Sunday, March 13, 2011

Beverly Chickens Return....2011

I may have the best of intentions but life just gets in the way sometimes and I have been away from this blog for quite some time...and lots to catch up on!

I believe I left off with Miss Kitty's joining the family last spring. As with the other chicks, it was a struggle getting one introduced and accepted by the flock. Flora and Gertrude are alpha chickens and they showed no mercy to the new girl. Miss Kitty spent her nights in the dark of the coop and her days in a pen in the yard, for her protection. If I was outside everyone was allowed out together. And this went on for several months.

We thought it would take all summer to get her integrated, but amazingly, by July she was fully accepted (with only occasional pecking) by the others. And then one day...a noise, somewhat familiar, came out of her throat. I heard it and groaned, and figuring I was imagining things I let it go. But the next day, the sound returned - a somewhat throaty, broken cough at first, but then turning ever so slightly melodic, until there was no doubt in my mind. Miss Kitty was MR. KITTY!! A late bloomer by all means but the sound was unmistakable, though thankfully small, considering her, or his size. Now we had another rooster and even though a bantam with a sound that could not possibly offend anyone we knew she/he had to go.

So it was with great sadness that Miss Kitty moved to Gleanings Farm in Delanson, NY, to the home of our kids in August. All that work to make her part of the flock and she had to leave. I was very sad as I had become quite fond of Miss Kitty and she had been a great addition to the family. I can happily report that the new Mr. Kitty quickly made a home with the other chickens and is living his days out happily.

The other major event of the summer was that our beloved Beatrice died suddenly in June. I was out in California visiting my father and I got a frantic call from Naomi one morning that she had found Beatrice dead in the coop. Only 3 years old but a gentle soul with a wonderful personality and the strangest eggs we'd ever seen. Sometimes they were so long and pointy we couldn't close the egg carton. Beatrice had been healthy right up to the end but her death and my absence presented a small problem. Naomi wanted to put her in a carton in the basement until I got home 4 days from then but I had to gently point out that this was June and a deceased chicken in the basement for 4 days would not be pretty - on any level. It took some convincing but I finally got her to agree to put Beatrice in the freezer until I returned. This was way beyond her call of duty for taking care of the chickens while I was away and we both knew it.

When I returned we called the Schusters over and got out the Episcopal Prayer Book and Naomi led us all in the Burial Service, complete with personal testimonies. It was a fitting send off for such a lovely chicken. (I can't believe I am writing this.) She was a good bird and I would be happy with a whole flock of Buff Orpingtons as they have great personalities, they're gentle, and they lay very reliably.

We were down to 4 hens at this point but I was very happy that everyone got along as we had spent so much of the previous year getting everyone to play nicely together and not peck each other to death!

By October the girls began their more normal behavior of stopping laying. I don't know if it's the waning light but Hazel held out the longest and I look longingly at that last egg ,knowing it could be months before the spirit moved anyone to lay again. I savored every bit of that fried egg...

The girls settled in for the long winter and I prepared the coop for the bad weather ahead. I made multiple attempts to put plastic around the run only to have the wind whip it off time and again. I got stronger plastic, more staples, and heavier gloves, as it got colder and the snow began for real. This was the first winter with the coop expansion and I was grateful for the extra space for everyone. Finally, on an early January night, just as the first heavy snowfall was starting I went out with wood strips and got the plastic to stay in place. For the first time in 4 years the run was almost fully protected from snowfall. I kept the house facing side open so I could see everyone but otherwise, the run stayed snow free and the girls could roam all day. Not that they wanted to...the cold and snow kept them in the coop a lot and I kept the light on 24 hrs a day, unlike in previous winters when I turned the light on only for the really cold nights. I was cold, so they must be too!

It would be over 2 months before they left the coop and run to go out in the yard. That's how long it took for the path I shoveled to get down to some bare ground. It was so icy going out Naomi had to use ski poles to navigate the path. I slid down the hill more than once. I used a pick axe but even that wouldn't break up the ice.

The only good part to the winter is that by the end of December everyone was laying again, except for Delores. She's still retired from her brief 6 month period of laying 3 years ago. It's all about saving her strength, I guess, and since she is the only surviving member of the original flock of 4 I can't say too much. She may live forever...

It's now St. Patrick's Day and I have just removed the plastic from the coop. The girls are on day 2 in the yard (I was away again) and so so happy. Today they had their first dirt bath in the same part of the yard they use every year so no point in trying to get the grass to grow there. It's a sunny afternoon and they had no trouble digging in. The snow is completely gone from the yard though still in my neighbor's shady backyard. But it's 53 out, the bulbs are sprouting, the girls are is good.