Salmonella.

If you follow the world of poultry at all, you’ll know that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have recently issued an advisory statement regarding a particular hatchery’s chicks being infected with Salmonella.  It’s been very difficult for those who have found that their chicks originated from that particular hatchery and emotions, fear and denial have been running fairly high at many of the popular internet chicken water coolers.

The backyard chicken movement across the country is exploding.  People are understanding the value and joy of keeping a small flock of birds for their own use or perhaps to share eggs with the community that are local in origin and humanely obtained.  With the spread of the popularity of backyard chickens, also comes a lot of new folks who not only aren’t knowledgeable about backyard chicken raising, but also do not have the knowledge to follow biological safety.  It’s not their fault.  They simply don’t know what they don’t know.

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In one of my previous positions, I was an infectious disease physician extender meaning that I rounded for the physician and saw his patients, evaluated their status and lab results and wrote progress notes that were later confirmed and signed off on by the attending doctor.  During that time, I learned quite a bit about infectious disease, but I’m certainly not an expert and I’ll be honest about that right now.  However, being in healthcare in general, you learn a tremendous amount about how disease is transmitted and what should be done to avoid that from happening.  I thought I’d take a moment and list some friendly tips and some information about Salmonella.

Salmonella is an equal opportunity bacterium.  It would like to live in you and if it decides that you’re a cool place to hang out, you’ll know about it.  Gut-wrenching abdominal cramps, unbelievable diarrhea and fever are the typical symptoms.  Someone on another page that I was reading mentioned that it’s not that common and you might not even know you have it. 1.2 MILLION cases are reported every year.  Some of those people do okay, some are hospitalized because they are so severely dehydrated, some have lasting effects like joint pain and other damage to their bodies and some, frankly, die.   I assure you, you’ll know you have it and so will everyone else at your house and maybe everyone else in your area because you’ll be doubled over on the commode yelling about your abdominal pain while your body tries to purge every molecule of water from it through your backside.  This isn’t one of those overnight stomach bugs.  This is one of those fluid and electrolyte draining, dehydrating, miserable situations that at some point during which you’re sure you’re dying.  Salmonella and Salmonellosis is not anything to take lightly.

Prevention is the key when dealing with a bacterium like Salmonella.  There is no cure other than supportive care and antibiotics are not always helpful because the darn bacterium keep figuring out ways to be resistant to the antibiotics that we’ve over used over the years.  It’s not enough to say “well…it’s just diarrhea…it’s not going to kill you”, because it most certainly CAN kill a human especially if they are a child, elderly or immunosuppressed.

In order to prevent something from occurring, you have to understand how it occurs.  Salmonella bacteria live in the GI tracts of animals.  Those animals aren’t necessarily sick, but they are carriers and at various times, shed the bacteria through their feces.  Humans encounter that feces in a variety of ways, none of which you want to think about too terribly much, because you are, after all, eating poop in order to come in contact with the bacteria.  It can also spread through dust and animal dander and if you’ve ever been around a chicken, you know that not only are they atomic poop machines but they also are dusty, dandery and well, lets just be honest…downright dirty. Without going into too many details about how the condition is spread…because I’ll start screaming…let’s move on with tips on how to minimize your risk for contracting and spreading Salmonellosis or as I like to call it…common sense.

WASH YOUR HANDS

Every time you touch a chicken, touch anything in the coop, open the coop door, change water, add food to the feeder you’re at risk for picking up bacteria.  I shouldn’t even have to tell you to wash your hands.  Many people think a quick rinse under the kitchen sink is washing their hands.  NO.  Let me say that again…NO.  When you utilize your kitchen sink to wash your grubby chicken poopy paws, you’re just introducing that bacteria into the area where you cook and wash dishes.  STOP IT.  Either keep hand sanitizer in your pocket to use on your way to the house (and you should do it before you touch that back door handle, by the way) OR keep antibacterial soap outside of the house near a water source and wash your hands before entering your home.  When you wash your hands, you should do it long enough that you can sing the entire ABC song that you learned in kindergarten while you do it.  Get under your nails with a scrub brush, do the backs of your hands and wrists because bacteria are sneaky.  If you’ve only used hand sanitizer, you’ll still want to get under your nails and wash well with soap and water.  Washing your hands is the number one single thing that you can do to protect yourself and your family.  Make your children and your hubby or wife wash their hands often.  You have no idea if they’ve been out petting chickens or giving them treats or maybe they found a hidden cache of eggs in the sandbox.  You can not expect to stay healthy if you do not wash your hands.  If you know your hands are contaminated by chickens…touch NOTHING in the house until you’ve washed your hands.  You don’t want to be the one with chicken poop under your nails from cleaning up one of your girl’s dirty, poopy vents and then come into the house and answer the phone.  Don’t take anything into the coop that you do not want contaminated.  That includes your children and your dog that likes to eat chicken poop and then kiss you on the lips.  Use bleach wipes to regularly disinfect the area around your sink and your door knobs on entrances and exits that are high traffic for your family.  Using that rich chicken poop compost in your garden?  Make SURE you’ve washed your hands and under your nails after you’ve worked in the garden and wash any food from the garden before you consume it.  You’ll thank me later.

COOP SHOES.

