The Roost

Rosie and Charlotte have been roosting on the rope supporting the rain tarp that covers on end of the chicken run since they came out from under the biddy cage and joined  Carol in the larger, more expansive run and this is not a fitting roost for them. I decided it was time to create a better option.

My grandson, Max, was going to spend the afternoon with me and I thought he might like to assist me in the roost building. When I went to school to pick Max up, I discovered he wasn’t at the carpool site. I had to park the car and go inside with “the person in charge” and call his Mom to ask if anyone else might have picked him up while the school staff checked around the school for him. About the time I had his Mom alarmed the school had lost her child, they found him standing in the bus line. Fortunately the bus was still there an it all ended well.

Max changed into work clothes when we arrived at my house. We were ready to proceed with the roost building. First we selected three pallets of about the same height for the sides and a narrower, longer one for the top. We lugged them across the yard and with Max as doorman; I managed to drag them into the into the chicken run without any chicken escapees. We collected three- inch screws, drill and extension cord and set everything up. Once that was arranged, Max came in and watched the process. The first screw never made it through the first pallet and into the second one. I think it would have taken ten-inch screws. The next screw was angled properly and a connection between pallets was made, although it was wobbly and tenuous. I had Max come over to put in the next screw once I had it started. He wasn’t at all keen on the job and as soon as the screw was in declared it was break time. I insisted we had to get the roost stable before we took a break to protect the hens from harm if the contraption collapsed. Max patiently waited while I screwed the other side and brought in the fourth pallet for the roof. I fastened down the top and we took our break, which lasted until his Dad cam to get him.

Alone again, I went out armed with telephone wire, wire cutters and a pair of pliers. Since the screws weren’t adequate for the job of holding the roost together, I thought wire was the answer. I wrapped wire around the various edges of the roost, twisting the wire taut until the structure had just a slight wobble when stressed. I went into the garage and found an old metal weight bar to use as the roost bar for now. Once it gets cold out I think the hens will prefer a wooden bar. The bar was wired into place to keep it from slipping. The final touch to the contraption was a tarp surrounding the top and three sides to make it waterproof. Yes, from the looks of the roost, it’s another “kountry” concoction.

It wasn’t a surprise to see the hens still sitting on their familiar tarp rope “roost” the first night. This new fangled chicken roost was strange for them. A couple of nights later I discovered them on top of the roost, which is where they’ve been roosting ever since, even with rain pouring down their backs from the eave of the garage, which I think says something about the size of a chicken’s brain. I’m hoping when the weather turns cold they will get smart and hunker down in the roost box on the bar. Time will tell.

Hurricane Irene

Before hurricane Irene visited us last weekend, I pondered catching the chickens, putting them in a dog crate in the shelter of the garage, but then thought better of it. First, Carol, Charlotte and Rosie would be next to impossible to catch and the trauma of trying might be harder on them than the storm. Second, what if a tree fell on the garage or the water came up too high? Many times, outdoor creatures instinctively know how to protect themselves so I opted to leave them be. Even though I question their smarts, instinct should be a different matter, right?

When I went out to check on them during the storm they were unhappily huddled together under the ragged tarp covering the coop looking like the proverbial “wet hens”. It was amazing they were all three together because Carol tends to show the young’uns who’s boss and they keep away from her.

One would have thought they would all be inside the coop to be out of the wind and rain? Apparently hens stay outside in the day light no matter what the weather is like.

The hurricane didn’t dampen Carol’s ability to lay eggs. We had wind and rain for two straight days and she laid an egg both days. Way to go Carol.

After all the rain, the chicken run needed cleaning. I made sure, after the last cleaning escapade to put the netting securely over the gate to prevent Charlotte and Rosie from repeating their grand escape. Good thing too, because they definitely tried to get out. After their initial panic over my presence with the rake and wheelbarrow, they settled down and behaved. There was no escape this time. They all enjoyed the feel of dry straw under their feet.

