Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘hens

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

Long Day

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When I finished fixing the winch cable on the ATV after work Monday, Cyndie helped me get the plow re-mounted so I could clean up the driveway from the morning drift adventure. It had been a long day, so I made short work of the task and headed inside to warm up.

Cyndie asked if I thought it was late enough that the chickens would be in the coop yet. That’s code for, “Will you be the one to go down and close the chickens in for the night?”

I spotted them after I’d taken just a few steps off the driveway. They weren’t inside, they were on the manure pile in the compost area.

I suppose it was warmer footing than standing in the snow. Cyndie had mucked out the stalls earlier in the afternoon and the chickens seemed to take a liking to the fresh addition on top of the snow.

After taking that picture of them, I tried to get the hens to follow me to the coop. They didn’t fall for it, I think because to get there on the shoveled pathway, required starting in the opposite direction of the coop. I got the impression their little chicken brains weren’t processing the logic.

Heck, I’ve even seen the horses, wise as we know them to be, appear to get stuck when an escape involved going away from the direction they ultimately want to achieve.

I walked to the coop without them. To waste some time while waiting for them to figure out the escape route, I started breaking trails in the deep snow around the area. Plodding down a trail that heads toward the shop garage, it occurred to me to open a path between the coop and the compost piles, for the chickens to use. One pass through the deep snow didn’t do much in the way of packing it down to make it easy for bird feet, so this didn’t offer an immediate shortcut. It did, however, bring me up behind the chickens in a way that naturally moved them off the pile in the opposite direction from the coop.

Once I had them moving, I just kept the pressure on, and created a little conga line going down the path toward their nighttime shelter, with me leading from the rear. It was pretty cute, if I do say so myself.

They marched right up the modified ramp (post-possum-crashing incident) and I was able to slide the door shut behind them. Chickens were ready to roost.

It was an entertaining end to my surprisingly long day.

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Written by johnwhays

February 27, 2019 at 7:00 am

Exceptional Effort

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Last week I wrote about one of our Buff Orpington hens who we suspect scrapped with the possum that had gotten into the coop, and has been behaving oddly ever since. It is not clear whether it is a result of exclusion by the rest of the brood, or an act of her own choosing, but she has become a loner from the rest of the bunch.

In the coop, she has taken to staying in one of the nesting boxes, day and night. There is no obvious sign that she is being picked on (pecked on?) by the others, but she repeatedly sets herself apart.

For the most part, the chickens have remained in the coop for over a week while the winter has raged, first with an epic Arctic chill and then subsequent days upon days of snow. More than once, we have opened the chicken door when the harshest temperatures eased.

They’ve showed little interest in dealing with the snow, …or so we thought.

Yesterday, Cyndie came upon a most unusual trail of animal tracks in the deep snow. She worried that it was evidence of a fox stalking our chickens. She checked the coop and counted hens. There was one missing, but there were no obvious tracks, even though the door was open.

On her way back to the barn, she spotted it.

That loner Buff Orpington was sitting by the paddock fence, almost as if stuck in the snow.

The weird trail was the path that hen had traversed through the deep powder snow. She must have almost been swimming to make forward progress. It had to have taken a monumental effort to get as far as she did. I suspect she stopped out of exhaustion.

Cyndie couldn’t get to the hen without first getting a shovel to make her way through the knee-deep snow. She picked up the loner and held her close to warm her.

It’s hard to imagine what drove that Buff to attempt crossing the deep snow toward the barn overhang, other than this ominous behavior of isolating herself from the rest of the brood.

Cyndie put her back in the coop, setting her up on the roost in hopes of re-training her to not spend the nights in a nest box.

That didn’t last, as, by evening, the Buff was back in a box again.

A bit of research turned up a variety of possible internal maladies that may be the cause of her isolation. We are going to let time dictate an outcome, while doing whatever we can to keep the poor girl comfortable.

None of them are laying eggs of late, due to the shortened hours of winter daylight, so it’s difficult to pinpoint egg related issues, if that is what’s ailing her.

Meanwhile, the last visit of the night last night turned up new tracks in the snow that, this time, looked suspiciously fox-like. It is no surprise that the deep snow cover we now have has challenged predators to seek easier prey.

There is plenty of drama to be interpreted in the fascinating markings vividly appearing in all this new snow blanketing our fields and forest. We would prefer that it not involve the taking of any of our animals, but nature will take its course.

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Written by johnwhays

February 14, 2019 at 7:00 am

No Mercy

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Graphic Content Warning of Life and Death on a Farm…

It was a gloomy and foggy morning. I offered to build a fire in the fireplace while Cyndie went out to do morning chores, tending to our animals. When I stepped out on the slippery deck in my house slippers to gather kindling, I picked up the unnerving sobs of pain and sorrow wafting within the soup of grayness that covered our land.

