Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"Chickensitting" - say that 5 times fast!

We are indebted to Pedro, Beth & Ellen - friends who chickensat while we were in Scandinavia.

Pedro is a graduate student from Braga, Portugal who is working with Eric for a few months.  He knows that I'm a nervous nellie and was kind enough to send lighthearted emails to let us know that all was well in chickenland. 

Beth and Ellen are neighbors who have been great chicken cheerleaders over the past 3 years.  They bring the girls treats and shower them with attention, and they happily agreed to relieve Pedro while he was in Bemidji embracing lake life. 

a nice photo of Stella sent by Beth and Ellen
I just have to share a few quotes from emails from Beth and Ellen as they documented chicken antics.

Beth wrote, "Last night I brought a small bit of leftover brown rice and gave the younger birds first peck at it as they were going in.  Both of them jumped on my back and vigorously wiped the rice off their beaks onto my shirt--back and forth, swipe swipe swipe.  I am used to this treatment from the parrot so I know what it is to be taken for granted by a bird. What a blessing."  and  "Herded all into coop at bedtime -- fairly easy to do (after chasing Redder around the coop about six times)."

I appreciate their keen observations of chicken behavior.  Ellen wrote, "Little Redder is almost masculine in her approach to the older ladies--keep well away from them, be calm and silent and all will be well--while Chirpy squawks and dashes wildly in zigzag fashion under the beaks of her elders, just asking to be pecked."  Beth commented, "Stella is striding around declaiming some sort of gallinaceous poetry saga in a loud voice." That's our girl!!

We are glad they share our fascination with chickens.  Ellen asked, "How do you ever get anything done when there are always chickens to observe?"  The truth is, we often don't get stuff done because we are "busy" watching chickens.


Monday, June 11, 2012

one big happy family!

This is the first night they have all roosted together.  It's a sight to behold!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

too cranky to die

squawking Stella - a common sight

Stella gave us quite a scare a few weeks ago.  She spent all day in the nesting box attempting to lay an egg.  She worked at it for hours, but was not successful.  Eventually, the contents of an egg did come out, but without a shell.  By the evening, she was very weak and lethargic.  She wasn't pooing, eating or drinking and ignored her favorite treats.  I thought we were going to lose her.  We kept her in the house overnight to keep her calm and quiet. 

Thanks to The Google, I found some information about hens who are eggbound.  This condition sometimes occurs in older hens and means that there is an egg stuck in process.  If an egg or its shell are blocking her vent, the chicken can't poo and usually dies within 2 days.  Needless to say, I was a little freaked out. Many chicken keepers suggest submerging the hen's backside in a hot water bath for about 20 minutes, several times a day.  This can help relax her muscles and help release the egg.

The people who suggested this treatment have obviously never met Stella.  She is our surliest chicken, and because she was picked on and had all her butt feathers plucked out by older mean chickens before we got her, she is incredibly skittish and does NOT like to be touched.  In fact, I have NEVER held Stella, not even for a second.  On the day we brought our girls home from Anoka Ramsey Farm & Garden, I gently lifted Ray, Winnie, and Little Red out of the transport box and placed them in the coop.  When I tried to pick up Stella she flew to the edge of the box and into the coop on her own.  From that moment on she made it very clear that she does not like to be handled.  We do pet her occasionally, usually when she's sleepy, but she doesn't allow much of that nonsense.

tiny tail-less Stella on her first day in the coop
So, the thought of giving Stella a hot water bath was daunting.  But, because she was so weak she actually let me pick her up and hold her in a plastic tub of hot water for 20 minutes.  I gently rested my hand on her back and she stayed put.  After several days and a few more baths, she began to regain her strength and appetite and she seemed to enjoy flapping her wings and spraying me with water. 

After several days she still had not passed an egg.  We were a little worried, especially when we discovered a rather ugly protrusion on her backside near her vent.  It looked like some sort of abscess.  We gave her antibiotics for a few days (another tricky procedure with a chicken who does not like to be handled!!) and eventually the ugly lump disappeared.

2 weeks later, she was not laying eggs but Stella seemed to be back to her old self.  She was making her loud Stella sounds, eating and drinking like normal.  We figured she was going through menopause and that she was retired from egg laying.

