Posts tagged Welsummer

Lessons A Chicken Taught Me

The unthinkable has happened. Chip, our favourite hen, died last weekend.

A typical scene when you arrive at the Queendom - a chicken scritch in action!

A typical scene when you arrive at the Queendom – a chicken scritch in action!

At the tender age of 17 months, she simply faded until her light snuffed out. Despite her initial recovery from our amateur crop surgery, she continued to have digestive issues. Our guess is that something was seriously wrong in her gizzard or intestines which continuously caused a back-up of fluid and food in her crop. Whatever the reason, she is gone now and we are both full of heart-ache.

The last photo I took of her in the Chicken ICU dog crate. She had lost colour in her comb, was disheveled from not preening and would look at us through one winking eye.

The last photo I took of her in the Chicken ICU dog crate. She had lost colour in her comb, was disheveled from not preening and would look at us through one winking eye.

She was just a chicken but …

She was one of our original six. We brought her home in a box, knowing only what we had read in books about chicken farming. She was the bright light of that brood, constantly surprising us with her ingenuity, memory and curiosity. She taught us everything we now know about raising chickens, and most of that is not written in books.

Here is what Chip taught us during her short but favored life:

Named Chip - short for Chipmunk.

Named Chip – short for Chipmunk. And look at that adorable tail!

Chickens are smart – When Chip was a chick, she figured out different ways to climb out of the brooding box so that she could roost up high. She would hop from a roosting stick onto the top of the chick waterer and then onto the top edge of the brooder. No matter how we configured the objects, she would figure a way out.

You can't keep a good girl down. She was like Houdini in that brooder box!

You can’t keep a good girl down. She was like Houdini in that brooder box!

Chickens learn from each other – Once settled inside the finished coop, Chip would slide down the roost supports on her feet, rather than fly down or hop from rung to rung. Soon enough all the other chicks were copying her and now, with two new generations of chicks, everyone gets off the roost in Chip-style. It looks as fun as going down a fireman’s pole. All the others looked to her for ideas and direction.

A communal Chicken Melt on the sunny porch.

A communal Chicken Melt on the sunny porch.

Chickens seek affection – I am a determined ‘scooper’, meaning that I scoop every chicken up into my arms each day, in an effort to get them used to being handled. One day, as we were sipping coffee on the porch, Chip hopped up onto my extended legs to roost. It was the first time that contact between us had been initiated by one of them. Soon enough, she would hop up and walk to my lap where she would contentedly snooze or chat with me. It became a daily routine that we both looked forward to and enjoyed. In the last weeks of her life when she was too weak to hop up, she would come and stand near my chair and wait for the daily scoop. Only since she has passed away have other chickens initiated the hop up, emulating Chip. I sure hope it continues.

During one of her first hop-ups.

Captured on film during one of her first hop-ups.

Chickens are brave – During the record-breaking snowfall of last winter, it was Chip who dared to leave the coop, walk through the pantaloon-deep snow (which she had never experienced before) in her bare feet in order to have a visit on the porch.

Lured by scratch and a chance to sit on my lap, Chip was the first to brave the snow.

Lured by scratch and a chance to sit on my lap, Chip was the first to brave the snow.

Chickens wield their power gently – Chip was at the top of our flock’s pecking order. She always got her way whether it was first dibs on fresh compost, top rung on the roost or keeping new chicks in line. Being neither large or aggressive, she managed her flock with simply a look or a curt ‘bwack’. We never witnessed her pecking or flapping at anyone else.

Chip going to check out the latest additions to our flock.

Chip going to check out the latest additions to our flock and to let them know who’s in charge.

Chickens are trusting – When Chip’s crop first became an issue of concern, we read that massaging it would help contents pass through. For weeks, she would tolerate our palpations even though I’m sure it was uncomfortable, if not painful. Even during the worst of it, when we tried to forcibly vomit her, she never lost her trust in us and continued to be as animated and affectionate as ever.

Completely trusting and unafraid, Chip would follow us anywhere.

Completely trusting and unafraid, Chip would follow us anywhere.

Chickens communicate – Chip knew that there was a communication barrier between us and came up with creative ways to let us know her thoughts. I tried to give her antibiotics by hiding them in her favourite foods – grapes, melon, cherries, tomatoes or strawberries. She was always able to sniff them out. She would give me a look before gently sharpening her beak on my pant leg to let me know “No way am I going to eat that” and “How dare I ruin tasty strawberries in that way?”.

