Monday, May 30, 2005

Our godson Max feeding scratch to Bess.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Well, this is interesting.

I may have mentioned that the girls seem very distressed at night, chirping loudly and flying up on our shoulders as if (I have suspected) they want to get up high--the theory being that their ancestors nested in trees and that's where they feel safe at night, too.

Also, we have been wondering if, in the midst of all this nighttime distress, they might get to a point where they march into the henhouse and put themselves to bed. We'd heard that hens will do that, but our had not, and it left us a little confused about exactly when bedtime should be.

As a result, bedtime, when we lock the girls in The Vault, has been a little confusing and noisy.

Tonight I got home from painting class around 8:30 and Scott said he had not yet put the girls to bed, figuring I might want to do it. So we went out there and lo and behold, they had somehow found a way to hop up to the rafters in the top of the henhouse, and they were all settled down quite happily, 6 feet above ground, just under the roof, sound asleep.

Hmmm. This would all be fine and good except that the roof of this henhouse, an old greenhouse-style wavy plastic sort of roof, is one of the weaker points and I do worry about a racoon yanking a section off and getting in. So we can't leave them up there. They must sleep in The Vault or some kind of enclosed structure whether they like it or not. As much as we hated to do it, we had to lift their warm sleepy little bodies off the rafters and put them, squaking and complaining, into their box. What to do? Perhaps we could elevate The Vault? Or build something secure up in the rafters for them?

Because of course, we have nothing better to do than take on additional construction projects we're not qualified for to make our chickens happy.

Their choice of sleeping quarters.

Hens in the rafters, all puffed up and ready to sleep.

Eleanor the redhead.

Any artsy shot of Dolley

Bess catching up on her reading.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Watching them like a hawk.

It appears that the hawks (or a hawk, who can tell?) have spotted our girls. We have seen a few glide high above us when we had the birds out free ranging, but today Scott saw one skim the rooftop and get a good close look. Fortunately, the birds are hard-wired to be terrified of anything that approaches from overhead, including airplanes, so one gave a warning chirp to the others (see how community-oriented they are? I love that) and they dashed for cover.

Anyway, it looks like the possibilities for them to be outside when we are not sitting right there watching for hawks are growing slim. I've read on the chicken discussion boards that a hawk will swoop in even when a person is just 10 or 20 feet away, so even if I'm out tinkering in the garden I'm not sure they're safe. (and if I did see a hawk, what would I do? Scream? Pitch a shovel at it? Throw myself between the hawk and the chick?)

Some chicken farmers recommend keeping a shotgun around to pick off predators; others use a slingshot to discourage raptors from lurking in nearby trees. Still others recommend a good guard dog, the kind who is used to herding animals, or even a rooster, who will, if he is a good rooster, lay down his life for the girls (in between mounting them incessantly and crowing at dawn. I wonder if the hens are ever sad to see a rooster go under these circumstances).

Yeah. Well. We may end up constructing a little chicken tractor, just so they can be out of their pen when we can't directly supervise them, but I don't see any shotguns or guard dogs in our future.

Ah, the expenses mount, and still not a single egg...

We made it!

Whew. First night in the coop. We did go out and check on them just before midnight, but we managed to leave them out there this time and go back to bed. The chickens probably had a blissful, contented night of sleep, but I tossed and turned and had awful dreams of going outside in the morning to find the girls gone and a couple of dogs in the coop, licking their chops. Ugh. So when the sun hit my eyes at about 7, I jumped up and went outside to let them out of the Vault. They seemed utterly normal, as if it was the most natural thing in the world to sleep outdoors in a wooden box built by two very unskilled carpenters.

There is no place for food inside The Vault. We do put their little Mason jar chick waterer in there, and I guess we could do the same with food...we've heard that they don't need food at night since they can't see well anyway and they really just bed down and go to sleep, but I can tell already that I will feel quite guilty about sleeping in and thus depriving them of breakfast. Hmmm...maybe if we're out late, we'll shove a little food in the Vault before we go to bed to buy us an extra hour or two in the morning?

Details, details. I am really starting to envy my friends who have an automatic solar-powered chicken door that lets them out in the morning and puts them to bed at night. But I am determined that my chickens will not have fancier gadgets than I have.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Trying this one more time.

OK, tonight the birds are absolutely sleeping outside. I've been talking to them about this all day, explaining that under no circumstances may they wimp out and beg to come sleep indoors again tonight. They are big girls and they must sleep outside in their coop like the hens-in-training that they are. Enough already. Pull your socks up, girls!

They make sooooo much noise at night. They really do get quite frantic as the sun goes down. I go out to see them and rather than acting aloof as they do during the day, they all jump up on my shoulders. Their wild ancestors roosted in trees at night; our girls seem to want to leap up on me as a way of getting up high. So far they haven't made the connection that they could simply hop up into The Vault and they'd be up off the ground, secure, content, etc. We're still working on that concept.

So tonight around eight we gave them their evening dollop of yogurt and locked them up. (Still haven't figured out exactly when bedtime should be--people tell us that hens will let you know when bedtime is because they will head to bed on their own, but ours aren't there yet.) They made a terrible racket and looked longingly at us through the bars of their jail cell--I mean, the wire mesh windows of their Vault. Sigh. I went out to check on them a few minutes ago and they were still peeping, but they'd settled down considerably. How many hours until morning?

