Chickens Sure Are Good Mothers

More stories of chickens, coming up. I was getting concerned about keeping Star, my mama hen, literally cooped up with the chicks in such a small space. I came up with the idea of blocking off the exit from the original Tractor Supply coop into the larger chicken run, which would give them a lot more space to run around, plus room for Star to poop that isn’t in the middle of their eating area.

You can’t really tell, but Bronzer is standing ON star. Good mom!

I looked around for something easy and temporary, but couldn’t find anything that was both large enough and liftable by me. At last I spotted a fine roll of chicken wire just sitting in the garage, looking at me. It could be cut to the right size and used to cover the hole!

I recruited my spouse to help me, since I didn’t know where wire cutters were, and it’s fun to make him go outside and do things every so often. It’s a bonding activity. He measured the space and cut a piece of chicken wire, which we then managed to attach fairly securely to the entry. It will most assuredly keep the chicks IN, but I don’t know if it will keep varmints OUT.

All secure-ish.

When and if the nephew gets back, I’ll see if he has ideas for reinforcing it. Once the chicks are a month old and fully feathered, I’ll probably let them out, anyway.

The big moment arrived and I opened the door to the space. I thought the chicks would rush right over, see the opening, and dash down the ramp to see all the delicious plants and dirt.

Hmm, I can do downstairs.

Instead, Star came over, looked out the door, and went down the ramp, where she promptly took a dust bath. I knew she wanted one! Meanwhile, she kept making interesting clucks, which seemed to be aimed at the chicks any time they came near the door.

They ran around peeping, but did not exit. She went back up the ramp, and promptly blocked the exit. I realized right then that I could not keep the food and water “downstairs” like I’d hoped. She was not going to let them out!

Can we come out? NO!

I came back a few times yesterday to check, and sure enough, Star had pooped, eaten a bunch of grass that had started to grow in there since the other chickens abandoned it, and taken more dust baths, but there was no sign of chick exit. I decided to put HER food on the ground, since the chicks seem to like it a lot and I’d prefer they eat their medicated rations.

Can I come out? NO!

I do believe Star is in charge of chick activities, not me. And she is one smart Mama. It got so windy yesterday that it would probably have blown the chicks around. Plus, a late cool front came in, and it got chilly outside! The babies needed to roost under their mom, where it’s nice and warm.

Star’s mothering instincts are quite impressive to me! I’m a bit bummed that I had to go to Austin for a couple days, so I may miss their big moments of freedom. Or, when I get back they may be right where they were, enjoying their chick food and grit, and gurgling their water.

One nice thing about getting up early is sunrises!

Let’s hope things keep moving along in a positive fashion. There actually has been good news both in my little circle and in the world this week. It’s good to have a bit of balance back!

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? To Get to the Garage

Oh, those dang chickens are always up to something. I think I get the whole chicken-mama thing figured out, and they come up with a way to stump me. Some things are good! For example, I am getting four eggs many days, out of five hens. I’m sure I’d have five, if I could find where the hell Bertie Lee is laying her eggs now. I should have just let her keep laying in that corner of the garage; at least I could find them, then. It’s like a never-ending Easter egg hunt!

Perhaps we’d lay more eggs here in the coop if you’d stop opening the door and stealing our eggs all the time, grumbles Star.

Now, however, three or four of them have decided they don’t like to sleep in the chicken coop. Night before last, I only ended up with two hens safely in the house. The rest were all somewhere in the garage. Worst, Springsteen has taken to sleeping on my car. This is not good for one’s British Racing Green paint job.

Yuck. Soon as the dang tire is back on the car, I’m moving it, cleaning it, and putting a tarp on it. Geez, that’s gross.
Today’s offering from the Jersey Giant.

On the other hand, Springsteen does give me a lovely pinky-brown egg nearly every day, so she’s not all bad. It’s funny, though, because she used to be the hen who didn’t leave the henhouse! Something must be up.

I already shared that Bruce, the rooster, likes to hang out on top of the garage fridge. Apparently, that’s where he roosts when I can’t get him inside where he belongs. I really don’t want my last male fowl to die saving the flock!

I’m outa here. I’m not telling you where I roost OR where I lay, even though I love you.

I can never find where Star roosts, nor Bertie Lee, when I can’t get her inside. Buttercup and Hedley (the antisocial one) usually go to bed like good girls.