She is smiling on the inside!

She is smiling on the inside!

Chickens forgive – During those last weeks of Chip’s life, we pulled out all the stops and tried every remedy. Since she was losing weight and unable to get enough food down, we resorted to giving her liquid food, antibiotics and de-wormer by gavage. Even after the traumatic event of having a tube stuffed down her throat, she would snuggle down to rest and snooze in our laps.

Typical weekend morning - bathrobe, coffee, porch and Chip

Typical weekend morning – bathrobe, coffee, porch and Chip

Chickens leave an indelible mark – When this chicken-keeping hobby began, I never thought that I would consider our chickens to be anything other than egg-laying livestock. But Chip taught us otherwise. She enlightened us to their intelligence and their companionship. She showed us that they can be as faithful as any pet. We were so lucky to have had Chip in our first brood since she loved us unconditionally and taught us to reciprocate. She taught me so well that I almost feel unable to continue without her.

But I will. I know now that I will keep chickens for as long as I am able, if only to search for that experience again.

It is hard to get anything productive done around the Queendom when your lap is busy with a chicken.

It is hard to get anything productive done around the Queendom when your lap is busy with a chicken.

Curious about everything and willing to try anything

Curious about everything and willing to try anything – even FM’s homebrew.

Thank you, Chip

Thank you, Chip!

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A Teeny Egg

What a joy to come home and find a teeny egg in one of the nesting boxes today.

The teeny egg on the right is from one of our chicks. The long brown egg on the left is Chip's.

The teeny egg on the right is the first egg from one of our chicks. The long brown egg on the left is Chip’s.

Florentine and Benedict hatched in mid-October which makes them four and a half months old now. Since then, we have been watching them for signs of typical hen or rooster behaviour. Until now they have kept their cards close to their feathered chests and kept us guessing and betting.

And although we got proof today that one of them is a hen, we still don’t know who is which!

They are hard to tell apart. Ben, on the right, is bigger and whiter. Flo, on the right, has a tall tail and is far more curious.

They are hard to tell apart. Ben, on the left, is bigger and whiter. Flo, on the right, has a tall tail and is far more curious.

Although this egg is teeny, as the hen develops and gets used to the process, she will lay more normal-sized eggs. Perhaps her eggs will eventually be as big as Chip’s – since Chip is the bio-mother to one of them. But the pale pink colour is typical of a Chantecler, which would come from her father, Roo.

Although this egg is teeny, as she develops and gets used to the process, this hen will lay more normal sized eggs.

It gets lost in the egg carton!

Teeny eggs like this give new meaning to a 3 egg omelette!

Teeny eggs like this give new meaning to a 3 egg omelette!

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Who Needs A Rooster?

Let’s get something straight. I don’t have a rooster to give away. I am simply asking a rhetorical question:

Who needs a rooster as part of their flock?

“We do” is the quietly whispered answer.

After the crazy shenanigans of our Roo, FM and I have been pretty content to no longer have a rooster around. Our tiny flock of four hens and two unsexed chicks seem to miss him almost as much as we do (which is to say – Not At All). The hens no longer have to escape his unwanted attention. There is no more mad flapping to throw him off their backs. There is no more trickery as he deceitfully led them to non-existent food with a mind to take them by surprise. Everyone seems to have taken a deep breath and relaxed. The Queendom is home to happy hens who have not a care in the world.

But then, we lost Peeps.

Even when she was just a chick, Peeps Baby has got back!

Even when she was just a chick, Baby’s Got Back!

Dust Bath with BFF

BFF Peeps and Tweedle Dum enjoying a tandem dust bath on a hot summer’s day.

A week before Christmas, we found Peeps dead in a mound of her own feathers with her back side ripped open. Tweedle Dum fared better, having managed to squirm into a tiny space under the garden shed and escape the attack. Dum lost quite a few of her tail feathers during her escape and she was quite traumatized, having been less than a foot away from the demise of her BFF. Although we are unsure what animal killed Peeps, we have placed the blame on a neighbourhood dog who must have chased her and shaken her to death. It could have been a raccoon, despite the facts that it happened at noon in broad daylight, she still had her head (raccoons are known as the brain-eating zombies of the chicken world) and we rarely see raccoons here. I’m sticking with dog mauling.

