Snow Day Chicken Perspective

I am a sucker for my girls.  The snow confused their tender little chicken brains.  I guess one should use the word “tender” with “hearts”, but these ladies are so silly that it seems to suit their brains too.

I did put a heat lamp up on day one of snow.  It was so damn cold out there that I was concerned that any moisture would mean the end for the littlest of our hens.  Of course, some of the littler chickens are so bullied that  they won’t squeeze up on the roost with the larger hens.  Instead, they think it is clever to sleep outside on the branches in their run.  Dumbies.  So I move them in after dark.  They squawk like they are being killed, but really they are being moved under a heat lamp.  Did I mention that they are not so bright sometimes?

During the day they did not want to go out in the snow AT ALL.  This was the furthest they got from their henhouse with the doors to their run wide open.

Eva is a bit more cheeky and adventurous.  As she is so tiny, she can sort of fly.  She stood on top of the doors to the feed barrels yelling at me to hurry up with the chicken scratch.IMG_7884

Sunflake the naked neck is still a winner of a chicken.  She is a good reminder that looks aren’t everything.  Suzie, Inez’s light brahma, has become quite a good-looking bird.  Here is a shot of her butt.IMG_7890And lastly, Madina, who Clementine calls “this chicken” even though she is not a chicken at all.  It is funny when we are talking about kids and calling them chickens and then switch topics to talk about chickens and have to make the distinction that we mean chicken-chickens.

These Chickens!IMG_7891


Our last group of chicks are growing up nicely.  This time around, the kids wanted variety in the form of Polish and Silkies.  Upon further research though, it became clear that my children wanted a whole bushel of poor layers.  I had to put my foot down—- one special chicken and the rest needed to earn their keep.  We already have enough free-loaders around here.  (I realize that it is the fall, but one egg a day does not seem quite right when we have 10 chickens!)

We got a silkie, an americana, and a light brahma.  I had wanted a brahma for awhile, so I was my most convincing with Inez.  “Look at the little feathers on her legs!  Look how huge she is going to be!”.

What is worse than pictures taken by me?  Pictures taken by Zephyr!  Here they are:


The Brahma and Americana, Suzi and Elizabeth hanging out in a corner.  Suzi is Inez’s; Elizabeth is Zephyr’s.IMG_7456

Little Anne of Cleves.  Someone has been reading a bunch of historical fiction lately.  Francis laid claim to this little darling.

I like our new girls, but they are barely laying a thing.  And as we got them and then promptly left for 5 weeks, the two larger chickens are pretty wild.  Anne of Cleves is a sweetheart though.  You can pick her up and carry her around, and she doesn’t seem to mind at all.

What with all the molting, our henhouse looks like a massacre happened there.  And it is dark now.  Poor chickens.  Poor us!

Chicken Races

And it’s off to the races!

As a benefit for our church emergency services, we put on a Busy Chicken Breakfast–an eggs benedict breakfast with chicken races.

It seems that chickens would go fast; I mean, I’ve seen them run like hell to get a piece of cheese.  Once one of them found a new baby mouse and when she saw that I intended to rescue it, she took off like lightening across the lawn.  (Yes, she swallowed it.  Totally gross.)  The chickens are relaxed around me though.  I had not considered how a public appearance might work for them.  As it was, I felt a bit guilty about the high stress level around our coop last week.  I think they started molting faster right after our event.

Anyway, here is what happens when you put a bunch of chickens under boxes.  First they sort of freak out.  Why are you putting us in boxes?  Oh God!  You’re going to KILL US now, aren’t you?  I heard about humans doing this and now our day has come!

  You can’t see them freaking out.  You’ll just sort of have to believe me.

Then you do your best chicken call.  I have a good one.  Chick-a-chick-a-chick!

Then you lift the box and throw a bit of scratch grains.

Then you try to encourage the chicken to run forward…. towards the finish line.  The chicken may or may not run the correct direction.

Chaos and hilarity ensue.


Chicken Guard

I haven’t written much about the chickens lately, although we have experienced several mortal incidents.  You see, an old and raggedy raccoon has attacked twice within the last month during the light of day while chickens were foraging the back yard.  We have come to expect predation in the evening and dusk hours, but were completely unprepared for a 3 pm visitor.  We lost two chickens, Fattycakes and Lyra.  I almost felt guilty not being too upset about loosing Fattycakes. She rarely laid these days and really was just taking up room.  Two days later however, Lyra was killed which was traumatic for all.  She was a very unique chicken with a cute personality and special significance to Francis.  Normally I would sit right down and do a nice eulogy for a chicken of this status in our household, but the loss of a very special uncle, my God father Cotch, made the whole chicken death seem sort of trivial.

