Monday, October 31, 2005

Halloween at the Crazy Chicken House

While the chickens slumbered on, oblivious to the children running door to door begging for treats (an activity they would wholeheartedly endorse), I donned my witch hat and pounded away at the keyboard in the attic (top window) and Scott organized his books in the library (second story, right). As for the other witches and bats floating around the house--I thought it best to leave them alone. Posted by Picasa

Halloween Chicken

From the same Yahoo story below.

Don't try this at home

As you may have noticed, I have made a deliberate choice not to talk about that particular illness that is striking those in the bird community worldwide. I just don't know what to say at this point. It's impossible to predict where the whole thing will go and how it might affect backyard chickens, who (at least in my case) live in a pretty closed environment.

So while I avoid the subject, I find some of the images really interesting and I like it that the media is suddenly showing us all the ways in which people live with chickens. These photos come from the Philippines, where you can buy a little dyed chick in a market. See Yahoo for more.

Poor chicks. They are not toys.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Should we be worried about this?

Bess, our silly little Auracana mix, has suddenly (we think it's sudden, anyway) lost all the feathers on her cheeks and neck. She used to have a little "beard" right there, and now it's gone. She's only 7 months old--too early for a molt, yes? Is it possible the other birds are picking on her? She is certainly lowest on the pecking order, although it seems to be a peaceable and, for the most part, non-violent pecking order. But every now and then, especially as they are settling down to bed, Bess gets out of line and gets a peck. I've never seen them pull out feathers before, though. Hmmmmm... Posted by Picasa

Friday, October 28, 2005

Eggs in Ecuador

I was just looking through some photographs from our trip to Ecuador last year and found this photograph of an egg shop in Quito. There were several tiny little egg stores like this. If you buy eggs, they put them in a plastic bag and you take them home like that. Posted by Picasa

Eggs in the back of a cab

Going to market. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Eleanor and the Matrix

This just in from Scott, whose voice is heard all too rarely on this blog. (Not to mention his digital photo editing skills. Freaky.)

I recently had a revelation that chickens are from the Matrix, the setting of the films of the same name. As if it's not enough of a superpower to lay an egg 300 days a year, chickens are like a real-life Neo and Agent Smith. As you've seen from the blog photos, chickens are in constant motion. It turns out they have great eyesight, too, and tremendously fast reflexes.

When Lucas was here, the hens hopped up on one of the outdoor chairs to join us. Little Lucus, just eight months old and very interested in the chickens, waved his arms about wildly, trying to touch them. Eleanor and Abigail eyed him carefully and gently bobbed in and out, hardly seeming to move, staying millimeters beyond his flailing fists.

I thought of this scene from the Matrix. Compare the photos and see for yourself. One is Agent Jones, the other is Eleanor. Like Agent Jones, Eleanor turned her head around to check things out with her other eye, a common chicken strategy.

I guess with their fast bird metabolism, they viewed Lucas in slow motion and easily dodged the random baby movements.

Fortunately, in addition to a fast metabolism, they share another characteristic with all their avian cousins: bird brains. Or we all might be in trouble. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Sing it, sister.

OK, so I'm not the sort of person to circulate silly little animated videos on the Internet, but this one came to me and I can't imagine a poultry lover out there who won't love it. It's from MSN's American Greetings site. Check it out here, and turn up the volume on those speakers.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Chickens In Motion

It's impossible to get a picture of them all standing still, but at least I managed to get them with their heads in the air (a noise had just startled them) instead of their standard beak-to-the-ground, tail-in-the-air posture.

They're starting to wander into our side garden, something we hadn't allowed previously. They might make a mess, but little Bess goes after the snails with such a deliberate viciousness that I can't resist... Posted by Picasa

Monday, October 24, 2005

Keep Your Hens Happy

This just in from Clarence Court. I'll have a great deal more to say about them soon. Thanks to Small Farms for sending me to them.

Possessive cockerels use fake sex to keep their hens faithful. By merely mounting females - without bothering to waste precious sperm - cocks ensure their partners will not go looking for male competitors to fertilise them, a new study suggests. The finding may explain why males of many species - from insects to mammals - engage in seemingly meaningless sperm-free sex.

