Scaredy Chickens

SnowChickens
Living with animals gives you such insight into their quirky, individualistic behavior.  It never occurred to me before having chickens that they did NOT like snow.  Most everything I read was about breeds that were winter hardy and that would lay through cold winters.  And I read ALOT about chickens before we actually got them.  Turns out they are prissy.  And this photo shows exactly what I mean – literally, they want to be out in the sun and they won't allow their feet to touch the snow.  There must be at least eight of them crowded on the ramp and a 2 sq. ft. patch of dirt.  Love these silly animals.

Annie
Laughing at the girls

© 2008 Anne Mahle

Roosters and the Mama Bear

Rooster_2 There have been a few issues with having chickens other that the sorry state of the hen house.  Not the least of which has been that at some point, the hormones kicked in for the 13 roosters and they started to become a little aggressive, flapping their wings and running toward the girls, but not pecking or using their claws, when the girls would go out to get the eggs or to visit with the hens.

I should interject here that the roosters had always been destined for the freezer.  When they are little it’s a hard to stomach that you are diligently and lovingly raising these beings and then will summarily dismiss them at some point to eventually place them on your dinner table. 

But as the roosters’ aggression increased, this ambivalent feeling wanned and was replaced by a sort of pushing back on my part – as in "Hey, buddy, let’s not forget who’s in charge here."  They began to charge out of the hen house whenever I would walk into the coop area and this made me uncomfortable for my girls especially because the roosters, when they stretched out and flapped their wings could get almost eye to eye with my youngest daughter. 

Then, one day, the feeling snapped straight into true aggression – as in, "It can be too soon for you buggers to leave."  My girls were outside in the coop area playing with the hens and getting upset that the roosters were jumping on the backs of the hens.  In other words, mating.  When this first happened the hens were a mess.  They ran away, they squawked and basically sounded as if they were under deadly attack.  And I have to say, I don’t really blame them.  Woman’s rights hasn’t really filtered down into the chicken world and the hens didn’t seem to think this was a mutual good time.

My girls were in the pen when this happened and one got pecked right next to the eye.  Then I walked into the pen and the rooster charged directly at me.  The mama bear in me was so strong that the only thing that kept me from swinging that rooster from it’s feet was the fact that my girlies were right there watching.  From that point on, the girls weren’t allowed in the pen until after the roosters had joined the steaks in the freezer.

And I have to admit that even though I was past ready for them to leave, it took months before I could actually cook one. 

Annie
This year someone else is raising our meat birds

© 2008 Baggywrinkle Publishing

Hay House – What Could be so Hard?

Hayhouse My research for a simply constructed hen house lead me to straw bale houses.  They seemed simple to build, required little carpentry skills and they were cheap.  Most all other options involved about $500 of lumber and materials to build AND I worried about the time it would take for me to do it by myself.  I needed these chickens OUT of my house. 

I can now share that the material for a hay house is cheap. 

But they aren’t easy to build. 

We had the hardest time figuring out how to stabilize the walls.  Rebar, stakes and poly twine – all of the materials suggested by the books I was reading on how great these straw bale houses are – just weren’t working.  We finally got the roof and walls up after two days of work by four people.  I thought perhaps the structure just might last one year. Two of those people were paid, by me, making the labor costs close to $500.  Perfect.  We now have the most expensive free-range, organic eggs a person could buy.

What the folks who recommend the straw bale houses fail to let you know is the hens peck at the straw to the point of making huge holes in the walls and the bales fall over once they get wet no matter how you stabilize them.   Unless of course you start to nail up boards to keep the bales up, in which case, why not just sheath the thing in wood to begin with!

This picture was taken right after we finished construction.

Annie

© 2008 Baggywrinkle Publishing

Desperately Needing a Hen House

There were now 28 ugly teen-aged chicks living in my house.  They were dusty, scraggly and smelly.  We are talking wood shop dusty because they constantly scratch the sawdust bedding put down for them in the kiddie swimming pool in which they occasionally stayed.  The rest of the time they spent flapping their wings, hopping up on the edge of the pool and doing what they do best – pooping.  I hardly need to say – hence the smelly.

