Category Archives: chickens

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.

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killing time in between thunderstorms

Originally posted 10-13-12.

Killing a little time before the next crazy thunderstorm hits. The last lightning storm lasted nearly 5 hours. We’re under a tornado watch, so I’m watching the weather maps.

This is the kind of pictures I think would make good 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles.

I like how driving through the Ozarks feels like the bones of the earth are showing. Don’t drive with a camera in your hand just because I do sometimes.

This is only one set of towers within 5 miles of my house. You’d think I’d get way better broadband, but I don’t, despite having the best. We live in a weird pocket, my street is like the Bermuda Triangle.

I’m not terribly fond of driving through junky little towns, but this one feels like there is something special about it. I think it’s all the trees hiding the town…

I love the shockingly brilliant red maples standing out before all the others turn orange and yellow. In a few more days half the county will seem like it’s bright red.

I feel like I’m on the top of the world at this point because you can see so much horizon all around. That’s one thing about living in woods that I miss, I grew up with lots of horizon in a desert.

My street feels magical because of all the trees. When the leaves fall it’s like driving through a movie, and when it snows you feel like you’re way far away in a magical wood, in a different world.

I love the way the world looks from my yard.

Looking out the window in between thunderstorms.

Kinda having a little trouble trying to keep up with a half dozen eggs every day. Those girls are machines.

 

mmm, rocks

Originally posted on 9-29-12.

Here we go, finally starting to turn around here. Won’t be long till the really big spiders come out and make their insanely gigantic webs across the yard.

Hawk watch. I’m not sure bunching up and freezing into place is the right move when a big hawk drops down and soars right over (I’m pretty sure that wing span was nearly as wide as I am tall). Red-Tailed Hawk | Missouri Department of Conservation

They stayed in that tight little knot all the way up to the house, but did a very thorough bug genocide over a ten foot wide strip between their house and mine.  Chicken herding has never been easier than with this bunch.

 

chicken style pumpkin pie

My chickens love watermelon and cataloupe on hot summer days and equally like to slurp up oven roasted squashes as the season transitions into fall and winter. I accidentally found out they really like pumpkin one year when I tossed an old jackolantern towards the edge of the woods and it broke open- they cleaned it out in no time, right down to the rind. A year later I put one in the pen, same thing. This year I decided to cook one up like I would any other leftover squash, and it sure made a rainy week all better.

Roasting anything is so easy. Line a roasting pan with foil, spray with a little nonstick spray, place a cut open gourd, squash, or pumpkin open side down, and fill with about an inch of water.

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This goes into a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes or so, mostly just to get it softened up. You can poke the skin with a knife or fork and see if it’s easy to pierce. I caught this one about five minutes before it would’ve been so soft that it would have fallen apart, about an hour. As soon as you can easily pierce the skin, remove it from the oven.

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This is the most important part for ease later- flip that onto its back as soon as you can. If you let it cool even for five minutes first, it will seal down to the pan like a lid on a hot jelly jar. Slide a fork under the rim and very carefully lift so steam won’t burn you or you don’t splash hot liquid on yourself, ease it up and over onto its back. Now walk off and leave it however long you want because it’s too hot to do anything else with. Also, this gives it time to steam out a little. All squash will continue to ‘melt’ and collect a syrupy liquid, so the more it can steam and air out, the better.

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After it has cooled enough to handle, carefully lift and slide it over onto a plate. In case it’s soft enough to fall apart, don’t lift very much or move too quickly. After it’s on the plate, I sometimes shred it a little with a fork so the chickens can start digging in when they get it. I think they have more fun when they have to work at it, though, because it’s so boring sometimes, and really, what else does a chicken have to do?

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Since my hens have been stuck in the pen during a rainy week instead of out chasing bugs, I tossed a can of tuna onto the pumpkin for a protein boost. Getting all of one’s protein from grain isn’t necessarily the healthiest diet, and a little extra protein from something else once or twice a week definitely perks them up. Today it was tuna. Sometimes it’s a little bit of leftover burger or old shredded cheese. Protein nibblies! Please keep in mind these are NOT daily meal supplements, just once in awhile snacks. Overfeeding chickens ‘people food’ can result in malnutrition and impacted crop, which can cause death. If you see a chicken gorging, remove the food. Gorging might also indicate an underlying problem such as parasites, illness, or stress. By the way, as I set that pumpkin down on the ground, I bore through the skin in several places with a fork so the liquid could drain instead of sitting there getting muddy and fermenting. Makes the pumpkin easier to slurp up over the next 24 hours.