“Copulations that appear to be successful, but with no semen transferred, are almost ubiquitous,” says Tommaso Pizzari at the University of Oxford, UK, co-author of the study. “It suggests that this behaviour may be rather more than an accident or a by-product of males running out of sperm.”

While sperm was always thought of as a cheaper investment than eggs, in the past few years, researchers have begun to realise that sperm also carries a hefty biological price tag. In 2003, Pizzari and his colleagues showed that male chickens allocated their precious seed according to the likelihood of fathering children. Unfamiliar females always received a fulsome dose, while hens with which the cock had already mated several times ended up receiving little more than ruffled feathers.

Journal reference: Current Biology (vol 15 p 1222)

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Cute Pink Go Egg Incubator

This is not a toy, although it certainly looks like one. It's a computer-controlled incubator that will let you hatch three eggs at a time. Not sure who would have only three fertile eggs at a time, but here it is. It turns eggs automatically and has an "optional setting for rare bird types." (Go Egg Incubator, and hatch me an...emu!)

Thanks to Accidental Smallholder for this.

Go Egg

Oh, and Roni, you were right. Freeway signs. The holes are where the reflectors go. Leave it to a graphic designer to recognize where letters come from.

Saturday, October 22, 2005


Ten points to the first person who can guess where the "Eggs" letters came from. (I don't mean what store, I mean what purpose they served in life before becoming chicken coop art. Stephanie, you should be able to get this one.) Posted by Picasa

Amy, Lucas, Annette, and Bess

 Posted by Picasa

This Is Not My Child.

This is Lucas, who came to visit for the weekend and was entirely pleased with the chicken situation. Posted by Picasa

A Man, a Baby, and Four Hens

 Posted by Picasa

Chickens Make Us Laugh.

 Posted by Picasa

P. Scott, Luc, Eleanor and Abigail

 Posted by Picasa

Monday, October 17, 2005

These Are Not Our Chickens.

But oh, aren't they cute? Our friend Liz had chickens roaming free on her property (they all have the option of sleeping in the luxurious coop, which includes a solar-powered chicken door that opens and closes automatically at sunrise and sunset), but many of them choose to sleep al fresco. They recently had chicks--there appear to be two moms taking care of about eight chicks--and they are totally wild, running around all day. Scott managed to scoop one up for a photo, but the little darling did not like being held by a human. So unlike our very domestic, bathtub-raised chicks! Posted by Picasa

and here they are going from one mama hen (far left) to the other (far right) where a warm, downy butt awaits. Posted by Picasa

The chicks are being rounded up and herded to safety, where they will be far from the prying eyes of the Unwelcome Chicken Vistors. Posted by Picasa

Heading to safety. Mom (who looks remarkably like our Dolley, don't you think?) lifts her breat just enough to allow her young 'uns to scamper underneath. She will ruffle her feathers, sit back down, and all eight or so babies will be kept very warm and safe underneath her.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Chicken Hypnosis

Can this be true?

Futility Closet

"You can hypnotize a chicken by holding its head against the ground and drawing a line straight outward from its beak. Most chickens will stand immobile and stare at the line for about 30 minutes. One remained hypnotized for 3 hours 47 minutes."

I am afraid to hypnotize a chicken. I am afraid she will drift off to some faraway chicken place and never come back. Chickens have very limited resources: a beak, two sets of claws, and sharp eyes. A chicken in a stupor os a helpless creature indeed. Girls, I need you to keep your wits about you!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Chicken Suit Will Make Your Life Richer

When you wake up in the morning, you just never know what the day will bring. Today brought me news of the Chicken Suit. You may know that some people put diapers on their chickens so that their little friends can roam around the house. But why stop there?

I simply can't improve upon what the inventors of the Chicken Suit have to say about it, so I will quote from them:

The inventors of the chickenssuit, this ingenious 'piece of freedom', truly believe that there is a real need for this world to suit its chickens. We talk from experience. Chickenssuit has made our lives richer.

Appeal to the desires of your chicken. What you like may not be what your precious likes! Only the perfectly styled chicken is a happy chicken. Let the individuality of your chicken run free!

