New chickens! Vinnie isn’t happy.

We picked up the lavender Orpington pullets yesterday.  THEY’RE ADORABLE!  Of course, you knew they would be.  I mean, they’re baby chickens after all.  When we got home, we put their carrier into the pen that we’d prepared for them and they happily pecked around in the grass, had a big drink of water and ate an entire bowl of food.  I THINK one might be a rooster.  I’m not sure, but the comb is considerably bigger than the other’s.  I’ll just have to wait to see how it grows and if it crows.

Speaking of crowing…there was a little bit of unhappiness and anxiety from the Beaked Wonders…especially, this guy.

DSC_0022

All of the chickens were interested in the new arrivals.  As I was setting up the food and water for the babies, the others were all pressed up against the fence watching us with one eye.  There was a lot of  pacing around and clucking and a little bit of rooster dancing.  The girls in the run who are closer to laying seemed VERY interested in the new arrivals.   They watched quietly as the baby girls, explored their new pen.  Vinnie, on the other hand was OUT OF HIS MIND.  He paced, complained, rooster danced and generally made an idiot out of himself.  Cluck looked over at the other pen and just went on about his business.   Vinnie kept strutting around and complaining until I threw some scratch and then he seemed to calm down a bit until he noticed that I was walking to the other pen with the scratch container and then the complaining started again.  As I walked along the outside of the run, he followed along on the inside and the complaining and angst was RIDICULOUS.  He plastered himself against the fence at the end of the run and watched while I went over to the other pen and threw a few handfuls of scratch.  The complaining got LOUDER and I finally turned around and said sternly,

“VINNIE.  STOP IT.”

He stopped griping and just stared at the two new babies who were some distance away in their pen happily ripping up the grass and sucking down scratch.

I have a feeling that when the new babies are big enough to join the others in the run, I’ll be moving Vinnie to his very own bachelor pad.

I’m sure he’ll have something to say about that too.

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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.

 

I shared this post on the From the Farm Blog Hop

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

Oh, Cluck.

I made the decision that the Beakheads should learn to free-range.  Actually, there’s not that much learning involved with walking around the yard eating bugs and delicious green things.  They have that part down.  The real problem is getting them OUT of the coop to said free-ranging area without causing a chicken heart attack or a human heart attack because I’m the one chasing them around.

So I had this brilliant idea a couple of nights ago.  Instead of trying to catch one of them, I would lure them out the door by leaving a trail of scratch for them to follow.  I went into their area in the coop (they were all out in the run)  and stood around with the bucket of scratch and then “accidentally” threw some into the shavings…and it made that sound that grain makes when it hits the floor.  I didn’t have to wait more than a few seconds and half a dozen chickens showed up at the door to the run.

They’re suckers for scratch.

I dropped a little more and started backing out of the gate, talking sweet chicken talk.  They followed the trail of scratch and pretty soon they were standing in the work area.  I had managed to only corral two out of the original half-dozen that had come in and that was just fine.  I wasn’t ready to manage TOO many of them out in the yard, by myself.  Before I try that, I’ll need a box of wine and a large butterfly net because you KNOW they won’t listen to me once they’re out there.  Anyway, I had Ruth and Opal.  I scooped up Opal, and Ruth followed me because…well, she had no idea what else to do.

flock

Cluck was frantically walking back and forth looking for his women!

I plopped Opal down in a patch of white clover and Ruth started maniacally eating clover not far away.  They were very well behaved…and adorable…but what was going on in the run was sort of embarrassing because the rest of the flock was FREAKING OUT.  Cluck was frantically running back and forth at the end of the run because I’d taken not ONE, but TWO of his women.  He was out of his tiny mind.  To make matters worse, the rest of the girls were carrying on something awful because they could SEE Opal and Ruth, but couldn’t get to them.  There was a lot of hurling themselves against the fence and attempts to fly out of the run which of COURSE didn’t work because the run has a top on it.  Vinnie was out of his mind because he was missing a snack.

