Chicks And Ticks

May 1st, 2015

The other day at work I had a discussion with some coworkers about ticks for at least 20 minutes. It is tick season again, after all, and so that means it’s time to complain about ticks. (We’re hopefully done complaining about snow for a while.) There was a lot of squirming, use of the word “nasty,” and the general feeling that we were just all going to itch for the rest of the day. And in case we weren’t, I was sure to mention that bedbugs also exist, so hopefully at that point itchiness was a slam-dunk. “They don’t have these tick problems in the South,” was brought up, but the presence of roaches that can fly was deemed possibly even worse. So finally we just expressed our general disgust with both ticks and flying roaches, and got back to work.

flying roach

Roaches always fly first class.

I have to say I have a slightly mixed set of feelings about ticks. If it weren’t for them, I never would have gotten chickens. We got the chickens to eat the ticks, and I think it’s safe to say that getting chickens has been a very pleasant experience for me, even with the number of times I have had to stick my finger in one of their butts. But ticks are also disgusting disease-spreading parasitic monsters, and I’d be fine with them not existing. But they do, so I have to assume they serve some purpose. Is it merely as a disease vector? I complain about the mosquitoes a lot, but I can see that mosquitoes serve as food for bats, and I love bats. I understand that though mosquitoes are also unpleasant, disease-spreading monsters, they have a role to play. They suck, but they’re someone’s food. Who eats ticks in the wild? Anyone? Not me.

theater ticks

I only eat ticks at the movies.

We had a very mild winter a few years ago, and the following summer, the tick population surged. All the talk was that it was because we need the cold and snow to kill the ticks as they await spring. So this winter, with the feet and feet of snow we got, must surely mean that we have wiped them out really good, and there will only be like 10 ticks this year, right? Nope. Now everyone on the news is just talking about how the snow actually insulates the ticks and protects them from the harsh temperatures. Mild is no good. Frigid and snowy is no good. I suspect there’s really nothing that will keep the populations down, and the news just tells us that whatever sort of winter we had was the wrong kind just to dash our hopes that this year will be a mild tick year. I wouldn’t put it past them.

tick report

Most news networks are on the payroll of Big Tick.

My mother in law found three ticks on herself after just being out in the yard the other day. She hadn’t even ventured into the leaf litter like I usually do. That’s not good. On the plus side, I know I had already had my first tick incident of last year on Marathon Monday, and that’s come and gone and I’ve remained tickless. But spring has just begun. They’ll get me for sure, it’s just a matter of when. My personal record is four on me in one day. Not something I’m looking to beat, but it’s out there.

tick track

My marker is at the ready.

I take all the right precautions, and still get these awful creatures on me. They even get into our house. Do we need to start keeping chickens in there? That might not sit well with the cats, or the carpet. I’ll let the ladies out as much as I can to try to decimate the tick population, but I know they can only do so much. We need a lot more chickens working a lot more hours to really get results. I may have to quit my job and dedicate myself to eradicating ticks in the yard by means of chickens full-time. I’m sure it pays well, and will provide good insurance to cover the inevitable tick-borne illness when one sneaks past the goalies. Ticks are awful, awful things, but we’ll just have to deal with them living where we do. At least I got chickens out of the deal.

chicken

A chicken, in case you’ve forgotten what they look like.

 

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: 1910-The Flatterer by Victor Herbert Orchestra)

Orders Of Peckitude

April 24th, 2015

Most people have heard the term “pecking order,” but I think for a lot of them, it’s kind of abstract. They know what it means, but it’s removed from its original context. As a chicken owner, I got over this quickly. There is real pecking involved, and many times, it’s not pretty. At all. My crash course in pecking orders came right after Boss Chicken became ill and lost her ability to walk well. As soon as it was clear she was no longer the actual boss chicken, Suzy Creamcheese, the new alpha hen, pecked her bloody within seconds. I now have to stand guard over Boss Chicken when everyone’s out in the yard, to make sure the others don’t take the opportunity to remind her of her place in the flock. In most cases, the chicken being shown her place is able to run away or otherwise defend herself. Boss Chicken doesn’t have the mobility of a regular chicken, and so she can’t do either of those things. She got pretty busted up after Suzy Creamcheese had at her, and while she was generally o.k., I learned that the pecking order was not something to be taken lightly.