There is a point in bringing up these gruesome memories. Would Peeps still be alive if we had had a rooster in our flock? Since their main role is to procreate, roosters are masters at keeping their ladies at hand. They don’t let hens wander away alone, but instead lure them back by enticing them with found food. Roo could often be seen, sprinting around the yard, calling each of his girls back home. If they wandered away in search of grubs and fresh greens, he would accompany them and keep one eye toward the sky, on the look-out for eagles. He rarely ate outside the coop. Instead, he would spend his time searching for food for them, watching for dangers, announcing his territory (every 10 seconds!) and attacking FM.

The only time I miss Roo is when I think of Peeps and her untimely death. She was a beautiful Welsummer hen with the fluffiest backside that you ever saw. She was made for sitting on a nest and raising chicks, although she didn’t live long enough to do this. She had a gravelly cluck that reminded me of an old waitress in a diner who just got back from her smoke break. She was the Den Mum of our coop, insisting on regular bedtimes and keeping the peace when tempers rose. When it came time to roost, she preferred the spot at the top left and, if anyone took her spot, she was able to unseat them by putting her neck under their wings and sending them off balance.

Peeps had the flappiest wattles in the flock!

Peeps had the flappiest wattles in the flock!

Even a s young pullet, Peeps lacked the bold colouring of her Welsummer sister, Chip. She seemed more Rhode Island Red than Welsummer.

Even as young pullet, Peeps lacked the bold colouring of her Welsummer sister, Chip. She seemed more Rhode Island Red than Welsummer.

So, the question remains. Do we need a rooster? My gut feeling is that we already have a new rooster in one of our baby chicks. Any day now, Benedict will reveal if he is the new man about town. I continue to wait (and hope).

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The Amenities of the Coop

It seems that all of our recent improvements to the Queendom have focussed on the hen house. Many of our real projects have been put on hold while we figure out how to make life sweet for our chicks. Here is a photo collection of the latest amenities, documenting our labour of love (for eggs!):

The Nesting Boxes

Many years ago, in our old life, we renovated our kitchen and we kept all the cabinets. The old above-the-stove-hood-fan cupboard turned out to be exactly the right size for two nesting boxes. FM removed the doors, added a lower edge and a roosting bar and mounted it 36 cm above the floor. As I hinted before, I made curtains for each box since chickens require a dark, safe and private place to hide while laying. Apparently, their innards partially come out while pushing out an egg and we want to reduce pecking and cannibalism as much as possible. (These beasts are wild!)

We were told that up to six hens can share one nesting box so we knew that our two boxes were more than enough laying space. But wouldn’t you know it – there is an impatient line-up  some mornings as they all wait their turn!

Tweedle Dum and Croque Madame are settled in the boxes. Peeps is letting them know that she is in a hurry and next in line. Chip is pacing the floor

Tweedle Dum and Croque Madame are settled in the boxes. Peeps is letting them know that she is in a hurry and next in line. Chip is pacing the floor.

In fact, one morning, Tweedle Dum was taking her sweet time in the box and Tweedle Dee could no longer hold her egg in, so she hopped in and made herself comfortable behind and on top of Dum.

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The chicks who lay together, stay together!

During our vacation, the chickens were confined to their coop and run, so all the girls have (mostly) learned to lay in the nesting boxes and our daily easter egg hunt has almost ended. The golf ball trick seemed to work! It is music to my ears when one of the girls comes ‘begawking’ out of the coop to announce proudly that she has laid a good one and earned her keep.

The Chicken Waterer

Having an endless supply of clean water is essential. Filling a bucket  or milk jug with water will do for a day or two, but FM devised a system which will suffice for longer absences.

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A self-filling waterer contraption (apologies for the lack of focus)

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Top view of the toilet tank fill valve

The chickens peck at the red 'poultry nipples' to get all the water they desire.

The chickens peck at the red ‘poultry nipples’ to get all the water they desire.

Since the coop used to be a bathroom, the plumbing is in place and access to water is easy. FM built this contraption out of PVC pipe, a toilet tank fill valve and six poultry nipples and then hooked it up to the old water line. It has taken the chicks a while to get the hang of it but we adjusted the height so that they have to reach up to it and they seem to use it more often. It refills quietly and I put a metal drip tray below in an attempt to keep the coop floor somewhat dry.

The Chicken Run

This was a big project which evolved and improved as we built it. Although the chickens have been running free, our plan is to keep them penned in while we are away or at work. We want them to have access to outside but we want to keep them safe from eagles, raccoons, and other chicken lovers.

