Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘chicken coop

Mixed Seasons

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Delilah doesn’t care that a winter-sized daylong snowstorm blasted into our otherwise reasonable autumnal October weather on Tuesday.

The ground cover is now an interesting mix of snow and leaves. The natural world seems to have lost patience with this thing we call order. What the heck, bring on the snow. We don’t need to wait for the trees to drop all their leaves first.

Delilah loves it. While I trudged with great effort through the deep, wet snow in the woods, she happily raced to sniff one wildlife footprint after another.

I didn’t take Delilah near the chickens during our stroll after I got home from work, so I didn’t see how the birds were coping with their new surroundings, but when Cyndie returned from closing the coop as darkness fell, she reported full merging of young and old on the roosts.

How synchronous! Mixed seasons and mixed flocks of chickens.

Maybe the old birds will share their winter savvy with the young ones.

“If we act like we are stuck and can’t walk anywhere because of the snow, that lady who thinks she’s our mother will shovel a path to the barn.”

She already did.

I’m guessing the young ones have already learned that detail.

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Written by johnwhays

October 22, 2020 at 6:00 am

Divider Removed

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Over the weekend we took the big step of removing the modifications we put into the coop to subdivide space for the pullets and Rocky. The twelve young ones and three old hens have been sharing the coop for weeks and more recently, have had unrestricted contact while ranging free for multiple days. The two groups didn’t magically become the best of friends, but they appear to be mostly tolerating each other.

We felt like the two groups were doing well enough together that taking the next step of opening the coop was in reach. I’m not sure the chickens all agree.

The first night, we removed the lower barriers but left the net fencing above. All of them showed signs of hesitation over the remodeling as they stepped up to get their first view. They had the whole floor open, so several pullets popped up on the “wrong” side of the net where the three adult hens have been roosting.

There was a bit of bickering as the hens made their opinions known and we decided to assist the young ones in finding their way back around the netting.

In order to avoid that confusion a second night, I removed the last of the barriers and opened the coop completely. There is still a fair amount of squawking and pecking that occurs, but now they all have full range of movement to get away from the aggressors.

Eventually, they settle down and survive the nights unscathed. In the morning, after the doors open, the young ones tend to stay together and the only time the two groups mix is when the hens decide to move in to flaunt their seniority.

We are letting them figure it out for themselves, with only occasional interventions when we lose patience with their shenanigans. I get the impression they will never really become the best of friends, but at a minimum, they will accept there are other chickens sharing their stomping grounds.

This is the first time we have had white chickens and I have noticed from afar that they lack the ability to blend in with their surroundings as well as all the others. I have no idea if that puts them at a higher risk, but if it does, seems like that makes all of them equally imperiled.

Time will tell.

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Written by johnwhays

October 19, 2020 at 6:00 am

Partial Freedom

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When the time arrived to open the fence for our young pullets and Rocky, allowing them their first taste of free-ranging, we had already changed our mind about how we would do it. Soon after, we also altered our thinking toward making the transition in shorter stages.

Originally, based on reading the experiences of others, our plan was to keep the three adults inside in the morning for longer than normal while we let out the youngsters. We actually did the opposite. For our own convenience, it just worked better to proceed normally in the morning, letting the big girls out as usual and opening the coop door so the young ones could have time inside their fenced run.

After our breakfast and walking Delilah, we could put her back in the house and give the chickens our undivided attention. We opened the fence and with very little excitement, Rocky slowly led his brood a few steps outside the fence where they immediately busied themselves pecking at the green grass blades.

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Two of the big hens were in the vicinity and took in the activity with only brief interest. Then they wandered off through the trees. The Buff Orpington was in a nest box laying an egg at the time.

After the pullets made their way to the far side of the outer edge of their fenced courtyard, Cyndie decided to show them the way back to the entrance. Once back inside their familiar stomping grounds, we decided to secure them for the day while we tended to other pursuits.

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In the afternoon, I was walking through the tall grass in the paddocks with Delilah when she suddenly scared up a stray cat that had been hiding a short distance away from the coop. Was that intruder eyeing our birds? Hmmm.

During the morning session, I was multitasking with some day-job remote communications while being physically present for the chickens.

Late in the day, we opened the fence again and gave the chickens our full attention for their second session out. There was only one confrontation in which one of the adults doled out some aggression to establish her dominance over a brazen Light Brahma that dared to stride up with a bit too much confidence.

When opportunity arose that the young ones all found their way back inside their protective fencing again, we took advantage to close them in.

We will transition them to full freedom over a period of days, increasing their autonomy a little each day.

Based on what we’ve witnessed thus far, it doesn’t appear that Rocky the Roo will be much of a protector if predators show up this soon in the process of orienting the new brood to the great outdoors. We will exercise moderate caution for however long we are able to muster the extra attention to the detail.

Ultimately, we acknowledge the risks of free-ranging birds in our environs. It’s a natural contest of the cycle of life.

Meanwhile, we are enjoying them to the fullest. Chickens are wonderfully fun to have around.

