Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘raising backyard chickens

Self Taught

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The Buffalo gals taught themselves to climb their ramp into the coop at dusk! I had just arrived upon the scene as Cyndie was working to find a hole in the netting that would explain how one of the Rockettes ended up hanging out against the outside of the courtyard fencing. I did a quick head-count of both sets of chicks and walked around to where Cyndie was working.

The next time I looked in on the Buffalo gals, they were gone. All 12 had headed inside by their own volition.

That left the Rockettes to be tested with our new idea of herding them to their ramp to see if they would take the hint to climb up on their own. Very quickly half of them did take that hint, but the rest were a harder sell.

They seemed much more interested in cowering underneath their ramp and unleashing a cacophony of chirping. A modicum of hands-on support helped convey the intent and soon all birds were cooped for the night.

I think they will catch on to the ultimate routine soon, but further lessons will be delayed until after the weekend. Our trusty animal sitter is on duty starting today as we are off to the lake for a few days again. My birthday buddy, Paul, and his wife, Beth, are joining us up at Wildwood. There’ll be some biking happening, as I need to put on some miles in preparation for day-long riding beginning in a week on the 2021 Tour of Minnesota.

I wonder where I stashed my tent two years ago after the last Tour.

That ability I have to forget stuff… self-taught, I’m pretty sure.

I can’t really remember.

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Written by johnwhays

June 11, 2021 at 6:00 am

Chicken Thoughts

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It was a good question. What are we going to do differently to protect our new chickens this time? When I heard myself answering, I realized how little in-depth thought I have actually given the subject.

Are we doing them justice by raising them amid the same risk of predation that decimated all our flocks before? I’m not sure.

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Cyndie has dubbed them the Buffalo Gals and the Rocketts in reference to their origins.

My primary reason for wanting our chickens to free-range is for the service they provide in controlling bugs. I’ve also discovered how much fun they are as companions and that they convert the things they find to eat into amazing eggs.

I’m not against considering ways we might dissuade such frequent attacks on our flock as we recently experienced. I will put renewed effort into staging my trail cam in locations where I might capture evidence of visiting predators to give better confirmation of what we are dealing with.

It feels a little like our efforts to constrain water runoff and control erosion or prevent excessive sediment where we don’t want it.

Nature does what it does. Our best successes will come from finding constructive adaptations instead of entirely stopping things we don’t desire from happening.

Imagine the predation phenomena from the perspective of the flies and ticks that try to survive on our land. They are under constant assault from chickens.

Our chickens face threats from their natural predators. We’ve decided to not confine them to fenced quarters that would make it harder for the fox or coyotes to kill them.

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Today, we hope to clean up the coop and try making some modifications to accommodate housing more birds than ever before. The Buffalo Gals will be moving to the coop soon. That will allow us to get the Rockets out of the basement bathroom and into the larger brooder tub in the barn.

We will give our chickens the best life possible for their time with us. Past demonstrations have shown their natural instincts help them control their own destiny up to a point. Their life here will not be risk-free.

For the time being, I guess we are demonstrating we are choosing to accept that.

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Lucky Thirteen

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┬áThe final tally from the hatch is thirteen chicks. It’s too early for us to discern the percentage of genders among them, but breeds appear to be spread across all the hens we had, which is very rewarding since the eggs selected were random and of unknown origin.

Just one black chick, which we believe to be from the Domestique. The others with coloring align with Barnevelders and the ones with feathery feet are easily pegged for Light Brahmas. There may be some New Hampshire or Wyandotte, too. In the image above, two chicks were messing around away from the group.

Combined with the twelve chicks Cyndie purchased, we are looking at housing twenty-five chickens in the coop in the weeks ahead. I’m going to need to add one more branch for roosting.

After the prolonged exposure to peeping chicks the last two days, I found my sleep disrupted in the middle of the night Tuesday by the frighteningly similar, though uncharacteristically loud, peeping of a frog or frogs outside our open bedroom window. From the edge of consciousness, I was forced to try to figure out why I was hearing the chicks for some strange reason.

Scary echoes of what it was like to be a new parent and have sleep interrupted by any sound that could mean a threat to a newborn.

I take some consolation in the fact these chicks take more naps than our kids ever did.

At the same time, I find myself wrestling with a concern that we are simply raising coyote food. I prefer not framing them as such, but part of me remains acutely aware that we have done nothing to eliminate that ongoing threat.

Could a poultry protection dog that doesn’t have any taste for eating chicken, nor an urge to play “chase” with them, be a possible option for us? It’s hard to say.

I know by now to never rule anything out.

There was a day when I couldn’t envision how we would ever accomplish having chickens to help control flies when we had no experience and no coop in which to house them.

Now we have twenty-five and a coop I built from scratch. What an amazing adventure it is that we are living.

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Written by johnwhays

May 20, 2021 at 6:00 am

Too Late

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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.

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Written by johnwhays

February 3, 2021 at 7:00 am

Another Stray

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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.

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Written by johnwhays

January 31, 2021 at 11:11 am

Big Boy

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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.

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Written by johnwhays

December 10, 2020 at 7:00 am

Mornin’ Chickens!

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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!

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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!

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Written by johnwhays

December 5, 2020 at 10:45 am

Clear Evidence

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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.

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Written by johnwhays

November 10, 2020 at 7:00 am

Here Goes

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‘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.

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Written by johnwhays

November 7, 2020 at 10:15 am

Sick Chicken

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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.

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Written by johnwhays

November 6, 2020 at 7:00 am