Operation Chicken Round 3 is going well so far. Not dissimilar from Round 2 at this point. The chickens are getting bigger — making me think they need a larger covered pen and a better coop. I want to build this coop.  But in the interest of having some kind of standards, the chickens can’t get a nicer coop until my house is more livable.

These chickens, more than the last batch, seem interested in upward mobility. Maybe it is because they have a full view of the pigeons next door who are always flying overhead and doing upwardly mobile things. Mmm hmm. That must be it. Anyway, these chickens cannot be trusted without a cover on their pen if they want to survive.

It seems that pet chickens must have names. I don’t necessarily consider them my pets but all my young friends do, so naming them was necessary. One came with a name: Streamers. My friend Kitty, who is looking forward to chickens of her own next year, informed me that she is saving “Queenie” for her favorite chicken when she gets them, but would help name mine in the meantime. She came up with Mrs. Eggs, Goldie, Syrup, and Alpha. My niece Jane named the remaining white hen Pearl.  There you have it. I’m putting these into a blog post because I am unlikely to remember them otherwise. Don’t tell my young farming friends.

Six Eggs a Day

I was getting six eggs a day for the past month or so. All six chickens, each laying an egg a day, like clockwork, all for a few minutes a day to feed and water them and give them a place to live. This, my friends, is living the chicken dream.

Thursday I got home from work, let the dogs out – like I do – and then peeked out to see Daisy chasing a white chicken who was not in the pen. What? There was one white chicken who evaded capture and didn’t get her wing clipped so apparently she’d flown out. Eye roll. Just as I get to the chicken, Suzie also reaches the chicken. Nooooooo. I start shrieking because that’s what one does when your dogs are chasing your escaped chicken. I grabbed Suzie’s collar, but couldn’t also grab Daisy who was now nipping at the escapee (I’m not sure I can say it was gentle nipping but it looked more like she was trying to catch her than kill her — still… 60 lbs of crazy up against 6 lbs of chicken seemed dangerous). I drag Suzie in and Daisy finally leaves the chicken and comes with me at my insistence. I lock both dogs inside and go retrieve the wet, bedraggled chicken from behind the food bin. It is only then I notice that there are no chickens out in the pen to see me. Keep in mind, these chickens really love me and usually all run out to the fence to see me anytime they hear me. I pretend this is because I am just super lovable, but I think it has to do with the fact that I usually have kitchen scraps for them. Potato potahto.
My eye travels the fenced in garden where they’ve been living since fall. Initially I assume they are just in the coop because it is drizzling and has been raining all day. Then I notice a lot of white feathers and follow the trail to the bodies of three dead chickens against the corner of the pen. Uh oh. I look further and see another one further up. 4 dead chickens. One missing. Ugh.  Something got into the pen and killed them and then clearly was trying to find a way to take the carcasses home so three of the chickens heads were pulled through the fence (but the rest of the body got stuck). Ew. It is raining, a light but cold rain.

 

I get the shovel and start digging. Still wondering about that missing chicken and wondering what killed them. On a whim, I look inside the coop. There, inside the coop, dead, is the missing chicken. Not only did it get killed in there but it is going to be hard to retrieve. Awesome. Thank you, mystery varmint, for your efforts. I’ll spare you the details but I managed to retrieve it by crouching in the doorway and a lot of awkward motions with a large shovel and hey, the head was still somewhat connected (barf).

 

My best guess is raccoon. While I don’t see them around, I am sure they are not far away. It happened in the middle of a rainy day while the dogs were indoors and I was at work. It only missed the white hen because her wing wasn’t clipped and she flew out somehow. (Go ahead and google “What killed my chicken”).

 

As I bury the dead chickens, in the rain, the lone white hen pecks about the garden clucking and calling to her friends. Chickens are so dumb. And also really sad when they are alone. I looked at her and thought, “oh hon, you’re a goner. That varmint will undoubtedly be back for you.” Meanwhile I debated if I should give her to my mom to join that flock or what since a single chicken is always an unhappy chicken. I also gave myself brownie points for my no nonsense approach and my lack of dry heaving over the chicken massacre. Way to go Reenie. Getting more heartless by the day.