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Written by johnwhays

October 10, 2020 at 9:42 am

Accidental Gamble

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Yesterday, Cyndie shared a story that required an admission she didn’t want to make. Before I expose the drastic oversight, let me just express how challenging it can be to take care of vulnerable chickens day in and day out. They are completely at our mercy to tend to their needs and watch over them.

Our methods are not foolproof, but as I drove past the barn yesterday when I got home from work, I saw our three hens calmly puttering about and looking healthy as ever. It was a reassuring postscript to the tale Cyndie had woven over the phone a little earlier during my commute.

As she described it, the first hint that something was amiss occurred as she approached the coop in the morning. There was no sound from the hens who would normally be making a ruckus to be let out by the time Cyndie normally arrives. Moving past the coop with Delilah, she headed to the barn to secure the dog and prepare servings of chicken food before coming back to open the doors.

That’s when she noticed some movement in the trees. She didn’t believe her eyes at first, and ran through several possibilities in her mind.

Those were some big birds.

Are they chickens? Could they be from a neighboring property?

No. Those were our three hens. How did they get out of the coop already!?

Cyndie worried that some critter might have compromised the door. She fretted for the health and safety of the pullets housed in the other half of the coop.

Upon arriving to find the locking bar was safely placed on the ledge above the hatch where she normally stores it during the day, she came to the ultimate conclusion that the chicken door on the back side of the coop had been left open all night long. When Cyndie had closed the front door to secure the pullets on Monday night, she had forgotten to close the little sliding door on the backside.

To our great relief, no marauding predators took advantage of her having forgotten one essential step in securing the coop for the night.

I’m pretty sure that’s a gamble she won’t accidentally take again for quite some time.

The process of closing the coop will involve some double-checks from now on, I suspect. Not unlike the step we long ago added, where we open the side hatch every night to confirm no uninvited critters are hiding inside when we close things up.

You might call that one the “possum rule.”

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Written by johnwhays

September 23, 2020 at 6:00 am

Even Higher

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Always pushing the envelope, those chickens. On Monday, when Cyndie went down to close the coop for the night, she found one of the Light Brahmas had figured out a way to get even higher than the 2×4 ledge above the window. Somehow, she got on top of the netted fencing that we installed to separate the adult hens from the chicks.

She wedged herself up against the quarter-inch hardware cloth that serves as the coop ceiling and was positioned such that she looked down upon the three adult hens roosting beneath her.

The tenacity of chickens to violate every installation put in place to contain them reminds me a little of our horses. Every time I installed something I didn’t think they would mess with, the horses would prove me wrong.

When Cyndie spotted that trapeze artist, she was on a phone call, so she left the bird up there until she could get me to assist with addressing the situation.

With darkness fully upon us, we donned headlamps and barged in on the sanctity of nighttime roosting. After rudely relocating the Brahma, Cyndie asked for twist-ties to stitch that area of fencing tightly to the hardware cloth ceiling to prevent subsequent attempts.

When I shut the coop last night, there was no sign that any of them had tried to mess with that solution. Three pullets were up on the cross-beam framing the window and the rest were spread across the two roost branches spanning the coop.

Maybe they were all tired of working to establish a pecking order. When I had visited them earlier yesterday afternoon, that’s all they appeared to be doing. Skirmish after skirmish between an ever-changing combination of pairs played out with shoving, chasing, posturing, glaring, beak-to-beak staring, and occasionally a rare attempt to peck.

There were no “She started it!” statements possible because all of them were guilty.

I saw it with my own eyes.

I’m thinking maybe the balmy gusting south wind had them riled up a bit. As if they need an excuse.

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Written by johnwhays

September 16, 2020 at 6:00 am

Every Year

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It happens every year, but that never seems to alter the shock. August is gone and September is here. I pulled out a long-sleeved overshirt last night to ward off the chill of the cool evening air. Acorns are falling. Leaves, too.

Cyndie headed down to close the chicken coop after a phone call and found darkness almost got there first. All the birds were snugged in place, including two of the young ones who have taken to making the extra leap up to perch on a 2×4 cross-stud over the side window. Silly girls, but not unprecedented because one of the wyandottes from the last batch used to do the same thing. They’ll get over it after growing wide enough that the perch no longer seems wide enough for comfort.

While Cyndie was down at the coop, she sent me a text with a picture of the moonrise. It enticed me to want to try a similar shot with my Olympus pocket camera. I like them both.

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It didn’t necessarily feel like autumn out there last night, but it definitely felt like the end of summer.

It happens every year.

You’d think I’d get used to the transition by now, but it always seems so all of sudden.

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Written by johnwhays

September 1, 2020 at 6:00 am

Quick Learners

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Tuesday night, Cyndie was crawling in the dirt and chicken shit underneath the coop to wrangle chickens back into the coop after their second day romping in their fenced front yard.

Last evening, I couldn’t leave the bedtime chore exclusively to her for the third night in a row, so I volunteered my help. When we arrived, Cyndie assumed they were all cuddled in the darkness beneath the coop. I stooped for a closer look and couldn’t find a single bird.

