We took on a new batch of baby chicks!
They were, I kid you not, hatched from a dozen fertile eggs purchased at Trader Joe's and put under a broody chicken. Nine of the 12 hatched. The woman who tried this grand experiment couldn't keep them so they live with us now spending their time on our stove top where it's warm and dry. At least two are starting to look like roosters. So who knows how many will be laying hens and how many will go the way of the soup pot.
I know. It's totally terrible to say "soup pot" and then show you that face. I'm, admittedly, broken. But that's life on the "farm".
We have this crazy chicken. She is one of the three we got from our favorite local nursery and was, of the three, the hardest to catch. She was originally named Starly, but Mark started calling her Black Betty and it kind of stuck. From the start she insisted on sleeping in a tree, rather than with the rest of the flock and once went missing for a week. She turned up at the end of the week, screaming at me while racing around the coop eating everything in sight. Turns out she had gone broody and was off sitting on a clutch of eggs that never would hatch. Eventually we waited for her to return and sealed up the coop so she couldn't go out again. We were too worried she'd be discovered on her nest by the local coyote pack and that would be the end of Betty the Banty.
Not long ago we accepted a pair of rescue chickens who both turned out to be roosters. We hadn't planned on having roosters, but honestly, they are ridiculously funny and have provided us with so many examples of awkward chicken p0rn, we just couldn't get rid of them. And this time, when Betty went broody, we figured we'd give the girl a chance to be a mama. She stole every egg she could get and wit the addition of some straw Mark provided made herself a nest in one of the laying boxes. For a while it was only six eggs but at the latest count it was a total of ten.
A couple days ago, our motherly little hen finally got everything she ever wanted. One of the eggs hatched.
Today, another chick was found, stumbling around looking confused.
I decided that since Betty was still trying to add to her clutch of eggs, she and the babies needed to get moved. Their access to food and water is rather limited in the laying box, so I moved the whole lot of them to the side car coop. I moved Betty first and the poor thing went frantic when she wasn't with the babies. I ran around and snatched the peeping little fluffs and ran them back to where she was, instantly calming her down. After that I moved her nest with all the eggs. The guy at the feed store told me they wouldn't all hatch, but I have no idea at what point to throw in the towel. The babies that did hatch took about three weeks and I think the last two eggs were added to the nest in the last couple of days so in another three weeks we should be done with all this business.
At work today I was talking to one of the tech guys about how we want to get a goat*. He suggested I could just let it roam free about the property and it would eat things with wild abandon. Which would be great, if, you know, we didn't have coyotes on the property that also tend to eat (living) things with wild abandon.
"Oh, that's simple!" he proclaimed, "All you need is a Goat Laser Protection System."
"Um, why don't you draw that up for me, Dean."
*Dean and I go way back, are excellent friends and tend to talk about all manor of things, so discussing a goat isn't that odd for me and the Tech guy to be doing.
About a month or two back my Mister rescued a pair of chickens. They were in need of a home or a soup pot and we decided to give them a home for a while. We were told that one was what's called a "naked neck" and before he picked them up, we all speculated as to how odd this bird would look.
I think she's silly enough that she needs a name (we don't name all our chickens).
Planting in the garden today, I apparently needed some very special help. From my dog. Yeah. She was sniffing out the peppers I was getting ready to transplant and gave them a pant of approval. Silly pooch.
We've been super busy in the garden this year. More photos of what we've been doing here.
A couple days ago Lily went to collect our ever growing bounty of eggs from the hen house and forgot to close the laying box door. Her hands were full and I think she probably told herself she'd come back for it, but she didn't. Sometime between then and the next morning, most of our newly laying hens decided to take a walk. Seven of them were discovered by coyotes.
When I delivered this news to Lily she was in the midst of packing for the end of the year beach trip her class would take that day. She made a sad face, asked a few questions and then got back to the task at hand. My child, who usually reacts to all things in a deeply emotional way, showed very little emotion, pushing it off immediately. This concerned me. I couldn't quite figure out if she didn't fully understand her role in this or if she took all that emotion and stuffed it. After all, she doesn't handle transitions well and it's the end of the school year. It's possible she's simply sticking this incident aside and that emotion will find it's way out later.
Talking to her teachers (who so often double as child psychologists) Mr. V suggested that once school is over he & Ms. K should come for a home visit and talk with Lily about what happened. Maybe, he thought, with the school transition under her belt and with someone not invested in the event Lily could talk about how this whole thing is making her feel. And if she can talk to him about it, maybe she can process it in a healthy way.
