A Visit From a Chicken Ghost

Something really crazy just happened, and I feel the overwhelming need to tell someone about itI was sitting outside with my dog in the sun, listening contentedly to the lovely sound of a rooster’s crow. How I miss that sound, I thought to myself, when I realized… Why am I hearing it now?? It happened again. “What the…?” I said, jumping up. My hens were making the noise that means something exciting is happening (usually reserved for when I get mealworm bag).

I ran to the coop, and sure enough, Sybil/Sid was standing right there before me. (Sybil/Sid is one of my bantam roosters I had to give away the summer I got my chicks). And while it wasn’t Sybil (that would be crazy because I’m pretty sure he is in a better world) it sure looked like him, but grown up. It was a bantam rooster, about the shape and the size of a sugar pumpkin, if sugar pumpkins had gray, white, and black markings. “What the…” I said again, at a complete loss. I live in sort of a suburban area- this chicken would have had to cross five backyards to get here, and why would he do that? Did someone drop him off because they heard I had hens? And of course: IS HE DISEASED?! (I bet you were expecting that one). Anyway, I lured him into a separate pen I had fenced off by sprinkling mealworms and blueberries, plopped some water on the grass for him (all this travel must have made him thirsty) and set off down the road looking for potential home-bases.

I figured it must have been the closest coop down the road- they had recently gotten chickens (and goats, and sheep, and oxen) and I often heard crowing from that direction. I had never talked to them before, and they have three rather large and very protective dogs so there was a little bit of trepidation knocking on their door. But it all worked out, because the woman that answered was very nice, we drove back to the coop, she caught the escapee, and the fiasco was over in thirty minutes.

I must be doing something right if all the chickens in the area want to vacation at my coop 🙂

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A Walk Through the Garden

A walk through the garden shows me that spring is finally here. After this long, harsh, awful winter, I could not be more excited! I have to look carefully at the soil to see the newly forming life, and it is beautiful.

This is the beginning of a large spearmint plant- small shoots are emerging randomly throughout the herb garden.

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These green shoots are the rebirth of my lovely chive plant, which has been gracing my garden since I started a few years ago. Purple flowers will begin forming soon, and the stalks will grow extremely tall.

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Do you see the red growth underneath the old stems? That is my echinacea plant. It produces beautiful magenta cone-shaped flowers in the late summer. Not only is it ornamental, it is also said to boost your immune system. Apparently when the flowers are steeped in hot water for around thirty minutes, it is an effective precaution against colds. I’m not sure if that has any truth to it, but it does taste alright when steeped with mint and honey!
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This is lemon thyme- a wonderfully fragrant and tasty herb. I purchased the original plant from the farmer’s market, and it has been returning every year since, with more growth each time!
Photo Apr 18, 6 34 29 PMThe chicken manure certainly gave my garden soil a boost! I mixed some into the dirt last fall, and covered it with a layer of straw over the winter. I uncovered it yesterday, and found a nice layer of compost.

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In addition to the outdoor growth, the tomato seeds I started last week have sprouted! I had almost given up hope, until I looked under the thin layer of “germination paper” to find these lovely little seedlings. They are my last chance at tomatoes this year, since I didn’t plan ahead, and as a result am no longer in possession of seeds. I put them under a fluorescent light in the basement, with a heating pad underneath. With some luck, water, and warmth hopefully they will thrive.
post 2Enough about plants- It’s time for a chicken update. I am led to believe that Mary has yet another health problem. Scaly leg mites…

These little fellows burrow into a chickens’ leg scales, causing them to rise, as seen below on Mary’s toes. Apparently it is rather painful, and can cause deformity if not treated in an appropriate manner.  The only way to get rid of these mites is by smothering them. And since they are spread through contact, and Mary lives with three other chickens, I’ll have to treat each one. These buggers have to go, so here is the plan.

