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,

Erik

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)

 

Coop Muscles

November 14th, 2014

My freshman year of college, I had a class with a guy named Thad. Though he was built about as slightly as I was, he was on the rugby team. If you didn’t know me back then, I was the guy who once got a Christmas card that said, “Maybe Santa will bring you a chest for Christmas.” I’m not sure what kind of cards Thad got during the holiday season, but I found it surprising that he would go out for rugby, given the size of some of the other guys on the team. Maybe he liked getting squashed regularly, or maybe he just liked saying “scrum.” I don’t claim to understand what motivated Thad to do anything. Except one thing. One of the other guys on the rugby team once warned me to watch out for Thad at parties. I asked why, and he gave me a big smile, and simply said, “beer muscles.” I had heard of beer goggles before, but not beer muscles. However, given that I was in college, I used some of my intellectual powers to determine that this must mean Thad became a bit of a tough guy when he was drinking. I suppose some of his need to appear hypermasculine may have come out of having been named “Thad” (sorry to any listeners named Thad, but come on, this is not a name generally associated with tough guys). I’m not a psychologist, and Thad is long out of my life, so I’m not going to dwell much longer on this. But the term “beer muscles” sort of came back to me recently, and so I went down memory lane a bit.

beer muscles

Dude, do you even work out?

I didn’t actually have a run-in with someone with beer muscles, or even experience them myself. But I have now on several occasions run into something I’m choosing to call “coop muscles.” I probably need to explain. Chickens are generally docile, or least many breeds are, and I intentionally chose mellow breeds so as not to put myself or my family into any sort of poultry-based peril. Even so, when Boss Chicken was healthy, she was a bit of a terror, but I suppose that was her job as Boss Chicken. (After her stroke, or Marek’s, or whatever her issue is, her personality did a complete 180. It’s kind of like Regarding Henry, but with a chicken instead of Harrison Ford. Think about that, then think about what Star Wars would be like with similar casting.) Basically she might have charged you if you turned your back, but once you faced her, she’d back down. Unless you were my son, who she had it in for. He’d climb onto a tall rock, and thus find safety. The rest of them generally steer clear of humans unless those humans have treats.

han solo chicken

Han pecked first.

There have been a few occasions though, where I’ve stuck my head in the coop, and a chicken has really tried to take a chunk out of me. Sometimes when they get broody they can get a little aggressive, since they want to protect the eggs they think they’re incubating. But since they want to protect the eggs, they generally stay seated on them, which isn’t the best attack position. I’ve gotten a bad peck or two from time to time, but nothing major. What I’m really talking about is sticking my head in the coop to see what’s going on, and a chicken will charge me, squawking and kicking like this is some sort of championship cockfight. This has happened to me several times now, and I have no idea what I’ve done to provoke it. Usually, they’ll walk away from me in the coop, since if I’m poking around in there, I might be looking to grab a chicken to medicate it. Maybe every once in a while a chicken just isn’t interested in being handled to the point of completely losing it. We all have our bad days, but some of us try not to kick and squawk at the source of our annoyances unless absolutely necessary.

reaction wheel

How I make most of my decisions.

What finally occurred to me after my most recent chicken attack was that when I stick my head in the coop, I’m at eye level with them. Out in the yard, I’m bigger than them, so they respect that. In the coop, I must seem like I’m their size, and so maybe they think they can take me. I’m not really sure. But since it only happens in the coop, I’ve decided to just call it “coop muscles.” Next chicken to try anything gets named Thad.

thad

They can’t say I didn’t warn them.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Laid Ten Dollars Down by Black Twig Pickers)

 

Chickens and Electric Fences

November 7th, 2014

 

Right about the time I was putting the finishing touches on my coop, I got a phone call from my mother. My uncle in Buffalo has a bit of a livestock menagerie, and thanks to a very determined raccoon, that menagerie had just gotten a little smaller. The raccoon had gnawed its way through the side of his coop and gotten in and killed all his chickens. It was the kind of thing where it just seemed like senseless violence, since they weren’t all eaten, but they all were dead. I’m not going to try to understand what was going through the raccoon’s mind, but I think it’s easier to accept a murdered chicken if it at least got eaten as part of the bargain. My uncle came home to his flock being scattered all over his driveway, and no longer an active flock. He told my mother about this, and that he now felt electric fences were the only way to go if you were serious about protecting your chickens. I wanted to be serious about protecting my chickens, and even though I was just about to put them out in the coop after a lot of effort in building the thing, I ordered a small electric fence. They could wait a few more days, if it meant being totally safe.

raccoon

Is this the face of a killer? Yes it is, actually.

My main concern was that I was going to fry some poor animal that just came sniffing around because it’s natural for predators to want to eat chickens. I luckily could only afford a fence that ran on two D batteries, so that didn’t seem like a killing jolt to me. It turns out this model is meant to just give the animal an unpleasant enough sensation that they decide the coop is not a fun place to be, and they move on. A friend of mine in Alaska knows people who use the same one to protect their tents from bears while camping, so this seemed like it went high enough up the food chain that I’d feel safe, but not so powerful that there’d be bodies to dispose of.

electric fence

See me, hear me, feel me, touch me. Or maybe skip the last two.

