Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘hens

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

Close One

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That was a close one. Yesterday afternoon, our crew of one, Matthew, who is brushing on a fresh coat of sealant on the logs of our house, was taking a break for lunch when he spotted what he calls our “yardbirds.” He was watching our three chickens moseying their way through the trees between the house and the barn.

Then, he caught sight of a fox!

The report I received was that he rushed toward it and started screaming like a madman. Cyndie said he came to the house to tell her there was a fox in our trees. When she arrived on the scene, all she found were the black feathers of our last Australorp. A LOT of black feathers, spread across a significant distance.

About that time, I received a text message indicating we had lost a hen to a fox.

A couple of hours later, my phone rang with a call from Cyndie with a correction to the previous message. The Black Australorp was still alive!

She had returned to the coop where Cyndie found her nestled into one of the nest boxes. Given the near-death experience, Cyndie granted the hen a free pass to stay in the box for as long as she wanted. There were no visible signs of trauma.

Much later, at dusk, I checked on the three chickens while closing the coop for the night. Much to our surprise, I found the Australorp perched on the roost beside her trusty companions, looking fit as a fiddle.

In addition, I found she had laid an egg while recovering her wits in the nest box.

That’s one tough hen.

Logic tells us that fox will return, so we may need to confine the birds to quarters for a while until we figure out some kind of plan.

We were already intending to install a fenced-in run area outside one of the coop doors in preparation for the new chicks. They are due to arrive today and will spend their first month or so in the brooder with supplemental heat, so we thought we had some time before needing to reconfigure the coop.

That schedule will change now that the fox is paying visits in broad daylight. Free-ranging may need to be curtailed for a while until we build a protected space where they can do some not-as-free-ranging.

Meanwhile, we have returned to arguing with ourselves over whether to get a rooster for protecting the hens, or not. That is an unlikely solution for us, but we occasionally revisit the idea to make sure we still feel the same way.

Our precious layers deserve some support in terms of protection, so if not from a rooster, we’d like to figure out a viable alternative.

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Written by johnwhays

July 17, 2020 at 6:00 am

Two Tidbits

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Two morsels from yesterday evening make today’s report, both thanks to Cyndie who contributed the images.

The person renting our fields for cutting and baling hay showed up to fertilize the acres. I sure hope the weather gives him a fighting chance this summer to get some decent bales out of his efforts.

Last year, despite his humble attempts, there were never enough consecutive dry days to achieve much success. He ended up rolling wet hay after the first cut, and only baled a fraction of his second cut after the first frost.

When Cyndie made her way down to the coop at dusk, she found evidence of an intruding prowler.

That plastic container was inside the coop earlier in the afternoon. Cyndie discovered it chewed through and outside on the ground. There were no eggs in the nest box, either, but it wasn’t clear if this just happened to be a day when the two active layers both took a break, or not.

Right now, the australorp is broody and not laying. She spent the day yesterday in the broody-breaker cage.

I’m guessing one of the local raccoons is doing some daytime foraging.

So, there you have two glimpses of our life on the edge of real farming. If I wasn’t so distracted by the day-job lately, maybe I’d devise some plot to persuade the masked bandits to leave us alone. Permanently.

Not that we don’t love wildlife and all. It’s just that we like our chickens and home-laid eggs more.

 

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Written by johnwhays

May 20, 2020 at 6:00 am

Increasing Production

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It’s March 18 and I’m still symptom-free. I’m measuring each day that I’m not sick as a victory over the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you to everyone who is heeding the call for social distancing. One graph I saw at worldometers.info last night indicated the daily number of cases identified in the US has been doubling every few days. Since that data only includes the number of people actually tested, I imagine the total number of cases increasing every day is probably much larger.

I have not quarantined myself yet, but I’m limiting my activity to commuting to work and then coming straight home. I will need to stop for gas twice a week, but I always pay at the pump so there is no need to go inside.

There are only ten people at work, so if we can all avoid exposure from others, the risks at the day-job should remain low.

It’s too bad the virus doesn’t provide obviously visible indications in a person when they get it. That would make it so much easier to avoid people who are spreading it.

While staff at the day-job are giving their all to keep up with the over-filled production schedule (there’s no indication our customers are slowing down at this point), the hens at home are just approaching their highest production rate.

Yesterday was the highest-grossing day of the new season. From our amazing eight hens, we got 7 eggs for the first time this year. I found the last egg out in the sand covering the floor of the coop, not in the nest boxes that all the others have been using.

It seems to me that the color of the eggs from the three different breeds is becoming more homogeneous. We used to get some that were very dark brown and some that were very light. Yesterday’s seven looked surprisingly similar.

The light ones are a little darker and the dark ones are lighter than usual.

Luckily, they are all filled with a brilliantly deep-colored yoke that makes for amazing breakfast dishes and wonderful baked goods.

With the head cook and principle baker living in Florida for a while, I will be stockpiling eggs for a later date.

If things get desperate during the pandemic quarantine, maybe I could trade some for toilet paper.

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Written by johnwhays

March 18, 2020 at 6:00 am

Not Level

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This isn’t the first year I’ve had the impression that the chicken coop is leaning away from level, but it’s now become more obvious than I am able to ignore. Every time I walk past it, I fight an urge to walk over and push it back to level, but I’m the one who buried those six posts 3-feet deep each. A little push on the side of the structure won’t do anything to press the far posts back down to where they started.

Part of me wants to think it’s just an optical illusion given the relative reference of the surrounding ground. The view from the other side doesn’t look all that bad.

