Monthly Archives: October 2014

flashback from 2008

We decided to winterize Jaizzy’s little house, and while we had the roof propped open, she walked in and had serious inclinations to fly out and join the gang.  I had to change her mind.

A chipmunk was using her house to store acorns.  I told Jaizzy she should be charging for a storage fee.  No sign of feed hoarding, so if we really do have another rat, it’s probably taking the feed underneath the house.

You can see the boss here listing off all the chores we needed to tackle.

This is pre-cleanup.  She’s got a couple of vents for ventilation, but even with that we kept the floor pretty clear because the summer was so constantly damp this year that turds on the floor weren’t drying out in the straw, and the little house smelled like ammonia when it got hot.  So no straw on the floor all summer.  Chickens are very susceptible to mold growing in their litter and can get real sick if it stays damp.

So Scott had to get in there and scrape the floor….  Not as young as he used to be.

Post cleanup, Scott blocked up the vents to keep the cold wind out, and now Jaizzy has a layer of straw to jump down on.  Old ladies need a little cushioning for their rheumatiz in inclement weather.  After we closed the roof, Jaizzy went in checking it all out, talking, inspecting, testing.  She’s very thorough.  We got the thumbs up, 5 stars.

Here you get a glimpse of how popular Scott is.  All he had to do was bend over to pick up something, and the girls were ~on~ it.  He’s the king of the yard, he’s the bomb, he has magic hands, he can do no wrong, and they watch him like little hawks.  And they’re like cats, you can’t walk without nearly stepping on them.

Scott had a brainstorm for the bird feeder this year.  He has a Plan…

Basically, he says he is outsmarting the squirrels this year with those pvc pipes.  Skip to the big finish.  Those are sunflower heads in the feeder to let passers by know the restaurant is open for biz.

Then he installed a window into the Quacker Dome to cut down on the cold wind coming through.

Dooney is the official inspector for the Quacker Dome.

The afternoon got really exciting when Scott discovered a snake under a board…

 

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what chicken nightmares are made of

I wondered why the chickens were acting funny when I called them back to the pen yesterday. Mary Margaret came running and suddenly jumped backward when she saw me, hesitated the rest of the way in. Nadia didn’t want to come back at all, walked really slow and took forever, and I had to step back before she’d go in the door. Since Myka didn’t seem to have a problem going straight in, I didn’t realize it was me…

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cold weather is hard on old ladies

Today is not a fun day to be a chicken.  photo monkey03.gif

It’s been a crazy week, yesterday thunder and lightning for hours, leaves flying around, acorns pinging around like little gunshots, now it’s all cold and everything is wet, the bugs are burrowing deep into the ground and the tree bark and the greens are tough and yucky. The girls wouldn’t move out from under the deck.

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Every leaf that falls makes them jump because everything coming out of the sky could be a hawk or owl or a cat or dog or fox pouncing. Very scary, just not a safe feeling. All that wind blowing and swishing the trees makes it harder to listen for danger and alerts, too.

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I put my jacket on and walked with the hens up to their favorite hidey spot in a little bit of woods running along the side of the house that projects out to the front yard like a mini grove. You can sort of see them hiding in a tangle of bush branches.

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Different angle so I can see them better. That brown one is Nadia, and she hasn’t been feeling well. She wants to sit on the roost or in a nest all day, so the others sit with her because they’re worried about her, especially since they just lost T’Pol last week. Nadia mostly just stands there because she doesn’t feel like looking for worms under the wet leaves, but she came up here with them because she didn’t want to be left behind.

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Mary Margaret and Myka take turns keeping an eye out while they scratch, and they make sure Nadia stays close by. I think she’s feeling her age. The white hens are a little more vigorous and one still lays every day, but they’re slowing down a little bit, too.

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They’ll be glad to go in early to a special snack and go snuggle up on the roost again for a nap.

 

in which I nearly saved Wil Wheaton’s life

Continued from SAVE FERRIS.

Originally posted on 8-16-12.

If you’ve never kept chickens, you can’t imagine how unbelievably soap opery your life can become. This guy is a problem for me.

