Archive for January, 2015

Chickens And Personality Development

Friday, January 30th, 2015

One of the great things about having chickens is getting to watch their personalities develop. Well, not with Boss Chicken. She was running the show from day 1. Others take a little bit longer to come out of their shells, so to speak. When I entered the World of Chickens, I really knew very little about birds. My parents had had a couple of Cockatiels, but it was after I had gone off to college, so my exposure to them was pretty limited. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that chickens can have as much personality as a dog or a cat. Sometimes even more than some people I’ve worked with. They can grow and change, too. A shy chicken can become a bold one, and a mean one can become a nice one.

mean and nice

It comes from within, not without.

Boss Chicken is really the case study of this for me. We got her at a week old, and she was already terrorizing the other chicks. If they were on one side of the box, she would rush over there to be in the middle. If I put treats in, she’d knock the others out of the way to get the treats first. We really worried she might be a rooster, given how pushy she was. She also often escaped from the box, leading my wife to ask me the now famous (to us anyway) question, “Were all the chickens in the box when you got home? Because one was out when I left. AND I THINK YOU KNOW WHICH ONE IT WAS.” When Boss Chicken got bigger and the chickens all moved outside, she was even known to charge my son with a rooster-like malevolence. Then, she had whatever it was that triggered her legs to go all wobbly, and she became the sweetest chicken ever, who loves to sit on laps, or if no laps are available, on a foot.


(must be Kevin Bacon’s foot)

Henny Penny was the opposite. She got her name because she was just constantly flipping out when she was young. Everything seemed to freak her out, and so I ended up giving her a name I felt was kind of an obvious name for a chicken, but it fit so well. However, with Boss Chicken unable to rule, and the untimely demise of Suzy Creamcheese, Henny Penny stepped up and has become the alpha chicken. It’s been really interesting to see her have to take a leadership position. I did not see this coming.


Napoleon was about the same height as a chicken.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as the n00bs grow up and find their places in the flock. At first, they tried to hide from the grown-ups as much as they could. If a grown-up was on one end of the run, they’d all run to the other. It got hilarious when the grown-ups were spread out, and the n00bs had to just keep moving to try to avoid running afoul of the upperclassmen. If I let them out into the yard, they would split off from the others, and I would watch them try to sort out their own sub-pecking order. Obviously they were all beneath the adults, but who was lowest? They’d bump chests and chase each other around, and I think they’re still trying to work it all out.


They can get pretty scientific about it.

Lately, though, one of them is getting over her fear of her elders. I started giving the chickens scratch once it started getting cold, but had to spread it all over the run because the little ones were too afraid to eat it next to the big ones. I’d make one pile at one end, and another far away from the first, sort of the kids’ table of the coop. The taste of sweet, sweet scratch has helped one of the n00bs find her courage. In the past week or so, when I’ve opened the coop door in the morning, who has been at the front of the line to get out? Suzy Creamcheese Junior. Who eats at the Big Chicken Scratch Pile? Suzy Creamcheese Junior. Who seemed least likely to be the tough one of the bunch? Suzy Creamcheese Junior. I’m not sure she really stands up for herself beyond scratch time, but I suppose this is a good start. Her forebear, Suzy Creamcheese, assumed power after the decline of Boss Chicken, so maybe she’s trying to live up to her name. This assumes that the chickens talk coop history at night before bed. Whatever the reason, I get a huge kick out of seeing this cute little chicken bust out the door before I’ve even gotten it all the way open. I need to start my day with something good, and this will do nicely.

chicken cereal

The breakfast of chicken champions.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Improvisation: Fast Blues In A by The Rev. Gary Davis)

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)

My Mother’s Eggs

Friday, January 16th, 2015

I don’t know, doc. When I first got my chickens a couple of years ago, I was very excited to get some eggs. I had gotten the chickens to eat the ticks in my yard, but egg laying was an extra bonus. Vermin control that comes with breakfast should be the standard. Mouse trap companies should be hiring me for this stuff, man. If they threw a bagel in the package, they could be throwing huge piles of money at me, right? The thing about chickens is that they are ready to eat ticks much sooner than they are ready to lay eggs. So while they were out there laying waste to the tick population in the yard, I was wondering when they were going to lay eggs for the human population of the house.

bagel mouse trap

You’re supposed to eat the bagel, but I guess this works too.