  1. Dip their feet in warm, soapy water, while gently massaging their feet with an old toothbrush
  2. Dry off their feet with a soft towel by gently dabbing
  3. Dip their feet in vegetable oil for tenish seconds
  4. Dab their feet dry again
  5. Cover their feet with Vaseline
  6. Reapply Vaseline several times per week until healed
  7. Completely clean out coop again 😦

Its going to be gross, and very messy. But it has to be done! I just hope the people on BYC (backyard chickens.com) actually know what they are talking about. I don’t want to go through all this trouble for no reason

 Photo Apr 17, 6 36 28 PM        Lately I’ve been letting the chickens out for twenty minutes before their bedtime. I open up the door and stand by with a container of scratch in case they wander farther away than I’d like. Mabel always lurks on the perimeter, careful to stay away from me, while Mary is right by my side. Cora follows Edith everywhere he goes, which is usually near me. I always make them go inside before it gets too dark, which is quite a production.

Now that they know of the world outside their run, all they want to do is free range. If I open the door to walk in, they will rush at me in an effort to escape. Because of this, my father has set up a moveable wire fence around their run. This will give them some extra room, as I am not always able to let them roam. There are far too many hawks and dogs for that!

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It is quite a dreary day out here, which marks a discouraging start to my spring vacation. My birthday is coming up- it takes place on Earth Day, which is fitting considering my attitude towards the environment. My parents have been pestering me over what I want for presents, and I have been at a loss. I told them that nothing could ever beat last year’s gift of five baby chicks, and the adventures that have followed.

I smiled at them, and said “unless you plan on getting me more…?” to which they responded with a firm “No”. Oh well, at least I tried 🙂

All’s Well That Ends Well… Sort of…

The first part of today was spent walking through crowded streets underneath colorful leaves, looking at crafts and food. A festival of sorts. We dined on Apple Pie with cheese, fried dough with maple cream, indian pudding, and all sorts of food that we probably shouldn’t have eaten. It was a beautiful, sunny, crisp fall morning and afternoon. A perfect way to spend a Fall day!

But my mind would not stop wandering to my little hen (if I can even call her “mine”) all alone out in the wilderness, with no protection. Therefore, when we got home, the first place I went was the chicken coop. Edith, Mary, and Cora (the Rhode Island Red’s new name) were pecking around as usual. Whenever Cora looked at Mary the wrong way, she got a pecking to the neck/back, followed by a loud squawk.

I figured that I may as well let Edith and Mary out to see if they draw out The Escapee. So I locked Cora in the bottom of the coop (I don’t want her escaping and banding with her friend), and opened up the run. They pecked around for a bit, nonchalantly strolling through the grass while I hid behind the coop with a bag of scratch. However, when they heard the rustling of the bag of cracked corn and mealworms they came bolting over, giving away my position. This went on for a good forty minutes or so, with still no sign of The Escapee. I hadn’t seen her since Saturday morning. Finally I gave up and put them back in the run, letting Cora out as well. I began to go inside when out of no where a little white chicken came bouncing down the line of trees towards the run.

She just trotted right up, than spotted me, and disappeared into the trees immediately. But then I thought that maybe, just maybe, I could let Mary out and have her encourage The Escapee to come forth from the shrubbery. I locked Cora and Edith in the bottom of the  coop, swung open the fencing once more, and sat back on the steps about a hundred feet away. Sure enough, a white blob with fluffy cheeks came bounding through the grass. She headed straight into the little run, and when she got to the back, I sprinted as fast as my feet could carry me towards the run, slamming it shut right before The former Escapee’s eyes. Mary looked at me with confusion from the ear of corn she was pecking in the corner of the yard.

Grinning with relief, I sat in the grass. A heavy weight that was pressing on my shoulders was immediately released. I was grateful. After ten minutes of sitting there, I saw Edith lunge at Mary’s neck, just out of nowhere. Mary screeched, and lunged at Cora’s neck. It was bizarre, like a literal version of the pecking order. A few more minutes passed, I left and came back, only to see that Mary’s face was covered in blood, and part of her waddle or earlobe was split and hanging. Swearing, I frantically ran into the enclosure and grabbed her in my arms. She cooed, not struggling at all, while I placed her in a fenced in space next to the run. A few texts were sent to my neighbor/chicken supplier/boss, who promptly responded with advice.

