Thursday, March 30, 2006

Chocolate-filled eggshells

You go, Martha! For a while I was worried that Martha Stewart had lost her enthusiasm for the obscure and difficult, and was instead going for least-common-denominator tips and recipes to appeal to the masses. No more! Now we're blowing out eggs (using a drill, of course), and filling them with melted chocolate that must be kept at EXACTLY 88 degrees while it's being drizzled into the eggshell.

Woo-hoo! I will NEVER do it, even though I have four of Dolley's lovely blue eggs all hollowed out because we decided not to eat them while she was on medication--but I will think of it, dream of it, and wish I WOULD do it! That's what I need Martha for!

Wonderful way to make chocolate-filled eggshells - 03/25/06 - The Detroit News

Chickens Elude Authorities

This just in:

"Members of Manatee County Animal Services were unable to round up the feral chickens that have been roaming 16th Avenue West in the Village of the Arts.

Enforcement supervisor Larry Adams and field officers Jerry Hill and Joyce Bentley tried for nearly two hours to no avail Monday.

"We'd try to catch them and they'd go in flight," Adams said. "They didn't respond to the cracked corn we'd spread, either. We had a castnet, but couldn't get close enough. We're going to try to work on some other avenues and try again."

Well, yeah! They're not stupid, you know! Chickens have a powerful genetic memory that encourages them to resist any organized attempts to round them up and take them away.

Bradenton Herald 03/28/2006 Chickens elude authorities

Monday, March 27, 2006

Another chicken story

This lovely piece of writing is from my friend Beverly Levine:

We leap up and spread our arms like graceful wings. Our aging bodies are agile, light. We are in a swimming pool. Here, with the clear water to hold us up, gravity is forgotten, and we soar. We are mermaid ballet dancers, full of grace and beauty.

We love the exercise at the spa, but conversation is the best part. This morning, Dorothy's usually serene face is drawn.

"I'm worried about my chicken." Dorothy hops on one foot and then the other, her hands waving back and forth in the water like seaweed. The mermaids around her stop leaping. Dorothy has several Bantam chickens in her back yard. She also has a pond full of koi.

"The chicken fell in the pond," she says, "and it wasn't breathing."

"Oh, gosh! What did you do?"

"I gave it artificial respiration."

Imagination fails. "How?"

"Well, I put it on its back, and pushed on its chest, and blew in its mouth."

"Blew in its beak?"

"Yes. I just held it open a little and blew in."

We gently wave our arms, trying to decide whether or not to laugh at the mental picture of Dorothy, with her elegant blonde hair and sweet mouth, blowing into the beak of a chicken. But first, we need to know the poor animal's fate.

"So, is it all right?"

"I guess so. It started breathing. I wrapped it up in a towel to keep it warm, and told my husband to keep an eye on it."

"You saved its life!" Bobbie gives Dorothy a hug. We resume our leaps and jumps across the pool, and the story makes its way from one mermaid to another. We hear ripples of incredulous laughter up and down the pool.

When I get home that morning, my husband asks, "How was exercise?" If I tell him, will he believe me?

Friday, March 24, 2006

A Chicken Moat!

Oh, I loooooooove this! If you have not checked out Make magazine, get over there. Most of their ideas involve doing cool stuff with high-tech gadgets, but some of it is delightfully, low-tech, like this plan for a garden surrounded by a chicken moat. Let the birds patrol the border, eat bugs, etc.

They'd get the benefits of free-ranging without destroying the garden. Other ideas to really make this fabulous:

1. Plant a Row for the Chickens--be sure to plant leafy greens right up against the moat, so the chicks can stick they heads through the fencing and graze. Grow peas up the fence for this, too. If you really want to make them happy, how about strawberries? I've heard that French farmers feed their chickens marigold petals to get that bright orange yolk--how about planting marigold & calendula, too?

2. Cover crops, pollinator crops, green manure: fence off one section of the moat at a time and plant clover, rye, vetch, fava. Let it all bloom! You'll attract pollinators to the garden and it's great for the soil. Once it's done blooming, take down the fence and let the chickens turn it into compost. Keep a couple sections going at a time so you always have something in bloom to attract the good bugs.

