Running Through The Woods

There is a trail right up the street from my home that winds up and around a little mountain. Its soft dirt takes you through streams, over snaking tree roots, and past rocks deposited by glaciers long ago. If you look carefully through the branches, rolling farmland is slightly visible. Before the 1600s, Abenaki Native Americans walked through its forests, hunting deer and fishing to supplement their tribe’s food. Since Monday I’ve begun running through its two mile long loop every day (except Thursday). I’m ridiculously out of shape, and have to stop at the bottom of each steep slope to catch my breath and snap a few pictures. But there is something about running through the woods that frees my soul. After a long day of school, and a long frustrating evening of keeping Boris from destroying everything, moving among the trees makes me feel in control. The sound of my shoes pounding the dirt and mud, squirrels rooting around in the undergrowth, and birds singing fills me with exhilaration. I think I’m addicted to trail running!

***

Right now I’m taking a break from another deep coop cleaning. Several chicken-keeping resources recommend cleaning out the coop with vinegar when scaly leg mites are discovered. The chickens have been locked outside, and the walls have been completely scrubbed down with a vinegar-water solution, then rinsed with plain old water. Then I gave everything a spray down with Manna Pro Poultry Protector, just in case it actually worlds. Ugh I am so disturbed by spiders- there are a few hanging out (literally) in my coop, or there were… I got a huge broom and just kept swiping it out their webs while closing my eyes. I must have looked crazy, and definitely made quite the racket. Its strange. I’m fine with all other insects- In fact, I’ve been known to rescue the beetles, lady bugs and crickets from the pool by hand. But show me an arachnid and I’m running in the other direction.

I got a late start to the cleaning because my hens kept insisting on occupying the nest boxes. Mabel camped out in there for an hour, and then Mary simply would not settle for the make-shift outdoor nest box I made. She kept throwing herself at the walls of the coop, until I relented and opened the door and she strutted in triumphantly. She then settled herself in the box, and glared at me, as if daring me to try and move her. Just for fun I took the Mabel and Cora’s eggs and put them next to her chest feathers. She promptly rolled them underneath her mass of fluffy feathers, tucking them in cozily with her beak. Of course, she lurked in there for another forty minutes, and an extra fifteen minutes even after she lay her pale brown egg. *Chickens*…

I think I’m going to post an ad for Edith on Craigslist, and see if I get any offers. I’d only give/sell him to a home where he would be well cared for until an old age. Its probably naive of me to look for such a place, but I want only the best for my little fellow. He is just so incredibly good at being a rooster, but my hens look like they’re in pain. Despite the hen-saddles, their shoulders have become raw and pink. He basically crushes Mabel and Cora under his weight because he’s so huge. So if I can find a place with a few more hens, and a bigger space, wouldn’t it be selfish to keep him? We will see. There is no harm in looking… right?

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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!!

Much Squawking

I did it.

About an hour after I published my last post, I ventured outside. I spread the pine shavings in the new coop with my father, and got everything set up. Then I took a deep breath and walked into the run, where my chickens were cowering, away from the snow.

I bent down, tentatively calling “here chook chook chook chicken. EEEEEEEEEdiiiiiiiith.”. He emerged from the coop, fluffing out his feathers. I nervously edged towards him, and knelt in the snow, slowly wrapping my arms around him. He kind of jerked upwards, clucking, and I gently lifted him up. He stayed completely still, softly clucking, and I (completely astonished) carried him over to his new coop. He was such a sweetheart! Here I was, picturing squawking and biting and scratching. Lesson learned- Edith is the best!

I dropped him off in the shavings, and he stood their clucking. I shut the door and returned to the hens. I did the same thing, calling Cora forward. When I placed her in the shavings, they flew to the second level and clucked some more. Easy as pie.