And I would say something about that, but just can’t.  I am not ready to talk much about it at all; it just hurts a bunch.  I can say that this guy was always there for me, always interested in my life, always humorous and tuned-in.  He was a one-in-a-million type of quality man.  If I can be half the God parent to all my God children that he was for me, how successful I will consider my life!

So as my heart is tender, I am going to talk about a complete lack of tenderness—trapping.  After chicken death number two, we felt really helpless.  Our chickens could stay in all day.  Technically there is space for them, but they don’t like it much and neither do I.  I really feel like animals have a need to roam– I sure do.  So with leaving them in not seeming like much of an option, I decided to go buy a “humane” trap.

These things are kind of clever really.  Despite their cleverness though, that first week all we caught was this:

Then we had a visit from the master.  My friend Maria engaged in a multiple year battle with feral cats.  During that time she developed all sorts of methods for trapping them, and in the course of her work, came up with several raccoons.  We took her advice to cover the trap with a towel and bait it with something stinky.  The first day we got a stray cat, (which I did not get a picture of as he was tearing the towel and his own paws to shreds trying to escape).  The second day we got this:

Brad was not impressed, but I felt heartened that we were heading in the right direction in terms of relative domestication.  We released this guy in a wildlife area in SE Portland.

Day three this:

I know he looks like the same guy, but really he isn’t!  He went to join his brother in the same part of SE.

But now what?  A week or so has gone by and there has been no sight of the raccoon, nor has anything turned up in our trap.  I wonder what has happened to Old Straggely, because after chicken death number 2, we saw him multiple times in the evening coming back to see if the chickens were out.  I even hit him with a rock one day, and the kids claimed to hit him with sling shots on multiple occasions (hmmmmm…I am skeptical).

This is what the kids came up with– “Chicken Guard”.  It involves a bunch of the kids of the neighborhood taking different posts with weapons, (not very effective ones really), and racing back and forth to report on the nothing that is happening.  In between the racing, they check in by jumping in the back of the pick up my Dad had parked here.  I think they look like a child militia.  That ought to scare the raccoon, right?


And About that Chicken….

We named her Eva and she is about the cutest thing ever.

Eva is a modern game hen, which means she is tiny, long-legged, and super friendly.  Here is a comparison photo so you can see how she measures up in our backyard—

This is not a fantastic photo of course, but you can see the stark contrast between Eva and the other monsters around here.  She’s the one who looks like a little crow.  She’s small.

And I got her at church!  After church I usually have a lot of “business” to do—volunteer positions that I have stepped into, people dying and needing attending to, babies to rejoice over, music to learn, friends to chat with or arrange dates with, kids to plan activities for—that sort of thing.  This means that I stick around for awhile chatting while my kids run like dervishes through the community center.  While hanging out, I was approached by a homeless man looking for a bathroom.  When I pointed him towards one, I noticed that he had a CHICKEN poking out of his pocket.

ME  “Hey!  Tell me about your chicken!”

HIM  “I got her out on Alberta Street.  I had to chase her all over the place but she is the sweetest thing now.”

ME  “What’s your plan for that chicken?”

HIM  “Uuuuuhhhh, I guess take care of her.  She’s so nice!”

ME  “You know, I have chickens and could take her home and take care of her if you wanted to part with her.”

HIM  “Oh.  Could you kick me some change for her?”

And so we walked home, Eva snuggled safely in Francis’ coat the whole way.  Poor Eva smelled strongly of alcohol but I knew she would dry up once in our flock.

I’ve got to say, I REALLY like this chicken a lot.  When I walk outside, she jumps up on my shoulder.  If I am sitting still, she snuggles into my lap.  She puts our numbers over our permit limit, her breed are not particularly great layers, and she would make a really quick lunch for a passing hawk, but she is the sweetest thing.  And that was not just the alcohol talking.

Go to Church, Get a Chicken

So I got this chicken at church… no, really.

It’s a great story, and I will definitely tell it later.  I’m tired though (and the furnace clicked off and it is freaking cold in here which makes it hard to type).  And I gotta wake up at 5 to run tomorrow.  So…. tomorrow.


Pumpkin Pie Goes A-Wandering

Photos 1, 2, & 3 by Inez

We have a chicken who can get over or under any fence.

