Coop Fever

March 27th, 2015

As the snow begins to melt, the true effects of this past winter start to become obvious. Our window boxes were ripped right out of their brackets, and the brackets are so bent, they may not be salvageable. The fences around my garden beds have been warped into demented spiderwebs. Our newspaper box is completely flattened, and I fully expect the mailbox to tip over as soon as there’s no more snow left to prop it up. These are just the obvious examples of the damage we’ve experienced now that we’ve passed through to the other side. The psychological scars that linger aren’t always so easy to see. For a while, I felt like all the snow was physically crushing my soul, and not being able to get outside and do anything added to that feeling. I wasn’t the only one trapped inside. The chickens didn’t get much in the way of free-range time, either. I could have let them out, but they would have been restricted to the few paths I had dug, all leading to the front door of the house. There was the one to the coop, of course, then one branched off of that to the compost pile. In the other direction, you could go to the driveway, and then further to the other side of the house to the trash cans. I gave up on the trash cans about two storms in and just dug a hole in the snowbank outside the front door for them. There was so much shoveling to do I had to streamline things, and no one could even see our house anymore due to the snowbanks. No one was going to see that we kept the trash in front. The snow was just so plentiful, there were very few places for anyone to go. I could have let the chickens out into the paths, but this got problematic quickly, as I thought about it. If they went down a path, I was between them and the coop. In order to get them back in, they needed to be between me and the coop. I wasn’t sure of how I was going to get to the other side of them. I sure wasn’t going through the snow to do it. It was far too deep.

chicken sled

This doesn’t work.

The other way it could have played out would have involved them abandoning the paths for the open tundra that is the yard. For most of the winter, it had remained so cold that nothing melted. It had also been so cold that all the storms had dumped very light, fluffy snow on us. So I had an image of them all “going over the wall,” so to speak, and then just sinking. Then I would have had to rescue them somehow. There were too many logistical issues. Then, we finally got a few warm days, followed by freezing nights, so the snow now became a mixture of ice and snow, which meant that they might actually be able to walk on top of it. I, however, was far too heavy, so were I to have to wrangle them back into the coop, it would again involve me, up to my waist in icy snow, trying to chase a bunch of birds who were light enough to scuttle across the surface. None of this was in my favor, and none of it was anything I wanted anyone to witness.

stuck in snow

Pretty much how it would go down.

So, long story short, everyone’s been cooped up since late January. The chickens mostly didn’t act too broken up about it. It’s been so cold that they’ve tended to just hang out inside the coop anyway, out of the wind. But staying put has finally seemed to have begun to get to them. The last few nights when I’ve gone to check the eggs, all their bedding has been moved to one side of the coop or the other. It’s as though to entertain themselves they’re rearranging the living room. This actually works out in some ways, as it mixes all the poop into the bedding, and makes a compost that provides a small amount of heat. However, I think it’s a sure sign that they need to get out of the house. We’ve had a few warm days, and there’s been some melting, but I don’t think it’s quite time yet. There’s still about two feet of snow on the ground, so even ignoring my concerns about chasing the chickens, they can’t get at the ground either. What would happen would be I’d let them out, they’d come out, look around, realize they can’t scratch at anything, and then there’d be a lot of confused and angry chicken noises. We all need to get out and run around a little, but not right now. They’ll have to keep moving the chips in the coop around for hopefully just a few more weeks. And as I look around here, I get the sudden urge to move all the furniture from one side of the room to the other. Spring can’t come soon enough.

swearing chicken

There’d be a lot more swearing, actually.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Original Rags by Scott Joplin)

All Things Must Pass

March 20th, 2015

Buddhists teach that everything is impermanent, and so attachment is a source of suffering. It’s difficult to not become attached to things, and even when you think you’re not attached, if a thing is taken away from you, you may suddenly find yourself feeling loss. Then what do you do?

meditate

Let’s meditate on this.

