A Year in Review

Its 2016, and now seems as good a time as any to reflect and review this past year.

January A year ago today we brought Mary to the vet for her “cold”, and she got dosed with antibiotics in the eyes and nose for a week. When that didn’t stop her constant sneezing and coughing, we picked up some Baytril pills and shoved them down her throat for another harrowing week. I paid for all of it, and scheduled the appointments (the first time I felt like a real, responsible chicken mama).

With a lot of help from my mother, we managed to dose Mary with both the eye/nose drops, and the Baytril pills until she was completely healed and returned to the flock. And that’s when I noticed Edith’s comb, which was lightly frostbitten. That night I began applying Vaseline to his head, and continued to do so until spring to insulate it from the cold.

His comb quickly went from “mild” to worse, as you can see in the pictures.

At the end of the month I learned that my coop cleaning regimen was flawed, and that the waterer (which I kept inside on the pine shavings) was making the shavings damp and creating a humid, disease-breeding environment. Though I couldn’t move the waterer outside because of the heater set-up, I did a deep clean of the coop.

February Edith’s frostbite got worse and worse as winter deepened in the Northeast. Despite the application of Blu-Kote (a blue stain/antiseptic that prevents pecking) my hens began pecking at Edith’s comb. The appearance of blood only encouraged the hens, and blood was splattered on the coop walls, and on his own feathers. Mabel laid her first egg, a lovely white color.

March I am struck with “chick fever”, where all I think about is more fuzzy chicken babies gracing my brooder. I begin to contemplate Edith and his place in my coop when I see him constantly mating with the three girls. Mabel and Cora begin to lose their feathers on their backs, and Mary lays an egg.

I plant some lettuce, flower, and pepper seedlings, which never really sprout (much to my frustration).

My eagerness for spring is dampened by the continuous snow and cold weather, and I despair that spring will never come to New England. Edith’s comb finally falls off, leaving a small, neat little wedge in its place.

I ordered, and mended, a chicken saddle for Cora, and deep cleaned the coop (again). I noticed two scabbed over gashes in Mabel’s side (presumably from Edith’s mating) and snatched her from the roost. After much squawking, and lots of flying feathers, I covered her wounds with Neosporin and Blue-Kote, and returned her to her peeps.

April I continue my scheming for more poultry, treat Scaly Leg Mite in Mary by soaking her feet and covering them in Vaseline (which smothers them), and become ecstatic at the sight of new life in the garden. My tomato seedlings sprout (nearly all of them), and I bask in the warmth of spring.

June I had a bit of a panic about the health of my chickens. I was worried about Edith, who had a bald patch on his head (I suspected mites), and Cora’s messy bottom, Mary’s supposed Scaly Leg Mites. Finally I posted about it, and you (my readers) told me to calm down and gave me reasonable solutions and explanations. Thank you for that! With the start of summer, I began my fruitless job search.

July With the start of July I finally realized that Edith was not a good fit for me and the girls. In a heartbreaking matter of days, amidst preparations for my trip overseas, I posted an ad for him on CraigsList and got multiple responses. We (my father and I) selected a “no-nonsense” New Hampshire farmer with a free range flock of about twenty hens. And off Edith went, an animal I raised from a baby. I disappear from the blog for three weeks in which I had one of the best experiences in my life.

August I return from an amazing trip and review it in great detail. I take a plane from Boston to London, where I spend three days exploring the city with my aunt and uncle. We then took a smaller plan from Luton to Inverness, and then drove up to a tiny coastal town called Thurso. There I stayed for the rest of the month, seeing the gorgeous Scotland scenery, meeting kind people, and relaxing in my aunt and uncle’s lovely home. I learned so much about myself, and can’t wait to go back when I get older.

September I reflect on how I got to where I am today

October I find worms in my chickens droppings- ick! I quickly treat it with Wazine and some pumpkin, and see immediate improvement

November I prepare for winter, both mentally and physically, despite the continuing mild weather.

This year has had its ups and downs, each forcing me to grow and learn. In just a little more than one year I will be out of high school, and I don’t think anything could prepare me to face the world better than my chickens have. I can’t wait to see what this new year will bring.

A year in review

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No Shopping or Wrapping Required

My mother has requested, as she has every year, a list of gift ideas for Christmas. Every year I am lucky enough to wake up to the smell of homemade cinnamon buns, music, and a slew of neatly wrapped gifts beneath a lit up tree. A time when my family stops thinking about work and comes together in peace to celebrate. I am so grateful for our chance to do just that, which too many other families are unable to do.

This year, my mother is in a flurry of Christmas shopping stress, as she has no idea what my sister and I want underneath the tree. Yesterday I finally responded to her request for a Christmas-List.

