Christmas : Part One

I’ve been saving up a lot of photos of Christmas projects I’ve worked on, and will be posting them in batches, as we have a couple of belated Christmas celebrations to come.. but first I have to share our Christmas present from our Chickens: they started giving us eggs again! Gloria started laying again on the day after Christmas, and then guess who laid her first egg yesterday?

frances-first-egg

That’s right, it’s Frances!

frances-coop

She didn’t lay in the nesting boxes, but instead in the corner of the coop next to the door, where she and Alberta first slept before they started roosting… I guess because she felt safe there. Hopefully she will eventually learn to use the nesting boxes.

frances-first-egg-coop

But now she’s officially a hen, and looking much more mature. In fact, she’s just as big as Gloria… maybe even a little bigger:

3-backyard-hens1

three-backyard-hens

Their fluffy bottoms always crack me up:

three-hen-bottoms

peace negotiations

Well, it’s been 4 days, and we remain at a stand still with our peaceful flock integration. Gloria is still acting pretty freaked out / curious / territorial / excited whenever we bring the new girls out (a few hours each day). I tried once to open their door, and poor Alberta got a couple of hard pecks from Gloria for her audacity in leaving her cage, and Frances was extremely worried about her the whole time (well founded, I guess). Alberta seemed unphased and unharmed, but I freaked out and screamed at Gloria… even though I know that she is a sweet hen, and this is part of what they need to do. I couldn’t help it… they are just so little and I feel so protective! So I’m going to give it a few more days before attempting any real contact again. And in the meantime, here’s how I’ve set up our peace talk conference room:

peace-talks

Quite intentional side-by-side feeding and watering, and even a shared “dirt bath” patch. Frances and Alberta both seemed to relish their first real dirt baths:

dirt-bath-frances

dirt-bath-alberta

alberta-dirt-bath2

I don’t know why, but I love how this pic turned out. Happy Feathers!

alberta-feathers

 

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

…and Gloria makes two!

Hurrah! It looks like Gloria’s vacation is over as well. 2 eggs today! I thought she seemed to be crowing rather more joyously than usual this morning, and both girls took their time coming out of the coop this morning. As much as Gloria appears to be the leader of their little flock in general, she seems to let Cleo do the leading when it comes to egg laying. I guess everyone has their strengths. 🙂

two free range hens and their eggs

Clever Cleo

Cleo is most definitely back to normal. Yay! But we are still not getting any eggs from either hen, so now I’m thinking we are heading into a molting season. Cleo’s chest had been looking like it was losing feathers, but I thought it was merely from all of the massage I was giving her. However, she now appears to be losing some on her neck as well, and it looks like some new feathers are growing underneath. Gloria still looks normal, but I’m starting to see black and grey feathers on the lawn. They’ve also started sleeping in their nesting box again (blurg!) which they haven’t done in several months, and there were a few of Gloria’s feathers in there this morning. I hear that molting usually happens in the late summer or early fall, so that’s right on track, and that it lasts from 6-8 weeks, so I guess it’s back to grocery eggs for awhile. 😦 At least they are both happy and healthy! We did have another raccoon visitor the other day, but it was easily scared away, and Gloria is being a bit of a bully to Cleo, which is unusual. I wonder if it’s because of Cleo’s illness? She doesn’t seem to be injuring her, but she occasionally pecks at her and chases her off from a mutual food source. Any ideas about how to prevent this?

hens starting to molt

Cleo with a nice straight comb… but starting to molt.

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

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.

nesting drama

We recently rearranged our back patio, and had moved a shelf that had previously been unused. On Mother’s Day I was out having coffee with my Mom and a friend, and my husband texted me this photo, with the caption “interesting.”

hens on shelf

Later, when I checked the shelf, I discovered that Gloria had laid an egg. Since there is nothing soft up there, it had gotten cracked. I didn’t want to encourage this behavior, so I filled in the shelf with some other items. We only have one nesting box in our little coop, but usually it’s not an issue, because Cleo lays in the morning, and Gloria lays in the afternoon.