I let the girls forage around for a little while and they eventually foraged their way back to the run and stood there making chicken noises at the flock that was still inside.  I finally herded them back into the coop and put them back in the pen where they were MOBBED by the other chickens.

Apparently, they are now Free-Range Celebrities or something.

It was time to fill the feeder, so I picked it up and made my way through the door to the work area where I keep the feed storage can.  In some weird mix-up of my feet, the feeder and a lot of chickens, Cluck ended up in the work area with me…outside the chicken pen…

HE. FREAKED. OUT.

He jumped up on the straw bale and hurled himself over and over at the fence.  His eyes were panicked and he was clearly thinking “WRONG SIDE! WRONG SIDE! SWEET LAWD AMIGHTY I’M ON THE WRONG SIDE!!!!!!”

I filled the feeder and he flailed around and generally made a complete idiot of himself.  The chickens IN the pen watched him completely melt-down with mild interest, but none of them panicked.  I finally opened the door to the pen and he STREAKED inside like he was rocket-propelled.  The others gathered around and clucked excitedly.  Except for Vinnie…who was waiting near where the feeder usually sits, because…you know….FRESH FEED.

I put the feeder back in place and they absolutely love the new organic, non-GMO feed (<–that’s the feed link) that I got for them and pretty soon most of them were beak down in the feeder digging for sunflower seeds that are in the feed.  Vinnie looked up at me to see if I had anything else delicious and his wattles were COVERED with feed dust.  He didn’t care.  Just stuck his head back in the feeder.

Nom-nom-nom.

Nom-nom-nom.

Cluck was still trying to get a hold of himself after being on the wrong side of the fence.  I told him, that if he’s ever going to get anywhere with the ladies, he has to at least TRY to be brave.  He ruffled his feathers and shook them, like he was trying to shake off the terror of the entire event and then jumped up on a roost to watch the others.

I don’t think Cluck will be free-ranging with the others any time soon since it causes him that much anxiety.  I told him that he’s got to toughen up otherwise, Vinnie would attempt an overthrow of the GOP.   I know Vinnie wouldn’t do that…unless there was a major pile of treats involved…and then he’d only want to be in charge until the treats were gone.  I don’t think Cluck is worried about Vinnie staging a coup attempt.  I think he’s worried he’ll have a heart attack and Vinnie will end up in charge by default.

And that won’t be good at ALL.

 

Left out.

Sometimes, the chickens do things that make me sad.  Don’t get me wrong, I love them to bits.   The situation with Roseanna has not gotten any better though.  I have to agree with them, she’s a complete weirdo.  She just has no manners.  She steps on other flock members, knocks them over when she comes rampaging through the group and is just generally….well…WEIRD.

The flock has just had it with her.  They peck her when she tries to join them.  She hasn’t been injured yet, but I’m going to have to figure out what to do with this situation.  At this point, she’s become an outcast and spends most of her time by herself, which she doesn’t seem to mind.  Last night, everyone was in The Dust Bowl preening and she sat alone in a pile of twigs just watching.   It broke my heart a little bit.

rosanna alone

It’s ridiculously hot here today….AGAIN.  I’d planned on going to a local farmers market but one of my spies on the scene contacted me and said that it’s packed and it’s HOT.  I’m not good in public on a nice day.  I just don’t like crowds. So, I think we’ll make the trip to another AIR-CONDITIONED market that a local orchard runs.  It’s actually a store…which is better for me and no one will get stabbed if they get in my way because I won’t be hot and sweaty.  I’m only thinking of people’s safety.