For Pete’s sake, don’t wear your good shoes that you want to wear anyplace else into the chicken coop or anyplace else for that matter where the chickens are leaving precious chicken poop presents for you.  I have three pairs of shoes/boots that are chicken coop only footwear.  I don’t wear them into the house and I don’t wear them in public and it’s not because they’re ugly, it’s because I’ve been walking around in chicken bedding and they aren’t fussy about where they poop and when you’re chasing a chicken in the coop, you aren’t fussy about where you step.  Get yourself some ugly shoes from the discount store and a pair of boots and make those your permanent coop shoes.  Take them off before you go into the house and leave them in the garage on newspaper or on something that you can disinfect.  Tracking chicken poop all over your living quarters is inevitable if you wear your coop shoes into the house…and we all know what that means.  Even though you don’t see it, it’s on the floor.  Let’s say you set your purse or gym bag on the floor or your child’s back pack and then unthinking, you pick it up and put it on the counter or the table.  The bottom of your purse and bags that you set down in public places are simply filthy.  Hang them from the back of a chair instead of throwing them on the floor where someone (probably your kids) have walked and probably tracked in chicken poop that they stepped in outside.  Educate your children.  They don’t want to get sick either and it’s never too early to learn common sense sanitation practices.

WEAR AN APRON.

Cover up your clothes if you’re going to be working in close contact with your flock.  An apron can save you from chicken poopy clothes and from dander and dust.  They aren’t a perfect solution, but unless you like doing laundry and changing your clothes every time you come back to the house, they are helpful and will save you a ton of time in the laundry room.  Wash them frequently in hot soapy water and you might want to just do a chicken clothes load of laundry.  Just a suggestion.  Your family will give you grief about the apron and when they do tell them you’re doing it so they don’t get flaming diarrhea and leave it at that.  “YOU CAN JUST THANK THIS APRON FOR NOT HAVING FLAMING DIARRHEA” and then spin on your heel and leave the room.  That usually gets them.

LEAVE THEM OUTSIDE.

As much as I love my chickens, and I really do love them, they are NOT allowed in the house.  They never were kept in the house and I would no more consider allowing them to live in the house at any age, than I would consider living in their house.  Chickens are carriers for many things that make humans sick.  They don’t belong in your living environment.  They are animals and they aren’t clean animals.  They are indiscriminate poopers and they belong in an environment where they can indiscriminately poop.  You can argue with me until you’re blue…chickens need to be outside or outside of your living area anyway, from the DAY you bring them home or they hatch.  They are not clean animals.  You will get sick in some form or another and your feathered room mates will probably be somehow involved with that.  Trust me…you don’t want to hear my “I Told You So” song…because it also comes with a dance.

STOP KISSING THEM.

Really?  Do I have to tell you that?  Come on…they sleep in their own poop…they walk in their own poop and then they scratch their face with their scaly poopy foot.  Do I really need to tell you not to kiss them on their darling cheek?

KIDS!!

Alright.  Your kids are cute, the chickens are cute…look how cute they are together….AWWWWW.  Little Susan likes to kiss the chickens and play with them outside…and oh look…she’s eating a cookie.  Do you see where I’m going with this?  Children should be taught proper hand washing so that they know every time they’ve touched the chickens or been outside that they should wash their hands.  They probably have learned about singing the ABC’s while they wash their hands at school.  Ask them…they’ll teach you.  And make them leave their shoes in the garage!  If they’ve been running around where your chickens free range, those shoes are most likely stomping on poop while they’re outside.  Common sense stuff.  Shoes….in the garage…clothes…changed when you come in…hands….WASHED before you do ANYTHING else.  Those should be the rules for children in your home.  And tell them to leave the chickens alone if they don’t understand.  Kids are not nearly as cute when they are spewing poop and crying from stomach pain or lying in a hospital bed.

I’m glad that I have chickens, but I’ve been vigilant about germs from the first moment we set eyes on them at the farm store.  I just hate stomach ailments.  I’d rather chew tinfoil than throw-up or have nausea.  Being an RN, I’m a bit of a freak about it, but I’ve just given you some easy things that you can do to minimize your risk for illness.  If you purchased your chicks from this hatchery with the Salmonella contamination, I would recommend that you contact your local farm extension office for advice regarding their future with you.  I don’t want to sound callous, because I would be devastated if it were my  birds, but if yours test positive for Salmonella you are endangering not only yourself and your own family, but you’re endangering any human who might come in contact with you,  your flock, and your eggs.

The Centers for Disease Control have a great website that can educate you about preventing disease.  I was also on the The Chicken Whisperer’s page today and he’s been doing radio shows with scholars and veterinarians and I understand that tomorrow the hatchery owner of the place with contamination may be joining the show as well as someone from chain of farm stores that sold chicks from this hatchery.  You can find information here about The Chicken Whisperer’s live radio program.

Just use common sense.  Stay healthy.  And for Pete’s sake go wash your hands.

 

 

Rotothingy.

Last night as I was rocketing home from work, I noticed an appliance dolly in the side yard as I pulled up to the house.  It’s never a good sign when an item meant to carry around appliances is out in the middle of the grass and it could only mean that Greg and Tom were up to something that I would probably tell them I hadn’t approved and to STOP IT.  I don’t recall signing any paperwork that mentioned appliance dollies.

As I was getting out of my SUV, Greg and Tom pulled into the driveway and loaded in the back of the truck…surrounded seraphim and cherubim…was the thing to till up the GARDEN.  I might have done a tiny dance right there in the driveway…which only adds to the neighbors’ case that I’m batty.

I went back to check the chickens to make sure that Vinny hadn’t taught them any other horrendous tricks.  Everything was good…everyone had their scaly toes on the ground where they should be.  So I grabbed my weed basket and headed for my favorite chickweed patch.  As I came around the back of the pool area, this is what I saw

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They were starting to till up the garden!!!

Although the fact that they had just started and Greg was already holding a finger gun to his brain was probably not a good sign…and look at that expression on Tom’s face…they’re clearly very excited about this garden project.

