Archive for November, 2014

The Hen Men

Friday, November 28th, 2014

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

Scratch and Shyness

Friday, November 21st, 2014

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

chicken hydra

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

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

scratch time

Does anybody really know what time it is?

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

The Smiths as chickens

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

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

chickens reading

They’ll figure it out one way or another.


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


Coop Muscles

Friday, November 14th, 2014

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

beer muscles

Dude, do you even work out?

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

han solo chicken

Han pecked first.

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

reaction wheel

How I make most of my decisions.

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


They can’t say I didn’t warn them.

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


Chickens and Electric Fences

Friday, November 7th, 2014


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


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

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

electric fence

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

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

fence tester

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

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


Not the actual sound it makes.

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


What electricity actually looks like. Fear it.

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


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


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