Then came the hard part. For the next forty minutes I sat there, trying to get close enough to Mabel to grab her. I succeeded in snatching her, but she screamed and got a wing over my hand, flapping against the wall. Completely frightened off, I took a break and let it grow darker while I made some hot cocoa inside. Thirty minutes later, it was completely dark and still snowing. I finally regained my confidence and went back out again, sneaking up to the coop. Mary and Mabel faced the back of the coop, their tails pointing towards me. I quickly grabbed her, pressing her wings to her back. She screamed again, did the same thing as before, except I still was holding on.

Against all my philosophies and research, I grabbed her legs, and pulled her out of the coop while she hung upside down. She immediately calmed down, stopped struggling. Shaking, and talking softly, I brought her through the cold to her new, warmer coop. I lay her down on the floor, and she stayed there, stunned. The poor thing got up and crawled in the corner. I’m desperately hoping she is okay, that I didn’t harm her. I just figured it was better for her to be scared and in a safe, warm placed rather than content in a dangerous and freezing one. I hope I figured right.

Mary gave me no trouble, as I suspected, and all four are in the new coop. I just hope they’ll be okay.

The Plan

Today, I will try and move my chickens into their new coop (which has officially been finished!!!!!)

Here is the plan…

As I write this A LOT of snow is pouring down from the sky. We’re supposed to get about nine inches. My chickens are not amused by this endless fluffy, wet substance. They’re sitting in their A-Frame, gazing out at the plummeting snowflakes. Edith hasn’t left the safety of the coop, but Mary and Cora came to see me after I returned from school. They left little bird tracks in the snow 🙂

This snow, I think, is working to my advantage. My chickens are going to be less likely to run away with all of this precipitation. Hopefully.

  • As it gets darker out (at like 4:00 pm ish) I will go outside and coax Mr. Edith out of the coop. I’m going to have to try and pick him up- this is quite daunting, because he is HUGE and usually quite grumpy. And, I haven’t picked him up since I could hold him with one hand. If he cooperates, I can continue with my plan. If not, I’ll have to rethink everything.
  • If I can grab him, I’ll carry him over to the new coop first (if I leave him where he is now, he’ll freak out when I take away his ladies). Then I’ll try and catch Cora, and bring her over to the new coop as well.
  • Now comes the hardest part. I’m going to see if I can grab Mabel, the Escapee. She is still super skittish, so I’m not sure if its going to work out. If not, I’ll wait thirty minutes for her to go to sleep, and then grab her.
  • Finally, I’ll bring Mary over. She won’t cause any problems… I don’t think.

So that’s the plan. I’ll let you know if it works or not. My fingers are crossed though. They really need insulation in this weather, and a covered run to get out of the snow.

Coop collage Cora pic Frosted glass Mary pic New coop picture

The Things I Do For Chickens

Yesterday I decided to let my chickens out. I’m talking, OUT OUT. As in, opening up their gate and letting them roam, out. Of course, being the worry-wort I am, I only gave them fourty-ish minutes of supervised time. I simply swung open their wire fence, clipped it back, and sat in the grass. They stared at me with incredulous eyes, peering around the corner. Then, all at once, they sprinted towards me, their little chickie legs moving back forth in a hilarious strut. Then, I sat back and enjoyed the chicken TV. I had brought some cracked corn and dried mealworms with me in a little bag to see if I could get them to come when I called, so after thirty minutes or so I took that out and began my “training’.

I must have looked positively ridiculous to my neighbors, who live right next to us. I held out the plastic baggie, tapping the side rapidly, and called

“Heeeeeeeere chook chook chook chook chook!”, followed by a whistle, and a “Mary! Edith!”. Mary was much more willing to greet me, showing her eagerness by breaking into a fast sprint across the lawn. She skidded to a halt in front of my gardening boots and tried to snatch the bag from my hands. I immediately rewarded her with a handful of corn. Edith was far less interested, so when he wandered off into the adjacent yard in pursuit of an unfortunate moth, I had to snatch him and carry him off. I suppose I should find a treat that he absolutely loves, like Mary loves corn. If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know! 