I fully expected the rotothingy (nope, not in the WordPress spell check) to be unloaded and parked near the garage and in a few days there’d be stuff hanging on it, like extension cords and jackets and eventually we’d forget we had it and the rental company would just charge us enough to buy the damn thing which is fine, because we had no idea where it was anyway and we’d end up buying tomatoes at the farm market.

But NO!  They were out there and the process was actually STARTING!  I skipped around and picked weeds for the Beak Faces, trying to look nonchalant, but still trying to keep an eye on the progress.  Finally, I gave up being stealthy and just walked over and watched.

I asked Tom why there was a dolly in the side yard and he replied that Greg’s initial idea was to carefully skin the sod off the ground and then transplant it into areas of the yard where there were dead spots of grass.  I looked over at the side yard and indeed, there was a small chunk of sod.  Apparently, Greg had tried his brilliant, money-saving idea and found that skinning sod off the yard is a TERRIBLE idea because it’s very DIFFICULT.  So you’ll notice that the idea seems to have been abandoned in the photos because Greg is just tilling the grass into the garden.  Also, it would have been two years from now by the time he’d gotten all that sod moved and replanted and then there would have been watering and “KEEP OFF THE GRASS” signs and remember Greg had already left the hose on for six hours, so the water bill is going to be ridiculous and by NOT moving the sod, we’re actually saving money, See how that works?

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Anyway, it was slow going with the rotothing, so I annoyed Greg and took a couple more photos and then took my basket back to the coop where the forlorn chickens were peeping sadly because they’d not gotten their chickweed yet and I’d been gone with the basket for what seemed like years to them.  I need to get them a clock…and maybe teach them to tell time…although they can’t even roost without drama, so I might hold off on that whole clock thing.

Tom and I had to take Emma to her school last night to test drive instruments for next year’s fifth grade music program. So, we left Greg to his own devices with the rotothing which is risky on a good day.  I don’t like going places at night after I’ve worked all day.  I think it’s because I’m old, because it never used to bother me.  We drove over to the school and there were two-zillion cars there.  Once inside they directed us to the gym where we had to fill out far too much paperwork for a music program and were given a “PARENT PACKET”, which is always terrifying because those typically include RULES which I’m bad at following.  The program stretched ON and ON and I griped MORE and MORE and then mothers started asking questions that were CLEARLY answered in the packet if they would just put down their phones and READ THEM.  The leader of the evening noted that she was not going to read the packet to us because we were perfectly capable of doing that ourselves and then she read the packet to us.  By this time, I was an axe-swinging-curse-mumbling maniac.  They had started the program LATE which always makes me mad and I hadn’t eaten all day and why can’t we just PICK an instrument and get out of there.  When they asked “are there any other questions?” and another mother raised her hand, I almost tackled her.  Tom kept giving me the “STOP IT” look.  Finally, they turned us loose to the “instrument petting zoo” and then we had to stand in line….which makes me even crazier.  Emma finally settled on playing the viola (YES!) which I told her was a good choice because orchestras are always in the air conditioning and flutes have to walk with the marching band in 900 degree southern Indiana heat.

Right about that time, Greg sent me a text image.  HE WAS DONE!  My spirits lifted a little!  We headed home and when we got there, Greg was cleaning things up and noted to me that I had just gotten my Mother’s Day present for the next five years.

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Then he asked where the Tylenol was…apparently running a rotothing is physically painful work when the ground is packed clay and hasn’t been turned over since the dawn of time.  I haven’t talked to him this morning.  Hopefully he’s not lying on the floor of his apartment in a full body muscle cramp.

So, the garden is finally tilled.  I guess they’re going to give it another till today to work it up a little bit more and then LOOK OUT!  I am going out there and I am going to PLANT like a fool!  Which is more accurate than you think, because I noticed this morning that the squirrels had trashed Greg’s carefully cultivated and planted morning glories that he was trying to train to climb the pergola by the pool…which also means, they’ll be digging up everything that I bury in the garden.

Which means this project is probably doomed because squirrels are jerks and I’ll end up buying tomatoes at the farm market this year anyway.

 

 

 

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Slide.

Sooooooooo, you may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned the word “garden” in a couple of posts.  That’s because there still isn’t one.  Well, I guess that’s not exactly true…there are now four orange stakes out in the backyard stuck in various places.  See, this past weekend was all about the chickens.  They’re greedy like that.  Today was Monday and since I work full-time, I wasn’t around all day to harangue, nag and annoy my husband until he rototilled the darn thing up.

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I guess I didn’t do any gardening this weekend now that I think about it.  I grew that wheat fodder for the chicks…sort of gardenish.  I looked at garden plants when we went to Rural King…I think that counts.  I watered the plants, that I still haven’t thinned) in their dissolvable pots and plastic trays.  So that’s not a total loss.  Tom did stick the orange posts in the ground on Saturday to mark something out…the garden…some weird triangulation equation…where he needs to go with the pooper scooper…I’m sure it meant one of those things.

Actually, I had gotten home Friday afternoon and Tom asked me to come out to see where he’d laid out the garden.  I was impressed.  I hadn’t had to do any haranguing that day.

 

We walked out to the part of the yard that slopes away from the pool towards the woods and pond.

As we came around the end of the pool, I looked down the slope and there were approximately 116 orange fence poles (the ones that don’t match the chicken fence…read the whole blog…you’ll see) stuck in the ground all over the slope.

“What do ya think?”

“Ummm…Tom…we’re not going to have any YARD left.”

“You said you wanted it big.”

“Yeah…but…I think we’ll need migrant workers at this point.”

I tried to figure out exactly what SHAPE all these poles lined out.  It was either a star or the state of Maryland…and I’d say closer to the state of Maryland.  It seemed as though there were a dizzying number of bright orange fence posts stuck in the ground.  What kind of math did this guy use?

