Friday, October 31, 2014

Late Summer – Early Fall

The new girls are still jumping up on the back porch and fence and then into the driveway way too often. That means listening for their chatter from the kitchen window and doing lots of visual sightings to keep the girls from going astray. I need chickens I can trust and Naomi is quite displeased at this behavior and doesn’t hesitate to grab the squirt bottle once the borders are breached! How come I didn’t have this problem with the big girls before the fence went in a year ago?

Overall, the 6 hens get along in the yard as it’s big enough to accommodate two moving groups. There’s still squabbling around the bird feeders and whenever corn is tossed out as a treat. Millie has continued to be my best buddy, coming over whenever she sees me to chat or peck at my shoes. She always lets me pet her while the other two are more skittish when approached. It’s been a long time since the big girls have allowed petting!

I’m about ready to begin the coop expansion and by Labor Day it’s become quite clear that the little girls have outgrown the blue coop. They are good sports about going to bed there but I’ve got to get them into new quarters before we leave for California and our chicken sitters have to deal with this. Using some scrap wood I fashion an extension to the existing coop but leave the wall in place between both sections – I’m not that crazy! With a bit of help from Millie who has to approve every step of the work I am able to fashion a new home, though a little small, with its own entrance and ramp from the roof of the blue coop. I don’t really plan well as I have a hard time visualizing how things go together. I’m much better following an actual design plan, which of course doesn’t exist here.

Millie investigates

Inspecting the Work

Taking the First Step

The first few nights with the new coop I have to manually transfer Millie and Nellie out of the cramped blue coop into their new digs while Lottie has it figured out. That wore thin after a while so I let the girls figure it out themselves. (Am I bit of a helicopter parent??)

After another week Lottie and Nellie quit their new digs and start going up the ramp to the main coop where Flora, Gertrude and Hazel sleep and sometimes they  get chased out and sometimes not but they persevere each night and start sleeping in the nesting box. But Millie is bullied out every night no matter what…up the ramp, down the ramp, up the ramp again, pecked down the ramp again. It is heartbreaking to watch. Eventually she gives up and goes back to the new coop by herself. This goes on for a couple weeks and I worry about her making this last transition into the flock.

On September 11 Millie laid her first egg – a small brown one but so so welcome. Hazel is the only layer now and she’s very sporadic so Millie’s egg is quite exciting. I knew it was coming anytime as she had developed the protective posture of crouching when approached suddenly plus she’s grown so much more than the others. I’m hoping she’ll be an example for the others! Within the first couple weeks Millie’s eggs grew in size and she had 2 ones with double yolks. Pretty neat and it came with feathers for a nice effect!

Mid-Summer 2014

Milli Taking her First Call

Now that my June work travels are over I’m ready to fully integrate the girls together in the coop. They had more than 2 weeks in the run sleeping by themselves and having their own food and water. The outside the coop time has worked well and both groups keep a respectful distance from each other. Millie has emerged as the natural leader of the younger set, Lottie follows along, jumps when she can, and Nellie is the last for everything, always seeming a bit confused as to the plan. She has trouble finding the open door to the coop and circles around the entire run even when I open doors at both ends. It’s a mystery to her!

The barrier separating the run rooms has been removed and so far no one has drawn real blood. There’s a definite pecking order in place and little Hazel has emerged as the hen that bothers the new girls the most. I suppose that is pay back for all the years she’s been pecked at by Flora and Gertrude. Everyone does go after the new girls but so far it’s manageable though it always breaks my heart a bit to see them fight. No point in explaining the Golden Rule to these girls!

The first day after the girls were allowed to put themselves to bed I looked out the kitchen window and saw a chicken pacing outside the run. My first thought was that someone else in the neighborhood had chickens but I realized that couldn’t be true. But was it mine??? Was it ever! I ran out to find Lottie nervously running around waiting to get back in. I realized that I had never counted to see if all the hens were in the coop and thought this was a fluke. So she’d spent the night somewhere in the wilds of my yard and survived.

That night I thought I’d do the count so about 8:30 pm at dusk I went out – no Lottie. I spent the next 45 minutes combing the yard, the bushes, even the driveway but could not find her. We live in a downtown neighborhood with only raccoons and skunks but they are still predators so I was very fearful of Lottie’s fate. I was about to give up when I thought to glance up and I found her perched on the nearby birdhouse! I got her down with a long stick and carried her into the coop.

The next night it was the same thing…dusk --> perch on birdhouse --> carry into coop. Night 4 she only jumped on the roof of the coop and this went on for several more nights. Finally, finally the tug of war ended on its own and Lottie marched into the coop with the rest of the group.

The blue coop is still adequate but the planning for a new home has to begin. Somehow, it has to attach to the main coop eventually as they’ll be a lot happier in the winter if they can hunker down together. I think about the design a lot…

Week 1

The chicks are thriving – meaning they eat, poop, and sleep and the sound of chirps is constant when they are awake.  So is the fine dust that drifts up and out of the bin but that’s a small price to pay for the fun of watching them. The babies have taken to sleeping behind the thermometer that leans in one corner and once they start moving the thermometer falls over and they poop on it. I clean out the bin twice a day but it doesn’t stay clean for long.
Nap Time

What I am enjoying the most is picking up the chicks and holding them. They fit neatly in one hand and don’t mind the stroking or cooing I give back. Lottie is the most amazing as she will fall asleep as soon as I take her and put her on her back. Her eyes close within seconds and her head drops back. It’s neat to watch the little beady eyes flutter as she temporarily leaves this world.

