Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘raising backyard chickens

Too Late

leave a comment »

By the time I got home from work to check for eggs yesterday, I was too late to do anything for this perfect specimen:

Warm when it was laid, the egg melted its way down into the ice on the path between the coop and the barn. After it cooled, it became locked in the resulting ice that surrounded it.

One of the hens just isn’t getting the hang of this egg-laying thing. At least, we hope it’s just one. This is the fourth egg laid out in the middle of nowhere. Somebody isn’t yet reading the signals in her body that trigger the others to head back to the coop for the nest boxes.

Meanwhile, two others did make use of the nest boxes and it appears we may have another one of those 1-in-a-thousand double-yolk eggs based on the size of one of those eggs.

Never a dull moment in the early egg-laying phase of raising chickens, especially when it happens to coincide with the harsher months of winter.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

February 3, 2021 at 7:00 am

Another Stray

leave a comment »

We received a little more than a dusting of snow overnight, but not quite an inch. It’s annoying, actually, in a region where it’s not certain whether the paltry amount will melt or add to possible future accumulations. Does it deserve the effort of plowing? Should I clear the valley on the roof where ice dams often result?

There are more times than I like to admit when I have wished I had cleaned up a previous snow event that I originally chose to ignore.

Cyndie was pondering sweeping the fresh snow cover away near the barn for the benefit of our royal residents, the chickens. Heaven forbid they be forced to deal with the elements like feral chickens.

Based on their initial egg-laying performances, they are behaving more like wild birds than the domesticated coop-homed free-rangers they are. We are witnessing the successful initial use of the nest boxes in the coop at a rate of about 70%. The other times, eggs appear to show up in any and all locations where the brood happens to find themselves.

There was a single frozen egg discovered this morning next to the wall of the barn. Oops.

It’s hard to tell right now exactly which birds are laying among the thirteen. Based on the number of eggs in a day, likely 4 or maybe 5 are starting to produce. We are starting to get a routine of three eggs a day.

It’s a good thing our primary focus is not on gaining eggs, but on having happy, healthy chickens roaming our grounds. Eggs are just a wonderful added benefit that we try not to neglect.

.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

January 31, 2021 at 11:11 am

Big Boy

with 3 comments

During the recovery phase after Cyndie’s knee surgery, we’ve enlisted the assistance of our animal sitter to help with outdoor chores on the days when I am at work. Yesterday, she reported to Cyndie that we should check on the Buff Orpington hen because it looked like maybe she’s getting pecked, most likely by Rocky.

This didn’t startle me at all. I’d already witnessed those two square off and challenge each other’s perception of dominance. First, the Buff fluffed up all her feathers to look twice as big and stood up tall. Then Rocky did the same exact thing to pretty much equal her size. Since that didn’t decide anything, they took turns jumping on each other’s back.

There was a little pecking exchanged by each, and after a very short time, it appeared that both agreed to call it a draw. Calm was restored very similar to the way our horses would immediately return to grazing seconds after a spat.

The possibility that Rocky was starting to gain an advantage over time was not unexpected.

He’s grown into a very big boy. How would you like to be prowling the territory and suddenly find yourself face to face with this menacing looking guy?

In the afternoon yesterday, Cyndie ventured outside using a walking stick to look in on the chickens while I walked Delilah. She couldn’t find the Buff. By the time I returned to see what I could find, the Buff was standing right in the middle of all of the chickens. In fact, I wondered if Cyndie had mixed up the adult hens somehow because I couldn’t find the Wyandotte anywhere.

When I closed in on the chickens, I found just what Anna was talking about. The Buff looked like she had been mugged!

But, I have seen this look before. She is molting.

A short time later, the Wyandotte appeared. All 14 chickens accounted for, safe, and sound.

Hopefully, Rocky will see no need to challenge the Buff for however many weeks it is going to take for her to get her new feathers in. According to what we’ve read about molting, the new feathers are highly sensitive and touching them can be very painful.

