Chicken Fever.

It’s been a busy morning.  I took the rest of the week off…well, really just today…you know, holiday and weekend coming.   You know my whole routine.  I have all these huge plans to get all the things done that I didn’t do the LAST time I planned to get big things done.  I always talk to Tom about all the things that I want to do because for some reason, I think if I say it out loud, then it means it will get done.

I’ve operated in this fashion for just over 45 years and it never changes.  I NEVER get any of it done.

nina

So…who cares…let’s talk CHICKENS!

I’m all hopped up because the lavender Orpingtons are on their way from TEXAS.  SQUEEEEEEE!  This morning, when we should have been doing something else, Tom and I ran to the farm supply store for feed and shavings.   Earlier, I had opened the door to the chicken coop and it smelled a bit…chickeny…so I decided I’m going to change out the bedding this weekend (I REALLY AM) and rearrange the nest boxes, rearrange the work area and sweep out the roughly 87 pounds of feathers that have accumulated around the inside of the coop.  Honestly, I think the majority of them are Vinnie’s, but to look at him he hasn’t got a feather out-of-place.  I think some other barred Rock broke in and exploded in the work area because there are enough feathers to make another chicken.  I also think, they think the feathers add to the decor.  I think they just add to my allergy issues.

I actually, sorta, pretty much behaved myself at the farm supply store.  I didn’t cram too much unneeded stuff in the cart (which is usually a giant plastic jar of “PARTY PEANUTS”).  I think in addition to the needed chicken supplies, I only threw in a shirt for a friend of mine that says “I kissed a farmer and I liked it” and a bag of 86,000 wildflower seeds.  I’m not kidding…that’s what the bag says.  It’s not like me to exaggerate. (insert eye-roll here)  Tom got some kind of saw on a stick that he’s going to use this weekend to cut branches off of some of the trees.  So, you can count on one of us getting injured this weekend.

When we got home, we set up the dog run for the new lavenders and I opened the coop pen door to let the Beaked Wonders come out to free range.  After several minutes of heated negotiations (read as: I told them to get their fuzzy butts outside), I went back outside and just left the door open.  If they want to be whiney babies and stay in the coop, FINE.  They can’t say they didn’t have the opportunity to come outside.

Of course, Vin Diesel (that’s what Vinnie insists we call him now), was the first one to discover the open door and since I’d spilled the bag of dried meal worms this morning, he felt it was his responsibility to come out and clean them up.  Opal, Mary and Nina saw him eating and followed him out…because that’s what chickens do…if one is eating, you can bet that two or three more will show up and try to take whatever it’s eating.

I let them wander around while I held fence panels for Tom to bolt together.  This run was a GREAT buy.  I’m just tickled that I actually saw something for sale and actually got to buy it.  Usually the Craigslist stuff is sold by the time I call.

Speaking of Craigslist…there’s someone on there with 3 month old Black Australorp pullets…about 15 miles away…and they’re CHEAP.  Guess what Tom said.

“NO”

He just doesn’t understand (you know he reads this, right?) what a complete BARGAIN that is and they’re the same age as the two lavenders and it would be best to just integrate ONE group into the flock instead of waiting and adding them later and I don’t HAVE any of this kind and I never get to do what I want never-never-never!!!! (<–tantrum)

It’s such a good deal, unless their heads are falling off or something, and chickens lay eggs and they’re chickens (this is totally for Tom’s benefit) and if we wait too long SOMEONE ELSE WILL BUY THEM.

And my birthday is coming up (cheesy grin).

free ranging

Anyway, the four chickens had a bit of free-ranging while we worked on the pen and while they were at it, thought they’d check out the woods and become Jungle Fowl.  I reminded them about the three extremely skinny foxes I saw run across the yard last night.  I started rounding them up after we finished building the new pen.  I always try to herd them toward the open coop door, but the dorks absolutely refuse to step foot inside.  They run back and forth along the run fencing with the others who are inside, running alongside.  They always make the fatal mistake of  running into the fence and I just reach down and scoop them up and take them inside. Today, I took Vinnie in first because being the dimmest of the dimwits, he was the first to try running through the fence.  Next, I came out for Mary or Nina and she also tried to run through the fence and I reached down to scoop her up and Vin Diesel lost his mind again.  He charged the fence and rooster danced and clucked really deep and basically made a fool of himself over me picking up a chicken.  I took Mary inside and set her on a roost and Vinnie came thundering inside in a cloud of testosterone and dust.   He didn’t come after me, but instead ran up to Mary (who was now on the floor) and checked her over from head to scaly toe.  She pecked him in the face and went outside.