What? My mother? What does she have to do with this? We’ve already talked about her. No, you’re always trying to drag her into it. Fine, yes. My mother had taken a particular interest in my chicken project, and yes, when my mother takes an interest, my mother asks questions. And when my mother asks questions, she asks a lot of them. And she sometimes asks them all the time. And this is what she did when we were wondering when the eggs would come. Chickens generally start laying eggs when they are six months old, but everyone’s different. Some may start sooner, some may start later, but when you’re in the middle of the general time frame, and there are no eggs, the pressure’s on. I was excited for it, and my mom was excited for it, and it seemed like every day after month 6 she asked if I had eggs yet, and every day I had to disappoint her. Like I always do. Until that glorious day when I finally found an egg in the coop, and we could go back to living our lives like normal people. Yes, normal people who have chickens for eating ticks.



This year my mother got into the chicken lifestyle herself. We split an order of chicks, and so she looks after three little ones, Gladys Knight and the Peeps. We got them slightly later than I had gotten my original chickens, late June instead of early June, but I knew December was our six month line, and “eggcitement” was going to kick in. No, I was not wrong. This time around, though, there was less pressure on me, since she had her own chickens to worry about. She would occasionally ask if mine had laid any eggs yet, and then confirm that December should be the time, but I felt much less harassed this time around. I can’t say what her chickens went through, though. Are there therapists for chickens? They might need it. Do chickens get neurotic? “After all I’ve done for you! I bring you food, I clean your poop, I give you shelter, and I don’t even get any eggs for my troubles!” Whatever did go on, they didn’t seem to mind, since they follow her around wherever she goes in the yard, though, maybe that’s just out of guilt. But it sounds like she did something right. Mine regard me with vague suspicion, and really only stick around because I’m the guy with the treats.


Sometimes the eggcitement comes with added eggscrement.

Her first egg came right around Christmastime, which was probably one of the better presents she got. Since then, she’s gotten eight total, and she’s convinced it’s the littlest Peep who’s been laying them all. I’m not sure how she came to this conclusion, but I will admit that a lot of my chickening isn’t exactly scientific either. I can tell which egg came from which breed I have, but unless you catch them in the act, there aren’t really egg fingerprints, which I suppose technically would be cloacaprints, what? I told you, it’s their butt/egg hole. No, I don’t have cloaca envy, thank you very much. Anyway, until it’s clear they’re all laying, she can develop whatever theories she wants. She was a little nervous to take on this project at the start, but has since totally gone cuckoo for chickens, even before the eggs arrived. Now that they’re here, she’s even more into it. Meanwhile, I’ve only gotten one egg from one of my new chickens. I guess that also gives her something to feel good about. She’s leaving me in the dust, egg-wise, because I can never do enough. I had chickens first, I taught her everything she knows about chickens, and yet here I am with one lousy egg to her 8. She texts me every time she gets a new egg, and my chickens can hear when I get a text, and they know what that sound means. Yes, I know that this is not a competition, but why can’t I ever come out on top for once? What do I have to do to . . . oh, time’s up? See you next week, then. NO, I don’t know when I’ll have eggs for you.

chicken text

I ought to just put them on my family plan.

(The voice I use to imitate my mother is for comedy purposes only. My mother is a good sport (I hope). Hi mom!)

(Also, thanks to Wren Ross for her always helpful guidance, but particularly insightful suggestions on this one.)

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Childhood Memories by Beluga Ten, kitchen timer sound by maphill (with some looping on my part), and the ding sound effect by JohnsonBrandEditing)

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)

Who Says Roosters Can’t Be Cuddly?

Friday, January 2nd, 2015

Video proof they can!

I’m not saying you should date one or anything, just that they aren’t always as mean as you may have heard.

(Remember, new full Too Many Chickens! posts start next Friday!)


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