Tag Archives: hens

Why Did The Chicken Fly the Coop? To Get to the Peas & Carrots, Of Course

I’ve been running inside a lot this week to grab my camera. It’s been one photo moment after another on the farm. On Sunday, we let the babies out of their coop into a temporary outdoor pen—their first foray onto grassy turf. This was hysterical to watch. It took quite a few minutes for the first chicken to advance out onto the plank. Three or four followed, and then the first one changed her mind and turned around and headed back inside. It went on like this for a while—a few would venture out and then turn around. You could just imagine the conversations going on.  (Personally, I had the Cockney voices of the talking vultures in Disney’s animated version of The Jungle Book in my head.) “You go. No you go. No way—YOU go. Nuh-huh, I’m staying here.”

Libby waited patiently in the pen for them to come out, approach her, and eventually start hopping on her lap. She is very calm around animals and they trust her. I couldn’t get enough pictures of the interaction between them all.

In the garden we are harvesting the most amazing peas and carrots, so I’m taking lots of pictures of these, too—while they last. I am so happy that I’ve finally figured out how to grow both of these veggies well. I just hope I can repeat the same success next year. (Or even this year with another round of carrots—which should have gone in the ground weeks ago!).

This morning I had fresh peas and carrots and strawberries for breakfast while I washed all the veggies. I smiled, thinking about peas and carrots, because they mean something special to Roy and me, and today is our anniversary. (The anniversary of our first date, that is, three years ago.) For some reason, when we were first dating, the movie Forrest Gump kept coming on TV. If you remember, Forrest says early on in the movie, “From that day on we was always together. Jenny and me was like peas and carrots.” Roy picked this up (in Forrest’s voice, of course) and started saying it to me a lot. Who knew what we’d be doing three years later! Peas + Carrots + 60 babies (baby chickens) + one amazing little girl=love.

(And not to forget Farmer, who enjoyed Libby’s cart ride with one of the chickens.)

Moving Day—The Baby Chicks Get a Big-Girl Coop

Once he got started, it only took Roy two Sunday afternoons to get the new chicken coop built. Just in time, too, as the girls (all 49 of them!) are getting big. Plus, as I wrote about last week, there is so much to do around here that lingering for too long on any one thing just isn’t an option. So after choosing the perfect site for the new coop, Roy built the foundation and nailed the floor Sunday before last, then set to work on the walls and roof this weekend, using salvaged doors, windows, and boards.

I got a kick out of watching the whole thing come together (see photos below) into what looks like a pretty iconic chicken coop to me. (It has a built-in storage area for food and tools, too, which will be particularly handy.) The girls have an excellent spot, under some shade trees and with a killer view of the fields behind us. They’re still a little young to be out grazing, but next up is a big covered pen for them. In the mean time, they seem very happy with their new spacious indoor digs.

We used a plastic harvest basket to carry them, six or eight at a time, from the brooder in the barn to their new home.  All went smoothly, if a bit squawk-ily.

Even Bambi, who we successfully returned to the flock a couple weeks ago, seems happy, hopping up to greet us at the door from time to time when we go down to visit or refill the food and water. Farmer is anxious to see her, too, as he and she got to be pals. Fortunately, we can still identify her by her right foot, which is missing the middle toenail. Sorry for the graphic details, but this is how these things go! When we brought her inside on day two, she had an injured middle toe, which turned black and looked like it might be something fatal (with chickens, it’s all about the feet), but it miraculously healed itself, as you can see in the photo of Bambi on Libby’s shoulder taken a few weeks ago. (Or could see, if the photo were bigger!)

Below is a photo run-down of the coop-raising. Now, we have only three months to wait (and a lot of chicken food to feed) before our 49 new ladies are laying eggs. I can’t wait to see how that is going to work—me collecting four dozen eggs every day is not going to help the attention deficit disorder I already have around this place!

You’ve Got Mail! 50 Baby Chicks in a Cardboard Box

Overnight, we’ve gone from 11 live animals to 61 here at the farmette.  The baby chicks arrived at the West Tisbury post office about 9 am yesterday, and I am so very happy to report that they are all still alive this morning!

Roy took the call from the post office and drove over to collect the amazingly small (ventilated) cardboard box that they come in. (They need to be snuggled together to keep warm, and the newborn chicks live for a couple of days just on the remains of the yolk sac they’ve ingested.) I was waiting outside with the camera when he came, and it didn’t take long for me to hear the lovely Cheep! Cheep! chorus coming from the truck.

We took them out of the box one by one, and dipped their beaks in water so they’d get a little bit of hydration going and they’d know what the water source was. Then we put them into their toasty brooder box (more like a small room) that Roy built in the back of the barn/shop. It’s made of plywood, has a bit of insulation, and is topped with 3 old casement windows. A swinging door lets us move the food and water in and out, and a heat lamp with an infrared bulb keeps the brooder and the chicks warm.

