Spring is almost here! 

I can always tell that spring is just around the corner. The henbit is blooming, narcissus are looking at the sky with their bright bonnets, and the bluebirds and wrens are looking for places to lay their eggs. 

Another exciting consequence of the day length growing longer is that my chickens begin to lay copious amounts of eggs. So far, my best layers are my mixed bantam flock, which are largely Old English Games with a dash of Silkie, and my Ameraucanas from Clayborn Farms in Waco. Everyone else is getting too old to be a reliable layer. 

If your hens are being lazy about egg laying, I have found it helpful to use ceramic eggs in the nest boxes. It seems to flip a switch in their little chicken brains that it’s time to get busy making eggs. I purchased mine at a local feed store. 
Here’s to spring!

Goodbye, little hen.

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Thank you, Dovie, for showing us how truly wonderful a chicken can be. We will greatly miss our little hen.

March 2009 – December 7, 2012.

Life with He-Man

I started this post 2 months ago.  Two months ago, I had the majority of it written in my head, and a month ago, I had completely forgotten it.  Post death due to procrastination.  Then something happened that reminded me why I wanted to write this.

Let it be said for the record that I live with He-Man.  I’m not kidding, and I’m not bragging, it is just a simple fact.  My dear husband was blessed with some seriously strong upper body strength.  It definitely has its perks, like for opening jars, moving furniture and stuff in general, and doing anything requiring a fair bit of strength.  But life with He-Man also has some negatives, especially when he is married to someone with limp noodle arms. I ain’t no She-Ra.

For example, one day a few years back, I had bought an apple peeler/corer.  One of those kitchen gadgets that you tighten to a surface with a clamp, you know?  Well, He-Man attached it to one of my shelves for some reason or another, and I needed to move it.  I tried to loosen the clamp.  Uh uh.  No go, not happenin’.  I thought maybe I got my “Righty-tighty, Lefty-loosey” backwards.  Nope, I was going the right way. After about ten minutes of no progress, I had to literally take a hammer and whack the poor peeler off of the shelf to loosen it.  All the while I was muttering very, very bad words.

Another example, about two weeks ago, Jason had turned off the valve to the toilet upstairs for some reason and it needed to be turned back on to flush it.  I tried to turn it….yeah, right. “Hand tightened” with him is equivalent to me using a wrench with a cheater pipe on it and beating the crap out of it with a mallet.  He was trying to relax in his chair when I came back down, obviously defeated.  “Well, all you have to do is turn it!” he says.  I gave him that narrow-eyed look that only a wife can give a husband, and which a husband must come to understand, and he tromped upstairs and danged if it didn’t just turn for HIM.

So YESTERDAY, we had something happen that reminded me why I wanted to write this.  Here we are at 7:25 a.m.  I am furiously trying to get two dogs, two guinea pigs, and two fish fed, two kids in the car with all their stuff, me in the car with all MY stuff, and He-Man comes to the back door with a dead-looking broiler chicken in his hand.  Uh oh.

He has a funny look on his face.  A limp chicken is in one palm, and a machete in the other.

He says,”Well, I had a little accident this morning.”

Me: Uh huh.

HM: Well, see, all the chickens were running at me and wouldn’t get out of the way, they flipped over all their food dishes so I tried to push them out of the way with the food bucket, and….(voice trails off)

Me: Uh huh….and?

HM:  Well, I accidentally hit this one in the head with the bucket.  But see, it’s heart is still beating, and I just thought maybe it would make it.

Sure enough, on the chicken’s right temple was a growing purple welt just above the eye.  Now, in HM’s defense, if you have never seen broiler chicks come after food, you would really be shocked.  In fact, it’s such a crazy thing, that as soon as I figure out how to upload a video of them at feeding time, I’m posting it.  Broiler chickens would eat 24 hours a day, non-stop, and if they ever eat up all of their food, no matter if they were only out for 5 minutes, they will run at you like an all out chicken feeding frenzy.  You literally cannot walk into the pen; you must shuffle your feet unless you want to crush a bird.  It is like walking into a living sea of crazed and rabid white birds.  You also have zero chance of getting any food in the food dish if you don’t pick it up, because you have 24 big chickens all attempting to get INTO the food dish at once.