Slugs

One evening, while turning over some old straw used to mulch the garden beds, a plethora of slugs was revealed. Slugs have no good business in a garden, but chickens do love to eat them. I carried the straw over to the chicken run and offered the tasty treat to Carol. She was delighted and gobbled up the first batch in no time flat. I took the cleaned straw back to the garden and selected another slug filled batch to please Carol’s appetite. She was waiting for me with bated breath. I put the straw down as she hopped up and down trying to hurry the process. Quick as slug slime, she began devouring the slugs.

Then Carol did something I’ve never seen a chicken do. She started reaching her head to the sky, mouth open, tongue out, gagging. I didn’t figure chickens could throw up, having a craw and all, so I started to feel concerned. She ignored my warning to drink some water. I stood and watched her until she seemed OK again and decided she’d had enough treats for one day. I later learned that chickens sometimes do that gagging routine to get the food down into their craw. You’d think with all that slime, slugs would just slide right down.

The Escape of Rosie and Charlotte

I was out cleaning the chicken run and re-bedding it. The new chickens in the run, Rosie and Charlotte, were freaked out by the wheelbarrow and managed to make their escape through the gap between the top of the gate and the netting hanging over the gate. I went around the corner with the wheelbarrow to see them sitting astride the fence dividing my back yard from my neighbors. Because they were still wild and apt to fly created a touchy scenario. Deja’ vu of the redneck Thanksgiving. What to do? If I went out there they are likely to fly into my neighbor’s yard. So, as I crawled out the gate, they flew into the blueberry netting a couple of yards away from me, but still on the fence. I took the round about way into my neighbors back yard and scared them soundly into my yard. Rosie ended up on the clothes line- on top of my fresh sheets that were hanging out to dry. You can imagine the thoughts going through my head seeing that! Fortunately, Rosie left the sheets unsoiled when she hopped down to the ground.

I decided to leave the girls free range, thinking they would head to their typical roost for the night. No- apparently they thought the gate would be a much better roost since it was far away from the offending wheelbarrow that was still parked around the corner in the run. I walked calmly to the gate and positioned myself between the gate and the fence, thinking erroneously that they would hop off the gate and walk into the chicken run. Charlotte thought it would be a much better idea to jump past me onto the fence and sashay down the netting over the run. Unfortunately for her I have long arms and before she knew it I had flicked her off the netting and onto the ground in my yard. At that point Rosie panicked and jumped down next to Charlotte. Now I had them both together on the ground. I had to herd them slowly and calmly into the chicken run so they wouldn’t take flight again. Finally they strutted back where they belonged. I closed the gate and secured the netting over it before I moved the wheelbarrow. What should have been a simple task was made into a major production due to flighty birds and all the necessary protective measures needed to assure the girls would stay where they belonged.

New Chickens in the Hood

I was feeling sorry for Carol, living out in the chicken run all alone. I decided she needed company. The farm store had two Americana pullets left for sale, and they came home with me.

My preference is to raise pullets in the house where they become tame and docile. I have a big plastic box with a screen top I like to put in the corner of the kitchen so they get plenty of handling and attention. Unfortunately, I had acquired a cat who also lived in the house and considered the chicks a play toy. Shelly, the cat, was strong and determined to get the top off the chicken box. For the safety of the chicks, I moved them into the spare bedroom and closed the door. The spare room is just that- a spare room- one you don’t go into often, so the chicks weren’t getting nearly as much attention as I wanted to give them.

I had a friend who had a special cage you put in the chicken run with the older hens so they can become acquainted with one another. It was a simple square box made from two-by-twos and chicken wire. To feed and water the chicks required lifting one side of the box. This proved interesting, as the chicks, Rosie and Charlotte were quite wild. They were freaked out by my movements and when I lifted the box to put in fresh feed, Rosie dashed out. The side “walls” of the run were chain link and Rosie was tiny enough to dash right through and out of the run altogether. Crap!

I went around to the driveway and located her in the ivy growing along the fence line and managed to scare her back into the run and smack in the face of Carol who was not happy having a young whippersnapper running around. I high tailed it back inside the run as fast as I could and as luck would have it, Rosie was more than willing to go back into the confinement of the box, safe with her friend Charlotte. She scrambled back in as soon as I lifted the corner.

