Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘free range chickens

Wild Visitor

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The first message I received from Cyndie yesterday was a celebration of the recently broody Wyandotte choosing to exit the coop of her own volition.

Cyndie had first attempted the cold bath method, which simply rendered the hen incapable of standing but didn’t break that drive to brood. Then she resorted to the broody cage for a required two different sets of multiple days.

The second message I received announced a different bird had showed up to chill near Cyndie while she was working on her new garden plots.

This beautiful little grouse let Cyndie get very close without showing any nervousness, but didn’t react with any interest to offered seeds or water.

I figure the bird sensed Cyndie’s chicken-momma skills and was naturally drawn to her nurturing spirit. Or, it was seeking protection from marauding turkey flocks that roam our area.

We frequently hear pheasant calls and occasionally see them, but this is the first time I have seen a grouse. Funny that it gave such an appearance of being domesticated. Maybe it wants to get in with the cool kids and join up with our chickens. With the flock of hens drastically reduced in number, now might be a good time to try.

The three chickens seem a little lonesome for their absent sisters.

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Written by johnwhays

May 14, 2020 at 6:00 am

Morning Surprise

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When I pushed my nose up against the glass of the door to the deck in search of the critter that was setting off our motion light on Tuesday night, all I could report seeing was a few surprise snowflakes floating down. It was only a surprise in that I hadn’t noticed any other precipitation starting before that. My impression was that the predicted weather event would start with light rain that might eventually include a mix of snow.

Waking up yesterday morning with a two-and-a-half inch layer of sticky snowflakes coating everything was quite the surprise.

It made for some fabulous morning scenery.

I was darting off on my morning commute to the day-job in the Daylight Saving Time darkness of the early hour, so I didn’t get much chance to ogle the spectacle. By the time I reached the far side of the Twin Cities, there was no evidence anywhere that any new precipitation had even fallen there.

Knowing the snow at home wouldn’t last very long after the sun came up, I sent a message to Cyndie asking her to take pictures.

I’m really glad she did because, by the time I returned home in the afternoon, all the new-fallen snow had disappeared completely. It was if it had never happened.

My, how quickly things can change.

Early on, Cyndie reported the chickens appeared highly miffed over the sudden return of the cold blanket of white covering their stomping grounds. Happily for them, the annoyance was short-lived and they were out on patrol scouring their surroundings in execution of their primary responsibility as insect pest controllers when I got home.

It’s very rewarding to have them get after that task at the very instant bare ground begins to reappear from beneath the winter snowpack. They are champions of natural fly and tick reduction.

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Written by johnwhays

March 12, 2020 at 6:00 am

Thriving Eight

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Despite the risk of jinxing the prosperity that our eight chickens have been enjoying all summer, I can’t help myself flaunting their surprising continued free-range survival on these unprotected acres.

Two Black Australorps, three Golden Laced Wyandottes, and three Buff Orpingtons continue to thrive. They’ve had pasty butts, gotten broody, chosen “unauthorized” nesting sites, and survived last year’s harsh winter and this summer’s heavy thunderstorms. They lost a sibling to a devious possum and dodged an eagle that I saw swooping through the trees in a failed attempt to grab one of them.

That last fact now triggers a new level of anxiety whenever we spot one of the many bald eagles in the area circling low overhead, which I have witnessed them doing twice recently.

Still, our chickens hang together for the most part and seem genuinely happy about their lives.

I did find a “soft” shelled egg in one of the nest boxes yesterday, so one of the hens might be dealing with some new anomaly.

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Is This Possible?

From the potentially too-good-to-be-true files, yesterday I heard tell of an entity that pays decent money for space to place unwanted horses. A salesman who stopped by to deliver a quote on replacing the boards on our deck told wonderful stories about his days as a racehorse owner.

He described an acquaintance who couldn’t afford her property and was planning to move, until some company contacted her and offered to pay a reasonable amount to use her barn and fields to keep their unwanted/rescued horses.

“Heck, yeah, I’m interested!”

He promised to look into it and forward a name and/or number we could contact. Can’t hurt to inquire. If they supply the hay and pay to use the barn and pastures, I would be happy to accommodate them.

My inner skeptic is not quite as inspired as the rest of me, but I won’t let that prevent my creative imagination from visualizing unbelievable possibilities.

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Alternative Location

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I mowed the paddocks on Sunday. Knowing the kids were coming mid-morning, I headed out to the shop garage to move equipment around for access to the brush mower and watch for their arrival. I didn’t see Elysa’s car drive past, but looked up and noticed it parked by the house all of a sudden. A second later, I looked up to find Julian’s Jeep parked there, too. How they both got past me without my seeing them drive by is a complete mystery.

So much for that plan.

After chasing Julian around on his Onewheel, I left him to do more practice laps and hopped on the tractor. Elysa opened gates for me and stood on the lookout for wandering chickens.

I didn’t realize that Cyndie had reported a headcount of only seven hens located and I sent Elysa off to can pickles after I’d made a few passes around the perimeter. It seemed to me that I would be able to spot chickens if they showed up.

