Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Miss Kitty Joins the Family!

Miss Kitty officially joined the Beverly flock during the May 1 Chicken Open House. She came from Sharon's Gleaning Farm, a 4 week old Black Silkie, small and nameless, with black feathers on her feet. We had a contest to name her, Kitty won, and 'Miss' in front of it seemed just right.
She's the first chick to win Naomi's heart and it didn't take much. As always, chicks start out living in our kitchen in the recycling bin under the heat lamp. After all the 'loaner' chicks went back after the Open House Miss Kitty was quite lonely. She did not like the bin and the chicken wire top was not much of a deterrent. On one of the first evenings she spent much of her time trying to escape and Naomi kept finding her walking around the kitchen after sneaking out of a loose corner of the wire. Naomi would put her back, Miss Kitty would jump out and so it went on. Finally Naomi gave up and went to sit on the couch.
A short while later she thought one of the cats was trying to jump up on the couch and Naomi didn't pay much attention to the scratching. But when she looked down she found it was a tiny Miss Kitty who was trying to jump. She'd followed her into the living room and was looking for a little company. Naomi finally gave in and wrapped Miss Kitty in a towel and held her until she settled. That's where I found them an hour later, one reading a book and the other cooing quietly. I had to take a picture or no one would have believed it! That became a nightly ritual, Miss Kitty in her towel getting some bonding time.
Miss Kitty has graduated to the cage in the basement where she sleeps but she's out during the day in her cage or if I'm out she can roam with the big girls. They've mostly ignored her but I know that if I put Miss Kitty in the run it will be a different matter. The goal is to start with sleepovers in the coop this weekend. I'll have to go back to closing the inside coop door so that the girls can't get up in the morning on their own where they might cause mischief with Miss Kitty. I don't mind getting up at 5 since it's light anyway and I do love to putter outside at that time of the morning. I'm hoping this integration goes better than it did with Hazel! I'll have more on this next week.

Monday, May 3, 2010

2nd Annual Chicken Open House a Great Success!

We had a great turnout on a beautiful day this past Saturday for the 2nd Annual Chicken Open House. For 4 hours we talked chickens, watched kids cozy up to 3 day old chicks, gave coop tours, and answered questions. We handed out chicken cookies and lemonade, sold raffle tickets for fresh eggs and let the girls sell themselves on the joys of raising chickens.

It was wonderful to meet so many folks - from families to empty nesters, those in apartments to bigger spreads, chicken owner wannabes and those just curious. We heard tales of chickens falling off a truck and being scooped up by running housewives during World War II and childhood memories of the family flock. Everyone had a story to share and it was great.

We raised about $70 in the egg raffle for Beverly Bootstraps and 6 lucky folks will soon get the pleasure of eating 'real' eggs. Many thanks to daughter Sharon and son-in-law Eric for their donation of eggs, reference books, our new black silky (now named Miss Kitty), and lots of chicken knowledge. And thanks to partner Naomi who started with "You're going to do another chicken open house?? You did one last year!" and ended up "What a great idea and what a great day!"

Also thanks to Danvers Agway for their lovely chicks that I really wanted to keep and being so gracious in taking them back to be placed in loving homes. It wouldn't be a chicken open house without baby chicks!

The movement for 'a chicken in every backyard' continues and all of you are part of it! Thanks again for a great event!


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Reminder - Beverly Chicken Open House May 1

Just a reminder that the Second Annual Chicken Open House will be this Saturday, May 1, from 10am-2pm. Grab your morning coffee, throw the kids in the car or stroller and head over to 10 Harrison Ave., Beverly, where 5 girls and their proud owner will be happy to guide you through the paperwork and process of getting city approval to keep chickens in Beverly. Meet the girls, tour the coop, and see how much pleasure you can have with your own hens.

You can also take a chance on a dozen fresh eggs with all proceeds going to Beverly Bootstraps. Each hen (except Delores who took early retirement) lays a different color and shaped egg, but they are all delicious and better than anything you'll ever find in the supermarket! Even the ones that say 'cage free'!
It's going to be a beautiful day and if you've ever considered raising hens (no roosters allowed in Beverly) now is the time to do it. Come on by!
The girls have been helping get the yard ready for company...every time I rake, dig, clean, they are right behind me! I'm not sure who is in charge of landscaping but I don't think it's me.
See you on Saturday!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Green Poop and Other Compost Thoughts...

