An Early Christmas Gift…

… for my birds.

Yesterday DH, the kids and I finished up the last of our Christmas shopping.  After wrapping and packaging up gift baskets for teachers and the bus driver, we headed down to the barn to collect the last of the eggs for the day, count heads and lock up the chickens for the night.

I was apprehensive because while we were busy, this was happening in the barn yard:

Abby took Pip waaaay outside the run today, and let him explore the weeds in the barnyard.
Abby took Pip waaaay outside the run today, and let him explore the weeds in the barnyard.

As you can see, the snow from Saturday didn’t last long. We still had a small powdering yesterday morning but by afternoon it was mostly a memory.  Abby decided to show Pip the secret treasures a weed patch can hold.  Personally, I think that he’d be better off looking in the spring, when there are actually bugs to find.  But what do I know?

So, I was apprehensive, because while I was snapping this picture, Little Dude spotted a bigger, darker figure flying overhead, looking for God only knows what, and Pip is just small enough to snatch if the big flying shadow hungry enough.

It must not have been, because Pip was in the coop with his Momma, Papa and Aunties when we went down to lock them up.

DH came with us, and we gave the chickens an early Christmas present… a new roost for their coop.

A little back-story here, but before Thanksgiving, Dad and I clipped their wings so that we could lock them in the run on the days we go away and can’t watch them.  I think I’ve mentioned in other posts that, some days the barn yard and pasture aren’t enough for them and these chickens cross the road to come looking for… I’m not sure what.  Me?  Little Dude??  Bugs???  Greener grass????

And while it’s less of a problem on days when someone is here to see them safely back across the road, on holidays where we might be gone it’s a huge problem.  (The fence is in the planning stages now.  Yay!)

But a more interesting problem, however, has risen inside the coop as a result of the wing-clip.

My girls can no longer roost in the rafters.  They’ve been trying, because they like it up there. and I guess (I’ve read anyway) that the ones who roost highest up have some kind of social status in the flock.  But mostly, there’s about five or six hens who really liked roosting up in the rafters.

Since Thanksgiving, they’ve all been trying to reach that Nirvana … to sad/pathetic/sometimes hilarious results.   Little Dude and I have watched several go crashing into the side of the coop time and again.  There’s also been some domestic squabbles about who’s sitting in which spot on top of the laying beds (there’s a shelf on top where they sleep sometimes).  All this because some of the girls can’t jump up to the rafters.

So after a few nights of this, I asked DH to build them a perch they could use, halfway between the beds and the rafters.  I figure if they had a shorter distance to go up, some of them could make it into the rafters and some might stay on the roost.

I placed Dots, Madison and Maicey on the perch myself, but while I snapped pictures and helped with clean up, Penelope, Henrietta and a couple of the others made it up there themselves.  By the time we left, Henrietta had found her way back into the rafters and the Promised Land.  Even Dots had snuggled into a squat on the perch and closed his eyes.  He usually sits in the corner on the top shelf of the beds.

Over all, I’d say it was a successful project.

Eating Out of My Hand (and other observances)

I took this video of Pip the other day. It’s a little reminiscent of this post, from back in April.  Which is, of course, Pip’s papa, momma and assorted ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles.’

The sexlinks loved to eat feed out of my hand.  Abby still does, which I discovered when I tried to hand-feed Pip the first time (by holding my hand down to Pip) and she kept butting in to get her own.  I am, however, more leery of Abby and Dots eating out of my hand because, well, they are bigger now and their pecks are more forceful.  I think if they got very enthusiastic, it could hurt more than I want it to.

The Rhode Island Reds never really ever did eat out of my hand.  I don’t think they were (or still are, some of them) as trusting as the sexlinks.

Pip is my cross between the two breeds, but he is being raised by a sexlink momma.  I don’t know if that has any bearing on the issue, but he is NOT afraid of my hand.  And, as you can tell from the video, he trusts me enough to sit on my hand.  He also climbs my arm and shoulder.  So much like the sexlink side of his heritage.