Abigail digging in the garden. See how she's starting to get little red wattles under her beak?

Yeah, right.

Well, that lasted about 30 minutes. I will say in my defense that it was a real howler last night--wind whistling around the house, rattling all the windows--and this house does get noisy in a windstorm. I will also say that when I asked Scott if he didn't think the chicks might be a little happier inside for just one more night, he did not put up much of a fight.

So there we were at 10:30, trudging out to the coop with a flashlight, to wake the girls from what looked like a pretty warm and comfortable sleep and bring them indoors.

For their safety, of course.

Tonight they are sleeping outside for sure.

No doubt about it.

Definitely sleeping outdoors.

Which will be fine. For all of us.

They were probably perfectly fine out there, all curled up together and fast asleep in The Vault.

But don't you think they look happier here?

Sunday, May 22, 2005

I'm fine with it. Really.

Tonight, for the first time, the girls are sleeping outside. They are 7 1/2 and 6 1/2 weeks old, fully feathered out, so there is no reason why they need to be inside anymore. It's a little cold--will probably get down to 55 tonight, with wind--and they've gotten used to sleeping at a balmy 70 degrees indoors, so that will be a bit of a change.

Also, it turns out that as chicken parents, we were not nearly strict enough with the Torture of Darkness, in which the heat lamps are turned off and the baby chicks are taught to endure the terrors of darkness in 30-minute increments so they can get used to the concept. We did do some of this, but it got awfully cold and they were so miserable that we didn't do it enough. And sometimes we just forgot. As a result, our girls get a little agitated as the sun goes down, chirping and squawking and refusing to settle down. (Chickens have poor night vision and fall victim to many predators who travel only at night--raccoons, possums, skunks--so their fear of darkness, like so many of their fears, is well-founded.)

But anyway. The last of the security measures are in place, so tonight we just decided, kind of at the last minute, to let they stay out there despite their (and our) agitation. We rounded them up into The Vault, locked it tight, and listened to them peep and chirp and howl. I just went out a few minutes ago to check on them and they'd settled down, all curled up a heap of poultry warmth.

I have a theory that one way that you can tell when your chicks are ready to move outside is by the size of their droppings. I may have mentioned that two or three times a day chickens release some droppings--called cecal droppings--that come from a different pouch in their digestive system. This stuff is seriously foul. This morning, before I'd even had my coffee, Bess produced cecal droppings in sufficient quantity to make me think that maybe the move outdoors wasn't such a bad idea after all. But the fact is that I hate it that our downstairs bathroom contains not a single little bird anymore.

Off to bed. We'll see if I make it through the night or if I sneak out there in a few hours and bring them all in. Couldn't we install a roost at the foot of our bed and let them sleep there?

(I can just hear my nieces and nephews in 20 years: "Do you remember our crazy Aunt Amy, the one who had chickens sleeping in her bedroom?")

Saturday, May 21, 2005

We dragged a couple chairs into the garden so we could keep an eye on the chicks while they were free-ranging. When we walked away, we realized that it looked as though we'd set up seating for Chicken Theater.

and look who sat down to watch.

Friday, May 20, 2005

We're watching you.

more Amy and Bess.

Amy and Bess.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Hello, Dolley!

Here she is at 6 weeks. You can see the ear tufts that are typical of Araucanas, and also her white throat. She's a sweet girl, always content to just sit on my lap and be petted.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

What I Love About Chickens

They are so intensely social. I mean, you get a couple of cats, and they pretty much ignore each other (and you) their entire lives. But chickens cannot stand to be apart from each other for a single minute. They do everything together. If one of them decides to go over and have a drink of water, they all go. If one of them bites off a blade of grass, they all have some grass. And don't even think about what might happen if three of them wander off in one direction and the fourth gets left behind.

Yesterday we moved the chicks from the henhouse back inside (update: they are spending their days outside but coming indoors to sleep, and the plan is to have them sleeping outside by next weekend), and we could only round up three of them. So we carried them indoors and left Eleanor outside, figuring she would be more ready to hop on one of our arms and come inside if her little friends were already there.

We were right about that and then some. There is nothing more heartbreaking than the cries of a 7 week-old Rhode Island Red chick who has been left suddenly all alone. The cries rang out across the backyard. Really, it was gut-wrenching. But it lasted all of about 30 seconds, the time it took me to sprint back to the henhouse and offer my arm as a perch.

We are working on a little training with the chicks. Yogurt at night before bed. Ring the bell at yogurt time. Little things like that, which we hope will make it easy to gather them up and get them back into their coop when we need them to go.

There are any number of other treats we have not yet tried: chicken scratch (cracked corn), cottage cheese, etc. I heard they loved peanut butter, but I brought a lump of it out on a spoon and the spoon freaked them out so much that they never tried the peanut butter. Today I brought them the little green tops of strawberries, which they eyed with great suspicion (they eye everything with great suspicion) and I don't think they ate those, either. Last night, however, I went to visit them in the bathroom with a Martini in hand, and they were intensely interested in that. Every time I picked up the glass, they cocked their heads and looked at me with one beady eye. Drunken chicken? Sounds like a waste of perfectly good gin to me.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Cyber Chicks

Thanks to Chris for this one. Why pet an actual chicken when you can pet an e-chicken?