Now.  Seriously.  Why doesn’t that just make Tom want more chickens?   It made ME want more chickens (black Australorps).  We have a WHOLE other garden shed that just needs 20 truckloads of stuff cleaned out of it and then I could start a little breeding flock!  OOOOOH.  I suggested that recently…you know, emptying out the other shed and getting more chickens and Tom asked where we would put all the stuff.  I suggested renting a storage unit.  Which I instantly regretted because now he can blame the chickens for having to pay for a storage unit and they aren’t even providing eggs for their OWN rent yet.

I’ll keep working on it.  I think once we have those fresh tasty golden yolked eggs, Tom will want to fill the place with chickens.

They totally need to start laying eggs THIS WEEK to soften his heart because next Saturday, I’ve got a lady bringing splash Cochin pullets to a swap meet we’re going to.  (grin)

 

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Now With More Chicken!

So, some planets aligned recently and there was a miracle.  Tom said I could get a couple more chickens.  Not that he’s entirely in-charge, but I like to let him think he is because, well…you know…he’s a MAN and all that stuff and that’s what they do.  They think they’re in-charge of things and they make decisions.  Granted, they’re decisions that women have already made and have probably acted on already, but it’s always to your benefit if you let them think that they made the decision.  Oh…hi honey, do you still read this thing?

Anyway, I’d been shopping around for chickens ever since the Buff Orpington Rooster Boys (BORBs) left for their new home which included 30 pullets and unlimited sex.  Talk about a good home!  That’s every rooster’s dream home!  With a ratio of 15 hens per rooster, I figure that those two are having the time of their lives…unless of course the people who bought them were liars and ate them with a nice side of mashed potatoes and rooster gravy.

I’d started with 12 chickens and I have been convinced that I needed to get back to that magic number of 12 (which I’m sure I’ll change to 15 at some point).  Besides, eight hens are not nearly enough for the two randy roosters, Cluck and Vinnie.  I combed through breed informational sites on the internet.  Lots of people look for chickens with certain attributes…friendly, production of eggs, etc.

I just want pretty ones.

I really, really like Orpingtons.  Opal, my Buff Orpington, is sweet and gentle and ridiculously cute.  I knew I wanted another Orpington and they come in buff, white, blue, black, splash, various laced and spangled colors and….LAVENDER.

Purple_Crystal_Chicken-icon

PURPLE CHICKENS.  WHO does NOT want a purple ANYTHING??

Okay…they aren’t really purple, but they’re a pretty grey color and I’m good with that.  They’re also adorable and sweet.  So I started joining chicken groups on Facebook and looking for people who had some for sale.  A very sweet lady from Texas mentioned that she was driving up north with chickens to deliver to customers and she listed that she had lavender Orpingtons for sale.  I said that I wished she was coming our way and as luck would have it…SHE IS.

So I told her I wanted two pullets and we’re going to meet and exchange money for chickens (purple chickens) in a parking lot like some sort of chicken drug deal.

I’m SO excited.

Then, it dawned on me that I have no place to quarantine these chickens for the required two weeks before I try to introduce them to the hooligans that I already have…plus…they’re younger, so they may have to be held separately for a longer period of time.

Eek.

Photo from RareBreedAuctions.com

Photo from RareBreedAuctions.com

Sooooo, I laid that on Tom and he said that he’d build me a pen and would price the materials.  Sounded good to me.  Later that day, I was surfing Craigslist and giggling over spelling errors and descriptions in the Farm and Garden section and I found a perfectly good dog run for sale for 150 bucks.  We got for $125.  SCORE!  Tom picked it up yesterday and it’s going to be perfect for the little purple girls.

As I write this, it also dawned on me that they’ll still be on grower feed…which means I’ll need to have them separated and eating different feed until they are about 16 weeks old…and I’m going to need another feeder and waterer…and more shavings for their area.   I have no idea what that is all going to add up to.  The cost of the chickens (a mere $20 each), plus the dog run, plus supplies…

Eek.