 

Pip, the Cute and Fluffy

After the sadness of yesterday’s post, I thought I should have something to lift people’s spirits.

So… Pip, the Cute and Fluffy. Basically… all the pictures I’ve taken of Pip this week.  I’m starting to be of the opinion that Pip may wind up being a buff yellow color with some red feathers.  He/she is NOT all red, like his bio-mom.


The on-going drama in the Life of Pip, thus far, has been if Pip will go outside into the run with his Momma.

Abby misses the outdoors and the feel of sunshine on her feathers.  She basically missed all the good sunny days being broody.  She missed the deaths of both her sisters.  She’s missed… everything.. to bring Pip into this world and keep him safe.

The last couple of mornings, Abby has been going outside, down the run, pecking and scratching and bucking encouragingly for Pip to join her.
image image

Most of those mornings go something like this:  Pip approaches the ramp, hops just barely outside the coop, cheeping and peeping loudly to his Momma.

The dialogue in my head goes like this:

“Momma! Momma! Momma!  Come back!”

“Pip!  Come out here and see what I found for us!”

“No, Momma!  It’s too cold!  I’m too little!”

“But the sun is warm!”

“But Momma, no!”

And then Abby gives up and goes back into the run with him.

This morning, Abby ran out with the others when I opened the coop doors.  She raced straight to the treat dish (I have been giving them a scoop of layer feed, scratch grains and sunflower seeds, mixed, in the treat dish), ate her fill and left Pip inside the coop cheeping and peeping frantically.

As I watched, Pip finally approached the door, hopped out on the ramp… and instead of going back inside, heistantly made his way down.

He finally stopped at the bottom.

The Post I’ve Been Dreading

I’ve been putting off writing this post because the subject is one that I have been dreading ever since we first got our babies back in April, and increasingly since about the end of September.

One of my hens was struck in the road, by a car.

It was one of my two remaining Gold sexlinks.

Now the only sexlinks I have are Abigail, Dots (our rooster) and if you count Pip (sexlink-x-RiR cross).

My heart is all kinds of broken.  And also all kinds of angry.

But not at the car/person who struck my chicken.  At myself, for not pushing harder to make a fence happen… and at both Dad and my DH, who both (at at different times) refused me the right to have a fence.

Some background on our Great Fence Debate:

When we first started talking about chickens, I wanted to fence in the inner barnyard for them.  DH was for it, but when we mentioned it to my Dad, he said “NO!” because if it was fenced off, he wouldn’t be able to drive his truck, tractor, lawn mower back there.   So, we opted to build them the little run, with the option to let them free range as they got bigger.

I asked DH’s cousin, Holly, (who lives a couple miles away on the same stretch of road) if she’d ever lost any chickens to the road.  She said no, because hers were afraid of the cars and ran away if they were close and a car drove by.

So I assumed mine would, too.  The cars and trucks that drive by are bigger, louder and noisier than my chickens. They would be afraid and run.

Right?

It wasn’t much of a problem for most all the time we’ve had the chickens.  Until June/July, they mostly stayed in the run and coop.  After we started letting them out of the run, they all stayed in the inner barnyard.  Occasionally, little groups of them would walk around to the side of the barn or out front of the barn, but they all stuck close and away from the road.

Then we did the butchering, leaving Dots alone with his sixteen hens.  They were older by now.  The girls started laying eggs.  Abby went broody (September), and Rebecca and Ava started wandering closer to the road.  They crossed it a couple times, lead other girls and sometimes Dots to join them.

Since the first time, we’ve had an on-going debate over the absence of a fence and the need for one.

If we’re not at home, I lock them in the run.  We clipped wings to keep them from flying over the run (we have some girls who still do).

I’ve suggested a chicken tractor.  DH is against it because it would mean 1) they weren’t ‘truly free range’ and 2) they wouldn’t be using the coop he worked so hard on.