And what old lady doesn’t just fall in love with a beautiful gangly teenage boy? Well, he’s getting past the gangly part now, but ok, say he’s like 25 or something, and he’s going all drop dead gorgeous on me, kinda like Bradley James in Merlin. He’s suddenly starting to get his confidence and following the girls around, which you hear throughout the day as surprised and very angry squawks, because about all you get when someone twice your size hops on is one squawk. It kinda sounds like someone tripping over an old fashioned bicycle honk horn off and on through the day. *squawk* ~he’s at it again~

Living with stuff like that going on makes a person think about things, like how we all can’t do much more on this planet than practice on each other. We practice all kinds of stuff until we eventually sift out the important stuff and get it (hopefully) boiled down to kindness and consideration. In the meantime, we all take turns tolerating what others stumble around learning, in this case, impromptu sex without any kind of manual. Humans at least get all kinds of social guidance, but that poor rooster has to figure it all out by himself on a group of angry females.

The problem is that I live in a covenanted subdivision that doesn’t allow ‘farm animals’ (and that includes frowning on racing pigeons), but I’m getting away with a few chickens since 2005 because we house them in a very nice building tucked back behind the house (and it actually matches our house, right down to the siding and tiled roof) and I stubbornly have them documented with a psychologist that these particular pets are important to my psychological health. I grew up with chickens, but never had them here until my health took a nasty nosedive and I spent several years recovering from injury and illness impacting my nervous system, which totally sucked. Desperate for distraction and a reason to crawl out of my house and into my yard, I wobbled into the local feed store and came home with baby chicks. That works, by the way. If you can’t find a reason to keep living through anguish and pain, by all means, *create one*. I’m much better now, and I have no doubt it’s because I challenged myself to the caring for other beings on this planet that required more of me than I thought I was capable of giving.

Ok, got sidetracked. The problem is that a rooster crowing in this neighborhood is a dispute just waiting to happen, to put it nicely. Neighbors have taken each other to court over so little as a foot of lawn, and the whole covenant thing means some of my neighbors go to great pains to enforce little ‘laws’ that are so nidiotically stupid that you can’t believe they have nothing better to do with their lives than to write lengthy letters to offices in the county courthouse. What’s even more frustrating is that these same neighbors will own very expensive dogs that the state says is illegal for me to shoot at even with a pellet gun (but the state conversely strongly encourages us to shoot and kill ‘feral’ cats), and these dogs sometimes run around the whole neighborhood, leaving wakes of chaos and destruction.

Personally, if *I* owned a $900 dog, I’d be a little worried someone would kidnap it (Missouri has one of the highest dognapping rates in the U.S. for illegal pit bull fight training). One year got so bad that I put video on youtube of a neighbor’s dogs throwing themselves maniacally against my chicken pens (chickens will destroy themselves having panic attacks and stop laying for days, and I have rare breed chickens that have to be special ordered, so I get a little tense), and I was so ill that year that I could barely get across my lawn, and just trying to grab one of the dogs (I grew up with dogs, I can handle dogs) turned into a scary situation because I didn’t have the mobility or strength to negotiate its constantly lunging body weight. The only thing I can do about the dogs legally is call the police, but I can’t illegally detain the dogs, so by the time the police come, it’s just my word, unless I’ve got video of the uncontrollable violence. Chickens are like the playstation of the dog world, that’s total video gaming to them, and sooner or later, someone dies and the dog rolls happily in extra points and the easter egg prize, pun intended. Anyway, the point is, I have more leverage with the dog owners and whatever legal recourse they feel entitled to in the name of peace and quiet (which is a joke with their ATVs) if I keep comparatively quieter hens and no noisy rooster.