I desperately needed a hen house for these creatures.  I have a very handy husband.  He can make almost anything and often he does, but we have an agreement about the chickens which I think is only fair although at the time I realized I was now desperate for the hen house I sorely regretted making this agreement.  The bargain was, I could get chickens IF Jon didn’t have do anything with them.  No building, no feeding, no cleaning, no getting wood from the hardware store in his truck for the hen house, absolutely no nothing.  You know when you are a kid and you want that puppy so badly you will promise almost anything?  As in, "You’ll never have to do a single thing, Dad.  I’ll always walk the dog, pick up the …. in the yard and feed him."  And then, you go to college and your dad is stuck doing all the things he’s been doing for the past 10 years with the dog anyway. 

It didn’t happen like that for me.   My husband is soft spoken, but he’s no pushover.  When he says something, he remembers and he doesn’t go back on it.  So now I had to figure out how to build this ridiculous hen house by myself without spending gobs of time doing it because it’s now four weeks before our sailing season starts and life is starting to get really busy.

So I pulled the crew off the boat and made them help me for two days on the hen house.  Which they of course loved.  If you think two men who came to Maine from southern states to sail and have a grand summer adventure were happy about the boss making them build a hen house…. hmmm.

In any event, it got done.

Annie

© 2008 Baggywrinkle Publishing

Baby Chicks Arrive

Fluffy1a Modern Living vs. the Good Old Days. I’m not sure that if we could really compare both ways of living that we would really choose the "good old days" when life was "simple" and our food didn’t come in a box.  Grandma made fruit pies with light, flaky crusts, canned everything that came from the garden which was then savored all winter long and everyone was intimately connected to their food because they raised it all themselves – chickens, a cow and a pig.  It sounds so rich, with tradition and respect for the land and the food it provides and … like a ton of work.   

There are pieces of this lifestyle that have always fascinated me, however.  How do you make vinegar?  Fresh bread for my family, maybe it’s not so hard.  Jams and jellies?  I’ll always say "yes," at least to eating it slathered on my toast.  And chickens, I’ve always been mesmerized by the whole idea of raising my own chickens and having gorgeous, orange-yolked, full flavored eggs with whites that stay together and don’t run all over the pan.

I finally took the leap last spring and bought what is called a "straight run" of chickens which I now know means that you get both male and female chickens.  You can mix and match and let me tell you, buying chickens from a catalog is just like any other catalog shopping – I’ll take 2 of these, 4 of those …  I ended up with 5 different breeds and because you have to order 25 or more chicks, plus the free rare breed that I said "sure" to because what the heck, my new flock totaled 28 chicks.  I might have had a little buyers regret at that moment, but quickly rationalized it.

The phone rang at 6am one morning and of course I picked it up right away, a little anxious, because who calls that early unless something is wrong.  The carpool, mom-scheduling phone calls don’t start until everyone has had their first cup of coffee, about 7am.  My accelerated heart beat became a leap when the postal man on the other line said my chicks were at the post office ready to be picked up.  I hopped into the car to get them and when I got home was greeted by two more bigger "baby chicks," my girls, just itching to get their hands on the tiny, cute, furry bundles.  (I had to use the word "cute."  There really isn’t another that fits them better.)

I would like to insert here that my parents were visiting.  I love them, they love me and while they would never say so, they think that this sailing, living in rural Maine, owning a small business life that we lead is just a little …. not them.  I sometimes get from them what I call the Golden Retriever look, which is when they look at me with their heads cocked to one side and with a puzzled look on their face.  I know they wonder sometimes from who’s loins did I come.

So now we have chickens, in the house, while my parents are visiting.  They don’t take up that much space when they are little.  Just a cardboard box.  They need to be inside when you first get them because they are pretty fragile beings just like most baby animals and it’s too cold and windy for them outside at the start.  At first they are adorable pooping machines.  But they grow quickly.  And so does the size and amount of their poop.  At first it doesn’t smell.  And then it does.  My friend who’s raised several batches of chicks was right.  You are ready for them to be outside about a week or two before it’s warm enough for them to go outside.

This picture is of Fluffy, our Buff Laced Polish rare breed rooster.

Annie
Still not so sure about the good old days, I really like my gas stove.

© 2008 Baggywrinkle Publishing