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Chickens walk around while they eat, changing places and circling, darting in and out, keeping an eye on each other in case someone else has a better bite. It’s fun to watch chickens take turns checking out new snacks, tasting and nibbling, talking to each other comparing notes like foodies in a Cheesecake Factory.

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Healthy chickens that aren’t stressed out will do this until they get bored again, which is actually fairly quickly, and it’s not long until the circle widens back out and next thing you know they’re thinking about shopping and talking about maybe hitting the salon. They will come back to the pumpkin once in awhile for a few more bites here and there.

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Some of you wish really bad that you could have chickens so you could watch them. Here are some videos.

 

 

 

Notes for people new to raising chickens-

Chickens are connoisseurs of a large variety of foods by nature and aren’t made to live off leftover garden produce like herd animals that graze. They also need fairly large amounts of denser proteins in order to keep pumping large amounts of protein right back out into eggs and still be able to keep healthy feather growth, healthy tissues, and healthy immune systems. I know it’s trendy nowadays to demand that chickens be fed an all-vegetable and grain diet lacking in animal products, but consider that our demand on them for eggs and their genetic enhancements that allow them to do that for us more often than they would in the wild actually make it difficult for them to live well if they live on the edge of nutrition deficit. It’s ok to supplement with snacks, but make sure one food group isn’t edging another one out and causing a nutritional imbalance. The best supplement to regular feed is getting to run around eating bugs and greens, and maybe the occasional small reptile, which is full of calcium because it has a skeleton. Chickens are opportunistic and will also eat mice if they are hungry enough, which isn’t a good idea because wild mice carry disease. If you allow your chickens to free range, make sure you don’t spray pesticides or use chemical fertilizers where they roam, because it will wind up in your eggs.

If your chickens eat every scrap of food you give them and don’t look or act well, like missing feathers that never grow back and pecking on each other, they might not be getting enough to eat, or lacking a specific kind of nutrient. Some people find that feeding chickens a little bit of meat will help with this. If your chickens won’t eat food you put in the pen, they either can’t handle eating it or they are too full of food already and becoming fat, which will slow down egg laying. If they are leaving food laying around to mold, remove it because moldy food can make them very sick. Chickens like to alternate actively foraging and napping through the day, and the exercise they get foraging helps keep their stress levels down when they’re back in the pen. If they must stay in the pen, keep the snacks small so you can distract them with something fun and different more often. Sometimes a head of lettuce is the bomb when chickens are bored.

 

chicken coffee

Several years ago I looked out my window and saw a dead chicken.

I couldn’t imagine what in the world must have happened, so I kept my camera ready just in case.

Apparently the noise I was making shuffling through the leaves wasn’t cool. She got a little cranky, that was such a good nap.

Chicken coffee.

coffeerooster

 

when the pecking order gets a little ugly

My chickens used to have their own blog, then that went away when I got sick, then they sorta showed up on another blog, then mostly just got tweeted once in awhile through a really long year, and now they have their own blog again. Someone suggested they get their own twitter accounts, but they’re already so terribly spoiled, and what if one of them loses an iphone in the woods when she steps on a snake and jumps back in surprise? I can’t be trudging around the woods looking for dropped iphones because the neighbor will think I’m Bigfoot and start shooting at me. This paragraph is getting way out of hand.

If you’re a long time reader and have managed to follow all this, bless your heart. For newbies to the Quackerdome, here is where we’re at. This little flock is right around two years old now, from Cackle Hatchery because I wanted some rare breeds that Estes Hatchery doesn’t carry. This is our third flock since 2005, and it’s the first flock that we didn’t have a duck or two with, which I sort of regretted because having a duck in the flock is like having a natural shepherd while the chicks are still small, although later on the duck can cause all kinds of special problems because ducks, well, they aren’t chickens.

Skip to now. This was my first flock to go through a mite plague, which weirdly turned the pecking order upside down because Morgana, the gorgeous silver laced, caught the worst of it. Morgana never did like Amy, our wonky little blue egger, probably because she looks so different from the other hens. As Morgana’s looks and health changed, her status plummeted, and long story short, the only way she could keep any authority established at all was by staunchly defending Amy from vicious attacks by T’Pol, the Sussex.