Do you see why we love this school so much?
Today was the last day and Lily came home with a pile of stuff, workbooks and project folders, art and love notes from classmates. Also, a class CD including liner notes, each track selected by her fellow students. At the end are songs from her teachers, the last from a sub who filled in when Ms. K had a baby. It's a song Mrs. L wrote and her daughter (who heads to High School in the fall) performed. Listening to it, I found myself suddenly sobbing with the understanding of how deeply my kid is loved. She has such amazing support all around her; the team of teachers that shepherded her through her school year are some of the more brilliant souls I've ever met. At the beginning of the year I remember them telling the kids every day that they loved them and the cynical part of me said, "Pfft. Love them? They don't even know them." But now? Now I know. Now I know what love really means here. Now I can see what a positive school culture, a social emotional curriculum and the love of some wonderful teachers can really mean.
There's been some major upset at this school lately, with almost half the teaching staff moving on to other opportunities and (the most difficult of it all) two teacher whose contracts were not renewed. It has divided the parents, made many consider leaving the school, and made the end of the year more emotional than anyone could expect. And yet, I look at the year my child had and the love that has been offered her (and Anya, who was around enough to get her own dose of affection) and I can't help feeling like we're in the right place. Especially in moments of such clarity as I had this week though the kind offering of time from one teacher and song from another.
We are so damn lucky.
The latest batch of babies (see below) are growing nicely. They are, by far, the stinkiest chickens I have every smelled, shockingly rank even. The last batch could go a couple days with the same bedding in their box but these girls need a change every single day. And they seem to have an odd obsession with filling their water cup as full as possible with shredded paper. It's as though we have offended them somehow, by providing them with clean drinking water, and this monstrosity must be corrected. Immediately. And with lots of very loud peeping.
They are doing their damnedest to escape, as well, which could have something to do with the stink. If you even crack the top of the box you will be greeted with the most emphatic flapping of wings and a platoon of fluff flinging itself at you. I wonder if it's a breed thing, but really haven't a clue. We just refer to them as the stinky escape artists.
We're heading out of town for a bit and they'll stay with Lorien, but as soon as we return it's going to be time to introduce them to the side-car coop so they can stink up the joint AWAY from the house. They're so ready to take on the world.
How is everyone? I miss you.
Friday was Mark's last day of full time work, spitting him out onto the job market at an awesome time in our economy. You'd think I'd be more panicked about that. But not so much. We have always found a way to get by and at least we have a gorgeous four story theatre complex with a stunning black-box theatre (which features a fully trapped stage... theatre geeks, commence the ohhhhs and ahhhs!), education center and banquet hall to show for his time. Not many of us can point to something vital to the community and say, "I helped build that." I'm insanely proud of that man and the work he did.
But, in absence of a project to manage, he did get itchy for more chickens. On Sunday we drove out to a 4-H-er's home and picked up seven new chicks, bringing our total chicken count to twenty. These new babies are only five-days-old and so cute you want to just pop them all in your mouth at once. And yes, I know that doesn't make a damn bit of sense. But just look at them:
This one is a Buff Orpington and is the one that makes me most melty. I can't stop touching that fuzzy little head of hers.
Chicks learn quickly that standing in your food is a good way to protect it. If by "protect" you mean that you might get poop in it and other chicks will be constantly nipping at your feet.
I'm a little afraid her face will get lost in all that fuzz.
Lily is deeply in love. Anya has always been a bit suspicious but today got brave enough to hold one. I haven't caught a picture of her with a chick yet, since she spooks easily when you point a camera at her, but I'll get her yet.
And finally, a tiny video for your amusement. Lorien said her favorite part of this video was the cheeping along to Freddie Mercury. I have to agree.
The very day after I posted about our new chickens we had a catastrophe. Our best laying hen, Isabella (seen under Henrietta in this photo and in the photo below, foreground) was snatched by a coyote in broad daylight. Usually coyotes don't hunt during the day but lately, they've become more bold and have disregarded eons of natural patterns. I guess that's what happens when humans encroach more and more on wild territory. While I feel utterly and completely pissed off about this, I also have a hard time blaming the coyote. A chicken makes good food and he couldn't have known that Isabella was our best layer. I'd like to think that had we been able to discuss it he would have taken a less valuable chicken.
Alas, the world doesn't work that way.