So, in He-Man’s defense, what had happened was that there were 24 big, hungry birds that ran at him full force.  When they did, they flipped over one of their three food dishes which proceeded to launch about 2 cups of chicken food slurry (it had rained the previous night) through the air.  With the flying slurry and the chicken landslide, it’s easy to see how things can get nuts. Which is how one of the chicks got clonked upside its poor little head. When he swings a bucket, to him it was a gentle swing.  To the chicken, it’s a 5 gallon Bucket O’ Death. Shouldn’t chickens have an innate fear of buckets anyway?  So, He-Man gave the poor chicken a concussion and now here it lay in his palm, possibly ready to go to the big 10 Piece Chicken Dinner in the Sky.

I picked it up, and it cracked open the other eye.  It was breathing and the heartbeat was strong, so I told him to put up the machete and stick it in one of our brooder boxes to give it time to recover from the accidental clonking.  Sure enough, when we came home that afternoon, said Concussed Chicken was up and going strong, albeit sporting a little ‘shiner’ on the side of its head.

So maybe He-Man will never make a successful poultry farmer, or at least he shouldn’t have 5 gallon pails at his disposal. Well, we can’t be all things, can we? The chickens did some revenge, though. When he turned around to go put the bird in “CICU” (Chicken Intensive Care Unit, pronounced “Chick-U”), the food slurry that the chickens had launched in the pen had splattered across his entire back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the wind….cried….Ernie….

I’m not exactly sure when I became the Crazy Chicken Lady.  Probably about the same time that I began to decipher the chicken language.  I could tell what a chicken was doing just by the sound it made.  Found a bug?  Excited peeping noise.  Rooster found a bug?  Excited clucking to get the ladies to come around.  Frantic peeps?  Obviously a lost chick looking for mama.  Growling sound? Chicken unsure of what’s going on.  The list goes on.

But I knew I’d really lost it when I started getting telepathic chicken messages.  Allow me to explain….

Last year, we had a little bout of Arctic air blow through in late November.  The winds whipped at the pines mercilessly, and temps dropped rapidly when the sun disappeared.  As the night wore on, the lights flickered on and off frequently.

I had hatched out a late batch of chicks a few days prior.  Not really the best idea to hatch out anything so vulnerable that late in the year, but that’s what happened.

About 3am, after a very fitful attempt at sleep, my eyes flew open.  Our ceiling fan wasn’t moving.  It was pitch black. There was something…something…something pecking at my brain.  My mothering instinct was on overdrive, but it wasn’t something with the kids….I was forgetting something….what is it, what IS it……..OH MY GOD, THE BABY CHICKS!  No electricity meant no heat lamp, which meant no heat for 14 tiny 2 day old chicks in a barn.  I jumped out of the bed and ran to our barn, fully expecting to find 14 frozen bite-sized chicken nuggets in the brooder.  Miraculously, they were piled in a fuzzy little heap, all very much alive although pretty disgruntled.  I gathered them all into a plastic tote and hauled them into the house by our woodstove.  Putting a towel on my lap, I took the 14 little fuzzies and wrapped them up until I felt that they wouldn’t keel over from hypothermia and then put them back into the bin.  Listening to 14 peeping chicks for the remainder of the night wasn’t exactly what I’d describe as peaceful.  Fortunately, the wind ended with daybreak and electricity was turned back on.  No baby chicks were lost.

Was it just my mothering instinct?  Or did the chicks send out a “Hey moron, we’re freezing out here” psychic message?  Another example:

It was almost midnight, and I was in bed about to fall asleep.  Suddenly, I heard a tiny, muffled sound of a rooster crowing, or at least I thought I did. Not any rooster, but Ernie specifically (trust me, once you’ve been around chickens long enough, you can distinguish their voices).  How odd, I thought.  Ernie never, ever crows at night….

