Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘raising chickens

Luck Ends

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Our surprising run of luck with keeping our latest eight free-range chickens in the wilds of rural Wisconsin farm country ended yesterday in a very similar fashion to our first attempt a couple of years earlier. In the waning hours of daylight, when Cyndie went out to close the chicken door on the coop, there were only three hens on the roost.

A cursory survey of the surroundings turned up one body and one pile of feathers. No other clues were found.

Some predator or predators had a good meal last night. It, or they, made off with four gorgeous hens.

It was a real joy while it lasted. Unfortunately, it is not joyous at all when lives come to an end. The cycles of natural life can be harsh.

The unwelcome drama made for a pretty crummy end to an otherwise rainy, gloomy day.

And then there were three…

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Written by johnwhays

April 29, 2020 at 6:00 am

Coop Life

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The eight hens that have successfully braved all challenges in the last year are keeping us entertained and well stocked with eggs.

We are currently considering an enhancement in the form of an automated chicken access door so we don’t need to be home to open and close the door at dawn and dusk every day. It will probably become the most expensive feature on the coop since I built the bulk of it out of found materials, but it will increase our freedom to be away from home without a lot of preplanning.

That will give the hens even more autonomy in their shelter.

We’ve noticed lately that they have started to decorate the inside of the coop with some greenery.

Okay, so they aren’t doing it intentionally. It just feels good to imagine them bringing life to their home with the addition of live plants.

The color is a nice compliment to the maroon curtains hanging in front of their nest boxes.

The coop is becoming a real home sweet home.

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Written by johnwhays

May 29, 2019 at 6:00 am

Cooling Off

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Despite the wise recommendations toward supporting our broody hens in following their natural instincts, we have chosen to proceed with the process of reorienting them. We want them back with the flock, scouring our acres to control pesky flies and ticks, and providing unequaled eggs as an added benefit.

It’s what these girls were raised to do.

Based on all those images of “Broody Breakers” I viewed on Friday, and seeing the costs for a new crate to do the job, I figured we had enough raw material lying around to make one ourselves. I’ve still got leftover scrap lumber from when we took apart scores of pallets to build the chicken coop.

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First, I built a frame for legs, then we folded up some fencing that we reclaimed from around the willow tree in the paddock, where it had been protecting the bark from gnawing horses.

As I understand it, the goal is to bring the hen’s body temperature back to normal, which will swing their hormones out of the broody drive and get them back to their old selves. The open bottom and sides allow maximum air to flow, which is purported to do the trick after about two days of caged confinement.

They only got a short visit yesterday, before we had to return them to the coop for the night, but it went reasonably well, for a couple of hens who wanted nothing but to return to the nest box each had claimed, whether it had eggs, or not.

This morning, they seemed noticeably more accepting of their temporary confines. They had more interest in the food today, which is something they tend to forego when in the brood.

It will be very satisfying when we are finally able to put them out with the rest of the hens and not have them immediately bolt for the coop. Every time they try to return, it will cost them another day in the broody breaker.

It seems like a sad way to treat hens that are behaving maternally on Mother’s Day, but at the same time, it is Cyndie’s maternal instinct that has us working to cool them off.

Here’s to the mother of my children, and to all mothers today, for the love you shower upon your children (and pets), and for also sharing that love with the rest of the world!

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Written by johnwhays

May 12, 2019 at 8:47 am

Egg Failure

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Someone in our chicken family isn’t feeling like her old self lately. We weren’t completely certain which one, so all of them will receive the benefit of some supplements in their diet.

There were some hints in the last couple of weeks when, twice, we found an egg with an incomplete shell in the nest boxes. At first, I wasn’t sure whether one of the hens had pecked the egg, or just laid one with an incomplete shell. Later, we found an egg that was complete, but it had a flat side.

It struck me that the egg that looked pecked was lacking the classic egg symmetry, too. That was enough to establish a trend. Unfortunately, it got worse before it got better.

Yesterday, Cyndie found that an egg failure didn’t even make it to the nest box. The poop board under the roost held evidence of an egg-saster.

Didn’t take long after that for Cyndie to make her way to Fleet Farm for an oyster shell calcium supplement. Will it be enough?

Last night, when Cyndie closed the chicken door on the coop, she found a wyandotte had chosen a nest box, instead of the roost. She had seen a wyandotte in the nest box other times this week, without getting an egg. We think this is the hen having a problem. She was making some unusual sounds.

We’ll keep an eye on her, as much as possible. Generally, we are inclined to let nature take its course, which ended well enough for our buff orpington earlier in the year. Hopefully, the extra calcium will prove helpful, and the wyandotte will ultimately have a good outcome, as well.

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Written by johnwhays

May 1, 2019 at 6:00 am

Daytime Sighting

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Our dog, Delilah, has so many episodes of freaking out over something she sees or hears through our doors and windows that we have grown numb to her outbursts. It is rare that I bother looking anymore to see what squirrel/rabbit/bird is triggering her tizzy.

Of course, there was the time last summer when we finally checked and discovered she was barking about that group of 10 cows that had found their way up near our bedroom window. Her reaction that time was totally justified.

Last night, we were up in the loft when she revved up over something she spotted in the back yard through the French doors. Since I had a similar view without needing to get up, I turned to check it out.

There was a raccoon sauntering across our yard in broad daylight, unfortunately, directly toward the chicken coop. I rushed down to track its path and was able to see it climb up a large tree and disappear, high up inside the main trunk. Just a short distance further ahead, the chickens were calmly combing the deep leaves on the ground among the trees.

Our chicken coop, when buttoned up for the night, is well secured against raccoon intrusion. Regular readers may recall we got duped by a possum that snuck inside during the day and killed one of our hens over night after we shut the door at sunset.

Now we check all the nooks when we count the chickens and close the door for the night. The usual evening report used to simply list the number of hens secured, but now it always includes the affirmation of the coop being predator-free, as well.

Unfortunately, since we have chosen to free-range our chickens, they are easy prey during daylight hours. One reason a raccoon will be out during the daytime (other than maybe being sick with rabies or dysentery) is because of hunger. That is not a good omen in such close proximity to where our chickens hang out.

I tossed a treat of dried mealworms in the pan of feed yesterday afternoon.

It was a BIG hit. They came after me looking for more:

We collected seven new home-laid eggs yesterday.

At least the hens are putting those worms to good use.

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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