Now that there are just two of us to cook for we don't generate the amount of kitchen waste we did when all 3 girls (not chickens!) were at home. Sadly that makes for slim pickings for the hens. When there isn't much to offer them I cook up a batch of oatmeal and raisins with a little cat food thrown in or a pot of rice and it gets scarfed down by appreciative chickens.

I've always been a recycler with a compost bin and in recent years have kept worms, with only mixed success at not murdering them. I'm on my umpteenth batch of red worms and they are happily chomping away in the can-o-worms in the basement, so far alive for 2 months.

Lately it's been harder for me to watch food being wasted both at restaurants and in the supermarket. This drives Naomi crazy. It's bad enough I bring home the restaurant scraps from everyone's plate at the table, but now I want to go into the kitchen with a big bucket and scrape plates for an hour to give my hens the scraps. Of course I can't do that (though I'm not sure why - social isolation, divorce, etc?). I fantasize about a retirement business where I gather all this waste and generate wonderful compost, with or without the worms' help.

To solve this problem and give my girls a more balanced diet after laying pellets and yard treats I contacted the owner of a local restaurant in town, The Organic Cafe, and asked if I might get some scraps periodically. They could not have been nicer and I was give permission to go through their compost bin (yes, they separate out all compost!) and take what I want. So now, a couple of times a week, I trudge the few blocks from my house with my 5 gallon bucket and rubber gloves or barbecue tongs and go through the wonderfully fresh pickings.

It's been a field day lately - sprouts, avocados, lettuce, cukes, tomatoes, some kind of grain and more. And the girls are thrilled. But there's just one problem....green poop... When I saw it yesterday in the yard all flattened out I had no idea what I was looking at. But as I walked around the yard there they were...dark green blobs. Not to be too graphic but I do pay attention to chicken poop as it's a good way to monitor the girls' health. So what's with all the green stuff? I looked back in my compost bucket and yes, there's a fair amount of guacamole, but enough to cause this? I eat avocado but I never had a color problem!

Everyone seems fine so I'm not going to worry....the eggs looked normal yesterday though Hazel had some trauma when she was forced out of the nesting box by Gertrude, but that's another story... more later.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Second Annual Chicken Open House May 1

The Second Annual Chicken Open House will be held Saturday, May 1 from 10 am to 2 pm at 10 Harrison Ave, Beverly, MA. The event was so successful last year that I want to do it again so that folks who are thinking about raising chickens in Beverly, or surrounding towns, can see what an urban setup looks like. There will be other chicken owning family members available to answer questions and you'll be able to meet the girls and tour the coop. I'll also have information on the application process that the City of Beverly requires plus handouts.

We had a lot of fun last year and there had to be over 100 folks who came by - some with chickens and some who wanted them. Since I am permitted for 6 hens and only have 5 currently, there may be at least one chick (and others if I can convince my kids to take some). I'm not sure, though, that I'm ready for another chicken integration as this last one has been so difficult...

The open house is a nice way for folks to meet each other and my long term hope is to get a Beverly group organized so we can share information and work on common issues like the city permitting process. And next year have a multi-coop tour in the city!

For more information contact me at sue.lupo@verizon.net or call 978-927-4642. I'll get calendar items into the local paper this week.

Spring Catch-up

It looks like the Hen Saver coat for Hazel will get put away after all. Despite custom fitting a neck piece the coat never fit well and Hazel spent more time wiggling out of it then then using it for her own protection. Much of February and March was spent integrating Hazel with the rest of the hens but it seems to have worked despite a few setbacks. Will she ever be fully accepted? I doubt it but I am looking more for long term safety than anything. These hens can be tough on each other and the term 'pecking order' sure is based in fact.

Both Flora and especially Gertrude go after Hazel on a regular basis and Hazel is always the last one to eat, the last one to leave the safety of the coop, and the one is always on the outskirts of the group. It's 4 + 1 and not 5. I try to let them out in the yard as much as possible and that extra space gives Hazel room to do her own thing and not be bothered too much. She still can't join in the group dirt bath but she sits right on the roost with everyone else as long as Gertrude is busy laying an egg.

Up until last week I thought the truce was going to last but then there was an episode in the run with feathers flying and Hazel trying to escape. The next day I noticed some bare spots on her neck so I tried Vick's Vapor Rub as my friend Martha had recommended for a similar problem. It seems to have worked and we're back to the truce. I probably need to apply another dose.