It’s times like these that you rue not having kept them in the kitchen for proper taming. With “the box”, there is no way to let the chicks out to eat from your hand or sit in your lap. You have to accept that they will be harder to handle later.

Beheaded

Something told me I should go out and check on the chickens- that maybe they had laid an egg? I could see someone was in the nest box as I approached the chicken run. The chicken in the box didn’t hop out so I figured she wasn’t done laying yet. Now where was the other chicken? They were always in tandem so it was unusual not to find her guarding the layer. My guts got that sinking feeling something was amiss. In walking around the backyard, I noticed the missing chicken over by the privacy fence where they often go to take a dirt bath when they free range in the yard. I made my way over to her, expecting her to walk away, only to find she had no head and wouldn’t be walking anywhere ever again. But who was it? I walked back over to the nest box and peered inside to see who was sitting in there.

There was Carol, not laying an egg, but sitting there in horror. I talked to her for a little while trying my best to the best I could to reassure her that she was going to be OK. The wild look in her eye abated somewhat, although she refused to leave the nest box. I can only imagine the scene she must have witnessed. The carnage was done by an Osprey out for sport versus hunting for food, otherwise more of Angela would have been dismantled than her head.

I went to the garage, retrieved a shovel and made a fine, deep hole in one of the garden beds. I buried Angela there to fertilize my next crop, which happened to be potatoes. As I was burying her I kept thinking- fresh, organic, free range chicken and I’m burying it. What’s wrong with this picture? Someone- not me- would have loved to eat her. I’m hoping when I harvest the potatoes I don’t find they have grown around any of Angela’s parts. I should have planted above ground plants there this year.

The Osprey is still hanging out in the tree by the chicken run hoping for another opportunity for sport, so poor Carol hasn’t had the freedom she’s used to. She struts about under her netting of protection taunting the Osprey. She’s a little lonely and happy to have the doves and squirrels for company, even though they eat her food.

Angela’s First Egg

Carol started and agitated cackling and strutting around in front of the nest box where Angela was holed up. Something was definitely up. The girls had grown into handsome birds, all shiny new feathers and bright red combs and wattles. Their legs had paled, which is an egg laying sign. Maybe today would be the magic ovulation day for Angela. I was as excited as an expectant mother to think that soon I would be looking at Angela’s first egg. Waiting a respectable period of time to go back out and check on the progress was difficult, but I kept myself busy with an attentive ear out to what Carol was saying.

About an hour later, I could wait no longer and quietly ventured out to the chicken run to see if Angela had exited the nest box. She had and I went in to retrieve the egg I knew she’d laid. I peeked into the nest box and waited for my eyes to adjust to the dimmer light under the tarp. Hmmm. No hard-shelled egg. Wait, what was that shiny thing? Angela had laid a shell-less egg, all tough membrane surrounding the yellow and white. I tried to gently pick it up to keep it intact, but the second I touched it, POP. Now I had a snotty mess in the straw of the nest box I needed to clean out. It’s important to keep the nest box clean to keep the wrong kinds of bacteria and bugs from moving in.

A chicken’s first egg is often not completely formed, so I didn’t panic and fear there was something horribly wrong with her. She was eating good organic food and had plenty of oyster shell calcium to snack on. The next egg proved she a capable layer. It was a small, respectable, brown, hard-shelled egg. The eggs would get larger over time as her oviduct grew. In fact, Angela has been known to lay a jumbo egg, so large the carton won’t shut, in recent days.

Tame Chicks

Marsha and Shelly were beginning to age and laid eggs less often. My thoughts turned to the prospect of buying baby chicks and raising them indoors so they would be tame and friendly. I called the farm store and sure enough, they had some Rhode Island Red pullets. Now, I was really new to the world of baby chickens and I had no idea what a pullet was. In my mind, a pullet was a chicken several months old, so I created an environment suited to teenage hens. I was surprised to arrive at the store and find out a pullet is a fuzzy, little baby chicken who hatched a day or two ago. They are called a pullet because they have gone through the sex identification process and passed as girls. I can imagine the job of sexing baby chicks must be something like, roll the baby over on it’s back, gently squeeze the belly and if a pecker comes out they go into the left chute and if it’s a hen they go in the right chute, down a conveyor belt and drop into a box for shipping?