Molting is awesome. There are feathers ALL over the yard. It looks like a crazy person went into the coop, grabbed the chickens by their feet and just went to town with the swinging action. For a while, Isabella had this awesome bare patch running straight down her back. Henrietta and Sparkle Heart were both way more lady like with their molting, a feather here and there coming lose as the new one grew in. But damn if Isabella didn't just go full out. At least they finished the majority of the process before the rains came. Silly chickens.
In other news I got a new camera. I had saved up most of the money needed for the thing and then said, SCREW IT and bought the camera anyway. The next day (I kid you not) a relative sent me a check that more than covered the cost. So then I decided I would finally buy myself a Wii and another relative said she'd pay for it if I let her play with it some time. HOT DAMN! Then I went to the company holiday party at the theatre where Mark and I work and won a weekend at a fancy hotel on the bay. WHAT THE? HELL YES!
And then I came thisclose to getting smeared all over an intersection when a car ran a red light and the screech of tires and the smoke and the terrified expression on her face (which probably matched my own) put me back into my place and I stopped feeling like the Universe was my new best friend and would do anything I wanted.
So I'm calming down.
But hey, I'm taking photos again! And that's fun. Not that I have any computer time to actually, you know, upload them. Or share them with you here. Whatever, they exist and I'll get to them when I can.
Which leads me to my next thing: I'm out of time. Must dash. Love to you all and hope you're having a fantastic holiday season.
We lost another chicken.
This one got nabbed by a coyote, we think. She was one of the new ones and was simply not smart enough to stay put inside the hen house one night. Mark found her in the morning and disposed of all but the array of feathers left behind.
The two new bantams are refusing to stay put as well, often finding opportunities to escape and simply not coming back at night. I don't see them lasting too much longer and am considering bringing them back to Farmer Bill before someone nabs them as well. They're not laying either, or at least if they are, they're not doing so in the coop. We've gotten one, teeny-tiny egg from them so far, which is ridiculously cute. Wanna see?
But I'm thinking we need to get chicks so they can learn that the hen house is home and we are safe. At this rate, we're just going to keep finding dead chickens and that is simply no good.
At least I hadn't gotten attached to the new chickens.
It turns out that it was all for nothing. Sassy did really well for a couple days, seeming to get better. Then yesterday she started sitting really awkwardly and looking like there was just nothing left to her. When Mark went to check on her this morning, she was in terrible shape and obviously in pain, so he decided it was best to end it for her. The girls showed up at the end and he explained it to them... they seemed to understand. Anya needed to be sad for a while, so he held her on his lap and let her cry. I was (thankfully) at work when this all went down. Lorien, who I went to visit at the Farmer's Market after I got off work and found out, reminded me how very awesome my husband is. He didn't call me up at work and expect me to make this decision. He just saw that it had to happen and released me from the responsibility of it. I am truly grateful to him for that.
When we got back from our vacation last week Mark built a small coop (which he likes to call the Mini-Cooper, for obvious reasons) as we planned to get more chickens as soon as possible. It was the perfect place to put Sassy for recovery; nobody could pick on her and she had a nice, soft, enclosed space to be. We figured we'd wait until she was better to get the new chickens but when the girls discovered Mark post-chicken-murder, he promised them we'd try to get new ones today.
SO. First we tried the feed store nearby, since they always have pullets.
I'd remembered seeing chicks at our favorite nursery (which also has a barnyard) so we headed over there on a whim. I asked Bill if he had any chicks but he had none for sale, so told us if we could catch a couple adult chickens from his barnyard, we could have them. We took home three: two smaller ones and a big red. They are getting acquainted with our current chickens through a fence and will join the main coop in a couple days time.
And, despite my reservations regarding naming this bunch, there was no keeping the girls from assigning them names. So, without further ado:
She's a bantam sized, Americana (which is what both Sparkle Heart & Sassafras are/were) looking girl who seems pretty damn skittish. She was the hardest of the three to catch as Mark and I ran around the barnyard like idiots.
And here's Rose
She's most likely a Rhode Island Red and is the only one of the three who totally got that the stuff we were throwing at her was for eating. The other two have no clue what to do with table scraps, but will likely pick it up quickly.
And if you want to know why they'll be spending a few days in a smaller, separate coop, here's why:
Here's hoping things will go a bit better for these three girls. If not, Bill just told me to bring them back and chase another around the yard to replace it. See why it's our favorite nursery?
From the time we first got our chickens, we noticed one of them was different. Sassafras had a heavier front end, looking like she was smuggling things around in a pouch hung around her neck. And it continued to grow. Big. Like, STUPID BIG. Not knowing anything about the anatomy of a chicken, we didn't think much of it until we returned home from our vacation to discover she could no longer walk. She was crawling around (which is disturbing when you have wings) and not pooping and clearly unwell.