Luckily, I’m not talking about losing a chicken, though it was about this time last year that I did lose two of them. What I did lose, and was apparently attached to, is the store where I bought all my chicken supplies for the last few years. It was where I bought my first chicks, all the gear I needed to keep them alive, all the odds and ends you find yourself needing, and all the food and bedding that I’m constantly replacing. It was five minutes from my house, opened early, and stayed open just late enough that if the train got in on time (ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha) I could swing by and get what I needed right before they closed. They sold more than just chicken stuff, too. We have a peach tree and plum tree from them, a bunch of gardening tools, and I even bought praying mantis egg pods there when aphids were attacking my peach and plum trees. They were local and handy, and now gone. They even rented moving trucks, so maybe they used those to clear out the old stock.

chicken mover

You always have to call in some favors when you move.

I only made this discovery by accident. Luckily, it wasn’t by driving there and trying to open the door to an obviously empty store for five minutes before realizing nothing was inside. I was reading our town’s paper online (they have an article about me in it, not about chickens, but hey, I might as well self-promote while I’m here), and someone had made a comment on the paper’s Facebook page that this place had closed. I figured that couldn’t be right, and as the internet is full of kooks, I double-checked elsewhere. Sure enough, the owner apparently ran two stores and decided to shut them both down. I probably won’t ever figure out why, but it seems odd to me because they were usually very busy. One of the clerks one day was talking about how they sold so much chicken food they needed a separate truck just for that order. That sounds like business was good.

chicken food delivery

Most popular delivery of the week.

I had gone in there about a week ago to get layer food, but they said they were out. I didn’t think anything of it, because given the demand, they did sometimes run out of stuff. I asked when they were getting more, and the clerk only said he wasn’t sure. That should have clued me in that something was up, but I’ve worked in stores, and sometimes you don’t know when shipments are coming. I had enough food for another week, and a few days later, I happened to pass by another store (same company, different owner, I guess) on the way to where my wife rides horses, and got some food there. It’s a good thing I did, because the other one was closed at that point.

closed sign

(Not actual signage.)

Apparently I’m now going to have to work a little harder to get my chicken supplies. The store by my wife’s barn is close, but still about 20 minutes away. That’s not a “zip out and grab some pine shavings while everyone in the house is still in their pajamas” sort of trip. It requires a little more planning and timing. I guess I need to be more on top of my food levels now, and maybe prepare a little better for when I run out. I got spoiled having a store so close. Who knows? Maybe a similar store will open in that spot. Or maybe it will be another bank, since that seems to be what goes into all empty storefronts these days. I guess I just figured they’d always be there. There was probably a lot going on behind the scenes that I wouldn’t have known about leading up to this. I’m glad they were there for a while, since they gave me my start with chickens, which has been great. I’m thankful for that. But now I’ll have to cling to my backup store for dear life.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: The Last Rose Of Summer by Moore And Davis)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

March 17th, 2015
Boss Chicken gets a little too into celebrations.

Possibly the weirdest of the Leprechaun movies.

Children And Chickens

March 13th, 2015

In the beginning, my chickening was very much a solo operation. It wasn’t that my family wasn’t interested in the chickens or anything, but it was my thing, and so it fell on me to do it all. (Also when it was time to build the coop, I think everyone knew to steer clear of me. That would have been like filling your pockets with steak and standing next to a hungry tiger – very dangerous indeed!) I certainly don’t mind taking it on by myself, but at the same time, I always thought that it might be very interesting for my son to see what went into taking care of chickens. He likes animals, and it’s good to see where your food comes from (even though he doesn’t eat the eggs because they’re not made of pizza). However, it was tough to get him to spend much time with the chickens that wasn’t just being out in the yard at the same time as them. In some ways, this makes sense. When he was smaller, and Boss Chicken was more mobile and angry, she had been known to charge him any time he was outside, and so he was rightfully spooked by it. But she hasn’t been that chicken for years now, and I don’t think he’s at all afraid of them anymore. But at best, I could only occasionally get him to help me collect the eggs, and that was usually when he was complaining about being bored and I was being mildly coercive.

dad voice

Sometimes you have to use “The Dad Voice.”

