Chicks!

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We have chicks! I really wasn’t sure if the eggs were going to wind up being fertile, and whether Rita had done a good job incubating them. But one hatched yesterday afternoon, and as of this evening, there’s at least one more (I didn’t want to lift Rita off the nest to check the other eggs). They’re very cute!

Outside, with Chickens

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By the time we got outside to play today (after running errands, lunch, and nap time), it was fairly overcast, but we still enjoyed the 50˚F+ weather a lot! So nice to walk around without snow pants (for M) and without most of the SNOW, as well. The chickens are in heaven, finally seeing grass again and digging through leaves to see what’s underneath. I’m not sure if they’re finding much/anything, but it keeps them busy!

Sometimes M asks for a ‘[M] story’ at bedtime, which just means she wants to tell me a story about everything we did that day. When I got to the playing outside part, I asked her what she’d done outside, and she said, ‘Saw chickens! And sticks.’ I asked her what she’d put in her pockets. ‘Rocks! And saw Nova, Henny. I found Nova.’ (I’m always calling for Nova, so she won’t run too far away.) I reminded her that she’d done some running. ‘Yeah. Ready, set, go!’

She also played with her outside toys, which live in the garage. I sat in a chair while she played, and I’d just barely gotten settled when I was mobbed by chickens. I guess they haven’t become any less friendly over the winter! That’s Iris (left) and Laverne (right) in the bottom photo. Laverne loved to lie on my lap and fall asleep last summer/autumn, and it seems she remembers it. After peering at my face (one of the most unnerving things a chicken can do), she hopped down to my lap and settled down for a bit. Chickens are nice.

(Almost) Spring Chickens

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If the chickens understood weather (and English), they’d be excited to hear that it’s going to be in the 40s and 50s for a while. I think they’re done with this winter business. At least a lot of the snow has melted, giving them a chance to pick through the grass for anything remotely edible.

Mister Chicken’s tail is growing in really nicely! I don’t know how much longer most of the feathers will get, but the curly ones are starting to show up, so he should have a good-looking tail when all is said and done. He’s been a pretty nice rooster, so far — when he roams around with the hens, he keeps an eye out for any threats, just like he should. He’s less adventurous / more cautious than the hens — when they’re way out across the yard, he’s usually hanging closer to the house. And he’s always tucked into bed as soon as the sun starts getting low. He would like to woo all the hens, but as you can see in that last photo, Rita (and Charlie, Aster, and Iris) have not yet fallen for his charms.

Laverne, on the other hand, is quite enamored. Mister Chicken doesn’t always immediately come out of the barn when I open everybody’s doors, so Laverne has taken to marching straight in there to see him. And she’s been laying her eggs in his coop. She still goes home to the hen house when the sun starts to set. Laverne was the one who seemed to have an injured leg last fall (she limped around for weeks — it’s fine now), so she got used to being left behind when the other hens would run after something. I wonder if that’s part of her attachment to Mister Chicken now — not having as strong a bond with the other hens. Or she’s just boy crazy. I’m happy that he’s got somebody who likes to spend time with him, though.

Happy Together

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Mister Chicken’s setup in the barn is a smallish coop with run, surrounded by old deck railing panels to make a larger fence. I didn’t have any illusions that the fence could contain Mister Chicken (I’ve seen him sit on top of it, and he’s small enough that he could probably squeeze through the slats), but he seemed to like the boundary and never ventured outside of it. Until this weekend!

We had nice weather on Saturday, so I let the hens out of their coop and left the door to the barn open, so they could go visit Mister Chicken. Charlie headed straight for the barn and then came back out a few minutes later — followed, after a bit, by Mister Chicken! Just strolling down the path toward the house. I knew he had a good sense of where his home was, so I wasn’t worried about his being on the loose, although I didn’t know how he and the hens would interact without a fence between them. Well, it turns out everybody gets along just fine. I think the hens would have a fit if he tried to go in their coop, but they were all content to hang out with him during the day. And when he gets cold or hungry, he just walks himself right back to his own coop.

The thing that amuses me the most is the way Mister Chicken wants to lead his new flock, and the fact that the hens have absolutely no time for that. You can tell sometimes that he’s trying to convince them to follow him here or there, but they just do what they want — they’re independent ladies! He’ll go back to his home and then crow for them (here’s a little clip!), and I’ve had to explain to him that if he wants to see the girls, he’s going to have to go to them. I’m pretty sure he’s an ‘older’ rooster, and he has the look of having had to defend himself from other roosters (as well as the dog who plucked his tail), so I’m sure he’s quite happy to be the only guy with ‘his’ new ladies — whether or not they care!