We went away for a quick weekend trip and came back to find a Stella egg in the nesting box.  What??!!  We were baffled but happy.  My happiness was interrupted when I realized that our neighbors were chicken sitting for us and may have also retrieved a Stella egg.  Because she was on antibiotics for a few days, her eggs should not be consumed for a month after her last dose.  I wanted to see the eggs our neighbors had collected while we were gone.  They showed me a few of them then confessed that they had thrown one out.  They had hardboiled it and when they cracked it open, the egg was inside out with the yolk outside the white part.  We're guessing this was Stella's first egg after her hiatus.  I'm so glad they tossed out the suspicious looking egg.  I was sorry that we hadn't told our neighbors about the past 2 weeks and all the craziness that was going on at our backyard chicken clinic, but I honestly thought we'd never see another egg from our girl.

a favorite photo of Stella - fall 2009

Well, she has been laying steadily for over a week now and I am saving her eggs for a special non-edible project.  We'll be able to eat her eggs again in a week or so.

We are amazed that Stella recovered so well and is back to her bossy, loud, cranky self.  We're convinced that she was just too cranky to die, and we're quite happy about that!!  Our flock just wouldn't be the same without her. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

playing by the rules

It has been a wild ride as we've attempted to integrate the chicklets with the big girls.  The chicks are now almost 3 months old and have had their own enclosed area at the back of the run for about a month now.  Eric has built several versions of chick gates to allow them to come and go at will while keeping the big girls away from the chick feed and their refuge.  What would I do without my handy and handsome husband?!

Ray patrols the chicklets' refuge
For the past few weeks we've let the babies co-mingle with Ray, Winnie & Stella for about 45 minutes before sunset.  The fun starts as the big girls go up to roost for the night and the little ones romp around feeling safe and giddy.  When the chicklets are ready to call it a night, they head up the ladder, dodging pecks and ugly stares, and attempt to find a spot to sleep.  For the first few nights the babies ended up sleeping in the doorway of the coop, with Winnie & Stella keeping a close eye on them from above.  Ray, who normally sleeps on the ledge with Winnie & Stella, asserts her Alpha status by going inside the coop and perching on the roost.

the babies sleep under the watchful eyes of Winnie & Stella

The chicklets are feeling more brave now, and often sleep on the roost or on top of the nesting boxes near Ray.  I'm surprised that Ray allows it, but sleepy chickens are pretty mellow and maybe she figures she can keep a better eye on the young whippersnappers if they're close by.

At various times we've let the chicklets have supervised visits with the big girls during the day, but this often ends with me shrieking and flailing my arms as the hens go after Little Redder and proudly strut around with their beaks full of her lovely red feathers.  When things get really bad, the little ones fly up onto our shoulders (or my head) to escape the nastiness.  I know it's the way chickens work out their pecking order to ensure their survival, but it's icky. 

A few weeks ago, Eric saved the day when Redder & Chirpy tried to join Ray in the nesting box.  They wanted to snuggle in there with her, but Ray was not having it!  Eric explained the rules to the babies and relocated them before Ray got too stressed out.  Laying eggs is a private matter, as the young ones will soon learn. 

On Wednesday night, things were rather unpleasant as Redder was cornered a few times and more of her sweet little feathers were extracted by Winnie, Stella and Ray.  Winnie (sweet gentle Winnie!) is the meanest of all.  She's the lowest in the pecking order and has the most to gain or lose with the introduction of new chickens to the flock. She is also awfully fond of chick feed and will squeeze her buxom body through the chick gates to get at it. 

I left the next day for a vacation with a friend and came back yesterday, having spent a few sleepless hours wondering if we would EVER be able to fully integrate our flock.  When I got home I asked Eric if we should try letting the chicklets out.  We did and it was incredibly harmonious.  Hour after hour, the little ones roosted, ate, drank and pecked away at straw, as if this was how it had always been.  The big girls did their own thing and when they got too close to the wee ones, the babies would fly up into the coop and hunker down for a while.  This continued all afternoon and into the evening.  It was amazing!!  It seems that the big girls have finally asserted themselves enough and are now satisfied that the babies understand the rules and how things work in THEIR yard.

Redder & Chirpy enjoy some peace & quiet in the coop
I expect there will be some bumps along the road, but for now we're one big happy family!!