The simplistic answer to this problem by nearly everyone I know is just eat the rooster. And yes, I grew up doing that, that’s what you do, it’s practical, it’s logical, and it’s the circle of life on any farm. You eat your pets. Your babies. Your loved ones. And that’s where this soap opera goes all nutty, because, thanx to midlife and a major hormone crisis last spring that dredged up flashbacks of losing an unborn child in an awful way, I can’t touch this. You know why women anywhere near menopause either stay on birth control or wind up on head pills? Because people who *don’t* can wind up like ~moi~, melting down into disassociating on a highway in traffic. I don’t take ‘medicine’, like Granny on the Beverly Hillbillies, but a LOT of women I know drink their way through their midlife crises. I’m a firmly renounced alcoholic, I drank that stuff like koolaid in my mid 20′s and nearly destroyed myself. I’ve spent the last two years getting *off* handfuls of meds that got me through the worst of my debilitating pain, and I’m not going back on them because they screwed me up in the long run as much as anything could. So I’m just gritting my teeth and pushing forward through skating around the edge of what feels like mental illness, although my psychologist assures me I’m ok, take it slow, ‘small bites’, weather through the hormones readjusting themselves. It sounds like this is really common stuff, but you don’t just hear women confessing how ‘crazy’ they feel during big hormone changes because it’s so taboo, especially now with tv shows like Snapped (which I’ve actually never seen).

So here’s the deal. I grew up killing things, on a Mennonite farm. I have strong values and core beliefs, but I grew up with a hatchet in one hand and a knife in the other. I grew up smelling blood, blood smeared all over me and other stuff, even worked on jobs later where lots of blood was involved, like cleaning in a hospital after births and surgeries and deaths. The LAST thing I want in my life while I’m feeling even vaguely crazy is a beautiful little guy dying by my hands and then having its blood on me and then *eating* it, because right now everything is triggering flashbacks of losing that baby.

This is a big thing. There are people I know who won’t understand this, they’ll think I’m making a bigger deal of it than it actually is, I’m being ridiculous. When you grow up around practical people, you get blown off a lot if you have a problem. Or if you are the rock solid one around other flighty people, they’re floored when you suddenly have the problem, they don’t know what to do with you. I’m in a weird situation. But people who didn’t grow up killing what they eat are probably shocked to read this. Any vegetarian, I’m sure, is doubly shocked that this is such a conundrum in the first place.

I had to break down and spell it out to Scott the other day, because he wasn’t getting it, either. He’s sweet, though, and asked around work if anyone would want a rooster, and guess what, tomorrow is the big day. A coworker has a brother who in years past was a principal or superintendent or something in one of the school districts, and he has chickens. *wow* Talk about luck. And after I hand my rooster off, this burden is gone, and I don’t have to know any more what happens. Dr. Isaac Parrish just might hit the jackpot and get thrown in with a whole flock of more experienced hens… I doubt his new owner will call him that, but for a short time in my little life, a chicken named Dr. Parrish was a real thing. And that’s where it’s a good thing I named him for a tv character, because otherwise I’d be able to say I saved Wil Wheaton’s life, and people really would think I was crazy.

SAVE FERRIS

Continued from I have this chicken thing.

Originally posted on 7-29-12.

We’re starting to call Abby ‘Prince Abner’ now… She/He is front and center there.

I go out of my way to order hens (for this flock I drove personally to another city) because my neighbors aren’t keen on the crowing. I’m not keen on their dogs, but we’ve agreed to declare my yard a demilitarized zone. They keep their dogs out of my yard, I don’t get roosters.

I have butchered a LOT of chickens in my life. When you grow up Mennonite on a farm, you see*. death*. everywhere*. It’s a way of life and I have no problem eating chicken, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten softer. It kills me to have to kill my chickens now, even if they’re miserably dying of illness and old age. I love them, wah!!!!

Abs is a beautiful bird, and either she’s going to be an Amazonian machine, or he’s going to be dinner. This is weighing more and more heavily on my mind every morning, with the crowing… It’s been so many years since I’ve eaten one of my own babies, I’m not sure I can do it anymore.

Roosters are funny thangs. They’re actually kind of effeminate the first three months, usually looking more and more like giant klutzes, and you wonder what the crap because you paid top dollar getting them sexed and surely this one isn’t having a growth hormone problem, you know? I’ve seen a lot of weird genetic stuff in chickens, anything is possible. But then the crowing starts… It’s like when a boy’s voice starts changing, it sounds really weird for awhile and you go, really?, and that’s what makes you think it might still be a hen, because hens crowing can sound a little ridiculous. Btw, that doesn’t mean they’re turning into roosters or going androgynous, it’s just a natural bird thing for a tribal leader to clearly state territory proclamations. If there is no rooster, a lead hen sometimes naturally takes over. It’s a very important job and must be done correctly, and you can go all Terry Pratchett-y if you dwell on that too long.

