Archive for the ‘Cold’ Category

Polar Vortex Chickens

Friday, February 19th, 2016

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. A polar vortex descended on our region, plunging us into negative temperatures at night, and barely letting us get into the positives during the day. The weather website I check tried to tell me we hit double-digits, but my thermometer in the coop begged to differ. The few times I had to go outside made it clear that a couple of degrees didn’t make a difference anyway. It was just plain cold.

I have my own rating system.

I have my own rating system.

This weather trend caused some concerns around the home and coop. Mostly the coop, which is around our home, but I decided to include them both. It was far too cold for Boss Chicken to be out there alone. It hit -11 the night before, and that was cold enough for me to worry about the others, who could clump for heat. When I got up to take care of everyone’s food, it was still in the negatives. Based on that, I made the decision to keep The Boss in for the day. This then caused me to have to figure out how to get her fed and watered while in her newfangled storage tub. The food part was easy. I just used the container that I usually use to bring her food out to her hutch as a dish, dumped some mealworms on top as an act of contrition, and put it inside. She made some very excited clucks, so the mealworms worked. Now I had to deal with the water set up. As with many crisis situations, my first instinct was to just use duct tape. I tried taping a small water bottle to the side of the tub, but the combination of it being cold, the tub being too smooth, and my duct tape being kind of not great made for a very unstable system. When duct tape fails, look to bungee cord. I took a couple of coolers we had in the storage space, bungeed the water bottle to a milk crate, and put the milk crate on top of the coolers. She now had easy access to water, and all was well. At least inside.

Glug glug glug.

Glug glug glug.

Outside, I was quite concerned about Henny Penny’s butt. Her butt feathers still haven’t grown in. She gets feather nubs, then they seem to disappear, then reappear, and I’m never quite sure what’s happening. But she was out there in the cold with a bare butt, and I was worried. I briefly thought about trying to put vaseline on the skin to protect it, but my experience with trying to put vaseline on their combs proved to me that greasing up a live chicken was a fool’s errand. When I said goodnight, she had her tail down, covering the exposed area, and I figured the combination of that and being out of the wind should be enough. She got through the entirety of last winter with a bare butt, and there were worse temperatures than this, and for extended periods. I figured she could hack one night. When she came out in the morning, I looked for signs of frostbite, but she seemed o.k. I’ll keep an eye on it, but with luck we’ll all make it through.

The news has really gone downhill these days.

The news has really gone downhill these days.

Of course, this being New England, it was 54 two days after a Polar Vortex, so if we hunker down a little, we get relief. This is much better than last year where the entire winter was one prolonged hunkering. This winter needs less hunkering, but more questioning just what is going on. -11 to 54 is a big range of temperatures. I think this is why everyone in New England is a little nuts. You would be too if your weather kept pulling this kind of nonsense.

Meanwhile, don't ask me how a bird that can't walk or fly managed to do this on her own.

Meanwhile, don’t ask me how a bird that can’t walk or fly managed to do this on her own.


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Oh! By Jingo! by All-Star Trio)

Get Eating, Ya Ingrates!

Friday, February 12th, 2016

One of the best things about doing this podcast is that I have a pretty good record of all the chicken problems I’ve run into over the years, and how I dealt with them. Sometimes, my memory isn’t that great (or most times, if I remember correctly), so I may forget that I had a certain issue come up, and then I actually find my own post when searching for a solution. It would be embarrassing if I thought anyone saw. Right now, we’re in the middle of winter, and my chickens don’t seem to want to eat very much. The problem with that is that they need to eat in order to generate energy to stay warm, and for those of them that are still molting, to regrow feathers. I go and check the feeder regularly, and think, “Hmm, they’re not eating much.” Then I go to mix the latest podcast, and for some reason, whenever I try to save a new file, it always wants to save in the folder called “Not Eating In The Winter,” which is the third episode I did post-Garden Guys. So this “dieting” has been going on for a while, and I should know they eat less in the winter because I am reminded of it weekly, but every few days, there I am looking into the feeder and thinking, “Hmm, they’re not eating much.” THANKS, BRAIN.

Wise guy.

Wise guy.

I always wonder how much of their eating behavior is a vicious circle. I give them high-protein snacks when it gets cold, to help with staying warm, and with feather re-growth. But checking the archives, I see that they originally stopped eating their normal feed before I started adding extra goodies. The goodies came in because I was worried about them not eating, and had to tempt them with exciting food. But then if you can eat cake all the time, why would you eat oatmeal instead? Once the cake is out there, you can’t go back. Sure, the cake is actually scratch and sunflower seeds, but you can buy that in cake form if you want. It’s great if you celebrate chicken birthdays, but your kid will never forgive you if you try to be funny at theirs.