The flock has been a bit cranky too.  Cluck has been stalking Vinnie and I’m not sure why other than Vinnie is another boy.   Last night, Vinnie was minding his own goofy business when all of a sudden Cluck freaked out and threatened him with the whole ruffled hackle feathers routine.  Vinnie responded by ruffling his hackle feathers for a split second and then ran like a scared little girl.  Cluck took off after him and Vinnie ran faster and so did Cluck.  Pretty soon, Vinnie ran over to the fence where I was sitting on my chair and looked at me frantically.  Cluck glided up behind him and by this time Vinnie had made himself very tall and skinny and looked as though he might just pass out right there.  I got very close to the fence…just out of Cluck’s pecking distance and whispered..”Cluck, honey” and then yelled “KNOCK IT OFF”…and Cluck blinked at me a few times and turned and walked away.  Vinnie was still all tall and skinny and I tried to calm him down by stroking his chest feathers and finally he stopped his frantic clucking and got back to his  previous business of just chickening around.

AND, one of the Wyandotte sisters has become obsessed with the other chickens’ feathers.  If she sees a feather out-of-place on one of the other birds, she feels that it’s her important responsibility to remove the out-of-place feather.  She thinks she’s the aesthetician of the flock.  I think she’s a budding feather picker and she better stop it or I’m going to put her beak on the back of her head.  She and I have talked and she’s considering her options.

flowers

In other news, the plants on the deck are doing wonderfully!  I don’t want to talk about the garden.  Really.  Topic is completely off-limits.  I’m pretty sure that those tomatoes from the farm market we go to will be DELICIOUS.

 

New levels of craziness reached.

Sometimes, I like to take a step back and evaluate whether or not I’ve still got all of my oars in the water.  I mean, I’m pretty close to them being both out of the water on a daily basis, but you know…I just want to make sure that I’m still just STANDING at the edge of crazy and I haven’t actually jumped into full-blown-need-medication-possibly-certifiable craziness.

TURN ON THE AIR CONDITIONING. NOW.

TURN ON THE AIR CONDITIONING. NOW.

So, a couple of nights ago, when it was REALLY hot, I was pretty worried about the chickens.  I know, I know.  They were originally jungle fowl and acclimated to heat and humidity, but I’m telling you what, if I dropped these ten chickens into the jungle somewhere, they’d never make it.  Not because they’d be eaten by a giant jungle bug that eats chickens, but because they are so spoiled and would be waiting around for someone to make them a delicious jungle snack and wouldn’t look for food on their own…and THEN they’d get eaten by a giant jungle bug.  Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I was really worried about them because they were panting and looking at me like I should DO something.  I was doing my best, they just thought I should be installing a new central air unit in the coop apparently.

I finally went into the house (where it was blissfully cool) and then sat around and felt guilty because they were still outside in the heat…probably baking…and possibly suffering from some chicken heat ailment.  My constantly reeling brain came up with countless tragic chicken situations.   I tried to see what was going on in the run from my usual sofa perch, but I couldn’t really tell what they were doing.   So, I went and got our binoculars and watched them through the window like some sort of weird poultry creeper.  Tom took a picture.  I’m not showing it to you because when I end up being committed, I don’t want it to be part of the evidence…but you really should get yourself some binoculars.

That blue circle is the FABULOUS cooling thing!

That blue circle is the FABULOUS cooling thing!

I sent poor Tom (everybody say it “POOR TOM”) to the store yesterday to look for misters.  Whole town is sold out.  There are NONE.  NADA.  ZIP. So much for that idea.  HOWEVER!  He brought home a big box fan to put at the end of the run!  I set a frozen milk jug of water in front of it and BAM. Instant air conditioner…sort of.  The chickens did like it though.   The whole flock stood in front of the fan, which was on the “HURRICANE FORCE WIND” setting and let the cool air ruffle their feathers.  Cluck stopped panting and everyone looked so much more comfortable.  Yay Tom for thinking of getting a fan for the run!  (everybody say it “YAY TOM!!!!”).  Okay, now stop it, or I won’t be able to live with him.

Last Friday, Emma had a friend over to swim (read as: they scream at each other in the pool).  Her father came over to pick up the friend in the early evening and as he came around the back of the house, I was walking by…with a chicken stuffed under my arm.

“Is THAT a CHICKEN????”

“Yes!  Isn’t she darling?  I LOVE them.”