This morning, I let Gloria out of the coop and Cleo was still up laying her egg as usual. Oftentimes, Gloria will squawk a bit until Cleo comes down to join her, but today she started a real ruckus, way louder and more insistent than usual, even when I went out to try to comfort and quiet her (everyone else was still asleep, and I myself was hoping for a few more minutes). Then I remembered that she hadn’t laid an egg yesterday, and I wondered if she was REALLY feeling the need to lay, and trying to tell Cleo to hurry up. Cleo was, of course, taking her sweet time, so I felt sorry for Gloria, and was also afraid that she was going to wake my kids… let alone the entire neighborhood, so I went over to the shelf where she had laid on Sunday to see if we could make a temporary nest for her. As soon as I started clearing it, she hopped right up, so I quickly put down some paper towels. She promptly started scratching these out of the way, so I added some straw, and a couple of bricks to keep her from scratching that off, and she settled in.

Meanwhile, Cleo finished laying, and came out squawking, presumably to tell Gloria she was finished, but Gloria was content where she was. Now Cleo wouldn’t shut up. There was no going back to bed for me, and it was time to wake everyone else anyway, so we all started getting ready for our day. Eventually Cleo had quieted, so I went outside to confirm that all was well, and to collect the eggs. This is what I found:

hens nesting on shelves

Now they were both on the shelf. Poor Gloria couldn’t get any privacy! But at least they seemed content, so I went back inside. As we were finishing breakfast, both of the hens started squawking. Now what? I went to the window, where the cats were enjoying the soap opera, and saw this:

cats watching hens nesting

Both were up there craning their necks and squawking away. What the heck was the problem? My daughter suggested that the shelf is too high, and they were afraid to come down. Really? They had no problem with this before. But I went out to help them down anyway. Perhaps Cleo wouldn’t get down because Gloria was still up there, and Gloria couldn’t get down because Cleo was in the way? Finally, all was quiet on the backyard front again. And indeed, Gloria had laid her egg, despite all of the chaos. Sheesh!

egg laid by hens on shelf

free range easter eggs

This was our first year making Easter eggs from our backyard chicken eggs. Since they are fresh, we steam cooked them, hearing that this makes them easier to peel. We shall see.

free-range-eggs-steam

I was also uncertain how their brown color would look with the Easter egg dyes applied. We totally LOVED the colors we got. Such rich jewel tones, I’m never going back to plain old pastel white eggs. The kids didn’t even want to add any extra decorations to them (ie. stickers) they liked how they turned out so much. We did get our colors leftover from our neighbors, who had put a bit of glitter in, and lot’s of vinegar, so that helped as well.

brown free range colored easter eggs

Then, while the kids weren’t watching, I sneaked all of the tiny knitted animals I made for them into the basket to see how they looked. I really like how they turned out. I made chickens and baby bunnies, but then I had to branch out to a few more exotic animals: a lion, penguin & polar bear.

easter-basket-knitted-animals

Of course, Lola always gets a sneak peek of everything I make for the kids.

cat peeking in easter basket

It was such a gorgeous day today… 75 degrees, sunny and warm. This never happens here on Easter weekend. Usually it’s cold and rainy. So we had to celebrate by breaking out the hammock in the backyard. The hens even enjoyed sitting on it with us.

hammock-hens

Happy Easter To All!!!

little lawn mowers

Yesterday was the first day we had to mow our lawn since last fall, as the weather is finally getting warm enough for it to grow again. We usually dread the backyard most of all. The grass grows so thick and wet there, it takes about an hour of back-breaking pushing to mow it. So I was pleasantly surprised when it only took me about 15 minutes yesterday. I realized that our chickens have done a really great job thinning it out for us. Even if their edge work is a bit extreme and jaggedy, I don’t really mind, especially since they are so good at “weed-whacking” around the kids’ sandbox. And they really seemed to love nibbling the freshly cut grass. It must taste as good to them as it smells to me. Yet another benefit to raising backyard chickens! Now, if we could only figure out a way to prevent them from pooping on the patio… my husband’s pet peeve.. poop in any form.

lawn-mowing-chickens