Anyway, I’ve been through this umpteen times, gangly awkward teenager goes giganto and starts irritating everyone, practicing foolishly on old hens who get miffed when an ideal opportunity pops up as they are getting a drink, and next thing you know, Jr. is on his back in the water bowl because he can’t keep his balance, and the old lady’s head is squashed under the kid ~in the water~, and, well, I’m pretty sure that’s where the saying “mad as a wet hen” originated from.

And then the spurs start nubbing out, and boy don’t they feel all sassy then, and oh look, legs walking across the yard, *stealthstealthcoolstealth* here he comes, dragging a wing and hopping sideways, then the LEAP, and *whamo*, I block the nidiot with a slick hip move and send him rolling, and he thinks that’s so awesome that he comes right back and keeps throwing his body all over me, and dang if he’s not trashing my good pants, what was I thinking wearing them in the back yard… My dad got specially bred fighting roosters one year because he thought they’d look pretty walking around the yard, boy was that a joke. You get one of those guys on your head and it’s exactly like a cartoon, but with real blood. Nowadays you could impress people saying a zombie nearly got you.

I’m kind of hoping we can wait this one out and see what happens, maybe break out the good camera and have some fun with it. And maybe rename the guy. I’m not crazy about just sliding it over to ‘Abner’, and I really wanna stick to my tv character theme. Abby was for two Abbies, the one on NCIS, and the one on Primeval. You know what? Today is Wil Wheaton‘s birthday, I could use one of his characters, like Dr. Isaac Parrish (who is, incidentally, a dick) from Eureka. Or I *could* just name him Wil Wheaton, because technically he played himself on The Big Bang Theory but I hate to do that because later on I’d be saying Yeah, Wil Wheaton got mangled in a dog attack, or Wil Wheaton got hit by a car, or we ate Wil Wheaton for supper last night, and a phrase like that could wind up throwing some kind of horrible cosmic irony at me if me saying that happened to coincide with something terrible actually happening to the guy. I mean, what if a raccoon found a way into the pen and ate Wil Wheaton’s brain? And the biggest Prairie Kingsnake Scott ever saw went slithering past the Quackerdome door while it was wide open last spring, easily 4 feet long. You just never know, so that’s why I don’t name chickens after anyone real, because it sounds bad when you tell someone they died, you know? Kinda bothers my sister to hear someone had a pig named her name but it died, can’t say I blame her. She has a cute name that winds up in songs, so I’m not saying it was disturbing to have a pig named after her, ok, this is getting out of hand, you know what I mean.  It sounds like a jinx.

Behold, Dr. Isaac Parrish.

This continues at in which I nearly save Wil Wheaton’s life.

I have this chicken thing

Originally posted on 7-23-12.

I grew up around chickens and started raising my own when I was about 18, I think. I live in an area that’s like a chicken mecca, big hatcheries in several directions, and big production barns a little further out. There are breeding farms within half a days’ drive that specialize in rare breeds of quail and partridge, turkeys and pheasants, geese and ducks, and even peacocks. It’s not unusual to see emu ranches, and I even had an emu fall out of a trailer in front of me on an exit ramp one year. Don’t worry, I didn’t run over it.

My dream since I was a child was to have peacocks, and there are so many cool ‘collector’ colors out there now that I positively drool, so that’s definitely on a bucket list. Problem with peacocks is they are *noisy* thangs, so I’m hoping we move to a bigger place for those. A rural subdivision full of fancy dogs is no place for peacocks.

When you grow up on farms and ranches and have to name a lot of animals, it becomes kind of a game, and sometimes you develop themes. When we were teenagers we had goats, and one set of twins was called called Bunny and Jack (put Rabbit after that), another set was Timex and Speidel (watches). My niece named a calf Tuna when she was little, and her sister had a cat named Amino. I try not to name pets after people I know, especially chickens, because chickens tend not to live that long, and you hate to go, oh, so and so died… I know my sister finds it frustrating when someone pops up that they have a dog or pig with the same name as her, and other people might find it disturbing, too, so I try to stick to themes. For instance, my last flock before this one was named after retailers, although Macy was technically named after the parade. I also had a Dooney (& Bourke), Bean (as in L.L.), and Spencer.