And then Tom went on to explain to the guy that I’ve become obsessed with poultry, writing for a magazine’s blog, blah-blah-blah.  Then Tom offered to show him the coop because Tom has slipped a little toward crazy himself (honestly, he was halfway there already) and thinks my coop is AWESOME.

Because it is.

Groovy coop!

Groovy coop!

So we walked back to the coop (I still had Opal stuffed under my arm) and when we came around the corner and he could see the whole thing, he stopped and just said, “Wow…that’s a….that’s quite a coop.”

He obviously just doesn’t get it.

I haven’t really added anything…that I can think of.  I just rearrange the stuff on the floor all the time to give them new things to figure out and we ripped out the shelf in the back so that I could haul in a giant fallen branch that they could use as a roost.   I’m sure it adds to the neighbors’ dismay that I’m hauling around giant tree branches and disappear into a tiny building with them.  I’m just waiting for Edwin (the guy’s wife next door…that’s not really her name, but she looks like a guy, so Greg and I call her Edwin) and Jean (who’s real name is Becky and I can’t remember her name so I insist on calling her Jean) to show up at my door any day now telling me that I can’t raise chickens in a subdivision and could I PLEASE shut up that rooster (Cluck).  Of course, I read all the laws and I CAN raise chickens and a rooster in my subdivision so they can just COOL THEIR JETS.

See.  I’m making up conversations with people who’s names I don’t even remember.

Possibly…probably…certainly going to end up in some sort of facility.

But at least I can lower their air conditioning bills by installing fans and frozen milk jugs! WHEEEE!

 

I shared this post on the From the Farm Blog Hop! and the Simple Saturdays Blog Hop and The Homestead Barn Hop #164

 

Feelin hot-hot-hot.

So, the southern Indiana heat continues and just for fun, it’s mixed with about 500 percent humidity.  If you go outside and just stand still, you will need a towel to dry off in about a minute and a half.  If you have hair, just figure it’s not going to do what you want it to, so you might as well wear a hat, put it in a pony tail or shellac it to your head…which is what I did this morning with about half a can of AIR TIGHT hairspray.

The chickens are OVER it.  Last night, when I went to the coop after work, they were all standing around panting, which is what chickens do when they’re hot because they can’t sweat.  We provided them with as much “coolness” as we could yesterday by placing frozen water bottles around their environment, feeding cold and frozen treats and I even made them a little wading pool out of a cat litter pan and threw a bottle of frozen water in that.  A few came over to check out the wading pool with the frozen water bottle in it, but since it was a new thing, they didn’t happily jump in to cool their scaly toes, but sort of just walked around it and clucked to themselves.   I tried to coax Vinnie into the wading pool since he’s usually the first one to try new things, but…you know, it’s VINNIE we’re talking about here and the best that I was able to get him to do was to perch on the side of the pan and drink out of it like one of those birds from the seventies.

drinking bird I went out to the coop several times to check on them last night, trying to figure out other ways that I could help them to cool off.  They seem to like lying next to the coop building where the air comes out from underneath the coop.  That’s Cluck’s favorite hang out and on hot days, he’s usually hanging out there (panting) with a couple of his ladies (also panting).

During another chicken check, I found several of them lying in the dust bath.  I think Vinnie had been partially buried in sand and dirt because when he heard me on the path, he popped up very quickly like he was mounted on some sort of springs and a giant cloud of sand and dirt exploded into the air.  He came skittering over to the side of the run looking for treats (even though they’d just devoured a quarter of a cold melon) and he stood there panting. Poor guy!

I spent most of the evening (in between chicken temperature checks) trying to figure out what else I could do to try to cool them off.  This by far is not the hottest it gets here.  This is just JUNE.  It gets ridiculous in the middle of summer.  Sometimes we don’t even use our pool because the water is so warm that it’s not even refreshing.  It’s just DUMB that it gets that hot down here.  We wait all winter for the spring and summer to arrive and then when it does, you’re afraid to step foot out the door without an asbestos suit.

