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.

Chickens… round 3

One of my readers informed me that my friends over here don’t know about the new chickens.  Oops.

I have new chickens! 

The week my old chickens got massacred, some friends had just picked up chicks and offered to raise mine along with theirs until they could go outside (because they are the most generous people alive!!!!)  YES. There was no way I was ready to add indoor chicks into my remodeling disaster so this was a huge blessing. (Yes, I do have the best friends in the world).

So in early April, I went to Tractor Supply and bought 6 chicks to add in with their 8 chicks and dropped them off with some supplies. They were tiny and cute and fluffy. And that was the last I’d see of them until they were feathered out and ready for the coop. Fabulous.

A few weeks ago, the day arrived: The chicks were ready to be outside full time. I showed up at my friend’s and their kids chased and retrieved the proper mix of chicks, two of each:

Isa Brown
White Leghorn
Orpington

Last time I had three of the Leghorns and they were the first to lay and incredibly consistent. One egg per day per leghorn. I definitely wanted some of those in the mix since the whole point here is the eggs (and the fact that they eat my compost and a lot of weeds is just a bonus).

As we stood in the driveway chatting, one of my friend’s daughters held her favorite chicken “Streamers” sobbing. I felt like the meanest person ever and obviously offered if she wanted to trade Streamers for a different one, by all means. But Streamers is one of two possible roosters and we were splitting the possible roosters, so my young friend hugged it and sent it home with me.

If last year’s leghorns are any indication, I should start getting eggs somewhere at the beginning of August. By then I’m hoping to have built a new coop for these biddies. For now, the old coop is fine and they are in the covered run I built with my troop last summer so they are safe from marauding varmints. It is rather cramped space wise once they are full grown, but I’ve got another solution for the run already figured out (and that’s a story for another day).

In the meantime, there are chickens at my house again. The weeds are being eaten. Daisy is being entertained. And we are dreaming of fresh eggs again sometime this summer.

The Situation

Just in case that last episode I shared wasn’t exciting enough,  the plot thickens or grossens (is that a word?). There are moments where I think God is having a chuckle at my expense, and this weekend felt like that.
Saturday I got up and took a trailer load of demo trash to the dump. It was perfectly terrible unloading it because some high school helper I had decided to dump all of my cans of tile shards on top of a trailer load full of drywall, paneling, and garbage bags. Right. There is a reason we never turn our back on the help, even if we explained exactly what we wanted. Sigh. Unloading it was a ROYAL PAIN in the behind and took nearly two hours. While I was at the dump, I got to observe some real characters. Like the old guy with a shiny white truck who came to look after each load of trash was dumped. He clearly thought I had something special but was disappointed in my load. One rickety old pick up that looked like it was on it’s last broken leg with an equally rickety trailer pulled up. The two uncouth looking men start unloading next to me and I look over as half a dozen mice run out from under the trailer toward mine. Eewwwww. It felt like a scene from a horror movie. I did score when a couple pulled up with their remodeling trash. They had four old style solid wood doors and one of the corresponding door frames. Before they threw it, I asked if they minded giving it to me. The lady’s mom went on and on about what nice doors they were and she didn’t understand why her daughter didn’t want them. It worked out nicely for me. So I got those four wood doors and what looks like a brand new sink vanity top and faucet (I’m going to build a new bathroom vanity). Otherwise I got a sore back and got rid of a lot of heavy trash I’ve had in my life for too long.

While I was there, my dad and my brother Emmet showed up to see about the crooked wall — they were there until mid afternoon and was no easy task but … THE CROOKED WALL IS STRAIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This feels huge. And I do mean really terrific, really ‘uge. This means my next step is framing the bathroom wall and putting a door back on my bathroom. First world improvements people.
Where was I? Oh right, the dead chicken saga, because I’m pretty sure the fact that I’m still talking about it means it is officially a saga.  Here it goes.
I am typically in and out of my pole barn a few times a week. In the winter it is less because it is so cold out there. But still, in and out enough to be lived in. Last summer I had made great strides toward having a wood working area and a paint area amidst the storage, but for the winter, the paint area gets filled with patio furniture and lawn/garden stuff.  Once it gets warm again, I’ll move that back outside and have a workspace again. I’ve also spent the last 3 months filling my normal wood working area with pieces that I’ve disassembled out of my house. So the barn is a hot mess right now. I need to build some wood storage, organize the lumber from the house, etc. Anyway, I’ve been out of town a lot in the last couple weeks, so I hadn’t been out there much.