Unfortunately, the cats still hover around the bin, now mostly Pepper who stares and makes those funny cat sounds and movements with his jaw as when he’s watching birds outside. He swipes at the bin with his paw but the chicks are oblivious to his threats.

First Weeks
The chicks are jumpers and they are not happy with their life in the bin. It didn’t take long before they could reach the wire top with a small hop. When I take the top off for cleaning the jumping begins and so does the chasing. Unlike earlier chicks in the kitchen these 3 aren’t content with sitting on the edge of the bin for very long  – they want out and a run around the kitchen. Since I can’t trust the cats I have to guard very carefully but I do let the chicks run and explore.  If I’m sitting in the kitchen they will jump up on my lap or shoulder and check out the sights. I love that.

There has been a bit of loose poop from 2 of the 3 chicks so I’ve added apple cider vinegar to the water and have been more diligent about keeping everything clean. They otherwise are growing rapidly and eating well so I think they will grow out of this poop problem on their own. I’ve added bits of greens and some plain yogurt to their diet. The yogurt is a big hit but I can’t figure out why they have to walk through it!

Roosting 101

Relaxing with Mom

Outdoor Time

Kitchen Leg Stretch

Any Perch Will Do

The girls are now clearly too big for their kitchen coop at 7 weeks.  I have been dragging my feet getting them out as I dread the integration process. We’ve had one good integration and one really bad one at the extremes. Of course, I worry about a repeat of the bad since Flora and Gertrude are still the alphas.

This month, though cool in temperature, has had some warm days where the new girls have enjoyed time out in the backyard. I have a very primitive chicken wire enclosure but Millie and Lottie are such jumpers that I have to keep a cover on it which they still manage to escape from. The big girls, Flora, Gertrude, and Hazel circle around the new girls in their enclosure with curiosity only. But once the girls have escaped the big girls begin the chase and then I have to coral everyone back in. The ‘chicks’ are less excited about being picked up now so catching them is sometimes a challenge. It’s amazing to watch them as they try out scratching and finding morsels and jumping over each other. All those great instincts!

In preparation for the move to outside I build a small coop out of an old wooden box. I add a ramp and a roost and set it up in the larger expansion run. On June 17 at dusk I move my lawn chair into the run, block off the passageway to the main run so the big girls can’t come in, and bring out Millie, Lottie, and Nellie for their first night outside.  It’s  just like camping! The girls don’t understand this a bit and scamper around the run and all over me. They bury their heads in my neck, my elbow and wherever they can find a place to hide. But one by one I am able to dislodge them and help them up the ramp and into the coop. It is a long evening but by 9PM they are in bed and I head for the house.

Now that the girls are out of the house I find it strangely quiet in the kitchen but I’m happy to have back the normal kitchen smells and don’t miss all that dust. I’m out to the coop many times a day as the new girls can’t be let out into the yard yet. The big girls are miffed as their housing has been downsized but they still get yard time which helps. I am determined to make this integration go more smoothly than when Hazel joined several years ago..

Since the new girls can’t go out in the yard I brought it to them with a piece of sod. They aren’t as excited about it as I am but I feel less guilty about keeping them penned up now. It’s like an oasis in the desert of dust in there. I’m watering the sod regularly and hoping it will last at least until the new girls go into the yard.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

May 2, 2014 – Pick up the Chicks Day!

On Friday, May 2, my 5 year old granddaughter, Charlotte, joined me and friends Terri and Beth at the Danvers Agway to pick out our 3 new chicks. The chicks were the promised rewards for beginning retirement in January. “No retirement - No chicks” was the mantra I’d heard for the past couple of years and I was now ready to collect on my end of the bargain and Charlotte was thrilled to help me.

I gave Charlotte, all wonder and joy, free range on picking the chicks, the only requirement being they had to look different so naming and identifying would be easier. And no Rhode Island Reds as I never found Gertrude to be much of a warm and fuzzy type hen.

In no time Charlotte had chosen our 3 new girls – a multi-colored ‘Easter Egg’ chick, a white Columbian Rock Cross (yes, it’s still part RI Red), and a light brown Golden Comet. Together we named them Lottie, Millie, and Nellie, respectively.  I’m not sure Charlotte realized ‘Lottie’ could be a nickname for Charlotte… I think that’s a compliment myself!
Nellie Day 3
Lottie Day 3
Millie Day 3

In addition to the chicks I finally bought an official heat lamp (rather than use the clip on light I had before) plus I got medicated starter feed and some chick scratch. Charlotte carefully balanced the ‘box of chicks’ on her lap for the ride home. They chirped and she smiled, a perfect combination.

Our kitchen chick coop was a redeployed clear plastic bin, an upgrade from prior years using the city recycling bin which was blue and allowed no visual stimulation for the chicks. We settled them in their new home, the lamp positioned to give them the needed 95 degrees of warmth. We also added a hardware cloth cover to keep the chicks in and the cats out. Pepper and Nutmeg stalked the bin and we were quite worried Pepper would get in as he’s a great and mighty hunter. But even his paws could not get through the small metal grid.