However, things have changed lately. It’s not that he somehow has realized that it’s nice to help daddy, or that chickens are fascinating, though. It’s much more utilitarian than that. We got a video game system for Christmas, and the game that is his favorite was basically created by an evil, money-making genius. I’m not going to speak its name here, lest that seem an endorsement. He loves the game, and that’s fine. However, in order to get past certain levels, you need to purchase new accessories, and that adds up very fast, because there seems to be no end to how many you need. Some are also very hard to find, and/or expensive. The discussion about “they make them hard to get on purpose, so you’re eager to spend a lot of money on them when they make more” isn’t really going anywhere, so to deflect the constant “will you buy me another accessory” questions, we decided it was time to give him an allowance. Then he could spend his own money on it. Of course, no one rides for free, so one of his chores is to help me with the chickens at night. (I was a little tempted to make him get up with me at 5 to help in the morning, but I don’t want to be that dad, and frankly, I don’t wish early awakenings on anyone.)

allowance

He actually gets a little more than coins, but it’s tacky to discuss income.

The timing of this has worked out well. We started when it got dark early, so we could just take care of the chickens after I picked him up from school. He now gets pretty excited to turn off the electric fence, and even to occasionally shock himself on purpose (it’s super low power, so it’s no worse than some bad static – hence the enjoyment of it). He also really likes being the one to open the coop and check for eggs. He brings the egg basket out and yells to me how many there are, and then gently picks up each one. What started as a way to satisfy childhood avarice has turned into something that he really enjoys, even if he does complain about the cold some days. I don’t like the cold either, but warmer days are coming soon.

weather dude

I hate this channel.

Recently, he had a friend come over to visit, and after a round of the videogame that started it all, we went out to show the chickens to his friend. My son totally took charge and pointed out the electric fence, turned it off for everyone’s safety, and then introduced all the chickens. Then he and his friend opened the coop and looked for eggs, and there were a couple. They got very excited, and ran back into the house, each gently holding an egg or two. I’m not sure he would have been so excited to share this experience if he wasn’t feeling more invested in the chickens. When the weather gets nicer, I’m hoping that this carries over into helping me rustle them back into the run after free-range time. The n00bs like to rebel a little, and avoid going back in whenever they can. With two of us on the scene, we may be able to corral them more easily, or at least I won’t be alone while looking like an idiot chasing a bunch of chickens around the yard.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Merry Go Slower – Distressed by Kevin MacLeod, Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/)

Back In The Egg Business!

March 6th, 2015

Ok, enough about winter. Spring is coming soon, and I’m not just talking about meteorological Spring. A number on the calendar doesn’t seem to have much effect on the weather, as evidenced by the April 1st snowstorm back in 1997. I don’t think the snow that’s fallen is going anywhere for a while, but things are beginning to look up. It’s staying light later, which tends to cut through a bit of the gloom, even if the evening sun is reflecting off ice dams and monster snowbanks. Longer days, even if they’re not that much longer, also mean that the chickens are getting more light. Whether this improves their mood or not, I can’t really say, but I can say with much authority that it makes them start laying eggs more frequently than when we were in the depths of winter. No light, no eggs. More light, more eggs. Some light, some eggs? Yes. I think that’s where we are right now.

light, eggs

Some light, some eggs.

My original flock was pretty in tune with the light situation during their second winter. Exactly one week before the solstice they all stopped laying eggs, and then exactly one week after the solstice, eggs began to trickle back in. This was surprising not only because of how in tune with the amount of light they were, but also because their first winter of laying, it just didn’t matter at all. It was like someone just came by every day and dumped half a dozen eggs in the coop while I was at work. It also made me feel like keeping my egg journal was worth it. I write down how many I get each day, and that’s how I was able to catch the influence of the solstice. I had felt a little nerdy about the journal, but this discovery made it seem worth it. It also helped me figure out that nothing was wrong with the chickens. I looked at the dates, and it made sense. No one’s sick, it’s just really dark all the time.

winter chickens

Healthy chickens in winter.

This year hasn’t had any of the dramatic egg events of those first two years. The new chickens started laying in the dark part of winter, but not nearly at the rate of their predecessors. Some chickens like to take their time, I guess. I was happy to be getting any eggs at all, honestly. The old guard had stopped in late Fall, and I was hungry. The n00bs weren’t dealing them out as fast I could eat them, but as time went on, I started seeing larger eggs popping up in the buckets too. The old guard was back from vacation. However, like an athlete after some time off, they were easing into it. Getting back in shape takes time, so I’m not going to sweat them about their pace.

no rush, chickens

NO RUSH, LADIES!