I wish I had some help in figuring out what’s bothering the chickens about their lovely coop. Is it that the last thing that attacked over there scared them? Are they pissed that I kept them confined for a week? Umm, are the eggs I set in their boxes to see if they’d hatch starting to smell bad? (That’s a distinctly stinky possibility, though I don’t smell them.) Do I need to put in more pine shavings again? That may be, too, since there is more poop there due to them sleeping inside rather than on the branches, like they used to do. And why don’t they sleep on the branches? Ah, they seem to not like one of the grains in their seven-grain scratch. Maybe they are avoiding it? Or is it the bees? Thankfully, the bees seem to have found another source of nutrition and are leaving their food alone. That was weird.

Bees eating chicken food.

I am no match for the mind of a domestic fowl, that’s for sure. I’m glad they like the garage, sort of, but would prefer to keep the cars and tools free of bird poop.

We could be hiding anywhere among all this equipment! Ha ha!

A Clean Chicken Is a Happy Chicken, Perhaps

Back to cute little animals and ranching activities, which everyone can enjoy! I still have seven outdoor birds, five laying hens, Bruce the rooster, and Gertie the Guinea. They always surprise and entertain me, as you can tell from how many blog posts I manage to take up with Poultry Tales. But, they are my buddies!

Bruce rules the roost with a gentle hand, or wing. His pointy feathers on his neck and back are gorgeous.

I mentioned earlier this week that they’re creatures of habit. But, sometimes they do change their minds. All of last year, the chickens preferred to sleep on the branches in the chicken run. They would all line up, and when we had lots of them, it was quite a sight. Now that it’s winter, though, many of them have decided to roost in the roosting area of their henhouses. That’s all fine. I’m sure it’s warmer and dryer.

But, when the chickens spend more time in the henhouse, there gets to be more poop in there. The nest boxes had become noticeably more poopy as of this week. I’d prefer cleaner eggs, and I’m pretty sure the hens prefer cleaner nests, since I found an egg just sitting on the roosting area yesterday.

So, today I put on a mask (hey, at least I own a lot of them!) and cleaned out their little world. I didn’t realize how much bedding and such was in there until I removed it all. The tub got pretty heavy! I’m hoping we can use the material in compost.

A lot of pine shavings and poop (and a piece of wood)

Naturally, it was harder than it could have been, since all the things I could find to scoop out the material were exactly as wide as a nest box. I know I own a bunch of garden trowels, but they must be put away very well.

Ooh, aah. We do still need to fix the missing divider. We have all the parts. They still lay eggs there.

As soon as I was finished, Springsteen, the homebody, RAN in and checked out the white henhouse. Then she RAN to the red one. Much clucking occurred. She’s a good housekeeper. Or maybe it was her egg-laying time, since she hadn’t laid one yet.

The gentle giant, Springsteen. You can see some green highlights on her feathers.

While it was a messy job, I enjoyed it, because I got to spend time with my bird friends and Vlassic. I hope you enjoy these close-ups of some of the younger chickens. It’s neat to see how they change as they grow up.

Hedley, in the rear, is the shyest hen, and won’t let me get close. Bertie and Gertie are overly friendly.

And can you believe good ole Bertie is over a year old? We will have had her a year next month, and she was four months old when we got her.

This had gotten particularly dirty, and the roost area in front was also a mess. This is way better. Golf ball is a fake egg. All the eggs in these pictures are the ones we were trying to hatch, which are now dummy eggs.

It’s a Chicken Palace!

Yesterday was just beautiful, sunny with pleasant temperatures, though a little breezy. It was a perfect day to do some more work on the chicken run. When we last saw it, the run was squared off, the roof frame was up and some cover was on it. Today, the chickens have a nice, big roof that will protect them a bit from rain, and most important, give them some shade in the summer.

chicken run
At most hours of the day, this roof will give the chickens some sun protection.

After that, things got even more fun. The water dispenser has been repaired, and even more fantastic, it’s level, so water dispenses through all the holes. I’ve detected chicken action at it, so they know it’s there.

Ready for their drinking pleasure.

Next, CC built a sturdy device to hold their newly improved food dispensers. Now, the food doesn’t spill out, and there are lots of holes for them to eat out of. Plus, the food is in the middle of the run, which means it’s way less likely to get wet unless there’s a particularly driving rain.

chicken coop
You can see how there are two feeders, at two different heights, well away from the edges of the run.

With the basics taken care of, we had to make sure to provide fun and entertainment for our fowl friends. What could be more fun than a double-decker swing, right?

chicken swing
I know a particular rooster who will be all over this for crowing and announcing his glory. And Gertie back there will probably use it a lot, too.

We realize that if there is one on top and one on the bottom, there may be some poop collateral damage, but what the heck. It’s fun!

We also added a few more perches for them, and I put a branch in there, so they will have something fun to peck on (and maybe it will attract some bugs to eat).

