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

lucky feather

This is a new one for me. Anybody out there seen this before? Frances (our Barred Plymouth Rock) has sprouted ONE green feather right in the middle of her otherwise completely black and white striped back:

barred-plymouth-rock-one-green-feather1

Perhaps a recessive gene? Or maybe she just misses her blue-kote dyed purple ones? Either way, I’m calling it her lucky feather. Also, I have no idea what’s happening with Alberta’s comb. As a Gold Laced Wyandotte, I think eventually it’s supposed to get big and squishy (a rose comb) but right now it’s still pretty flat, except for this one piece sticking up. I don’t know if this is part of the development process, but it also looks a little like she caught it on something and detached the end farther back:

alberta-comb

BTW, My Sweet Prince (photographer extraordinaire) took these sweet pics of me doing the Mama Hen thing. With the weather being so cold, and the days being so short, I only get to do this about once a week now, but if I have the time to sit down on the weekends, they’ll still come and jump into my lap for a cuddle. Alberta always likes snuggle underneath my arms, or preferably underneath Frances. She knows where the warmest spot around is:

mama-hen

I totally get it:

chicken-hug

Poor Gloria needs a good cuddle too, but she won’t ask for it, unless I’m in the hammock, which unfortunately had to be put away for the winter. She’s starting to grow in her new feathers though, and looking pretty fierce:

gloria-molting

I’m so thankful for all of you who advised me to get her some friends. Even though it’s been a long, somewhat trying process, I would be feeling so guilty right now if she was all alone in the yard, with the temperatures dipping below freezing, looking like this.

A Surprise, A Sleepover and A Separation

The Surprise:

My finished secret project: A crochet Gromit for my Sweet Prince as an Anniversary gift (15 years married last Thursday!).

crochet gromit

He said he wanted it life-size (still not sure if he was joking) so I used super-bulky yarn and I think it turned out pretty close (used almost a full bag of stuffing!). He’s definitely bigger than our cats.

I got the free pattern here: http://amiamour.com/2010/05/gromit-amigurumi-pattern/ but I followed this Ravelry project notes to make the spherical eyes and longer nose and ears: http://www.ravelry.com/projects/Clelixedda/gromit-amigurumi

The Sleepover:

Our Chicken Integration Project is officially a success! Gloria wanted to go into the coop with Alberta and Frances the other night, and they didn’t seem too freaked out about it (they’ve been hanging out in very close proximity all week, and the rainy nights have been leaking into her little coop), so I thought we’d give it another try. Of course, once she realized she was locked in, she tried her best to get out, and paced around until almost dark, but I thought, hey, she is a chicken, let’s see if those roosting instincts kick in. And lo and behold, just before complete nightfall, she went up into the house and settled into the largest nesting box (the same size as her current one). Hooray! Then, the next day, I left her old coop closed up, hoping that she’d follow her habit she developed after Cleo’s passing (however annoying) of laying her egg where she’s been sleeping. And she did! Yay!

first-egg-new-coop

The next night, while the girls were all slightly mystified that this sleepover thing is turning into a permanent roommate situation, there were no serious complaints, and Gloria went right up into the house when it started to get dark.

all-chickens-in-coop

Life is going to be so much simpler for all of us now, and so much better for Gloria. 🙂

all-chickens2

The Separation:

Don’t worry, it’s a good one, if a little bitter sweet. While the chickens were moving in together, my kids were officially moving into their own bedrooms. They’ve been using the same room since Mae was born, and 7 years later, even though they are closer than ever, they have finally decided they would like their own spaces. So, our house has been in upheaval moving furniture around, building new furniture, reorganizing closets, etc… I’m very happy for them, and proud of their little independent spirits, but also a little sad that they are growing up so fast! The question now is… what are we going to do with all their door/hall decorations we’ve accumulated over the years?

jonah-mae-door-hall

coop building : part 5 : Finished! With dragons!

My dream coop is finished! And it far exceeds my dreams… of course, because my Dad built it! We made a few finishing touches the last couple of days, but it was close enough to move Alberta and Frances in on Friday night. As much time as they’ve been hanging out in there during the building process, I think they were a bit surprised to have a sleep over. I was curious where they would sleep, since they haven’t been roosting to sleep yet inside, just cuddled up in a corner, so I assumed they would do the same in the coop. I purposely didn’t put any pine shavings in the nesting boxes yet, so they wouldn’t get into the habit of sleeping in those. I went out to check on them when it got dark, and they were curled up in the corner by the front door. They were a little freaked out, so I cuddled them a bit and sang them a song, which seemed to settle them down. I’m sure the many night noises were disturbing, and they were probably visited by curious cats peeking in. My husband also spotted a whole family of raccoons strolling through in the middle of the night, but he said they seemed more interested in Gloria’s little coop. (poor Gloria! But at least she is used to their visits).

