Imaginary Eggs

Just when I thought we had settled into a comfortable backyard chicken life, my dear sweet wonderful most troublesome hen ever, Frances, has decided to go broody. And when I say broody, I mean it in every sense of the word. She’s not only aggressively protective of her imaginary brood of eggs (she’s been sitting on nothing for the past 2 days), her voice has become low and growly, her feathers are constantly ruffled, and she threatens to peck anyone who gets close to her nesting box.

So, what to do about it? I’ve managed to get her to leave her nest a few times for treats, and then I locked her out for a bit, but I didn’t want to keep the coop locked up all day, in case Alberta wanted to lay an egg. But Alberta has stopped laying as well, assumingly because the only nesting box she prefers is obviously, and grumpily being guarded.

I had read about people who have had success breaking broodiness with a cold water dunk a couple of times a day, to lower the hen’s hormonally increased body temperature, so I thought I would try to fool her last night by putting a plastic container of ice in her nesting box. I thought it would either convince her that her imaginary eggs had gone cold, or lower her body temperature to help her snap out of it, but she simply cozied up to it. It was a warm evening, so I thought it couldn’t hurt to leave it, but when I went out to check on her before bed, there was still ice in it and she had no intention of leaving it, so I felt sorry for her and removed it.

If anything, that trick has made her more stubborn. I coaxed her out this morning for a bit, and locked her out, but then Alberta wanted to go in, so I opened it back up. Of course Frances dashed in behind her and settled back in (no egg from Alberta) and when I tried to coax her out again a bit later, she wouldn’t even get off for corn, her favorite treat. What’s to be done? I don’t think we’re prepared to actually let her try to hatch some fertilized eggs. And I’d rather not have her malnourish herself for the next few weeks, not to mention miss out on all those weeks of fresh eggs!

broody-hen

I am an imaginary Mama, and I will not be moved!

Weaving Wonderment

I knew it was only a matter of time before I succumbed to yet another fiber art adventure. Mae and I bought a Zoom Loom today to give it a go. We both found it fun, quick and easy… And sure to become a new addiction. Mae’s planning to make a blanket for her Pixie doll:



And I wonder what I should do with my first handspun square?



The possibilities are endless…

Goodbye Gloria

Our hen, Gloria, passed away this weekend. I have no idea what happened. On Friday she seemed just fine… she looked healthy and even laid a normal egg. But on Saturday morning I found her dead on the floor of the coop. No signs of animal attack or sickness… it was as if she had just died in her sleep and fell off the roost. She would have been 3 years old next month.

Needless to say, this put a bit of a damper on our Easter celebrations. We had a fun day on Sunday with a big family dinner and Easter Egg hunt at our house… but then we had to perform a small funeral as well.

I debated about getting her autopsied, in case it was something like the avian flu, but since she had no other symptoms, and the other 2 hens seem just fine, I decided to go ahead and bury her in our growing pet cemetery next to her sister, Cleo.

Rest in peace, sweet Gloria. I will miss swinging on the hammock with you this Summer.

gloria8

gloria-hammock

hen in hammock being read a bedtime story

3-hens-on-lap-BW

Halfway House Hens

Our little jailbirds were doing just fine with their parole until a few of weeks ago, when I came home to find them completely absent from the backyard. Naturally, I started panicking, and scoured the neighborhood to no avail. Finally I heard some clucking behind our bushes, and found that they had decided to make a border run “North” this time, into our back neighbor’s backyard. Somehow Frances had even gotten behind the neighbor’s fence, and of course she couldn’t figure out how to get back. This seems to be the only lack of intelligence I’ve seen in my hens. They must go into panic mode when they feel trapped. So I had to climb over the fence to retrieve her.

Once they were safely back in their coop, I vowed to put up the electric fence the next day… but the morning light softened my resolve, and I decided to increase my efforts to block any possible openings I found behind the bushes.

This seemed to do the trick, as they seemed very content to stay in the yard… until the next Saturday afternoon. Once again, I couldn’t find them in the late afternoon, and started looking all over the neighborhood again. Finally, after much calling, I heard some clucks coming from our next door neighbor’s backyard, and looking up through the bushes under their fence, I spied 3 pairs of chicken feet. Somehow they must have jumped up on the wall between our houses and squeezed under her fence into her perfectly manicured backyard. Luckily, she wasn’t home to discover them.