You can see random pieces of fun wood at left, and sorta see the branch at rear right.

At the moment, the infirmary/baby cage is not in the run. We plan to put it in when we need to, and surround it with protection, like more tin, to keep young and injured birds safe.

Here is the entire chicken palace. There are 5 nest boxes. One gets used. Dang chickens.

We have also been discussing getting yet another dog run to turn into an area for new chickens, and making a place for chicks, with a heat lamp. Buying all these adult chickens is getting expensive. But, we plan to keep them inside for a while, to deter the chicken hawk and teach Bertie to lay in the coop, not the garage. This explains why we put so many entertainment items in the run.

chickens
This food is NOT enough entertainment for us. But, we like it.

Now that things are pretty well set up (I’m so grateful for it!), and Springsteen (the black Jersey Giant) appears to have gone broody on us, I decided to just let her try to raise some chicks (yes, it’s winter, but we will put the family somewhere warm if babies show up and it gets cold).

fertile hen eggs
There’s one egg from everyone currently laying but Bertie (so, Hedley, Star, and Buttercup). Springsteen isn’t laying, because she’s setting, and Bertie lays in the garage. I only have five hens left, sniff.

This may give us some less expensive chickens, if it works. It can’t hurt to try. Plus, they may lay cool colored eggs, if we get any to adulthood, with Bruce the Easter Egger as the Baby Daddy!

Bertie Lee, a hen
“Today’s shoe had no laces, but I went after the shiny bits,” says Bertie, the nonconformist hen.

Thanks to all of you who put up with my chicken posts. These birds are sure entertaining, even if they are hard to keep alive.

And hey, have any of you thought of a Word of the Year yet?

Sunset Ranch Update

There hasn’t been an update on our ranch citizens in a while, and tonight’s sunset inspired me to write one.

There’s a bonus dog in this photo!

Last night’s solstice sunset was apparently amazing, but I was busy lighting candles and missed it. Luckily a friend took great photos for me to enjoy.

The sun sets right on our road.

As the sun disappeared it looked like a tribute to the universities I attended (orange and blue!)

Shiny.

Anyway, most of the ranch residents are doing well, but we’ve discovered a new chicken killer, our resident harrier. No wonder they call them chicken hawks. Sigh. But, as always, we have a plan. Since that hawk only goes after them out in the lawn, we’re going to keep the chickens cooped up for a while.

A project!

The newly arranged coop is getting its fancy new roof. Once it’s done, the residents will get locked in. That will annoy Gertie the Guinea a lot, but we want him alive! And hopefully it will remind my buddy Bertie where she should lay her eggs.

Harvey was a great supervisor, I’m told.

And to end on a happier note, I got home early enough today to play with Apache and Fiona. Apache was thrilled, and showed it his usual way.

Oh boy! I get to play with Suna, after I pee.

We got to go for a nice walk, and then I got him to run and trot around for a while. He seems in good shape.

As we were trotting, Fiona got all excited and started galloping around us in circles, hee-hawing away. After four or five circuits, Apache and I turned around to trot back. Fiona then zoomed into the race and began bellowing at Ralph’s cows.

I was wondering if I would ever get her back in the pen, but when Apache and I went in, she barreled in with us. I guess the both had some fun! So did I.

Chicken Home Improvements

Been wondering what’s going on at the chicken house? Well, now that the family is reunited at the ranch, we’re working on renovating the chicken coop area. Stage One is complete.

Work in progress

The Caso guys spent a lot of time on Thursday reconfiguring the space to be one big open coop. The pointy end is gone, which will make chicken wrangling easier. While we still have the same birds, it will all be open. That will give them room to roam while we shut them in for a week or two to remind them to lay their eggs in the nest boxes, not the garage.

There are limbs to sleep on and boxes to nest in.

The new nest box we made a few months ago is now attached to the coop, so it will be a safer place to roost and lay eggs. The run area got a frame up to hold a nice new roof for shade and protection, which will be phase 2.

It’s squared off! And has a frame.

We will have the water dispenser and food dishes fixed up soon, and it will be the envy of Greater Walker’s Creek Community, I’m sure. I know the chickens, the guinea, and I all appreciate the effort it takes!

Who needs a water dish when there are puddles? (Note chicken tracks)

More Chicken Housing PLUS

So, how did that chicken coop project we started yesterday come out?

Well, while I was crackling the doors, Chris finished the roof and ventilation area.

Little coop.

Of course, it needed steps up to the roosting and nesting area.

We need stairs!

I got busy using up the extra white paint to cover most of the wood surfaces. I left a little paint free to look rustic. I may paint it later. Maybe red!

The nest box is painted well, since water will drip on it.