How to put it on:

Watch out for the feathers when you close the zipper.
Variability in the crotch enables freedom for the legs.
Carefully rotate your chicken’s wing and then simply pull it through the tailored wing opening.
Wash your suit at 30°C. No spin cycle or ironing necessary.

Let’s change your life.

Chickens Suit: the story:

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

When Chickens Attack

Now we're having fun. Thank you, thank you, to whoever has decided to shoulder the burden of writing Madonna's blog for her. As you can see, you can now get the real story behind that Vogue photo shoot with the chickens.

"Farm life isn't going so well for me. I have a song on my new cd called "I Love New York." Now you will understand this song better!"

Madonna's Personal Blog

Dolley does seem to hog the spotlight, doesn't she?

A silly picture of Dolley and Bess. Just because.

The Natural History of the Chicken

Netflix just brought us this highly entertaining PBS documentary about chickens. It is not, as the title might lead you to believe, a natural history of chickens. I wish it was, because I have many questions about the natural history of chickens. Why do they lay an egg every day? Why are Araucana eggs blue? Why do they roost in trees but otherwise have such a limited ability to fly? I know that some of this has to do with how we've bred them, but there must be more to the story.

Back to the film. It doesn't answer these questions, but it does tell many interesting stories of chickens and the people who love them. You'll meet a woman whose home is entirely decorated in chicken kitsch and who dotes on her Silkie rooster, putting diapers on him and even floating with him in her swimming pool; another much more down-to-earth Maine woman who found one of her hens frozen under the porch, only to realize, as she prepared to bury her, that the bird was still alive (this earned the bird a week of recuperation in the house, snuggled in an old baby crib, where she enjoyed television and other indoor comforts); a family living the good rural life, which includes sending the children out to collect eggs and giving thanks to the butchered bird they sit down to eat at dinner; and much more.

Worth watching. If the video store doesn't have it, the library might. Check it out.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Egg Fusion

A new laser technology will allow expiration dates and other information to be etched directly onto the shell of an egg. But that's not all: you can go to Egg Fusion's website, type in the code on the egg, and find out who produced it and when, how it was handled and shipped, USDA certification, pack date, sell date, expiration date, and much more.

On brown eggs, the laser etches through the brown outer layer to the white shell underneath. (Brown eggs are actually white--check the inside of the shell if you don't believe me--and just before the hen lays the egg, she adds a brown coating. On white eggs, she adds the coating too, but it's white. This is called the "bloom," or the cuticle. It protects the egg from bacteria.) If the egg is white, the laser is somehow adjusted to leave a brown mark.

If only you could find out the name of the hen who laid it. That's what I'm waiting for: I want my eggs to read, "Laid with love by Eleanor."

Sunday, October 09, 2005

I've Got My Hens To Keep Me Warm.

Ah, if only it were that simple.

Actually, this weekend has been all about staying warm. Winter is coming, and PG&E assures us that gas rates will rise by 70%. Electricity will go up too, in part because they use gas to fuel the power plants, and in part because--well, why should the natural gas companies have all the fun?

So we are trying to figure out how to stay warm without turning the furnace on. I'm getting one of these bad boys from the Thelin Stove Company--it's a pellet stove, so it puts out very little pollution and it burns wood pellets, a recycled and renewable resource. Plus, they look cool. Mine will be fire-engine red.

Having a cheery little fire going in the winter makes me wish I had a little box of baby chicks to raise behind it. I'm pretty sure E.B. White wrote about doing just that thing at his farm in Maine. If you haven't read One Man's Meat, you haven't read one of the best collections of essays on farm life (and other things) ever written. He wrote them in the years leading up to and during World War II, and there is a sweet and sad tenderness to them. We know what is coming, and he does not. Still, the war bears down, sharp and cold, and he finds some respite in his quiet rural life, which does, as I started to say, involve the raising of baby chicks behind the wood stove.

Spent the weekend on my belly under the house wrapping the heating ducts in insulation. Would have cost an even grand for a pro to do it. I am sore in places where I didn't even know I had places. But the work is done, and maybe it'll save us a little money when we do fire up the furnace.