Her name is Pumpkin Pie and she is a brave and capable one.

The other chickens are content to stay in the backyard, pecking at bugs and digging in the dirt.  Not Pumpkin Pie.  She wants to visit the front yard.  She wants to visit the neighbors.  She wants to eat apples two houses away.

If we leave the chickens fenced up in the backyard, but also leave the front door open on a hot day, Pumpkin Pie will hop in the front door and up the stairs.

Pumpkin Pie is Inez’s chicken, so I make her take her back downstairs and to the backyard.

Still it is kind of fun having a chicken come visit while you are pecking at the computer.

Sharing the Roost

I bet you are all DYING to find out what is up with the chickens these days!  It is actually pretty quiet around here.  With the good weather, chickens quit dying and started taking it easy.  They spend a good portion of each day stretched out in the sun, wings all askew, looking sort of dead.  In reality they are resting, which I love (but you all know how I feel about resting).  It strikes me as funny that animals nap.  I don’t know why, but when I first noticed that the chickens seem to take a nap at exactly the same time each day when I am tired, I just felt so close to them.

The “chicks” are looking all grown up now.  I suspect that one of them might be laying, but I can’t tell whom as I also re-acquired a big blonde Orpington that I had previously chicken-sat.  Remember Fattycakes?  Now I will live to regret naming her such because my friend Pam asked me to take her after losing her (Pam’s) other remaining chicken.  Chickens don’t like to be alone.  They get physically sick.  Isn’t that interesting?  Birds of a feather flock together….and if they don’t then they die!  Well, maybe they don’t die, but they do get depressed.  A chicken will never be a Uni-bomber.  Take that tidbit and tuck it away for your next cocktail party.

It has been a bit of a struggle getting all the hens to roost on the roosts at night.  This is a dumb problem, but not unique to this flock.  It is always hard to bring in new chickens, especially young ones, and get them to cozy up next to big hens who peck them in the head.  My henhouse is relatively large, but the roosts are sort of crowded, so the hens have little choice but to cuddle together.  The smaller picked on chickens don’t have much of a place to go to get away from their tormenters (sort of like my high school actually), so they end up huddling on the edge of the nesting boxes or in the actual nesting box.  And that makes for a big poopy mess.

After a couple weeks of me moving chickens nightly, they are starting to mostly end up on the roosts at night, which is a good thing as it gets tiring dragging chickens out of the nesting boxes while they fight me beak and wing.  I took this photo at night while they were sleeping:

It is still interesting to me how the relationships are obvious in the company these birds keep.  They are one flock, but they spend most of the days next to the same birds.  They have bird “friends” or “sisters” or something, and you can see it even on the roost.  From the bottom left- Sunflake, Lily, Pumpkin Pie (5 month old pullets, raised together), middle roost by herself- Fattycakes (1-2 year old, added to flock), top left- Hasty (2 year old, added to flock with 3 other chickens who are now deceased), Rosey, Agnes (4 year old, original chickens), Lyra, Starlight, Moonshine (1 year olds, raised together).

I think that is interesting.  But I guess that is why I keep chickens, right?

Sheridan Days

This summer thing is working out just how I had hoped it would.  At the beginning of the summer, I sat down with the kids to brainstorm what they wanted to do.  In reality I wanted to lay down the law (and present what they wanted to do as the carrot).  They wanted visits to grandparents, bike rides in the neighborhood, playing in the sprinkler, popsicles and berry picking.  I want a quiet time every day where I can nap or read.  All has gone according to my (evil) plan.

Mid June we went out to my parents’ place in Sheridan.  The weather was only so-so summery.  It took a long time to warm up in Sheridan, which is even cooler than Portland.

As it was, the plan to “sleep out on the deck” with my childhood friend Maria became a midnight “haul the kids in out of the rain”.  My parents have two dogs who love nothing better than barking their heads off every night.  Mom and Dad don’t mind.  They claim to not hear a thing, which I would attribute to hearing loss if there weren’t complaints of city noise when they stay in town.  Anyway, midway through our sleep out on the porch adventure, I heard strange scratching noises on the scaffolding underneath the deck.  My dad had been pouring a new footing that day and had beams strung under where we were sleeping.  The dogs were freaking out, and it quickly became clear that SOMETHING was hanging out down there.  I jumped up and yelled over the edge and the unknown lurker tumbled down through the hop trellis, taking half the scaffolding with him (or her).  At that point, I was thoroughly freaked.  Although I knew rationally that a raccoon is not going to climb back up the deck and into bed with me, I felt vulnerable with all those kids strewn all over the deck.  And I guess I am afraid of raccoons after seeing them go after chickens so enthusiastically.  I was actively talking myself out of being scared of a raccoon when it began to rain steadily.  Thank you RAIN!  Now I could wake up my friend and tell her we needed to move inside without sounding like a scaredy cat city girl!  Yes!

