New Year = New Chickens

On New Year’s Eve, we had to say goodbye to our sweet hen, Alberta. She started having trouble with one of her legs 2 weeks earlier which degenerated into full lower body paralysis, and even after 2 visits to the avian vet, we’re still not entirely sure what caused it. She apparently had a kidney infection, and a sizable tapeworm, either of which could have contributed to nerve / spinal damage, or it could have been something else entirely. We will miss cuddling her and admiring her gorgeous stained glass feathers.

Frances, our Gold-Laced Wyandotte Hen : Rest in Peace

This tragic event left us in a lone hen situation once again. We decided to get 3 new girls (2 backups this time!) 4 months old, so they would be old enough and big enough to join Frances right away… the nights (and some days) have been dipping into freezing temperatures, and we’ve even had a bit of snow.

They are all beautiful, sweet Easter Egger pullets, so we are looking forward to blue or green eggs in March.. just in time for Easter! We’ve given them them all old-fashioned lady names to go with Frances… all starting with “A” in homage to Alberta. And they have middle / nick names to match their head colors: Agatha Blackberry, Alma Raspberry, and Annette Goldie.

Alma, Agatha & Annette, our new Easter Egger Hens

Frances, understandably, is not entirely thrilled with her territory being invaded by strangers. They have had relatively peaceful nights together, although there have been some skirmishes about roosting positions, and she pecks at them and chases them occasionally… especially when she feels her resources are being threatened. So mostly they’ve been keeping their distance from her and banding together.

But so far this integration process is going more quickly and easily than our last one with Gloria… and hopefully nobody will be completely traumatized or chased out of our backyard before peace has truly been established.

The new girls are still a bit shy with us, but Agatha Blackberry (the most daring and inquisitive) will jump in my lap, or on my head or shoulder if she’s feeling especially threatened (just like Alberta did), and once we are holding any of them, they settle right in for a cuddle, so they must have been used to being handled by humans.

Agatha Blackberry, our new Easter Egger Hen

Aren’t Agatha’s random grey feathers cool? She looks like an abstract artist took an airbrush to her back.

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Annette Goldie (the most graceful and no-nonsense) has such a lovely gradient from her gold head to her black tail.

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And Alma Raspberry’s sweet red head won us over at first sight. She is the most shy and probably will be lowest in the pecking order. But she and Annette seem to be besties.

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Welcome to our backyard, little girls! May your lives here be long and happy!

broken broodiness… broken beak!

Well, I managed to break Frances of her broodiness. It only took a week of locking her out of the coop during the day… especially the last 2 days, which reached almost 100 degrees. And I did dip her in cool water on one of those days, which may have helped, or cooled her down from the heat at the very least. The day after that she started roosting with Alberta at night again… and a few days later she started laying again. Yay!

However, (she is SO determined to keep me on my toes) now she has broken her beak! It is not completely broken off, just cracked near the end, but it’s pushed over at an angle, and I’m not sure whether I should do something about it. Have any other of you fellow chicken owners had to deal with this problem?

I hear that their beaks will grow back like fingernails, but there is possible danger of it becoming infected, or making it hard for them to eat and drink normally… and I’ve read about several treatments, including filing the rough edges, applying disinfectant, and even super-gluing it back together, but I also read that you shouldn’t super glue it if it’s gotten dirty. I can’t tell by looking at it what is dirt, dried blood, or blackberries (they’ve been eating a lot of blackberries) Here’s what it looks like from both sides:

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hen-broken-beak2Thoughts? Experiences? Words of advice? And why, oh why, is it always Frances?

Update: right after I wrote this I went to check on her and it had broken off completely. I fed her some yogurt to help with infection. Should I do anything else to clean it? And maybe mash up her food with water for awhile?

  
 Definitely some blood AND dirt in there now. But she is still wanting to eat and drink.

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!

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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.

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hen in hammock being read a bedtime story

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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.

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