The family problems prompted me to take care of some coop issues this spring that I couldn't ignore any longer. I've had a flooding problem in the back end of the run and half of it can be underwater during a heavy rain. So in late February, with the ground still frozen, I put in a French drain on two sides. I got it in just in time for the first big rain in March and there was only minimal flooding and it didn't last long.

So I began phase II...the coop expansion. Since I want to get back to 6 hens it was time to expand the coop beyond its 4x8' footprint. I had only one direction to expand in, towards the back, so I put together a plan for an 8x8' addition. Nothing is ever easy...that meant another retaining wall and another drain! All that took place during the second March rains and I have never seen so much water in my back yard. The girls did well though my new drain couldn't keep up with the water. I now have plans for a rain garden downstream from the coop where the water naturally flows. I might as well trap and use what I can as the water comes down the hill and around the coop.

This week I finished the addition and opened up the wall between the two sections. The girls haven't quite figured out this is their new indoor playground, despite the new roost and snacks I put over there but they'll get it. I am so relieved to have more space for them for those days when I'm not home to let them roam. And now Hazel can get some space if Gertrude is being a bully. The nice thing is that from the house you can't see the addition and I think it blends in well so the neighbors shouldn't mind.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Josephine, September 15-Februaray 5, 2010

Every time I think I have some control over this chicken thing, that is, I can raise a chicken from a young age, bond with some little, or big thing about its personality, and feel confident that I am acting responsibly for another animal's well-being, I am brought back to the harsh reality that life is so fleeting for the smallest of beings and I am not in charge.

That's what happened two weeks ago when I let the girls out into the yard after I returned from an early morning run. I've done that dozens of times...the automatic letting them out to play and explore, search out tasty morsels (even in February!) and just be chickens. I went in to shower without giving them another thought and then did my usual visual search of the girls in the yard after. Since there are some blind spots in the yard I wasn't concerned that I couldn't see them and I went out to the kitchen back steps to check on everyone. Some bird flew out from under the steps and I thought at first it was a morning dove, just by the flutter of its wings. But as I looked at it up in the tree I realized this was a hawk and with absolute dread I ran out and looked under the porch steps where I found Josephine, already dead.

I'm the kind of person that says a silent prayer over road kill and I cannot stand to see another animal suffer in any manner. So finding Josephine like this was almost unbearable and I was consumed with grief. The hawk kept watch in that tree for 2 more hours and it then moved right into my driveway where it sat for another hour staring at the porch. I know the hawk was just doing what it needed to but it was awful.

The other 4 girls, being more 'street-wise' had scrambled for the back of the yard where they were hiding in the pile of Christmas trees I have gathered over the past few years. My guess is that Josephine got caught near the driveway and headed for the safe spot under the steps, or so she thought. (Am I giving too much credit to a small chicken?) I was surprised the hawk followed her there and I am just grateful it was not long that Josephine suffered.

Naomi, bless her heart, was there for me and together we buried Josephine on that cold winter morning. Naomi read from the Book of Common Prayer and I just cried a lot. Josephine joined Althea and Eunice in our backyard where we have set aside space for our beloved girls. She couldn't have been a sweeter chicken...she loved to climb on my back when she thought the big girls were picking on her. And she faithfully played with Hazel, whether it was in the basement or out in the tractor.

My next thought was how was Hazel ever going to blend in with the other hens now that she didn't have Josephine. I know I'm talking about these chickens like they were my children but that's sometimes how they feel. Since Josephine's death I've tried to get Hazel out to the tractor more and to let all the girls mingle with supervision. No one left the coop for 2 days after the hawk attack as I was a wreck about a return visit. Since then I've seen no sign of that hawk though another one visited this week and I scurried everyone back in the coop when it came by.

I've now received the 'Hen Saver', a heavy cotton apron that Hazel will wear to keep the others from pecking her. All I need to do is add a neck piece and I hope by this weekend to have Hazel try it out. If it works, I'll let her start spending nights in the coop over the next week.

We head out to Sharon's mid-week for a quick visit and Sharon has a little hen in mind for us to bring back. I'm not sure whether to take it...another hen, another name, another chance something will happen to it. But then again, it could be a little spark plug and a hen that will add personality to the group. I won't know until she (maybe K something?) comes back with us.

