Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘raising chickens

Hardy Hens

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Temperatures outside have been a rollercoaster of up and down lately. There have been a few passing snow flurries to coat the residual ice we are stuck with in the paddocks, but New Year’s Day yesterday was seriously cold and dry.

Our hens seem to be dealing with it all perfectly well. They are troopers now about traversing the snow-covered ground between their coop and the barn.

It seems they have some extra motivation lately to make the trip. The chickens have taken a particular liking to the hay boxes. It looks like they were having a little party in the sun yesterday afternoon.

With the length of daylight gaining seconds every day, the hens are going a long way to mastering survival in the battle against the elements. It should just get easier from here, right?

The success in avoiding predation for these nine, reveals some wily cunning on their part, which I think goes along with some natural luck they’ve enjoyed that has helped to keep them from harm thus far.

The birds are living up to the billing that these breeds are winter hardy.

Before long, the added daylight will have them laying more eggs again, too, so, we have that to look forward to, as well.

They sure bring us a lot of love every day. Here’s hoping they keep doing this well for all of 2019 and beyond!

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Written by johnwhays

January 2, 2019 at 7:00 am

Embracing Uncertainty

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Noticeable change happens again. The industrial influence on our morphing climate notwithstanding, change is always ongoing. It is a matter of degree and a relative measurement.

At one point, geologists thought continents drifted. Now it is recognized that tectonic plates are in a constant state of interaction. Astronomers figure the days are numbered for our sun, putting the beginning of the end somewhere in the range of only a few billion years.

Some people once thought the earth was flat, even though it wasn’t. I expect there are people who may have thought Saturn would always have rings around it, or at least, for the foreseeable future.

Two headlines in my Science news feed caught my attention yesterday and triggered this thought exercise about our perceptions of a dynamic universe from a static frame of mind.

New research is confirming the theory that Saturn’s iconic rings are temporary. The particles are “raining” down onto the planet, pulled by gravity. Saturn could become ringless within 300 million years, or sooner!

Meanwhile, scientists have discovered a new, and most distant object in our solar system. Who ever thought we actually knew how many planets there were?

Guess where this line from yesterday’s list poem came from?:

• Take care about ever being too certain.

Closer to home, Cyndie and I are trying to figure out how both of us lost consciousness around a simple act of returning a bucket to the house from the barn. On Sunday, we took a few minutes out to catch a couple of the Buff Orpingtons and clean their butt feathers. I hold the hens while Cyndie wields a variety of tools and tricks to reclaim feathers from a stinky mess.

After that, we tended to horse chores and then headed back to the house. Cyndie asked me to carry up a bucket of things, and one or the other of us (we are no longer sure who) had Delilah on a leash.

Two days later, in what seemed another world away, Cyndie asked me what I did with that bucket and the stuff that was in it. This many days removed, my first thought was, “What bucket?” I honestly had zero recollection of what she was referring to.

What had I done?

Slowly, I began to recall carrying the bucket up. It seemed to me that I was at dual purposes, and set the bucket down —on the front steps?— to do something other than going into the house. I suspected it was continuing to walk Delilah, but now we can’t be sure who had the dog.

Why would she have asked me to carry the bucket, other than because she was taking the dog for the extra walk?

Since I regained memory of having carried the bucket and its undefined contents up to the house, I figured I must have set it somewhere simple. Tuesday night, I looked in the garage, but didn’t see it in the most likely spot to temporarily set something.

As I stepped to the door back inside, the bucket came into view. It was empty and someone other than me (who could that be?) had placed it beside the indoor steps to the house.

Cyndie has no memory of having done so, thus her headlamp and face mask that she thinks were in the bucket remain mysteriously lost.

What is it with us and losing headlamps lately?

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Well, Hello

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Here’s the thing, I was home alone last night, tending to chores while Cyndie was out. I had finished feeding and cleaning up after the horses, and walked Delilah, but the chickens weren’t quite ready to turn in for the night. It was another beautiful evening, so I suppose they were taking full advantage of it.

After killing a few minutes back in the house with dog and cat, I noticed it was probably dark enough to go close the chicken door. It is such a brief trip, I chose to leave Delilah inside, but did tuck my headlamp in a pocket, just in case it was too dark inside the coop to easily do a head count.

It wasn’t too dark, and I could see that the one Wyandotte that chose to perch against the wall above the window (well above all the others on the roost) just so happened to be the hen missing head feathers. A possible clue that something is setting her apart from the others. Whether it’s her choice or theirs, we don’t yet know.

Anyway, this is beside the point. I didn’t need the headlamp. Well, not until later. After dinner, I wanted to work on one of my creative projects, and noticed my headlamp wasn’t in the drawer where I keep it.

