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.

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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.

Afternoon fun

With the weekends jam packed, we spend most afternoons working on various things around the farm. New plants, new chickens, new bees, new paint (which still needs to go on the old house)…..the list of chores is never ending, but we still find time to have a little bit of fun.

Little chickens are growing up!
Zillah, Quigley, and Dangerfield
Quigley likes to hop up for a snuggle
Lots of lettuce ready for the picking
Gotta smoke those bees
Bee suites are for protection
Bees need more gear than chickens!

My morning on the farm…..

I love days where I get to spend a little extra time on the farm, before the other responsibilities of my day start knocking on my door. This morning was particularly nice, as the horrid wind had stopped, the sun had come out, and Mini was in one of his rare good moods. Since it was so nice….I decided to share.

Decked out in my farm gear, which translates to Stephen’s sweat pants and coat, old shoes, and armed with two buckets.
Out to the chicken pasture I go to let out the tribe, gather any eggs, fill up the feeder and waterer.
The chickens run to their favorite morning spot by the barn to dust bath. I’ve actually caught Mini in a rare moment of relaxation – the boy never cuts loose.
While the chickens enjoy the sun, I climb up into the barn loft to get some fresh hay for the nesting boxes.
Taking a short cut through the horse corral, I manage to step in a big pile of poop.
Which reminds me that I can’t leave out the chicken’s buddies, Cody and Jill.
So far we’ve had a two egg morning…..thanks to Josephine and Pearla
Chickens are as happy as ever…..piled up and enjoying the morning.

This is what mornings on the farm are like – chickens, eggs, poop, hay, dirt. All the nice things that, despite being dusty and outside, make you feel real clean.

~ Natalie

I’ve got sand in my shoes

As a chicken keeper, I’ve learned chickens don’t handle change that well. It’s one of those things, like flock integration, that just takes time.

Recently we’ve had a lot of rain, resulting in a soppy chicken pasture and a soppy chicken run. In an effort to remedy this pile of muck, I thought a change in the run flooring was in order.

Well, over the weekend (while planting 3,000 trees ….with lots of family help….at Stephen’s grandmother’s home in the sandhills of SC) I came up with a genius idea that I knew would be perfect. We would simply take several boxes of sand back home with us!

“The chickens will be so excited!” I thought, “They love scratching around in Stephen’s compost pile…..sand has got to be way better than that.”

So in went the sand, in one big, happy pile…..just waiting for chickens to come scratch, wallow, and play. The chickens approached and stopped at the door. No one went any further. They backed away wary. Not even their favorite treat could bring them close to the pile of sand.

The chickens were terrified. The floor was different. The poor chickens didn’t know what to do!

All great changes are preceded by chaos –

Eventually nighttime arrived, and none of the chickens could bring themselves to walk past the pile of sand to get in the coop. Stephen and I caved, and we walked down to the coop and helped each chicken past the sand and into the house where they sleepily went to roost.

My guess is that they’ll have to figure out what to do with the sand tomorrow. Like people, chickens apparently need time to adjust to big changes, sand being a “big change” in the eyes of chickens.


Earlobes and Love are Precious Things

Since dispatching Twister, we are attempting round two of integrating the new girls, Pearla and Josephine, into the original flock. To say the first attempt was a disaster is a major understatement. Integration Round 1 ended with the so-called “earlobe incident.”

One bright, shiny day….with all of the chickens (old and new) in the coop….two roosters became hypnotized by the astounding wiles of one new Josephine. With her exotic plumage and lovely, Cleveland County Fair “ID tag”…..well….it was simply a combination that spelled disaster. At the end of the scuffle that ensued, poor Josephine was left with the majority of her earlobe torn off and two VERY guilty roosters still glaring death at one another.

the tantalizing Josephine

My solution to this problem was to simply remove Josephine and Pearla from the flock, allow a little healing time from the trauma, and just try again later. We are now in that “trying again” phase.

Lovely Penfold

Round two has resulted in a few hen scuffles…..mainly involving my sweet, little Penfold….and boy can that little girl FIGHT! She ninja drop kicks like a rooster – growling and all! I think she’s  been taking “wax on, wax off” lessons from Mini on the sly.

Pen holds nothing back, determined she will NOT be at the bottom of the totem pole this time. Her Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon moves have Pearla utterly terrified — now, all Pen has to do is glance in Pearla’s direction and off Pearla runs.

All in all, it has been easier the second time around. There has been no blood involved…. and we can all be thankful for that.

Chickens and Horses

For years, Natalie’s Poppaw has kept horses, and occasionally he’ll rotate them into the chicken pasture. Chickens are entertaining creatures in their own right, but add horses to the mix and you’re guaranteed humorous antics.

Natalie’s Poppaw can tell the story of a stray hen that “took up” in the barn and made a habit of riding around on horseback, Napoleon style. Apparently, it was a win-win situation: the hen pecked free meals off the horse, and the horse got his back scratched and relief from flies.

Our chickens and the horses

So far, our chickens and the horses get on well together, too. The usually overprotective roosters don’t appear the least bit threatened by their much larger companions, even though the horses sometimes nudge the chickens around the pasture with their noses, as if dribbling soccer balls. Sometimes the chickens walk back and forth beneath the horses, or stand behind them and pull their tails. All in all, the chickens and horses seem to be good pals.

Perhaps the funniest episode between the chickens and horses occurred when Goldseeker got into the coop. At the time, it wasn’t funny at all, but looking back on it, Natalie and I laugh. Instead of wings and wattles, Goldseeker has hooves, a mane, and a very good sense of smell. One day, this sense of smell led him to the chicken coop.

The coop is rectangular, 6 feet wide by 10 feet long. A hen house is on one end of the coop and a door, 2 feet wide by six feet tall, is on the opposite end of the run. We often  leave the door open so chickens can go in and out to get food and water when free-ranging in the pasture–never dreaming that any of the horses could actually FIT through the door itself. Evidently, Goldseeker smelling the chicken feed just squeezed right in and made  himself at home.

Natalie and I had a horrible time getting him out of the coop. Since his rump was blocking the door, I had to squeeze between Goldseeker’s backside and the door frame to get into the run. Thankfully, he didn’t kick me. Once in there, I had little idea what to do. First, I tried turning him around, but he wasn’t cooperating and there wasn’t enough room anyway. Then, I tried removing the feeder. Goldseeker was batting the hanging feeder around like a piñata to spill the feed, which he then licked up off the ground. Natalie brought some hay to the coop to lure him out, but Goldseeker was determined to lick up every single pellet.

So, for what seemed like ages, three chickens, myself included, were trapped in a coop with a horse oblivious to anything but chicken feed. After he had eaten his fill, Goldseeker simply put himself in reverse and moonwalked out of the chicken coop.

In the end, I don’t know who was more thankful to get out of that coop–the chickens or myself! I know for a fact it wasn’t Goldseeker.

Gold and the chickens in the pasture