Without further ado…. here are photos of the finished coop (& courtyard):

coop-front

And from the front with my other silly kids:

coop-front-kids

From the side, with all the girls (I had to bribe them with corn to get them all in the photo):

coop-chickens

And here’s how it will look wide open on our favorite pleasant free-ranging days:

coop-open3

I thought it needed some decoration, to give it a bit of chicken personality, and to match the white paint on the window. I was thinking of little chickens, but when I told my husband about it, he said (jokingly, I think) “Why not a dragon?” I laughed, but after trying my sketches in paint on wood and not being happy with them, I started playing with the paint the way it seemed to want to be applied on the wood, and my chicken became very dragon-like. So now we have 3 guardian chicken-dragon sigils on the doors and windows. May they scare away away all predators of evil intent! Long live House Fluffy! (named after our sweet pullet that got killed by a raccoon, and the reason we’ve become so vigilant about predator proofing.)

Closeups of the chicken dragons:

chicken coop decoration painting

chicken coop painted decoration

chicken coop painted decoration

Mae wanted to try painting on wood also… of course the local art critics had to look on:

mae-painting

The kids tried the coop out first by eating dinner in there. Mae thought it would be fun to have a sleepover with the chickens sometime… until she laid down and looked up to see what was right over her head… maybe not. 🙂

kids-in-coop

The next morning, the little girls hopped up on their roosts to have a look around:

roosts-morning

Yes, Alberta, you can get up now!

alberta-morning

Gloria didn’t mind hopping up there for a bit when there was food to tempt her:

gloria-coop-food

Hanging Feeders at last! No more poop in the water! (I hope.)

hanging-feeders

Lots of lovely dirt to scratch around and bathe in (come on up and join the party, worms!)

coop-dirt

Extra clips on the closed latches (simple, but effective) also double as a way to keep the door open while free-ranging.

door-open

The ramp, with the door closed. (the handle matches the slide-in coop window) We thought about installing a pulley system for this door, as in the original design, but it will probably remain open most of the time, so we didn’t bother with it. It just slides up, and we put in a pin to hold it there. The ramp and the coop floor are both made from boards that my Dad made himself from hemlock trees on his property. (cool, huh?)

ramp-door2

Now, our biggest challenge ahead of us will be how to move Gloria in. I’m fine with them living separately right now, at least for the next few weeks as the little girls finish their growing up. I don’t want them to free-range unattended during the day as they are still small enough to be stalked by cats, and Gloria needs to have access to her nesting box. But the bigger issue is that Frances and Alberta are still incredibly scared of Gloria, and freak out whenever she gets close. They have good reason to be, since she can act totally nonchalant most of the time, then “attack” them out of nowhere. I’m trying to understand her perspective. I don’t think she means to hurt them, and mostly I think she wants to just hang out with them (besides making sure they don’t receive better treats). But she is a bit of a tyrant, perhaps because they are smaller, and they still seem like intruders, only coming into the yard periodically. I’m hoping that as they reach their full size, and start free-ranging all day with her, this dynamic will change, but what if it doesn’t? I keep trying to tell her that all of this effort and intrusion started as a gift to her… so she can have friends and a nicer place to live, but I don’t think she believes me.

If things don’t change naturally, is there a point when I should just move her over there during the night, and close up the other coop? I shudder to think of doing that right now, the little ones might have a heart attack. Are they ever going to feel less threatened by her? Any advice about this transition is welcome. 🙂

 

 

chicken igloo

I know we have nothing on the rest of the country, but 4 inches of snow last night (and more expected tonight) is very rare for us, and not seen before by our 2 sweet hens. When it started yesterday afternoon, they were hiding in the bushes, and I ended up having to carry them across the yard to their coop when it was time for bed… there was no way they were crossing it themselves. Their little coop looks like an igloo this morning:

chicken coop covered in snow

and they seem to have no intention of leaving it so far, snuggled up together upstairs:

hens snowed in coop

My other kids, however, are very much enjoying it… and the chance to miss school today:

kids-in-snow

Wanted: Weapons of Mass Raccoon Distruction

Or I guess preferably just a Mass Raccoon Deterrent would be the kinder/wiser choice. (we’re supposed to be a Quaker family, after all) Here is a text message chain between me and my husband this morning (he’s at home, I’m at work). Note the times:

raccoon-texts

What??? 10:10am and they are still prowling? I’ve gotta get on some of these solutions you all have suggested this weekend. Thanks for the advice. Dog urine… will look for dog to borrow. I’ve heard coyote urine is the best, but we have actual coyotes in our city and we DO NOT want to attract those either! I’ve also heard human urine might work, so that would be the easiest. And water sprays, like a motion activated sprinkler, but the “Chix” would not approve of that, I’m sure. I’ve also heard the “peaceful-negotiation” idea of feeding them, so they wouldn’t be so hungry for live chickens, and that this works with my friend’s outdoor cats, but I’m guessing that would only encourage them to keep coming around, and we don’t want them immigrating into our yard for sure! S0 the battle continues… it’s all-out war on raccoons now!

