Three Little Hens

Those of you who’ve been following my blog for awhile know that we got started with twenty gold sexlink chicks.  They are sometimes called Golden Comets, sometimes other things.  There are, I’ve learned different names for what is honestly a pretty amazing type of chicken.  The roosters are fast growers, big and meaty, but also good protectors.  The hens are little, sweet-natured and natural born egg layers.

Of those first twenty, we had, by luck or fate or because Little Dude thought the little yellow ones were “cuter” than the ones with brown splotches, seventeen rowdy little cockerels.  My ‘Rowdy Boys’ of whom our Double Dots is the last man standing.  I’ve talked about them a lot, because they were so plentiful and amusing, and because it seemed like we were doomed last year to not have very many chickens who laid eggs.

The three little hens were more laid back, letting their boisterous brothers take center stage.

There was Rebecca, our little Becky girl who was the first to let us pick her up.  She liked to play with Little Dude and loved cuddles, but was also fierce and wouldn’t hesitate to defend herself from the Boys when they played rough.

Ava, the standoffish one who didn’t mind being petted by would prefer to be by herself.

And Abigail… who was a mother hen in the truest sense of the word.  She mothered her two sisters and protected them from the Boys and from us (because heaven forbid Little Dude or I try to pick them up!).

She laid the first egg in our flock, went broody first, and hatched out the first (and only, so far) chick to be raised inside the flock.

My Abby girl who lectures me, her brother, her son… who looks out for the other hens and is, in truth, the gentle Boss of the coop.

We lost Rebecca to a predator and Ava is the real reason we have The Fence now.  I miss them every day.

There are no words to explain how special Abby is, the only one left of those three little hens.  We all love her.

Today, she gave me the biggest scare ever during morning chores.

I let the chickens out of the coop, like usual.  Then let the Littles into their tunnels, and gave everyone morning treats.  I counted heads, like I always do.  I think it’s habit, since losing Becky and the others, I count heads every time I go down to their pasture.  I couldn’t find Abby.

Not really a big thing – she usually runs out, eats from the treat dish, gets a drink of water and runs back into the coop to lay her egg.

Except… she wasn’t at the treat dish.  Or the pond.  Or the dirt bathing spot.

Or her favorite laying nest.

After checking all the usual places, I walked the length of the pasture – TWICE – and checked the rest of the barn, top and bottom.  I walked around the barn.  All I could think of was… something big had to have carried her off because she was there one minute and gone the next.

But no.  I found no signs of struggle or blood.  No half mangled carcass, like Becky had been.

By this time, my upset had not gone unnoticed by the roosters.  Dots and Pip had herded all the rest of the hens into the run, Dots watching and bucking nervously.

I honestly was about to cry, because she couldn’t just disappear like that.

And then I decided to count heads and check laying boxes one last time.

And found Abigail in one of the nests in the middle of the row, five beds down from where she usually lays her egg.

I don’t know why I didn’t see her before, but I didn’t.

What I do know… there is never going to be a time where her ‘disappearing’ will ever not scare me.

 

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. 😦

Snow, Thanksgiving and Eggs that say ‘Peep’

We’re still reeling a little from last Saturday’s sad, sad events.  I miss poor little Becky a lot.  You would think I wouldn’t notice, given that there are 16 other birds to look after, but I know she’s gone.  There is an empty space where one little sexlink girl should be.  😦

It snowed the other day, more than a few flurries, and it covered the ground.

As you can see, they really weren’t too happy about it.  Luckily for them, the snow was gone by mid-afternoon.  Someday, it won’t just go away. What are they gong to do then?

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Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and because it was a holiday, Little Dude and I made the birds a special breakfast of oatmeal with craisins (dehdrated cranberries).

This, we took down to them in the morning and (like the scrambled eggs)poured it over a dish of their regular feed/scratch grain mix.

I don’t give them table foods like that every day, but I figured I owed them because we were intending to lock them in the run all day because we weren’t going to be home for Thanksgiving.  We were visiting family, and when we’re going for longer periods of them, I like to keep them closer to safety.

So they got oatmeal as a holiday/I’msorryI’mlockingyou up gift.

 

We also gave them two seed cakes in a mesh bag to occupy their minds.

They weren’t sure what to make of them at first, but by the time we got home from our holiday dinner, all the of it was gone.

