Archive for March, 2015

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)

All Things Must Pass

Friday, March 20th, 2015

Buddhists teach that everything is impermanent, and so attachment is a source of suffering. It’s difficult to not become attached to things, and even when you think you’re not attached, if a thing is taken away from you, you may suddenly find yourself feeling loss. Then what do you do?


Let’s meditate on this.

Luckily, I’m not talking about losing a chicken, though it was about this time last year that I did lose two of them. What I did lose, and was apparently attached to, is the store where I bought all my chicken supplies for the last few years. It was where I bought my first chicks, all the gear I needed to keep them alive, all the odds and ends you find yourself needing, and all the food and bedding that I’m constantly replacing. It was five minutes from my house, opened early, and stayed open just late enough that if the train got in on time (ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha) I could swing by and get what I needed right before they closed. They sold more than just chicken stuff, too. We have a peach tree and plum tree from them, a bunch of gardening tools, and I even bought praying mantis egg pods there when aphids were attacking my peach and plum trees. They were local and handy, and now gone. They even rented moving trucks, so maybe they used those to clear out the old stock.

chicken mover

You always have to call in some favors when you move.

I only made this discovery by accident. Luckily, it wasn’t by driving there and trying to open the door to an obviously empty store for five minutes before realizing nothing was inside. I was reading our town’s paper online (they have an article about me in it, not about chickens, but hey, I might as well self-promote while I’m here), and someone had made a comment on the paper’s Facebook page that this place had closed. I figured that couldn’t be right, and as the internet is full of kooks, I double-checked elsewhere. Sure enough, the owner apparently ran two stores and decided to shut them both down. I probably won’t ever figure out why, but it seems odd to me because they were usually very busy. One of the clerks one day was talking about how they sold so much chicken food they needed a separate truck just for that order. That sounds like business was good.

chicken food delivery

Most popular delivery of the week.

I had gone in there about a week ago to get layer food, but they said they were out. I didn’t think anything of it, because given the demand, they did sometimes run out of stuff. I asked when they were getting more, and the clerk only said he wasn’t sure. That should have clued me in that something was up, but I’ve worked in stores, and sometimes you don’t know when shipments are coming. I had enough food for another week, and a few days later, I happened to pass by another store (same company, different owner, I guess) on the way to where my wife rides horses, and got some food there. It’s a good thing I did, because the other one was closed at that point.

closed sign

(Not actual signage.)

Apparently I’m now going to have to work a little harder to get my chicken supplies. The store by my wife’s barn is close, but still about 20 minutes away. That’s not a “zip out and grab some pine shavings while everyone in the house is still in their pajamas” sort of trip. It requires a little more planning and timing. I guess I need to be more on top of my food levels now, and maybe prepare a little better for when I run out. I got spoiled having a store so close. Who knows? Maybe a similar store will open in that spot. Or maybe it will be another bank, since that seems to be what goes into all empty storefronts these days. I guess I just figured they’d always be there. There was probably a lot going on behind the scenes that I wouldn’t have known about leading up to this. I’m glad they were there for a while, since they gave me my start with chickens, which has been great. I’m thankful for that. But now I’ll have to cling to my backup store for dear life.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: The Last Rose Of Summer by Moore And Davis)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015
Boss Chicken gets a little too into celebrations.

Possibly the weirdest of the Leprechaun movies.

Children And Chickens

Friday, March 13th, 2015

In the beginning, my chickening was very much a solo operation. It wasn’t that my family wasn’t interested in the chickens or anything, but it was my thing, and so it fell on me to do it all. (Also when it was time to build the coop, I think everyone knew to steer clear of me. That would have been like filling your pockets with steak and standing next to a hungry tiger – very dangerous indeed!) I certainly don’t mind taking it on by myself, but at the same time, I always thought that it might be very interesting for my son to see what went into taking care of chickens. He likes animals, and it’s good to see where your food comes from (even though he doesn’t eat the eggs because they’re not made of pizza). However, it was tough to get him to spend much time with the chickens that wasn’t just being out in the yard at the same time as them. In some ways, this makes sense. When he was smaller, and Boss Chicken was more mobile and angry, she had been known to charge him any time he was outside, and so he was rightfully spooked by it. But she hasn’t been that chicken for years now, and I don’t think he’s at all afraid of them anymore. But at best, I could only occasionally get him to help me collect the eggs, and that was usually when he was complaining about being bored and I was being mildly coercive.

dad voice

Sometimes you have to use “The Dad Voice.”

However, things have changed lately. It’s not that he somehow has realized that it’s nice to help daddy, or that chickens are fascinating, though. It’s much more utilitarian than that. We got a video game system for Christmas, and the game that is his favorite was basically created by an evil, money-making genius. I’m not going to speak its name here, lest that seem an endorsement. He loves the game, and that’s fine. However, in order to get past certain levels, you need to purchase new accessories, and that adds up very fast, because there seems to be no end to how many you need. Some are also very hard to find, and/or expensive. The discussion about “they make them hard to get on purpose, so you’re eager to spend a lot of money on them when they make more” isn’t really going anywhere, so to deflect the constant “will you buy me another accessory” questions, we decided it was time to give him an allowance. Then he could spend his own money on it. Of course, no one rides for free, so one of his chores is to help me with the chickens at night. (I was a little tempted to make him get up with me at 5 to help in the morning, but I don’t want to be that dad, and frankly, I don’t wish early awakenings on anyone.)