Using two fence panels, a bundle of multi-link wire fencing, three plywood sheets and a gate kit, we managed to construct a 6′ x 18′ run that is partially covered and partially open. The fence panels and gate should provide some shelter from the wind and rain that previously howled right in through their coop door. There are still some finishing touches left to do, but as it stands, it has kept them safe and secure during our holidays this summer.

Before the chicken run

The Before Picture

The chicken run

The After Picture

The gate

The gate

View from the back – The wire fencing is buried about 20 cm deep into the ground around the whole run. The roof is only roughly done in plastic deer fencing at this point.

View from inside

View from inside – shelter from direct sunlight, rain and eventually snow

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A Dozen or so …

The laying has begun!

Here is the first week's bounty minus the two that we ate and the two that were pecked or broken. 17 eggs in one week?  We better open a market stand!

Here is the first week’s bounty minus the two that we ate and the two that were pecked or broken. 17 eggs in one week? We better open a market stand!

FM and I went away for a week-long backpack trip (more on that later) and, while we were gone, we took our 6 chickens to a friend’s house (more on that later, too).  When we returned to collect them, we found out that two eggs had been laid during our absence – our first two eggs!

We brought our brood home and waited for the next eggs to show up. Sure enough, throughout this past week, the girls have produced more than a dozen eggs. The first few were small, perfectly-shaped and laid in one of the two nesting boxes. I actually watched as little Croque Madame laid hers, with watchful and attentive Roo at hand. Tweedle Dum was also one of the obedient layers who knew exactly where to place her treasure.

Little Croque Madame laid this one.

Little Croque Madame admiring her work.

But now, the egg hunt has become a daily activity. One egg was found on the gravel by the woodpile; three were laid underneath our front porch; one was laid from the height of the night roost; one was found in their dirt bath and another was found crushed in the watering tray.

Almost all the eggs are a pinky-tan colour, with the exception of two. The crushed egg and another one had paper-thin shells which crumpled with even the gentlest touch. It takes a while before newly laying hens master their egg formation so the size, shape and colour may vary.

The egg on the left is a store bought white egg for siz and colour comparison. The top right egg has a paper-thin shell that was pecked. The middle egg is the long, slim white egg (mystery layer) and the bottom egg is super teeny and freckled (I suspect Chip laid this one).

The egg on the left is a store-bought white egg for size and colour comparison. The top right egg has a paper-thin shell that was pecked. The middle egg is the long, slim white egg (mystery layer) and the bottom egg is super teeny and freckled (I suspect Chip laid this one).

We are a bit confused about who is laying and where. Chanteclers lay light brown eggs and Welsummers lay terracotta-coloured eggs with freckles. So who laid the white egg? My bet is that we actually collected an egg laid by one of our migrating Cedar Waxwings!

After reading up on it, I have placed a golf ball in each of the nesting boxes. This is supposed to show the hens that this is where eggs belong. I have also read that hens need a dark, safe place to lay eggs. Unfortunately, one of our nesting boxes gets the full brightness of the coop light so I am working on a way to darken it some more.

This was the first egg laid in our nesting boxes. The two nesting boxes are a recycled kitchen cabinet from above the stove hood fan.

This was the first egg laid in our nesting boxes. The two nesting boxes are a recycled kitchen cabinet from above the stove hood fan.

Do you think I’ll get the title of “Crazy Chicken Lady” if I sew curtains for the nesting box?  Tune in to find out!

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Hen House – Take 2

Oops!  We made a big mistake and learned an important lesson this week.

Chickens + linoleum = injury

But don’t worry – no chickens were actually injured during the learning of this lesson!

In my last post, I outlined the steps we took to transform our workshop bathroom into a chicken coop. As soon as we let the chickens free in their new digs, they began to chase and fly and race and spin, as chickens do. But, with the smooth flooring beneath the shavings, they were skidding, sliding and bumping into each other and the various furnishings. It was obvious that someone would get hurt if we didn’t remedy this.

FM and I had decided on a linoleum floor, thinking that it would be easy to sweep up the pine shavings for weekly cleanings and even mop and disinfect if ever sickness took hold of our flock.

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We hardly wanted to undo our flooring work and start again. So we found an old, weathered, used piece of press-board and placed it on top of the lino. We cut a few more scrap pieces to fill the smaller spaces. We didn’t screw it down or anything.  It will be easy to lift off for cleanings.

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We suspended the heat lamp and the food trough, screwed the two roosts into the walls, spread pine shavings around and brought the girls(?) back in.

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And they lived happily ever after, spinning and chasing to their heart’s content.

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