Maria and I managed to move 4 sleeping children into the house without waking a single one.  Actually I am not sure that Maria was awake herself.

In the morning, this one slept on:

My dad is amused by us.  I love how relaxed my parents are about their hospitality.  Some people fuss over you when you come to stay, and in their fuss, make you incredibly uncomfortable.  I once stayed somewhere where the parents wanted to give ME their bed, which embarrassed me to no end.  My parents just figure that people can find some nook or cranny where they can be comfortable, and because they’ve been so flexible with their views, over the years I have brought scores of people out to crash on the floor.  Mom and Dad just flow along with it.

The next day it was a visit to a chicken breeding farm out in Sheridan.  Even though this farm had my same town as the address, it was so far in the hills that it took nearly half an hour to get there.  Once there though, the rewards were great!  I learned a lot from the farmers.  They were incredibly generous hosts and we saw some gorgeous birds..

In the afternoon we were off to Sheridan Days parade, which is sort of weirdly charming and strange at the same time.  It is mostly emergency vehicles with their sirens on and protestant church groups angling for more fish in a small pond, attempting to show you how much fun their youth groups are having by sitting in pick up beds singing along the parade route.  When I was a kid there were big log trucks with the biggest tree they had cut down that year, but those are mostly gone now.  Remaining are bagpipe groups and a smattering of rodeo queens from small towns, plus some freaky clowns from the coast and this really strange group of old dudes from Lincoln City who dress like devils, pull women out of the crowd, take them to their “float”, put them in a stockade and stamp “SEXY” on their cheeks.  I am not kidding.  They are called the “Red Devils” and I suppose they are a social group of some sort, (but I do NOT want to know what they do for fun at their secret meetings because their public outings already give me a heart attack).  Half my life I have been afraid of the Red Devils.  The other half I have been pissed at them.  Perhaps for this reason, I have never been picked by them.  They are not dumb, and surely they know to avoid the woman yelling “sexists!”.  Maria was picked though, and she, being a better sport than I, allowed a devil to escort her to where she was branded “sexy”.  He was polite about it, but I couldn’t help but be worried about her as she disappeared around the corner with the Devils.  For Maria’s part, I figure she knows she is sexy.  She is just allowing the Red Devil the mistaken pleasure of thinking it was somehow his discovery.

I need to not be so ernest, but that is a life long struggle for me.

The sun set on much candy gathering, and as you know, I am a gatherer.  I have taught my children my unique skill set.

Too bad you can’t make this crap into jam.

Chicken Dust

Or “poultry dust” depending on who you might be.  It isn’t a super pleasant thing.  Brad and I just tromped in from the henhouse in the dark where we were flippin’ the girls and shaking toxic chemicals all over their nether regions.  One of our hens has lice (!).  Lice (!).  Oh God.  Lice.  Like, yuuuuuuuuucky!

I have only noticed the lice on one of the other chickens, and it wasn’t much to speak of, but I am dusting all of them in a cycle for the next couple weeks hoping to kill off what they might be carrying.  Are you grossed out yet?  No?  So these little louses, (that word makes me laugh!), attach their eggs (hundreds of them) along the feather shafts usually near the vent of chickens.  They set the eggs into a substance much like the composite of cement.  10 days later the HUNDREDS of lice hatch and make the chicken miserable.  The bottom side of Hildy is all scabby where the lice are irritating her skin, and some of her feather shafts have just broken off from the weight and damage of the lice.  Poor baby.  (Will someone go pick up Anne off the floor?  Thank you.  I’ll continue.)

Usually chickens can keep the lice down with their dust bathing, but it has been so wet and drizzly here that I don’t think they have gotten enough opportunities to knock the lice off.  I bought some diatomaceous earth to try to amp up the bug-killing properties of the spot under the porch where the the chickens like to dust bath, but I am also hitting them all with the 1-2 punch of me and Brad in the dark with a can of “poultry dust”.  They don’t like it much, but it is sort of bonding for us.  Brad is the handler and I am the duster.  1-2!  Punch!  Lice begone!