Category Archives: Chickens!

Just a Lady

Chickens on the homestead
Roaming in their pen
Clucking, pecking, roosting
Squawking now and then

I watered them and fed them
I cleaned their little coop
I made sure they were healthy
A happy little group

Their eggs became a staple
Fresh food to share and eat
We worked them in the garden
And butchered them for meat

I was “The Chicken Lady”
But now those days are done
A wily fox invaded
And killed them…every one

 

The Massacre

“There was a different looking cat under the chicken coop.”

This may seem like an innocent enough comment, but coming from my 5-year-old as he held an empty egg carton…it sounded ominous.

“A different looking cat?” I asked.

“Yeah, it was under the coop playing with a chicken. That’s why I didn’t get eggs.”

Uh oh.

“I’ll go check,” I said as I went out in the bright, noon sunshine and headed toward the coop.

“Mommy, be careful!” called my oldest, worry in his eyes.

I was halfway to the coop when I saw movement. A few more steps and the “different kind of cat” shot out from under the coop, a chicken in its jaws.

A fox had been in the henhouse. 

Surely, I thought, he had just captured PJ, our one free-range hen. There was no way a fox could actually get in the henhouse. Right?

I checked on the smaller flock first. The three ladies looked a little shaken up, but aside from a few loose feathers, they were unharmed.

I could see a lifeless chicken under the coop. I could only assume it was PJ. On closer inspection, her head and body were all intact. She looked almost peaceful.

But wait…if PJ was in one piece without a leg, thigh or head missing…what did the fox have in its mouth?

It was then I heard it.

The eerie sound of silence.

Not a whisper or a rustle came from the coop. Not a hen wandered in the pen.

I slowly opened the laying box and peeked inside. All I could see were feathers.

I opened the big door and saw bodies everywhere.

It was a feathery massacre.

Not one of the Pearl White Leghorns had survived. All bodies, save one, were accounted for. The missing body, I could only assume, was in the belly of the fox.

I don’t know if I truly interrupted his theft, or if he was only going to take one bird all along. I’ve read that the fox can get in a “killing frenzy” when cooped up with a bunch of hens, but usually will only leave with one. Creepy.

As I started to remove the dead, I noticed something strange. Only two hens were headless.

The rest were just…dead. There was no outward sign of fowl play. 

As I picked the bodies up with my three-layer-gloved hands, I saw what had happened. The fox, had broken all their necks, but only taken one as a prize.

The guilt set in as I realized what had really happened. The words I had spoken only the night before echoed in my mind.

“We need to butcher the hens before winter. All of them except the new ones.”

The wily fox had heard me and granted my wish.

Eggsperiments

We are a house obsessed with all things egg.

We like to eat them fried, scrambled, boiled or deviled.

We use them for baking, for breakfast and sometimes for lunch and dinner.

Yes, we are a house full of egg enthusiasts and, just when we thought we couldn’t find another way to enjoy the egg, DIY Sci came to Prime.

DIY Sci is a Fox series hosted by Steve Spangler and a recent Amazon Prime discovery for my boys. The show is fast paced and silly with fun experiments and scientific explanations.

Everything Spangler does can be done at home with (mostly) common household items.

Like vinegar…and plastic bottles…and eggs.

First, the boys used an empty bottle, paper plate and cracked egg to demonstrate how to use to suction to separate the yolk from the white without breaking it.

I was totally impressed with this. I always make a mess or break the yolk when I try separating eggs…even when I use those little egg separator tools. Who knew that all I needed was an empty water bottle?

Then, Joe wanted to show me how to squeeze and egg so it wouldn’t crack. He held it in his hand longways and squeezed. It didn’t break! Then I tried it, but didn’t hold it longways like he did…what a mess that was.

The latest experiment was an oldie but a goodie. The ol’ blow-the-egg-out-of-its-shell-through-a-pinhole trick.

The shell was still intact after this one so Joe wanted to use it for one more eggsperiment: The Rubber Egg.

He put the empty egg in a glass, covered it with vinegar and weighed it down so it would stay completely submerged.

After a few days, he checked on it and sure enough, some of the outer shell had dissolved.

DIY Sci has inspired may experiments around the house, but so far the eggs have been the most fun. It is probably not a coincidence that they are also the messiest.

 

PJ the Hen

The boys have named our free-range hen Pecky Jr.

We call her PJ for short.

We pulled her out because the other hens had decided she was the weakest link. They attacked her, bloodied her and I was sure they would soon kill her.

Picture of PJ from August 16, 2017.

She now looks better than all of the other hens of her flock and she is much friendlier.

PJs vicious sisters

No hand pecking. No angry squawks. No vicious glares.

PJ on September 20, 2017

We haven’t done much to ‘domesticate’ her, but she comes running when we come outside and follows at my heels when I check for eggs.

She even eats right out of our hands if we approach her slowly and calmly whisper words of encouragement.

She has her own container of water, and we throw down a cup chicken feed when we are refilling the others.

That may sound mean, but she finds so much to eat in the pasture, yard and garden that we don’t feel the need to leave a dish of food out for her. The other hens eat less feed when they have new ground to peck and PJ’s diet is probably more diverse and nutrient-rich.

The only problem is…we don’t know where she is laying her eggs.

There have been times I thought she was gone. Taken by a coyote or raccoon. But when I head out to the coop to feed and water the chickens she suddenly appears.

I’ve started watching to see where she comes from but the moment I turn my back, she’s at my heels, waiting for scraps. She’s definitely coming from the pasture, so I am sure her eggs are somewhere in the wild grass.

Hopefully, a raccoon or other predator is eating them because I sure don’t want to find them by smell.

That is an experience I hope never to repeat.

