The New Kids on the Block

This past spring we decided to allow Penfold to hatch out a clutch of chicks. She began her 21 day journey sitting on 6 eggs, all carefully selected from our other hens. We decided against allowing Penfold to hatch one of her own eggs since she is a game breed. Games tend to be pretty aggressive and we did not want to risk her hatching out a “game-boy.”

Penfold and a "game-boy"

In the end we ended up with three successful hatches – Chippy, Sybbie, and Emilius Brown – or “the tiny’s” as I like to refer to them. Each one of the little ones has their own unique personality – they also exhibit personality traits from their biological parents as well.

Emilius, Chippy, & Sybbie

Chippy, who hatched from one of Josephine’s eggs, is bold and gentle. She adventurously hangs out with the big chickens and always counts to make sure her siblings are present before she goes to sleep at night.

Emilius is like a visual clone of Andy. He is small and friendly, and like Andy he prefers to eat out of the top of the feeder (even if that means that he falls inside of it) instead of eating from the bottom like everyone else.

Sybbie is hesitant and sweet, we are pretty certain that she hatched from one of Danger’s eggs. She doesn’t really remind me of any of the other chickens, and in a lot of ways she is just her own self. She is completely enamored with  Penfold and rarely leaves her side.

Since this was our first time hatching out chicks with a broody hen, we pondered quite a bit about whether or not to allow Penfold to raise them in the coop with flock or if we should take them all to the house and reintroduce them later. In the end we decided to leave them where they were. We figured that out of all our hens Penfold had enough brass to take care of business if anyone attempted to bother the little ones. Interestingly, the other hens just seemed to accept the chicks as part of the flock from day one. Charlie and Flannery have given small “Watch yourself” pecks when they get too full of themselves – but otherwise it has been the smoothest flock transition that we’ve ever experienced. 

Penfold and Company

This past week has been excruciatingly hot and Penfold has transitioned the chicks from sleeping in the nesting box to sleeping on the roost with the rest of the gang. While the other hens are not exactly excited about sharing their space, they are tolerant. Chippy has taken to the roost with ease and is even willing to sleep next to the big hens. Emilius and Sybbie are a little less sure of themselves and still like to sleep under Penfold’s wings while on the roost with their heads drooping long and low. Quigley, who has shared a space next to Chippy and Emilius, tends to look at them like they are little boogeymen… “sleep with one eye open” and all that.

The tiny’s are growing up fast and it has been a lot of fun to watch. It has been especially fun to see Penfold mother the little ones around – teaching them how to forage, dust bathe, and chase bugs. I look forward to watching this little wild bunch grow more in the weeks to come.

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Josephine

Josephine died last night. She was suffering from a laying problem, egg yoke peritonitis, that is not curable and she was in a considerable amount of pain. I’m still feeling pretty sad about it, even though I know that for her, being gone is better than lingering on and suffering.

 

Josephine on her first day home.
Josephine on her first day home.

We first brought Josephine home 3 years ago on the last night of the Cleveland County Fair. She and Pearla had been impulse buys from earlier in the week and we were excited to bring them home and add them to our small flock. Josephine, unlike Pearla, had a difficult transition into our world. She was generally fearful of everyone except for Pearla. She was difficult to catch, difficult to hold, and was hesitant to even eat from our hands. As time went on, and I just accepted that Jospehine was not a “touchy” chicken, our relationship with her began to improve. She began to trust us and her flock mates, and eventually she was just a solid rock in the flock. Reliable, steady, and calm.

This past Friday morning, when checking on the chickens, I noticed that Josephine was still asleep on the roost – something that was really out of character for her. When I took her off the roost without a fight, I noticed that her abdomen was swollen and her comb was bent over and slightly gray. I knew then that something serious was wrong. Over the next few days we dosed her with penicillin, hoping to see an improvement, but she was already too far gone at that point. Chickens often hide illness and injury until it is impossible for them to continue to do so – it is just a characteristic seen in most breeds of bird – and that is probably one of the reasons that we didn’t catch her condition earlier.

Josephine & Pearla on their first day home. - 2010.
Josephine & Pearla on their first day home. – 2011.

Of all my memories of Josephine, there is one that I will cherish more than any other. Yesterday afternoon, Josephine was laying under a bush that the chickens like next to the house. Pearla, who she has always preferred to spend time with, came up and laid down next to her. For about an hour the two friends just calmly and peacefully laid together in the sun, periodically making little chatter noises to one another. I sat on the back steps just watching them – they seemed happy.

Later that night we buried Josephine near the coop, in a spot where honeysuckle and blackberries like to grow along the fence line and used an old field stone that used to be the foundation of the seed crib as a marker.

It is probably weird to be so sad over loosing a chicken, but Josephine was part of our original group. She had always been healthy and I guess I just wasn’t expecting to loose her so soon. Chickens can live between 7 – 9 years; and, moving in to our fourth year with our original group, I guess I was feeling a bit optimistic. Realistically, four or five years is average for most.