THE DOOR! I forgot to shut the stupid coop door!  I ran out to the coop as fast as a half-asleep person can and sure enough, the coop door was still very much wide-open with my very favorite hen sitting completely unprotected in front of it.  Naturally.  Did Ernie really crow? He’s certainly not revealing anything.  Or am I slowly turning into a chicken myself?

One thing that is sure to get my attention is the sound of a baby chick in trouble.  They tend to make an extremely annoying, loud pitched ‘PEEEEEP PEEP PEEEEEP’ to try and solicit some sympathy from Mama Hen.  One day, right at dusk, I kept hearing a noise.  A very familiar and annoying noise.

“Do you hear that?” I asked Jason.

“Yeah, just a bird,” he said, as he went back to reading.

I sat and listened for a few more seconds.  My chicken senses were awakening.

“No. No it’s not, either,” I said.

I walked out to the front yard to find (surprise, surprise) a newly hatched 1 day old baby chicken who was very much lost and twice as confused.  How it ended up all the way from the coop to the front yard, I’ll never really know.  Regardless, “Big Mama Hen” came to the rescue that day.  I swear, they seek me out, they really do.  Oh well.

There’s probably not much need for a chicken psychic.  Then again, maybe I could start the Psychic Chicken Network Hotline for chicken owners.  (“Mrs. Jones, the reason Doris is acting so depressed is that she’s really wanting some vegetable scraps. Wait, hold on….can you hold Doris up to the phone again, please?  Mmmhmmm….She is also telling me that you’re buying the cheap pellets again.  Is that true, Mrs. Jones?”)

Until next time, keep on cluckin’.

The Dynamic Duo

Finally, after almost a year, I have gotten around to uploading some of my photos to a web album and finding an online photo editing program.  I am really excited about it…then again, I get really excited over finding a penny in a parking lot.  Nevertheless, what this means for you, dear readers, is more photos!  I find it a little narcissistic on my part to assume that I can captivate you with only my written words and no photos.  BO-RING.  So here we go!

If you have read my old posts, you’ll remember Wayward Jones, the chicken who was infamous for running circles and otherwise getting herself in all sorts of hijinks.  She also, unfortunately, met her end when a neighborhood dog carried her off.

A few months ago, I got an email about someone wanting to relocate a couple of roosters.  One was a breed called a Showgirl.  Showgirl chickens are a cross between a Silkie and a Naked Neck breed.  The result, after several generations of re-crossing with Silkies, is a bird that looks primarily like a Silkie, but with a naked neck.  Thus, here is the result.  I am happy to introduce Ernie The Wonder Chicken, our new farm mascot:

As with Wayward, I knew from the beginning that Ernie was going to be different.  I’m not sure exactly what it was (besides the fact he looks like a turkey mated with a cotton ball), but something immediately struck me about his personality.  One day I decided to give ol’ Ernie a bath.  Yes, really.  His feathers were stained a little from some red clay at the former owner’s house.  No, he wasn’t sculpting, by the way…we just happen to have some seriously red dirt around here.  Anyway, I took Ernie to the tub and scrubbed him down with baby shampoo.  He seemed to be, well, enjoying it.  Either that, or he was in some serious shock.  The fact is, he didn’t move through the entire process.  Then came the blow dryer (well, I couldn’t very well leave him wet, could I?).  To those people who believe that chickens have no personalities, all I can tell you is that you just haven’t met the right ones yet.  Ernie is the first metrosexual rooster I’ve ever seen.  He clucked and strutted and fluffed himself through the entire drying process like a teenage girl primping for a date.  It became immediately apparent that this was going to be a funny bird.