Winter Chicken Care

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In the past, when I’d contemplate getting chickens, the thing that would always start the doubt creeping in was WINTER. Sure, who wouldn’t want to raise a bunch of little peeping chicks in the spring and then saunter down the path to let them out each summer morning? But how would I deal with the winters? I feel fairly neutral about winter, in general, but that’s due largely to the fact that I don’t have to spend much time out in it.

But it hasn’t been too bad. Granted, though we’ve had some extremely cold days this month, it’s been a milder-than-average winter, over all. But even on the more wicked days, I still come back inside thinking I’d rather take care of dozens of animals outside than all these ungrateful wretches who live indoors (meaning the cats and dogs, not the humans!).

I usually go out mid-morning (between 9:00 and 10:00am-ish), and I bring out water, chicken food, and a ‘salad’ for the hens. They’re going through much more feed right now than they did in the summer, since they can’t spend the entire day eating their way through the property. The bowls of treats are made up of our leftovers and produce odds and ends (usually fruit or veggies that are a bit too over-ripe for M and I). If it’s really cold, I’ll scramble up a few eggs or make oatmeal for them. Mister Chicken gets the same in his bachelor pad.

In the autumn, I went on a search for a feeder and waterer that attached to the wall — since my hens would consistently knock over or spill anything on the floor of their coop (I think anything hanging from the ceiling would have been just as bad). In the end, both the feeder and waterer I wound up with were meant for baby pigs. They work SO well, though! I actually have two of the waterers, with only one of the holders mounted to their wall. That way, I bring in the frozen one each day when I bring out the fresh one. So I don’t have to trudge out to the coop, get the frozen waterer, thaw it, fill it, and go out again. And the hens seem quite happy with their wall-mounted feeder, too, even though they can no longer A) kick the crumbles all over their coop or B) kick bedding all over the feeder.

Cleaning out the coop is less enjoyable in the winter, I suppose (although it’s not very enjoyable when it’s hot out, either), but at least when we have stretches where the temperature never gets above freezing, the chicken droppings don’t smell. So I don’t have to clean it as often. I like the idea of the deep bedding method (you just keep piling new bedding on top of old, and the old stuff starts to safely compost), but I worry that their coop is too small for that. I don’t want ammonia to build up.

And in case you were wondering, the coop is NOT heated, though it is well insulated. My hens have quite large combs, and I’ve noticed a little bit of frostbite at the tips, but they don’t seem bothered by it, nor by the cold in general. Since they like to lay eggs right at the back of their coop, I’ve often climbed in and had the door blow shut behind me, and I always think to myself that it’s actually quite comfortable in there (temperature-wise), compared to whatever’s going on outside. I like to prop their door open on days where the temperature is above 20˚F and not too windy. They may or may not venture out, since they don’t love the snow, but often they’ll trek over to the deck and hang out under there.

Anyway, that’s how winter chicken care is going! Definitely not as bad as I expected. And we’re still getting 2-5 eggs per day, so I think the chickens must be happy enough, too!

Outside!

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While friends out east are dealing with feet of snow (I’m a little jealous, to be honest!), we’ve been having a mini warm-up — it got ABOVE FREEZING today! Not that I’m a huge fan of playing outside when it’s really cold, but M has a really difficult time with it. Even if she’s bundled up, very cold air makes her gasp, especially if there’s a breeze. So today’s weather — right around freezing, with almost no wind at all — was perfect for going out in.

She was delighted from the very start, since she loves her snow pants and snow boots and likes the idea of playing out in the snow. We went to bring water and food to Mister Chicken, and then we did the same for the hens. M hasn’t had a chance to chat with her chickens for quite a while! I had already let them out a few minutes earlier, so when M and I got back down there, only three were still in the coop.

‘Where’s Charlie?’ M asked. Then the other two came trundling through the snow, from under the deck.

‘There’s Charlie!’ she said and gave one of the chickens a pat. And it WAS Charlie! I have no idea if A) she’s realized they wear different colored leg bands (though I don’t think she could have seen that from a distance); B) it was a lucky guess; or C) she just knows the chickens so well that she can tell who is who at a glance. (I know was Laverne’s comb looks like, but otherwise they’re all pretty similar.) At any rate, Charlie would never deign to let ME pat her, but she went right up to M. My little chicken whisperer.

Mister Chicken

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An exciting development on the ol’ farm! My mom was on her way over yesterday and saw a dog standing over something in a field, something that was flopping around. So she got out of her car, saw the flopping thing was a battered chicken, and put it in her car (securely wrapped up in a towel). We don’t know where the chicken belongs, and all its tail and butt feathers had been plucked, which would have made it really hard for it to survive out in the winter weather.