Now, when I go down to the coop and count it feels strange to only count 8 instead of 9 – I won’t go “two white ones, two black ones, two brown ones, two stripy ones, and Penfold” to know that I’ve got everybody accounted for.

Whether we are ready or not, things happen, and we have to embrace the change along with the hurt – and make room for new things on the horizon.  The thing to keep in mind is that we still have our Josephine memories – Stephen and I (perhaps even Pearla) will carry her forward with us and her journey didn’t just end last night. Josephine has now been part of our stories, and our stories are not over yet.

 

Happy National Hug a Chicken Day!

November 5th is a very special day in the chicken keeping community – it is National Hug a Chicken Day. For most chicken keepers, every day is hug a chicken day – but this is our day to share the joys of chicken huggin’ with everyone else.

Though I love all of my chickens, Penfold and I have always had a special connection. She seems to be my hugging chicken of choice on most days. Sometimes she snuggles down into my jacket and falls asleep. Some days she sits on my lap an trills at me as if she’s having her own little conversation.

 She gets angry if I pet or hold one of her fellow flock mates, her face turning red as a beat until I decide to pet her instead. Penfold loves for me to rub the back of her head just behind her comb – she just closes her little eyes and drifts away.

Penfold has a unique personality, and is by far our smartest chicken. She prefer’s our company to that of the other chickens. She can be quite aggressive with the other hens and spends quite a bit of time own her own exploring.

Penfold knows what it takes to make you feel better when you feel tired, crummy, or frumpy. All it takes is a little snuggle and a trill, then your day becomes brighter, calmer, and better. She also a great chicken to hug on a good day too!

Hugging chickens is like hugging happiness itself. So if you want a little boost of fluffy happiness in your life – go grab a chicken and give it a little squeeze!

Charlie, Natalie, & Flannery

Commander-in-Coop

The pecking order is the governing system of hens. I suppose it has parallels in our society: the general sits atop a pecking order, then the colonel, the captain… the private at the bottom. The five star general in our flock is Flannery, a black Australorp. She is a gentle, quiet hen with a dainty trot. In size Flannery is average, and several larger hens are below her in the pecking order. She lets people pet her, but she doesn’t seek attention like Penfold and Quigley. All in all, Flannery is peaceful and unassuming.

Because Flannery sits atop the pecking order, others hen leave her alone—at least most of the time. On one occasion Charlie, our grumpiest hen, mistakenly pecked Flannery on the roost as everyone settled in for night. Flannery unleashed a fury of drop kicks and pecks that sent poor Charlie reeling and squawking.

But only a handful of times have I ever seen Flannery even lightly peck anyone. As far as I can tell, she doesn’t abuse her power. When we introduced the little chickens to the flock, she was the first to befriend them. And I don’t think Flannery leads the flock that I can tell. Usually Penfold, who is rather low on the pecking order, takes the flock one direction or the other, scouting new patches of grass and weeds with her rambunctious nature. Flannery seems fine to follow.

So although Flannery is head hen, she isn’t a tyrant. She walks softly but carries a big stick.

Back at the Chicken Shack

The chicken pasture has been a lively place this summer. Since the Littles have moved in to the big coop each day has been full of squabbles, hilarity, and new traditions for the Pleasant Hill flock.

Penfold is still a little devil, I often call her my Captain of Badness. She is frequently found doing everything she shouldn’t – pulling feathers out of the Littles, getting out of the fence, and generally leading the other hen’s astray. I don’t care, I love her anyway – she could probably peck out one of my eyes and I’d still see no wrong in her.

Quigley, Zillah, and Danger – or the Littles as we call them – are still as tight as ever. Danger is the head of their little tribe and Quigley just wants to be everyone’s friend, while Zillah likes to spend time with Andy.

Two of our younger cousins like to come by to see the Littles on the weekends. Danger is Katie’s favorite, and I am absolutely perplexed at how a five year old can catch that chicken faster than I can!

All of the big girls are moulting and they look like a ratty band of box car children. Charlie is 500 times more grouchy than usual – which is really saying something since she is the ‘ take no prisoners ‘ type.

If you even look at her she growls in protest. A few nights back Andy was, apparently, sitting on the roosting spot that she wanted – so she just pecked him in the head and face until he finally gave up and moved away.

Poor Andy. He tries so hard to be a good protector for his little harem of biddy’s. Lately he’s started this new tradition of carving out some ‘personal time’ for himself each day.

So, what exactly does ‘personal time’ look like for a rooster? Well, in Andy’s case, he has his special corner of the hen house under the nesting boxes. He crawls in, makes a nest, faces the corner, and stays crammed in that tiny space for about 15 minutes…probably pretending that the rest of the world does not exist.

As the day draws to a close, everyone heads back the the hen house – ready to squabble and growl over who is going to sleep next to whom on the roost. Andy stands like a bastion on the hill, making sure that everyone gets inside – it’s time to shut the place down for the night.

As the sun sets, the hen house gets quiet. Occasionally you hear one of Penfold or Quigley’s long trills or Charlie growling over someone sleeping too close by….and Stephen and I trek back up to the house ready to call it a day ourselves.

If you’re a chicken, then why does your box say “police”?