chicken 101

Being A Chicken 101

It seems that the order is not set in stone, either. When I introduced the new chicks to the flock, my assumption was that they would be at the bottom of the hierarchy. I was pretty much right, I think. It was hard to tell, because once everyone was accustomed to each other, the n00bs did their best to avoid the old guard as much as possible, even in the run. There was a lot of hiding in the corners, or running from one side of the coop to another to just steer clear of their elders. However, now that they’re a little older, and everyone is allowed out into the yard again, it seems that there is a lot of jockeying for status going on. It used to be that the n00bs would keep to themselves, away from the others, though they would still bump chests and do a little bit of negotiating within their own small group, but allow that the grown ups were in charge. This spring has brought about some changes. I’m not sure if it’s that the n00bs are bigger, or if everyone is just feeling tougher for having made it through the winter, but it’s getting rough out there. The first day of free ranging this year saw Steve (I think, it might have been John) going after one of the Mandrell Sisters pretty aggressively. By “aggressively,” I mean “biting her comb viciously not once, but twice.” She got away after the first bite, but Steve (or John) wanted to send a message. Then last weekend, as if to just be clear on who was totally in charge, Henny Penny went after Steve (or John, but let’s just assume it’s all Steve) so badly that I decided to intervene. She was pecking Steve’s head really hard, and Steve was just squatting down and taking it, like it was some sort of fraternity pledging ritual. After the first couple of pecks, we get it, Henny Penny. Luckily, there wasn’t any blood, but there certainly seems to be blood lust in the flock. Or social climbing. Or maybe everyone has just had it with each other after being kept in close quarters for so long.

chicken note

No passing notes in chicken class, even if you’re sick of each other.

I realize the ways of chickens are different from humans. We shouldn’t judge based on our own societal standards, but sometimes that’s what happens. The pecking order can be very not fun to witness (especially the pecking part – I’m ok with order), but generally it’s a subtle thing. But sometimes it’s not. If I think one of my chickens is in danger of serious injury, I’ll step in, like I did with Steve and Henny Penny. That looked like it wasn’t going to get better on its own, and the point had been made. Safety first, always. I already knew that a lot of common phrases have pretty grisly origins, and there are probably ones much more grisly than chickens pecking each other. At the same time, I’ve found that I don’t use “pecking order” outside of a chicken context anymore. However, if I need to move up the ladder at work, I’m not above putting on a giant beak and attacking whoever it is in the position I’m gunning for. This will make self-evaluation time much more interesting this year.

beak

No blood on the beak means I haven’t asserted myself enough.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: The Skating Trot by National Promenade Band)

Everyone’s Hungry!

April 17th, 2015

The other night the pizza guy remarked on how our house is the only one in town that still has big piles of snow in the yard. I was aware that we are always the last house on the street to still have snow every year, but it’s nice to have confirmation, however unscientific, that we also smoke the rest of the town in this regard. It’s nice to be number one in something, no matter how unpleasant that thing may be. I’m sure there are worse things to be number one in than lingering yard snow, so I’ll take it. Part of the issue is that our house has these 100 foot tall pine trees out back that block out the sun in the cooler months, and this inhibits our thawing. Unfortunately, these trees were part of what sold us on the house, so they’re not going anywhere. And hey, if they keep the yard covered in snow, that postpones mowing, which is perfectly fine with me.

pizza pie

It’s time for pie!

Now that the snow is on the wane (or possibly gone everywhere else but our yard), the chickens are getting plenty of yard time. They’ve gone from having a small strip of ground to pick at to having far too many choices. It’s like going from a restaurant with one item on the menu to the world’s biggest all-you-can eat buffet. How do you decide what to eat? If you’re a chicken, you would seem to wander around with a dazed look in your eye, scratching one spot for a minute or two, then sprinting across the yard to another spot, scratching for another minute, and then sprinting to a third location, and just repeating this over and over so many small spots get worked over, but there’s no real system. I’ve tried pulling them aside and explaining the importance of breaking jobs down into actionable items, but they hate the term “actionable item” almost as much as I do, and so they run off without listening. I’ll have to put it all in a Powerpoint presentation and then really bore them.

Powerpoint

I can’t even think about Powerpoint without dozing off.

The chickens aren’t the only ones overwhelmed by all the sudden new food options. It was slim pickings for predators for a while. The bunnies in our yard had a tunnel system under the snow to rival the sewers of Manhattan. But with the snow gone, they, and many other animals, are now again out in the open. This has not escaped the notice of the local raptor population, among others. We’ve been seeing a lot of hawks all of a sudden, and if I had night vision, I’m sure the owls are out, as well the coyotes, fisher cats, weasels, possums, and pretty much everything short of the Chupacabra (and I’m not 100% certain we don’t have those around here too). It makes me, the owner of a small group of prey animals, slightly nervous. However, eternal vigilance is the price of chickens, and I’m ready.

chupacabra

We spoke to an actual Chupacabra about this.
(Chupacabra means “Goatsucker”.)