Certainly, raising chickens has had more drama, more heartache, and more pleasure than I ever would have expected and I have no regrets. I pick up those glorious eggs almost every day and I give thanks for the bounty I receive. I'll just have to continue on this journey, wherever it leads, and be grateful for all I been given. Thank you Josephine.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

It's been a very long time since I have posted anything here. Much has been going on in the backyard and once again there have been some changes.

Taking a few steps back...I spent much of the summer and fall wondering why my girls didn't lay eggs. For the second summer there were no eggs from the two girls who could have laid - Delores and Beatrice. To give Beatrice credit, she managed to lay about one egg a month but Delores just counted on her good looks to get her by. Flora and Gertrude were too young but I knew that from October on there could be eggs. Meanwhile, I just enjoyed their company and antics and continued to buy eggs, though I didn't have much interest in eating them.

My step-daughter, Sharon, suggested I add two more chicks so that eventually, there would be a more continuous supply of eggs as older girls stopped laying and younger girls began. It certainly made sense and I had sadly come to see this year that chickens don't live forever, or even that long. But I had other dilemmas...I was only permitted by the city to have 4 hens and I wasn't sure I was up for the task of blending in new girls. Flora and Gertrude were easily accepted but Eunice had had a tough time of it.

So Naomi and I discussed our options and in the fall we brought home two 'foster' chicks. Irene and Hazel, both Araucanas lived in the kitchen in the recycling bin and was it nice to have them with their little chirps. Hazel had a rough start at Sharon's as the 'runt' and she arrived with few feathers on her back. Irene towered over her but was gentle and the feathers grew back.

Unfortunately, Irene turned out to be Irving with the saddest adolescent crow you've ever heard and on Naomi's next trip out to see the grand-kids in NY she took 'Irene' and brought back Josephine, another Buff. It's so nice to have an endless supply of chicks in the family! Josephine was from the same group as the others so everyone knew each other...well, as far as chickens go.

Keep in mind that we were still working with 'foster' chicks and were still on the fence about keeping them but we started to give them some outside time in the tractor while the big girls hovered with curiosity. I had also gotten into the habit of letting the chicks sit in the kitchen on the edge of the recycling bin as they enjoyed roosting there and were generally well behaved....except for when they weren't and they tested their wings in the kitchen. I seemed to be the only one who found this endearing and after a few flights around the kitchen Naomi banned them to the wire covered bin and I knew we had to move them outdoors.

It was then that I contacted the Board of Health to request my permit be extended to 6 hens knowing I would abide by their decision and if necessary, two would return to NY. In hopeful anticipation of a new officially extended family I started moving the girls out to the coop at night. I still kept them separate during the day as Flora and Gertrude, now laying eggs (hallelujah!), seemed a bit feisty and I worried about them pecking the little ones.

The overnights worked out well but then the time in the run became a little chaotic for the little ones so I continued to keep them apart except for short periods. I worried especially for Hazel who seemed more vulnerable. One Saturday morning in December, when things seemed to be going well, I left them all in the run for two hours to mingle. It was a big mistake and when I returned poor Hazel had been attacked so badly that the back of her neck was completely exposed and bleeding. Oh, such guilt.... We brought her inside and cleaned and bandaged her neck. The wound was so serious I didn't think she was going to survive. She barely tolerated the dressings but with a topical antibiotic and some other antibiotic added to her water the wound healed and the feathers grew back. But now she lived in the basement...

On the warmer days I put Hazel in the tractor with Josephine and on other days I brought Josephine in for 'play dates'. I now had a good sized cage so at least there was room for them. I researched protective jackets for Hazel and fashioned one out of fleece, hoping that would discourage pecking. But the cold weather made it hard to be consistent about getting Hazel out.

Josephine was holding her own in the coop though she was more afraid of the girls than anything and she'd run away from them even when they were ignoring her. Sometimes she'd hide between my legs or jump on my back or head. She loved being held and was a real sweety. There was only occasional pecking at Josephine, nothing like what Hazel experienced.

During all of this drama I had my hearing in front of the Board of Health in late January and I found a much different board than three years ago during my initial permit application. They were open and receptive this time and seemed genuinely interested in what I wanted to do plus they commented on the increase in permit applications since last year's newspaper article. That was wonderful the hear!

I had my permit approved the next day for 6 hens!