Actually, there are supposed to be two heat lamps, but our second bulb burned out and a replacement is a couple days away. This was the cause of much discussion yesterday, and we did some rearranging to make sure the chicks wouldn’t smother each other last night trying to stay warm.

I, of course, am usually the worrywart in the family, but since these chicks are really Roy’s babies, I slept perfectly fine last night. I noticed, however, that Roy got up at 5:30 and came back to report that the babies were all doing fine. He is a sucker for little things. Me—I can’t wait until Libby gets here this weekend as I know she’s going to be enchanted. And Farmer, well, he’s not allowed in the barn/shop so he hasn’t met his 50 baby sisters. All in good time!

Could You Have Nest-Box-Checking Disorder?

Anyone who works at home should have a chicken coop. Forget rummaging through the refrigerator, surfing Facebook, or even sneaking a spell on the couch to flip through catalogues (I never do that)—checking the hens’ nesting boxes for eggs is the best procrastinating maneuver ever. I should know. I’ve been getting up from the computer about 12 times a day to go outside and look for eggs. I guess I have Nest-Box-Checking Disorder, because I can’t help myself. Finding an egg in the hay—especially when it is still warm and I can hold it in my cold hands like a little hot water bottle—is like Christmas morning, over and over again. (Much better than Groundhog Day.)

During the darkest days of winter, we were only getting a couple of eggs a day. Now that the days are growing longer (we’ll have a whopping10 full hours of daylight on Feb. 11), the ladies are laying more. (Some gals were molting, too, so they were redirecting their energies towards changing their feathers rather than laying.) Sometimes when I go to check, there are three or four eggs lying together—almost always in the same box, as these girls have a strange preference for crowding. We keep a special bowl in the mudroom for collecting the day’s eggs, so that anyone can add to it. (Roy often checks the boxes first-thing when he comes home from work, as he has Nest-Box-Checking Disorder, too. The hardest thing to do for both of us is to refrain from checking when Libby is here, because, after all, it’s not a very nice thing for an adult to usurp this especially kid-friendly activity.) At the end of the day, we count up the eggs, ooh and ah over the different shapes and colors and speckles, and refrigerate them.

Even if there aren’t any eggs in the boxes, I still get a kick out of visiting with the ladies. They make all kinds of clucking noises and rush from their outer pen to greet me, as they know I often have lettuce or hamburger buns or leftover roasted vegetables for them. It’s a good life these gals lead; we just got them a special heated chicken-waterer so their water isn’t frozen over in the morning. (Actually, the present was more for us, as walking back to the house to change the water every morning is a pain.)

While I love checking on the ladies, I have elevated the art of procrastination to include all of the animals on the farmette. Cocoa Bunny literally runs circles around her cage if you bring her a green treat (like these Brussels sprouts), and Farmer is up for a good walk about a zillion times a day. Most mornings, and usually almost every evening around dusk, Farmer and I track the wild bunnies, which thrive here in a Watership Down kind of way. God knows how many there are—maybe thousands? There were so many tracks in the snow this morning that Farmer’s nose was snow-encrusted with all that sniffing.

If all else fails, my last procrastination technique is to look out the window right next to my desk. If there aren’t birds snacking at the birdfeeder Roy has kindly hung within my sight, then a group of six or eight wild turkeys is often strolling by, just a few feet away. They’re good for a glance or two. But I don’t think I’ll ever get Bird-Watching Disorder. After all, looking out the window is not half as much fun as actually getting up from the computer and walking outside. And coming back in with something good to eat.

On the Wings of Christmas

Two fields over and across Scotchman’s Lane lies the house of our friend Katherine Long. Less than a half-mile as the hawk flies. (And fly it does. More on that in a minute.) We trekked over to her Mermaid-and-Starfish-festooned place on Sunday for her famous Solstice potluck. Actually, we drove, though we would’ve walked if the snow really had turned from flurries to blurries like it did two years ago on the day of her party.

We had to transport our goodies—two big salads straight from the winter garden (the color of those leaves still really knocks my socks off); a broccoli, cheddar and potato frittata; and one of my all-time favorite Christmas recipes, Mrs. Lenkhe’s Cheese Sables. My friend Martha Holmberg  introduced me to these years ago, and they are almost as flaky as puff pastry and they pretty much melt in your mouth. (These, and the spicy pecans I made and crumbled into the salad would both make great nibbles to serve before your Christmas dinner.)

The spread at Katherine’s was seductive.  She’d made her real Texas chili, which is smoky and spicy with lots of ancho chiles. (She grew up in Hill Country.) My favorite. Friends helped her make dozens and dozens of deviled eggs (Katherine has sixty laying hens), and from there the list went on and on—ham, roast turkey, coq au vin, whole poached salmon, wild-rice and cranberry salad, quiche, carrot soup, house-made cheese (another of Katherine’s talents), sweets of every imaginable form, many from her good friend Rosemary Jackson. Roy and I went back for seconds…and thirds. The amazing thing is that Katherine keeps her party going from noon to 9 pm, and she invites anyone in West Tisbury who wants to come! I am so impressed and also inspired to do a summer potluck myself next year.