“No shopping or wrapping needed- also applicable to birthdays”

Murray

Unfortunately, she didn’t share my enthusiasm 🙂

For those of you that do not know, a “Cayuga” is a duck breed. A lovely black, iridescent duck breed!

I know, I suppose I am pushing my luck here. In all honesty, I am half teasing her, but also very serious. There is no doubt that chickens have changed my life (for the better, of course) and I only want to continue my adventures with them. In the next few years, my girls’ egg production will slow down. It is a sad fact of the modern chicken that they produce eggs very efficiently for their first year or two of life, and then drop off to nearly nothing (at this point, most farms will slaughter the chicken). Obviously I will not be doing any slaughtering- my chickens are more than just producers, they are pets.

My mother’s main issue is my impending departure for college. Understandably, she doesn’t want to be saddled with a full-scale poultry operation while I’m gone for most of the year. However, I live in an area famous for its many excellent colleges. I am strongly considering a University in which I could live at home and attend class that is just ten minutes away. I don’t think she understands that having three chickens is very similar to having five, as they’re all fed, let out, etc… at the same time. How else would people be able to keep hundreds in a safe and clean way?

But I’m not asking for hundreds, I am asking for two or three ducks. I have all the materials, all of the knowledge, and all of the enthusiasm. What’s more, I wouldn’t even consider having them shipped until spring, April at the earliest. So she has lots of time to mentally prepare herself.

If we decided (which I very much hope we do not) to give my chickens away when/if I leave, having ducks would make my flock a little bit more attractive. Who doesn’t love the sight of ducks waddling down the ramp in the morning, followed by a trio of happy chickens?

I rest my case. I hope I don’t sound selfish or greedy, just eager and excited. Maybe my nearly two years of meticulous love and care towards my chickens will help convince them to drop the shopping cart and listen to my real wish.

 Either way I win, as I am the luckiest girl in the world in my three little hens.

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Uncertainty

Spring showed itself today in the form of a warm, breezy afternoon. With the new season, comes the longing for chicks. I keep stealing glances at the Tractor Supply, and searching baby chick pictures on Google. Its an addiction. No, really- there is something called “chicken math” which is basically a giant excuse chicken owners use to get more chickens. For instance, if I had 20 chickens, but three of them were roosters and five were no longer laying eggs I would reason that instead of 20 chickens, I had 12, because roosters and old hens don’t count. So really, I need 8 more hens.

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I find that this way of thinking is extremely tempting as pictures of fuzzy chicks fill the screen. And I think. What kinds would I get? If I could of course… I go onto hatchery websites and fill up my online “cart” with different breeds, pretending that I am chick shopping. Then comes the scheming… If I just got three more, and expanded the coop slightly then I could…

You get the point. You also probably think I’m crazy.

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But something besides chicks eats at the back of my mind. Mr. Edith has been mating with all three hens for the past few weeks. As you know, he is a large beast. I observed (its not as creepy as it sounds) him mating with Mary, who is quite a big hen, and he completely pinned her to the ground. A gust of air seemed to whoosh out of her, followed by horrified squawking. Mabel, a very small girl, has a bare patch on her back, exposed to the air. So does Cora. And his spurs are developing right before my eyes.

Edith is becoming a real rooster. Not the cuddly buddy he was earlier this year, though he still lets me pick him up and pet him. And he is doing some damage to my hens. Or, his hens, rather. I know he would die for them, he is gentle with humans, and even does the mating dance for Cora. But I also know that he would be better off with more hens to mate with- more than three.

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With these thoughts in mind, I feel immediately guilty. How am I supposed to tell if this is just greedy me trying to make room for more chickens, if this is cruel me getting rid of an animal for doing its purpose, or if this is practical me looking out for the safety of my hens. My mind is certainly troubled. The very last thing I want is for him to end up being processed and butchered. He is such a fantastic animal! And he is so very good to me and his girls. Mr. Edith has even grown on my parents, and his crowing is music that soothes my soul. Any advice from my fellow chicken owners?

Once again, I am at a loss on what to do.

On the bright side- I’m now getting three eggs a day! Mary, the new egg layer, produces a gorgeous light brown-shelled egg

 

Gender roles, cannibalism and a new egg

This morning I woke up with my eyes watering and feeling completely congested. Outside it was -10 degrees Fahrenheit, and I decided that today was not a good day for dealing with high school. So here I lie on the couch, my nose causing many tissues to be used, hoping that this nasty sickness will go away as  soon as possible. In my boredom I picked up a Gardener’s Supply Company catalog and flipped through the glossy pages of seedlings and perfect tomato plants. A utopia of successful gardens.

I looked outside at the large amount of snow and groaned at the groundhog’s poor choice to extend winter.

 

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As I looked through the catalog, I couldn’t help but recall the lesson we learned in Sociology class a few weeks ago about gender roles in the media. Every single picture in the catalog involving actual gardening depicted a middle aged woman smiling joyfully during the summer afternoon (at times hand in hand with a child). All of the pictures of men either involved building the garden beds, or washing cars… interesting.