On a different topic, I think I’m adding more chickens to my tiny little flock. A woman I met on BackyardChickens.com (an awesome forum full of chicken-adicts and helpful advice givers) contacted me offering a few of her Faverolles pullets, which are now 18 weeks old. This is tremendously exciting! But there are some problems. Well, a lot of problems. One of them being the fact that she lives two hours away. Driving two hours with a car full of chickens does not sound that great, at least for me anyways. The second, more pressing, issue is that I have absolutely nowhere to perform a quarantine. The big coop isn’t finished (and won’t be for a while), and the A-Frame is the only chicken shelter I have on hand. So I’ll have to take my chances, and pray that no diseases are brought into the flock. But the good part is-

1. I’ll have more chickens (always a plus)

2. They might be laying when I get them!!!!!!

3. I love the look of Faverolles- they’re so cute!

4. Mary will have some female friends, and they’ll divert Edith’s attention from her

So hopefully all will go well, and I’ll have a happy, healthy flock. I think luck is a big part in animal raising and gardening. Well, I’m going to let my chickens out again and see what happens!

 

A Rainy, Bittersweet Day

Today we got a call from a man looking to buy Sybil. He had seen my CraigsList ad, and wanted to buy him for his son’s three hens. Ironically, he wanted a rooster to crow whenever something happened so he could run out and protect him. All day long rain has poured to the earth, making everything soaking wet. When the man, named Oscar, arrived in his shiny blue pickup truck, my father and I walked out to the driveway to meet him.

My stomach was in knots, tears were hiding behind the surface of my eyes, and I was shaking (not just from the cold). Maybe I’m a bit “sensitive” but I LOVE my animals, and giving one away was no easy task. He inspected the strutting little fellow with us, asking questions like “What do you feed him? Are pine shavings better than hay? Does he always have constant access to feed and water?”. I answered the questions competently enough, and was able to keep my voice steady.

Before he arrived I had already set up a cardboard box full of pine shavings, with a sprinkle of scratch and meal worms, so I caught him and brought him over to that. He shook a little in my hands, and I hope it was just from the dampness. He waved his head, trying to get a good look at his siblings, but didn’t squawk all that much. I kissed his head, whispered “I love you” and plopped him in the box. When he tried to fly away my father grabbed him and put him back. 

I shut the lid, and turned away as my father handed the box to Oscar. He smiled, graciously taking the box, and generously offered us a visit to his home to check on him. I smiled back, and said we’d love to, and walked into the house as he backed down the driveway, with Sybil in the backseat. 

After this, I walked to my room, mumbling something about changing into sweatpants and cried, and cried. 

I know, I’m dramatic. It’s the way I am. When my tears dried however, and the rain let up, I began to feel much better. Sybil had, so far, avoided butchery. He is going to a good home, with green grass, hens of his own, and the freedom to crow his heart out. Much more than I would ever be able to give him. 

One little hen…

I write today with a very heavy heart. My writings are punctuated by a loud, melodious calling from the coop outside. A rooster’s crow. Little Sybil, now tentatively named Sid, has been crowing for a week or two now. All. Day. Long. So our little “covert” egg operation has been discovered by, well, pretty much everyone. But at least I have two other hens, right? RIGHT!?

Nope. Today, as we dropped into the car Edith howled to the sound of the motor. Well, he tried to crow (he sort of failed, but I don’t want to hurt his pride or anything like that).

Two out of five died. Two out of five are roosters. One hen. Why me? The world seems to be working against me for the moment. I’m just a teenager that wanted to have a few pet chickens and a garden. But now I am forced to make decisions that will eventually result in the death of two of my beloved, healthy, happy, and trusting pets. I have contacted sanctuaries, fellow chicken farmers, stared at pages and pages of CraigsList. The answer is always the same. No one wants a rooster. Everyone wants fresh chicken meat.

So I stare at my lovely little roosters, Edith resting on my lap as I stroke her feathers. His feathers. And I think of what it will all come down to. I prepare myself to be the heartless sacrificer that I am supposed to be, defending the ears of my annoyed neighbors and family. Edith stares right back, loving, happy, trusting.

Picture updates!!