Archive for February, 2015

The Coming Floods And Chickens

Friday, February 27th, 2015

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

roof snow

I wish I was making this up.

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

crystal ball

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

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

in the present

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

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


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

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

shall not pass

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


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

Snow and Flat Rooves*

Friday, February 20th, 2015

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

six pack

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

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


My degree is not in engineering.

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

coop roof

One flat roof, viewed from another.

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

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

Winter And Warping Wood

Friday, February 13th, 2015

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

coltrane of chickens

I’m like the Coltrane of chickens.

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

groucho chicken

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

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


bend and waddle

I can still bend and waddle in my spare time.

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

bunch of sticks

Desperate times call for a bunch of sticks.

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

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

Friday, February 6th, 2015

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

chicken and watermelon

A whole slice to herself? Must be a dream.

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

tall egg

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

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

baby egg

A (smaller than usual) clue!

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

chicken in bucket

Stone cold busted.

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


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

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