Who took my headlamp?

Oh, yeah, that was me. I had put it in my pocket when I went out to close the coop. But then, why wasn’t it still in my pocket?

This time, I decided to let Delilah come with me. I was guessing the lamp had fallen out of my pocket on the run down to the coop. With a different flashlight in hand, we set out to backtrack my route.

While Delilah mostly obscured my view of the trail, I staggered to keep up with her while scanning the path as best I could. As we got close to the coop, it became obvious that Delilah wasn’t just in her normal rush, she was frantically straining against the leash to get at something.

When I looked up to see what she was after, two little red dots were reflecting the beam of my flashlight right back at me.

Delilah was right in front of it at this point, and I suddenly had to juggle the dang flashlight and her leash to reel her back toward me. The critter just sat, staring. It looked to be about cat-sized, but it seemed odd to me that it hadn’t executed a mad dash in the face of Delilah’s rather threatening level of interest.

Despite our canine’s freaky level of urgency to be granted access, I successfully clipped the locked leash to a tree so that I could make a solo approach for identification.

Well, hello possum.

It stared intensely at Delilah, not up toward me as I stood right in front of it, beside the front door of the chicken coop.

It likely showed up to scrounge the bounty of chicken food off the ground that the hens kick out of the pan we set out during the day.

I got all growly and menacing and the pest finally turned and skittered into the underbrush.

Shortly afterward, I located my headlamp in the snow and everyone lived happily throughout the rest of the night.

No pics of the adventures in the darkness, but this is the lovely face of our wee one who joined me when I crawled into bed at my bewitching hour:

Well, hello there Pequenita!

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Written by johnwhays

December 18, 2018 at 7:00 am

Balding Wyandotte

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I don’t really know what a normal day is for raising chickens. Pretty much just like all other normal days, I guess. There’s always something of interest readily available to the observant caretaker. I’ve noticed we aren’t getting very many eggs, now that the short days of winter are upon us.

Yesterday was extremely sunny and mild, as winter days go, and our chickens were soaking up the warmth under the barn overhang.

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Beyond the two Buff Orpingtons who seem to have a problem keeping their butts clean, the most notable anomaly we are witnessing is the balding of one Golden Laced Wyandotte. I zoomed in on a healthy looking hen on the left, below, for comparison to our featherless-headed chicken of interest on the right.

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If this is one of those teenage phases where she is trying a different hair style from the rest of the crowd, we get it. Beyond the one photo I’ve seen of a young Cyndie with a permed afro, and my early attempts to get my hair to grow long and straight against its natural tendency to curl, we also parented two children through experimentations with very creative, and far from subtle, color changes.

Our Wyandotte looks like one tough bird.

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In all seriousness, we don’t believe she picked this style by choice, so she is under observation for clues as to what is occurring with her.

There haven’t been any signs of targeted aggression from the rest of the group, and we haven’t noticed any other evidence of ill-health that might be contributing to the loss of head feathers, so the cause is undiagnosed at this point.

For now, we are standing by and relying on the universal cure-all of the passage of time with hope it will bring a return of normalcy for her.

It would be nice if it could happen soon. Winter officially arrives on Friday, and those feathers will come in handy when the next inevitable cold snap arrives for a visit.

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Written by johnwhays

December 16, 2018 at 9:36 am

Lone Straggler

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Apparently, a pattern is developing with one of our Buff Orpingtons, that she lags behind the group when it comes time to return to the coop for the night. Cyndie describes a funny scene that happened the other night when she was feeding and cleaning up after the horses.

The chickens tend to congregate under the overhang at times, but we don’t want them in the barn, so it becomes an added hassle to navigate the door while going in and out during chores when they are present. Cyndie had shooshed them out, but one Buff stayed after the others wandered off toward the coop.

After the sun had disappeared below the horizon, that Buff showed signs of wanting to return to the coop, but acted rather timid about trekking through the snow to get there. She would get only so far and turn and run back to the preferred confines with the horses under the overhang… several times.

Cyndie finally made the trip herself, and had to coax the hen to follow her the whole way.

Silly bird.

Last night, I went down to shut the chicken door for the evening, and when I got there in the dim light of dusk, it was all quiet, but for occasional sleepy cooing from inside. I spent an extra minute or two clearing the track for the door so it would slide all the way, and that was enough time to give me the feeling all was settled in there for the night.

It was a pleasantly quiet time and the fading gradient of orange glow transitioning to blue-black of night on the horizon was gorgeous. I was just about to head back to the house when my conscience urged me to truly confirm all were present and accounted for before leaving.