I’ve also got to find a way to have one of the coop doors open at night and I’ve been ranting to Tom about building this massive screen door thing out of wood and hardware cloth.  There are windows in the coop and a fan, but once I close those big main doors, although the fan moves air from the outside through the window, it still gets mighty toasty in there.

yellow melon

This morning when I opened the doors of the coop, I half expected to see golden brown rotisserie chickens on the roosts.  Worrying about the heat and humidity kept me up fairly late last night, but I was up and out to the coop early to spray down the run and refill the watering stations.  I also threw a couple of handfuls hackberry leaves into the wading pool to hopefully entice them to get in to get the leaves out because they are their FAVORITE thing to eat these days.  Vinnie saw me picking leaves and was just out of his mind with excitement.  He purred and rumbled and clucked while I finished picking leaves and then I walked over and tossed them into the wading pool.  He ran over and looked at the leaves in the water and tried to catch one and got a beak full of water instead.  He clucked several times and tried again…same thing…beak full of water.  He was joined by several others and they all tried catching floating hackberry leaves with varying degrees of success.  Most of them just ended up taking drinks of water as the hackberry leaves floated out of their reach.  Tom called a bit ago and said that some of them must have gotten into the wading pan because most of the hackberry leaves were gone and the gravel all around the pan was wet from splashing.

YES!!!  Now, if I can keep them from drowning themselves I’ll be in good shape.

So, Tom is out shopping for various cooling devices as I type this…misters, outdoor big fans, etc.  I told him that if it gets too hot, I’m herding the whole mess of them into the air-conditioned three car garage that he uses as his shop.  They can be his “helpers”!  I’m pretty sure the thought of 10 sweaty chickens hanging out in his shop and perching on his table saw is what sent him shopping first thing this morning.  He’ll fix it up so that they have the coolest coop and run in Indiana.

There’s a method to my madness (wink).

Birds, Bees and Chickens.

The chickens are approaching the age of 16 weeks old.  That means that the long-awaited EGGS are practically right around the corner…or not…I’m told that they typically start laying at around the age of 20 weeks…which means I still have a month to go.  That doesn’t stop me from hanging around the chicken coop with a catcher’s mitt waiting for that first egg to shoot out of a pullet though!

small blog logoI’ve noticed some…um…maturing happening with the chickens.  When I went out to the coop last night, Vinnie’s comb was six times the size it had been that morning…well, maybe not six times, but it was definitely bigger.  In the half awake state that I see the chickens in when I go to let them out in the morning, I couldn’t even tell you if they even HAVE combs.  Cluck and Vinnie both, have MUCH larger combs though.  Vinnie’s wattles have gotten very large and long and are very red.  He thinks he’s a pretty big deal.  Cluck doesn’t really have wattles, but his comb has grown to this weird-looking wad of red flesh on his head.  Not very attractive, but then I’m not a female chicken, so what do I know?  At any rate, the boys are looking pretty darn “manly” these days.

The  pullets are changing too.  The Wyandottes look like they’ve taken make-up lessons from a drag queen.  WAY too much blush.   Their faces are bright red and their rose combs are growing quickly too.  Same with the black sex links.  Suddenly, all of the girls have wattles except for Roseanna (the crazy one) and Gloria.  Both of them are Ameraucanas.  I’m assuming they mature later than the others.  Sweet Opal, a Buff Orpington), previously had a very pale face and comb…it’s now bright pink with touches of red that seem to darken daily.

My babies are growing up.

Remember in grade school when they separated the boys and the girls and gave us “THE TALK”?  I think I was in fifth grade and they gave us a little book called “Growing Up and Liking It”.  I read that thing cover to cover.  I recently found a copy online and read the darn thing again. Dumbest thing I’ve ever read.  I was going to try to find a hard copy to leave in the chicken coop, but it looks like I’ll just have to do “The Talk” myself.

chicken talkYou know I’m kidding, right?

Because I’d totally make Tom do it.