Children don't like gag gifts, or seed cakes.

Children don’t like gag gifts, or seed cakes.

The first winter they stopped eating I was so concerned that I mixed their yogurt with regular food, apple cider vinegar, and scratch. I asked a guy at the feed store if he knew what was up, and when I described this concoction to him, other people in the store began to make fun of me for spoiling my chickens. Maybe so, but they’re still alive, right? They’re not starving to death on my watch.

Not that not starving.

Not that not starving.

I’ve begun to wonder if the fact that they only eat the high-protein stuff instead of the layer feed could have something to do with why we haven’t had any eggs for almost a month now. Sure, some of them are getting old, and some are molting, but this is an unprecedented dry spell. We had to buy eggs recently, and that fills me with shame. Shame is the mother of invention, at least for me, and so I’ve arrived at a compromise. I still give them scratch and black oil sunflower seeds, but I mix it in with layer feed. In their excitement to get the treats, they end up eating the regular food too, so I know they’re now getting at least a small dose of the full nutrition they need. I’m pleased it’s worked, and I’ll see if any eggs come about as a result.

The things I get excited about.

The things I get excited about.

I’ve heard of people who try similar tricks with their kids, and somehow this feels wrong to me. It’s o.k. to trick chickens, but tricking children feels like a violation of trust. Plus, my son only eats pizza or macaroni and cheese, both of which are difficult to hide things in. Perhaps if he ate food that lent itself to deceit better, I’d change my tune. I suspect this may be where his distrust of smoothies comes from. Good thing he’s not a chicken. I’d never get him fed.

Somebody say pizza?

Somebody say pizza?


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Placeholder by Jahzzar)

Too Cold For Chickens?

Friday, January 29th, 2016

We managed to dodge a terrible snowstorm last weekend, but I know the winter is far from over. Our nightmare last year only began at the end of January, and then was just relentless in pummeling us every week with at least another foot of snow. So on the one hand, I do genuinely feel for the people I see on Facebook posting pictures of how hard it is to dig out their cars and driveways, however, I’m also doing a little dance that it’s not me again. Note that the dance is little. I’m trying to avoid moving into hubris territory, and I think a large dance would do it. Just a hop and a skip, and then back to business. Right now business means keeping the chickens warm. We didn’t get the snow, but it’s been awfully cold for the past week, at least by this winter’s standards. (Once again, last winter was a whole different ballgame.) Normally if I walk past the coop, all the chickens gather at the door, wanting to be let into the yard. In this kind of cold, I walk by and maybe one of them sticks her head out to see what I’m doing, and that’s about it. One of them gets confirmation that I’m not there to let them all out, and they go back to huddling in the relative warmth of the coop. Of course, first thing in the morning they run out for the pile of scratch I leave out, but once they’re done with that, they have indoor recess, chicken-style.

The eyes are always watching.

The eyes are always watching.

The cold also officially crossed over into Boss Chicken-must-come-inside level temperatures. We even hit single digits overnight once or twice, so in she came, and then back out during the day so she can get sunlight, and balmy temps in the 20s. My idea to put her in a storage tub has been a mixed success. On the one hand, it holds a chicken and some wood chips. One the other hand, it’s only marginally better at keeping those wood chips contained than the dog crate I normally put her in. I couldn’t figure that one out, until I realized that if she flaps her wings in a small, contained space, it will create enough wind to blow chips over the edge. My investigation of the storage tub area would lead me to conclude that there has been some wing flapping. But I suppose that’s what vacuum cleaners are for. Or so I’ve heard.

Post-chicken destruction.

Post-chicken destruction.

The best news so far is that it hasn’t been so cold that I’ve felt I need to keep her inside all day. Last winter, we went months without coming out of the teens. This winter has been more “mild” than that, so she can go out during the day. It’s only really an issue because I can’t figure out how to hook a water bottle to the storage tub. When I was a kid, you used to be able to get water bottles to go over the side of an aquarium, so your hamster or gerbil could live in an aquarium and drink water from a bottle. I’ve been to all the pet stores in the area and I can’t find this sort of bottle anywhere. Perhaps there’s been a shift in rodent husbandry, and this sort of aquarium arrangement is now frowned upon. I don’t know. But if it gets real cold, I may either have to really MacGyver something, or put her in the dog crate, which works fine with the commonly available water bottles. However, hamsters can easily escape from them, so don’t put your hamster in a dog crate. That piece of advice is free.