This year’s flock is named after tv characters. I started with 8, but Zelda (after Ocarina of Time) went into seizures her first week and didn’t make it, so I lost my first ever Cuckoo Maran, which would have laid ‘chocolate’ eggs. (I’m linking so you can see pictures if you want.) The names don’t always fit, but I had the names picked out before we ever got the chicks.

Myka (from Warehouse 13) is an Indian River, and I was under the assumption she would turn out red like her mom with the Delaware markings like her dad, but she’s a beautiful white. Supposed to be a super egg layer.

Mary Margaret turned out not to be as ‘Snow White’ as I thought she would be (from Once Upon a Time). She’s an Austra White, another mixed breed for vigorous laying. I’ve never had a pink faced white chicken with black legs before, so the joke is that she’s my naughty Catholic, a lady of the night in her stockings, as it were.

Abby (from either NCIS– Scott’s choice, or Primeval– my choice, take your pick) is a puzzle. I knew what a Columbian was supposed to be like, it’s a particular color pattern, and our Abby is spot on. But she’s turning into a monster. The hatchery guaranteed 93% accuracy on sexing, and out of 8 chicks, that means there is a fairly strong chance of one of them turning out to be a rooster, so we’re hoping Abby is just going to be a big gal. I’ve had heavy breeds before, but our Abby is only 3 months old and already bigger than all my old hens were, so I hope it’s not a growth hormone problem. Sometimes you see weird stuff.

T’Pol (from Star Trek: Enterprise) turned out to be my most aptly named chicken, very first one to investigate and do everything. She’s a Speckled Sussex, and already looking more petite than Bean from my last batch (who got pounced on by a hawk when she was 3). I’ve never seen a more curious breed than this, not sure if it’s common trait or I just got two flukes in a row.

Nadia G (from Bitchin’ Kitchen) is a Golden Laced Wyandotte. A Wyandotte trait across the board is a rose comb, which I’d never tried out before in all my years of raising chickens. Kinda reminds me of the little dress hats my mom used to wear to church. So far Nadia is our tamest, likes to come see what we’re doing and stand by us, lets me get pictures without freaking out.

Morgana (from Merlin on Syfy here in the States) is a Silver Laced Wyandotte, and my most drop dead gorgeous chicken, easily the most photogenic, so I think I matched the name up pretty good with her.

   

Amy Farrah Fowler (from The Big Bang Theory) is our wonky little oddball. She’s a ‘Blue Egger’, basically a mutt that is supposed to have the blue egg gene, which is dominant. She was the cutest chick because of her little muff around her face, but she’s grown into something so cartoony that we can’t help thinking that her front half looks like the chicken hawk from Looney Tunes. She grew funny and has an unusual gait, so her back half moved like a pigeon until she matured, and she still uses her legs like they were patched on by an Igor. She has never cried and eats like a pig, so I don’t think she was ever in any weird growing pain, but she’s always going to be tiny and weird. The coolest thing about her is she has awesome super fluffy ‘blue’ feathers underneath the funny light ginger color.

So I’m trying out Wyandottes this year. I’ve tried so many kinds of chickens, but never before Wyandottes, and I’m finding out there is a worldwide hobby devoted to new colors called feather lacing (scroll down that page for some truly beautiful birds). Might try it myself one day. Click on the icon for more about designing your own chickens.

Blue laced reds are on my bucket list, one of the rarest varieties in the world.

Personal note on Egyptian Fayoumi, one of the many breeds I’ve raised, you might wanna treat these like game birds for awhile, they tend to fly off into the trees and don’t necessarily come back. The ones I had were about as wild as any I’ve seen. Somewhere in Missouri is a flock of wild chickens…

This continues at SAVE FERRIS.

it stops where I draw the line

My neighbor came back yesterday. I enjoyed my first summer in 21 years in this house without a next door neighbor spraying chemicals, spreading chemicals, fussing over chemicals, and generally applying chemicals to his little yard out here in the middle of Mirkwood, surrounded by wildlife and native vegetation that dare not step foot on his land without the harsh sentence of death. I do believe not one native plant or animal has been allowed into his yard without dire consequences. Ever. And actually, that spreads out over two consecutive neighbors. The first one died of severe COPD. Not saying it’s related, but I can’t help wondering.