Then Rebecca got killed by the predator (we think cat).    Dad finally said to me, “you know, you should fence off an an area for them.”  We talked about it and both decided that IF we could get DH to build a fence with a gate for us to drive through, we could just clip the wings occasionally and the chickens should be fine.

DH still said no, giving the same reasons as above.

Then, this past Tuesday happened.

It wasn’t a good day all the way around.  Little Dude had been suffering from a toothache and I had to take him to the dentist (about a 45 min drive).  We were there ALL day.  As we were leaving, just getting on the Interstate to drive home, he says to me “Mom!  I left my glasses at the dentist!”  no place to pull over, and I suck at using my phone while driving so I couldn’t reprogram the GPS (I had never been to that dentist before, so I was using the gps on the phone to navigate).  I decided to go home, call the dentist, and go back the next day to get them.  Neither me or Little Dude had eaten since breakfast and it was almost 2pm then.

So we made it home, and as I’m pulling up to the house, I see this little pile of gold/red/white by the side of the road.

Ava.  Dead.  I screamed and cried and as soon as I was in the driveway and parked, I ran down to get her and just held her and cried.

Mom said she’d been watching and had shooed her across the road once.

Dad was in the barn.  The rest of the chickens were closer to the inner barnyard.

I don’t know what Ava was doing all by herself crossing the road.  I guess there’s no way of answering that question now.

I spent the rest of the day pretty upset. (I’m still pretty upset.  It’s like we’re not meant to have sexlinks.  If something happens to Dots, Abby and Pip, I will be broken.  Not to mention what it will do to Little Dude.)

I found pictures of Ava on my phone.  Some with her sisters.  They made me start crying.

DH asked what was wrong.  I told him nothing, I was just thinking.  He asked what?  I asked him. “what do I need to do, what do I need to sacrifice or give up or go without, to get you to fence off a safe place for my birds?  I don’t want to lose anymore.”

He joked about just buying more sexlinks.  I told him, it wouldn’t be the same.  They wouldn’t be the same birds.

He started to suggest the chicken tractor and then said no, too much work.  This was at bedtime on Tuesday night.  We were brushing our teeth and getting ready for bed.  I could see ‘his gears turning’ and I knew he was thinking now.  He went up stairs, flopped up on the bed and said that he could build a fence, but how to do a gate?  Then he said, “no, I know how to do the gates.”

Then he asked me how big of an area I was talking about.  “Just the inner barnyard and a little bit of the pasture, maybe to the tree line, where Dad planted those trees.  Not the whole pasture.”

That’s what I told him.  It’s not too unreasonable.  The barnyard, some of the pasture where they play.

He said he’d need more money for material.  He has some of it, but not all.

It’s winter now and the ground is hard, so it might not get it built til spring.

But’s he’s going to build me the fence, like I wanted before.  It will be on me to keep wings clipped enough that they won’t fly over it.  Some of them will anyway, but I’m going to assume that given a bigger area that their run, they won’t be as tempted.  Especially if we give them to the tree line.

I just have to keep the rest of them safe til spring.

My heart is still broken for Ava, but at least her death has served some purpose.

I’ll be honest here, I love all my chickens, but the Golds were special.  They were our first, and they were special.  Also, they have a nicer temperament than the Rhode Island Reds, by a long shot.

 

I feel like a failure for not keeping them safer, or not pushing DH and Dad harder for the fence I knew was necessary. I may be getting one now, but at what cost? The life of a little girl I can’t just replace. 😦

Chicken Families

Pip (the cute one in middle), his adopted momma Abby (right) and bio-mom Madison (left)
Pip (the cute one in middle), his adopted momma Abby (right) and bio-mom Madison (left)

Today, as I watch Pip interact with the mother hen who hatched him, his actual biological mother approached the box to observe.  Little Dude and I watched the scene play out with held breath, waiting to see how Madison would react to seeing a little chick in the box with Abby.

Madison watched, too, stepping closer to look into the box and, at one point, jumping up on the edge of the box in her curiosity.  Pip cheeped and ate and snuggled his momma, totally unaware that anything was happening behind him.