Escape From Hamcatraz.

Escape From Hamcatraz.

Winter is always full of ongoing challenges. Keeping water from freezing is always a big one, making sure they eat enough to stay warm is another. And that’s with the regular chickens. Boss Chicken has problems all her own, and I’m doing the best I can with what I have available. I hope she appreciates it.

Where's the water bottle?

Where’s the water bottle?

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: 12th Street Rag by Imperial Marimba Band)

Steve And John’s Employee Review

Friday, January 22nd, 2016

Winter seems to have finally arrived. I can’t say I’m happy about it, but it’s also not like I can do anything about it. I guess I’ll just sit here and put up with it like I did last year, but hopefully with less to put up with. The winter solstice came and went, and so the days have begun to get slightly longer. That’s always a cruel trick, if you ask me. The days are longer, but still can be terribly cold. I would like them to get warmer as they lengthen, but I suppose that would mean it would have to get colder sooner too, so let’s leave the current system in place. Even during the week of the solstice I got an egg or two, so the long darkness couldn’t hold the ladies down. And then the eggs just stopped coming around the 6th. I figured maybe the cold blast had something to do with it, but it warmed up, and nothing happened. Then I noticed that there were suddenly more feathers in the coop, and that Steve (or John’s) neck was looking awful sparse. It turns out the two chickens I got because Wyandottes were good winter layers have gone and molted in the middle of winter. Nice going, guys.

He did it.

Now she did it.

Suzy Creamcheese Junior only just came out of her molt. She got it really bad this year, but it was her first time, so maybe just a rookie mistake. That took her out of the egg laying arena for a while, though. Someone was holding up their end of things, since I’d find one just about every other day, or every two days. For winter, with a few aging birds, that didn’t seem so bad. But to suddenly just have none for such a long stretch seemed surprising, until I saw the feather explosion that was distinctly Steve and John-colored. The fact that this happened right when it got cold put me in a position I think I’ve found myself in every winter since starting with chickens. If they have bald patches of skin, they shouldn’t be out in the cold, right? But a chicken that is molting is much more sensitive to touch, so picking them up to bring them inside will be painful, right? So which is worse? Since they are in the coop with 4 other chickens, I vote to leave them outside. They do snuggle in with the rest to stay warm, so that’s good, but I worry. I worry about everything though. It’s kind of my resting state. There’s a long cold spell in the forecast, and more feathers seem to fall off every day. How long will I be able to resist bringing them inside? This ignores the question of how hard would they be to catch, which I think is a question best not put to the test.

Those suckers are fast.

Those suckers are fast.

Anyway, I would like to take this moment to address Steve and John directly. Look, you two, I know you’re new at this, but you’ve got colleagues who molted at a perfectly good time in terms of cold. They had their feathers back before it got really bad, and so are more comfortable than you right now. Yes, I know you can’t control it, but I just wanted to throw this out there. This is not a great system. I’ve got two chickens I’m concerned are going to get frostbite, and that aren’t producing any winter eggs, which was the exact reason I got them. I’m sitting here eggless, like an idiot, and worrying about you two the whole time. Do you know how much I have to do? Grow those feathers back this instant, and get eggin’. Given that this is your first evaluation, I can let some things slide, but next year, please get it together, o.k.?

Great. Now just sign this form that says we had this discussion, and I’ll forward it to H.R.

This is my "lecturing a chicken" face.

This is my “lecturing a chicken” face.


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Maple Leaf Rag by The US Marine Band)

Odds And Ends And Leftovers

Friday, December 4th, 2015

In the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it can be hard to focus. People also tend to take their Thanksgiving leftovers and throw them all together and see what they can make (Mike Dukakis is a prime example). You have a bunch of things that don’t exactly make a whole meal on their own, but when combined with other loose ends, now at least you’re full, if not satisfied. I think that might be my new slogan for Too Many Chickens!, or at least the theme of this episode.

full, but not satisfied.

Testing out some postcards with the new slogan.

