Tornado Eggs

May 22nd, 2015

One of the nice things about my son being more involved with taking care of the chickens is seeing him get excited and make observations about the various things the chickens do. Since his main job is to gather the eggs, a lot of his commentary is egg-based (or poop-based, because there’s a lot of poop, he’s seven, and I set a bad example). I’ve pointed out the differences between the different eggs, so he can start to figure out who lays which ones. He knows that Henny Penny’s eggs are smaller and darker than the ones we get from the Mandrell Sisters. It’s very easy for him to pick out Steve and John’s eggs, which are the smallest and palest (we’re hoping the eggs get bigger as Steve and John grow, but they’re almost a year old now, so maybe this is it). And he knows that Suzy Creamcheese Junior’s eggs are speckled, and this seems to be the thing he is most excited to look for.

speckled egg

Rich with speckly goodness.

There are certain occasions where he gets even more excited than when we find a speckled egg. Every so often we’ll get an extremely long, pale egg, and it is always greeted with a “WOW!” and sometimes a “look at that crazy egg!” I explained to him that sometimes people call these “torpedo eggs,” because they’re long and sort of torpedo shaped, but since he doesn’t know what a torpedo is, he ends up calling them tornado eggs. Tornados he knows about. It’s not quite as cute as when he was three and called the elevator the “alligator,” but I’ll take what I can get while it lasts.

alligator

He may have been trying to warn me about something.

Whenever we get a tornado egg there is always a discussion about who could have done it. I’ve never been able to figure this out. They’ve shown up ever since we’ve had chickens, so I would guess one of the original crew is behind this. I’ve always suspected a Mandrell Sister, since the coloration of the egg is about the same, but since it’s a mutant egg anyway, the color could be messed up too. Unless I put a camera in the nesting bucket, we may never know. And that’s probably not going to happen. It feels a little creepy. Sometimes these sorts of giant eggs are double-yolkers, but we’ve never had one that was, that I know of. I should check with anyone I’ve given eggs to over the last 3 years to see if they had any giant, double-yolked eggs, but I don’t think I have that kind of time. As far as I can tell, the occasional big egg is nothing to worry about. The shells are fine, they’re just a little big. It sometimes looks like it was something that might have hurt a little, but everyone is walking fine, so maybe they’re built to take it. I’d be sitting a little gingerly if I dropped a tornado egg, but I think I’d have bigger things to worry about if I was suddenly laying eggs.

call the doctor

Another one of those calls.

Tornado eggs, or torpedo eggs, are both safer than their namesakes. They seem to be safe for the chickens too, and they give my son something to marvel at while he helps me out with the chickens. This seems like a situation in which everybody wins. Except that I keep getting hosed on the double-yolk front. I’m seeing the glass half empty here, because my glass can hold two yolks. Come on, mystery torpedo egg chicken, make me proud!

single yolk

There can only be one.

 

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Gypsy Blues by Paul Whiteman And His Orchestra)

On the road . . .

May 15th, 2015

I’ve had to do some last minute traveling, so no podcast this week. In the meantime, enjoy Boss Chicken channelling Peter Gabriel in the early period of Genesis. See you next week.

may flowers

Butt Pecking

May 8th, 2015

Back when we first got the chickens, there was some butt pecking going on in the flock. I now suspect that it was just that the babies needed some more space, but not having any experience with chickens, I freaked out a little. I was worried it was going to be a fight to the death or something, and that would not do. I ended up searching the internet high and low for “butt pecking” and after much reading, expanded the size of the box that they were in, and things got o.k. again. That problem was solved, but a new one arose. I noticed that after that, any time I did an internet search that began with the letter B, “butt pecking” popped up as a suggestion. In most instances, this wasn’t a big deal. However, as the tech support guy at work, people often come to me with questions, and sometimes the thing to do is look up the answer right then and there. So there was the risk that someone would come to me with a problem that started with B, and then, as they looked over my shoulder as I searched, they’d see I’d been looking for butt pecking. Eventually, I stopped worrying about it. “Maybe this is a good way to get people to stop coming to me with their problems,” I thought.

Yep.

Yep.

Butt pecking is back in my search history again lately. They’re not chicks anymore, but butts are getting pecked anew. It started with Henny Penny. One night I noticed her butt was featherless, and I panicked, thinking she might be egg bound. However, she’s reliably laying eggs, and pooping up a storm, so I don’t think it’s that. It happened at the end of the winter, so my thinking now is that the other birds may have been eating her feathers for protein. I’ve read that this happens. I put some Blu-Kote on her butt just to make sure nothing got infected, and she seems to be o.k. otherwise.

The blue butt of unhappiness.

The blue butt of unhappiness.

Then the other day I noticed that Suzy Creamcheese Junior’s butt looked a little worse for the wear. Sure enough, her butt was getting pecked too. And hers looked even worse than Henny Penny’s. She had lost fewer feathers, but had a couple of open cuts. I Blu-Koted everything right away, and then did Henny Penny’s area again for good measure. Henny Penny’s feathers do look like they’re starting to grow back, but her skin seemed a little red. That may have been because I was holding her upside down and she was freaking out, but I decided to look it up anyway. There is a pretty epic thread on one of the chicken forums I read about red, featherless butts that are also squishy. The squishiness of her butt was what made me think it might be a stuck egg. The thread speculates a lot, but there seem to be no real answers, or at least consistent ones. I’m not sure regular butts aren’t also this squishy, and you just don’t notice because of the feathers. And since Suzy Creamcheese Junior is also getting pecked, it makes me think it’s more of a pecking situation going on, rather than anything else. The chickens may be getting bored, and butts are an easy target. I put a cabbage in there today to give them something to occupy themselves with that wasn’t a butt. I’m also going to throw some diatomaceous earth in the coop to rule out parasites. This seems to be one of those issues that can be caused by a whole range of different things.

sell the sizzle

I believe this is what’s known as “selling the sizzle.”

There’s also the chance that I’m looking at two entirely different problems. The squishy butt problem could be egg peritonitis, which is what killed the original Suzy Creamcheese. But other people with chickens with red, featherless butts have said their chickens get it and just soldier on for years. Suzy Creamcheese Junior’s butt problems could be a result of a pecking order situation. There are really no clear answers. I’ll be monitoring the situations and applying antiseptic creams, salves, and unguents as needs dictate. And in the meantime, should I find time at work to search for more butt pecking advice, maybe I’ll consider clearing my search history. Though, if butt pecking is the worst thing you have in there, you’re doing pretty good, as long as you’re still talking about chickens.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: 1909 – Mlle. Modiste (Mademoiselle Modesty) Selection by Victor Herbert Orchestra)

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)

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