If I’d bother to walk up to the shop to get the level there would be no questioning it, but the issue is an “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” level concern and has yet to warrant the intentional hike in order to verify my instinct. Wouldn’t really make any difference, anyway. There is nothing I would do about it either way.

Actually, I don’t need the level. If you didn’t already spot it, go back and look at that first image. There is an easy reference line –two actually– revealing a straight verticle in the items hanging on the outside wall. Based on those lines being straight up and down, the horizontal boards are definitely not square to that.

The frost heave that occurs in the ground is in charge of the angle of this structure. The legs of the coop were not installed like footings for structures that must meet building codes.

Luckily, our hens don’t seem to give a cluck about it.

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Written by johnwhays

March 5, 2020 at 7:00 am

First Sign

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I know it’s only February, but spring can’t be far off now. Yesterday morning at work, I received this message from Cyndie:

Maybe that egg surprised the hen. Cyndie reported it was in the sand covering the floor of their coop, not one of the nest boxes.

If the first egg of the season doesn’t offer us hope for better days ahead, then we’ve been paying too much attention to news of the world. Well then, how about two eggs! By the time Cyndie went down to close the coop for the night, there was already a second egg, this time right where we want them, in a nest box.

There may be enough increase in hours of daylight to trigger egg-laying again, but this morning the hens got a brisk slap in the beak after a drop of 40°(F) temperature overnight. Ol’ Man Winter isn’t going to let us forget what month it is, regardless what fresh eggs make us think.

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Written by johnwhays

February 13, 2020 at 7:00 am

Happy Hens

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We are thrilled to report that our hens are acting very happy with the last few days of above-average warmth (above freezing!) around this winter solstice. Tomorrow is Christmas and the hours of daylight started increasing again so the mood is pretty festive around here. A return to home-laid eggs can’t be far off. The day they kick back into that cycle again will bring on its own celebratory moods in our house. We’ve become spoiled with a quality of eggs that the grocery store offerings don’t come close to matching.

During the previous sub-zero cold snaps and bouts of snow, the chickens showed zero interest in venturing outside the coop when we opened the chicken door. Yesterday and Sunday they gladly made the trek back to the barn overhang where there is prime sand-bathing to be had in the sun.

For some reason defying logic, the hens have sequentially been molting for several months now. The two latest raggy looking things are getting their comeuppance for the period they were strutting around looking like award-winning specimens when others were a sorry sight.

Everybody has their day.

We are going to leave the coop buttoned up for a couple of days while we take Delilah with us for an overnight to Cyndie’s parent’s house in Edina. The Christmas tradition for Cyndie’s family involves a big dinner with cousin families on the eve, then breakfast and a gift exchange extravaganza extraordinaire on Christmas morning followed with a big dinner in the evening.

In years past, when we had the horses, I ended up driving back and forth three times in two days in an attempt to be involved in all things at once. This year, we are modifying the plan a little to eliminate a couple of trips.

A nod to taking another tiny step toward reducing our use of fossil fuels for the sake of our warming planet.

I’m not sure the chickens will be so happy about our plan, though, now that they are showing renewed interest in coming out of the coop again when it’s nice.

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Written by johnwhays

December 24, 2019 at 7:00 am

Just One

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Found out Cyndie bought eggs from the grocery store the other day. With the hours of daylight reduced this time of year, our hens have dropped production of home-laid eggs a significant amount. Yesterday, the grand total count was one.

Sometimes, you don’t know what you’ve got, till it’s gone.

Speaking of gone, more of our chickens have begun molting feathers, unfortunately, just when the early cold snap showed up. Seems odd that chickens would molt so late in the year. Although, I can see how it might have served as inspiration for early peoples to gather all the shed feathers to make beds or blankets just as the cold temperatures were arriving.

Cyndie chased a squirrel out of the coop yesterday. Maybe it was on a mission to collect feathers for his or her nest.

Chickens are hardly ever in there laying eggs lately, so at least someone is making daytime use of the shelter. Hah!

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Written by johnwhays

November 15, 2019 at 7:00 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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Not Sick

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Cyndie figured out that the behavior we are seeing in our Wyandotte –well, unfortunately, now two Wyandottes– is a case of them going “broody.” They want to hatch eggs. From what we have learned, reading up on the subject, Wyandottes have a noteworthy tendency for becoming broody.

The vision of that first hen splayed out in the nest box, when I initially spotted her there, looked completely different than normal. She seemed like a big water balloon, the way she spread out. Knowing now that she was trying to incubate eggs, it makes perfect sense.

Looks like we will have our work cut out for us to break the hens of the broody behavior. That mothering instinct kicks in and changes their hormones. Since there are no fertilized eggs to be hatched, there is the possibility that broodiness will continue beyond the average 21 days, given no reward of chicks.

Prior to kicking into gear with some of the more involved re-training suggestions, Cyndie has tried simply removing the hens from the nest boxes and putting them out with the others. Our second brooder grumpily sat right down on the ground and refused to join in the frivolity of a mealworm snack.

Her loss.

Discovering that they aren’t sick has been a relief, but there are still reasons for concern. We certainly enjoy getting eggs from our hens, but if one stops laying for a time, it’s not a serious problem. However, if the broody hen doesn’t get back to her normal self, it can be hard on her health over time.

Of even more concern to me is that going broody can get to be contagious, certainly supported by our recent evidence of the second Wyandotte taking to similar behavior in another nest box.

We’ll be intensifying our efforts to interfere with their brooding instincts until we can get things back to usual.

Just when it was feeling like we were getting the hang of this chicken rearing, another new lesson pops up to remind us how little we actually know.

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Written by johnwhays

May 10, 2019 at 6:00 am