Pecky Junior roams
Hoping for a tasty scrap
Circling our heels

 

 

 

A Boy and his Chicken

A boy and his chicken
Had a little chat
They pondered on the weather
And talked of this and that

To hear their conversation
You’d never even know
That only one was talking
A constant, steady flow

The chicken clucked and shuffled
The boy yakked on and on
While feeding Queenie bits of grass
He’d pulled out of the lawn

She stood and seemed to listen
She clucked and moved her head
But when the boy stopped talking
She quickly turned and fled

 

Spoiled Eggs

Skulking and sneaking
I thought she was dead
But here she is peeking
Now I’m filled with dread

She’s laying eggs somewhere
I watch her and wonder
Will I find them out there?
Which bush are they under?

I’ve looked in the tall grass
I’ve searched under sheds
I’ve peaked when I pass
All of my garden beds

But still I can’t find them
And I greatly fear
My sniffer will smell ’em
If I ever draw near

Guess What? Chicken…

Warning! This post is informational, but kind of icky. If you are grossed out by chicken butt problems, beware!

Something strange is going on with the hen’s butts.

Sure, they’ve molted and are now pecking at each other.

Sure, their butts are bound to be dirty with the constant pooping.

Sure, they’ve been dust bathing with their poop crusted bare bottoms in a dirt and diatomaceous earth (DE) mix.

So what the heck is it?

Now, I’m not a big fan of this breed. They are mean and horrible to each other and they have tried to peck my hands too many times to count.

That, however, does not mean I want them to suffer. Afterall, they do provide us with fresh, delicious eggs, entertainment and learning experiences for the boys (and us).

I went to my favorite chicken blog, Backyard Chickens to try and figure out what is going on.

Their symptoms, and the appearance of the disgusting, white/yellow foamish coating on their rear, is consistent with vent gleet aka “Nasty Chicken Butt”.

Blech.

Vent gleet or “Sticky Vent” is basically a yeast infection affecting female birds and, less commonly, males.

There are TONS of chicken websites out there describing this type of infection, so I’m just going to detail my plan of attack.

Treatment

First, I’m going to bathe the affected bottoms in a mix of water and dish soap.

Then, I’m going to put a molasses/water mix (1/2 C. molasses per gallon) out along with their plain water so they have their choice of beverage for at least a few hours.

Next, I’ll add 2-4 TB of vinegar/gallon of water and keep doing this for several days to, hopefully, kick out the nasty and prevent re-growth.

Finally, and this one is iffy given the temperament of these hens, I’ll feed them each 1TB of plain yogurt per day, also until symptoms are gone. Yogurt has probiotics and live cultures…good bacteria.

There is no way they will let me do this. It’s going to be difficult enough to get them in a bath, let alone get them to calmly take their tablespoon of yogurt.

I will likely just set out a dish of it and see what they do.

Prevention

In order to prevent another onslaught, I will make sure they always have fresh, clean water and dry feed.

I’ll continue to add apple cider vinegar to their water, backing off from 2-4TB to 1TB/gallon. I may also get some probiotic powder to add to their feed.

Yogurt, if the feeding plan works out, will be an occasional treat. 

Did I mention how gross this is? Just in case…

Ew! Gross chicken butts
White, yellow and foamy pus
Ick! There goes breakfast!

Cast Out

A day like any other
The old hens all went mad
They attacked a little chicken
She looked so weak and sad

They chased her round the henhouse
They moved in as a team
White feathers flew all over
A gruesome, horrid scene

I made a quick decision
I had to move her fast
Out she jumped so quickly
She was free at last

Once she shook and cowered
And trembled hard with fear
Now she chirped and strutted
As slowly she came near

The new ones saw her coming
They knew she was no match
Three of them could take her
And win without a scratch

Our lonely bird, deflated
Ran fast under the coop
And there she hides and cowers
Cast out from both the groups

The Big Molt

The new girls are now half again the size of the leghorns and their feathers are fluffy and shine in the sun.

They are truly beautiful birds, and the old ones?

Well, they are looking…pretty bad.

Their feathers are missing, they are pecking at each other and raw red patches of skin are showing.

They’ve become more and more bedraggled over the past couple of weeks. We change their water regularly, keep them in food and clean out their coop so what the heck is going on?

I was sure they were slowly murdering each other.

Ray thought they might be molting.

I liked my explanation better, but I looked up molting anyway.

Bingo. Our leghorns are going through a rather hard molt.

Great patches of feathers are missing. Some of the hens look fuzzy with odd looking new feathers growing through stubby old ones, while others look like they’ve been plucked alive.

During molting, all of the feathers fall and new feathers grow. Feathers are more than 80% protein so growing them takes a lot of energy.

Energy that is normally used to lay eggs.

Our egg production has not gone down that much, but it has dropped from 11-12 a day to 8-9 a day.

In order to balance things out a bit, we are going to start supplementing their diet with extra protein.

They’ll get mealworms, sunflower seeds, fresh herbs and maybe leftover scrambled eggs…maybe.

Few fluffy feathers
Hastily hobbling hens
Bare, bedraggled birds

Little Brown(ish) Eggs

The new girls have started laying eggs!

At first they were tiny and cream colored with titanium shells. Seriously, they took a few good whacks to crack. Crazy enough, every one has had a tiny yolk!

After about a week, they started to get a little bit bigger and the brownish hue deepened into a nice caramel color.

And then today I collected the biggest so far. It’s barely smaller than the behemoths the old hens lay. It’s not as brown as the others have been, but it still has a cream hue.

Old hen egg (left) vs New hen egg (right)

The new girls were pretty proud of themselves and were rewarded with grapes…their favorite.

Little brown(ish) eggs
Growing so slowly in size
Soft and creamy white