The kids had helped me look for the girls this time, and they were very upset and made me promise to go ahead and try the electric fence. I agreed, and started installing it as soon as the chickens were safely in their coop once again… early… without their usual bedtime corn… and while I was still angry enough to strengthen my resolve.

I finished installing it the next morning. It turned out to be pretty easy, but I ran out of wire and had to buy some more. I was encouraged when I got up the nerve to touch the wire, and found that the shock felt very mild… like a small static electric shock, and my daughter even had to touch it 3 times before she felt anything at all. But perhaps it’s because we were wearing rubber-soled shoes and are quite a bit bigger than small animals? I had strung the wire about 9” off the ground to help avoid growing grass, but as soon as I let the chickens out, Frances slipped right under it without even touching it (the girls were watching the whole time from their coop, doubtless planning their escape), so I pounded all of the posts down to 6”. Frances tried again and this time caught on it enough to feel it, so she quickly started avoiding it. The other girls seemed to just instinctively stay away from it without touching it. (perhaps they learned from watching Frances?) They all spent the rest of the day surveying the boundaries of their newly shrunken domain, and settling most of the time under the tree and remaining bushes open to them along the house.

Sunday, they also stayed within the fence all day… so far, so good.

Monday morning, I went out to check the line for any debris touching it and found 2 tiny dead birds right next to the wire. I felt SO awful! I had no idea it would kill little animals! I guess I should have read the reviews more deeply. There definitely wasn’t a warning about this in the instruction manual. It sounds like it was because it’s a continuous shock instead of intermittent, which gives small animals a chance to pull away. It probably also would have been OK if I left it at 9”, because birds can sit on it safely if they don’t touch the ground, but they must have tried to slip underneath the 6 inch height and the shock must have been too much for their tiny bodies. Distraught, I disconnected the electricity immediately.

Luckily, it seems like the 2 days the electricity was activated were enough to teach the hens to avoid the wire, because they’ve stayed within it’s boundary for a couple of weeks now. Who knows if this will be enough in the long run, but in the meantime it’s been nice to have them always within sight, as well as off the patio, and they still have most of the yard as their playground. They seem to be happy enough, and are giving us plenty of eggs.

And this was a new one… the other day when I sat down in the yard, they all jumped up on my lap, instead of just the younger two. Gloria doesn’t usually do this on her own volition, unless the hammock is available. Gotta love my funny, cuddly girls.

3-hens-on-lap

3-hens-on-lap-BW

 

 

Jailbirds on Parole

Well… I “chickened” out on the electric fence idea for our current inmates. I was all set to install a fido-shock wire around the coop and part of the yard, but when I went out to implement it on Saturday, I found the hens (on reprieve) happily playing in the tall laurel hedges that I was about to bar them from forever… and I just couldn’t do it. They were pecking around on the other side of the supposed wire fence (which I still don’t know how they are getting through), but they were also close to the only opening I had seen them use to the front yard (which I had blocked with hardware cloth after their most recent escape), and they seemed to have no intentions or employed any malicious methods to get through it.

Behind the hedges on all other sides are tall walls and sturdy fences from our adjoining neighbors yards, so I’m not really worried about them getting through those… at least not yet.

So I strung up some bird netting above the hardware cloth area, as well as over both gates, and the only low spot in one of our neighbors back fences for good measure, and put the hens on parole for good behavior for the rest of the weekend. They were very good girls, so now they are going to be able to free-range during the weekdays again, barring any future attempts to leave the country backyard. But I’m going to keep the electric fence as a backup plan… both for any more trouble from them, as well as from our not-so-friendly neighborhood raccoons in the Spring. And I’m also thinking up new ideas for my husband’s dream of a chicken-free patio. Thanks to everyone for sharing your kind, thoughtful and wise advice and experience!

chickens-on-parole

Christmas : Part Three : The Finale

We celebrated our final Christmas last weekend, and I’m happy to report that, despite my kids and I being wiped out with the Flu this month, I was able to complete my knitting project presents for my nephews. One of them requested an “Elephant Man.” I’m sure the images that entered my mind upon hearing this request were quite different from his 7-year old one, so after doing some research, this was the winning pattern from Emily Ivey. It looked so cuddly, I had to knit it in baby alpaca to make it even cuddlier.