While I painted, the ramp got built, so I painted that last. It’s just got to dry then we can set it up.

Happy hen house.

Next thing I knew, Chris was working with PVC pipe. I looked up and, boom, he’d made chicken feeders he’d seen on Pinterest.

Quick and easy project!

We took them over and set them up on one of the few walls that aren’t moving soon. I put food in them (and the dispenser worked!).

This is interesting! Clarence is more interested in the bug-filled dirt where the old feeder was.

Next, we herded all the chickens into the feeding area. They found the water holder then noticed the food dish had moved. It only took a minute or two for Steen to figure out the feeder. Others joined in!

There’s food in there!

Good news at last: Fancy Pants MAY be getting les broody. We are seeing her out more and more. Sigh. Just in time for fertilized eggs. Ha!

I got bored in there.

I do enjoy these guys.

Independence Day for Hermits

Chris and Suna create desktops and chicken coops from scraps and leftovers.

One thing’s for sure, the hermits of Hermits’ Rest sure know how to celebrate without leaving the property. I’m proud of us.

Most of the day, Chris and I worked on two projects, a second hen house and nest box, and my new desk.

My project was the desk. First I spent a couple of hours sanding the doors, one of which is the desk top and one the “modesty panel.” I’m so modest, you see. I just wanted to rough them up a bit.

The modesty panel door.

By the way, the doors came from the Pope Residence, and were a bathroom and closet door, so smaller than standard.

Here it is with a coat of red paint.

The desk top was painted white. It’s paint was peeling and hard to sand, so it took a while. I forgot to take a “before” picture. I’ll blame the heat. I did really well not overheating today!

The desk top looks much brighter, since it’s base was white.

No doubt you notice the doors don’t match. It’s okay. This interesting shade of coral red (made by mixing my bathroom tomato red with the red from our Christmas float) will be an undercoat.

Two coats on. Red enough.

Both doors look nice and “rustic” so I’m happy. Tomorrow the MAGIC will happen, so come back for Day 2 of the door desk paint project!

Meanwhile, Chris was finishing the nest boxes he started, which are nicely hinged now.

Hinged box.

Then he got to work turning a shipping crate that held the tile for our house 5 years ago into a chicken coop. He added a roosting shelf, and attached the nest boxes.

Roosting shelf.

The outside he covered in more of the tin we used in the Pope Residence.

He just improvises. But measures carefully.

By the time we called it quits, he’d measured the roof and got the supports up. The hardware cloth (wire mesh) is ready for the ventilation openings. This should also get done tomorrow!

Roof supports are up. The triangles will be air vents. Hens need them.

We also hope to get more shade cover for the birds and to enlarge the pens, like I mentioned earlier. That will keep us busy at home for another day!

Did I mention that these projects only cost us labor? All materials are scraps or leftover stuff from other projects. Fun doesn’t have to be expensive! It does help to have a creative and talented team lead, though. Go team!

Pampered Chickens? Nah. (Book Report)

I was a little worried that we are pampering the chickens and guineas. For example, I wandered out into the woods today to make more perches and shade for the chickens.

Hedy and Hedley are on the new perch.

And Chris made a new shelf and perch for the guineas. They have really grown since we got them!

The perch in front and the shelf in back. They still haven’t figured them out.

I feel much better now, though. I got two books of chicken projects at Tractor Supply, and they had some of the most indulgent yet cute projects imaginable. One has 40 projects; one has 50. I guess their editors had the same idea.

One of the authors, Lisa Steele, who is apparently a big chicken blogger,* puts curtains on all her hens’ nest boxes, because some are shy. Lordy. And she makes them salves and feeds them herbs. And builds many adorable hen swings.

We only got to have our shelf because Chris added chicken wire to the top of our cage so we can’t get out.

I did enjoy the projects in both books (Janet Garman is a little more serious but also obviously LOVES chickens) and got some good ideas, like making a low perch for the Jersey Giants. Right now Hedy loves it the most, followed by Henley and Bruce. The young hens do love all the new things. They still like to play.

We love our new perch, say Hedy and Henley.

Oh! I forgot to share that last night I let Ginger and Bertie run around and chase grasshoppers for a while. Lee and I were mighty entertained. Those gals are good! Even Clarence came out and caught some. I got them all back in pretty easily once they had their fill.

I hope we can let them out more often. As long as the big dogs are inside, they’re fine. Vlassic and Gracie just watch like we do!

Nope. Our chickens aren’t pampered. Just fun.

*Like I can talk. I’m a not-big sort of ranching sort of venting blogger.