Of course, having technology always opens you to the worry of whether or not the technology is working. Luckily, there is always more technology to be had, and so I also bought an electric fence tester. You hook one part over the wire carrying the charge, and then put another part into the ground, and a little light flashes if all is well. The charge isn’t always going through the wire. It’s more of a little zap that gets sent through every few seconds. I was already learning things! And the flashing of the tester was vaguely hypnotic.

fence tester

The flashing light makes any electric fence a rave-like environment.

I used the tester for about a week before the temptation to see how bad it would hurt if I touched the fence overtook me. One night, I eventually decided to just hit my knuckle along the side of the wire as the charge ran through and see what happened. It felt a little like a static shock you’d get from walking on the carpet and then touching a doorknob. This undid any sense of fear I might have had toward the fence, and I ditched the tool and went to knuckle-only testing.

doink

Not the actual sound it makes.

Shortly thereafter, I was latching the run door while the fence was on, and the back of my hand grazed the wire. I then learned that the more skin you have touching the wire, the worse the shock is, and my respect for electricity returned.

electricity

What electricity actually looks like. Fear it.

So far, I haven’t any any signs of animals trying to get into the coop, but I don’t know how much of a role the fence even plays. I still do my best to make sure it’s functional, in case it’s doing a great job. This means making sure things stay off the wire. In the winter, I shovel the snow away from the sides of the run so there’s clearance, and in the fall, it means having to go out every night and pick leaves out of the way. Things that touch the wire and touch the ground will short circuit the whole thing. I know when this happens, because I can usually hear the short. It makes a faint popping sound. Once I even had it happen because I pulled the wires too tight and it was arcing onto the hardware cloth. That’s rare, but the leaves are a constant battle. And it gets even worse. When the leaves are down, and it rains, the slugs come out. The slugs will climb up the leaves onto the wire. Remember how I said the fence wouldn’t fry an animal? I wasn’t broad enough in my definition of animal. I have had slugs melt on the wires, and it’s both sad and gross. I’ll hear the familiar popping sound of a short, and then I have to turn my flashlight off so I can see where the flash of the spark is. I’ll find it, and then I’ll find a blob of matter on the line that I now have to clean off. A few shudders later, and everything is back up and running. Slugs were not what I expected to deter with the fence, but this is where I have found myself. I may put a fence around my cucumbers next summer. The slugs pose no real threat to the chickens, but I had but one viable cucumber this summer thanks to slugs, and while I don’t like killing anything, I do like cucumbers. It might be time to break out the nuclear cucumber option.

 

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Four Little Blackberries by Thomas Mills)

 

It’s Molting Time Again!

October 31st, 2014

Fall is a time for change. The leaves on the trees are the obvious example of this, commemorated by horrible traffic as people from out of town drive really slow, while oohing and aahing. Our gardens whither and die, leaving us to rely on frozen vegetables as side dishes. And in chicken coops across the country, chickens begin to explode on their roosts, leaving nothing but piles of disembodied feathers behind.

spontaneous combustion

Like spontaneous human combustion, but with chickens.

What?

Well, o.k., they don’t really explode, but it certainly looks like it. If you’ve ever seen a chicken, you’ve probably noticed that they are covered in feathers. Now imagine those feathers without the chicken attached to them. This is kind of what molting is. The chickens ditch their old feathers and grow new ones in order to be ready for winter. Think of it as buying a new down jacket each season. Maybe wasteful for humans, but chickens make their own, so they don’t have to worry about blowing all their money. Must be nice.

expensive coat

I’m going to be buried in mine.

Molting this year is coming as part of a perfect storm for me. It’s triggered by the days getting shorter, which also affects how many eggs the chickens lay. When chickens are molting, they tend to not lay eggs either. And my chickens are nearing henopause, so our egg supply is really running low, until the new chicks start laying.

gollum eggs

Gollum had similar problems.

I’ve always thought it was a little crazy that they lose their feathers right when it starts to get colder, but I suppose the point is that they stick it out for a little while when it’s sort of cold, but are ready when winter hits. Being exposed to the chilly fall nights probably makes them tougher.

cold chickens

Or it just makes them cold.

Every year when my chickens start to molt, there are obviously feathers everywhere. I get most of them out of the coop when I do my weekly poop cleanouts and chuck them in the compost, but the run has too many hard-to-reach corners, and those ones end up just getting mashed into the dirt where they become one with nature. Or more than one with nature, since they’re already a natural thing. They get buried. That’s what I’m trying to say. They get buried. But there’s a part of me that feels like this is wasting an opportunity. I built my coop out of reclaimed materials, so I’m totally on the re-use tip. I find myself starting to wonder if there’s anything I can do with all these feathers. I just hate to have so much of something and not put it to good use. But what would I honestly do with them? Make a comforter? Some pillows? Re-stuff a sagging down coat? Make a boa? Just have an enormous pile of chicken feathers in the middle of the living room? The possibilities seem endless. The possibilities also seem stupid. Maybe there’s a legitimately good use for them, but I don’t know. This might be where I find the limitations of my DIY recycling attitude. Some stuff just doesn’t need to be reused. Since feathers decompose, I suppose that’s fine. It’s not like the chickens are shedding rubber feathers that take 100 years to break down. We get a ton of leaves in the yard every fall too, and I don’t do all that much with those (though they do make good compost). I need to pick my battles, and maybe it’s time to concede to the feathers.

 

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Frogs Legs by Columbia Saxaphone Sextette)

 

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
m4s0n501

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)

 

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