Who cares!  THEY ARE PURPLE!!!!  WHEE!!!!!

So, My Favorite Chicken MIGHT Be A Jerk.

It’s hot, I ate too much junk last night before bed and my hair looks like steel wool, so I’m cranky.   If you need me, I’ll be laying face down on the air conditioning vent with the temperature set to 62.  We have a constant battle at our house over the temperature inside.  I like it at a balmy 68.  Tom likes it at a sweltering 72.  Tom’s mom weighs about three pounds and just wears winter clothes all summer.  I can tolerate Tom’s 72 degrees sometimes, but the real battle is over 1 degree of difference.  Sometimes, he feels the need to try to bake us all by turning the temperature up to 73.  I wake up in the middle of the night drenched with sweat and stumble out to the control panel and turn it down a degree and then I lay on the sofa in front of the fan for the rest of the night.   He gets up in the morning and turns it back up to 73.  I get home from work and turn it down to 71, just to prove my point that I’ll keep going lower if he doesn’t stop changing the temperature.  I look at it this way…they can always put more clothes on, but they REALLY won’t want me to take more clothes off.

opalLast night when I got home from work, we (Greg, Tom and I) went to the farm supply store for straw and things to finally put a gate into the run so that I can go and shovel out the roughly 40 tons of melon skins that are building up.   Greg really only goes for the free popcorn.  Anyway, I stocked up on chicken snacks while I was there and picked up a couple of ceramic eggs to put in the nest boxes…you know…as sort of a HINT.  I ran out of eggs this weekend while baking and I went out on the deck and yelled “I WISH I HAD EGGS!” so that the chickens would hear it.  I’m sure the neighbors probably heard it, but they didn’t show up with eggs either, so the chickens and the neighbors can’t have anything I bake in the future.  Losers.

As we were leaving the farm supply store, I made one last detour down the aisle of shiny yard things.  Whoever ordered gazing balls for the store apparently got a little bit out of control because the darn things are everywhere in there.  End caps, aisles, special displays, sale areas.  Roughly ten thousand gazing balls.  Then I saw this hanging gazing ball that soaks up solar power during the day and GLOWS at night!  COOOL!!!! So I got one and hung it out on the deck last night.  We call it the Shiny Solar Disco Ball.  I can’t wait to see it light up tonight.  I heart shiny things.

When I got home, I skipped out to the coop (don’t let me kid you…there is NO skipping in this heat) with my ceramic eggs and placed them in the nest boxes.  The chickens were all outside scarfing down a cantaloupe and they could have cared less.  Usually, if I go into the coop, it means something interesting or food related is about to happen, so they all storm into the coop, but hey….A CANTELOUPE?  What self-respecting chicken would walk away from that?

I trudged back to the house and we ordered dinner because…you know…too hot to cook…and then I waited until it was darker outside and presumably cooler (it wasn’t) and went back to the coop to see if anyone wanted to free range.  I dragged my chair outside and opened the door to the pen and went to sit and wait.   Opal knew that it was time to free-range, so she ran to the coop, but Vinnie was in hot pursuit.  I just assumed he wanted to come out too.  I could hear the two of them inside the pen “talking” to each other for a few minutes.  When I looked up, Opal was making her way through the door to come out to roam around.  In a split second, Vinnie was on her.  She screeched and tried to run out of the pen to get away from him and managed to get free.  Vinnie grabbed her again, this time by the WING and dragged her back into the coop.  Poor Opal was beyond screeching at that point and squealed in pain.  Tom had just walked up to the coop and he shouted “KNOCK IT OFF!” at Vinnie, who released the terrified Opal.  She ran out of the coop and back into the run, yelping as she went.   Vinnie followed, chasing her, until Cluck stepped in front of him and told him in no uncertain terms to STOP IT.

Jerky McJerkerton.

Jerky McJerkerton.

Vinnie came over to where I was sitting at the side of the fence and made growling, low sounds.  Opal was in the midst of the flock of girls at the other end of the run, looking confused and scared.  Vinnie strutted back and forth in front of me while he complained under his breath.  I told Tom, I think he was preventing Opal from going outside of the pen.  He’s become VERY possessive of his flock mates and I think, if I have a problem with anyone in the group, it’s going to be Vinnie.

It figures.  Favorite chicken, total jerk.