Abby, however, was not, and although she did nothing to stop Pip from eating and playing in the outside world, was also watching.  Ready to tell Pip to run for cover if the other bird decided to attack.

But Madison just took one more look, hopped up in a box and went about the very important business of laying another egg.  A few other girls came in after her, and there was the usual jostling for position in the favored boxes.  Madison was soon disappointed because Dottie was in her favorite box. She even tried to fake the egg song in some weird attempt to get Dottie to leave and then pushed her way into the box, leaving me no choice but to relocate poor Dottie.

Chickens are sometimes very strange creatures.

And sometimes… they inspire me.

Take Abby and little Pip, for example.  They aren’t related by blood, but Abby loves her little chick very much.  I can tell the way she calls to Pip, gently encouraging Pip to eat and play.  Pip loves Abby.  I’ve seen Pip ‘kissing’ his momma and nuzzling close to her neck and face.  Sweet, heart warming interactions.  It doesn’t matter to either of them that someone else laid the egg.

Abby is the momma; Pip is the baby.  There is no greater bond in our coop right now than theirs.

 

This morning’s encounter has been on my mind a lot today.  Mostly, I find myself thinking about how easy it is.  Abby wanted to lay on eggs and hatch chicks.  A natural animal instinct, you might say, and yeah, you’d be right.  So I gave her some eggs.  She laid on them for 21 days, and that’s how Pip was born.  Pip is hers, not because she birthed his egg, but because she was the one who hatched him out and lets him sleep under her wing at night.  She loves him.  He loves her.  So far, no one in the coop has complaint with this arrangement.  If anyone them were to go broody, I’d give them whatever eggs were handy and no one would care which hen laid them.  The babies would still get cared for.

It’s just how chickens roll.

In the human world, in this society, Abby would be ‘adopted mom’ or (given both Pip’s bio-parents live in the same flock) a ‘step-mom.’  In the human world, especially here in the United States, there is a growing mentality that no one except the bio-mom can give children love.  Step mothers are told to back off, with hold affection, don’t help parent.  They are expected to take care of only their kids and not help their mate with his.  Because Bio-Mom (even a totally inept one) is better than step-mom.

There is a ‘Mom’s Forum’ I frequent full of posts and rants which support this method of parenting.

I don’t comment there often because I’ve long ago realized that I don’t buy into it.  To me, love is love.  Caring is caring.  Concern and affection are concern and affection.  Just because they come from a step-mom, or an adopted mom, doesn’t make them any less than love, caring, affection and concern.

Actually, it makes them a little bit more… because it’s easy to just take care of your own kids.  But to love someone else’s child as your own?  That takes heart.

And children, in my eyes, deserved to be loved by all the main adults in their lives.  Not just the ones they share genetics with.  Mom, Dad, Step-mom, step-dad, grandparents.   Children deserve the love and affection, and deserve the ability to trust those adults with their lives.

Much like little Pip looking up into Abby’s dark eyes and trusting that his ‘momma’ will keep him safe and warm.

Because she is Momma and he is Pip.

 

(Disclaimer: Yes, I may have gotten a philosophical for a ‘chicken blog’ and yes, I realize ‘they’re just chickens’ and yes, I realize that ‘animals are not the exact same as people.’  I’m just saying… love is love.)

Welcome, Pip

So, yesterday was a very exciting day for us, what with my broody Abby finally becoming a momma.   One of her two eggs has hatched.  The other… well, I’m waiting a couple more days, but I strongly believe nothing is going to happen with the other egg.

But while we’re waiting to see, the new little chick is finding his way into our hearts.  We’ve even given him a name, or a nickname rather.  Pip, short for Pipsqueak.

I give you Pip...
I give you Pip, the Cute and Fluffy.

 

Pip has ‘tow-head blond’ feathers with brown on his back, a yellow beak and feet.  He is very small, hence the name Pipsqueak.

Yesterday, we made it to about Noon and then Pip jumped out of the laying box and Abby jumped down with her, and basically picked out a spot under the floor to nest in, so DH moved the other egg under her and I decided that might not be safest.