Suzy Creamcheese Junior has some feathers on her butt now. I’m not going to get my hopes up that this is the road to a non-bald butt for her, as this happened once before and then they fell out, but I’m going to at least get hopes. I’ll just keep them down. While her butt looks decent, the rest of her still looks really awful. Her right wing looks totally skeletal at the base. I realize it’s actually feather and not bone, but that doesn’t stop my immediate reaction of “Oh no!” every time I see it. Some little tufts seem to be sprouting in there, which probably means the new feathers are on their way, but they sure are taking their time. Her chest looks rattier than ever. Since that started getting fuzzy during the mite conquest, I’m not sure if it’s molting or mites. I make sure to get it when I give everyone a diatomaceous earth shakedown once a week. Only time will tell. Time seems to be pretty tight-lipped these days.


Why do I keep buying these awful clocks? This one won’t even tell me what time it is.

Boss Chicken has been toughing it out in the cold, though we haven’t had a ton of cold nights so far. We’ll get one or two in the 20s, and then it’s back into the 40s for a few weeks. I decided to figure out a plan for what constituted too cold for her to be out there alone. The night I found her under the coop (which was the night her legs gave way) it had been 18 degrees out. She survived that being exposed in the run, so I figure that at the very least is a baseline to go off of. However, given my overdeveloped sense of worry, I think if it dips below 20, that’s when she comes in. Even though she’s more protected in her hutch than she would be outside, I’m still not willing to take too many chances with her. So hopefully by the time it gets that cold at night, we’ll have figured out the Spooky situation.


America’s Favorite Weather Chicken

Spooky, at the time of this writing, is in a dog crate in our kitchen. We gated the whole kitchen off, and then put her in the crate for extra protection as a means of introducing her to the household. Our big tom cat, whose real name is Hamish, but we call him “The Bone,” came up, took a look at her, snorted (he has sinus woes) and walked away. He has never been the one we’ve been worried about fighting with Spooky, though. He’s pretty unflappable and easy-going. Jenny, our tortie, is the one who used to try to smash through the glass door to get Spooky when Spooky would come to peer longingly into the house. Jennie did go right up to the gate and stare Spooky down, but it remained pretty civil. That’s a good start. Spooky just came out of heat a day or two ago, so I hope that will make things easier. The day we decided to go the dog crate route was the day she went into heat, so there was more howling than I would have liked. She’s much quieter now, but still a little freaked. It is a lot to take in, and our house is a bit of a mess. I’d be freaked too. I’m kind of freaked right now. But soon I think we may have one big crazy cat family, though we’re only at 4, and I’m told 6 is when you’re a crazy cat person. Almost there!

cat chart

This time of year, it always feels like you’re running around a lot, but not necessarily getting anywhere. We are running around a lot, but I feel like I’ve at least figured out a plan for the things I have some control over. Suzy Creamcheese Junior’s feather issues are out of my hands. Boss Chicken’s cold weather digs I totally have a say in. The Spooky introduction I can control, the behavior of the rest of the cats is, well, cat behavior. Good luck influencing those people at all. I’m doing the best I can. Hopefully Santa will notice.

He noticed!

He noticed!

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Who’s Sorry Now? by Memphis Five)

Molt-o Benny

Friday, September 18th, 2015

Well, there’s no doubt now that some of the chickens have begun to molt. Henny Penny feathers are everywhere Henny Penny has been, as if she’s leaving a trail of breadcrumbs to find her way home, except that she never really strays that far from home. Lately they barely leave the vicinity of the run, but that just must mean that the bugs around there are so good, there’s no need to travel elsewhere. Under the roost and the run itself are both getting lined nicely with her feathers, like there’s constant pillow fights going on. In the interest of not being left out, others are also joining the molting festivities. I spotted a Steve or John tailfeather in the coop the other day, and one of the Mandrell Sisters has a stumpy looking butt because all her tailfeathers have fallen out. It looks a little silly, but they’re chickens. Looking silly is kind of their bit.

prop comic

Many chickens are actually brilliant prop comics.

I’m actually pretty glad that they’re molting so early this year. Last year I don’t think they started until December, and it was really cold. That’s not a good time to go out without a jacket, or too light of one, which is basically what they’re doing when they molt. Lately, around here, it’s been extremely hot. We’ve had a couple of weeks of it being in the 90s, only to finally have it get seasonable again in the last week. September is usually when I look forward to temperatures getting comfortable, but this year took its time. So shedding some feathers in the heat probably makes sense. It’s like taking off your shirt. Your chicken shirt. Luckily, our yard is pretty private, so we don’t have to worry about anyone peeping at our shirtless chickens.


You never know what’s hiding behind a rock.