Now that we’ve had him a while, Ernie’s personality has really come out.  He is not afraid of people, and though he doesn’t always want to be caught, when he is, he will just lay in your arms and crow, if he’s in the mood.  He doesn’t struggle, which is pretty unusual for most roosters.  He has also rode with us to town a few times, even going through the drive through at Chicken Express (and living to tell the tale).   Just recently, he has adopted a baby hen as his own.  Not as his mate, but more as his own chick, which is odd.  He will actually catch bugs for her and lay them at her feet, as a mother hen would.  They sleep together, eat together, and are rarely a few feet apart.  I was so impressed with Ernie’s attitude that I bought 17 baby Silkies, just so that he could have some ‘ladyfriends’…and hopefully make more little Ernies.

Now, on to another new member of the farm.  We were at the local Atwood’s several weeks back, when a baby chick caught my eye.  It was just like Ernie, only in miniature.  Please meet “Poindexter”:

Poindexter is a Transylvanian Naked Neck, also known as a Turken.  It was once believed that they were a cross between a turkey and a chicken.  (not true)  Here’s an interesting article on the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of naked necks.  Poindexter exhibited extreme friendliness even from the beginning, when most chicks run away from you.  Now that I know more about the Naked Necks, I am seriously thinking about eventually switching my flock to them. They do better in hot weather (and good in cold, even), they lay about 180 brown eggs a year and are great foragers.  I noticed that as he (or she) grew older, Dexter could snap a gnat out of the air with ease.  Here is another glimpse:

See? Even chickens enjoy springtime flowers. Now for one final shot:

Enjoy!

All good things…

…as they say, must come to an end.

I have never written a chicken obituary/memorial before, but I figured that I owe one to this particular bird.  The other day, as we were coming home, Jason spotted a familiar chicken that we all know and love….in the middle of the road.  Quite flat, actually.  I am glad I did not see it.

It was not THE Wayward Jones, but rather her sister, who apparently, even though she was warned of the dangers of hitchhiking and living loosely, still ventured too close to the road.  I COULD mention the age-old joke here…but out of respect, I won’t theorize why the chicken crossed the road.  Actually, now I suppose we’ll never know.  Anyway, Ms. Jones was interred September 17th, 2010.  Casseroles, chicken scratch, and donations to P.A.R.C. (Persons Against Runaway Chickens) will be accepted.

In other news, it is finally cooling down enough that I have made progress around the farm.  Tonight, we have been working on adding a top to the chicken yard.  A couple of weeks ago, I found the headless body of one of my barred Rock hens, which is indicative of a raccoon murder.  Let me say here that I do not like raccoons.  Sure, they may look all cute and fuzzy, what with their little people-like hands, thick fluffy coat, and ringed tail.  But behind their mask lies a cold-blooded serial killer.  Let’s not mince words here.  I won’t go into detail about what I would like to do to the ‘coon, lest you think I am just a cruel person.  So, to avoid further bloodshed, particularly for the ‘coon, we are putting a ‘lid’ on the outdoor run out of wire.

I have been lazy in my garden.  I haven’t pulled weeds in weeks and haven’t really cared to.  Jason made the comment the other day, “Nice bed of Bermuda you’re growing here.”  I couldn’t argue.  If I were TRYING to grow Bermuda, it couldn’t have looked much better than the thick, jungle carpet that has now dominated my old lettuce patch.  BUT, now is the time to plant, so I hope to take new pics and show you what will be in store for winter.  I am planning on having a really kick-butt winter garden this year, mainly by really utilizing row covers and my chenilles.

In farmhouse news, it’s really nothing new.  Please, please, please, if you do repairs on your house, have them (or do them) professionally.  And for crying out loud, please don’t use the cheapest parts you can buy.  Our poor heat pump/blower was apparently brought over on the Ark, and probably the same model used by the ancient Egyptians.  Ok, maybe those time periods don’t coincide.  Whatever, you get the picture.  Our kitchen faucet is leaky, the kitchen sink is made out of white plastic (what masochist picked THAT out???) and the supposedly new septic tank is overflowing.  Not complaining, just venting.  Anyhoo, it boils down to I am about to have to spend a good chunk o’ change to have a new heatpump installed, so that we don’t freeze to death this year.  I mean, last year, our house was at 58 degrees.  I’m sorry, but I don’t care to live in a meat locker.  Thank the Good Lord for all my quilts.  I looked like some sort of strange chrysalis all winter last year, wrapped in about 14 quilts, along with thermal underwear, a full set of clothes and 2 layers of socks.  I didn’t go anywhere without my throng of quilts.  THIS YEAR (I’m pulling a total Scarlett O’Hara here), with God as my witness, I will not freeze again!  We are going to insulate the house.  I hope they blow 5 feet of insulation in the attic.  I want so much insulation, it is scraping the rafters.  I want so much that it is spilling out of every vent and pore of this house.  I can’t say enough about good insulation.