So, I got a cardboard box and made them a special nest.

I started with a large box and put saw dust in one half, covered that with wood shavings, and and straw on top for the nest.
I started with a large box and put saw dust in one half, covered that with wood shavings, and and straw on top for the nest.
Then I put a log up against it for support, and placed a a small (chick sized) waterer and feeder on the other side.
Then I put a log up against it for support, and placed a a small (chick sized) waterer and feeder on the other side.
Abby seems to like it.  :-)
Abby seems to like it. 🙂

This morning, I brought Abby down a small cup of scrambled eggs because I’m not sure if she will even attempt to move from the nest until the fate of the other egg has been determined.

She shared some with Pip.

I think this is going to be the most exciting part of this adventure — watching Abby interact with Pip and teach him about the world.  She is a very loving mother and it’s cute watching them communicate.  Pip snuggles up to her and talks to her in little peeping chirps.  And he’s such a happy little baby.

Dots Sings the Egg Song

This morning, Little Dude and I were feeding the chickens and cleaning the coop, and there was a sudden ruckus outside in the run.

I sent Little Dude out to investigate, the while he went out, the chickens came inside… and that’s when I realized… the ruckus was our rooster — singing the egg song!

Does it mean anything when he does it, or has he just heard his girlies singing it so many time he knows the words?

 

Happy Halloween

Dh, The Girl, Little Dude, Mom and I carved jack-o-lanterns for Halloween last night, so this morning, Dots and his ladies got their first taste of pumpkin.

 

It’s wasn’t the reaction I was hoping for, but in their defense, they wanted their scratch grains this morning.  It’s their usual treat.  Also, it frosted last night, so the ground was cold and the area around their run had the least frost.  It probably felt nicer on their toes.

Mouse Hunt

Last night, DH and I noticed Dots and his ladies playing with something in front of the barn. From a distance, it looks like a huge leaf. Kind of dark, oval-ish shaped. Dots was picking it up, dropping it and buck-bucking like he wanted the girls to check it out.

We walked down to see what it was, and it turned out to be a small field mouse.

They took turns passing it around all evening. The last time we saw it, one of the RiRs was running into the bushes with it, while three others chased after her.

Numbers, Names and (hopefully) No More Broody

imageimage This morning, I took a step towards being able to better identify my hens. More specifically, to identify the Rhode Island Reds who all look the same. I’ve got some who are lighter colored than the others but for the most part, they all look alike.

To combat this, I got some numbered legs bands.  We gave each hen a number and assigned a name to it.

#1, as seen here, is my sweet little Abigail, who was the easiest to do because she spent the night (her second) in the broody crate.  #2 and #3 are her gold sexlink sisters, Rebecca and Ava.

My Girl, Little Dude and I spent some time this morning numbering and naming each of the others, so they can have a name other than the generic ‘hennies’ which is what we’ve been calling them.  Dad still insists he’s going to call them all ‘Henrietta.’

4-16 are Jolene, Henrietta, Maicey, Penelope (Penny), Julia, Celcelia, Madison (aka Motor Mouth), Dottie, Ryley, Amy, Claire, Sara and Wilda.

After each girl received her bracelet, we turned them lose in the barnyard to do their usual morning routine.

Since Abby was first, we were also watching to see what she would do. Would she go running back to her favorite laying box to brood?  Or was she finally over it.  Usually, it takes her all of five minutes to return to the coop and her laying box.  This is why she’s spent two nights and two days in the ‘crate of shame.’

Today, though, she did NOT return to the coop.  Little Dude and I finished the morning chores of cleaning the beds and filling the waterers, and … no Abby.


We were down there roughly an hour, and she was the first hen outside because she got her bracelet first.  The past couple of days, she’s high-tailed it back to the laying boxes as soon as she thought I wasn’t looking (which was comical to watch because I think she knew I was watching).

Dare I assume that she’s over it now and may soon resume her job of laying eggs?