3. Speaking of compost...just toss everything in the moat! Brilliant!

4. Don't forget to screen the top of the moat, too, so the chickens will stay in and the hawks and racoons will stay out.

Honey, can I have a place in the country? Pleeeeeze?

MAKE: Blog: HOW TO - Make a "Chicken Moat"

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A traffic jam!

Four hens trying to lay at once! It rarely happens that the Egg Stork arrives at the same time for all four of them, but when it does, it's chaos. We have two nesting boxes (each bird does not need her own box; they usually take turns and besides they develop a preferred box) and as you can see, the box on the right is the box everyone wants to use.

Abigail was there first, and that didn't stop Eleanaor from just settling in on top of her as if she wasn't there. Bess got box #2, to the great chagrin of Dolley, who was left in a sort of "waiting room" next door. Scott snapped this photo the very second Bess laid her little green egg, and as you can see, Dolley is already poking her beak around the corner as if to say, "Are you done in there yet? Move it!"

Eventually everyone but Abigail laid an egg. Maybe she just gave up in disgust. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

But Does it Eat Snails?

Speaking of keeping a chicken in the house...check out the amazing Chicken Alarm Clock, courtesy of my friends Roni & Jessica. It crows and lays eggs to wake you up in the morning. Fabulous! I may have to have one in spite of my aversion to alarm clocks.

Le Futur Amazing Gifts

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Ah, the drama!

It's rare to catch one of these dramatic moments, but I just happened to have the camera in my hand when Bess popped into the laundry room (perhaps to have a look at the cat food? or a return to her ancestral home in the downstairs bathroom?) and on her way out, who should she run into but Loretta.

Loretta: Don't move, Chicken Little. I've got you right where I want you.

Bess: Nice try, hairball. We all know who's in charge around here.

Loretta: They'll never let you move into the house, you know.

Bess: Oh, yeah? Guess what, Whiskas? Chickens actually sleep at night. We don't run up and down the hall like our tail's on fire at three a.m.. And in the morning? We make them breakfast. Then we go outside and eat weeds and snails. You should try it sometime.

Loretta: Oh yeah, like I've got that kind of time. Out of my way, birdbrain. I'm late for my nap. Posted by Picasa

Monday, March 20, 2006


Here's the Caboodle. (More on this below) Posted by Picasa

At the Garden Show

Here's Bob and one of his chickens. She looks remarkably like our Bess except she's about twice the size as Bess. Posted by Picasa

The Chick-N-Caboodle

I just got back from the San Francisco Garden Show where, for the second year in a row, I saw Bob La Mar of Little Valley Farms selling his chicken coops made from wine barrels. It's a clever idea and he's got the perfect approach for city-dwellers: a ready-made coop with nesting boxes, food, waterer, treats, and three young Araucanas who are hand-raised and just getting ready to lay. For $975, you get the whole thing delivered to you, and he'll answer your questions by phone or e-mail.

I love the idea, Bob's a really friendly and knowledgeable guy, and his chickens are beautiful. I must say, however, that there are a couple things to consider if you'd like to buy a Caboodle (and you'd have to live in Northern California to take advantage of the delivery service, by the way).

First, I don't really want my hens to free-range all day. Even though I'm at home most of the time, I'd be worried about one of them hopping up on a fence and trotting down the alley, or a dog finding its way in the garden through a loose board, or a hawk swooping down. Also, my garden can't handle the wear-and-tear of three chickens, twelve hours a day. The Caboodle does come with a very small collapsible poultry run, but I'd want something a little bigger if I'm going to keep them confined for any period of time.

Second, I'd rather not have them locked up in such a small space, with no food or water, waiting for me to come let them out or put them away. What if I need to leave in the afternoon and I won't be home until midnight? What if I sleep late or I'm sick or otherwise not able to let them out first thing in the morning? Or what if I'm out of town and my pet-sitter is running late?