I would expect a true protector to know how to respect her situation for the time being.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

December 10, 2020 at 7:00 am

Mornin’ Chickens!

with 2 comments

For a few days now I will be the chief chore person while Cyndie convalesces after a minor surgical fix removing problematic bone growth behind her artificial knee. It was beginning to impinge a nerve and tendon and creating unwelcome disturbances in her force.

She regularly comes in after morning chores and shares stories about the adventure, so I decided I would record the opening of the chicken door so she could see what she missed today. As a result, you get to enjoy the splendor, too!

.

.

I wasn’t counting them as they poured out, but I had a sense someone was lagging.

The result was perfect.

Take a moment to share in the morning chicken coop routine we get to see every day!

.

.

Written by johnwhays

December 5, 2020 at 10:45 am

Clear Evidence

leave a comment »

As autumn dries out the growth across our landscape, all sorts of sights that were once buried in greenery are becoming revealed.

It is clear that our Wyandotte didn’t entirely kick her habit of finding places other than the nest boxes for laying her eggs this year.

Cyndie found these after several obviously old eggs began to appear in unlikely open spaces in the nearby vicinity. It seems as though some critters of the night had discovered the stash and were working on moving them to hiding places of their own choosing.

It’s a good thing we aren’t trying to subsist exclusively on the production of our layers. As always, I like having the chickens for their ability to control flies and ticks. Free-range eggs are a byproduct. Indeed, a precious bonus, but not a requirement we demand of them.

Still, it’s sad to find the bounty we’ve been missing out on that has gone to waste.

Silly chicken.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

November 10, 2020 at 7:00 am

Here Goes

leave a comment »

‘Tis the season. The aromas and the flavors of November have arrived inside our house. My ongoing challenge to control gastronomic excess for the good of my hemoglobin A1c and my waistline love-handles intensifies significantly as my childhood favorites show up in amazing succession.

Chex mix and pecan pie appeared this week to start the month with intensity.

I’ve noticed these hold a much greater draw for my cravings than all the scones and hand-pies Cyndie has been baking for the Berry Farm lately. As delicious a treat as those are, I wasn’t exposed to them growing up. That seems to be the key difference in the intensity of the attraction.

Oh, those childhood flavor memories.

Mmm mm good.

Yesterday, at sunset, I was tasked with tending the chickens into the coop because Cyndie wasn’t going to be home from errands until after dark. That’s not usually a big deal, except this time we have the ailing Australorp who had vanished on me.

Earlier in the afternoon, when I looked in on the brood, I found all the young ones romping in the vicinity of the barn. As I cooed at them and chirped my falsetto chicken-dad love-speak, I heard chicken feet running through the leaves in our woods. It was two of the adult hens coming to make sure they weren’t missing out on treats.

Only two hens.

Where was the Australorp? I searched and searched but found no sight of her. Uh oh.

Of course, I assumed the worst. When she didn’t return to the coop at sunset with all the others, I called Cyndie, in case she would know any other places to look. After begrudgingly closing up the coop for the night, I headed up toward the house. Since this was the direction the two hens had come running from earlier, I decided to detour behind the shop garage for one last look.

In the low light of dusk, the black silhouette of our Australorp stood out distinctly against the lighter background or our neighbor’s harvested soybean field. She was standing out in the open all by herself, poor little thing.

I have no idea if she didn’t return because she couldn’t or because she didn’t want to, but she obviously still isn’t well.

She didn’t warm up to my approach, but she didn’t run away, either. As I slowly talked my way closer and closer, she moved enough that I thought maybe I could walk with her back to our land. She got a few feet into the woods before I decided to just pick her up and carry her.

We’ve given her electrolytes with the hydration but didn’t have any antibiotics. Cyndie is heading to the feed store this morning to see what she can find there. We would like to offer our precious hens whatever support we can.

This morning, Cyndie pointed out the fact that this was the bird that survived an encounter with a fox a few months ago. We don’t know what internal injuries she may have dealt with at the time that might compromise her ultimate longevity.