Tuesday afternoon I was just about to head out the door to retrieve a cutting board from Katherine’s when a Facebook post from her caught my eye. It was a photo (top of blog) of a young Red-tail hawk, in her yard, with its talons around a hen. The hawk had mauled the hen but wouldn’t let go. Katherine poured a bucket of water over the hawk and still it didn’t budge. I believe that Katherine had to wave a plastic chair at the bird before it finally flew away. But in the process she managed to get a very up-close-and-personal photo. This arresting image stopped me cold because I was still enjoying the warm afterglow of her party—looking at all the photos of friends on Facebook and even enjoying some of the leftovers at home. It reminded me that while we humans gather together snugly inside our warm houses and begin to hibernate (with full larders at our disposal), the birds and the rest of the critters outside are still desperately focused on finding food and preparing for the winter. The birds in particular seem very antsy, and every time I’ve gone outside this week I’ve gotten a birdy-y surprise.

Yesterday I caught Farmer playing with something feathery in the yard. He was just kind of tossing it around—not biting it—and it turned out to be a mostly intact dead robin. Probably it had come to feed at the new feeder Roy just hung (the cardinals are loving it) and had accidentally banged into something.  (Farmer also brought me a dead mouse this week—unfortunately this one was partially decomposed and full of maggots. Luckily I had my gardening gloves on when I reached in to his mouth to retrieve it. Yuck.) This morning our neighborhood flock of wild turkeys (5 adults and 2 juveniles) was hanging around our driveway, not 10 feet from my kitchen window, drinking water out of the puddles. I went out and shooed them away but they chose to trundle through the newly planted blueberry bushes on their way back down to the fence line. Harumph. The other day I caught one standing on top of the chicken coop.

And then, around noontime today, just as Roy was pulling down the driveway, the hawk arrived. Maybe he (or she) flew over from Katherine’s place or maybe this was a different  hawk, but more than likely they’re at least related, as we know there is a pair of adult hawks at nearby Whiting Farm that mate every year and hatch young trouble-makers. Of course, you’re not allowed to shoot a hawk (not that either of us was considering it or would really want to); you just have to be clever about scaring them off. Hence Katherine’s bucket of water. And Roy’s projectiles. He began tossing various objects at our visitor (right), who had alighted on a tree branch right above the chicken coop. The hawk didn’t even flinch at the first few missives, but finally took off—for a taller, but still nearby tree branch. Then Roy and I cornered Perky.

You see, Perky has been free-ranging this week while all the other hens stay in their protected yard, which is adjacent to their coop and covered with bird netting. Perky has been such a bad girl that we actually considered sacrificing her, but when faced with the imminent reality of that today, we quickly scooped her up and put her back in the pen…where, unfortunately, she will do what she does every day—peck at least one of the eggs that the other hens have laid.

Sometimes the damage is minimal (meaning we can still eat the egg, though not sell it or give it away) but it’s always disheartening to see the cracks. When I’m home, I rush out to the nesting boxes several times during the morning to grab the eggs as soon as they’re laid, and Perky is always lurking around waiting to pounce. One of the bigger hens will usually brood over the warm eggs—I like to think she’s protecting them from Perky, but who knows. I do know that Perky actually sat on top of Sugar one day in an attempt to get at her pretty blue egg (a favorite to peck). We have tried various home remedies to get Perky to stop pecking, but it wasn’t until this week when Roy just picked her up and plunked her outside the chicken yard that we got a perfect batch of eggs again. And as it turns out, since Perky doesn’t want to be far from the flock, she mostly just circles around the pen and doesn’t go far. Could be a good daytime solution if it weren’t for the hawks. (Our friend came back twice this afternoon.)

There’s even strange bird activity inside the house: This week our love bird, Ellie, laid two eggs. We’ve had her for two years and she’s never laid an egg. They look awfully big (bigger than a marble) for such a tiny bird, but she is very pleased with herself and sits haphazardly over the eggs all day long, puffing her lollipop-green feathers out proudly.  Thankfully these eggs aren’t fertilized, so we won’t have any baby lovebirds. Whew.

I admit, I still have a curious and not entirely loving attitude towards the birds of the world. I keep writing about them, because I am surrounded by them, and I know there is some meaning in this. (I will probably freak out when a dove flies by some day carrying an olive branch—miracle believer that I am.) Roy loves birds and our dear friend Joannie loves them. (In the photo below, that’s Joannie on the left and Katherine on the right at the Solstice party.) In fact Joannie feeds the pair of swans down at the Mill Pond twice a day. So yesterday I was baking the last of some Christmas cookies and made Joannie a special batch. Libby and I had discovered a tiny swan cookie cutter in our collection a few weeks ago, which immediately made us think of Joannie. So I’m giving Joannie the cookies and the cookie cutter for Christmas. And for right now, I think my favorite kind of bird may be the edible kind—preferably with sugary sprinkles!

P. S. Thanks to Katherine for furnishing me with the photos at top and bottom.