Thank goodness for that.

I opened the big door to peek in and counted eight bundles of feathers. Luckily, in the low light remaining, I could tell it was a Buff that was missing. Not thinking of Cyndie’s recent tale, I feared the worst. I had already lingered long enough to know she wasn’t anywhere near the coop. 

Where would I look for her body, I wondered.

I stepped away from the coop, toward the barn, and what do I find?

That lone straggler timidly trying to decide if she wanted to walk all the way back to the coop all by herself. Silly bird.

I can’t help thinking how sad it would have been for her to finally make it all the way, only to find the door sealed for the night, if I had dashed back to the house without looking inside to count them first.

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Written by johnwhays

December 8, 2018 at 9:40 am

Eventual Success

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We finally got the break in our weather that allowed us to deal with all the leaves on the front lawn yesterday. How many weeks have I been whining about this issue?

You don’t have to answer that. It was a rhetorical question.

I am well aware of how long this dilemma has been dragging on. I have been looking at it every day since the big oak tree over the driveway suddenly let go of more leaves all at once than in all the previous years that we’ve lived here.

It was a big year for acorns, so maybe the two things are related. The tree put so much energy into growing acorns that it let go of the leaves in greater volume than usual? Yeah, that’s stated as a question. I have no actual knowledge on the subject.

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We had some help on the project yesterday. The chickens were very interested in all this scratchin’ that was going on and came up to check things out. If I wasn’t working fast enough for them, they would step into the leaves and start clawing away themselves to get at the goods.

It looked to me as though they just peck at the ground after invisible nothings, but pausing to crouch down and get up close and personal with one of the Australorps, I was surprised to see it pick up a big fat green caterpillar that I had no idea was there.

I sure hope all the pecking they are doing is reducing the tick and fly population that would otherwise emerge to trouble us next spring. The current brood of nine are covering a surprising range of territory with impressive thoroughness, based on the cute little scratching circles they leave behind throughout our forest floor.

The weather finally warmed above freezing enough that the ground surface was just pliable enough to give up the leaves, but the annoying push-up tunnels of moles and voles were still solid. It made for some all-terrain raking complications.

Unfortunately, some precipitation moved in with the warmth, so after we barely finished with the front yard, it started to rain. Now the ground is frozen beneath a thin slippery wet layer to give us something else to chirp about.

Will I ever be content with the way things are? Eventually.

Beyond the surface of petty complaints I am so deft at plying, I am more content than ever. Just yesterday I was pointing out how much simple joy the chickens bring every day. I had no idea how much pleasure they would provide.

Regarding the art of reframing all my petty whining, I am visualizing eventual success.

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Written by johnwhays

November 24, 2018 at 11:01 am

Feeling Wintery

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We did not get much of a chance to ease our way into winter this month. This morning’s single-digit low temperature is the second time already in November that we have faced such surprisingly cold air. The average high and low for this area in November is 40°/25°(F).

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My favorite weather blog is predicting a brown Thanksgiving next week, so we are looking forward to a return to more normal high temperatures in the days ahead, to melt away the remnants of last week’s snowfall.

The horses have been quick to develop their thicker winter coats and appear to be adapting to the cold without difficulty. Delilah loves the snow and romps with visible excitement, frequently burying her snout in the powder and coming up with a wonderfully frosty nose.

The chickens are already over most of their apprehension about walking in the snow, so we aren’t too concerned about them. I noticed recently that the size of one roost (there are actually two) seems to best accommodate 8 hens, based on how our current brood situate themselves.

Unfortunately, we currently have 9 birds.

Last one in tends to set off a chain reaction of chickens wrangling for position, with one dropping down when a 9th barges in line. Occasionally, a Wyandotte will choose to hurdle them all and perch against the wall on a stud above the window.

Last winter, we only had three hens and they didn’t have any problem fitting. You’d think they would split up and use both roosts, but I haven’t seen that yet.

For the first time in the two years we’ve had chickens, we think we may have a sick hen. Her change in behavior started about the same time the snow arrived, so it wasn’t clear at first that there was any issue beyond not wanting to walk in the snow. Now that the other eight have returned to normal behavior, the malaise of the ninth has become more conspicuous.

She doesn’t want to leave the coop. It is hard to track her eating and drinking, so we are not sure if this is a serious illness or something minor that will resolve itself over time. We’ll start observing her with increased scrutiny to see if we learn anything more.

We have been so intent on tracking the potential predators that threaten the hens, it would be a shame to instead lose one to illness. We hope to do everything we can to prevent that from happening.

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Written by johnwhays

November 13, 2018 at 7:00 am