Open Doors & Dancing Roosters.

I was a SLUG this weekend.  We did go to a local farmer’s market and I baked bread and failed miserably at making a new cake recipe because I forgot to put the FOUR eggs in.  The moral of that story is “Don’t Drink Wine While You Bake”…or something like that.

The chickens kept me fairly busy (read as: I spent a lot of time sitting in a chair and watching them).   Vinnie and Cluck have determined that  standing next to each other and taking turns crowing is a lot of roostery fun.  They also started rooster dancing this weekend.  When Cluck did his dance the first time, I thought he was having a stroke.  He sidled up to Opal, did the funny little kicky thing with his foot, dropped his wing a little bit and waited a moment (she was totally ignoring him) and then he grabbed the back of her neck and tried to…you know…get to “BIZNESS”.  Opal screeched like her head was being torn off and once Cluck let go, Opal spun around and went after him.  She was LIVID.  Cluck stood there, totally taken aback by her attack and then took off for the other end of the run so that she’d leave him alone.  Opal is that girl who gets hit on at a bar and throws a drink in the guy’s face.

Vinnie doesn’t have the rooster dance down quite yet.  He just started really dancing up a storm this morning and it is the most awkward, uncoordinated thing I’ve ever witnessed.  He doesn’t look sexy, he looks like he needs to be medicated.  He doesn’t seem to know which foot to kick during the whole dance segment, so he just kicks them both, sometimes simultaneously and other times one foot will just kick up a storm.  It’s not so much “Rooster Dance” as it is “River Dance”.

The Lawn Sharks emerging from their lair.

The Lawn Sharks emerging from their lair.

We worked on free ranging some more this weekend. I took the advice of a chicken friend (a friend who likes chickens…not a friend who IS a chicken) and I just opened the door to the chicken pen inside the coop, dragged my chair outside and sat and waited.  I waited and waited and the chickens all sat in the run and stared at me while they griped about not getting hackberry leaves or scratch.  I let them gripe.  I told Vinnie “You don’t always get what you want.  I do, but you DON’T”.  He needs to remember that.  I finally went back into the coop and threw some scratch on the floor of the open doorway of the pen.  All ten of them came running into the coop the moment they heard it hit the floor.  I walked back outside and waited while they talked it over in the coop.  I sat down in my chair with the container of scratch and shook it every once in a while.  I looked up and Opal was walking out of the coop and came over to where I sat with the scratch and started eating weeds and scratching for bugs.

The other chickens had a meltdown.  I walked back into the coop and they followed, running along the side of the run and into the coop.  I shook the box and walked back and forth through the open door.  Opal was still out side foraging for goodies.  I dropped some scratch in the work area and went to sit back outside.  I looked up again…VINNIE had figured out how to get through the open door.  He joined Opal in the grass, but the rest of the crew had stampeded out into the run and were besides themselves because Vinnie and Opal were sucking down grass.  I tried one more time to show them the open door and finally gave up.  I’m just going to keep doing the same thing every night and hope that I can teach more of them that walking through the open door is not walking into the jaws of a Sasquatch.  They’ll eventually get it…I think.  I hope.

vinnie opal freeAt the end of the free ranging session, I caught Vinnie (chickens really  make you get that cardio exercise) and deposited him into the coop and then I went out and got Opal and brought her in to the pen.  I wasn’t really watching what was going on, but I heard chicken feet stomping up the ramp into the coop as I set her down and then there was  flash of black and white and Vinnie was standing on the roost bar next to me telling me how ticked off he was that I had touched one of his women.

This has got to stop.  I stood there calmly while he regarded me from the roost bar.  He appeared to be challenging me.  So, still being very calm, I pointed my finger at him and yelled (probably too loudly) “KNOCK IT OFF YOU MORON”.   Vinnie smoothed his feathers, shook and then smoothed his feathers again and jumped off the roost bar and ran  out of the coop.  I went out to the run where he was standing around complaining in chicken talk and randomly jumping on girls who would scream and run for their lives.   He came up to the fence, chortling and whistling and I explained to him that if he doesn’t change his attitude, I’m going to cut off his feet and stick them in his ears.  He clucked amiably and went to inspect an empty bowl in the run.