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When I got closer to the middle of the paddock, the grass was so tall and thick that it was impossible to see what I was mowing over. I looked up after navigating a tight circle around one of the high spots and I caught sight of one Golden Laced Wyandotte slowly and calmly walking away from the grass toward the paddock fence.

Had she been hiding in the tall grass, just as I feared possible? I wasn’t entirely sure, but the thought was unsettling.

The paddocks looked pretty good when I was finished. After six years of successful close maneuvering, I finally broke my first fence board when I miscalculated while backing up to turn around. Curses!

Cyndie took Delilah for a walk through the newly mowed grass and the dog sniffed out where the Wyandotte had been.

It looked like my tractor tire rolled over about ten eggs in the hen’s alternative to our nest boxes.

We are hoping the loss of cover will help convince the vagabond bird to return her laying habit to the coop.

Is it possible to teach old hens new tricks?

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Written by johnwhays

August 27, 2019 at 6:00 am

Rural Pleasures

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We had the wonderful opportunity to drive through the cities to the rich countryside of Wayzata yesterday for the unfortunate occasion of a memorial service. Some of that time in the car spawned discussion about what might be next for us now that we no longer have horses. It is a complicated dilemma, although dilemma is too extreme a word.

It’s really just a question, one that could be simplified to the alternatives of continuing to live here, or selling the property and moving somewhere else. One of the first complications is that there is nowhere else I would prefer to be. We have become very accustomed to the space our little sanctuary provides.

Back home in the afternoon, Cyndie hung up the authentic Guatemalan hammock that our friends the Morales family gifted to us. In the shade beneath giant oak trees, I joined Cyndie to luxuriate in the open privacy of our little nature preserve. Then Delilah decided to join us, too.

We are truly blessed to live here. It is a real struggle to even conceive of leaving for something else.

Discussions have continued on the neighborhood group about our recent close encounter with a mysterious wild visitor. The fisher is too rare an occurrence for some to accept, so the opinion has shifted to a woodchuck.

That’s good news for us, as that would be much less threatening for our chickens.

Those hens seem to be luxuriating in the rural pleasures themselves. It’s pure luck that no predator has disrupted their ranks all summer and it seems to have inspired a dangerous, comfortable confidence in them.

One of them has decided she doesn’t need to use the nest boxes in the coop to lay her eggs.

This morning, Cyndie noticed a newborn cow in the neighbor’s pasture. Last week, she reported a group of five eagles soaring together, high in our sky. Delilah picked up a feather left on one of our trails by a wild turkey and carried it like a precious treasure for several minutes, ultimately dropping it with a vividly contrasting lack of interest.

Today, it is beyond my comprehension that there is any other place where I will be as happy living as our rolling hills in the rural countryside of west-central Wisconsin.

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Written by johnwhays

August 18, 2019 at 9:39 am

Bad Decision

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It has been a while since I used the Grizzly ATV. Last time I had it out, I decided to park it in the hay shed since we no longer need to store hay in there. That turned out to be a bad decision.

Maybe birds don’t like the Grizzly and they were sending a message.

If I had parked it one foot over in either direction, they would have at least missed the seat. It was positioned directly beneath a joist where they perch. Just lovely.

I posted a message to the neighborhood group for input on our fisher sighting. Nobody else has reported similar. We still have all eight chickens, despite visible signs where the critter had dug to get in and out of the barn. Luckily, the chickens aren’t ever in the barn. We keep the doors shut.

There were no visitors to the chicken coop in the last twenty hours other than Cyndie and the chickens, based on the surveillance of the trail camera.

Maybe the fisher is more interested in moles and voles than chickens. After mowing yesterday, it became obvious there are plenty of burrowing rodents active across our land.

That’s probably why the big weasel showed up. It’s here to rid our yard of pesky moles.

See how I visualize the outcome I desire?

I’ll let you know how well it works. (I’m guessing not so well in this case when delivered with a heavy amount of sarcasm.).l

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Written by johnwhays

August 17, 2019 at 7:59 am

Who’s This?

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We have a new intruder on the property, one we didn’t even recognize. When Delilah triggered on something in one of the stalls in the barn, Cyndie reeled in the leash to keep them separated and stepped up to snap a photo of the mysterious critter.

Do you know what this is?

We searched a range of wild animal images and whittled our way down to this: fisher.

This led to more questions than answers. Is it just passing through? Was it seeking a chicken dinner? Why was it out in the daylight?

Cyndie brought Delilah up to the house, grabbed my pocket camera and headed back to the barn in hopes of capturing a better image. By the time she got there, the animal had vanished.

Where did it go?

Cyndie subsequently made multiple trips out to check on the chickens, just in case. By sundown, all eight hens were secure on the roost in the coop.

In a curious side note, we have not been finding very many eggs in the nest boxes lately. Oddly, Cyndie found an egg on the ground outside the coop this afternoon. We don’t know what’s going on there.

Maybe the fisher is smart enough to take eggs instead of hens. Wouldn’t want to harm the golden goose chicken.

Time to set up the trail cam again, I guess.

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Written by johnwhays

August 16, 2019 at 6:00 am

Daytime Sighting

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Our dog, Delilah, has so many episodes of freaking out over something she sees or hears through our doors and windows that we have grown numb to her outbursts. It is rare that I bother looking anymore to see what squirrel/rabbit/bird is triggering her tizzy.