And, last but not least, I started caulking cracks in the henhouse walls. Not so much to keep the girls warm--their body temperature is 105 and I think they can keep each other warm, especially considering our low temps are rarely below freezing--but to keep the rain out. Wet bedding means mold, and mold means sick chickens. Mustn't have that.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

More on Animal Care Eggs from the New York Times

I thought this was interesting:

"Compassion Over Killing and the Humane Society of the United States recently singled out the Trader Joe's food stores, accusing the company of hiding behind the Animal Care Certified program. The company says it does not include that seal on its private-label packaging but has defended its use of eggs produced by battery-caged chickens by saying it buys eggs only from Animal Care Certified companies."

Egg Producers Relent on Industry Seal - New York Times

Egg Logo About to Change

This just in: the United Egg Producer's "Animal Care Certified" logo will no longer be used on egg cartons in the U.S. because, well, it's misleading to suggest that the animals are, um, cared for.

It's the "care" part that was the sticking point.

Keeping them in cage so small that they can't turn around or flap their wings, and trimming off their peaks, and all sorts of horrors I won't recite because this is a family blog, just seemed a little, well, uncaring, even to federal regulators.

The egg industry puts it this way in their press release:

"The egg industry's new seal whichassures consumers that the eggs they are purchasing came from hens that were properly cared for under scientifically-based animal husbandry guidelines has won approval from federal regulators, the United Egg Producers (UEP) announced today.

The Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have approved the new seal, which is slightly revised from the one introduced in 2002 when the program began. The seal is the same size and shape as the original one, but the words have been changed from "Animal Care Certified" to "United Egg Producers Certified." Under the seal is the tagline: "Produced in compliance with United Egg Producers' Animal Husbandry Guidelines."

And an advocacy organization called Compassion over Killing had a slightly different take in their press release:

"The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has announced that the United Egg Producers' (UEP) "Animal Care Certified" logo will no longer be stamped on egg cartons nationwide. This decision ends the egg industry's three-year national advertising campaign that misled consumers concerned about animal cruelty.

The "Animal Care Certified" logo first came under scrutiny in June 2003, when Compassion Over Killing filed petitions with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and the FTC, as well as other federal agencies, asserting that the logo is misleading. Under the "Animal Care Certified" guidelines, egg producers are permitted to intensively confine hens in "battery cages" so small they can't even spread their wings, among other abuses.

In 2003, and again upon appeal in 2004, the BBB deemed the "Animal Care Certified" logo misleading because it implied a greater level of humane care than is actually the case. Despite these rulings and the BBB's subsequent referral of the matter to FTC for potential legal action against the UEP, the logo continued to appear on cartons across the country-and consumers continued to be deceived.

According to the FTC, by March 31, 2006, the "Animal Care Certified" logo will be gone from grocery store shelves, and consumers can expect to find it replaced with an alternative logo reading "United Egg Producers Certified."

Follow the Eggscam link below to find out more about it, and also check out United Poultry Concerns. - Exposing "Animal Care Certified" eggs

Monday, October 03, 2005

Gardening for Chickens

This is where our chickens spend their time. They come out to free range, but only when we can watch them--between the hawks overhead and the dogs that roam around the neighborhood, we're just not ready to let them out unsupervised.

So to keep them entertained while they're in their run, we try to grow something up the chicken wire fence that they can eat. At first this happened by accident: I planted some sweet peas, and they loved them, so then I realized that having something to pick at would keep them entertained. I started more sweet peas, but I really wanted something very easy and fast-growing, so now I've got some cover crop started--annual rye and field peas. They should grow well all winter and the seed is very cheap.

We had our first rain of the season this weekend, so I think there will be abundant greens for the hens to munch on over the next few months.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Blue Laced Wyandotte

When you have chickens, it's only a matter of time before you start lusting after some interesting-looking breed. It would be impractical for us to get more birds--it's difficult to introduce new birds to an established flock--and besides, four is enough. But I can't help but admire these Blue Laced Wyandottes. This one's a rooster, but you get the idea.

Check these out at Silver Pullet Poultry.

I'm also partial to Silkies, but Scott won't hear of it.