Roosters are JERKS.

pumpkin yogurt

I made the chickens a tasty treat yesterday too.  I had some leftover pureed pumpkin from the cake disaster, so I put it in a bowl and added some plain yogurt and sprinkled it with scratch.  I’d been told that yogurt is a favorite of chickens and I had no idea about the pumpkin, but I knew it wouldn’t hurt them and the scratch sprinkles were just a way to get them to try the pumpkin and yogurt.  Since they’ll eat the bumper of a car if I put scratch on it, I figured the odds were pretty good that this would work too.

I was right.

They slurped down pumpkin and yogurt like it was their job.  I expected it to be a lot more messy than it was because I’d heard how they shake their heads to get it off their combs and face.  I didn’t really notice them doing that, but Vinnie, with his considerably large, hangy-down wattles was covered in pumpkin and yogurt.  I swear he needed a bath afterwards.  It turned out that I didn’t have to give him one, because the girls all carefully cleaned it off his face and wattles.  He stood very still with his head lowered while they fastidiously cleaned all of the goop off.  He closed his eyes while they cleaned up his face and wattles like it was either pure heaven or he just didn’t want them to poke him in the eyes with their pointy beaks.  They were very careful…and looked almost gentle as they removed every last speck of pumpkin and yogurt.

Nom-nom-nom.

Nom-nom-nom.

Just when I think they’re uncivilized hooligans, they do something sweet like cleaning off Vinnie’s face and he behaves like a gentleman while they do it.  Of course, I guess they could have been tasting him to kill him and eat him later.

That’s more likely.

Free-ranging progress.

We’ve been practicing free-ranging with some of the girls and they’re really doing a great job.  I stopped trying to catch them to bring them out of the pen and for the past several nights have been leaving the door open and leaving a trail of scratch on the ground for them to follow until they are out in the work area.  It took two nights of scratch bribery…I mean…ENCOURAGEMENT and Opal had it all figured out.  Last night she was standing at the door of the pen waiting and making impatient little noises to go out to search for bugs after the recent rain.

I opened the door and she and Mary, one of the Wyandottes, toodled right into the work area and I swung the gate closed behind them.  They jumped up on the straw bale in the work area and because it’s still neatly bound with twine, they decided that they needed to scratch it apart with their feet.  They didn’t have much luck and when the straw REALLY started flying, I kicked their fluffy little butts outside so that they could get down to business in the grass.  Once they realized that they had access to the grass, I didn’t have to do much more encouraging and they were tail up and beak down sucking up bugs and tasty things in the grass.

free range 5I’d like to bring the whole flock out, but some of them are such space-cadets.  Particularly Roseanna, who seems to run on some sort of chicken-rocket-fuel.  She rarely walks anywhere.  Everything is done full-tilt-out-of-control-top-speed.

I’m just too old to chase that around the yard.  She’s a killer chicken.  I’ll most certainly be found face-down in a pile of dog poop that Tom and Greg forgot to pick up after I chase her roughly 30 feet.  That’s no way to die…face down in Labrador Retriever poop!

So I make her stay inside.  She’s insane.  Really.  Tom thinks she’s schizophrenic.  I’m not a chicken psychiatrist, but I tend to agree.  The lights are on, someone’s home…but you really don’t want to meet them.  It’s that kind of situation.

Opal is usually my free-ranging buddy because she’s sweet and docile, sort of knows her name (when she wants to listen), and she follows me everywhere.  I started with her first and then added another pullet, different each time we go out, so that they can learn from her.  It seems to be working.

free range 1The rest of the Beaked Freaks who watch from the run, are totally upset with this whole idea.  First, because they ALL think they should get to go and second because Vinnie and Cluck think I’m stealing their women.  I tried to explain to them that I don’t play for the “other team” especially if that team is made up of chickens.  They don’t listen.  You know, hormones, have to protect the flock, blah-blah-blah.  The amount of whining and complaining they do while they stand at the end of the run is just ridiculous.  If chickens could write, I’m sure there’d be picketing.

Last night, I started them out near the run because they’d walked out on their own.  Opal was furiously eating things in the grass and scratching for things right next to the fence.  Cluck came over and put his head near hers (he was still in the run) and clucked to her very, very deep and low.  She responded with a few noises.  Cluck ruffled his feathers and smoothed them back down and calmly walked away.  He seemed to have gotten his answer that she was all right.

