Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Easter Eggs or How I got my baby chicks

Two years ago our adventure into raising chickens began.  Coincidentally, it began on Easter weekend.

Last year we decided to add to our flock and what better time than again on an Easter weekend.  Enter Elsie & Alma, the Wyandottes.

Our flock is at a comfortable six hens and this Easter approached.  While I secretly wanted another baby chick, it didn't seem like we were going to make it happen.  Was it even practical getting just one chick?  I wasn't going to press and it seems there wasn't a need.  Elsie had her own ideas of what needed to happen and she let us know, without question, it was time for her to be mom.

Elsie, this Easter weekend, went broody, AGAIN.  This time, she isn't fooling around.  The hen has set up residence in the left nesting box and she isn't going to budge.  Just ask her and you will get a very serious growl.  Elsie wants to be a mom and she means business.

After consulting some friends/experts at The Fancy Chicken in Loxahatchee and some friends on line at Backyardchicken.com, it was decided.  Elsie will be getting a clutch of fertilized eggs so she can hatch herself a little family.  The Fancy Chicken has been kind enough to provide us with the needed eggs and will even take back any babies that turn out to be roos.

Stay tuned for Elsie's adventure into motherhood!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Three days at Shawshank

Since there is a chicken currently residing in my home office, I must get this off my chest.  Either Elsie, our RED laced Wyandotte chicken, is channeling Ellis “Red” Boyd, or she has gone broody.  Hmmm, notice the similarities in name....Elsie....Ellis.  No wonder she was the one to go Shawshank on me.
Angry, Broody Elsie refusing to budge from the nesting box earlier this week.

Elsie, the chicken, has gone broody.  What that means:

  •  She doesn't want to eat.
  •  She refuses to leave the nesting box causing an actual "waiting line" of chickens trying to lay an egg this afternoon.
  • She is plucking her own feathers to keep her baby “plastic egg”  and her sister's real eggs warm
  •  And she is wreaking havoc with all the other chickens with her growly, moody antics.

All this because she really, really , really wants to have a baby.

Much as I would love to let Elsie nest away and hatch a clutch of cute, little, baby chicks, we had to take drastic measures.  You see, we don't have a rooster so no baby chicks can happen here.  And, from what I understand, if a chicken goes broody and can’t actually become a mom, bad things happen.

  • Weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Aggressive behavior
  • And that really long waiting line at the nesting box
"Red" waiting her time in solitary.

Our only recourse….Solitary confinement in a cool, quiet area.  As I type this, Elsie is sitting in her cell, a dog crate in my home office, with only food and water and a short roost.  Seems a bit sad but this is the most calm she has been in three days.  From what I've read in various chicken blogs, she will be in the office for a few days before getting parole and then it might go something like this…

2014 Parole Hearings Woman: Elsie chicken, your files say you've served 3 days of a broody chicken sentence. Do you feel you've been rehabilitated?
Red: Rehabilitated? Well, now let me see. You know, I don't have any idea what that means.
2014 Parole Hearings Woman: Well, it means that you're ready to rejoin the chicken society...
Red: I know what you think it means, missy. To me, it's just a made up word. A politician's word, so young ladies like yourself can wear a suit and a tie, and have a job. What do you really want to know? Am I sorry for what I did?
Red: There's not a day goes by I don't feel regret. Not because I'm in here, because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid chicken who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to her. I want to try to talk some sense to her, tell her the way things are. But I can't. That chicken’s long gone, and this old bird is all that's left. I got to live with that. Rehabilitated? It's just a bullshit word. So you go on and stamp your form, missy, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I don't give a chicken shit….

Stay tuned to see just when Elsie gets parole and is allowed back in the yard with her sisters.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Alma's Science Fair Egg Experiment

Remember the Science Fair?  Remember watching or participating in events like Build a Boat Out of Ping Pong Balls or Grow Beans in Microwaved Water vs Plain Tap?  It seems I have a chicken who has entered herself in her own Science Fair.

First, in egg laying, all chickens are not created equal.  Some are big egg layers. Some are loud egg layers and some, like my two Wyandottes, are not "straight to the nesting box" kind of gals.  The first Wyandotte to lay, Elsie, would lay her eggs in the dog house.  It only took me about four days to figure that out and redirect her to a safer spot, the nesting box.  She took to it right away once it was pointed out.

Next, meet Alma.  Alma is one of our Blue Laced Red Wyandottes and she is almost a year old. Alma is a very special chicken.  Alma is a student of physics whose goal is to successfully lay and egg from the highest point in the coop without breaking.  It would be quite the feat and this little girl  is up for the challenge.

Over the course of two weeks we would periodically find an egg inside the coop, broken and outside the nesting box.  My first thought was an angry chicken kicked it out as part of a "pecking order" protest.  But it kept happening.  Day after day of broken egg.  Then a Saturday rolled around and I was able to observe who was laying and when.  One by one the ladies took their turns in the nesting boxes until Alma was ready to lay.  In to the coop she went.  Then back out.  Then back in. In and out for several rounds of confusion until in she went and stayed.  After a few moments I heard it.  The awkward flapping and stumble of a chicken going to bed.  Going to bed?  Its 2 in the afternoon!  I carefully peek in the coop and there she is, Alma on high.  

