dog crate in our storage area that I put her in during inclement weather. I had almost made up my mind over the summer that she would be fine alone all winter, as long as I gave her plenty of wood chips to nest in. And then I noticed that she had a few bald spots on her wing bones, sort of what amounts to a chicken’s elbow. This is probably because when she walks, it’s so wobbly that she has to balance with her wings. The skin looks fine, and not irritated, but some of the feathers have worn off. So now I had to consider if the bare skin could take the cold. My sense was that this was risky.

chicken elbow

You can’t get this map at rest stops.

Then a weather forecast called for nights to get into the twenties. This could have been the big test, except I couldn’t help but notice that the rabbit hutch was looking more feathery than usual. Of course she had also started molting right as the cold front came in. I’ve had other chickens molt in very cold weather, but they had the rest of the chickens to act as blankets to make up for their lost feathers. It seemed like I had to bring her in now, except that molting can make it painful for chickens to be touched, and obviously, I had to touch her to get her inside. I looked at the forecast again. It was going to hit the teens in a few nights. I apologized for any discomfort I was about to cause her, and carried her inside, leaving a pretty large trail of feathers behind me.

feather trail

Now I can find my way back to the coop.

This may seem like a lot of unnecessary worrying, but Boss Chicken is a special case for me. Even when she was a terror, she was my favorite, because she had such a big personality. Now she’s ill, or at least damaged in some unknowable way, and her days could very well be numbered (though sometimes I suspect she’s lived this long, she may outlive everyone). If something happened to her and it was my fault and preventable, I would be devastated. I’m going to play it safe. If it warms up, I’ll bring her back out. But for now, she can enjoy her tropical vacation to our unheated storage room. Some chickens have all the luck.

chicken crate

Swanky digs.


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Amorosa by Orquestra Internationale)


The Hen Men

November 28th, 2014

I saw this video recently, and thought it was worth sharing (I’ll have a regular post next week). The accents can be hard at times, but the happiness chickens bring these people is totally clear. Chickens can change lives!

Scratch and Shyness

November 21st, 2014

The new chickens are settling in pretty well these days. They’re sleeping in the coop, on the roost with the old-timers, which I’m happy to see, since it’s getting chilly at night. The “chicken clump” inside the coop is one of the ways they stay warm, so I’m pleased they get along well enough to clump. For a little while, Henny Penny would peck the closest n00b if I shined my headlamp into the coop while they were all roosting, which, to be perfectly honest, kind of ticked me off. I get that she’s in charge, but that just seemed unnecessary. I guess maybe in the spotlight she felt the need to play the role of harsh taskmistress that goes with being the alpha hen. But that’s been toned down, if not completely abandoned at this point. Maybe Henny Penny realized that the clump is more important than a pointless reminder of who’s boss. Whatever the reason, I welcome peace in the coop.

chicken hydra

The Clump – It looks like an egg-laying hydra.

Since it’s getting cold, and a few of the chickens were molting recently, I’ve been putting out chicken scratch for them every morning along with the rest of their breakfast buffet (which is basically just their usual food, plus yogurt). Scratch is high in protein, which they need when they’re molting, and also need to keep warm when it’s cold. Keeping warm takes a lot of energy, and while it’s not particularly cold out yet, it can’t hurt to start the scratch early. The chickens love it, and I aim to please.

scratch time

Does anybody really know what time it is?

Since it’s dark out when I wake up the chickens these days, they don’t often want to come right out when I open the coop door, and frankly, I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t be out there that early if I didn’t have to be, but I have to be, so the coop door gets opened when I am there to open it. The Mandrell Sisters have figured out that morning now means scratch time, so they are pretty eager to get out there and dig in. It’s sort of like when they filled the cereal dispenser with Frosted Mini Wheats in college, which always caused a student stampede. You go for the food when it’s there, or someone else gets it. Henny Penny also comes out, since she’s running the show. Steve, John, and Suzy Creamcheese Junior aren’t quite as eager to come out as the others. I know they love scratch, because I’ve given them some when they’re out in the yard, in order to try to train them to come when called. (This makes it much easier to get them back in the run after free-ranging.) But the lure of gourmet treats isn’t enough of a draw. One of them, let’s say Steve (it’s either Steve or John, but it’s early and cold, and so cut me some slack on the recognition stuff) will come down, but she’s still too nervous around the grown-ups to walk right up to the pile of scratch and dig in. I figured, ok, they’re young and smaller than the others, I can see why they might be afraid to approach the main pile, so the other morning I added a secondary pile far from the other one, under the coop. The n00bs like to be on the other side of the run from the adults, so this seemed like the way to spread it out. Steve came out, found the scratch, and dug in. Until a Mandrell Sister figured out there was more and came over, sending Steve off into parts un-scratched. While all this was happening, John and Suzy Creamcheese Junior still hid inside the coop, possibly afraid of the dark, possibly afraid of the adults, possibly not ready to greet the day just yet. Meanwhile, the good stuff is getting eaten, and I have a “no food in the coop” policy, so they’re out of luck if they don’t come and get it. It’s a treat, so it’s not key to their survival, but it pains me to see them missing out due to shyness.

The Smiths as chickens

Shyness is nice, and shyness can stop you from eating all the scratch in life you’d like to.

Since this all happens in the dark, and I don’t have the time to stand there in my pajamas in the cold waiting to see if they eventually come and chow down when it gets light out, I don’t know how long it takes them to come out, and if any scratch is left when they do. What I think I’ll have to do is try my two-pile system on a weekend morning, when I’m allowed to sleep until the sun comes up, and observe the goings-on then. When it’s light, they all come out (and are usually cranky that I’ve slept so late – usually 6:30 or 7, how lazy of me)  and maybe, just maybe, they’ll figure out the system and find the courage to come out in the dark during the week. Assuming they recognize that there’s a system. I’ve tried to explain it to them, but like typical teenagers, they don’t listen. You’re on your own then, kids.

chickens reading

They’ll figure it out one way or another.


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Ragtime Dance by Scott Joplin)


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