Last night, I was hanging out by the chicken run and the flock was snarfing down a pile of fresh chickweed that I’d picked for them.  They eat that stuff faster than it grows, by the way.  Anyway,  Cluckzilla glided over to Opal and her freshly pink face and comb and stood next to her for a moment.  She kept pecking the ground for invisible scratch and didn’t seem to notice him.  He leaned over and softly pecked her back.  No response.  So, Cluck must have thought he was being too subtle and he pecked her on the back and then on the head and then he just stood there.  Opal, who I’ve noticed doesn’t put up with much nonsense, squealed and pecked him in the throat.  Cluck, of course, panicked and ran for the hills…which means he only ran to the end of the run and went to hide in the coop to nurse his hurt feelings.  At this point, I had no idea what was going on.  Opal resumed her scratching for scratch and pretty soon, Cluck returned.

Cluck stood a little distance away from Opal.  He just watched her and sort of inched himself closer and closer.  He delivered a peck to her back and this time Opal FREAKED OUT and went after him.

You lose a lot of your rooster machismo when you run like a fraidy-chicken.

Since it had happened twice, and I’m fascinated by chicken behavior and I had my phone with me as usual, I looked up what this behavior might mean.  The article that I read from some learned poultry person said that often, just prior to mating the rooster signals the hen that she should squat down for some “lovin'” by pecking her on the back and head.  They usually only do this if they can sense that the female has reached a point where she’s fertile and about to lay an egg.  Hmmm….Cluck only did this to Opal.  Was that because he’s just horny and she’s cute (because, you know, she’s the Cutest Chicken in the LAND), or was her new pink face and possibly chicken pheromones the answer?  They’re JUST sixteen weeks old, but I suppose the teenage chicken hormones could be raging as they rocket along through chicken puberty.

I think I might install the nest boxes this week and stand next to them with my catcher’s mitt and egg basket.

Vinnie, by the way, other than having that crazy red comb, face and wattles, has not made any overtures to any of the females.  He’d rather search for snacks and push other chickens off of perches or disrupt everyone’s dust bathing by stampeding through The Dust Bowl.  I’d say that he’s the subordinate rooster, but Cluck is SUCH a cream puff!

One evening I was sitting next to the run…with my phone…you never know when you might need to take a photo.  I pulled up a rooster crowing on Youtube.   As usual, everyone froze and just listened.  Vinnie chicken footed it over to where I was sitting and I turned the screen so that he could watch the rooster crow.  He shoved one eye up against the fencing so that he could see and I watched his pupils dilate and contract, dilate and contract while the rooster crowed on the screen.  I finally just stopped letting him watch because his eye was freaking me out.  He has these weird yellow eyes anyway.  He stood there and clucked and made a weird “RAAAAWRRRRRR” noise under his breath.  I told him he’d had enough computer time and to get lost.  Because he has the attention span of a gnat, he wandered away to watch for leaves falling from the hackberry tree next to the run.  He’s currently obsessed with eating the fallen leaves…which keeps him busy.  Occasionally I’ll hold a leaf about three feet above his head and he’ll jump for it like a dolphin.  Endlessly amusing.

So, if you need me this weekend, I’ll be sprucing up nesting boxes, oiling my catcher’s mitt and hanging out in the chicken coop.  I’m endlessly optimistic…and totally naïve…and possibly a fool.

I just want to make sure I order that “WELCOME EGG” cake and get the party decorations up.  I’m sure you’ll hear me screeching from wherever you are if an egg happens to make its appearance.  If it doesn’t happen to show up and you don’t hear from me, you might want to get a hold of Tom and send him out to the coop.  I’ll be the one face-down in the shavings, sound asleep from my egg vigil and wearing a catcher’s mitt.

 

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Growing up Vinnie.