We usually only eat eggs on the weekends, time being tight on weekday mornings. Even so, in winter, the weekend would roll around and we still wouldn’t have enough. In the past week or so, we finally got to where we had a dozen eggs on the counter, just waiting for us. I even had enough to give away my first bunch of the season. When you have chickens, it’s not just you waiting for eggs, it’s also your network of people who get eggs from you. Like a flower, the sharing of eggs blooms anew.

 

egg tree

The tree of egg distribution. (First layer.)

My son is now helping me out with the chickens at night. Since it’s sunset when we get home, we usually check the chickens first thing. It’s still freezing, so the coop door should be shut as soon as possible. Lately it’s been light enough that we don’t need flashlights when we go out there, but dark enough that the chickens have gone to bed. “Why do we always have to do this right when we get home?” he asked the other night. “Because then we’re done with it, and then we can stay inside,” I said. “Soon it will be light so late that it may be your bedtime before it’s time to put the chickens to bed.” And then it hit me. Soon it will be the time of year where I want to go to sleep shamefully early, but the chickens are still awake, and I have to wait for them to go back into the coop before I can sleep. Did I really want that time to come? I looked at the size of the snowbanks in front of our house, and an arctic breeze hit me in the face. Yes. I want light, and I want warmth. That is certainly worth staying up for.

eggs

This is how I roll. (Cartons donated by a coworker, snazzed up by yours truly.)

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: The Old Town Pump by Handy’s Orchestra)

The Coming Floods And Chickens

February 27th, 2015

Here in New England, all anyone can really talk about right now is the snow, or problems created by it, like ice dams, roads down to one lane, or a transit system that has completely stopped working. I think we’re all a little traumatized, and we never get a chance to recover, because it never seems to stop snowing. We get a day or two off, and then it starts anew. It hasn’t gotten above freezing at all either, so the snow doesn’t go anywhere. It just piles up on top of itself, and the landscape slowly disappears. My garden’s out there somewhere, but I won’t be seeing it until June. The chickens basically have a moat around the coop. I dig a path around it that’s just about shovel width, make sure the electric fence is free of obstructions, and that’s about all I can do. I only dug it out that much because I never expected it to snow this much. Now I can only maintain that width because in most places the snowbanks are too high for me to start expanding the trench. It’s not the worst problem, and it’s not as bad as we have with the house, where the snow from the roof has piled up so high that it is now higher than the roof itself. Now where do we put it? Please email me your ideas, and try to be polite about it.

roof snow

I wish I was making this up.

The thing not too many people seem to be talking about is what’s going to happen when this snow all melts. We’re so focused on the forecast and having our souls crushed by impending snow amounts that usually are nothing to worry about. 1-3 inches is normally just a dusting. I’m concerned no one is looking far enough ahead. I expect big problems on many fronts. The trains run erratically, if at all, these days. While melting clears the tracks, it also floods them. I was on a train that was delayed by a mudslide back in the late Fall, which was just caused by a lot of rain. I don’t want to be Mr. Gloom and Doom, but I see both gloom and doom in the future of my rides to work.

crystal ball

I have to stop borrowing Sir Topham Hatt’s crystal ball. It’s a total downer.

On the level of things I can actually do stuff about, I’m worried about the chicken run flooding once everything starts to melt. The way rain tends to flow is away from our house, and down close to, but past, the chicken coop. If it’s windy and raining, the run can get wet sometimes, but the roof I’ve put over it helps keep it pretty dry. But we’re not talking about rain, we’re talking about melt. So stuff in the yard will melt, run down towards the coop, and then hit the giant piles of snow down there. Will it be able to pass through if there is snow in the way? I suspect no. Does that mean it will flow into the run? I’m concerned it means yes. And that’s not even considering how my paths hold up. When they start to melt, will they collapse towards the coop? Will my paths to the coop remain passable? Will everything just float away? Am I thinking too far in advance? Should I be more in the present?

in the present

I didn’t mean this sort of present. However, I should also be more in this one so you can tie the bow.