 

Saturday I ran out to get a tool for my dad and noticed some animal droppings… uh oh. This is bigger than a mouse, the only critter I’ve previously hosted in the barn. There were two boxes knocked down and spilled on the floor from a high shelf. Weird. I didn’t think much of it because CROOKED WALL PROGRESS but after my dad left I was cleaning up and opened one of the big sliding doors. These doors are anything but air tight and latch somewhere in the middle of the door, so the bottom lets in quite a bit of cold air in the winter. Anyway, I open the sliding door and notice an abundance of white chicken feathers along the bottom of the door… and then I notice blood… and some more feathers heading into the barn….

 

HOLY CRAP DID THAT DARN RACCOON DRAG A CHICKEN CARCASS INTO MY BARN?!?!?!?!? Which probably means there’s a nest of little coons gnawing on that carcass as we speak. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

 

I looked briefly and couldn’t see anything obvious. But of course it is probably on one of the high shelves, nested in a box, hidden out of view. And I have absolutely zero interest in coming face to face with a mean Mama Coon. But oh crap oh crap oh crap.

 

On Sunday I went to TSC and purchased replacement chicks which my dear friends offered to raise alongside their chicks until they were big enough to go outside. Look, fluffy chickens!

 

My friend Mark is the guy to talk to if you have any sort of animal problem and he sent me home with a big live trap for the coon and offered me a gun. I declined since I don’t really do guns (or haven’t in the past) but currently have at least 4 good friends / brothers with guns standing by if I catch this raccoon. Wish me luck.
HOW IS THIS MY LIFE?

 

In happier news, my crooked wall is fixed. I can officially begin reassembling my house after the longest demolition project ever. Also I’m still completely gaga over this wood clad wall. Eeeeeee. It’s so pretty with the red china cabinet!

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.

Incident Report #2

3925 It was our usual after-work routine. I go outside to feed and water the chickens, the dogs go out to pee and then Daisy starts lapping the yard at top speed because well… Daisy. She’s just insane like that. I’m reaching into the coop to grab the waterer and BLAM Daisy bolts into the coop around me. Um.

Naturally the chickens all squawk and fly up and there’s general chaos. And in the middle of it, one happy puppy. She isn’t grabbing for the chickens or trying to eat them at all. She thinks this is just plain fun and she’s standing in there grinning like a fool! Oh Daisy. She does occasionally like to jump at the coop when she’s outside of it to watch the chickens squawk and scold. And she spends a fair amount of time hanging out over there with her poultry friends.  That day when she bolted into the coop, I called her out of the coop and she came willingly. No harm done at all.
4187
So in this second Dogs vs. Chickens incident, I think we can safely say that Daisy is good with chickens. If nothing else, this whole chicken experiment is good for that. And the eggs. So. Many. Eggs.

Fresh Eggs

eggsThis is it, friends. This is why you have a coop full of stanky birds that you faithfully feed, water, and save from the jowls of death to the peril of your own dignity. This is why you spend hours building them a run and letting hooligans make the biggest mess of your life painting it. This is it.

I got home from vacation back at the end of July to find one lone egg in the nesting box, right where it belongs. Amazing.

That next morning I went to Mass and came home and decided to have fried eggs because fresh eggs, friends, fresh eggs. Or egg in my case. It is pretty small (teenage hens). When I cracked it open, it had a double yolk. Double yolk for my first egg! Surely this must mean some stroke of good luck is going to befall me.

For about a week, every day I found one small egg in that nesting box. The next week it increased to two, and the following week we made it up to three. Three white eggs per day (one egg from each of the white hens). Still rather small but getting larger. The black chickens will lay brown eggs so I know they haven’t started laying yet. Hopefully they will soon. Once this thing really gets going, I’m going to have a pretty serious egg problem.

