I had no idea how much time had passed since updating this blog until I started searching for my winter photos of the girls and realized my camera had eaten them. In between the birth of two more granddaughters, a holiday picture of the grandsons, and too many pictures of the pellet stove being installed, there were no chicken pictures. Where the pictures should have been of the girls out on a snowy day there was nothing... where they were all rolling in a patch of thawed dirt in the late January afternoon sun was emptiness....and where they were hunkered down in the coop against the winter wind was just a memory. Even Naomi remembered me out on more than one cold day getting the girls to 'pose' for their blog shots. It's hopeless....the pictures are gone and I have once again lost faith in my digital camera...or me...or both. I even see the gap in the picture numbers where they once were!
Anyway, here it is late March and six months have gone by without an update on the Beverly hens. So here goes.... the girls are laying again! It took until January when the sun was still low and the days so short before the girls seemed to come out of their egglessness. But not everyone is participating though Eunice of the small white eggs and Beatrice of the jumbo browns are regular layers. It's a tossup as to who is laying the large brown egg, either Delores or Althea, but it's got to be just one as there are so few eggs. I am just pleased to have the eggs and a steady enough supply for two people.
The snow was difficult on the girls this winter and there were several weeks when they didn't leave their enclosure and barely came out of the coop to eat. I tried blocking some of the wind and snow with plastic but a lot of it blew off and I will need to work on my technique for next winter. The heat lamp got turned on quite a few times and every time we got into the low teens I wondered if I shouldn't bring the girls inside though they were real troopers and did just fine. We are all grateful for the warmer temperatures.
Now that there is some thawing of the ground the girls are pleased to be let out to scratch and eke out the first bugs and whatever else interests them. The tractor I built last spring has been great and I can easily get the girls in it where they are content for hours at a time and I don't have to worry about them jumping my pathetic little fence to get next door (the neighbors are great and don't seem to mind) or worry about the hawks. There is nothing worse than being on a conference call for work and having to excuse yourself to find your chickens.
I'm afraid Naomi and I are of different minds as to how much freedom the girls should have. She is definitely not of the 'out of sight, out of mind' view and she wants me to keep the girls in visual sight at all times. While I generally agree with that I don't mind if the girls go into the side yard and then out front. As we have a small front yard and it's well above the sidewalk the girls aren't going too far. Right now they are working on tilling the front for which I am grateful. Of course, now that I have planted spinach and kale in some containers out there I'm not really too interested in them digging up the seeds so there is a bit of a power struggle going on - between the hens and me, that is... We did get an elderly couple stop in front the other day and stare at the house. Naomi was quite puzzled when she looked out and saw them but it didn't take me too long to figure out the girls had wandered out front and were providing some entertainment. But Naomi wasn't too pleased with me... I have at least promised to address the back yard fence issue this spring and see if I can't reinforce the boundaries little better.
And back to hawks, the girls have not been bothered by them in recent months though this is the time last year that we had a number of visits. I still listen for the girls screeching and run like crazy when I hear anything but so far we've been very lucky. Though last week I peered out the window to see a skunk following them around the yard and then spent the next 10 minutes trying to herd the girls into their coop and keep the skunk at bay, neither of which I was very successful at. The skunk finally lost interest and wandered off. It was late afternoon but still very light and daytime skunk sightings are extremely rare where I live.
Now that we've all come out of hibernation I'm thinking again that I might have an open house one spring Saturday and let folks come by to learn about raising chickens. It will probably be too late for folks to get spring chicks since the application process in Beverly takes a bit of time and then there's that coop to build! but it's plenty of time to prepare for a late summer or fall batch of chicks. In order to get chicks by May I'd have to have an open house in February and that isn't going to happen! I am by no means an expert in this area and there are others right in Beverly with much more experience but I am very much interested in promoting the raising of hens and the ease at which it can happen.
Having chickens doesn't mean you can't go away on vacation, it doesn't mean you can't have other pets, and it doesn't have to mean you spend a fortune housing and feeding them. You'll certainly need others to care for them when you do go away but depending on your setup chickens can be fine for a bit as long as they have fresh water and food. As I've said before, every neighborhood is full of kids who would love to chicken-sit. I know that's true where I live. And the coop just has to be a safe and protected place (though it helps if it looks good too, since we all have neighbors). Organic feed can easily be supplemented with kitchen scraps and best of all, what's out in the yard. And I admit to making oatmeal for the girls several times this winter...
Chickens are just one more part of moving towards sustainability. They fit in with the vegetable garden, the rainbarrels, and the clothesline - even within the city limits of Beverly.
So, stay tuned as I ponder an open house in early May. This could be fun. And I promise to update this blog more often and respond to anyone who cares to write or comment! Thanks for your support!