Close to tears, I clumsily tried to wipe off her feathers with a wet sterile pad. Suddenly my mother appeared, and kindly prepared some antiseptic and gauze. She cleaned out the wound with ease and gentleness while Mary snuggled against me in my lap. After putting on some antibacterial, I put her back in the separate enclosure, and went inside to prepare my dog’s crate for chicken habitation.

My neighbor/chicken supplier/boss also appeared at the driveway, and inspected the wound. Than she applied something called Blue Kote, which makes the wound appear blue instead of red. This is useful because it discourages pecking, which can quickly turn cannibalistic when dealing with chickens.

Poor baby :(

Poor baby 😦

She seemed to think that it was perfectly fine, and not a big deal. Which leads me to think that the worst is yet to come :(.

Currently, Mary is snoozing in the basement in pine shavings with access to food, water, and grit. I’ll reintegrate her into the flock tomorrow (meaning I will put her back). Hopefully it won’t confuse the pecking order even further.

A word of caution. None of this is professional advice for wound care. In fact, quite the opposite. I really have no idea what I am doing. I’m just a girl who wants a taste of farming, who convinced her parents to let her buy a couple of chickens. Yes, I researched (and still am researching) a lot of chicken stuff beforehand, and yes I came across “words of caution” just like this one. Did I listen? Nope.

What I am trying to say, is that raising chickens isn’t all sunshine, baby chicks, cuddling birds, and colorful eggs. In the 23 weeks I have had these chickens, I have probably dealt with more stress, heartbreak, and fear in my entire life. Two baby chicks have died in my hands, I have been attacked by a cockerel I raised from  three days old, I have had to sell that bird to a man who I do not even know (with the only other solution being sell the bird to the slaughter-house), I have expected my favorite hen to die right before my eyes as she downed a stray hair-tie that I had inadvertently given her, I have searched and worried for three days straight about a chicken that I accidentally let escape, and I have watched them attack each other relentlessly over the small issue of who is dominant and who is not.

Have I regretted getting Mary and Edith? Not once. I can say without a doubt that this experience is making me a better person, and whatever comes my way I will handle. Because I have to. This responsibility is very real. And I’m loving every single minute of it.

A Really Happy Day With A Horrible Ending

Yesterday I finally got two chickens delivered to my coop! She came with her daughter, holding the two chickens by their feet. At first glance I thought they were dead, and there was a horrible misunderstanding. But she calmly assured me that they were in fact alive, and just extremely relaxed.

We put them inside the fence, and the two hens tore around the yard, putting their heads in all the little spaces, looking for an escape. One was whitish, grayish colored with adorable fluffy cheeks, the other a deep auburn color. After chatting for a while, they drove away in her car, and I was left completely alone with my new pullets.

Edith and Mary were chatting away in the fenced in pool area, both of them were extremely interested. At this point it was 6 o’clock, and the sun was already going down, so I figured I should try to get them in the coop so I could corral Mary and Edith back in their fence. These pullets had other ideas. They kept squawking, you could tell they were panicked and scared. I tried to calm them down, and succeeded in getting the auburn chicken inside, but the other just got even more scared when she didn’t see her fellow chicken.

I was just about to grab her when all of a sudden she squeezed through a tiny opening in the fence. Off she went, trotting across the yard, into the bushes. I ran after her, not exactly sure how to catch her if I found her. After weaving back and forth along the hedge, she flew over the trees, across two yards, and disappeared into the woods.

Just, gone.

I was shaking so bad, hyperventilating, and so, so confused. I just didn’t understand how that just happened. How could something so bad happen, after I had just been so overjoyed? I just didn’t get it. I still don’t. I keep thinking I hear a chicken whimpering from over the tree tops. Every squirrel or bird that passes, I think it is her. I am naive enough to think that she survived the night. I am naive enough to think that she would return to me, after the traumatic experience that I just gave her.

It really takes a toll on you, to go from that range of emotions. I just don’t know what to do anymore.