Mark's first instinct was to kill her.
I vetoed that idea.
Then I called the vet and discovered it would be $50 just to look at her. A chicken.
Then I turned to google and discovered that we were looking at a much higher vet bill to actually solve the problem, which we had diagnosed as an impacted crop. What's a "crop" you say? Check this out:
So, the food goes down the esophagus, hangs out in the crop, where the gravel they've also swallowed acts to grind up the food, then it carries on through the digestive system. With Sassy, her crop had a huge ball (egg sized) of undigested greens and she had been swallowing rock after rock to try to solve the problem. This left her with over two pounds of crap in there while she was slowly starving to death.
So after googling like a mad-woman I figured out how to fix it. And it was simple, really. Just slice her open, cut into the crop and empty it. Easy peasy, right?
Oh, dear God, no.
But actually, it wasn't as bad as we thought it would be. When we started, she was looking terrible, eyes glazed and energy nonexistent. Mark cut into her without a response and then into the crop, spending the next hour carefully removing the contents of her crop through a hole only slightly bigger than his index finger. I held her for that hour over a bucket, both of us cramping up from squatting and trying not to hurl at the smell of the stuff coming out of her. About 3/4 of the way through she let out a huge BAWK! that startled both of us, but then she just chilled out, started looking around and became more and more alert and energetic. By the end, she was downright sassy and while she still couldn't walk, had decided she best get away from those crazy people with the knife. In other words, she had more fight in her than we'd seen in days. She never once showed any signs of pain, which would have made the whole thing darn near impossible for me to endure.
After it was all over and we had, literally, two pounds of greens and gravel to dispose of, we put her back together, poured a ton of disinfectant over her incision and set her up with a warm towel in the house we had recently built for the new chicks we want to get. This morning I fed her a little olive oil, some arnica, made sure she was comfy and had water and smeared her incision with neosporian. She's pooping again, in great spirits, though still not able to walk, and just might recover.
But mostly crazy because I can now say that I have performed open crop surgery on a chicken, which will look lovely on my resume. Fingers crossed the patient will recover.
Brought the chickens some oatmeal this morning and then refilled their waterer, a clever, though awkward contraption made by the Mister. See, it's a trashcan and a big plastic serving platter someone left here after a party. Notch small hole in rim of trashcan, fill trashcan with water, put platter atop, FLIP! carefully, and viola, instant chicken waterer.
In fact, a lot of the coop was made with items the Mister had pack-ratted away over the years. The coop itself was made with old stage platforms, the hardware for the door came from an old carpentry gig, the hinges on the egg boxes came from another job, the door into the chicken yard is an odd shaped bit of plywood left over from something random, the roof of the yard is a discarded ocotillo fence, etc etc. All in all, I think he spent less than $100 total (mostly on the support lumber you see) on the whole project.
He's handy, that Mister of mine.
Forgive my voice getting all stupid there... I kinda love the chickens.
So the hens are settling in nicely, even gifting us with an egg today (which we didn't expect). They tend to run in pairs with Sparkle Heart (Lily decided that "Sparkle" was insufficient) and Sassafras, the Ameraucanas, running skittishly together and Henrietta (the Buff Orpington) and Isabella (Anya settled on that name for the Rhode Island Red) walking right up to us and trying to eat our freckles.
Maya is having a hard time. She really, really wants to see the chickens UP CLOSE. Here's a sample of her craziness:
They're really cool, so far. Can't wait to see what craziness they get into.
A couple days ago a friend called me up and asked if I wanted his four chickens. They have a smallish backyard and as the weather has started warming up, he and his family are starting to get an idea of what chicken poop really smells like. Couple that with the fact they have a newborn and, well, the chickens have to go.
Guess what we've spent the weekend working on?
The coop is almost done, but we'll have to stick the chickens in a temporary home for a few more days. But hey, I got to learn how to use a jigsaw! That was wicked fun. I have to get back out there, so in the meantime, here are some pictures for you to enjoy:
I don't have any photos of Mark putting together the coop, but here I am drilling the holes for the jigsaw blade. It gets pretty warm here and we want lots of ventilation for the coop. We'll paint as well.
Off to keep working on the thing!
Ladies and gentlemen, we have chickens. AND we got the coop done enough that they are sleeping there tonight!
Still lots of work to do, but our four ladies are settled in for the night!
Dude, that's a lot of exclamation points. I may be excited.