In a day and age where Tour d’ Coops are not uncommon events in chicken communities….I have to admit that our coop is strictly functional – built purely for the shelter and safety of our flock.

Our unassuming, functional coop.

Today, My Pet Chickens unveiled – in my opinion – their coolest, most awesome coop yet. Ladies and gentleman, I present to you My Pet Chicken’s The Hobbit Hole.

Totally awesome, and ridiculously cute beyond all imagination. I mean who doesn’t want this in their backyard? If this doesn’t convince you that having chickens can be life changing and fabulous…nothing will!

But – deep in the fathomless pits of nerd-dom….another type of coop exists – and believe me, it may be even more awesome that the Hobbit Hole.

It is a TARDIS.

With its own Dalek. What!

Well, if you didn’t already know that I’m a fan of Doctor Who, you know now.

In theory, I think having a TARDIS coop would be crazy fun; but I know that I would fall victim to a contagious disease that strikes even the most vigilant of chicken keepers. That disease is called Chicken Math.

The 10th Doctor and the TARDIS

Chicken Math is a disease that hinders your ability to properly count the number of chickens that you own or plan to own at any given time. You plan on only having 6 chickens and one day you wake up and you have 10…a year later you have 56 and you are not entirely sure what happened except that you somehow became a chicken hoarder.

If I had a TARDIS coop, I would spend all of my time constantly opening and closing the door hoping that my coop would suddenly be bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. I’d make an excuse that we needed at least one chicken named Ameilia or Martha or Rose….and before you know it, we’d have all three of them, plus Donna, Wilfred, and Sara Jane Smith!

Nope – in Pleasant Hill we’ll just stick to our functional coops and leave the Tour d’ Cooping for everyone else. After all, Stephen and mine’s carpentry skills are not that advanced – but we still enjoy looking at everyone else’s creative cooping!

Don’t forget to remember

As spring moves on to summer our chores seem to be piling up, up, up. And over the course of the last few weeks we have experienced much change in the white house.

For starters, the white house is now white again. After two weeks of painting the old place looks somewhat new…sort of. The baby chickens have graduated up to the big coop. We have been on “nesting box duty.” We’ve adopted a new hive of bees, and said goodbye to a familiar face around the  barnyard.

Penfold, my little American Game, has decided to go broody, and she is going to sit on her nest come hell or high water.

The box is empty. Penfold doesn’t care – she’s sitting there anyway. I stick my hand in with treats trying to tempt her out of the box. Penfold doesn’t care – she’s sitting there anyway. Andy comes in to oust her off the nest and join the others foraging (Penfold’s favorite activity). Still, Penfold doesn’t care – she is sitting there anyway.

Penfold attempting to reclaim the eggs we took from her nest.

So, several times a day Stephen or I tromp across the soggy pasture to take her out of the box and shoo her away to do something, anything else. It’s taken a few weeks, and there have been occasional set backs, but we think Pen is over this spell of motherhood, which is really better for all of us.

The little chickens are slowly integrating into the big flock, and things are going much better than the last time. Zillah has proven herself to be an adventurous and brave soul – venturing forth to eat with the big chickens, taking a shot at finding her place on the hen house roost, and taking up for her much more timid sisters.

Zillah & Quigley

 Danger

Quigley and Danger are doing pretty good through this whole process, though they are much more cautious. Flannery, our head hen, has been quite kind to the little girls….offering them a safe place to perch next to her on her self made throne. Most of the others ignore the little girls, unless food is involved. The current flock shake down is that Charlie hates Zillah, and Penfold despises Quigley….and somehow Danger has managed to fly under the radar.

One troublesome thing that has arisen over the last week has been Mini’s behavior. We’ve been surprised at the amount of aggression that he’s shown towards the little girls, and it has had both Stephen and I concerned. Over the last few months we have observed that Mini’s behavior has often left the hens stressed out and grumpy. We’ve questioned our decisions with our flock management, and have been seriously considering what the best options for the overall flock dynamic might be.

Last night as the chickens went to bed Mini kept repeatedly pecking Zillah in the head. Tonight, Stephen witnessed the same thing and in our minds a firm decision was made. With a heavy heart, we’ve said goodbye.

Mini is gone.

Stephen wrote this to me tonight. I want to share it, because it reflects the reality and pain that comes along with being a chicken keeper.

It was horrible. Mini deserved a much better death than he got. It took me a long time, it was awful. If we ever have to kill another chicken, then we are taking it to the processing plant. I can’t stand to see them suffer like that and know it is my fault. I hope this fixes many of the problems with the flock, so that Mini didn’t die for nothing.

It may be weird to apply Mill’s ethics of the greater good to flock life, but it is part of the cruelty we face as their keepers. We are part of that flock whether we think so or not, and we are responsible for their lives and well being.

I still love Mini, and maybe his end deserved its own entry; but I felt that his story was so entwined with the changes and upheavals of the flock that it should be told together. He was Penfold’s closest friend, he was Zillah’s biggest fear, he was Andy’s nemesis. He was a good chicken, but a mean rooster.