Six weeks in, I’ve now had four double yolk eggs – now I am really looking for some good luck to befall me! In the meantime, I’m over here eating eggs grown in my very own backyard. Living the dream.

The Help

DSC_3227A few weeks ago, I had a munchkin camp out and told everyone to bring clothes they could paint in. Only an insane person will set 8 kids lose with red paint– but that is exactly what I did. I tried to give instructions about how to wipe the excess paint on the edge of the can before glopping it everywhere… but I can’t say it was overly successful. What was successful was involving a lot of kids who wanted to be involved, and the chicken run frame got painted (to match the coop) and the kids were thrilled.

 DSC_3228  DSC_3264 DSC_3265 DSC_3267 DSC_3270 DSC_3271 DSC_3277 DSC_3281 DSC_3282 DSC_3283 DSC_3289 DSC_3290  DSC_3299  DSC_3306 DSC_3314
As one of the kids told her mom, “We did all of this! Aunt Reenie barely helped at all!”  While I don’t agree with the end of that statement, the kids did do most of the painting. One of the kids, in the middle of paint-maggedon said, “Well this is how to get things done! Just have a sleep over!”  It was so cute I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I’m actually more efficient without all the help. Jane, while painting the underside of the rails on the run said, “This makes me feel like Michael Angelo.” I’ve always said that painting is magical… painting with 11 kids under the age of 11 is magical and then some  (in my defense, three of them didn’t have paint brushes but were certainly involved in the project).
DSC_3295DSC_3301
It was fun (and very chaotic and horrifically messy) working with the gang and great to have them so invested in the project. I like watching them work together and feel like this is all them (even if I was working in the background to bring some order to the process and building the run as we went along).  We also painted my crummy old barn chair because we had the paint out and the kids wanted to paint all the things. Now the girls are planning to paint some kind of design on it — they even had a meeting to plan it. As you know, I have no shortage of chairs and this one was pretty sad to begin with, I’m pretty sure I can take a deep breath and let the girls decorate it to their heart’s content, although I’m not sure I want there to be a “next time” for painting chaos.
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Since I was already doing kid shenanigans, I figured we could easily add one more for the morning. So my two year old nephew CK came over the play, he spent a good bit of the time watering the garden (and switching settings on the hose nozzle). Toward the end, he and Benj handed me screws to attach the now painted gate. When we finished, he said “You have another project now?” Always, buddy, there is always another project.  DSC_3260

 

At the end of the project, I’m stapling chicken wire with my nephew. My niece is pounding in the staples, all the kids are waiting for the big chicken release into the run. I said “I’m so excited this is almost done! How great!” Thomas, who originally raised the chicks and is VERY invested in their well being and happiness said with a big grin “Well, I don’t think you’re as excited as me.” True story. He was very very excited (in fact, at 7 am, the first thing he asked was when we were going to work on the chicken run).
DSC_3243

 

As we released the chickens into the new run, all the kids gathered around, thrilled to see how they liked it. “I fink they really like it!!” Yes, yes they do. I asked what was their favorite part about this project, and in unison all of them yelled “THE PAINTING!”  Mmm hmm. That was fun, wasn’t it?!DSC_3323

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.
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 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.
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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:

Last man standing

Lenny (formerly known as Helen) is the last remaining member from the failed 2012 Operation Chicken at the Nichols Homestead.

As Monica so aptly said (on the day of the first chicken killing in the backyard), “There’s just one chicken clucking about the yard.”

There he is in all of his roostery glory, spying on the humans.

He even managed to escape the winter of slow death at the Bon Terre farm that took out Angus (the other rooster) and most of my mom’s hens over the winter. I blame Rocky the watch dog who has to sleep in the house because he likes to bark all night– leaving the chickens unprotected from raccoons, coyotes, and other predators.

Somehow Lenny stands strong. And he does have one hen to keep him company.

Hopefully he survives the next big event when the chicken killing bitches move to said Bon Terre farm in 3 weeks.

Good luck Lenny, you’re going to need it.