My inclination this morning is that I might take some Chex mix down to share. She won’t have childhood memories of it, but still, it tastes like an elixir of love and life.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

November 7, 2020 at 10:15 am

Sick Chicken

with 8 comments

We’ve got a sick bird. One of the adult hens, our Australorp. She was losing feathers and then slowly started to lag behind the others in every way. Eventually, we noticed the color was gone from her comb and wattle. Cyndie decided to isolate the hen and made a space in one of the stalls in the barn.

She turned on the heat lamp for the poor girl since there were no other hens around her for warmth.

Since we are enjoying a period of summery warm high temperatures during the daytime this week, Cyndie has been moving the hen outside during the day, either in the brooder or our broody breaker cage, keeping the hen isolated in hopes of protecting the others in case the ailment is contagious.

The primary treatment has been hydration, which the hen has been eager to receive. After a couple of days, the color of her wattle and comb started to improve. Yesterday, the hen appeared to be regaining some appetite. We are hopeful that whatever was ailing her will resolve itself without requiring any additional interventions.

During my commute home from work yesterday afternoon, Cyndie and I were chatting on the phone. She was outside with the chickens at the time and decided to let the Australorp free-range and mingle again. Cyndie offered the birds some treats out of the palm of her hand. She reported the Australorp had wandered off by herself to scratch in the dirt a short distance away.

While we were talking and Cyndie was providing a narration of the antics playing out, she excitedly described an apparent “emergency response drill” that suddenly occurred.

She had been feeding treats with all the chickens around, creating an understandable competition for best access. One of them made a sound and in a blink, the birds all vanished into the trees. Cyndie didn’t notice anything that might have triggered the need to hide.

Then Rocky came out to take advantage of unfettered access to the treats she had been offering.

Cyndie reported it gave the distinct impression the cockerel had triggered the call for everyone to take cover so he could eliminate the competition and have a moment to himself at the treat trough. If that was truly the case, he has my admiration.

Last night, when Cyndie went out to secure the chicken coop for the evening, the Australorp was waiting on the driveway. Guess she wasn’t ready to rejoin the others yet. Cyndie took her back to the barn for another night.

Seems we might need to put some effort into merging her back into the flock when the time is right.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

November 6, 2020 at 7:00 am

Divider Removed

leave a comment »

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.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

October 19, 2020 at 6:00 am

Partial Freedom

with 2 comments

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.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

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.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

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.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

October 10, 2020 at 9:42 am

Looking Ahead

with 2 comments

We have decided to try releasing the eleven pullets and Rocky to free-range our property tomorrow morning. Our plan will be to let them out of the coop before we release the three hens. Then we’ll open the fence around the courtyard that has been their run since we moved them from the brooder two months ago.

After they all figure out their freedom, we will open the back hatch to then let the hens out. We kinda hope the hens will take their usual immediate jaunt to the barn overhang to get fresh food and water and wait to investigate the roaming young ones later. I’m not counting on it, though.

Based on previous experience, I expect the pullets will be so thrilled over access to green grass blades again, they won’t wander far in the early minutes of their newly-granted freedom.

You can see in the accompanying image that they do quite a number on anything growing inside the confines of their fenced area. That was all luscious green grass when we put up the fence two months earlier.

Now it’s a vast wasteland. There isn’t a crawling critter that would dare enter that space.

On Monday, I watched one of the barnevelders try to chase down an Asian beetle that showed up inside the fence. Merciless.

The beetles become overwhelming pests this time of year after the soybean fields get cut. They are incredibly successful at breaching any and all seams around our doors and windows intended to keep bugs out. We can’t vacuum them up fast enough. I wish the geniuses who devised using these insects to control aphids would have also figured out something to occupy the spotted orang half-rounds after the crops are harvested.

I saw or heard at some point that in this phase of the beetle’s life they are on a quest to find water. Nothing is frozen solid yet, so why do they instantly all want to get into the house? We’ve got a perfectly good landscape pond beside the deck. Drink from there. Geez.

Maybe the chickens lose interest after tasting just one beetle and that’s why so many survive to reach our dwelling. Otherwise, I expect our feathered pest controlling omnivores would neutralize the threat of beetles as well as they do all the flies and ticks in the vicinity.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

October 8, 2020 at 6:00 am