Frankly, I’d expected a completely different thing when he said he was going to “lay out the garden”.  I envisioned some white string and some stakes…this looked like the ground had sprouted quills.    As we walked around in the posts (orange…orange posts) I was getting more and more confused.  I told Tom again that I thought it was kinda….LARGE.  To which he replied that it was just like his drawing…which means absolutely nothing to me because I had NO idea how large he’d drawn it . I vaguely recall him asking some questions and then waving something printed out on the drafting computer in front of me and I was probably distracted by something shiny and I don’t remember anything about the conversation.

I do that.  I’ll agree to all sorts of things and then later I’m dumbfounded to learn that I agreed to any of it.

Anyway, I think I finally asked him WHY there were so many posts and what were those posts doing ALLLLLLL they way down by the edge of the yard near the pond.

Turns out, he had marked out several plots and was trying to find the FLATTEST spot on the SLOPE (see those two words?  One of them doesn’t work with the word GARDEN).

So…about that SLOPE.  Basically, the back of our property sort of slopes into this…um…wooded ravine that holds a creek that empties into the pond.  I guess I hadn’t thought about this clearly…I also don’t go out there much because I saw a SNAKE hole once.  How am I going to plant a garden on the side of a hill?  I stood there amidst the posts (ORANGE!) and thought about finally dragging all those plants in the dissolvable pots and plastic trays down to the garden and how I’d carefully plant them and water them and the garden would be so fresh and new and then…we all know what would happen.

It would rain and the whole thing would wash into the ravine.  Complete with my wood obelisk for my sweet peas and all my cute herb markers that I have yet to make.

Don’t they farm on the sides of hills in China?  Granted those are rice paddies, but I should be able to work this out, right?  I sure hope so, otherwise I’m going to be weeding  tomatoes in a kayak and screaming about snakes the entire time.

Bedtime.

Although chickens have existed in the world for probably thousands of years without human intervention (I’m not a chicken historian, give me a break on that guess), for some reason we, personally, feel that we need to tuck them in every night before it’s time for bed.   I don’t mean actually tuck them in with tiny blankets, but we always go out and check on them one last time and make sure that none of them have done anything silly, like hurt themselves or choke on a piece of pine shaving that they aren’t supposed to be eating.

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Apparently, we’re over protective chicken parents.

Last night, they were all in the coop due to the rain yesterday.  Honestly, we could have just left them alone (I’m sure they wish we would), but around 8:30 I announced that I was going to the coop to put the chicks to bed.  The rain had stopped for a bit and my husband came with for his usual moral support.  I had closed the big door to the coop, so they were all comfy and cozy inside and we had put the roosts in that day so we were anxious to see if they were using them because we were convinced they would love sleeping 14 inches above the ground on the wide side of a 2×4…I mean, who wouldn’t love that?

We crept up to the coop door, I undid the lock and slowly opened the door expecting to see snoozing chickens on the roosts.

NOPE.  Every one of them had their beak crammed up against the door to get outside to the run…they are obsessed with being outside.  No matter how many times I explain to them that the Boogie Chicken comes out at night to steal their beaks, they remain stalwart in their obsession.

Which makes me feel bad because they have a really nice setup and if I were a chicken, I would totally dig living there.

I tried not to take their rejection of their newly finished palace personally, but I gave them a brief, stern talking to about roosts and that they needed to at least TRY them because it’s what all the cool chickens do at night.  They pretty much just walked around and peeped at each other.  I also told them that unless they start clucking, no one is going to take them seriously as a chicken.  So get with the program.

We stood in the coop for a while and watched them and nobody even TRIED one of the roosting bars.  Vinnie, the naughty barred rock chick, walked back and forth in front of the roost for a short time, looking at them with one eye (like chickens do), and then made an attempt at flight annnnnnd….perched on top of the feeder.  FAIL.

About that time, my son Greg showed up and said something about a delivery from Domino’s pizza at the front door with 15 meal worm pizzas and that Vinnie had asked if we could get it this time and he’d pay the bill next time.   I told Greg that none of them would even TRY the roosts, so we weren’t paying for anything.

Greg decided he would fix this situation and went into the fenced area of the coop where the chicks were scratching for left over fodder and Cheerios that they’d had earlier as a treat.  I like to call the treat “Fodder-O’s”.  The chicks KNEW that something was up because whenever Greg shows up in the coop he picks them up and holds them and says “Hey…YOU are a nice chicken”.  It’s good for socializing them and getting them used to being held, it has made them friendlier and now they all know they are “nice” chickens…and you know we’re all about their emotional development.

So they all ran back to the door to the run, complaining the whole way.  Greg scooped one up, petted it for a while and complimented it on its feet, “Hey…these are NICE chicken feet”.  He set the chick on the 2×4 perch.  Let me just point out that none of these chickens are going to be Olympic Balance Beam gold medalists.  The chick couldn’t seem to figure out walking on the four-inch board and stepped right off and landed on the floor.  Apparently, we don’t learn much from our experience either, because he tried this several times, with several chicks and they all were completely oblivious to what they should do on a roost.

Greg, being the brilliant evil genius that he is, sprinkled feed on the roost and then picked up Vinnie and Oprah Wingfrey, our two most outgoing chicks, and set them on the roosting bar.  We held our breath.

Now that FOOD was involved, the roosting bar was INFINITELY  more interesting.  Oprah and Vinnie pecked at the feed and forgot they were doing something new by standing on the roosting bar.  Then one of them shoved the other one off the bar and jumped to the ground.  So much for that.  So he kept trying with other chicks and suddenly everyone was showing interest (especially because there was FOOD…even though it was the same food they could get out of the feeder…not the brightest crayons in the box) and looking at the roosting bar with one eye…you know, the way chickens do.