He actually gets a little more than coins, but it’s tacky to discuss income.

The timing of this has worked out well. We started when it got dark early, so we could just take care of the chickens after I picked him up from school. He now gets pretty excited to turn off the electric fence, and even to occasionally shock himself on purpose (it’s super low power, so it’s no worse than some bad static – hence the enjoyment of it). He also really likes being the one to open the coop and check for eggs. He brings the egg basket out and yells to me how many there are, and then gently picks up each one. What started as a way to satisfy childhood avarice has turned into something that he really enjoys, even if he does complain about the cold some days. I don’t like the cold either, but warmer days are coming soon.

weather dude

I hate this channel.

Recently, he had a friend come over to visit, and after a round of the videogame that started it all, we went out to show the chickens to his friend. My son totally took charge and pointed out the electric fence, turned it off for everyone’s safety, and then introduced all the chickens. Then he and his friend opened the coop and looked for eggs, and there were a couple. They got very excited, and ran back into the house, each gently holding an egg or two. I’m not sure he would have been so excited to share this experience if he wasn’t feeling more invested in the chickens. When the weather gets nicer, I’m hoping that this carries over into helping me rustle them back into the run after free-range time. The n00bs like to rebel a little, and avoid going back in whenever they can. With two of us on the scene, we may be able to corral them more easily, or at least I won’t be alone while looking like an idiot chasing a bunch of chickens around the yard.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Merry Go Slower – Distressed by Kevin MacLeod, Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0,

Back In The Egg Business!

Friday, March 6th, 2015

Ok, enough about winter. Spring is coming soon, and I’m not just talking about meteorological Spring. A number on the calendar doesn’t seem to have much effect on the weather, as evidenced by the April 1st snowstorm back in 1997. I don’t think the snow that’s fallen is going anywhere for a while, but things are beginning to look up. It’s staying light later, which tends to cut through a bit of the gloom, even if the evening sun is reflecting off ice dams and monster snowbanks. Longer days, even if they’re not that much longer, also mean that the chickens are getting more light. Whether this improves their mood or not, I can’t really say, but I can say with much authority that it makes them start laying eggs more frequently than when we were in the depths of winter. No light, no eggs. More light, more eggs. Some light, some eggs? Yes. I think that’s where we are right now.

light, eggs

Some light, some eggs.

My original flock was pretty in tune with the light situation during their second winter. Exactly one week before the solstice they all stopped laying eggs, and then exactly one week after the solstice, eggs began to trickle back in. This was surprising not only because of how in tune with the amount of light they were, but also because their first winter of laying, it just didn’t matter at all. It was like someone just came by every day and dumped half a dozen eggs in the coop while I was at work. It also made me feel like keeping my egg journal was worth it. I write down how many I get each day, and that’s how I was able to catch the influence of the solstice. I had felt a little nerdy about the journal, but this discovery made it seem worth it. It also helped me figure out that nothing was wrong with the chickens. I looked at the dates, and it made sense. No one’s sick, it’s just really dark all the time.

winter chickens

Healthy chickens in winter.

This year hasn’t had any of the dramatic egg events of those first two years. The new chickens started laying in the dark part of winter, but not nearly at the rate of their predecessors. Some chickens like to take their time, I guess. I was happy to be getting any eggs at all, honestly. The old guard had stopped in late Fall, and I was hungry. The n00bs weren’t dealing them out as fast I could eat them, but as time went on, I started seeing larger eggs popping up in the buckets too. The old guard was back from vacation. However, like an athlete after some time off, they were easing into it. Getting back in shape takes time, so I’m not going to sweat them about their pace.

no rush, chickens


We usually only eat eggs on the weekends, time being tight on weekday mornings. Even so, in winter, the weekend would roll around and we still wouldn’t have enough. In the past week or so, we finally got to where we had a dozen eggs on the counter, just waiting for us. I even had enough to give away my first bunch of the season. When you have chickens, it’s not just you waiting for eggs, it’s also your network of people who get eggs from you. Like a flower, the sharing of eggs blooms anew.


egg tree

The tree of egg distribution. (First layer.)

My son is now helping me out with the chickens at night. Since it’s sunset when we get home, we usually check the chickens first thing. It’s still freezing, so the coop door should be shut as soon as possible. Lately it’s been light enough that we don’t need flashlights when we go out there, but dark enough that the chickens have gone to bed. “Why do we always have to do this right when we get home?” he asked the other night. “Because then we’re done with it, and then we can stay inside,” I said. “Soon it will be light so late that it may be your bedtime before it’s time to put the chickens to bed.” And then it hit me. Soon it will be the time of year where I want to go to sleep shamefully early, but the chickens are still awake, and I have to wait for them to go back into the coop before I can sleep. Did I really want that time to come? I looked at the size of the snowbanks in front of our house, and an arctic breeze hit me in the face. Yes. I want light, and I want warmth. That is certainly worth staying up for.


This is how I roll. (Cartons donated by a coworker, snazzed up by yours truly.)

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: The Old Town Pump by Handy’s Orchestra)

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