For reference… this is what the suet cakes looked like:

Not very big.  About the size of my fist, and I have small hands, for an adult
Not very big. About the size of my fist, and I have small hands, for an adult

 

And.. finally… if anyone is keeping track… today is Day 20 in the Adventures of Broody Abby.  Not that there is anything too adventurous about sitting in a laying box for three weeks, quietly saying buck-buck-buck.  She’s missed… well, everything. I don’t even think she knows her sister is gone.  😦

As of this morning, one of her two eggs has a crack in it that wasn’t there last night and when I bent down to get a closer look (no handling them, I just lift Abby up about a half inch) I could hear the distinct peep-peep of a little one.

I don’t see anything one way or another with the other egg.  I am handling them as little as possible.  I didn’t even candle them, so there is no knowing what will happen in the next couple of days.  It’s all very exciting!

Maybe by the next time I post, there will be babies.  🙂

 

 

R.I.P Sweet Little Girl

Today, tragedy struck our flock for the first time.

My sweet little Rebecca, or Becky as we sometimes called her, met a horrific and untimely demise some time this afternoon. I last saw her around 11 am, playing in the barnyard with her sisters. DH was moving piles of hay from the top of the barn to the barnyard so he could make room inside for his truck. The chickens LOVE hay piles. They were playing.

We went to town to pick up Little Dude’s friend Phil, and then had lunch. The boys went down to play in the barn and play with the chickens. They came back up freaking out because they couldn’t find Becky. I went down with them to count heads, so sure that she was just hiding somewhere.

She wasn’t.

I found her in the tall grass down by the little fresh water spring and swampy area where they like to roam. Something had tore up her neck, but left the body.

It was starting to get stiff, but still mostly warm.

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Rebecca was one of our sexlinks, the first little chicks we brought home in the box from Tractor Supply.  She was the smallest in size, but sassy and never ‘took any lip’ from her bigger brothers.  She had 17 of them growing up, and believe me, she held her own.  I saw her put three of the rowdy boys in their place for messing with her, even though they were bigger in size.

She loved sun bathing, perching in high places and eating apples, pumpkin and spaghetti noodles.

R.I.P, my sweet little Becky.  You will be missed.

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?

 

3 Hens + 5 Days = 

 

18 pack of eggs

I have three hens laying eggs now.  Abby, my first layer, does one egg a day but takes off one day a week to rest.  Either Rebecca or Ava (not sure which because I don’t usually see her in there) is the other hen, and she also does one egg a day.  The other is a RiR hen and she lays every other day.  

Somehow, in the last 5 days, the three of them filled an 18-pack.  

 

Exploring Our World

“Go.  Explore your world.”

That’s something I told each of my children when they were little, first learning to crawl, then walk, then run.  Go and explore the big, wide world around you and make it your own.

I said the same thing to the two cats we adopted from the SPCA four years ago, when we brought them home for the first time and let them out of the carriers.  Explore your new home.  Find a place to call yours.

Now I’ve got chickens, and soon, they’ll be ready to leave the heat lamps behind and go out into the world.  To feel the sunlight on their backs and the wind in their feathers.  To chase bugs and pick dandelions from the green grass.

I’ve honestly been letting them explore a little all ready, in a supervised setting, although the reaction has been mixed.  I’ve taken a few of them out (one at a time) and sat with them in the grass.  My shy little hens, and one of the smaller roos have all freaked out.  The great outdoors (aka our barnyard) is NOT for them, no ma’am, thankyouverymuch, and please take us home now.  Little Rebekah ran right up into my arms and laid her head on my chest like she was giving me a hug and holding on for dear life.  Abigail FLEW into my arms, because running wasn’t fast enough.  The poor dears.

Some of the boys really liked it, though, and walked around, pecking at the grass and looking around.

 

I have also brought out the little reds, but for shorter lengths of time. Mostly just ‘photo shoots.’

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Nomenclature

Nomenclature

Yesterday, my Big Girl got a name.

Little Dude and I were cleaning the cage and I was finally able to pick her up.  For the first time.  She freaked at first, and I had to spend some time talking and petty her.  I took her to the new coop, which is almost finished and waiting for them to be big enough to enjoy it, and showed her around.

Little Dude says to me, “we should call her Abigail.”

I asked her, “what do you think?  Is Abigail a good name?”  She listened.  She looked up at me and seemed to understand.  I’ve always known she was a smart girl.  Now she has a name and she does look when I talk to her.

I’m thinking about calling the smaller girl Rebecca.  I just hope they still look different enough to tell apart when they’re bigger.

Abigail
Abigail