Vinnie was just standing around.  As usual.  He was definitely wound-up because…well, it was probably because they were getting green snacks and he wasn’t.

Greg came out to the free-range fest and we followed the girls around for a little while.  We decided that while we had the Wyandotte out, we’d band her leg and then we’d band the other Wyandottes, because they are essentially identical.  I put Opal away and Greg tried to catch Mary who was standing next to the run.  As he caught her, she made a scared chicken sound and…

Vinnie. Freaked. Out.

He was suddenly at the side of the run clucking and bawking in deep sonorous tones.  Greg picked Mary up and Vinnie kept clucking in that deep, frantic way.

We were impressed.  Very roostery…considering it was Vinnie.

We quickly put a spiral leg band on Mary and Greg put her in the pen.  While he was inside, the others came rampaging into the coop.  Cluck went to the feeder.  Greg (while humming the music from “JAWS”) followed Nina around slowly until she stopped to scratch in the shavings and then he reached down and scooped her up.  She clucked wildly.

And then…Vinnie lunged at Greg.

He didn’t hurt him…didn’t peck him…didn’t go at him feet first.  He just…lunged at him.  We were dumbfounded…and then a little impressed!  That’s what a brave rooster does!  But WAIT…he’s not supposed to do it at US.

We finished banding Nina and Greg set her down and then he went to get Vinnie.  We’re all for being a protective rooster until you lunge at “THE PEOPLE”.  Greg followed him around singing the “JAWS” theme again…dun-duh…dun-duh…dun-duh…and when he had Vinnie within reach, he snatched him up and tucked him under his arms and held his legs together.  Vinnie, knowing he was busted, changed his attitude a little.  Cluck, who was still eating, didn’t even look up.  Greg walked around with Vinnie under his arm and gave him the “You-Need-To-Be-A-Nice-Chicken” speech.   Vinnie let himself be carried around and Greg finally set him down and he walked away like nothing had happened.

Freak.

I mean, I’m GLAD he’s finally acting like a rooster, but we’ll have none of that bad behavior stuff.  See, I live in this dream-world where roosters are nice…all the time…to everyone…or…

I put their beak on the back of their head.

Vinnie seemed fine this morning.  He was crowing in the coop when I got there to open the doors.  His newest thing is that when I let them out in the morning, Vinnie tries to mate everything and everyone he sees.  This morning, Cluck was inspecting a spot on the ground and Vinnie dashed up behind him, jumped on his back and grabbed the back of Cluck’s neck…

Suffice it to say, it didn’t turn out well for Vinnie.  I think I need to have “The Talk” with him again and explain that he’s supposed to go for the GIRLS.  Although, I think Cluck may have made that point this morning.

 

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Nest box.

So, those of you who have read the blog for a while know that I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of the first egg.  Yes, I know at 17 weeks going on 18 weeks it may be a bit early, but I want to be prepared so that I can order the “WELCOME EGG!” cake right away.  Every day when I go out to the coop, I ask the chickens, “So…what about those eggs?”.  Of course, they look at me blankly and go about their chicken business.  Apparently, egg arrival time is being kept a secret.

I’ve gone back and forth about what to use as nest boxes.  I have wood ones that Greg built for me, I looked at fruit crates, I looked at laundry baskets, and I had one milk crate floating around the garage.  I think the darn thing has been sitting there since we moved and I walk by it every time I go through the garage to get to the backyard.  One day, I pointed to it and yelled “NEST BOX!!!!”.  Tom thought I’d lost my mind.  I hauled it out to the coop and let it sit outside the pen for a while and finally, last night, I decided to see what the Beaked Freaks thought of it.

The chickens were still outside whooping it up in the run, so I snuck the nest box into a back corner and laid it on its side.  I filled the bottom with fresh shavings.  I called the chickens (much to the neighbors dismay, I’ve started yelling CHICK CHICK CHICK, C’MON GUYS!!!” again) and they came stampeding into the coop thinking I’d whipped up something delicious for them.

Look at Vinnie.  So nosey.

Look at Vinnie. So nosey.