Alma, preparing to lay an egg from the highest roost in the coop.
Much to our amazement, Alma manages to not only lay her egg but she drops it from about three feet and it lands successfully in the crevice between the coop door and floor.  Please forgive the chicken pooh splotches.  It is life in the coop. 
Seriously?  How did she do this?

The ledge egg, unbroken.  Rather amazing
Who lays an egg, drops it three feet and has it land exactly in this two inch gap?  Alma really needs to play MouseTrap.  (Yeah, I'm dating myself here)

A few days later, she inches closer to the mark.  And, I get smart and line the coop floor with several inches of shavings to "break" the fall of our precious egg.
We seem to be getting closer to the mark.
Alma ended up proving her point.  She could lay an egg where ever and when ever she wanted.  We are very grateful that she decided the nesting box was good enough....for now.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Bird in the hand...falls asleep?

From the beginning it was important to me that I can handle my hens with ease.  In the event of an emergency where one of the ladies needed to be picked up and held (injury, illness, what ever) I wanted to know I could easily handle the bird.

As baby chicks they were picked up and held and coddled on a daily basis. (Who can resist a baby chick?)  As adult hens they no longer get picked up and held every day but it is still important to know the ladies will allow being held.  One thing I have discovered in this process, each lady has varying degrees of acceptance with my task.  All tolerate the event.  Big Fran, the Buff Orp, makes the most fuss.  When put down she always shakes and ruffles her feathers in disgust.  The look on her big, beaked face is "Quelle Horreur!"
The very angry bird, Fran.

This evening I was reminded which hen clearly makes the least fuss.  Each of the ladies had their turn and last in line was Lois, a Dominque.  One would think with a name like DOMinque there would be a bit of DOMinance but not the case with LoLo.  She is our low hen on the chicken totem pole.

I pick up little Lois and she quietly nestles in my arm.  No fuss with this chicken.  I give her a pat and start chatting with my husband about the yard.  After a few minutes I notice she has hunkered down nicely with no apparent desire to to leave.  Hubby and I continue to chat and walk about, all the while holding sweet Lois.  Again, I look down to check on my chick and this is what I see...

Little Lois taking a nap
As long as I'm walking (and not just moving but actual walking) Lois remains asleep.  Am I her chicken whisperer?  Perhaps, as low chicken in the pecking order, I am her safe zone.  No one can get to her.  No one can peck her.  No one can stop her from getting a little shut eye.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Release the ladies

The ladies hunkered down after a very cold evening and this morning they were ready to get out and free range in the sun.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Icebox Chicken or Learn How to Knit While No One is Watching

I'm not sure if I actually took the "I Promise Not to Get All Crazy" vow when I first brought my chickens home two years ago, but in my mind I have promised it to myself. I, Sarah Hiers, do solemnly swear NOT to go completely overboard with my chickens.

I'd like to think I also promised it to my husband but he may dispute that fact.  He also may disagree on the definition of "Get All Crazy".   I say, No hats or capes.  No sweaters.  No dressing of chickens.  He may say the picture framed windows and family portrait in the coop teeters on the edge.

In the two years we have had our ladies they have weathered quite a bit.  They have 'weathered" stifling heat, fireworks, two floods and a tropical strength storm.  Tonight the temps are expected to drop into the low 30's.  Here in South Florida they might as well call in the National Guard.  While my reasonable brains suggests they are chickens who can weather the cold in their coop tonight, I can't help but think...hats?  sweaters?  Maybe a stylishly warm cape?

 Ok, back to reasonable self:

  • Chickens have 8,300 feathers and know how to arrange them just right so they stay warm
  • Warmth in numbers.  There are six ladies and they snuggle together every night.  Tonight will be no different.
  • I don't have time to learn to knit six tiny sweaters while convincing my husband I haven't lost my mind.
Tonight I'm sure I will check on the ladies several times before myself retiring.  Tonight I'm sure I will get soft little coos and purrs coming from the coop and possibly a stink eye for accidentally waking up my warm and sleepy little girls.  I'll try to tip toe and I'll try not to secretly sneak on to Amazon to buy ready made capes and hats.
Elsie, the Blue laced Red Wyandotte, ready for bed.

Monday, January 6, 2014

All In A Row...well, almost all

Happy 2014 from all at Hiers Hens...well, almost all.

We have decided to start out the year on yet another molt...or maybe its just the dark winter...but only four of our six ladies have kept up laying on a regular basis.  Below is our egg in take from January 1 in order of appearance.  On that particular day Dolores and Lois decided to sit out.

There may be something slightly kooky about this, but I love that I can identify the which egg came from which chicken.
January 1, 2014

  1. Elsie the Blue Laced Red Wyandotte lays lovely brown, smooth almost round eggs.
  2. Alma the lighter Blue Laced Red Wyandotte lays a lighter egg with white speckles.  (sorry for the poor photography.  the speckles do not appear)
  3. The lighter brown, smooth egg is from my Queen Bee, Marie and finally,
  4. The granddaddy of all eggs comes from Fran.  How does that chicken push out such a large egg?