Friday, April 29, 2011

Trapping Pests

My flock brings all the predators to the yard. One made off with a clutch of eggs. One left footprints in the dirt. Another had a staring contest with me late one night.

I have left my traps unbaited for too long. So today, after Doctor Dolittle prepared an amazing steak dinner, I took some trimmings out to the coop.

The birds saw me coming with a bowl. Oh the chickeny joy! They paced back and forth and clucked and hopped and collided like a handful of stooges. Their joy turned to fury as I kept walking past the coop. They squawked and grumbled and paced and hopped and ... well you know.

I stopped at the old TSC varmint trap stationed in the old chicken run. It has seen better days, but has done the job. It has captured squirrels, cats, a chicken, opossums, raccoons, and a fox. I baited it with delicious steak trimmings, carefully stuffed into an attached cat food tin.
Old trap from TSC, with DIY bait can
Did likewise with the Havahart trap.
I went back to the coop with the beefiest trimmings. Oh the chickeny joy! They paced back and forth and clucked and hopped and ... well you know.

Racing to the coop, I dropped the bowl inside and ran for cover. The ravenous birds put themselves up for the night as I stealthily closed the pop door. With the sound of violent feasting in my ears I slipped away.

Hopefully I will have a good catch tomorrow.


Update: Yikes! Saw an armadillo in the creek bed. Doc warned it to stay away from the trap.

Update: One less raccoon....

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mayhem -- Snakey Snakey

Two weeks ago my Buff Orpington went broody and camped out in the downstairs nest box. I took advantage of the situation to put eight eggs under her. Three days later they were gone.

Lacking any more of my genetically superior eggs, I grabbed the mutts that were on the kitchen counter and stuck them under the oblivious broody. Then Doc helped me convert the chicken jail into a broody nest. We moved her upstairs without losing any of our fingers and settled in for a long hatch. Yesterday, egg candling revealed progress, so happy day right?

The other hens kept laying in the downstairs nest box. I was consistently getting eggs every day, except for the occasional shell-less egg from Vo.

But this morning, things took a creepy turn.

I went to the coop and immediately noticed the chickens were behaving strangely. Instead of rocketing out of the coop, they reluctantly looked out the pop door around and stayed inside. I eventually shooed them out and went to collect eggs.

One glance inside and I immediately left the coop.
Evidence that a snake was here
I collected my wits and went back for a second look. I poked my camera into the nest box for a reconnaissance mission and scrutinized the picture. Seeing no immediate threat I took more pictures and bravely ran away.

Two weeks ago I saw a Water Moccasin in the driveway, but it slipped away before I could ask it to park elsewhere. Last week I found a four foot long snakeskin near the front gate. Today I find another snakeskin in the nest box. This is bad.
Missing egg
It ate the eggs. Again. And it ate my ceramic egg, too.

Snake owes me a dollar.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Broody Hatching -- Candling Eggs on Day 10

My Buff Orpington went broody and I decided to try hatching under her. The first attempt failed miserably,  and I put some eggs under her that had been destined for breakfast.

Waiting was really hard, but Day 10 is here and it is time to candle the eggs. Woo hoo!

I waited until nightfall when the chickens were settled into their roost and reluctant to stir themselves to investigate my mysterious activities. I crept up the broody cage and gently slipped eggs out from under Buffy. She was in a good mood and only pecked me a few dozen times, hardly removing any fingers.

Like everything else on my little chickeny ranch, my egg candler is improvised from available parts. In this case, I used a toilet paper tube and an LED flashlight.

Improvised Egg Candler

How to Use Improvised Egg Candler
This is what professional egg candlers look like:

One egg was pretty porous and did not seem to have any development. The other three looked about right for Day 10.
Egg Day 10
For now, I left the questionable egg on the nest, in case I learn more about candling eggs. I put the others back and rescued my fingers from the furious fowl.

There are many, many discussions on about hatching chicks and embryo development. BYC member silkiechicken posted this excellent collection of egg candling pictures. I used it to identify the lack of development in the porous egg and the apparent health of the other eggs. BYC member shookpoultry posted this amazing animated image of embryo development.

Go Buffy go!

Update: Recandled porous egg. Think it may be viable after all. The general wisdom at is that any egg that *might* be viable should be given a chance.
Porous egg has defined air cell and dark center
Update: Success! One hatched!! The porous one was as dead as the others. I think two weeks on the kitchen counter is not good for hatching viability....

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Early Easter Bunny Visit

My chickens had started their lives with me with daily access to an open-top chicken run. Then they decided to free range themselves.

Free range was OK for a while. They happily turned my yard into a shredded wasteland of unpalatable weeds and chicken poo. When hawks started visiting I covered their pen with bird netting, but still let them free range every few days.

Then nature caught up with us. A hawk killed two of the hens. So I stopped the free range activity and kept them penned up all the time. This caused some chickeny frustration, though they did eventually adapt, leading to a lot of fertilized eggs.

Recently I let them spend some time in a tractor. They were cooperative for a couple visits. Then they decided they would rather free range. Oh the chickeny joy! For three full minutes they paraded around their old run , squawking and scratching and pecking and gobbling up weeds and seeds and bugs and leaves and invisible bits of deliciousness. I saw no hawks, so I decided to roll with it.

Just as suddenly they decided they did not want to free range at all. They raced to the pen in the most dignified manner possible, like a bunch of chubby mall-walkers in spandex. Dumbfounded, I stared at them. They looked at me. Then they looked at each other. Then they looked at me again.

Casting about, I spied the terrible threat that made them run for safety. It was a single rabbit, complete with twitching nose and chewing on a bit of grass.

I tried to explain it was not the Easter Bunny, but they were having none of it and guarded their eggs with zealous pacing and stink eyes.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Broody Hatching -- Learning the Routine

My broody Buff Orpington started with a clutch of 8 eggs, which got consumed by some unidentified stealthy predator. I converted the Chicken Jail into an upstairs broody nest and set her up with four more eggs.

After some hasty experimentation, I have developed a brilliant plan for their daily routine. My flock, ever so fond of change, has started reluctantly adapting. In the process they have found new ways to express their annoyance and disgust and irritation and chickeny rage.

Most things stay the same. I open the coop at the crack of noon. Mr. Big leads De and Vo into the pen for a bit of dust bathing and snacking on any treats I may have provided. Buffy stays on her nest and gives me the stink eye while I gather eggs from the downstairs nest. She fluffs and squawks and pecks when I lift her up to look at her eggs to make sure there are eggs under her and not a snake or an empty spot.

I return to the coop in the late afternoon and lead the flock to the tractor so they can feast upon weeds and leaves and blackberries and bugs and invisible bits of deliciousness. Mr. Big has learned the routine already and proudly leads the girls straight to the tractor. Oh the chickeny joy!

Once they are situated I shut myself in the pen and screw up my courage to face Buffy. Once again she fluffs and squawks and pecks when I lift her up. When I set her down, she fluffs and huffs as I close the side door of the broody cage. Then she fluffs and squawks and pecks when I lift her up and carry her to the snack bar in the pen.

Once outside she snaps out of her trance. She drinks and preens and eats and preens and preens and drinks and preens and drops an enormous stinky broody poo.

While she is busy I block off the eggless but oh-so-desirable bottom nest. When she is ready, she walks up the new ladder into the broody cage and settles back on her nest.

Then, just as darkness approaches I close up the broody cage, open the pen, and release the others. If I am a little late, Mr. Big will have some choice words for me. Then he hastily leads them back into the coop for a good night.

At least, that is how it is supposed to go....

Update: Gave up on the tractor once the flock got an Easter scare. Just have to juggle a grumpy hen while keeping an eye on a perturbed rooster.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Broody Hatching Disaster

I placed eggs under my broody buff orpington just 3 days ago. I already have a failed hatch. 100% failed. Argh!

Worse, it is a mystery. But I have my suspicions....

I went to remove Buffy from the nest today so she could get some food, water, and exercise. She squawked and pecked and fussed and huffed. But once she was off the nest there were no eggs to be found!

Eight eggs vanished into thin air. There were no sticky spots. There were no eggshells. There were no signs of struggle. Just empty space where my carefully hoarded eggs used to be.

Doctor Dolittle and I examined the coop for evidence and found none, so we fell back on speculation. We considered human theft, but rejected that due to the undisturbed gate of annoyance and latching system of despair. We considered snakes due to the recent sighting of both copperhead and cottonmouth venomous snakes, but rejected it since Buffy would probably have blinded them or been bitten. We considered crows, rats, opossums, raccoons, and foxes, but rejected all of them since Buffy would have forced them to deal with her before surrendering the eggs. We reluctantly considered that Buffy might be the culprit.

Another egg eater? Were her eggs too thin for her enormous bulk? Did she grow so ravenous that she consumed her potential offspring?

Could be....

So, for now Buffy and her new clutch of randomly selected eggs are residing in chicken jail with food and water right in front of her. This ought to reduce possible predation by snakes, crows, rats, opossums, raccoons, foxes, and the other chickens. Vigorous patrols by Doctor Dolittle and a certain part-time chicken farmer should limit the risk of two-legged predators. This leaves Buffy.

If Buffy eats these eggs, then she will be fired as a mommy chicken. Lucky for her we now have two desirable nest boxes that the other hens will actually use.

Yet another high maintenance hen. *sigh*

Update: The eggs were still under her this morning. But she rejected the nest box in favor of the jail floor which has lots of wood shavings. Doc says she probably got too warm.

Update: People keep saying it must be a snake because of no mess and that a hen in broody trance will not notice a snake under her. I really appreciate this information, but I hope you will forgive me for wishing it not to be so, especially since the cottonmouth is still at large. Snakes are creepy.

Update: Learning the new routine.

Update: Y'all were right. I was wrong. It was a snake. Here is the proof.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Broody Orange Pancake

Buffy the Orange Pancake Chicken
When I went to gather eggs this morning all the chickens ran out, except for Buffy who was on the nest. She looked flat as a pancake and I had to wonder if she was broody again. Hooray?

I have been saving Buffy's eggs for my incubator test. I will do the test as soon as I build the incubator. Real Soon Now. Yeah, right.

But life intervened and I had to deal with work and animals and people and stuff. Finally got home at oh-dark-hundred to close the coop. Guess who was still on the nest....

My fluffy orange girl was still there, still looking like a pancake, still giving me the stink eye.

I collected my hatching stash and ran back out. Placed one egg under her, collected a peck. Placed another egg, got another peck. Nudged her aside, placed the rest of the eggs, removed the ceramic egg, and collected a peck and a stink eye and a bonus BAAAAAWK.

Mission accomplished! Now I just need to build the incubator in case she knocks off early....

Update: This clutch ended disastrously.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

DIY Tractor and Happy Chickens

It took longer than expected, but the flock has a new tractor. Not a John Deere, though I crave one badly, but rather a DIY masterpiece of PVC pipe, chicken wire, bird netting, shade cloth, and baling twine.

It took a lot of evenings to string together enough time to tie down everything, but the chicken wire and bird netting are secured in place. The tractor is fully enclosed and safe from casual predation. Obviously, chicken wire would not stop a determined squirrel, let alone a dog or a fox.

Doctor Dolittle helped finish the tie job. Then Doc helped move the tractor to a suitably overgrown patch of pasture. We propped up the corners to create a chicken gap and went to fetch the flock.

I opened the gate and Doc called "Chick! Chick! Chick!" to the birds. They looked up at Doc. They looked at the open gate. They looked at each other. Then, as if animated by one tiny chicken brain, the whole flock went berserk.

They squawked and rushed the gate. I bravely ran away.

Doc stood in the passage to the house yard, blocking the way with a hazing pole. I followed with the other pole and kept the flock moving toward the tractor. They eyed us with suspicion, but so long as there was greenery ahead of them they were willing to cooperate.

We hazed them into the tractor and then lowered it to the ground, trapping them inside with the water supply and the greenery. They looked at us. They looked at the greenery. They looked at each other. Then they sprang into action. Oh the chickeny joy!

They clucked and scratched. They ate shoots and leaves. They ate bugs and invisible bits of deliciousness.

Once the flock demolished most delectable parts of that patch of ground, Doc helped me scoot the tractor, and the enclosed chickens, to another section of green pasture. Oh the chickeny joy!

They repeated their ecstatic feasting on the most delectable parts. We watched them wind down and decided to put them back in the chicken pen.

We propped up one end again, hazed them out, and then Doctor Dolittle enticed them into the pen. I closed the gate, we breathed our relief, and then high-fived.

Tractor plus greenery equals happy chickens!

Chickens in new tractor