This little exercise went on for about 20 minutes or so, which was good because there was nothing on TV and this was pretty entertaining.  We have a long tree branch that we’d propped up on the roosting bar so that they could just shimmy their way up the nice fat branch and wouldn’t even have to TRY very hard to get up there.  One of the Golden Laced Orpingtons decided that she would try the branch and made it almost all the way to the roosting perch and then the branch rolled and she fell off.

Chickens don’t have a graceful bone in their body, it turns out.

So, Greg, using his best Boy Scout training, used some purple rope that we had in the coop and started lashing the top of the branch to the roosting bar while reciting the Boy Scout pledge…and this would have gone well, but I forgot to mention that the chicks are OBSESSED with the purple rope.  Sometimes we throw the end of it outside the run door when we’re trying to get them inside and they’ll chase it right into the coop.  I don’t get it, but whatever.

As Greg was wrapping the rope around the branch and roost, the end of it was on the floor, he gave it a tug to pull more rope around the branch and felt resistance on the other end.  We were so focused on his Boy Scout skills that we hadn’t even noticed that one of BORBs (Buff Orpington Rooster Brothers) had grabbed the other end with his beak and was not about to let go of the prized purple rope.

He was like a big feathery trout.

By this time, I was doubled over laughing in my chair in the work area of the coop and Tom was leaning on the sidewall watching with more than mild amusement.  Greg finally finished lashing the branch to the roost with the prized purple rope.  Now the chickens were REALLY interested.  The ROPE was up there.  He scooped up a few more chicks and placed them on the bar.  They cocked their heads and looked at him with one eye…the way chickens do…and pecked the rope a little, decided it was all dumb and either flew off, fell off, or walked down the now stable branch and resumed scratching for Fodder-O’s.

It was clear that we weren’t really getting anywhere with this particular activity.

We finally decided to give up.  We made sure that they couldn’t possibly make a noose out of the rope and tucked in all the ends and got ready to head back up to the main house.  I started my usual baby talk “Night guys!  I love you!  Sweet dreams!” while Greg  yelled “DON’T STAY UP TOO LATE!” and Tom shook his head because Greg and I have reached some new level of insanity that isn’t classified in any textbooks.  We locked the coop and started walking up the path to the main house, while Greg went to his apartment above the three car detached garage.

So what have we learned from this?

Everyone should buy some purple rope, chickens can be caught like fish,  and you can lead a chicken to a perch, but you can’t make him roost.  Also, I’ve learned that “Fodder-O’s” is not in the spell checker at WordPress.

I think we accomplished quite a lot.

 

In.

So it’s been about four or five days since the Peep Squad took over the run.  Every night, we’ve had to chase them down in the coop or come up with a variety of noises that I’m SURE the neighbors can hear, to try to get them to come IN.   You’d think any self-respecting chicken would be packing up her beach bag and heading back to the coop at sunset.  Nope.  NADA.  ZIP.  ZILCH. NONE.

It’s frankly quite irritating and a little frustrating and soon you’re envisioning frying them all.

But I keep my cool.  Mostly.

So tonight I went out at dusk and my husband came with for moral support.   I picked a big basket of chickweed and headed for the coop singing “CHICKCHICKCHICK” at the very top of my lungs…I swear, the neighbors think I’m absolutely out of my mind and soon to be institutionalized.   The excited peeping started out in the run and there was a lot of running and hopping and tripping  over each others big scaly feet.

They KNOW that basket.  I KNOW they know that basket…and I use it to my advantage.

So I sailed on into the coop with my basket and they high tailed it for the ramp and door.  I threw big clumps of chickweed in several areas in the back of the coop and they all took a pile and started scratching and eating.  Perfect time to count fluffy butts.

Ten.  TEN.  I count again…TEN.  UGH.

eggsandisquare

Tom looks back outside and the two Buff Orpington Rooster Brothers are standing at the other end of the run looking insolently at the coop.

I’m in the coop “CHICKCHICKCHICK”‘n it up and talking baby talk and making peeping sounds and throwing grain around like a lawn sprinkler.  I could see two sets of scaly pink feet at the base of the ramp.  Eep!  They were considering making their move.

They came creeping up, drawn by their insane addiction to chickweed, and just when the first one was about to step in…Oprah Wingfrey, one of the black sex link pullets, rushed the door from the other direction.  I grabbed at her…which, in turn, scared the two Buff Orpington Rooster Brothers (it has to be capitalized…they’re like their own special ENTITY.  Want one?  Both?  No?) away from the door to the other end of the pen.

So Tom resorted to a series of owl noises that he thought sounded scary…but the chickens disagreed.

They came creeping up AGAIN.  I tried not breath…threw a little more grain…they were both standing in doorway…ANNNNND….Oprah rushed the door again, this time with the naughty Barred Rock in tow.

I windmilled my arms around and kept the two pullets in and the two BORB (Buff Orpington Rooster Brothers) flipped out in grand style and ran to the other end of the run.

If this wasn’t a semi-family show, I’d insert some colorful swearing right about HERE.

So Tom took it up a notch outside and scared them from that end of the run, toward the coop.  They were traveling at about a million miles an hour at this point.   They’re like little buff colored…cannon balls.  Jerks.

This time I had the rest of the flock examining a nice new bunch of chickweed that I’d placed WAY on the other side of the coop.  It’s not just a hatrack (points to head).

I trickled grain onto the wood in front of the doorway and the crazy little knot heads slowly climbed the ramp and stepped into the coop.  YESSSSSSSSS!

I was leaping through the coop I slammed the run door and I heard the ramp go clattering into the run outside. YAY!!!!