Well, the problem there is that in the present, it’s the first day over freezing since January. This is why I’m in paranoia mode, but at least it didn’t also rain like they had predicted. There’s so much snow it’s not all going away today (though that would be awesome), but there’s also so much snow that all it takes is a little bit to melt and when it’s got nowhere to go, it makes for some big ol’ puddles. I’ve seen this in Cambridge, which has been a little warmer than where I live. You hit 33 degrees, and suddenly every intersection is a lake. I see open space (but not much of it, just my dear, dear paths that I’ve dug over and over and over) and I see water filling them up.

snowbank

Who am I kidding? We’re going to have giant snowbanks until June.

Granted, a winter like this one makes you pretty fatalistic. I have this idea that once we’re done with this, everyone will level up somehow. Like when Gandalf the Grey fought the Balrog, and upon his victory became Gandalf the White. I’m not sure what superpowers I’ll be granted in the Spring, but my hope is that they aren’t related to digging trenches to redirect large amounts of water. That’s not an very exciting power, and you don’t even get a cool white cloak or anything. What I think is really going to happen is that I’ll just be given the ability to think positively about things again. You know what? I’ll take it.

shall not pass

You shall not pass! (Because the plow guy filled my path again.)

 

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Coaxing The Piano by Zez Confrey)

Snow and Flat Rooves*

February 20th, 2015

Our house has a flat roof. In some parts of the world, this is not such a big deal. In New England, where we live, it’s not entirely a big deal either. In Boston, the flat-roofed “triple decker” is pretty standard. I lived on the top floor of a row house with a flat roof through many terrible winters (including Boston’s snowiest!) and nothing ever came of it. So when we found a house we could actually afford that wasn’t a shoebox, we jumped on it. “Sure,” I thought, “Maybe once a winter I’ll have to get up there and shovel, but that’s not such a huge deal.” Then that first winter in our house it snowed all the time, and it occurred to me that since our house was only one story, all that square footage that seemed so appealing was also roof area that needed shoveling. I’d come home, tuck my son into bed, strap a light to my head, and go shovel the roof until I collapsed from exhaustion. After that first year, it wasn’t so bad. Even last winter, which seemed to never end, doesn’t stand out in my memory as a horrible roof year the way the first one did. Maybe I’ve just completely blacked it out. I hope, given this current winter, that this blacking out of roof shoveling is going to happen again. Historic though it may be, I don’t think I want to remember this February, at the very least. More snow is always on the way, it seems. At least I’ll have gigantic arms and one weird huge muscle in my back by summer, if summer ever comes.

six pack

I’ve got a six-pack, it’s just on my back.

What does this have to do with chickens? Well, the thing is, my coop also has a flat roof, and so does the run. I have made sloped, but not that sloped, rooves out of corrugated plastic to direct the rain away from the run and the coop. The run has a clear one, so the sunlight can come through, and the coop has a white one, to match the overall color scheme. They’re held together by flimsy, but cheap, pieces of wood called “furring strips.” The angle the rooves are at comes from hunk of a pallet that I stuck on the top of the coop. Rain runs off just fine, and it’s great to not have a totally soaked run after storms, because boy does it stink when it gets wet. However, with the constant snow this winter, I find myself having yet another roof to shovel, and this is one I can’t climb up on. I have to reach over my head as best I can and get as much as I can hold at this weird angle, and then try to find a place to throw it that isn’t already taller than I am. It’s a delicate business. It also makes the chickens go mildly bananas. I don’t think they like the noise, or maybe they’re just annoyed that I have to do it too.

brick

My degree is not in engineering.

I haven’t fully tested how much snow the roof can hold, but my expectation is that the four feet that we’ve gotten is probably more than it could have taken. I have added various braces in several spots, by which I mean bricks or big pieces of wood underneath that will stop the roof from bending too much if it’s weighed down. The furring strips have a little bit of give, but I don’t think it would be that hard to snap one. It hasn’t happened yet. Whether or not this means that I made a brilliant design decision by wedging odd pieces of pallets and bricks under long portions of the roof remains to be seen, but it’s held up so far. It’s actually doing better than my sanity, which is currently in the rear view mirror. As I write this, it’s already on the way to being the snowiest February on record, and we’re not even halfway through the month. I’ll be out shoveling the coop roof again sometime tomorrow, and I get the feeling this isn’t the last time, either. They say New Englanders are tough for putting up with all this, but I think it’s really just that we can’t leave because we’re plowed in. Then, by the time we get out, that repressed memory reaction I’m hoping for kicks in, and we have no idea we should get out of here before it starts happening again.