It’s hard to believe that just 15 weeks ago, I brought home a peeping box of fluff from the farm supply store.  I was new to the chicken world and completely out of my element.   I quickly identified that one of the chicks that we’d brought home was a bit special to me.  It had two yellow dots on its head and was outgoing and friendly.  It LOVED to eat and really loved special snacks.

baby vinnie 1

As it grew, it became even more friendly and seemed to like people.   It was the most active chick in the bunch and would run right up to the side of the brooder box to greet us.  I inquired of several learned chicken people on the internet, and the verdict was that it was probably a male chick.  We named him Vinnie.  That’s him in the back with the two yellow spots on his head.

chicks

I had no idea what breed Vinnie might be.  He’d been pulled from a bin of apparently several breeds and I thought that maybe he was a black sex link due to the yellow dots on his head.  So, again, I inquired of the chicken gurus on the internet.  I found out that he was a Barred Rock.

resized vinnie 2

As Vinnie grew, we came to just love his quirky personality.  He was full of curiosity and well, sort of weird chickeny charm.  I still wasn’t buying that he was a rooster.  He mostly hung out with the pullets and didn’t seem as “roostery” as our other rooster, Cluck Norris.  I REALLY wanted him to be a girl.  I hadn’t planned on having any roosters, let alone TWO.

vinnie and me

Vinnie became the subject of many blog posts.  He always seemed to be in some sort of trouble, falling off of something or trampling one of the other chicks in the brooder.  He was sort of a mess…for realz…but he greeted me every time I went out to spend time with the chicks…which was…well, close to constantly.

vinnie 5

His comb was growing and was a little bit pinker than the rest of the chicks.  I remained firmly in denial that he was a boy.  He was just too sweet!  Roosters aren’t sweet!  Or are they…

Vinnie 6

Vinnie had a big pink, jiggy-jaggy comb now.  I was sure he was a pullet and was an early bloomer.  I had seen photos of other young Barred Rock cockerels on the internet and Vinnie seemed to be way too dark in color to be one of the silvery white and black  youngsters that I compared him to.  I posted this picture to the chicken gurus on-line and everyone agreed.  He must be a pullet.  I happily started thinking about changing his name to Valerie.

vinnie 7

Despite all of the trouble Vinnie/Valerie got into almost ALL of the time, he was actually very tame and would follow us around the yard if we took him out for supervised free range time.

vinnie 8

 At this point, our confirmed rooster, Cluck, had become stand-offish and shy.  Vinnie continued to be charming, sweet and friendly.  However, I noticed that his colors were changing a bit.  His head was becoming lighter in color.  And oh my…those big wattles and that comb!  Maybe the gurus were right the first time!  I desperately didn’t want him to be a boy…but…

vinnie resting

Indeed…he did seem to be a “Vinnie” and not a “Valerie”.  He didn’t act like a cockerel at all though.  He walked away from every challenge from anyone else in the flock.  I started thinking that maybe…he didn’t know he was a rooster yet!  His tail was telling us that he most definitely was a rooster…and the size of his feet?  Not dainty and pullet like at all.

Vinnie 9

We just love Vinnie and all of his strange, goofy, quirks.

vinnie 12

Every day when I get home from work, I can’t wait to change clothes and dash out to the chicken coop with some sort of tasty treat.  Vinnie greets me every time with his “GIMME-GIMME-GIMME” dance.  He was the first to check out a new kind of snack as a baby and now as a big boy, he still leads the way when a new snack is introduced.  He taught Cluck all about the deliciousness of watermelon.

vin15

He’s also a very smart chicken.  He knows everything about cordless drills.

vinnie drill

Sometimes, for fun, he hangs out with his best buddy Greg.

greg and vin

Sometimes, he just likes to bask in the sun and work on his tan…to attract chicks.  See how well it works?  Honestly, I thought he was dead in and I was going to have to use a chicken defibrillator on him when I took this picture.

basking

He’s also very brave.  He protected the whole flock, including Cluck Norris, from the scary orange ball.

ball vinnie

The chickens elected him to be Chairman of the Flock after he gave a riveting speech at the recent rally in the coop.

chairman

He’s also become devilishly handsome.

I hadn’t planned on two roosters, but we love them both.

Vinnie and Cluck have a forever home with us.

vin and cluck

We just adore every bit of them…but I’ll always have a soft spot for my baby Vinnie.

feather