More Flock Plus a Cock

It’s a rooster, of course. Since we are down 3 hens (we lost our injured Jewel last week) I wanted more. Bird and Bee Farm keeps running out of chickens, so I despaired of getting more any time soon. But yesterday we got a call from Cindy Rek, who said our turn had come, because they finally have baby guinea fowl (called keats), which Kathleen has been wanting.

Precious guinea Keats

We hadn’t expected them so soon, so we’ve been scrambling to get stuff set up for them ever since. With a plan in our minds, Chris and I set out for the farm so we could arrive by 8 am. That is dedication. But that way we were the first to get there.

Bird and Bee Farm Wildscape

The Wildscape my Master Naturalist friend, Catherine Johnson, works so hard on is really coming into its own. So many flowers and creative touches. She’s started a southwestern garden and a moon garden with all white flowers.

More Wildscape with cosmos in back

After petting the Rek’s new collie puppy, Dixie, we went in for chickens and guineas. Very quickly, Chris came over with a box of ten little darlings. Five are lavender and five some other fancy color. They’re just a few weeks old and like to Peep. So I want to name them all Peep, so we can later chill with our Peeps.

There are ten keats in here, actually in half the box.

I had more trouble, since I wanted older pullets. Well, they are selling them so fast that the oldest they had were 3.5 months old. I realized we’d have to separate the current hens from the new ones. Time for Plan B!

Hedy, Hedley, and Spring or Steen

I ended up with two very black Jersey Giants (supposed to be very nice) that I had to name Spring and Steen. Jersey girls. We also got a gorgeous Silver Wyandotte. Her feathers are gorgeous, black with white tips. Her name is Patti. Mrs Springsteen.

Pretty Patti

They begged me to take a rooster, so I picked a flashy Easter Egger, in the hopes that maybe Fancy Pants can raise us some babies with olive eggs. Guess what I named him? Bruce. He has some hilarious whiskers around his face. We are probably getting another rooster from a friend. I guess he will be either Clarence or Little Steven.

Bruce. He should be quite flashy as he matures.

There is another pair. They are Ancona, a pretty breed that apparently has red eyes. They are mostly black but have random white tips. Ours have a few white feathers, too. I read that they get more white with each moult. I ran out of E Street Band enthusiasm and named them Hedy and Hedley.

All six blackish chickens in a confused clump.

Now that we had chickens, we had to get another dog pen to put the teen chickens in, and a place for the guinea fowl to grow in. And feeders and waterers. Each group eats different food, of course. It only took two different Tractor Supply stores, thanks to the nice clerk in Rockdale who found us one in College Station. That was a nice store. It did get tiresome wearing my mask, but I looked like a cowgirl.

The gay pride frame helps.

Our other errand was to pick up some stuff from the John Deere store. Only it wasn’t outside the store like they said it would be. It’s okay, we enjoyed driving around looking at farms.

Back at the Hermits’ Rest we went into bird housing overdrive. Chris got the guinea chicks in the big dog pen we got for them, only to watch them squeezing out. Oops. Luckily we’d bought chicken wire in case we needed it. While Lee and I chased the last escapee, the wire went up. Whew.

Before the chicken wire. They could escape!

They loved their water and food dishes and soon were falling all over each other eating and drinking. After that, the babies napped a lot.

No escape now. They are napping anyway.

Meanwhile, much to the annoyance of Ginger, Bertie Lee, and Fancy Pants, Chris temporarily confined them the a small part of their coop. Then he let the black chickens out. Everyone had food and water, but the Springsteen family hid in their box for a long time.

Lee and Chris quickly built the new addition, which is bigger than the original because of how he arranged the dog pen panels.

Excuse us, interlopers, but you are in our space! Bertie Lee and Ginger are not amused.

Next, we took some of the tin left over from the Pope house project and made some shade panels for the original section, in the west, and a bit of rain cover for the new addition. They needed more shade.

Penney inspects the pointy end of the new chicken run area.

After putting in some roosting branches/boards the new group was released there and the old ones got their house back. No doubt they are jealous of the grass the new chickens have. Don’t worry, I gave them some.

Tin roof (needs work) in the new section, and more tin in the old part, making it lots shadier.

The black chickens had never seen grass or treats before, but they figured it out fast. By the time I went inside, they were happily eating, drinking and pecking.

This is the life!

We found some wood to make a couple more nest boxes and a second little coop for when the new guys start laying. They will be okay with their cardboard box temporarily.

Their beloved transport box and a roosting perch are at right. They also have a branch to roost on, outside the photo.

I can’t believe Chris got as much done today as he did! Instant chicken quarters! I’m very grateful for his creativity and willingness to do this, since it was NOT on the original weekend plan.