I asked the guy who was helping me if I could choose the two I wanted. He kind of shrugged his shoulders and rolled his eyes, which I took as a yes. He seemed irritated when I reached out and petting first one, then another, picked them up and said, “These two will do.” He popped them into a small cardboard box with holes along the top and I went on my merry way.

When I arrived home I took one look at the wire dog crate I had set up for the new hens in the kitchen and quickly realized it wasn’t going to work. I had my work cut out for me devising a containment area for something so small. I retrieved a plastic storage box from the attic and the door from an old dog crate in the garage to cover the top of the storage box. I decided the door needed to be covered with deer netting so the peeps couldn’t hop out. What to put in the bottom of the box for bedding? Apparently if you keep peeps on newspaper it will permanently splay their legs, along with getting covered in poop the babies would be walking in. Too yucky. Then I thought about sod. I was digging new garden beds and had plenty piled up, ready to use. The chicks were taken aback by the sod as this was a new experience for them, having been raised in a factory. Soon they were scratching and plucking blades of grass to their heart’s content. It’s amazing how they naturally know what to do with sod. I placed  mini food and water containers in with them and they were set.

Every day I would take the top off the box and lift them out to sit on my lap to be petted and gentled. They were amenable to the handling and soon began peeping and jumping when they saw me. They loved running around in the kitchen, checking in corners and behind things. I’d sit on the floor when I wanted them to come to me so I could pet them and put them back in the box.

As they grew, so did their personalities. My friend Angela came over one day and said one of the chickens was acting like she did, so that chicken was named Angela. The other one reminded me of my mother, so she was dubbed Carol. As they grew, I had to be sure to mark the changes in them so I could remember who was who. Angela had the bigger wattles and Carol was the boss.

They grew by leaps and bounds, big enough to climb on my shoulder, which was their favorite perch. They lost their fuzzy down and donned stiff adult feathers. Their sod had to be changed daily as their excrement became larger and more frequent. It was time to put them outside.

I created a smaller run in with Marsha and Shelly so they could all become acquainted slowly. After about a month, when the chicks were getting some size on them, it was suggested I open the door and let the young’ins out to meet Marsha and Shelly face to face. Big mistake. Angela and Carol had never known any sort of unkindness and in their youthful exuberance, they ran straight up to the big girls to introduce themselves. I stood off to the side watching as Angela went up to Shelly and said,”Hi, I’m Angela”, which Shelly responded to by jumping on Angela’s back and tearing out a bunch of feathers. Angela was dumbstruck. Then Marsha got into the act and tried to tear Angela’s throat out. I was mortified and when I could make myself move again, I had to work quickly to get the babies back in the small run and the big girls back out in their area. I was on hands and knees crawling around in the soiled bedding and under netting trying to break up the fight.

I was so traumatized, I decided to keep the big chickens separated from the babies forever. Fortunately, I still had the old chicken tractor and that became the big, bad girl’s home while the sweet, young chicks inhabited the newer chicken run.

Building a Chicken Run

Dragging the chicken tractor around on wobbly wheels lost its appeal. The tractor was heavy and when the chickens scratch and dig, they undermine it so it sits in a hole making it nearly impossible to move without herculean effort. It was time to reconsider the chicken’s habitat.

Around two sides of the garage and about ten feet away is a chain link fence. It would only take a short piece of fence and a gate to create a chicken run. Oh yeah, and reams of netting over the top to keep the girls from flying out and undesirable critters from getting in.

The gate and short piece of fence were easily installed. The netting was a totally different story. At Lowe’s, the most affordable netting was for deer, so I purchased a large roll. After scratching my head for a while trying to come up with the best plan of action, I collected all the things I thought I would need for the job- ladder, drill, drill bits and driver, screws, staple gun, extra staples, strips of wood, wire and scissors. Yes- many of the men I know are jealous of my tool collection.