Both of these problems could be solved in part by setting the Caboodle inside a screened-in run. That way, they can wander in and out of their coop during the day to lay eggs or seek shelter from the rain, and if they put themselves to bed and I'm not there to lock them up, I at least know they're surrounded by a sturdy enclosure that will deter predators to a certain extent.

But by the time you build that sturdy enclosure (with wire buried underground to keep critters from tunneling under, and wire overhead to keep hawks & racoons out), you've spent some more money, so you might add it all up and ask yourself if a traditional coop wouldn't be a better way to go.

I'm not saying the Caboodle's a bad idea. In fact, I'm enchanted with it. But do consider your space and ask yourself where you'll put the girls' food and water, where they can seek shelter from the weather, and what parts of your deck, porch, garden, etc. you want them to have access too. (I'm pretty forgiving when it comes to chicken poop, but some people might not want it on their flagstone patio.) Also, if you are going to let them free-range all day and you're not going to be home to watch over them, ask yourself how heartbroken you'd be if something happened to one of them. Things do happen. They're chickens.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

A Chicken Tractor in Michigan

Aw, I never got to have this much fun in school. Imagine all the attention these chickens get.

Green Thumbs Around the World, USA

Monday, March 13, 2006

Products to stop feather picking?

Has anyone tried any of these products you can put on your chickens to stop picking? Bess, who is really the most interesting and most personable of our birds, has found herself at the bottom of the pecking order, and when she gets out of line, the other birds are fond of reaching over and plucking a feather out of her neck. I just don't like the way it looks--she was so much cuter with her little beard. I worry that the Hot Pick will sting her bare skin, so should I try the Blue Kote? The Pine Tar seems like it's designed for more serious wounds.

(Scott came upstairs while I was writing this post and just laughed at the idea that I would buy something like this for our chickens. I said, "Honey, I'm sure she doesn't like having her neck all exposed like that when the other girls all have feathers. She needs products! This is a chick thing." He agreed that it was probably best if he just stayed out of it. I can already tell that I will be the one in charge of Bess' nightly beauty ritual.)

McMurray Hatchery - Anti Pick

Friday, March 10, 2006

And there was much rejoicing!

Good news! Dolley's impacted crop is entirely better. The medication from the vet (Metoclopramide for those of you just tuning in) must have worked. This is entirely due to Scott's persistence--I have been very busy with work and hardly able to look up, while Scott has been chasing Dolley around the garden with little droppers of medication.

Today, quite suddenly, her crop was empty and back to normal. We hope this mysterious mass will move through her system OK, but not to worry, I won't be analyzing her poop online here.

But that's not all the news. Just as her crop was clearing up, she's started to get broody! (A broody hen, for hormal reasons, sits and sits on her nest in the vain hope that her eggs will hatch. It's bad for the hen because she might not even get up to eat or drink, and it wreaks havoc with the use of the nesting boxes.)

A couple days ago I saw her sitting in her box around 9 am, and again at 1:30 pm. Don't know if she'd been there all day, but she was certainly sitting on her egg, Abigail's egg, and the wooden egg (more on wooden eggs later.) She did hop right up to seize the opportunity to free-range, but I wondered if this was the start of an episode of broodiness.

Today Scott noticed her sitting in her box for what seemed like an unusually long time. He finally kicked her out of the box, with some protests from her, and she laid an egg right in the doorway, as if to say, "I WAS getting around to it!"

Any ideas for breaking a broody hen? We've heard that you should do what you can to get her out of the box and doing something else, and also to change the bedding and otherwise break up the routine of the nesting box. So that's what we've done so far. Posted by Picasa


I'm doing little 5x7 paintings of each bird. Here's Dolley. Even in this picture you can see her oversized crop, poor girl. Scott got more medication because they gave us just enough for the doses we were supposed to give her, but of course most of that didn't actually go down the hatch. So we're trying again.