I had already left the pen when they came storming through the run doorway.  They didn’t notice the nest box at first and then suddenly one of them gave the “CAUTION” sound and they all stopped to look at the nest box.  The golden laced Wyandotte pullets were the most interested and after a few minutes of regarding the box from a distance, they all gradually got closer.  One of the Wyandottes, stuck her head into the nest box and pushed around a few shavings with her beak and then picked up a couple of feathers from outside the box and set them inside the box.   Vinnie, Cluck and the others were watching from a distance, but when Vinnie saw her put a feather in the box, he decided he had to investigate more closely.  Oprah and Jessie, the two black Sex-Link pullets were next to look at the box more closely while Vinnie walked back and forth making a low sound because he couldn’t seem to figure out what he should do about this new “thing” in the coop.  Eventually, they lost interest except for one of the Wyandottes, who kept walking over to look inside.

I know ALL of that means totally NOTHING.  However, when you’re freaked out about when to order your “WELCOME EGG!” cake you can read anything into what those chicken behaviors meant.

I’ve got the bakery on speed dial and the cake plates are out.

Hackberry deliciousness.

Since. the chickens have been in the run, I’ve noticed that there is a certain type of leaf that falls from one of the trees that they are simply crazy about.  If a single leaf falls into the run, there is complete mayhem.  The one who is able to snatch up the coveted leaf, tears around the run with it hanging from their beak with most of the flock in hot pursuit.  I finally took the time to figure out which tree the leaves were coming from so that I could make sure that they weren’t slowly poisoning themselves, because, you know…even though chickens are supposed to know what’s good for them as far as food, sometimes they’re a little…dim.

I used some fancy tree identifying app that I found on the web and discovered that the tree was a hackberry tree.  I had no idea of whether or not it was safe for chickens, so I did what most of us do, I went to a chicken page on Facebook and asked a herbalist, who advertises that she has many years of experience of working with plants and chickens,  if she thought it was okay that they were consuming them like crack addicts.  I waited several days for a response and finally was told that she had no information about that particular tree although it did appear to be common.

So much for taking the lazy way out by asking someone else.

So I did my own research and since this is such a common tree, I wanted to share with you what I found out.

Hackberry leaves...can you see the nibbles out of this low hanging branch?  We have deer in the area!

Hackberry leaves…can you see the nibbles out of this low hanging branch? We have deer in the area!

Hackberry trees are sometimes called Sugarberry trees in the south.  They can be found pretty much all over North America and are a member of the elm family.  In fact, the USDA Plant Guide, refers to them as “false elms”.  They can live to be 150 to 200 years old!    It is a large deciduous tree that commonly has warty bark and drooping branches.  It usually flowers in May with greenish-yellow flowers that emerge with the leaves.  Later, the tree develops small greenish “drupes” or fruits that are small, dark green and hard.  In the fall they ripen to a purplish, dark red or black in the months of September and October.

Hackberry leaves are alternately arranged and simple and can be 7-12 centimeters long.  The undersides of the leaves commonly are infested with “nipple galls” which are caused by psyllid (looks like a tiny green cicada).  These insects don’t kill the tree but make it less attractive due to the growth of the galls on the leaves.

Interestingly, Native Americans utilized hackberry trees for several things.  Medicinally, the bark was utilized in a brew that would induce abortion, regulate menstrual cycles and treat STD’s and was also taken for sore throats.  The fruit, or drupes, were used with corn and fat to make a pasty gruel or crushed and often used to spice other foods or add flavor.  The fruit was also ground to a paste and was cooked over an open fire on a stick.  The wood from the tree was used in Native American peyote ceremonies to fuel the fire and new wood was added at the beginning of each part of the ceremony.  Fascinating.

With regard to animals,  deer will browse the leaves which commonly hang low on drooping branches.  Wild birds and small mammals seem to love the fruit.  The fruit is also high in calcium!  Several sources noted that although the edible section of the fruit is very small, it tastes much like a date.

Hackberry is also a host for mistletoe.  After doing my research, I recall that we thought there were hawk or eagle nests in the top of our several hackberry trees.  The tangled masses that we mistook for nests are actually balls of mistletoe!  It’s parasitic to the tree, but does not harm it.

Hackberry leaves and fruit.