I normally let the chickens out quite a lot, but an especially long and dreary winter and me falling real hard in the slush one week pretty much killed recess time. When spring finally surged, Amy’s hormones surged with it, and she spent a week terrorizing the others as a very surprising tyrant when her laying picked back up. T’Pol didn’t take kindly to that, and once Amy’s hormones calmed back down, took to flouncing her at every chance. Normally this irons itself out over a few days, but T’Pol went over some kind of edge and began driving Amy away from food and water and pinning her down so viciously that Morgana would have to jump in and start flogging T’Pol to make her stop. I’d love to have a rooster to break up hen fights, but neighbors with pitchforks trump rooster, so that makes me the big bad overlord when the time comes to intervene.

Letting the chickens out to roam usually helps sort things out, but the attacks happened even around the yard so often that poor little Amy took to hiding in the woods and not coming back out until nearly dark. When one hen isn’t allowed to eat or drink and gets beaten up to the point of limping and not wanting to come back to roost, you know death is lingering nearby and making bets. I’ve run into so many blogs about how people come back from vacation or work travel to find a chicken dead- well, if you’re not able to hang around and see the daily interaction changing, this is pretty much why. A little flock can be very amiable and you think everything is fine, but one turns and the next thing you know, it’s the zombie apocalypse. I’ve been through this before. It’s kind of like women going through severe PMS or menopause or something, only this is what it’s like going through hormone swings in chicken land.

I don’t think dog and cat people quite get the angst that chicken people go through. When it comes down to either giving away or killing a chicken to save lives because nothing else works and you’ve already jumped through so many hoops that you’re exhausted from all the extra work of separating, you find yourself so emotionally invested that you either commit all the way to ‘crazy chicken lady’ and just move into the henhouse (a woman really did that around my area) or say God and PETA forgive me but this can’t go on. And then you do something drastic to remove the disturbance, the flock settles back down, and you have peace again.

I probably could have kept intervening until things changed, but vacation looms and I don’t have the time. Drastic action seemed like our only choice. Previous vacations have gone very well, with an extra waterer and filling the hanging feeder up to the top. I’ve never had hens cannibalize eggs while we’re gone, and I honestly wouldn’t even care about that right now. We’ve been rotating six dozen eggs around the fridge for months. But I don’t want to deal with playing Clue when I get back- T’Pol did it with nunchucks under the roost- if there is anything I’ve learned around chickens, you can’t assume anything. Chickens can go Lord of the Flies and suddenly there is a group murder, but without webcams you never know. The last thing I want is a pen full of murderers. Kind of takes the sparkle out of pet chickens.

Fortunately, we know someone with pet banties, yes they’d take Amy when they come down for Easter, awesome. She’s sure to get more individual attention there, and won’t be the smallest any more. Amy was a real nut case around the other hens, but she was more tame alone with me, hanging around my feet, nearly eating out of my hand, but another chicken’s head popping in the door for a look-see unnerved her, and she’d get freaky again. If I’d raised her differently she might have been a really sweet pet. She was very easy to get into a box for the transfer, settled right down, even laid an egg while she was in there waiting. We let her out for a little while to eat and get a drink, and she stuffed herself full on raw burger, some bread, and a pile of hen scratch. She hadn’t eaten so good in many days because she was too busy ducking, dodging, and hiding.

That left the problem of Morgana. Pecking orders are fairly linear, you just go down the rank, but ours has been jumbled up lately. If T’Pol remained this vehement, it was possible she’d move on to another victim after Amy went away, and that victim, in chicken logic, was Morgana because she challenged T’Pol over Amy and was still in rough health. Morgana started out as our most beautiful chicken and a natural leader, but being savaged by mites over a couple of weeks left her permanently patchy and weak, signs that can trigger instinctual action against disease. If T’Pol was hellbent on a killing, Morgana was officially lowest on the totem pole with Amy gone. In weighing options, I’m more likely to side with the healthier chicken who is laying regularly, even if I’m not crazy about her temperament, and I finally made the hard choice of letting Morgana go. Mercy killing sucks. I grew up doing it on a farm, I don’t like it, but it beats coming home from vacation to a murder scene.

Chickens generally don’t mourn their mates disappearing. As with all birds, even though their brains are tiny, they are able to map and navigate large areas and remember quite a lot of detail. But also as with all birds, chickens are action-oriented athletes, continually moving around in the now. Amy and Morgana won’t be missed. Already this is the most laid back I’ve ever seen this flock. Crossing my feathers coming home from vacation doesn’t show me otherwise.