 

The next morning, I went out to feed the hen and she was gone without a trace. Clearly the mystery varmint came back for her. Case closed. At least I didn’t have more clean up.

 

I texted my friend whose children had raised the chicks to share the bad news. I got a hilarious string of texts back from my sweet 10 year old goddaughter who truly loved those birds. In one of my replies, I actually said the words “At least we have our fond memories.”  Yeah. I said that. About chickens.
All in all, I still consider this venture a success. I kept the chickens alive for 11 months and it wasn’t my dogs that killed them. I had farm fresh eggs for about 8 of those months and at the end was up to 6 eggs a day. I was truly living the chicken dream. At least until that egg laden dream came to a bloody and untimely end.

My life the circus: just add chickens

It was a nice Friday night and I borrowed my dad’s car with the hitch. I headed down to Saline to pick up a trailer from the C’s to pick up the coop. My community of people are a delightfully interconnected bunch. It happened to be their daughter’s birthday so they were having my brother and his family for dinner. I got to meet their delightfully chubby baby (finally!), visit for a bit, and then drove off with the trailer.

My brother in law and the kids helped me load it and a rototiller to borrow onto the trailer. I drove home and another friend came to help me unload it. He lives close by and is personally invested in this coop being ready since his family would be bringing their chicks to live there the next day. This particular friend happens to be a brilliant woodworker so I showed him my attempt to hack a new light fixture and he gave me some advice on how to solve the final steps. I love my people!!

IMG_0625Saturday was an all out circus at my house. While I had the borrowed trailer, I picked up a bed from my friend’s house for my Grandpa who lives with my parents. So I visit with Bob, we load a bed, and I visit with my mom while we unload a bed. Then I head back home where Donal, Lindsey, and CK  are already at my house and running the hills with the pups. They were over for a work day in the yard. An hour later, our friend Nick swings by. We were signed up to cook this meal for charity on Sunday (Nick and I each cooking part of the meal). He needed to drop off his portion on Saturday and I’d make the delivery the next day with my portion. So Nick stops to visit for a bit and then heads out.

We get back to our stick retrieval program, driving trailer load after trailer load down to the burn pile. Even CK got in on the stick picking up. You’ve got to start them young! Maybe next year he’ll be ready for the Official Stick Day. We ate lunch and then CK went down for his nap, Lindsey went to get a shot, and Donal and I continued on with the yarding.

Somewhere in the middle of this Cora and her kids show up to deliver the chicks to their new home. I knew this was going to be a sad parting (for the kids) so I made sure they did all the chores to get the chicks settled: they put them in the coop, filled the food and water. Thomas did a thorough inspection of their new digs. “This is a pretty nice coop! It’s a lot bigger than I was expecting. But it does need some more paint.” IMG_0605

I told the kids that I will need them to come back and help me build a bigger chicken run and do some chicken chores. Thomas plans to pitch his tent right next to the coop for the next sleepover (okay he actually thought maybe we should put the coop down next to the “tent spot”. Um no. We aren’t moving it every time people come sleep over). The kids picked them some delicious dandelions and we all were delighted at how much they seemed to really like their new home (and the dandelions). Seeing the tractor out, the kids needed a few laps around the yard in the trailer. They promised to visit again soon and Maria’s parting show was to ask me to please try to keep the dogs from eating them (her mom obviously prepared her for the possibility).

IMG_0609Suzie got quite excited and pawed at the coop a few times. I brought Daisy out on her own and did some down stay practice near the coop. Allowing her to see it but not go nuts about it. She was interested but much calmer than Suzie over the whole thing.
 IMG_0627

 Donal and Lindsey offered to return the trailer to the C’s house while their kid was napping upstairs at my house and I hauled out the borrowed rototiller to get started on my new vegetable garden area. Naturally as soon as I hauled the tiller up the hill to the garden spot, it started raining so I didn’t even get started on the garden. Moments later CK woke up from his nap so we braved the light rain to see the new chickens and check out the fort in the pine “forest.” As we walked by the fallen tree in the back of the yard, he commented casually “Dat’s a really big stick dere.” Yes. Yes it is. Then he asked where the tractor was, so we had to open the barn and peek at the tractor. Even with the tractor off, CK wanted to stay a safe distance away. He wants to love it and is clearly fascinated, but it is kind of scary when it is running.