I think I will end my post here.  Hopefully, next go ’round I will have some sort of interesting pictures for you all.

Where’s Wayward?

A few months back, I got some Polish chickens from the feed store.  Polish are a breed with a so-called ‘top hat’, which is just a big ball of feathers atop their little heads, which pretty much make the chicken look like a creature with a chicken body with a lollipop stick head and neck.  Really, it looks very similar to a Dr. Seuss Truffula Tree, stuck on a bird’s body. That’s a bit more accurate.  Anyway, due to the large ball of feathers on their head, their vision tend to be partially, if not almost fully, occluded.  Enter Wayward.

Wayward Jones is a White Crested Black Polish. This means she is primarily a black chicken with a white poof on top of her head.  I knew Wayward was ‘special’ pretty much from the start.  During their first outdoor excursions, Wayward would always end up where the other chickens WEREN’T, crying desperately for someone to come and find her.  When I did go to retrieve her, she was usually so happy to see someone, she would run and jump into my hands and up my arm. 

One morning as we were leaving, we were almost out the gate when we saw a certain chicken over in the orchard who came running to the truck.  Mind you, the others were on the complete opposite side of the house, and this is really a pretty good clip away.  I’m not good with distance, but let’s just say it was a ways away!  Again, she was so happy, she ran to me and I deposited her with the other chicks. 

This scenario has repeated itself dozens of times over the last several weeks.  One day, I found Wayward in a shrub at dusk, so lost she just gave up calling and roosted.  The other day, I found her roosting on the back of a plastic toy dump truck.  The last straw was last Saturday when I was hanging our laundry to dry on our deck.  I saw a bird WAAAAAAAY down the hill behind our house, almost to the creek, and believe me, it’s a long way for a little chicken to go.  I looked at it for a minute, thinking it looked an awful lot like a guinea (which I do not have anymore, they are in the freezer now), before realizing who it was.  My shoulders slumped and I shook my head.  I thought to myself: One day, I’m going to get a collect call from Mexico, they’re going to connect me, and there will be nothing but clucking on the other end, and I’m gonna know EXACTLY who it is. I can foresee the conversation….

Me:  Sure, I’ll accept a collect call.

WJ: Booooooock???  Bock, Bock?

Me:  Wayward?  Is it you? You’ve been gone for weeks!

WJ: BOCK!  Booock, bock, bock, bock

Me: Well, I’m glad you’re OK, but what are you doing in Mexico?

WJ: Bock, bock, bock, booock, bock.

Me:  You got arrested for WHAT?  Where does a chicken hide drugs?

WJ: Bock, boooock, bock, bock, booock

Me: (irritated) OK, look, I don’t want to know any more about it. We’re not telling Jason, and we’re never speaking of this again.  I’ll pick you up in a week.

(connection ends)

 So, I flagged down Jason, who was blowing off the driveway.  I said, “Come look at THIS.”  He said, “Ok, where’s Wayward?”  Does that give you ANY idea how routine this is? I could have been asking him to come look at anything on earth, but he knew it was Wayward, right off the bat.

So, I went and retrieved Wayward yet again, but this time I had a plan.  I took a hairband and made her a ponytail (chickentail?) out of her head feathers.  She went into a slight stage of shock, then surprise.  She ran around in circles, so excited she could finally see something other than the backside of those feathers.  This is the story of Wayward Jones the Polish chicken.