You know I turn fifty this year.  I would also like to keep living in this neighborhood without people running when they see me.  Someone needs to explain this to these chickens.

 

Breed.

So, let’s just back up a bit.  Remember when I followed the chicken tracks to the back of the farm supply store and found my own personal chicken nirvana?  If you don’t, you missed an episode (pssst…go read it).  Well, I was a little sweaty and overwhelmed, as you recall.  Partially because I was still somewhat shocked and incredulous that my husband was letting me get chickens and partially because I was slipping into coma from all the cuteness.   When the jaded kid working in the chick area asked me which ones I wanted, I sort of panicked and I said “oh…uh..three black ones and uh…three of those chipmunky ones”.  Let’s just say I was not well versed in the finer points of chicken varieties.  Image

When we got them home and I wasn’t feeling woozy from purchasing six chicks, I finally looked them all over to try to figure out what I’d bought.  I think it was Tom who asked me what kind they were.  Huh.  What kind.  I had NO idea.  I had very little criteria when it came to selecting chickens.  They couldn’t be white.  That was it.  No white chickens.  I can’t figure out WHY that was the criteria, but I’ll bet at some point I had a rational reason.  Oh…and they needed to be girls…they only sold girls at the store, right?  I hadn’t paid ANY attention to the tiny print on the sign that said “Straight Run”.  When I realized the gravity of those two words in reference to my chicks, I suddenly knew that Karma was going to get me for something dumb I did or said and I was going to end up with 6 roosters.  I KNEW it.

So when I went back to the farm supply store the next time to pick out the next six chicks, I made SURE I checked the side of the bin to see what sex I was choosing.  Wonderful.  Picked six from a pullet bin.  Perfect.

Except that two of them are roosters.  FAIL, Farm Supply Store…FAIL!!!  Two little Buff Orpington chicks, that are so full of adrenaline or testosterone or what ever chemical makes male chicks crazy, that they rocket around the run like cannon balls only stopping to threaten another unsuspecting run-mate or each other or maybe a rock that happens to be in their path.  They’re insane.

So now it’s time to play “Let’s Count Chris’ Roosters”!   In that first batch that I paid NO attention to what I was buying, 1 for sure rooster, 1 possible rooster, from the second batch, 2 freaking roosters.  FOUR.  FOUR ROOSTERS (Insert laugh like The Count from Sesame Street HERE.)  UGH.

You know what else I paid no attention to?  The name of the breed on the side of the bin.  Didn’t even look at it.  I’m telling you that section of the store with the chicks just sucks the brain right out of my head.  I didn’t expect the store to sell CHICKENS, let alone have specific breeds of chickens.  I just thought they got a bunch of so-cute-you-can’t-resist-them generic chicks.

So I ended up with quite the chick salad.  One Barred Rock, three Golden Lace Wyandotte, two Black Sex Link, three Easter Eggers and three Buff Orpingtons…heck, I might as well keep going and try to collect all the breeds?

Wait…I learned something else…you can ORDER chickens and have them SENT to you!  And you don’t have to worry that the farm supply store kid dumped the wrong chickens in the wrong bin or mixed up the breed or sex information.  You tell them what chickens you want, they box ’em up and BAM.  Chickens at your door.  Gosh, America is fabulous!

Once I get these two Buff Orpington boys rehomed, I’m going to approach the subject of replacing them.  Don’t worry…there’ll be a blog post on that, I’m certain.  When I finally do get the green light (and I will…bwahaha), I will order my very own box of downy joy and tell them the sex and the breed I want and it’s going to be AWESOME.

Annnnnd….I just got a little too excited about that.

Till.

So, remember all those seeds and onion sets and plants in dissolving pots (I still haven’t thinned them)?  Here’s the thing…we haven’t turned over ONE inch of garden yet.  I don’t mean we haven’t turned over LAST year’s garden, I mean we haven’t turned over vast amounts of green grass to turn it INTO a garden.  You’re right, not only did we get chickens before we had the whole coop thing worked out, but now we have 8,576 plants and seeds and I keep trying to buy MORE and I have absolutely nowhere to put them.

We’re idiots.

AprilIt’s APRIL.

Seriously, I swear, when we started this whole idea we had GREAT intentions.  Tom drafted a garden plan in his fancy-pantsy drafting program.  Like, he spent a LOT of time on it.  There were different colors and different views and measurements and angles and math that I couldn’t even BEGIN to comprehend.   Like, worse than long division, kind of math. He used the word “triangulation” a couple of times.  Our big plan was that we were going to “lay out” the garden and then rent some massive rototiller thing and it all sounds so easy to me…except you know it won’t be.  I’m sure this is going to involve blood, sweat, tears, swearing, rock throwing, yelling, swearing, arguing and then more swearing.  You just KNOW this is what’s going to happen.  And then…THEN…we still have to put a fence around it that involves some twirly post digging thing and a fence stretcher so that we can keep the bunnies from Watership Down and the deer out of the garden.

I am not going to get discouraged.

I just envision myself in my cute apron and floppy southern-old-woman hat picking tomatoes and putting them in a perfect garden basket while butterflies flit around the garden and the chickens cluck happily in their pen.

The reality is that I’ll be in a  mandolin t-shirt and a pair of ratty shorts, a pair of purple crocs with my hair in a pony tail screaming about garden worms and giant orb spinning spiders that probably migrated here on a banana ship.

I love my dream world.

Run.

So by now, the chicks in the brooder box in the garage were completely over being in a brooder box in the garage.  Whenever I stopped by the brooder box to say hello or to give them food or change their water, inquisitive little beaks were poking through the hardware cloth cover we’d made.  My husband was home from the hospital and was feeling better than ever and we had a three day weekend looming ahead of us.  Of course I took the opportunity to do a little good natured nagging about the chicken coop and run.