I just have to find a way to get over it. Because I wanted this time to be exciting, I wanted to be smiling, choosing names, not frowning, and moping about. I have to accept that she is gone, because I was irresponsible. And I can never. never. let it happen again.

Last night, Mary and Edith went to bed inside the coop, but the auburn chick stayed out. I went out in the pitch dark to close the roof, and there she was, roosting outside on the wooden handle (you can see where she was going to roost in the picture above). I had to sneak around and snatch her while she was sleeping. After everyone was within the warm coop, I went to bed with a heavy heart.

This morning I sat with them for a while, and Mary and Edith were being horribly cruel towards her. Pecking and chasing her, finally she ran and hid behind me. The poor thing.

Scatter Brained

Scatter brained is the only phrase that can describe me right now. With the start of school, everything has been busy, busy, busy. I get up at 6:00 AM, take care of my chickens, get dressed, eat half of a half of a bagel (I’m never hungry in the morning), jump in the car with my neighbor, drive to school, and show up slightly disheveled and unenthusiastic. Everyone in the whole school congregates in the cafeteria, then the bell shrieks and we trudge to our assigned homerooms. We chatter sullenly about how done we are with school, and did you get that math homework last night? No? Good, me neither.

The bell shrieks again, and we are off to the first of our many classes. My days are ruled by ringing bells and swarming hallways. When I get home, I sit down on the table, and do homework till 7:00 at night. Than I eat. Than I continue doing homework until 10:00, 10:30, or 11:00.

Then repeat.

Posting on my blog is a little guilty angel on the back of my shoulder, reminding me of shirked responsibilities. So I apologize for my recent absence! My blog isn’t the only thing I haven’t been able to pay attention to. I haven’t visited my garden in two weeks, I only see my chickens twice a day. I’m not a fan of this schedule. Today I decided I had enough with homework and spent the day with my chickens, making up for lost time. I free ranged them for a little, fed them a little chicken scratch, and just enjoyed the activity. I’m expecting an egg from Mary in the next few weeks!!! Very exciting! I also noticed Edith doing the mating dance for Mary (lowering one wing and strutting around in a circle), and this morning he attempted to actually mate. Mary was not pleased, as anyone could tell from the squawking and flying feathers. She escaped his attentions, but that didn’t stop me from feeling terrible for her.

Well, I’m going to enjoy the rest of my homeworkless night. I’ll keep you updated on the Egg Watch. I promise I won’t forget about you!

Here are some pictures of what I’ve been up to

Tired Feet

Today was my first day on my first job. Well, I wasn’t paid for today, and won’t be for tomorrow or the next day because I’m training, but it was essentially what I’ll be doing when I do get paid. Anyways, I stayed there for four hours following around the girl who was training me. Lots of destroyed ice cream cones, and minutes, later I was finally released from the constant cacophony of humming refrigerators. I limped home in my old flats, and lay on the couch. I think wearing poorly supported flats when I knew I was going to be standing four hours straight on concrete was a bad choice. 

Oh, I’m such a lazy teenager. You’re probably rolling your eyes at me right now. Don’t feel bad. So are my lower back and feet arches. 

An hour ago I gave the chickens their favorite part of the day. Free range time! I let them run/fly/strut while I kept an eye out for the many hawks and house cats that frequent my yard. I even saw a huge bald eagle yesterday, swooping over the house. It was a beautiful, menacing sight. 

I’ve really thought about my dilemma from my last post, about where to get my new chickens. I think I’m going to go with the local chickens, and hope for the best. I love Easter Eggers (she said they were Ameracaunas, but I think she means Easter Eggers. Ameracaunas are a very rare, expensive breed that lays blue eggs, whereas Easter Eggers are a cross between Ameracaunas and something else, and thus are for more common and less expensive). It doesn’t matter, anyways. The fact is, traveling two hours with chickens when I can travel five minutes is just impractical. Or, at least that’s what I’ve convinced myself.

 

Tomorrow is Day 2 of training. I’ll get to the farm at 7 and help another worker with the feeding/cleaning. I’m hoping it will go okay… Its hard not to feel nervous, as silly as it sounds. 

I’ll let you know how it went tomorrow! 

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!