As you well know if you’ve been keeping up with the blog, I’ve been having a rough time with the chickens. Today is no exception. For the past week I’ve noticed the hens pecking at Edith’s comb. Blood is splattered all over the coop walls from him shaking his head, and one night I saw it was dripping down his neck feathers. Yes, thats right, my chickens are now cannibals.

So, how to stop this behavior? Well I discovered that the bag balm I’ve been smothering on Edith every night to prevent frostbite has been hindering the affect of the Blu-Kote (the blue stain/antifungal formula that is used to prevent pecking). The Blu-Kote was just coming off, and the hens then saw the blood underneath and continued pecking. Because I had a night above freezing, I didn’t apply bag balm. Instead, I carefully dabbed the comb with Blu-Kote, and let it sit over night. Since then it has stayed on- problem solved. For now.

I feel bad for them, because all they have to do during the day is walk around a small dirt run. To enhance their time I’ve been scattering their food on the ground so they have to hunt for it. I’ve also dropped a few leaves of kale every once in a while, as well as cracked corn (chicken scratch) to keep them warm. Of course, I have to go easy on the treats, because fat chickens have multiple health issues.

Another recent issue is the reappearance of excrement on Cora’s vent feathers. I have to get to the bottom of this issue (no pun intended), and figure out why the feces keep building up in her feathers. Its quite a hassle to remove the mess, as it involves warm water, gross hands, and a chicken in the basement.

Finally, I have one more announcement. Two days ago, I strolled into the coop and opened the nest box looking for Cora’s usual brown egg… and found…

THIS

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MABEL LAID AN EGG! And its white!!

I’ll Speak In Pictures

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Hello everyone!

I’m sorry for my recent absence. Very few things have happened around here. I did take a few pictures yesterday, so I’ll share those with you.

Mabel is coming out of her shell a bit. While she won’t allow me to pet her feathers, she will gladly accept scratch at my feet, or a handful of grass through the fence. She is getting bigger, and her muffs and beard are more pronounced!

I really hope she’ll let me grow closer with her, she seems like a really sweet bird.

There has been a steady stream of beautiful brown eggs- they get more and more perfect with every day. I used one of them when I baked scones the other day. What a difference it made in the color of the batter! They also make DELICIOUS egg sandwiches. My father made an omelet, and cooked some prosciutto, and I ate it in a toasted asiago bagel. Absolutely delicious.

Oh, and before I forget, my father has finally finished the coop! He is building the run as we speak. Now I just have to figure out how to get my giant, grumpy rooster and his skittish hens from the A-Frame to their new home. A daunting challenge, for sure.

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Another!

Another egg! This one is perfect in every single way. Smooth shell, no blemishes. I’m so happy! As I write this, my father is in the kitchen, cooking bacon and frying the egg from today.

I can’t wait to eat it.

I’ve consulted BYC, asking who they thought laid these eggs, and they said my Rhode Island Red, Cora, probably did. I wonder what Mary’s will look like! Or better yet, Mabel, who is supposed to lay blue-green eggs. They also said it was fertilized. Looks like Mr. Edith is doing his job 😉

Now before you gasp, and ask how in the world anyone could eat an egg that with a baby chick inside it, you’re wrong. Write now this “possible baby chick” is a speck smaller than a freckle. There is nothing alive about it. In order for a baby chick to be created, the fertilized egg must be incubated for about 21 days. Therefore, I’m not a terrible person. 🙂

Egg Photo shoot
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Happy Halloween!

Today, after getting ready for a dreary day at school, I trudged outside in the freezing cold air (at 7:00 AM) to let out my chickens. I lowered the ramp, and out rolled Edith. And a little brown egg.

That’s right. Today, I got my first egg!!!! Unfortunately she didn’t lay it in the nest box, so when it fell, it sort of cracked. Meaning I couldn’t eat it 😦 . But I was so happy! I gasped, and ignored Edith’s aggressive noises as he tried to attack me (he’s always grumpy in the mornings). Words can’t describe how happy I was. I immediately snapped a picture, and then ran into the house. I cracked it open inside a bowl to have a look at the yolk.

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When I got home from school later today, I looked in the nest box, and a smashed yolk was mixed in with the shavings. There was no trace of any egg shells or anything. Sometimes when young hens lay their first few eggs, they are a little poor in quality. Shell less eggs are, unfortunately, common among inexperienced hens. It did make a terrible mess though. I added oyster shells into a separate feeder so that they can have enough calcium to make egg shells. Oh well, I’m just grateful to have eggs! It makes me excited for tomorrow and the next day. And I have either Mary, or Cora to thank! Now I just have to find out which one….

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A latte and croissant

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What I found when I came home from school :/

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