The Egg Midwife

Well everyone, I am here to break the four month silence! I am not exactly sure why I chose today, of all days, to write again. Though I have an inkling that it has something to do with the fifteen page paper I’m supposed to write for tomorrow. I should probably start that soon.

The chicken world has been relatively stable. There is a resident fox family living in my neighbor’s yard, so I have to confine them to their smaller, secure, run when I leave the house. I feel awful doing it, but I’d feel even more awful if I walked into the coop one day and didn’t find chickens- only feathers. This past Thursday I had to play midwife to my hen, Mary. I walked into their run that evening and saw her sort of hunched over and slowly milling about. I wasn’t sure what was up, so I picked her up and gave her a check over.

Feet? fine. Eyes? no bubbles or foam. Under her wings? no mites. Ears? no infection. Nose? dry. Vent? large bump as if it were turning inside out.

Hens are tricky. If they don’t get enough calcium, or they have some other underlying issue, their egg can get stuck inside of them (this is called being “egg bound”). When they lay eggs, sometimes the vent does not go back to its rightful place, and turns almost partially inside out. This can lead to bigger problems, like shock or infection. And so I ran inside, readied a crate for her, and brought her in, just in case that was what was going on.

I went downstairs to check on her. When I opened the crate door, she stepped out onto my arm. I held still while she perched on my wrist, soothingly petting her feathers. Then she started making a loud groaning noise, visibly straining. Then I heard a plop on the pine shavings. I leaned over to look, and there was an egg.

Did I just catch her in the middle of laying an egg and make a big fuss for nothing? Possibly. But I’ve never seen my chickens look that lethargic during the egg laying process. And when chickens want to lay, they seek out a cozy, dark corner- they don’t hobble around outside. I think she might have just been having a hard time laying that day. Regardless, I made sure I relocated the oyster shells (a calcium supplement all hens need) to a more accessible spot in the coop.

In other news, I got a job! I’m pretty sure its seasonal, meaning I’ll only be working until the end of spring. What exactly am I doing, you ask? Hanging out with plants! That’s right, I’m working at my local garden center. I’ve worked three days so far, and let me tell you that hanging out with plants is a lot of work. My job is to water, and restock the annual flowers and vegetables. The people who never put the plants back in the right spot actually make my job exist. I am constantly rearranging the little six-packs of plants so that they live where they are supposed to. And then I bring everything up to the front so that it looks nice. After this, I make about five trips to the greenhouse to restock- the hardest part is remembering which varieties I need to replenish. Then repeat. Then repeat. For about eight hours. All of this is interspersed with customer questions that I cannot answer (yet!). It can be a tad monotonous, but the amount of information I am learning about plants is amazing. I am slowly recognizing different flower varieties, which I’ve never been good at; dianthus, dahlias, zinnias, calendulas, marigolds, monarda (bee balm), portulaca, snap dragon, lisianthus, gazania, pansies, and petunias, to name a few.  I find that each time I work I am more able to answer questions. It’s quite exciting!

 

 

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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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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.

Absolutely Positively Wonderful News

They found her! The lost pullet traveled back to her original home down the street! Words can’t describe my joy. Now I can start enjoying my new little pullet more, with that guilty feeling completely gone.

Just thought I should let you guys know. What an experience these two days have been.

Waiting for that First Egg

…proves to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I mean, come on Mary! I think its time you contributed! Sing the egg song at least please

They are 21 weeks old and two days as of today. Which means it’s about time for the egg laying to begin! Every morning I search around the coop and inside it for a hidden egg. Nothing. Nada. Zip. I’m getting a little tired of this un-yielding easter egg hunt. Her little face is quite red, but I haven’t heard the raucous egg song, nor have I seen her squatting. She hasn’t even ventured inside the new nest box I got her. That’s right. I bought her a nice little wooden nest box, and filled it with straw so its nice and cozy. Now she has no excuse. What’s frustrating is that the egg could come any time from now to three weeks from now. That’s a big range.

So that’s what’s going on in my life right now. That, and a whole lot of homework, and working. But, I have finally mastered the art of making a soft-serve ice cream cone. At least, they don’t look as terrible anymore…

Also, before I forget, I visited my neighboring farm two weeks ago to look at available chickens. They were scuttling around everywhere hidden under fencing and maple trees, dust bathing in the pig pen or roosting on some milk-stands. I asked for a Rhode Island Red pullet, an Easter Egger pullet, and a little fluffy bantam hen mix. I’m so excited, I can barely talk about it without jumping up and down. She hasn’t been in touch since, but she will have to sneak into the coop at night and grab them, placing them in a different coop until I can come and get them. As I passed the baby goats and snorting pigs, I saw a tiny little bantam with a lavender tinge to her feathers walking along the fence line. I looked again and saw five-day old chicks running behind her, cheeping and hopping, tumbling through the dirt after their mother. Leading the pack of chicks was an older chick, about a week or two. She explained to me that the older chick’s mother had abandoned it, and this little bantam accepted her into her brood. My heart almost melted.

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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!

 

The Good and the Bad

My chickens are four weeks old now. Their fuzz is being replaced with shiny new feathers, and their former peep greeting has been replaced by flight to my head and shoulders whenever I make the mistake of lifting the netting of the brooder. Often times they spill their water all through their shavings, and yet I can’t stop loving them. There is something incredibly therapeutic about simply being with them.

My seedlings, on the other hand, have been the definition of disappointment this year. The ones that are not withered and dying have stayed the same height since I planted them, (about the size of half my middle finger). I think its because we’ve been using normal white lights for them instead of “Grow Lights”, so they can’t thrive. I suppose I’ve learned my lesson. Thank goodness the tomatoes from last year have been reborn! I just went out in the garden, and while swatting away an obscene amount of mosquitoes, I spotted a clump of weed-like plants squatting next to my lettuce. I pulled them up with annoyance, and brought them closer to my face for another look. But then I got the subtlest hint of tomato. And sure enough, in my hand was a clump of tomato seedlings that survived the cold nights and soil overturning. Simply amazing. It just makes me so much more grateful for heirloom vegetables- people think they are “too fragile”, but these things can survive the winter! If I had ordered seeds from a GMO organization, I’d be looking at a tomato-less year. Nature is the best.

A lot has happened since I last posted. My chicks have been outside every sunny day there is. Yesterday I dragged the fence over to rest on some dirt in the sun, and Mary immediately began to dust bathe. It was the sweetest thing! But then a hawk swept by, its humungous wingspan casting a shadow over the babies, and no more outside time for that day. My dad has begun toiling away at the coop- the floor frame is all done! Pretty good for only having been at it for a weekend.

Despite these pleasant news fragments, an unfortunate event has begun to occur. I’ve noticed a comb beginning to form on Edith’s head. Sure, this is a perfectly normal occurrence for female chicks. But not this young. Not this big. And not this red. I Iament, as I won’t be able to keep her if she starts to crow. Reducing me to just two little hens.