Last weekend we had considerably more snow than we do now, and my son and I were out in the yard with the ladies, enjoying the weather. I was watching the chickens, and my son was making the most of what was left of the snowbanks by rolling down them and yelling a lot while he did so. I would glance up at the sky every so often, but I figured we were out in the part of the day that was not prime hawk hunting time, so all should be well. And of course, as soon as I had that thought, a large hawk cruised through the sky above the field across the street, and started to turn towards our yard. I assumed the chickens had been spotted. I sometimes have a hard time getting them back in the run under low-intensity conditions, and now I needed to do it quickly. “Buddy, buddy, buddy!” I yelled at my son, and he obviously could tell by the tone of my voice exactly what was wrong. He leapt off the snowbank. “Hawk?” he responded. I said yes, and asked him to herd the chickens towards me, and I’d direct them into the run’s door. He held out his arms just like I do at herding time (it at least gives the illusion that you’re directing them), and guided them back to the coop. I blocked the usual escape route, so they went right in no problem. The whole thing took about 10 seconds. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten them put away so fast. We high-fived, and then my son looked up at the sky. “Where’s the hawk?” he said. It was nowhere to be seen, but it had definitely been there a few moments before. Perhaps it was waiting, possibly in disguise, for me to make one small mistake, and then he would strike. Well, he may still be waiting, because that was Sunday, and there usually isn’t free-ranging during the week. Hopefully he’s moved on, but I’ll continue to watch the skies, just in case. In life, someone’s always trying to eat your chickens. Tread lightly, and keep your eyes open.

hawk in a wig

Keep a lookout for bad wigs.

 

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Pick A Chicken by Jaudas’ Society Orchestra)

At Long Last!

April 10th, 2015

It felt like ages in the making. It kind of was ages in the making, in that this winter has aged us all beyond our years. (Or, at the very least, it has aged our backs from all the shoveling, even with the proper technique.) But two weeks ago it was warm enough, and I felt enough snow had melted, that it was time to release the chickens from their winter bondage out into the yard once more.

snow chicken

Earlier this year.

After all the build up and sense of urgency to let them free-range again, it felt a little anti-climactic. This is not to say that they weren’t excited, but it’s not like they all flipped out and just dug holes deep into what earth was exposed and rid the area of bugs and worms within minutes of their release. I suppose perhaps I needed to manage my expectations a little better. However, given all the time they had been kept in the run due to the snow, I thought that they might venture a little further on their first excursion out than just right along the edges of the coop, but I suppose sometimes you have to ease back into it. And who knows, there may have been things to eat just out of reach since December that had been sitting there taunting them all this time, and finally they could get them. You’d notice the stuff right outside the fence, whereas the pile of birdseed way up the path near the house is probably out of sight. (Though, even when they got near that, they didn’t pay much attention to it. I think it’s been so long since a nice stroll around the yard that they’re just off their game.)

chicken

Look alive, chickens!

Boss Chicken got in on the action too. I had to dig trenches around the perimeter of the foundation so that when things began to melt water wouldn’t just come directly into the house. This perimeter had melted enough to make a nice path for a chicken who needed to be protected from the others. I stood at the path entrance to keep watch, and she happily waddled around in there as best she could. Then, I heard her make a very excited noise, and turned to see that she had discovered the entrance to the rabbit hole that goes under our side steps. I had this image of a rabbit coming out and pummeling her, but I think I was just being overprotective. Nevertheless, I moved her back down the path away from it. She of course quickly headed right back to the hole, so I gave up. I had an eye on her, so I could fend off any killer rabbits, should they appear. (SPOILER ALERT: They didn’t.)

killer rabbit

He was very quiet, always kept to himself . . .

Meanwhile, my son, who has also been trapped inside all winter (though our house has less chicken poop in it than the coop, I hope) got some free-ranging time too. He was happy to be outside again, and hit the swingset for a while until he discovered the snowbanks around the house were perfect for rolling down, and even skiing without skis. When I needed him to, he would climb the banks to the far side of the chickens and herd them back to where I could see them. None of my earlier fears about them running out into the open tundra came to pass. They stuck to the path, and seemed to find plenty to pick at there. I suppose you work over the obvious stuff the first time back out. Now that it’s been even warmer for a week, there’s plenty more exposed areas to explore. They’ll be hitting that soon, if I have any say in it. Things are slowly returning to normal.

snowbank

Child + snowbank = good times.