coop roof

One flat roof, viewed from another.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: True Blue Sam by Zez Confrey And His Orchestra)

*Rooves as a plural form of roof is dated, but not incorrect. The Oxford English Dictionary lists “rooves” as an alternate to roofs, one of several outdated spellings used in the UK, and in New England as late as the 19th century. If you can’t handle my use of it, you may getteth thineself bent.

Winter And Warping Wood

February 13th, 2015

I built my coop on my own, and while it’s not perfect, if viewed from a distance it looks pretty nice. If you get too close, you may be able to notice some areas where things may not line up exactly as they’re supposed to. It was never about perfection, so that doesn’t bother me. I needed a place to keep my chickens safe, and I needed to not spend what a store-bought coop for 6 chickens would cost. When I got my chickens, I chose to get six, because I had no idea what to expect. I feared they were fragile little things, and could possibly die if I looked at them sideways. Three seemed like too few, in case one or two did die. Having one chicken is a no-go, since they like company. Six seemed to leave me wiggle room for a couple dying, but then still having enough left over to make for a friendly social gathering. Of course, they were more rugged than I expected, and the cutoff for coop sizes seemed to be 5 chickens. To buy one big enough for 6 birds, prices doubled, and prices weren’t that cheap to begin with. So, for about what a small coop would have cost me, I was able to build both a coop and an enclosed run, using mostly reclaimed wood from various sources (including some bathroom stalls that had been in our house – it’s a long story). The hardware cloth to keep out varmints was the biggest expense, and there was no skimping on that. The rest was improvised.

coltrane of chickens

I’m like the Coltrane of chickens.

The original door into the run was a canvas stretcher I had pulled out of the trash at work. Working for the Art Department at a college has its perks. It was a pretty good sized rectangle of wood, and I figured it was probably more perfect in shape than anything I was going to be able to make myself. I reinforced the corners, added some hardware cloth and hinges, and affixed it to my creation. It was fine for the time being. I could get in and out to open the coop door and bring in food and water. However, I also had to squat down really low to enter. I knew it was going to be a temporary thing, but the length of that temporary period got shorter each time I had to do the Groucho walk to get inside.

groucho chicken

Oh, come on. You try drawing a moustache on a chicken.

Eventually I went out and bought some 1 x 6s, and cobbled them together into a door with whatever other scraps of wood I had handy, or could pilfer from the wood shop’s free scrap wood pile. (At some point, I started to grab anything that looked like it might be useful down the line, and became a bit of a wood hoarder in the process.) Now I had a door I could walk through like a normal person, and my chicken duties got easier. Or they at least involved less awkward bending and waddling.

 

bend and waddle

I can still bend and waddle in my spare time.

However, each winter I run into the same problem. At a certain point, the door will just not shut flush. It happens to various degrees, which in turn gives me various degrees of worry. I had always assumed it had to do with the cold temperatures making the wood warp. Last winter, I just needed to add a zip tie to one of the latches so I could get the door hooked shut without having to risk breaking anything (though I did end up ripping some screws out of the bottom of the door from pushing too hard to shut it – Hulk smash!). This winter, since it has not stopped snowing, I’ve realized the issue is that snow gets in the space between the bottom of the door and the run, and in doing so creates an icy barrier to closure that only a thaw (or maybe a heat gun) will overcome. This time around there is a good-sized gap between the door and the frame, even with the door latched. I’ve been stuffing whatever sticks I can find in there to plug the holes, figuring that an animal would have to touch the electric fence to get these out, and so wouldn’t get very far in their break-in attempt. This is really a flimsy fix even by my own slack workmanship standards. It doesn’t help that one gap has 3 sticks that I have to wedge in there in a specific order to make them stay. Luckily, my wood shop hoarding days have paid off. I found some pieces of wood that are a good thickness to cover the existing gaps, and leave extra room for if the gaps get larger, and I had already even painted them for some other abandoned and forgotten project. We currently have 4 feet of snow on the ground (and of course, more on the way, because winter is now an endurance sport) so running an extension cord out there to drill pilot holes may not happen, but I’ll find a way to get this done, and soon. This whole coop project has been about making things work, even if in an inelegant way. That’s the good news. The bad news is that this really just validates my hoarding, so I’ll have to make an extra effort to avoid the scrap wood box for a little while. I’m miles from campus right now, but I can hear its siren song already, telling me I never know what problem I’ll have next, so I’d better have weird pieces of wood at the ready. Can you hear it too? Shh. Listen.