I thought about everything I’d read and honestly, I could write for hours about what I found, but I felt safe making the leap that hackberry was safe  for my chickens.  They’ve been eating the leaves for months now with no untoward effects and the leaves are their very favorite treat.  I think if I set hackberry leaves next to a half a watermelon, they’d eat the leaves first.  I’ve even trained Vinnie to jump for a leaf if I hold it high above his head.  He seems to enjoy jumping, he gets a treat when he grabs the leaf and it’s just down right funny.  I always say “Time for Stupid Chicken Tricks!” before I gather a big handful of the leaves.  They follow me to the side of the run where the branches hang low and while I pick leaves they chortle and cluck excitedly.

So that’s it!  Mystery solved.  If you have a hackberry tree on your property, after you’ve made sure that’s what it is, see if your chickens are interested in the leaves.  Mine gives them FIVE STARS and two wings up!

They’d give them two thumbs up, but you know…chickens…no thumbs.

 

***Additional note:  The hackberry tree is not on the list of plants that are toxic to animals that has been developed by the University of Illinois School of Veterinary Medicine. ***

Sources: USDA NRCS Plant Guide, Dave’s Garden, Forestry: About.com, Eattheweeds.com

I shared this post on The Backyard Farming Connection Hop #86

Remember “Nothing to do”?

I took the day off of work yesterday to get some things done around the house because I have roughly 346 things that I ignore on a daily basis and hope they just get done on their own.  You know, laundry, dusting, sweeping?  All that stupid stuff.  We made the decision recently to stop our housekeeping service since Tom is semi-retired and it was summer.

That was a dumb decision.

Anyway, I got some things done yesterday, but somehow ended up with  more to do than I started with…which I can never figure out, but always seems to happen.  You’ll be happy to know that I actually planted seeds in the garden last night and didn’t get eaten by a wolf-spider.  I brought Opal with me though and let her free-range a bit with the hope that if suddenly I was sucked into a spider hole, she’d do something about it…like eat the spider.   Unfortunately, she was too interested in the yard full of crickets to even notice that I was there.  So, I bravely faced the spiders and hoed up some soil, threw in some seeds, decided it was too humid, gave up and herded Opal back to the coop where Cluck and Vinnie were standing with their beaks pressed up against the fence awaiting her return.

My humidity hair kind of looks like this.

My humidity hair kind of looks like this.

This morning, I stumbled out to let out the Beaked Freaks in my coffee cup pj’s and my giant humidity hair.  As I approached the coop, I heard a weird, guttural howl.  Sasquatch?  I timidly opened the door and there stood Vinnie…on a log…the weird sound I heard was his crow.  Good grief.  Now I’m going to have Big Foot hunters in the backyard drawn by that howl.  Tom will be in his glory since that’s about all he watches on TV in addition to shows about aliens.

I let the chickens out and stood and watched them for a while, drinking in the cooler morning air.  I was reminded again of summers at my aunt and uncle’s farm.  My cousin and I would get up in the morning, eat something terrible for us like chocolate cake or cookies that my aunt always had on the counter.  We’d get dressed and fuss with our hair, because that’s what teenage girls do.  My aunt would have work for us, like pitting cherries from the orchard and we always managed to get out of the house before she could arm us with hair pins and a big cake pan of cherries to pit.  We weren’t very much help.

Photo of a field bridge, much like the one we laid on so many years ago.  Photo by Dave King.

Photo of a field bridge, much like the one we laid on so many years ago. Photo by Dave King.

Every day, we spent lamenting that we had nothing to do.  One day I remember getting on bikes and riding down a long dusty tractor path between the fields to a wooden bridge that spanned a small creek.  The wooden bridge was not for local traffic, but was one of those bridges installed by farmers so that they can easily cross from field to field with their farm implements.  We threw our bikes in the long grass next to the road and sprawled out in the sun on the bridge.  I can still remember how the morning sun felt deliciously warm.  I laid on my stomach and watched the water flow by through one of the spaces between the weathered wooden planks of the bridge.  The air was full of the sounds of crickets and dragonflies played along the creek.  Water bugs skittered along the surface of the water, their feet making tiny dents in the water surface as they skated along.  The sky was a huge dome of blue.  The smell of pollinating corn was intoxicating.  We plotted and planned and tried to figure out SOMETHING we could do, wallowing in our teenage angst.  Just immersing myself in those thoughts brings back the memories of the breeze playing through long grasses that had gone to seed, the rustle of the corn leaves and the feeling of the sun-warmed, weathered wood on my skin.

Oh what I wouldn’t give to have “nothing to do” today.