Right now, he — it’s a rooster! — is living in the little auxiliary coop in our barn. It’s not much trouble to bring out extra water and food when I’m taking care of the hens, and this way he’s got somewhere sheltered to recover. Assuming he survives, I won’t be introducing Mister Chicken to the hens any time soon. He could be carrying something contagious. And I think he’d better be fully feathered before he goes outside and/or meets the ladies. I’m not sure what breed he is (hopefully when his tail grows in, that’ll help narrow it down), but he’s some sort of bantam. So he’s a smaller chicken, whereas my Buff Orpington hens are pretty darn big. Don’t want to give them any reason to think he’s weak and needs to be beat up!

So far, Mister Chicken seems to be doing alright. His plucked rear end looks sore, of course. But he doesn’t seem to be overly stressed or in shock (a real concern after an attack), and he’s walking around just fine. He didn’t touch the first dish of food we gave him, but I brought out treats this morning after I cooked them up for the hens, and he was interested in those. Nibbled some cooked pumpkin and was eyeing up the scrambled eggs when I left. Hopefully he’ll get a little bolder soon, so I can get a better photo!

Christmastime

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Happy Christmas to everybody who celebrated it (and to those who didn’t, in case you just like joining in on happy wishes). Even though I didn’t do much besides making a cheese log and driving down to my parents’ house, it still felt like quite an exhausting Christmas Eve and Day. M had been eagerly anticipating Christmas for quite a while, and she had a blast opening all her presents. She was disappointed to see that Grandma and Grandpa’s Christmas tree didn’t have a star at the top, which she thinks is most of the point of having a tree inside, I guess.

Not to make any of my other presents feel bad, but I think my favorite is the set of pasta roller/cutter attachments Rob gave me for my Kitchenaid stand mixer. Super fun and satisfying! I tested it out yesterday and made a batch of noodles — some spaghetti, some fettuccine. I’d been dreaming of homemade pasta for a while (especially since it uses up some of the chickens’ eggs!), and it was definitely worth the wait and the ‘work’. (It’s not that much work when there’s electricity involved.) I haven’t bought a single loaf of bread since we got our bread maker, so here’s hoping I’ll never buy noodles again, either!

The chickens had less of an exciting Christmas, since they were locked up while we were away, and then it snowed a fair bit yesterday. I opened their pop door to let them out into their run (which is covered and partially sheltered), and they each took a turn standing in the doorway, looking out at the snow and muttering about the weather before going back inside. So my free-rangers are going a little stir-crazy. I’ve been bringing them ‘fancy’ salads — really just our scraps or produce that’s on its way out, but I try to toss in whatever I think they’d like, and they always seem to appreciate it.

So happy holidays! Time to brace for 2016!

EGGS.

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We’ve got plenty of eggs! I was not expecting this in December. I’m planning to make a chocolate angel food cake for my birthday next week, and we’ve been eating them for breakfast a lot. Runny eggs are one of my personal pregnancy do-not-cross lines, so my poached eggs (pictured) the other day were more like hard-boiled ones. But M’s egg was perfect, and as you can see, they hold together really well during poaching.

Today is cold and blustery and snowy, so the chickens are staying in their coop. M and I made them a warm feast: oatmeal with zucchini and banana, topped with scrambled eggs and dill sprouts. They’re always so appreciative when they get fancy treats like this. They’re used to grazing all day long, not eating 100% chicken feed. M was very keen to help make the chickens’ meal — she cut up the banana and helped stir the eggs as they cooked. She loves those chickens and misses getting to play with them every day!

Eggs

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My spoiled chickens are doing pretty well in the egg department! When they hadn’t started laying by November, I was sure there wouldn’t be anything until the spring — our days are already pretty short, and they don’t have any electricity in their coop for a light. But I’ve been getting at least an egg a day lately, usually two or three. And five, once! So I guess we know that they’re all laying (and all in their coop, which is a relief). When I let them out this morning, Aster was hunkered in the corner of the coop, keeping her egg warm, but she didn’t seem to care when I stole it away.

I don’t know how late into winter they’ll keep up the egg laying, but at least for now, if we don’t eat eggs every day, I don’t have to buy any. And I was able to make brownies the other day with their eggs (the recipe called for two whole eggs and two extra yolks, so that’s not nothing). I hard-boiled them for the first time last night. You know the thing about older eggs being easy to peel? Well, the opposite is definitely true. The outsides weren’t so pretty to look at once I finally got the shells off, but they sure were delicious!

Now that there’s almost nothing for them to eat outside, I’ve started growing sprouts for them. They like their treats!