bunch of sticks

Desperate times call for a bunch of sticks.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Untitled by Zeke Healy)

I Know Who Lays Which Eggs (A Too Many Chickens! Mystery)

February 6th, 2015

I’m no expert when it comes to a lot of things. In fact, I could probably do a very long-running podcast just on the things I am not an expert on. (Note to self: start long-running podcast on things you are not an expert on, amaze planet with breadth of non-expertise.) And while I feel like I’m still getting a handle on this whole chicken thing, even after several years of doing it, there are some things I do feel confident about. I know that anything new introduced into the coop will result in short-term freakouts leading to eventual acceptance. I know that if a treat is good enough, chicken society will break down as they pummel each other for the last morsel of something as unexciting as watermelon rinds. And, while this is not a complete list, I’ll end it by saying I know who lays which eggs.

chicken and watermelon

A whole slice to herself? Must be a dream.

“Now wait a minute!” you’re probably saying. “Just a few weeks ago you said you didn’t have any way of knowing who was laying which eggs!” Well, astute listener, thanks for picking up on that. I appreciate your ear for detail (or eye, if you don’t take in the audio portion, WHICH YOU SHOULD BE DOING). You probably also remember that I also clarified that I knew which breed of chicken laid which eggs. I don’t know for sure who lays which particular eggs, except for Boss Chicken, who lives alone, and therefore, if there’s an egg in her hutch, I’m going to bet it’s one of hers. In fact, her eggs are what helped me figure out the difference between Barred Rock and Buff Orpington eggs. Boss Chicken is a Barred Rock, and her eggs are smaller and browner than many of the ones in the main coop. Since Henny Penny is the only Barred Rock in the main coop now, I can then deduce that an egg that is smaller and browner than the others is hers. The Mandrell Sisters, being Buff Orpingtons, then would lay the slightly larger and paler eggs. I do on occasion get what I’ve heard referred to as “torpedo eggs,” which are quite pale, and about twice the length of regular eggs. Sometimes they’re even wider, and you can’t help but look at them and shudder about what it must have been like to push that one out. Due to the paleness, I’ve chalked these up to the Mandrells as well, though, since it’s an oddball egg, I suppose anyone could have done it, though Boss Chicken never has, which makes me think it’s an Orpington thing. So, I have a general idea of who is laying which egg.

tall egg

Damn the torpedo eggs (because they make it hard to close the egg carton.)

Or I did until I got the new chickens. And lately, tiny eggs of about the same brownness have been appearing in the bucket. Since they’re small, my powers of deduction told me they came from a smaller chicken. That leaves Steve, John, and Suzy Creamcheese Junior as suspects. But unless I catch one in the act, I’m not going to be able to say for sure who it was. Steve and John are Wyandottes, and Suzy Creamcheese Junior is a Speckled Sussex. I don’t know what their eggs should look like to begin with, so I couldn’t match them up that way. In Flagrante De-lay-o was my only hope. But working all the time means the eggs get laid when I’m not around.

baby egg

A (smaller than usual) clue!

Until our recent brush with Snowmageddon. Trapped at home due to statewide travel restrictions, I decided to take care of some chicken duties during the daylight hours. I opened the coop, and there, in the bucket, sat Suzy Creamcheese Junior, looking at me like it ain’t no thing. Oh, it’s a thing, chicken. Even more of a thing if I come back later and there’s an egg there. And of course there was. So I got her number.

chicken in bucket

Stone cold busted.