It’s been such a rough winter, I didn’t think I’d ever be happy to be outside again, but that first day of free-ranging felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of me. The chickens were happy and well-behaved, as was my son, except for when he realized how much fun it is to put snow down the back of my jacket. But even that felt good, in its way. Every so often something happens and you realize while it’s happening that you’re experiencing something wonderful. As I watched my son roll down a snowbank for the 300th time as chickens poked around in the mud for anything they could find, I knew I had my moment. Winter may finally be over.

winter is over

I hope I’m right.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: The Butterfly by Eugene C. Rose and George Rubel)

 

Guess What? Chicken Butt!

April 3rd, 2015

Every night I stick my head inside the coop door and say goodnight to the chickens before I lock them in. This is not just because I am a nurturing chicken owner. I also do it to make sure they’re all there, as Boss Chicken once spent the night outside in freezing weather because I hadn’t noticed she was missing. I can also often get a better look at them while they’re roosting than I might normally while they’re running around. Of course, when I stick my head in the door the chickens use to enter and exit the coop, I am right at butt level. This isn’t always the place you want to be. However, on more than one occasion, this view has allowed me to save the day by noticing something was wrong with a chicken. The butt can often be the window into a chicken’s health. In the past, I’ve been able to spot vent gleet, thanks to its telltale symptoms that give it the nickname of “nasty butt disease.” Your grandparents possibly frequently asked you if you had had a bowel movement. They probably would have been good with chickens, as what comes out, or does not come out of a chicken’s butt is something you need to keep an eye on.

They'd ask anyone, anytime.

They’d ask anyone, anytime.

It’s always a surprise to peek in and see something amiss, and sometimes, given the way the chickens like to sit on top of one another, I don’t always get a good look. But sometimes I do, like the other night when I stuck my head in and got an eyeful of Henny Penny’s alarmingly featherless hind end. I had been a little worried about her anyway, since she had had really long molt this winter. Long enough that it made me paranoid. Like months. She’s seemed fine otherwise, but here was some evidence that maybe things weren’t great. My first thought was that she had been getting pecked there, since my mom had been calling me about problems with her own chickens pecking butts. I figured if this was it, I should put some Bag Balm or something on the raw area, so I’d need to grab her. The small door my head was in was too small for me to get at her, so I had to go around back where she would be farther away. I had no good options, but the need to protect her kicked in, and I managed to get her with one quick nab. She made an unholy noise, but I flipped her on her back and she calmed down. I took her inside, and realized the Bag Balm was deep inside the house. A house full of cats. Then I remembered that I had some Blu-Kote, which I had just recommended to my mom, in a catless part of the house. I brought her there, swabbed her with some dark blue antiseptic goodness, and brought her back to the coop. Then I remembered why you’re supposed to wear gloves with Blu-Kote. Luckily, my hands weren’t too Smurfy, and I put them to work on the computer, checking on any other possible causes for this feather loss.

smurf hand

Gotta keep my Smurf hand strong.

Feather loss can also be caused by an egg being stuck inside the chicken. We have had days where we get 5 eggs in the coop, but there are 6 chickens in there. That doesn’t mean anything really, but this created enough doubt in my mind that I knew I was walking into another “I stuck my finger in a chicken’s butt” story. I got my rubber gloves, grabbed poor Henny Penny again, and once again stuck my finger in a chicken’s butt. I didn’t feel an egg, which is good. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to feel, but there certainly wasn’t an egg right at the threshold. Still, I figured I should keep an eye on her, so I brought her inside and put her in the dog crate Boss Chicken spends the winter in. She walked normally, so that was another egg bound symptom dismissed. I put her to bed, and went to bed myself.

Egg Bound For Glory - The Woody Guthrie Chicken Story

Egg Bound For Glory – The Woody Guthrie Chicken Story

The next morning, as I was getting the chickens’ breakfast ready, I was debating bringing Henny Penny back out, or if I should keep her quarantined, just in case. Then I opened the door and got hit in the face with the smell of the Chicken Butt Apocalypse. I went in, and not only had she pooped, but it was enormous. I knew then that no egg was blocking anything, and I brought her back outside. Maybe she’s getting pecked, maybe it’s something else. I’ll continue to monitor the situation. But that smell left no doubt in my mind that there were no clogs in this bird, and she was o.k. to rejoin the flock. At least one problem is ruled out, and time will tell what the cause of this actually ends up being. In the meantime, I’ll add another notch to whatever it is I use to track my exploratory chicken probings. That seems like the best euphemism for this.

probefinger

Coming soon to a theater near you.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Fluffy Ruffles by All Star Trio)

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)

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