My husband and son were easily persuaded to start the run.  I think they were ready for the nonstop peeping and pooping in the garage to go outside as well.  Early in the morning, my husband and I tromped out to the coop to assess the situation…which means we went out and stared at the ground for a while and decided we needed more coffee.  So back to the house for more coffee and some strategizing (secret code for “Watch the Today Show”).

Tom went back out a little before I did (I love Kathie Lee and Hoda), and when I showed up, he had already begun sticking bright orange t-posts into the ground.  Hold up….

“Those are orange.”

“So?”

“They don’t match the fence…it’s green.”

“I’ll get you some spray paint.”

I harrumphed around for a while because I wanted this to be CUTE…but I also wanted it to be DONE, so I clammed up and watched while he hammered posts into the ground.  We had decided to use a vinyl coated garden fencing (did I mention it’s green and the posts are ORANGE?  I’m not bitter) to contain the little rascals this first year.  The plan is that next year, we’ll put in wood posts and taller fencing.  I’m fine with that, they just needed to be out of the garage before they needed counseling from living in overcrowded conditions.  So we started stretching fencing and I just want to tell you that it is absolutely amazing what you can do with a zip-tie.  As I pulled the fencing taut, Tom secured it to the post with a three zip-ties.  We got all the way around the new run and ran out of fencing about ten feet short of where we needed to finish…and I’ll take the blame for that because I kept insisting that the run must be BIGGER.   Anyway, that meant another trip back to the farm supply store.  And you know what that means….CHICKTOPIA!!!!

My son, who’d been wrestling with some plastic bird netting to put over some cana plants he’d been growing, heard that we were going to the farm supply store and he was instantly in the truck…they have free popcorn.  When we arrived, he made a beeline for popcorn warmer, while Tom headed for the fencing section and I went back to look at the seeds…even though I have NO business looking at more seeds because I have a container full of unplanted seeds on the kitchen window seat.  As I was walking back to the seed section I happened to look down at the floor.

Painted yellow chicken tracks…the very same painted tracks that we’d followed the day we got the first batch of chicks.  I heeded their siren song and pretty soon I was standing in front of the stock tanks of peeping fluffiness and I couldn’t remember exactly how I got there.   As I peered into the tanks, I noticed there were an awful lot of turkeys.  They freak me out a little…on to the next tank.  I checked them all out and ended up hanging over the top of a tank just FULL of light Brahmas.  I stood there for a little while trying to think of clever ways that I could bring six more chicks home.  I finally noticed a guy standing next to me.

This guy didn’t look much like someone who wanted chicks.  In fact, he looked a little defeated.  He was talking on the phone and it was quickly apparent that he was talking to his wife.

“How many? (pause) REALLY?? (pause)  I don’t KNOW what kind to get. (pause)  Yes, they are ALL cute. (pause)  I can’t believe I’m doing this. Are you sure we need to do this right now?”

The conversation went on for a minute or so and he finally hung up and stuffed his phone in his pocket and looked dejectedly at the tank of chicks and muttered “I can’t BELIEVE I’m doing this”.

I said “Well, you’re going to have ONE happy wife”.

He looked at me skeptically and replied “She BETTER be happy.”

I wished him luck and went back to my musing about more chicks.  The babies in the stock tank hopped around, pecked furiously at their feed and peeped non-stop.  Just as I was slipping into a cuteness induced trance, my husband came rolling up with his cart full of fence and just gave me “that look”.

I decided to wait on more chicks…but ONLY because he’d just gotten out of the hospital.

We collected Greg who had been cruising around the store while eating popcorn and looking at virtually everything and headed back home with our roll of fencing that was incredibly too long, but it didn’t come in shorter lengths and frankly I didn’t care at this point because I wanted it to be DONE.  I was a woman on a mission.

We finished the run fairly quickly (thanks to our friends the zip-ties) and the chicks, who were tooling around in a pen inside the coop-to-be, were released for their first taste of fun in the run.  And of course, they just stood there and looked at the door like it was the gateway to hell itself.  Finally, the always sassy, usually in trouble barred rock chick made the first move.  He stuck his head through the door and looked around, deemed it safe and hopped out into the run.  What followed was chicken hysteria as they all rushed to go outside to play.  Once in the run, it seemed like there was a lot of frantic running, some failed attempts at flying, lots more peeping and general pandemonium because apparently, the pecking order outside had to be reestablished from the pecking order in the sardine can (brooder box).  Several of them, during their epic flying moments, flew right into the fence (I don’t think they could see it well) and then sort of looked around and walked away as though they were pretending that it just hadn’t happened.  Everyone started to settle down a bit and soon they were all scratching and foraging and checking out the system of branches that I’d installed in the run as perches.  There was a fair amount of falling off the perches and pushing each other off the perches.  What I was interested in was the reaction to the fabulous dust bath I’d constructed.

I’d made a lovely dust bath for the flock by using a pile of wood ashes mixed with diatomaceous earth.  I ringed the dust bath area with interesting logs from our old woodpile. It looked like chicken bath heaven.  At least to ME, anyway.   I KNEW they were going to just LOVE it.  Excedust bowlpt…they didn’t even seem to know what it was.  They walked through it, jumped in it, stood on the logs, jumped off the logs and pretty much ignored the whole thing.  One of the Buff Orpington chicks walked to the other side of the run, flopped over like he’d been shot and started dust bathing in…plain old dust.  I watched him for a bit while he looked like he was having a seizure (thank goodness I knew what he was doing) and with all the flipping, flopping and flapping, he ended up lying on his back, wings spread on the ground, beak pointing in the air.  He just laid there.  Like he’d been somehow dramatically killed.  All the other chicks ignored him and went about their chick business in the run which mostly consisted of flipping over small rocks to find apparently tasty ants.  The Buff chick was still lying motionless in his dust bowl.  I finally walked over and stood next to where he was lying because I was getting concerned.  Had he suffered some sort of sudden chicken death while I stood stupidly by and thought he was dust bathing?  He popped up, shook off his feathers and made a frantic dash for the other end of the run, seemingly energized by his time at his own personal spa which was not nearly as cool as the spa I had created.