So this week, after a summer of his yard going to seed and his garden filling up with opportunistic native plants while he was far away, I’m expecting a frenzy of mowing right down to the dirt (seriously, poofs of dust because the blades are set too low) and much chemical spreading- herbicides, pesticides, and then growicides. Oh, wait, that’s chemical fertilizers. This man is completely sold (like the one before him) on The American Way of razing the land and then super controlling everything on it with funky jugs of chemicals that line up like candy in hardware stores. The only problem with this idea is that a lot of his chemicals wind up on my own little patch of land, then in my chickens’ mouths, and eventually in the eggs I eat.

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Sometimes I have to stay in my house with all the windows closed in beautiful weather because the spraying gets so noxious that it triggers breathing problems. The guy before him constantly sprayed flower bushes until the air in my yard smelled weirdly sweet, and I learned to run into my house and close my windows on days like that. Sometimes it rains really hard after granule treatments and the runoff from his lawn travels right down my slopey lawn by my chicken pen all over the first patch of clover and other groundcover that my chickens love to nibble on. He sterilizes his tiny little patch of grass and then eyes my chickens walking around MY yard, as if their very presence next door will destroy his garden. He even put up an electric wire about ankle high just for my chickens one year after he found nibbles in his cukes and zucchini, which also stopped rabbits, armadillos, field rats, skunks, raccoons, and who knows what else, but he was determined it was my chickens. One year another neighbor on the other side of me caught a weasel AND a mink getting their chickens, which I doubt would dig up a garden, but it’s a great example of just how deep in the woods we have carved our niches. At any rate, my chickens are pretty content to tear up my own little garden, mostly by dusting.

In my own yard we get deer circling through on a regular daily/weekly route, we have a woodchuck that lives just past the back yard in the woods and comes up to graze, we get an occasional wild turkey, and then all the usual squirrels and crows. We’ve had foxes come right up in the yard in broad daylight less than 20 feet from us and nab a couple of chickens and a duck right under our noses. We’ve seen a raccoon climb all over a duck pen trying to figure out how to get in, thrown several possums back into a field across the road, trapped field rats and chipmunks stealing chicken food because they can also nibble off chickens’ toes in the middle of the night if they’re pregnant and craving calcium. Well, I don’t know about the chipmunks doing that bit, but we did find almost a gallon of hen scratch they had moved over time into underground storage on the other side of the house. Happened to be our garden. What a surprise that was for all parties. I think chipmunks are the contraband kings of the animal world.

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I come from a different experience than my neighbors. I lived on a 300 acre ranch bordering the Mark Twain National Forest for awhile growing up, had a dog that was part coyote and a dad who grew up in the heart of Mennonite country. I enjoy nature. I’m not keen on ticks in my yard, and yeah, I can see treating a yard for that, but you mostly just learn how to avoid getting eaten up every time you go outside. My dad tucked his jeans into rubber wading boots and that seemed to stop a lot of it right there. I also learned that treating a dog with Frontline is about the easiest way to ‘vacuum’ up all the little pests in the yard that you don’t want biting you. The cleanest my yard ever was from crawley bitey bugs was when I had a dog.

I’m curious why people want to ‘get back to nature’ and spend loads of money doing it, and then make sure nature gets stomped out of the way. They miss so many delightful little things when they obsess about chemicals. I question the point of having an expensive manicured lawn in the first place when so little use or joy is gained back from having one. The American dream- more like an American obsession. In the end, my own yard has touched more people than his ever will.

because eggs are so yummy

Part of the allure of keeping chickens is the mystery. So many odd things happen that require investigation, monitoring, and lots of hypothesizing that you almost can’t help dragging family and friends into making bets and taking sides, because some of the mysteries require action before things get too ugly in chickenland. Things like bullying and sometimes murder. Or, in this case, eggocide.

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It looks like someone didn’t make it up to a nest in time, but there was also a pile of damp eggy straw in the nest above that egg. Since we’ve been running into occasional broken eggs and soppy straw in that nest, we’ve been assuming someone has a weak shell problem, but this scenario with two eggs on the same day might mean more is going on.