Until a day or so later when there were two tiny eggs in the bucket. The chances of Suzy Creamcheese Junior laying two eggs in one day is pretty slim. And yet the eggs were almost identical. So did she lay two? Or are the two different breeds faking me out with nearly identical eggs? I don’t know. Like I said, I’m not an expert. And it seems any time an egg pops out of one of my chickens, my level of expertise drops a little. But expertise hardly tastes as good as fresh eggs, so keep it up ladies. Make me look like an idiot, as long as I’m well-fed.

 

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Trumpet: waldhorn33 – Paloseco Brazz Muted Trumpet Blues Samples)

Chickens And Personality Development

January 30th, 2015
m4s0n501

One of the great things about having chickens is getting to watch their personalities develop. Well, not with Boss Chicken. She was running the show from day 1. Others take a little bit longer to come out of their shells, so to speak. When I entered the World of Chickens, I really knew very little about birds. My parents had had a couple of Cockatiels, but it was after I had gone off to college, so my exposure to them was pretty limited. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that chickens can have as much personality as a dog or a cat. Sometimes even more than some people I’ve worked with. They can grow and change, too. A shy chicken can become a bold one, and a mean one can become a nice one.

mean and nice

It comes from within, not without.

Boss Chicken is really the case study of this for me. We got her at a week old, and she was already terrorizing the other chicks. If they were on one side of the box, she would rush over there to be in the middle. If I put treats in, she’d knock the others out of the way to get the treats first. We really worried she might be a rooster, given how pushy she was. She also often escaped from the box, leading my wife to ask me the now famous (to us anyway) question, “Were all the chickens in the box when you got home? Because one was out when I left. AND I THINK YOU KNOW WHICH ONE IT WAS.” When Boss Chicken got bigger and the chickens all moved outside, she was even known to charge my son with a rooster-like malevolence. Then, she had whatever it was that triggered her legs to go all wobbly, and she became the sweetest chicken ever, who loves to sit on laps, or if no laps are available, on a foot.

footloose

Footloose
(must be Kevin Bacon’s foot)

Henny Penny was the opposite. She got her name because she was just constantly flipping out when she was young. Everything seemed to freak her out, and so I ended up giving her a name I felt was kind of an obvious name for a chicken, but it fit so well. However, with Boss Chicken unable to rule, and the untimely demise of Suzy Creamcheese, Henny Penny stepped up and has become the alpha chicken. It’s been really interesting to see her have to take a leadership position. I did not see this coming.

napoleon

Napoleon was about the same height as a chicken.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as the n00bs grow up and find their places in the flock. At first, they tried to hide from the grown-ups as much as they could. If a grown-up was on one end of the run, they’d all run to the other. It got hilarious when the grown-ups were spread out, and the n00bs had to just keep moving to try to avoid running afoul of the upperclassmen. If I let them out into the yard, they would split off from the others, and I would watch them try to sort out their own sub-pecking order. Obviously they were all beneath the adults, but who was lowest? They’d bump chests and chase each other around, and I think they’re still trying to work it all out.

science!

They can get pretty scientific about it.

Lately, though, one of them is getting over her fear of her elders. I started giving the chickens scratch once it started getting cold, but had to spread it all over the run because the little ones were too afraid to eat it next to the big ones. I’d make one pile at one end, and another far away from the first, sort of the kids’ table of the coop. The taste of sweet, sweet scratch has helped one of the n00bs find her courage. In the past week or so, when I’ve opened the coop door in the morning, who has been at the front of the line to get out? Suzy Creamcheese Junior. Who eats at the Big Chicken Scratch Pile? Suzy Creamcheese Junior. Who seemed least likely to be the tough one of the bunch? Suzy Creamcheese Junior. I’m not sure she really stands up for herself beyond scratch time, but I suppose this is a good start. Her forebear, Suzy Creamcheese, assumed power after the decline of Boss Chicken, so maybe she’s trying to live up to her name. This assumes that the chickens talk coop history at night before bed. Whatever the reason, I get a huge kick out of seeing this cute little chicken bust out the door before I’ve even gotten it all the way open. I need to start my day with something good, and this will do nicely.

chicken cereal

The breakfast of chicken champions.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Improvisation: Fast Blues In A by The Rev. Gary Davis)

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