The Villains Return

The other morning, we had a surprise visit from our fiendish neighborhood raccoons, whom we haven’t seen since last summer, when they heartlessly pulled one of our pullets out of a ventilation hole in the coop during the night and devoured her, then made a return appearance about a month later in the early morning to try to make another meal out of our remaining hens. Luckily, during their second attempt I was awake, heard the commotion and was able to scare them away, foiling their evil plot.

We hadn’t seen them in our yard since, but who knows if they have been prowling around at night. Probably. But we had given our coop a better predator proofing after the first attack, so the girls have been well defended during the night.

Despite our hopes that we had seen the last of these monsters, it seems this is not the case. On the morning in question, I had let the girls out at dawn, after they had started their usual begging for release, and gone back to bed, hoping for a bit more sleep, especially since I was fighting the flu. But shortly thereafter, I heard loud, quick squawking accompanied by wing flapping, and I knew something was wrong. I raced to the window and saw a raccoon chasing Gloria across the yard. I promptly started yelling at it, then hurried outside to try to stop it. When it saw me, it did indeed stop, but just stood its ground and stared me down. I grabbed the nearest weapon I could find, a spray bottle full of water, and threw it at the beast. I missed by a couple of feet, but managed to scare it back into the bushes. Meanwhile, Gloria had run over and slipped into the garage behind me to hide.

During this battle, Cleo was nowhere in sight, so I went to check on her. She was up in the coop, probably trying to lay her morning egg, but she came down at my approach, and started squawking up at the fence. I looked up to see the raccoon (or it’s companion) in our neighbor’s tree watching us. So I locked Cleo back in the coop, and went to get Gloria to do the same, planning to keep them in there until we were sure the danger was gone.

Gloria had found a good hiding place in the garage, and was reluctant to come out, so it took some time for Jonah & I (of course the action had woken him up as well) to find her and coax her out with a handful of oats. But once she was brave enough to venture out, she was grateful for the oats, so I then scooped her up and took her to the coop as well.

I really hope we’ve seen the last of these mongrels, or that at least we won’t have to battle them again for quite awhile, but in the meantime, I think I’ll wait to let the girls out in the morning until the sun has fully risen. Hopefully by that time, the villains will have gone back to their secret lair for the day.

backyard chicken in coop

poor traumatized Gloria

Happy Belated Birthday to my Chickens

In all of the excitement of Mae’s birthday, I realized that I had forgotten to mention the birthday (or should I say hatching day?) of my hens on May 9th. Just over a year ago, they were hatched at my kids’ school as a science project, and on probably the biggest whim of our lives, we brought them home for Mae’s birthday 2 days later.

They were the best, most fun, educational, exciting and life-changing birthday present she had ever been given, and the last year has been a really amazing adventure for all of our family as we’ve raised them, enjoyed them, and learned from them.

Many of my readers may not have had the chance to go back to the beginning of my blog to follow our adventures from the start, so I wanted to present the opportunity: if you are interested, if you have nothing better to do this weekend (Hah!), if you are new to chicken keeping or considering embarking on this adventure yourself (perhaps you can learn something from our experiences), or if you just want to watch a lot of cute videos of baby chicks (I was a bit video-happy back then), this is where our story began, and you can click the “next” buttons at the top of the page to read the posts chronologically:

https://vuchickens.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/birthday-chickens-2-days-old/

Happy Birthday Cleo & Gloria!!! You have enriched our lives with your presence, and our meals with your incredibly rich and delicious free-range eggs, and we are so very glad you came into this world and into our home!

chicken eggs hatching

chicken eggs hatching

nesting drama : part 2

As I feared, this is becoming a mini-series.

This morning I came back from my walk to find that Cleo had taken over Gloria’s makeshift nesting box:

hen nesting on shelf

Needless to say, Gloria was not pleased. I’m not sure that having an additional nesting place is going to be worth the drama of them fighting over it. Not to mention the fact that this does nothing to contribute to my husband’s desire to keep them from pooping on the patio. Perhaps we should nip this in the bud now.