I called out to the fog, not having any idea which way the sound was coming from.

“Cyndie?!”

No reply.

I moved around on the deck, trying to get a sense of which direction her cries were coming from. It changed from right to left. I called again and again, but she didn’t reply. I grew angry because I wanted to know if she was injured and what I needed to do in response, standing now on the icy driveway in my slippers.

She was walking upright, and carrying something, so I guessed she was alright. The most likely problem was a dead chicken.

Finally, I demanded a response and she angrily growled that she had killed a possum that had gotten in the chicken coop and killed one of our Australorps.

How did it get in? Cyndie didn’t know. There was no indication of disruption around any of the doorways or windows.

The logical deduction: the critter had already snuck inside when the chicken door was closed last night.

Never underestimate the wrath of a mother reacting to harm of her precious brood. With lethal vengeance, Cyndie unleashed her grievance with a shovel, destroying my custom ramp in the process.

She admitted that any neighbors outside at the time probably heard an earful of expletives howled along with swings of the shovel.

There are now eight surviving hens and they seem very happy to be out of the coop, soaking up the above-freezing temperatures that are the source of all this fog.

The temperature climbed 75 degrees from Thursday morning’s -36°F to yesterday afternoon’s +39°F. Our thermometer reveals it didn’t drop back down below freezing overnight here, so the melting and thawing is in full swing.

The horses seem pretty pleased with the change, too. Free of their blankets, they were romping all over the paddock yesterday, running and kicking with gleeful energy.

This morning, Cyndie and I aren’t really feeling as much glee.

We are left wondering if recent events mean we will need to institute a full nook & cranny search of the coop every night from now on when we close the chicken access door at dusk.

I guess it beats the alternative we faced this morning.

 

Written by johnwhays

February 3, 2019 at 10:59 am

Mist, Continued

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I don’t have anything particularly dramatic to add to yesterday’s narration, but a couple humorous tidbits that Cyndie shared last night continue the themes.

I carefully (slowly) made my way to the interstate in the morning and didn’t have any problems driving the rest of the way. I texted Cyndie when I got to work, letting her know travel was possible, as she needed to drive through the cities, as well.

In the afternoon, she was miles ahead of me on the way home, and she sounded the alert that road conditions of the last few miles were still bad. She couldn’t even make it up the driveway. Her car just slid sideways on the slope by the shop garage.

She parked by the barn and precariously made her way up to the house to get driveway salt to scatter.

My car rolled right up that slope without slipping. I’m just sayin’.

I’m ready for a change of weather. Unfortunately, the forecast is all about a polar vortex of Arctic cold headed our way next. Snow seems to be a slim probability.

Later in the evening, after Cyndie returned from closing the coop, she had this to report: As usual, there was a hen squeezed onto the 2×4 over the side window, but this time, it was one of the Australorps. That top perch is usually claimed by one of the Wyandottes.

Cyndie said there was a lone Wyandotte on the near roost gesticulating obvious dissatisfaction with the arrangement.

It’s not just the horses who are wrangling over who’s highest in the pecking order around here.

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Year Ends

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Today is the last day of 2018. What do you make of that? I think it’s just another Monday, strikingly similar to all the others, no matter where they fall in a year.

Our animals don’t seem to notice any particular significance to the date. The passage of time is doing our balding Wyandotte hen a bit of good. New feathers are slowly growing in.

They have all handled the day of rain and following freeze well enough, mostly by spending the majority of the ensuing days beneath the overhang with the horses. For their part, the horses show signs of understanding the precariousness of the icy slope, but it hasn’t kept them from braving the danger to walk down to the waterer, even though we put a tub to drink from by the barn to save them the trip.

I noticed several marks of slipping hooves which was rather unsettling, but they are choosing to make the trek of their own free will. I trust their horse sense in this instance, partly because the last time we tried to outsmart them, it didn’t go so well.

Walking Delilah around the perimeter trails has become a treacherous exercise of trying to walk like a penguin over very unpredictable surfaces. She hasn’t been slowed much by the conditions, so there is an added challenge of being pulled along by her, faster than little steps accommodate.

When she stopped to give a prolonged inspection to something that caught the attention of her nose, I spotted this single stalk of some plant that was dropping seeds on the snow. It looks like such a delicate process playing out, despite the harsh elements nature has been delivering lately.

It’s just another Monday, and life goes on.

I don’t know if it is something of a placebo effect, but since we are now over a week beyond the shortest day of the winter solstice, I got the impression it was already lighter outside during our late afternoon walk.

Or, it could just be the dawning of a new year.

Farewell to 2018 and greetings to 2019! It’s all just a series of individual moments. May we benefit by paying attention to them all.

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