His parents arrived to take him home and I figured I would return my dad’s car and run some errands since I couldn’t keep working in the yard right now. 2.5 hours later, as I pulled up (still raining), I was shocked and horrified to see Daisy in the yard. She had been in her crate!!! (Well at least she was until I let her outside to pee and forgot her out there in the rain). She was wet, muddy and frantic from being left alone in the rain. I was frantic because I was sure I was about to find half a dozen dead chicks in my yard. Noooooooooo.

I raced out there to find all the chicks still in tact and in the coop. Daisy had clearly dug one or two paws full of dirt in a couple places in an attempt to get in. But the big hole was 3 feet away from the coop. Because she IS that smart. Or because she dug a paw or two full of dirt next to the coop, which reminded her about how much she likes digging big holes and she gave herself a little more room for that endeavor. Oh Daisy. Thankfully her stupidity or easily distractable nature saved the day and the lives of six chickens. I was very relieved.
IMG_0628

The chicks have all their feathers but I left the heat lamp on in their coop for a couple days while they adjust to the great outdoors (and the cold rainy weather). Daisy runs out to see them when I let her outside, but she’s not lunging or digging or trying to get in. I know it is too early to call this a success, but it has been a successful week and for this I am grateful. And the adventure continues.

And in case you want cuteness overload, here’s some letters from cute kids about their chickens: FullSizeRenderIMG_0642FullSizeRender_1FullSizeRender_2FullSizeRender_3

Operation Chicken — round 2

Spring2012 012[4]You may remember my last go at chickens in 2012 back in my city backyard with the awful neighbors. Mmm hmm. You may also remember that the only chickens that survived that experiment were the roosters I gave my mom (and I’m pretty sure they were eventually eaten by coyotes). Never one to learn lessons from a gruesome past, this spring I started thinking about chickens again.

Let me be very clear. There are people in this world that love chickens. My mom, for one. I am not such a person. What I love are farm fresh eggs, compost for the garden, and the idea of MAKE ALL THE THINGS. Having chickens means we can make eggs on site– and I like that a lot, even if the actual egg makers are not my favorite kind of critter.

So a few weeks back I started wondering if I should try chickens again. The #1 chicken killer in my life (Maggie) has passed on and this would be a good time to teach the puppy how to NOT kill chickens (gotta start them young). Suzie is certainly very capable of killing things but she’s getting older and tired and maybe, just maybe, we can work on her as well. (We’ll test that old dog, new trick theory). Regardless, there is no way this can be as bad as the in the city experiment with the neighbor situation and the kid next door breaking into my yard and messing with things.

I am also not considering free range chickens but rather chickens that live and graze in a coop. Yup, I am one of those cruel people who think containment is the way to do chickens and I feel pretty good about it (I also think it raises their chance of survival by a huge margin which raises the possibility of getting eggs out of them which is the whole point).

So there I was thinking about getting chicks again and concluding that I should probably get my head checked when my dear friend called “I’m getting chicks!! Is that crazy??” Her kids have longed for pets and raising chicks for a few weeks in the basement felt like a good trial run at pets for them. Awesome. I told her I had been considering trying chickens again and would happily take the chicks when they were too big for the basement. Brilliant.

Her kids told me all about them and their names. Are you ready for this? One of them is named Daisy, after my dog Daisy. That’s right. Suddenly I’m not sure there is any way for this to go well… and yet, we’re going to give it a try. Why not, right??

I’m picking up my old coop (that has been used by two different families in the last two years and is now vacant). We’ll be moving the chicks over this weekend. Stay tuned on this next adventure….

In case you want to read up on my last attempts at chicken keeping: