Sunday, March 27, 2011

Springtime for Predators

Spring has finally sprung here in Texas. A late frost turned most the the budding greenery into dormant brownery. This week the second attempt at buds finally got going.

Now the pasture is a riot of growth. And my birds can have none of it.

True, Mr. Big has turned his fancy to thoughts of love, or at least the physical manifestation thereof. The current egg fertility rate is evidence of his diligence.

But the rest of the wildlife has been fecund as well.

Yesterday a copperhead snake fussed at me. A few blunt remarks persuaded the snake to relax and hang loose.

The worst has been the hawks. They are everywhere. You can hear them all the time. And you can see them flying low, searching. They are so numerous that even the crows are intimidated.

So the chickens remain incarcerated in their fully enclosed pen. Except for Mr. Big, they are bored and frustrated.

Luckily for them, the sudden growth has included weeds. I pulled some out and delivered them to the pen. Oh the chickeny joy! They dove in with single-minded ferocity. They scratched and pecked a little and clucked and pecked a little more.

Guess I have another farm chore.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Devo, the band providing the soundtrack for the reversal of human development, performed in Houston. Got tickets to the show for my birthday. Got the band to sign my other cool birthday present.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Ten Minutes of Tractor Paradise

My new tractor is a masterpiece -- a master piece of scrap. It was built from leftover 3/4" PVC pipe, salvaged chicken wire, leftover bird netting, and baling twine.

I started this project thinking it would take a day or two. Now, a week later, I have managed to string together enough spare time sessions to get the tractor secure enough to test.

The weather was threatening a gully-washer and I still had not finished the tractor. So I made an executive decision to tie off a couple spots and just test it out.

I dragged the tractor to the pasture. (Why did I not build it there?????) I carefully propped it up on two supports. I opened the chicken pen and waited for the rush.

The chickens rushed all right. Straight to the back of the coop. They nervously peeked around the corner and gave me the stink eye.

No worries. I waded in with my hazing poles and cajoled, harassed, threatened, and pushed the chickens out of the pen and into the spot directly outside the gate. Surely they would cooperate now.

They scratched in the leaves, clucked happily, gobbled invisible bits of deliciousness, and then headed back into the pen.

Once more I cajoled, harassed, threatened, and pushed the chickens out of the pen. This time I kept pushing until they got the hint. Unfortunately, their enthusiasm took them into the house yard instead of the pasture.


I hazed them out of the yard and into the pasture. They stood next to the open side of the tractor and gave me the stink eye. Once more I cajoled, harassed, threatened, and pushed the chickens. Finally they went inside and I set the tractor on the ground.

Oh the chickeny joy!

They scratched and clucked and grazed and pecked and ate invisible bits of deliciousness. In ten minutes four chickens ate the best things from eighty square feet of pasture. Then they stopped for a drink.

As soon as they finished drinking I propped the tractor bottom up on the supports again and hazed the chickens out into the pasture.

Maybe my chickens forgot where the pen was located during their long incarceration. Maybe the delicious greenery sprouting all over the pasture was too tempting. Maybe they were clever and pretended to be stupid so they could graze more.

It was a challenge to get the chickens into the pen. First they wanted to graze their old pasture. Then they wanted to wander in their old thicket. Then they tried to get into the pen by standing next to the gate and freaking out. One hen tried to find the gate by running around the entire pen perimeter, except for the section by the gate. Three times. Even Mr. Big got frustrated with her.

Embarrassed by their foolish antics, Mr. Big directed the flock into the coop for the night and I gratefully closed the pop door behind them.

Now all I have to do is finish building the tractor.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Jailbird Chicken

One of my chickens was eating her eggs. This is distressing because I prefer to eat those delicious eggs myself. Chickens are supposed to eat layer pellets and I refuse to switch diets with them.

Eventually the perpetrator was caught, yellow-beaked. Vo was sentenced to Chicken Jail.

She has her own roost, nest box, layer pellets, and water. All these things are in a wire cage inside the coop. As it happens, the cage top is higher than the main roost.

Now jail is the new normal for Jailbird Vo. She roosts on top of the cage. When she lays an egg, she goes inside to use her personal nest bucket.

She still fails to deliver eggs sometimes. If she has access to treats she will lay a shell-less egg the next day. But days where she eats nothing but pellets, I get an egg in her nest bucket.

The other chickens have reluctantly adjusted to her new jail privileges. Every night she gets on the roost with the others and then turns her back on them. She flies across the coop to the top of the cage. Then she turns to face them again, settles in, and smirks down on them.

She goes to sleep every night, relishing the envy of her peers and basking in the glow of stink eye.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Birthday Present

This year I had a birthday. Technically I have them every year, but this year was special. I got a present. By mail. At my super secret secure mailbox that I only see once every week or so.

I was warned on Monday to go pick up my birthday present. I planned to do so Tuesday. I almost went on Wednesday. I had good intentions Thursday. Finally went on Friday.

Too eager to drive home, I started opening the box right there. While struggling with the tape I noticed a smell in the mail shop. I asked if anybody was having fish for lunch. Nope. Nobody.

So I resumed opening the box. I managed to penetrate the side and get a flap open. Simultaneously, I detected a stronger fish smell. "Are you sure nobody has fish in the microwave?" Nope. Nobody.

Then I got the box open. The smell became a stench and I stopped believing in coincidence.

My gaze rested upon a fluffy stuffed chicken toy with matted fluff, a few scattered tissues, a messy birthday card, and a golden egg. Actually the egg was not gold. Nor was it intact. Nor was it fresh.

A woman walked into the mail shop and stopped in her tracks. I looked up, eyes watering, and said "Sorry. It was me." She turned and left.

The patient proprietor evacuated the shop, and my present. Together we moved the exploded egg, fetid fowl, and cruddy card to a trash bag.

As I prepared to discard the chicken I noticed a "Press Me" spot on the foot. I pressed the foot and the chicken crowed "Cock-a-doodle-doo."

Yes, for my birthday I got a rooster that laid a rotten golden egg.

Update: Doctor Dolittle gave me a better birthday present.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Semi Free Range Treat

My chickens decided to free range themselves last year. I went along with it until a hawk killed two hens. Then I locked them up tight and refused to let them roam no matter how much they cussed at me.

Then, to make matters worse, one of my chickens started eating eggs. I identified the culprit and jailed her. Now my daily routine includes separating working girls from pen walkers.

Last night Vo, the egg eater, laid a shell-less egg on top of her cage before I had a chance to put her up. This morning I put her out with Mr. Big while De and Buffy remained in the coop to do their duty.

As usual, Mr. Big started to freak out as soon as he finished doing his duty with Vo. Then De and Buffy started squawking up a storm. The ruckus was so savage that Doctor Dolittle called me out of work to make sure no chickens were being consumed by Vermicious Knids.

As soon as I got there the chickens got quiet and tried to convince me that no wild parties were taking place. Nobody here but us chickens.

I collected eggs, evicted the two hens, and started giving the flock fresh water. The day was sunny and warm so I gave the dusty birds a good spray with the hose.

Oh the chickeny annoyance! They ran left. They ran right. They ran back and forth. They got wet the whole time. Once I stopped spraying them Mr. Big took them behind the coop to preen.

When the watering was done I checked on my birds. They gave me the stink eye, but otherwise looked fine. But I felt a little sorry for them and decided to give them a treat.

I opened the gate and called "Chick! Chick! Chick!" and two came running. Mr. Big and Vo waited to see if I was going to spray them before joining the others.

Varmint weapon and hazing poles in hand, I tempted the flock to a nearby stretch of grass and weeds and dirt and bugs and random yummy things. Oh the chickeny joy!

They ranged and scratched and pecked and clucked. They fairly glowed with satisfaction as I watched over them. After thirty minutes Doctor Dolittle helped me haze them back into the coop.

Oh the chickeny afterglow! And they were content for the rest of the day.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Chicken Toys

Before I got chickens, I thought chicken toys were just silly. Now that I have chickens, I think chicken toys are silly and fun. How long before I have a cute sign on the chicken coop?

Chicken Dance Elmo is a riot. See Elmo in action!

Some "realistic" toys




Rubber Chickens

Robot Chicken

Chicken Little

Chicken Run

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Chicken Jail

One of my hens has started eating eggs. Wicked, wicked Vo!

But how to isolate one hen when there is only one nest box in use? Hmmmm, the other nest box is not in use....

Happily, the nest box was assembled with screws. I dismantled the unused upper nest box and extended the frame to support a 2x3 cage I had. This drew multiple feathery supervisors who made sure that everything was completed to their specifications.

I placed the cage in the support frame, added pine shavings, a nest box, food, and water.

So now I am ready for the big experiment. If Vo starts by laying shell-less eggs, but then starts laying hard eggs, then I will know that the pellet feed fixed her problem. If Vo continues to eat her eggs, I will know for sure it is her by the muck in her nest box.

After a little running around I got Vo into the coop, caught her, and placed her in the cage. Oh the chickeny consternation!

Egg Eating Inmate

She looked seriously perplexed. When I let the rest of the flock into the coop, they looked perplexed too, for about a minute. The only one to be really perturbed was Buffy, the alpha hen. She seemed angry that Vo was in a higher place than she was. If looks could kill....

Vo finished exploring her new digs and started munching on pellets. Buffy just kept giving me the stink eye.

Oh well, can't please everyone.

Update: I have started moving hens around based on whether they have laid their egg for the day. This way Vo gets out of jail and enjoys the relative freedom of the coop when the other two lay before her.

Update 2: Vo has taken on the mantle of Jailbird Chicken.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Wicked Egg Eater

I have an egg eater! Oh the chickeny wickedness!

How can I tell?

My production is down. I found a sticky spot (not poo) in the nest box last month. I saw a sticky spot (not poo) under the roost this month.

Two days ago one of the hens went into the nest box and started making this loud *TAP* *TAP* *TAP* noise. On investigating I saw her pecking at the dry, formerly sticky spot on the floor of the nest box. To keep track of the suspect, I put a yellow zip tie on her leg.

Postulating thin eggshells, I made sure they had plenty of oyster shell. Today I fed them yogurt-coated eggshells. Oh the chickeny joy!

Tonight, when I did my nightly check with a flashlight, I saw a shell-less egg in the litter under the perp's roost. As soon as she could see, she was ready to jump down and feast!

Wicked girl! I caught her before she could do the deed and gave the unfortunate egg a proper burial.

OK now what? I have a few ideas:
  • Put the perp in chicken jail with a bucket nest, salted with a ceramic egg
  • Same as above, but with a mustard egg
  • Build roll-away nest boxes that trap eggs behind a wall, protecting them
  • "Send her to Kentucky"
I could use some advice!