It hailed this morning--big, pea-sized hail that completely covered the garden. The chickens have let it be known that they would prefer a more temperate climate. Or at least hot oatmeal in the morning, something that more devoted chicken owners than I have been known to deliver to their birds on cold mornings. Posted by Picasa

Monday, March 06, 2006

Mesmerizing chickens

I am fascinated by this idea of mesmerizing a chicken (see Sara's comment, previous post) and I have heard of this before but had forgotten all about it. One method is to hold the chicken down with her beak pressed firmly on the ground (now see, already this is sounding tricky), and slowly draw a line in the dirt with your finger straight away from her beak, 2 or 3 feet. When you release her, the chicken will lie there with her eyes open, not moving, from 15 seconds to several hours, if undisturbed.

Or you can tuck the chicken's head under her wing and rock her gently for several seconds. Then you set her down very carefully, and she will stay that way.

See, what bothers me about this is having this level of control over the bird and not really understanding why or how it works. Kind of like--oh, I don't know, what would it be like?--having the authority to send your military into war without really understanding the gestalt of the thing. (or knowing what "gestalt" means. or "mesmerize," for that matter.)

I digress. The point is that it's a lot of power to wield over a little bird. What if I send her off into avian la-la land and she never comes back? Or what if she's not quite right ever again after that?

There's also the practical matter of forcing her head into any position at all. They are big, sturdy birds (Dolley weighed four pounds at the vet, by the way), but their heads are surprisingly small little things, like little walnut shells only more fragile, and their necks are hardly anything at all, just feathers and one skinny column of bone. I just hate to push too hard.

Dang, I wish I'd just insisted on watching the vet do it. Should've brought my camera, too. I thought the vet wouldn't have approved, but hey, it's my money, right? Might as well get something out of it!

I do like the use of the word "mesmerize." It's a lovely word. Not "stun," not "stupefy," not "sedate," but "mesmerize." As if she'll be fascinated. Spellbound. That's a nice thought.

Has anyone else ever tried it?

Friday, March 03, 2006

Time for the vet

Well, after a couple of weeks of Dolley's crop being enlarged, we decided to take her to the vet. It might just go away on its own, but if she went downhill in a hurry, we'd probably regret not having it checked out. Besides, we thought it would be helpful to get to know a chicken vet.

There's one bird vet in town, so that's where we went. I worried that they would think we were crazy for bringing a chicken in, but in fact they were delighted and, like all good vets, acted as if ours was the most beautiful and well-behaved bird they'd ever seen.

In fact, Dolley was very well-behaved. She squawked a little when we put her in the box, but once the lid was on she rode very quietly, and in the examining room she perched on one of our arms and hardly made a peep.

The news looked grim at first--the vet thought that the lump in her crop felt very hard and fixed, like a tumor, and her droppings looked tumor-like. So they ran a few tests on the droppings and gave her an x-ray (we did not get to watch this to see how they'd pull it off, but she said they would "mesmerize" her and it would only take a minute, which it did. How do you mesmerize a chicken?)

The x-ray showed that the mass was probably just food that wasn't moving through her system, so she prescribed a drug called Metoclopramide which is supposed to get the crop moving and push things along. They also found coccidia in her droppings--this is a very common protozoa that chickens are mostly immune to once they get older. There are many different species of coccidia with many different symptoms. For that she prescribed an antiobiotic, and recommended that we put all the birds on medicated feed to make sure everybody stays healthy. (Baby chicks are always on medicated feed because they are less resistant to the coccidia, which flourish in droppings.) Posted by Picasa

Dolley Drinks the Kool-Aid

Here's Dolley standing on my hands (it seemed to make her happy) eating her medicine-laced rice. Normally our chickens love white rice, but Dolley quickly caught on that there was medicine here and, after picking out whatever non-medicated grains she could find, she gave up on it. We also tried squirting some on a piece of bread, but she figured that one out, too.

Next stop: applesauce. I really, really don't want to have to try forcing her beak open to squirt medicine down her throat.

Any other ideas, chicken people? Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Meet the Poultry Wiki

As you may know, a "wiki" is a kind of open site where anyone can post and update information, often used for encyclopedia-style sites. Well, now there's a poultry wiki, where I found some useful information on impacted crops. Check it out!

Main Page - The Poultry Keeper Wiki