About this time, my husband and son were pretty  much wanting to quit for the day, but I announced that we needed to wrap the entire run in bird netting as well as the top to keep out the hawks.  So we spent the next half hour swearing, yanking, zip-tying, swearing more, sweating, pulling and securing the net.  Pretty soon…TAHDAH!!!  We were done.

The whole time we were doing the netting, the chicks were happily bouncing off each other, the sides of the run, the ground and anything else they encountered.  They were positively giddy.  At the end of the netting stretching, we stood back and admired our work and watched the chicks playing.

Then it occurred to me.  We’d not put a man door in the run…which meant that when it was time to get them in at night, one of us (GREG) was going to have to squeeze through the chicken door in the coop and out into the run. Once there, he’d have to be crouching the whole time because the run is only four feet tall and covered by polyester bird netting.  In this crouch position, he was going to have to chase and catch and deposit each chick back into the coop. Uh oh.

I’m going to have to bake Greg his favorite cookies…and cupcakes…and pie…because I’ve got to sweet talk him into doing every night until either the chickens “get it” and go in at dusk on their own OR we figure out how to put a gate in that run and raise the netting so that humans don’t have to walk like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

I’m going to be doing a lot of baking, I fear.

Cute.

I had no idea that you could buy chicks at a store. I’m not sure where I thought people bought them, but I was pretty sure that it wasn’t from a retailer that not only sold farm supplies, but also sold a wide assortment of food and country/western clothing and giant bags of sugared orange slices at the front counter. When I was young, living in that small Illinois town, I remember riding my bike every morning to the post office to get the mail. In the springtime, the post office would be filled with the sound of frantic peeping when the local farmers’ chicks arrived in big boxes with holes in the sides. This whole idea of just walking into a store and picking out baby chicks was completely foreign. Where I’d lived near Chicago, when you bought chickens in a store, you usually bought a couple of bottles of barbecue sauce too. Now we were on our way to the farm store and I had no idea what was waiting there. I was nearly insane with excitement.

The “CHICK DAYS” banner was stretched across the front of the store when we pulled up. Apparently, this was a big deal down here in southern Indiana. I’d been to this particular store before and it’s very “no frills”…although they do have free popcorn in a large popping machine with a warmer at the front of the store that was usually surrounded by old guys in seed corn company hats and plaid shirts. I didn’t remember ever seeing live animals of any kind for sale, so I had no idea where to find these alleged chicks who were the unwitting stars of “CHICK DAYS”. My son pointed to the floor.

The concrete was painted with yellow chicken tracks that trailed toward the back of the store. I think I might have squealed a bit…maybe jumped up and down a little…and then set off following the tracks. My son and husband followed behind me in a single file line. We followed the tracks toward the back corner of the store (I might have been skipping) and suddenly my son broke the single line formation and rushed past me. In the furthest back corner of the store were stock tanks set up with warming lights…lots of them. We had arrived at what I would come to call “Chicktopia”.

Each stock tank was labeled on the outside with the name of the breed of bird that it contained. I didn’t really pay much attention to it because inside the tanks was an undulating sea of yellow, constantly peeping fuzzy down. They were pecking tiny food crumbles from long feeders, stomping all over each other and just being generally adorable. I almost had to lie down from the overload of adorable. My son (who is 21), was smitten. I was a little sweaty. How in the world do you pick out chicks? I mean, you can’t go by picking out a “cute” one…you’d be there for the rest of your life. After walking from tank to tank for what seemed like hours, I finally stopped at a tank in the corner filled with an assortment of chicks of different breeds. All I could think about was my trillion dollar egg business as I watched the chicks totter around the tank on their tiny baby feet. The sign above the tank said “SIX CHICK MINIMUM PURCHASE”. Six? I’m good with six. A kid working at the store scuffed over with a cardboard box chick carrier and said wearily “Anything I can help you with?” I managed to get out something about wanting chicks…but only six…and watched while he and my son scooped three black chicks and three chipmunk colored chicks into the waiting box.

My husband was trying to figure out where we were going to keep these things and finally settled on a black, rubber stock watering tank that wasn’t the size of a Prius. We picked out chick starter, grit, a heat lamp, feeders and other chick sundries while the box peeped incessantly in the cart. My son alternated between saying how cute they were and offering me recipe ideas. We finally made it to the checkout lanes with our chick stuff and our frantically peeping box and headed for the car…which is when I noticed that my son was wearing a sticker that said “I SAW THE CHICKS TODAY”. Did I mention he’s 21?

We got home with our new charges and set up the brooder box with fresh pine shavings, the heat lamp and food and water and added our new babies to their temporary home. They toddled around and sampled the food and water while breaking all laws about being cute. They were IMPOSSIBLY cute. I hung over the top of the brooder and was immediately, hopelessly and wildly in love with them.

An addiction was born…and I knew…I needed MORE.  I hadn’t read about chicken math yet.  Chicken math is a phenomenon that chicken owners are afflicted with and I apparently had a terrible case of it.  The ordinance I’d read said that where we lived, I could have more than six chickens.   If you’re stricken with chicken math, it doesn’t matter how many you already have, you always need more.

More.  Yep…that’s what I needed.