After only their third day out of the coop, they let their instinct guide them to return to their house as darkness approached. All twelve had put themselves to bed.

I picked the right day to offer my help.

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Written by johnwhays

August 28, 2020 at 6:00 am

Timid Start

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Given how bold the chicks seemed to have become since gaining familiarity with their coop, we half expected them to leap at the chance to escape and explore once we opened the door for them.

They “chickened” out. Despite plenty of gentle coaxing from their chick-momma, it took manual transferring to finally get their feet on real ground.

Even with that, we only got 10-of-12 to come out and explore the fenced run we installed for them. That was good enough for us on their first day under the open sky.

More time was actually spent under the safe cover of the coop itself. The three adult hens wandered nearby, showing occasional mild interest in the new feathered chirpers. I got an impression from the Australorp that she was looking for an opportunity to give a few of them a piece of her mind, as she stalked in close a couple of times to see what the young ones were up to on the other side of the netting.

One of the Light Brahmas decided to sprint back up the ramp shortly after the excursion began, but other than that, just as I suspected, none of the others made it easy to get them to return indoors for the night.

We’ll increase the time they can be outside a little each day for a few days to a point where the door can stay open during daylight hours and they can come and go as they please. Based on how voraciously they chomped grass blades and green leaves in the short time they were out, I suspect they will eliminate anything growing green within the run in a matter of a few days.

I don’t expect they will be timid about coming out of the coop for more than another day or two.

I’m as eager as ever to get them melded as equals with the three adults so we can remove the barriers splitting the coop and give them the full space to share. It will make a lot of things easier about cleaning and feeding when we get back to our normal way of doing things. But with an interest in avoiding a failed attempt, we are going to be very patient about waiting for obvious signs the time has arrived.

It’s still our first time dealing will all the intricacies of introducing new chicks to existing adult hens and we want to give all parties involved the best chance of having the introductions proceed without any “unnecessary-roughness” penalties needing to be flagged.

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Written by johnwhays

August 26, 2020 at 6:00 am

Always Hope

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It is a time of speeches for democracy in the US this week and hearing the intelligent oration of our previous (44th) President last night was incredibly refreshing. After enduring years of the undoing of countless protections to our environment, the destruction of our country’s reputation across the globe, disrespecting our allies and coddling our adversaries, and repeatedly trashing our precious freedom of the press, the campaign for an alternative is finally stirring hope for a better future.

I sure hope our youngest eligible voters will show up like never before to exercise their right to have a say in who our lawmakers and policymakers and leaders will be for the next term, all the way down the ballot.

If our chickens could vote, I think the twelve young ones would choose to have the net removed so they could take over the whole coop.

The three adult hens might not be ready to accept the kids yet, though. Tuesday night, I think they thought the kids had locked them out of the house. When I arrived to close the chicken door for the night, to my surprise, the hens came running to meet me.

“What are you guys doing up still?!” I asked in amazement. “You’re supposed to be in bed already!”

Then I noticed their access door was already closed. Poor things couldn’t get in.

It was as if they were running toward me to tell me all about their dilemma.

When Cyndie got home later in the evening, I asked if she knew any reason why the door might have been closed. The realization flashed and she moaned in woe. She had closed it earlier in the day, in case any of the young ones hopped over a barrier while she was pulling out the poop board to clean it, and forgot to slide the door back open.

The young chicks have quickly gained full confidence for climbing to the big roosts and will make big leaps and flap wings to reach places we’d rather they didn’t, like the slanted surface above the nest boxes.

But their confidence and aggressiveness give me hope they will be up to every challenge that lies ahead while maturing into adulthood.

It feels good to experience a little boost in hope. For our chicks, yes, but more importantly, for our country.

It’s been a really long stretch of little to none in the hope department.

This serves to remind me to always hope, regardless of how gloomy the prospects might ever appear.

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Written by johnwhays

August 20, 2020 at 6:00 am

Successful Relocation

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The chicks are in the coop!

Among the changes the chicks are dealing with, a bedding of sand instead of woodchips appeared to be the primary focus of their initial impressions.

It didn’t take them long to push the envelope of their abilities in exploring the new levels available. It was cute to watch them consider a leap multiple times before actually launching from one perch to another.

It got chilly last night and exposed the youngsters to cooler temperatures than they were used to in the brooder. Cyndie ended up lowering the heat lamp a little to ease their adjustment to this new world.

When we went down to close the chicken door, it was sweet to hear the three adult hens soothingly cooing while calmly perched on their side of the roost. They appeared unconcerned about the twelve new coop-mates that suddenly appeared during the day.

The chicks seemed just fine with the situation, as well.

The newbies will spend a week or so confined to quarters to establish the coop space as their current and future home before being granted brief, but expanding outings in the fenced front yard we will be installing today.

All these steps are designed to keep them safe while they are maturing toward a time when they will be merged with the adult hens and granted the full rights of free-ranging the property to the delight of us all.

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Written by johnwhays

August 16, 2020 at 9:42 am