The unseasonably warm and dry weather makes me wonder if this is any indication of the winter to come. Probably not, but after getting hammered so badly by snow last year, I need some small bit of hope to cling to. I’m not ready for another winter of any kind, but certainly not of the proportions of last year. Even if it wasn’t snowing, it was freezing, and it was usually snowing. I have a great picture I took of ice on the train platform that I nearly lost my hand trying to get because of how cold it was. That’s the price I pay for art! But the memory of the cold makes me especially concerned about the chickens being re-feathered by the time winter gets here. Having exposed skin in those sorts of temperatures, especially with the wind we also got, is not a good idea. If I thought molting was something they could plan, I would think they’re getting a jump on things because they too remember last year. I think it’s really just a lucky coincidence.


A hand-losingly good photo.

The downside of molting is that we get fewer eggs. Plenty of loose feathers, but not many eggs. We’ve got a pretty good egg stockpile, so I think we’ll get by. But at some point we’ll eat what we have, and hopefully by then the ladies will be back in business. Steve, John, and Suzy Creamcheese Junior are all breeds that are supposed to be good winter layers, so hopefully they can prove themselves this year. There’s nothing more shameful than having to buy eggs when you have chickens you won’t shut up about. Hopefully my plan to have a steady supply throughout the winter months thanks to Steve, John, and Suzy Creamcheese Junior will work, or it’s back to wearing disguises to the grocery store come January. I suppose I could make one out of all the feathers they’re shedding right now. That wouldn’t draw any attention to me at all.

feather vest

Feather vest! And matching face feathers, which all go with my hair. Perfection.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Tishomingo Blues Introducing Some Chocolate Drops by Yerkes American Marimbaphone Band)

Coop Fever

Friday, 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)

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)

Baby Eggs

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

If you’ve been paying any attention to me at all lately, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been a little concerned regarding my egg supply this winter. If you haven’t been paying attention to me, well, I suppose you missed that part. Take a moment and look over the last couple of posts, and then come back. It’s fine. I’ll wait.

hurry up

Hurry up, already!

Ok, now that you’re all caught up, things are getting slightly better. Boss Chicken, the Old Faithful of chickens, continues to chug along, producing an egg every other day, even though I had to move her back inside after winter remembered it was winter and got cold again. To make up for this inconvenience, I give her quite the feast every morning. A scoop of layer feed, a handful of scratch, a splash of apple cider vinegar, topped off with a blob of yogurt, and our girl is dining in style. It’s the least I can do. I’d be pretty bummed if I was inside all the time, but I think she’s much better off protected from the elements. If we ever get some days above freezing, I’ll bring her back out, pronto. The important thing is that she started laying again, and doesn’t seem to show any signs of stopping.

egg  laying

(Laying, frequent or otherwise, does not actually make a “pow” sound.)

Meanwhile, the other grownup chickens maintain their vow of eggless silence. Henny Penny had a really long molt this year, but I think the end may be in sight. The Mandrell Sisters look like they’ve finished molting, but are also holding out on me. It’s been pretty cold, and laying eggs is pretty energy intensive. I’d actually prefer they stay warm rather than lay eggs, so they’re off the hook for the time being. But sooner or later I’m going to suspect they’re staging a “job action.” Or you know, getting older.

chicken protest

They are quite active on some issues.

So that brings us to Steve, John, and Suzy Creamcheese Junior. What’s their deal? They’re “of age,” so shouldn’t they be laying eggs? Probably. Could it be a case of nerves? No positive egg-laying role models? Just plain lazy? I’d been checking all the inappropriate spots for eggs to get laid by beginners, and I hadn’t found any. A popular place is always at the far end of the run, under the coop, in the furthest corner. A lot of the early eggs of the grownups ended up in there, and I had to keep a golf club handy to reach all the way under there and roll the eggs back, as gently as possible. Somehow I never broke one, and that’s the most use my golf clubs have gotten in years. But I looked every day, and the outside areas were eggless.

golfing chicken

The chickens use my golf clubs a lot.

I had dusted off my “decoy eggs” from the first generation and put them in the nesting buckets as soon as the n00bs were freely mixing with the old guard. These are plastic Easter eggs filled with dirt (for heft) and glued shut. It doesn’t matter that they’re the wrong color, it’s just supposed to give the chickens the idea of where eggs go. One night someone had knocked one out of one of the buckets, but hadn’t left anything in return. That seemed promising, but was still a false start. And come on, put things back where you found them, everyone.


Signage is ineffective.