e-is-for-elephant-knitted

I think my nephew was satisfied with his elephant “man”. He jumped up and down with joy upon opening it and quickly commenced wrestling with it on the floor. Ah sigh… boys. I always try to doubly reinforce ALL the seams on their toys.

knitted-elephant

My other nephew’s present was quite an adventure. A few months ago, I tried to get him to give me a hint about what he’d like me to make for him, and the only thing I could get out of him was that he really liked a hand-spun shawl I had made for my Mom. I thought that might be a bit too womanly for a little boy, but something like a sweater he would quickly grow out of, so I thought a good compromise might be a throw blanket. I used all of the rest of the brown lamb’s fleece I was given, plus another black fleece the same family sent to me already cleaned and carded, with the goal of creating the softest, warmest throw blanket possible. First, I used my hand cards to make rolags from the fleece. I needed about 1 per yard since I spun them very thickly… so I made about 600 of these babies (I tried not to count as I was making them… too overwhelming.)

rolags-hand-carded

I then spun these woolen (long-draw). Here’s a nice instructional video I found for both of these carding and spinning techniques. But I spun mine into much bigger singles than the video shows. I tried very hard to resist smoothing out the “fuzzy” parts, as Mae calls them. I then plied the 2 colors together to get a super-bulky weight yarn. I ended up with 12 50-yard skeins.

hands-spun-super-bulky-yarn-hand

After washing, thwacking, and drying:

handspun-super-bulky-yarn-hanging

My Christmas presents from my husband and sister-in-law came in quite handy: an umbrella swift and ball winder!

swift-ball-winder

Together they make perfect center-pull “cakes” so much more quickly and expertly than I could by hand. These looked like chocolate… almost good enough to eat!

hand-spun-super-bulky-yarn

I then used this free pattern from Drops for the knitted blanket, and on Size 19 (!) needles, the knitting was definitely the quickest part of the whole process.

size-19-knitting-needles

Can’t get enough of those cables! I should also mention that Mae had fun helping me with some of the carding and knitting. She’s becoming almost as obsessed with fiber arts as I am! Here’s the finished blanket:

super-bulky-hand-spun-knit-blanket

I wasn’t able to make it quite as long as the pattern specified due to running out of wool (which I can hardly believe happened), but I think the length turned out perfectly for him to wrap up in and walk around. He wondered if he could use a clip to hold it in place. I guess he really did want a shawl! I also washed it with a naturally scented lavender-lime dish soap using the same method that I used to wash the fleece originally (soaking it in hot water in my top-loading washing machine) and then I added a tsp of lavender oil to the rinse water, and one of his first comments was that it smelled very good. Such a cutie!

hand-spun-knitted-throw

It’s so lofty and thick that it creates almost instant warmth, and feels like cuddling with a lamb (or two!). My kids and my cats (and I) can’t wait for the spring shearing so I can make another one for them. I continue to feel so blessed to know this sweet family and their generosity with their gorgeous wool!

jailbirds

Just when I started to settle into a sense of peaceful complacency with our backyard flock, they have given me a new storyline for my nightmares. They seem to have decided that our 800 square foot fenced backyard is either too small or too boring, and have begun venturing into the front yard. The problem is: as much as it may look similar to the backyard, there are some important differences: cars, dogs, and neighbors… to name a few. This is a first for us. In the past they’ve shown no desire to be out-of-sight of their coop. I completely blame Frances as the instigator (my trouble-making rebellious teen?), and I think the others are simply following along. If they would only stay close to the house, that would be one thing, but our neighbors informed us that they were in the middle of the street the other day. Granted, we do live on a dead-end street, so there is not much traffic, but occasionally we get a car tearing up the street… probably frustrated to discover that it’s a dead-end.

Anyway, I’m not sure what to do now. I’ve started locking them in their coop while we’re not home, but during the winter weekdays, that’s basically all day, so they have no grass-roaming, wing-flapping space, and aren’t nearly as happy. At least we have a nice big coop now, so they are not really being mis-treated, but with the ruckus they make, they sure think they are.

Any suggestions are welcome. I think I’ve found/blocked any holes that they could walk through to get to the front, but there really is no way to keep them from flying over the gates/fence. And I don’t want to clip their wings, because I’m sure they use them to escape the raccoons.

Like Curious George… good little hens… but VERY curious!

jailbird : hen in coop