(and if you have to ask why anyone would want to pet a chicken at all, you're in the wrong place.)

Wired News: Eggheads Invent Tele-Petting

Monday, May 16, 2005

More Chickens in the News

My recent garden column on the joys of chicks...

North Coast Journal - May 12, 2005: DIRT - Gardening Column

Silly birds flopping around in the sun.

Eleanor enjoying the sunshine.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Loretta Has a New Hobby.


Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The girls checking out their nesting boxes.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

It's a beautiful, sunny day. The chickens seem really at home in their coop. Here's Eleanor leaving the henhouse and heading out into the run.

Monday, May 09, 2005

They Grow Up So Fast

Today we took all four outside and let them free range for half an hour or so. It had been raining all day so this was their only opportunity to get out. They immediately set about eating dandelions (good birds!) and fertilizing the soil in their own special way. I am terrified of a hawk swooping down and grabbing one of them (not that I've necessarily seen a hawk over the house, or would know how to identify one from a distance, and the presence of a large flock of pigeons next door not withstanding...), but we keep a close vigil when they're outside.

Stopped off at the feed store today to get grown-up chicken food--over the next week they will transition from medicated chick feed (they can get ill from coming in contact with their own feces, which contain many protozoa that they must gradually build up immunity to--don't ask me why they're not already immune to them if they live in their own feces, but any way, they need this medication) to "all purpose poultry crumbles." When they get ready to start laying later this summer, we will switch to a layer ration that includes oyster shell calcium for strong eggshells.

At the feed store, they had their last shipment of baby chicks and they were eager to get rid of them. "I'll make you a deal on those chicks," the woman said, as if three bucks a chick isn't already a deal. She even offered to throw in a baby duck for free with our bag of poultry crumbles. And let me tell you, if there's anything cuter than a baby chicken, it's a baby duck. Those beaks, those webbed feet...but I was strong, and I said no.

On the way home, Scott said that he wouldn't mind having a duck. When he first said he wanted chickens, I said, "OK, honey. Just as soon as you build a chicken coop, we can have chickens." So this time I said, "OK. Just as soon as you put in a water feature, we can get a duck."

Stay tuned...

This just in from the Associated Press

In related news...a chicken ticketed for crossing the road. I wonder if she's got a legal defense fund.

AP Wire | 05/09/2005 | Chicken ticketed for crossing road

Sunday, May 08, 2005

What is Bess doing? Does she think she's sitting on an egg?

Bess and Dolley. Dolley's getting darker; Bess has gone blonde in a very Aerosmith groupie kind of way--a fake peroxide blonde with dark roots and dark eyeliner.

For some strange reason, Eleanor has decided to go after Scott's teeth. Does she think there's food in there?

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

We're having a moment.

Fun with Abigail.

Silly Chicken Photos, or, What Happens When You Don't Have a TV.

The only way you can get Abigail to sit still.

Eleanor doing a dance.

Ever inquisitive Dolley at 4 weeks.

Big tall Eleanor at 5 weeks of age.

The coop, in all its painted glory. Inside the shed, the henhouse is on the right of the door and the rest is just storage for us. There's a little door so they can go from the henhouse to the enclosed run outside.

Monday, May 02, 2005

A New Development Every Day

It's an unusually warm, sunny, and still day, so I've had the birds outside in their run for an hour or so. The climate outside is actually better than it would be inside (that's rare in Eureka!), so I figured I'd let them enjoy it. Because the run is fenced in quite securely, I can even go inside for short visits and just come out and check on them.

I'm leaving the door open between the run and the henhouse where they will be sleeping by the end of the month, figuring that they would gradually get used to the concept. I went outside a few minutes ago and could only see three chicks, which caused me immediate panic until I realized that brave Eleanor had marched right up the ramp into the henhouse, where she was checking out her new digs. I even set her on the roost she'd be sleeping on, and she didn't object to it in the least.

Yesterday I fed them a little yogurt (by "little" I mean less than a spoonful for all four.) It's supposed to help beneficial bacteria flourish in their guts and cut down the risk of any kind of intestinal disorder. I had noticed (warning: there's a little turd talk coming) very watery droppings from Dolley, so that made me think it wouldn't be a bad time to start with the yogurt. I'd also read that too much salt can cause this problem, and there is a little salt in the powdered vitamin solution we add to their water. So they're getting a much more diluted version of that, too. One of those two strategies seems to have cleared up the problem.

From my attic window, I can hear them screeching outside from time to time. I run to the window in a panic, only to see that one of them has a blade of grass in its mouth and the other three have given chase, as if it is the last blade of grass on earth and they all need it for their survival. Chickens, I have learned, are real drama queens.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Abigail enjoying her first dust bath involving actual dust!

Abigail and Eleanor

Abigail and Bess hatching an escape plan?

Dolley enjoying the outdoors.