We know some wild birds will roll eggs out of nests, and we know farm poultry will sometimes roll eggs over when they ‘set’ to distribute heat more evenly. We also know chickens will carry food around when they don’t want another chicken to eat it first, but chickens can’t carry eggs around.

All my chickens have been laying in mostly one nest out of four since we got this bunch, no idea why, but sometimes we catch two hens laying together side by side in one nest, and all the eggs are in one nest when we gather them. There was never a problem before with someone rolling someone else’s egg out of the way. Actually, some chickens prefer to lay in nests that already have eggs in them, which is why some people put fake eggs in the nests, to encourage or train the hens where to lay.

I’m guessing someone’s egg broke at some point in all this group laying and then someone got a taste for egg. Perhaps over time someone else noticed egg being eaten and jumped in to grab a bite and also developed a taste for egg. It’s so hard to tell when you only get an occasional broken egg and a pile of wet straw, because that’s not uncommon with aging hens. When that happens I mostly worry that part of the broken shell might have remained inside and will cause the hen a lot of pain and infection and possibly death, but all my girls seem to be fine.

One of the eggs we brought in this last week looks like someone gave it a light peck. Eggs very rarely hit just right to crack like this, as if it had bounced off the point of a little rock or something. I’m wondering now if someone was checking it to see if it would go ahead and pop open, and when it didn’t, left it alone.

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This soggy eggy straw problem has been going on for at least a month, and quite suddenly over the last couple of weeks our daily egg harvest has dropped from 3-4 eggs a day to one a day, and often none. At first I thought it was the weather changing, the equinox shortening the days again, maybe a molt starting (I once had a chicken who molted every November like clockwork for some reason), or even simply just getting older. They’ve been stuffing themselves full of autumn bugs like grasshoppers and big spiders and crickets, so we even thought maybe they were getting too lazy to come back to the henhouse to lay.

Today is solid enough evidence to change all our casual guesswork to hard decision making. If we had a flat yard it would be easier to separate the hens, and then I’d be able to observe who is doing what fairly quickly. As it is, just owning chickens has resulted in a couple of injuries carrying things down the steep yard, one requiring some pretty impressive staples and another coming close to a concussion, so putting the extra work it would take into separating the hens would only increase my fall risk, and we’ve got other needs to consider that take priority over chickens.

I’m afraid our action at this point is to make our best guess about which chicken might be the main culprit and cull her out. Which makes me sad. My chickens are pets, and even though I grew up butchering, I haven’t eaten my own pet chickens in many years. It’s a very big deal when it comes down to having to banish someone from the group. Sometimes we manage to find other homes for them, but that’s not always the best answer, either.

In years past on a previous blog, I know a few readers found it very upsetting for me to talk about killing my pets. We got lucky with one crazy chicken that we had to keep separated all the time and didn’t have to cull her ourselves because a hawk finally got her, and we could tell she didn’t go easily and probably put that hawk off chicken the rest of its life beating the crap back out of it, but that was better than her killing the other chickens, which after several weeks we finally realized would eventually happen. Some chickens just go crazy.

I can’t keep a chicken around that’s going to purposely break and eat eggs. My chickens already get top of the line feed, thanks to cheap feed breaking my arms out (vegetable protein could include peanut plants after the peanuts are processed out), and free range nearly every day for several hours, so this eggocide has nothing to do with being hungry or nutrient deficient. It’s also a behavior you really can’t train back out of a chicken, and once the behavior is learned by other chickens, there it all goes. You either wind up checking nests every hour or so to beat them to it or you put chicken in the pot and start with a new bunch, because I really don’t have the time to devote to watching them this closely. (And what do you think causes ‘crazy chicken lady‘ syndrome? lol)

I’m suspecting either Nadia, the golden laced, or Mary Margaret, the smallest white one.

I doubt this happens quickly, and when it ever does, it’ll still take a little while to see if we made the right call. Would you believe this is my first time dealing with eggocide in all the years and flocks I’ve had? I can’t believe people thinking this is a common problem in their flocks and actually sitting by nests waiting to grab eggs. Guess it was my turn this time.