First I unrolled the netting along the ground around the run. I quickly learned that deer netting gets caught on the smallest twig, root, vine, splinters on the sides of the garage, ladder rungs, even the buttons on my shirt. It became the number one frustrating aspect of creating the chicken run.

I thought the best way to secure the netting to the garage would be to staple the netting to strips of wood, drill holes through the wood strips and screw them into the garage wall up under the eaves. Or so I thought.

The stapling went well, as did setting up the ladder. I pulled up the first piece of wood, catching the netting on a rough spot of my shoe. In shaking the netting off my shoe, it became hung up on the ladder and wouldn’t disconnect. Down the ladder I went to untangle the mess. I finally made it up the ladder and with the wood wrestled into place, I attempted to screw the wood into the garage wall.

After a few jaw clenching, shoulder wrenching attempts to make the screw obey my will to melt into the garage wall, I realized it was a futile effort and came back down the ladder to get the drill bit. Having only one drill made the job even more infuriating since I had already pre-drilled the holes in the wood strips and could only reach two of the holes at a time while up on the ladder to drill holes in the garage. I had to take the screw driver out of the drill, insert the bit, drill the two holes and re-insert the driver to put in the two screws. You can see where this is leading, right?

Eons later after much cussing, climbing up and down the ladder to drill, screw and untangle, I was ready to move to the chain link portion of the onerous task. This part, I thought, should be a cake walk. My dreams were dashed as the netting caught on little rough bits of metal on the chain link and the places along the top of the fence that are folded over and the solder has popped off that grab and keep the netting like gnarled fingers. I was soon red-faced with anger.

Finally the job was finished and the tools put away. The final touch was a chicken coop made from a used shipping crate. I opted to leave the inside of the crate with an open floor plan because the chickens tended to lay their eggs in one spot anyway. I cut a small hole in the front for the girls to enter and a wide, large hole in the top half of the back of the crate for easy egg retrieval and clean-out. To complete the coop, I added two old cabinet doors with hinges and screen door hooks on the front and back doors so the coop could be closed up in cold weather.

Finally Marsha and Shelly were moved into their new digs. I opened the door to the chicken tractor and herded them over to the new run. They seemed overjoyed to have room to spread their wings and fly. Seeing their joy made all that frustration worth while.

Redneck Thanksgiving

cropped-11_09_28.jpegOne Thanksgiving a couple of years ago, some friends came to celebrate with me. We were busy creating a beautiful holiday feast and needed parsley from the garden, so I went out to fetch some.

I let the girls out to free range earlier that morning and lo and behold, both of them were pecking around in my neighbor’s yard. I went back inside and asked my friends to come help me round up the chickens. Out we trooped. I wasn’t aware that the girls would freak when they saw new people and create more work in their capture, but it sure did.

I posted one friend by the fence between the yards thinking she could keep them from going too far one way and the other friend ready to close the tractor door. As Marsha became airborne to cross the low section of fence, she spied my friend standing there, freaked and took a magnificent leap up and onto the  eight foot privacy fence between my yard and the next door neighbor’s yard. I was thinking, “Please don’t go over to the other side.” Too late, she teetered there a second before dropping over into their yard.

How can we possibly get Marsha to fly back over the privacy fence? Then I remembered the hole under the fence I had blocked with a board and cinder block, my own touch of “kountry”. I left one friend to unblock the hole and then stand out of sight while my other friend and I went around to herd Marsha through the hole. Fortunately for us, Marsha was looking low instead of high. As soon as she saw the hole, she ducked through.

While we were worrying about Marsha, Shelly took a leap over the gate and into the driveway on the other side of my yard. Our first step was to ensconce Marsha in the chicken tractor, close the door and then work with Shelly. She’s a more sensible hen and walked through the gate once we opened it and over to the tractor without a fuss. The hardest part was keeping Marsha in the tractor while we opened the door and herded Shelly in. Not what you’d call a cake walk. Round and round we went until finally everything synced and on Shelly’s umpteenth revolution of the tractor, the door opened, Marsha was out of the way, and Shelly entered the tractor.

Success. Now we can harvest the parsley and finish the feast. My friend claimed that this was the first Redneck Thanksgiving she’d ever been to.