Of course, there was the time last summer when we finally checked and discovered she was barking about that group of 10 cows that had found their way up near our bedroom window. Her reaction that time was totally justified.

Last night, we were up in the loft when she revved up over something she spotted in the back yard through the French doors. Since I had a similar view without needing to get up, I turned to check it out.

There was a raccoon sauntering across our yard in broad daylight, unfortunately, directly toward the chicken coop. I rushed down to track its path and was able to see it climb up a large tree and disappear, high up inside the main trunk. Just a short distance further ahead, the chickens were calmly combing the deep leaves on the ground among the trees.

Our chicken coop, when buttoned up for the night, is well secured against raccoon intrusion. Regular readers may recall we got duped by a possum that snuck inside during the day and killed one of our hens over night after we shut the door at sunset.

Now we check all the nooks when we count the chickens and close the door for the night. The usual evening report used to simply list the number of hens secured, but now it always includes the affirmation of the coop being predator-free, as well.

Unfortunately, since we have chosen to free-range our chickens, they are easy prey during daylight hours. One reason a raccoon will be out during the daytime (other than maybe being sick with rabies or dysentery) is because of hunger. That is not a good omen in such close proximity to where our chickens hang out.

I tossed a treat of dried mealworms in the pan of feed yesterday afternoon.

It was a BIG hit. They came after me looking for more:

We collected seven new home-laid eggs yesterday.

At least the hens are putting those worms to good use.

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Rehoming Horses

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In less than a week, they will be gone. Our three horses are returning to the home from which they traveled when they came to us back in the fall of 2013. There is an invisible gloom darkening the energy around here of late. It feels eerily similar to the dreadful grief we endured after Legacy’s death in January of last year.

Happiness still exists, we just aren’t feeling it much these days.

Cyndie spent hours grooming the horses yesterday. I found myself incapable of going near them. It’s as if I’m preparing myself in advance for their absence. This place just won’t be the same without them.

For now, we still have the chickens. With the snow cover receding, and hours of daylight increasing, they are expanding their range again, scouring the grounds for scrumptious things to eat from the earth. It is my hope that they are getting an early start on decimating the tick population around here.

After Cyndie said she picked seven eggs yesterday, I asked if we were getting ahead of our rate of consumption yet. Almost three dozen, she reported!

Spring has definitely sprung.

I walked the grounds yesterday to survey the flow of water draining from the melting snow. We are benefiting greatly from overnight freezes that have slowed the process enough that no single place is being inundated now. It was the heavy rain falling on the deep snow that led to the barn flood last week. We’ve had little precipitation since, and that has helped a lot.

There are a couple of spots where the flow has meandered beyond the modest constraints in place to facilitate orderly transfer, mainly due to the dense snow that still plugs up the ditches and culverts.

Water definitely chooses to flow the path of least resistance.

I can relate to that. It feels like our life here is changing course in search of a new outlet for our energy to flow. Part of me feels like there should be a rehoming of ourselves, except we have no home to which we would return.

In a strange way, it’s as if I am experiencing a similar avoidance of being with myself, like the way I couldn’t bring myself to stand among the horses yesterday.

If this is not the place where I belong, then I already don’t want to be here any more. Unfortunately, there is nowhere I’d rather be right now.

When buds pop, and leaves sprout, I will breathe in our forest air. That will help.

But it won’t be the same without our horses.

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Written by johnwhays

March 23, 2019 at 6:36 am

Still Ten

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Just in case you were wondering, our flock of bug eating machines still numbers ten. When they are not eating bugs, it is because Cyndie has put out kitchen scraps for them. We knew they were very fond of watermelon and have discovered they tend to ignore honeydew.

Maybe they’d go after it if we put a little red food coloring on the rinds.

Tuesday night, Cyndie took out a bowl of peach peels that were left over from a fantastic looking pie she made. The chickens devoured them in a blink.

Apparently they like peach peels.

We are now averaging 4 eggs a day from the ten birds. Obviously, the hens are maturing at different rates. They were all born on the same day and have been together ever since, sharing living quarters and eating the same things.

Nature or nurture?

The other day, Jackie provided a cute picture she took of Dezirea eyeing one of the black australorps standing on the hay box.

I guess you could say the chicken is eyeing Dezirea right back.

I keep expecting to lose the golden laced wyandottes next because of their tendency to straggle behind the group. Last week when I was working in the shop garage, I noticed the birds coming to investigate my activity.

Counted nine of them. Lately, during the day, the hope is that the missing hen is back in the coop laying an egg.

The next time I looked up from my task, the chickens were gone. Oh, but then that missing wyandotte came sprinting from under the brush, racing to find and catch up with the rest of the group.

If I were a predator, that laggard would make for an enticing target.

So far, come time for bed check (roost check, actually), Cyndie has found all ten of the current bunch are making it back to the coop for the night.

What ever happens, we are already ahead of last year in both longevity and egg production.

We are counting our ten blessings every day.

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Written by johnwhays

August 30, 2018 at 6:00 am