And then it happened. I opened the coop in the morning to pile chips on the previous evening’s poops, and there, under the roost, somehow un-pooped on, was a tiny egg. Not like, quail egg tiny, but smaller than what I’m used to. The n00bs are still little, so it makes sense their eggs might not be full-sized. While I didn’t entirely approve of the setting, at least it required little effort to get at the egg. Two days later, another egg appeared in the same spot. I considered taking it from under the roost and putting it in the nesting bucket to emphasize the point about where eggs are supposed to go, but I figured it would freeze there, since it was another cold day. I brought it inside and waited. Two days later, there was another egg, but this time, in the bucket! Someone (and I don’t know why, but I assume only one of them is laying right now) is getting the hang of it. She kicked almost all the chips and the decoy egg out of the bucket, but she’s still learning. Hopefully, when the others are ready, they’ll see what she’s been doing, and everything will end up in its proper place. If not, I’m used to it, and chickens do figure stuff out eventually. I’ve been this patient waiting for the eggs, think of how patient I can be when I’m actually getting them.

extra help

Sometimes they need a little extra help.


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: King Of The Air March by Charles Daab)

Winter Eggs

Friday, January 9th, 2015

Winter is a pretty rough time for everyone. Where I live, we have to deal with cold and snow, and then get grief from people who live in colder, snowier places about how we don’t know from cold. If it’s so warm, perhaps you’d like to cover my heating bill, Minnesotans? Anyway, regional temperature disputes aside, winter can be rough because we also get less light. I might be able to handle the cold if it was at least not dark when I both leave for, and return from, work. Probably not, but it’s worth a shot. The issue with the light is that this is what also helps chickens lay eggs. They need a decent amount of it for eggs to happen, and in the winter, the amount we get is hardly decent.

light bulbs

Skip the one on the right.

Of course, I do have new chickens, and they sometimes start laying in the winter without realizing they don’t normally do this. At least in the first year. My original flock was dropping half a dozen eggs a day on us from December to around June their first year. Their second year, they didn’t lay any eggs from exactly one week before the Winter Solstice to exactly one week after the Winter Solstice, which really underscores the need for light. It also kind of freaks me out. I guess I’m intimidated by how in touch with nature they are.

singing chicken

From the “Songs For The Winter Solstice” record.

It’s been six months since I got my new chickens, so they should be starting to lay any day now. I actually picked breeds that are good winter layers, to try to help me through this dry period we get in the winter. But they have to start laying before they can be good layers. It could be solstice-based, or maybe they’re just not ready, but they have yet to get into the egg business. All things come in time, but it’s hard to be patient when you want a nice breakfast on the weekend. The time will come, and then I’ll be worrying about whether or not I need more egg cartons, or who at work has asked for eggs but not gotten them. But right now, there is little on the egg horizon.

on the lookout

On the lookout for eggs in the crow’s, er, chicken’s nest.

That is, except for our old friend Boss Chicken. I had brought her inside at the beginning of December, as I mentioned in a previous post. It got too cold at night, and I was worried about her being alone in the cold, with no one to clump with for extra warmth. Of course, in our storage room, I also worried about mice trying to get at her food, until the day I came home and there was a dead one in her cage. Leg problems or not, she is not to be trifled with, and my mice worries lessened. She might actually have a higher body count than our very lazy cats.

cat vs. chicken

Not that it’s a competition or anything.

Christmas Day was so warm (relatively, at least) that I figured I’d put her back outside to enjoy the weather. She hadn’t been out there for more than 10 minutes when she laid an egg. She has a window in the storage room, so she gets natural light, but either it wasn’t enough, or she was so happy to be back outside that she just egged herself. Either way, I’ll take it. She’s always been a pretty reliable layer, and seems to be easing back into her every-other-day routine, even if I bring her in at night and put her back out the next day. The other grownup chickens are either still molting, or at the tail end of a molt, so they’re not going to be laying just yet. That leaves Boss Chicken as head of egg production, at least for the time being.

egg manager

Egg Manager/Big Chicken On Campus

The days are getting lighter, and the new chickens are getting older, so it’s only a matter of time before we have an egg surplus. I hope Boss Chicken can keep up until then. She’s approaching henopause, so I actually wasn’t expecting many more eggs from her. But maybe my worries about aging chickens were unfounded. If so, the others need to step up their game. Then the youngsters can see how it’s done, and we’re back to a fine-tuned egg machine. Basically, I’m sick of oatmeal. Won’t these chickens think about my diet?


Boredom really cleans out your colon.


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: My Isle Of Golden Dreams by Selvin’s Noevelty Orchestra)

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