Category Archives: Hens and Chicks

The Curious Case of the Panting Chicken

Finally a beautiful day.  No rain, no fog, no clouds, no wind.  Just a beautiful, sunny 70 degree, blue-sky day.  We took this opportunity, Thing Two and I, to wander around the yard and check on things.

Lawn?  Check, green and growing quickly after all this rain.  Garden?  Check, plants don’t appear to be rotting, and some seeds are coming up.  Chickens?  Check, happily in their tractor, hunting and scratc…wait a minute…that one chicken is panting.  It’s Chiffon.

I remember last summer, on some really hot days, the chickens would sometimes do their open-beaked pant when they were overheated.  But it isn’t really that warm today, and I have the tractor somewhat in the shade.

Maybe she is thirsty?  Nope, plenty of water.  Are the other chickens panting?  Nope, just the one.  Huh.  I began to get a little worried.  Chickens, so I read, can be particularly susceptible to respiratory problems.  I took a closer look at this wide-eyed panting chicken and I heard “hee hee hee…shhhhhh….hee hee hee…shhhhhh”.  Then I knew what was troubling this hen.

I opened the tractor, and Chiffon muscled her way past the other hens and made a bee-line for the coop, only stopping a couple of times to peck at something that must have been irresistible.

She hopped up into the coop, and hopped straight into the nest box.  Poor Chiffon was in labor, and she wasn’t about to drop her egg the in ramshackle nest box I rigged up in the tractor.

Just because chickens aren’t the brightest animal in the yard doesn’t mean they aren’t discerning.  Remember your breathing, Chiffon and focus!  You can doo eet!

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Murder Most Fowl

Stella the cat was outside when we returned from grocery shopping.

The husband noticed she was chasing something and he and Thing One went to investigate.

Stella had found a little mouse friend to play with!

Oh!  What fun they were having.  Pounce, release, chase…pounce, release, chase (repeat).  It was hard for me to see the expression on the mouse’s face, but I’ll bet it was just tickled to have made such an attentive new friend.

Stella and the mouse moved their game near the chicken pen, and Thing One and the husband followed to cheer on the mouse.  Mousy escaped and dashed toward the pen, but was blocked by a swift paw and pounce.  Mousy escaped again and this time managed to run into the chicken pen!

There was a little confused bawk-bawking, and then one of the chickens (I think it was Chiffon) did her little cockeyed distance-to-target calibration stare and Wham! one peck and the little mouse game was over.

We all went “awwww!” and then as the other hens gathered around and we changed our cry to “Oh, Thing One, don’t watch, don’t watch!”  But it was too late.  Chickens are definitely omnivores.

The Hawks Are Back

Sitting in our living room today,  I heard the hawks cry.  Looking out the window I couldn’t see the hawk, but I did see its shadow moving ominously across our deck.

For the past few years, we have had hawks nesting in a tall pine in our yard.  We would see and hear them in the spring and then things would quiet down.  Then mid-summer, the babies would fledge and we would see and hear them crying and circling again.  And in fall, they would disappear.

Before we kept chickens, the hawks were purely a treat to watch.  Sometimes they would land on our pool fence right outside our kitchen window.  It was a little disconcerting to be eating your Cheerios and glance up and notice you were being watched like a…a…hawk.  In the late spring, we open the pool and float the solar cover over the surface to try to nudge the water temperature up a few degrees.  On some mornings, the hawks would land on the cover, making a depression that would fill with water and they would bathe in the warm water pool they created.  All of this was fun and exciting and “gosh how cool”.

Now, I hear the hawks shriek, and I run to the window and look at the chicken pen.

Chickens are marvelous creatures.  They eat Lyme ticks, weeds and kitchen garbage.  They fertilize your garden (and sometimes, if we are being honest here, your deck).  But their claim to fame is their wonderful trick of turning all this stuff that we don’t want into a perfect little egg.  The egg, chocked full of high quality protein (it provides all 10 essential amino acids for humans), vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids.  The egg, a magical ingredient that can transform basic ingredients into things of beauty: a fluffy mousse, an ethereal chiffon cake, a mile-high lemon meringue pie.  Of course, the egg also shines when prepared simply:  a soft boiled egg with a sprinkling of salt,  or a poached egg served over pasta.

But we don’t love our hens just because they give eggs.  We love them because, well, we just do.

Unfortunately, chickens are not the brightest creatures.  I would not call them dumb, but they are kind of silly.  And they panic.  Because of this, they are very low on the food chain.  I would guess, if you were to rank this sort of thing, to a predator they provide the most amount of protein for the least amount of effort.  And they have a lot of predators.

A quiz:  here are some pictures taken in my suburban 1 acre backyard.  See if you can tell which one is not a chicken predator. (This is not a complete list of predators I have seen in our yard; there was this orphaned baby fox and a coyote that rambled through one morning).

Red Tailed Hawk

Raccoon (Mama relocating baby)

Skunk (with voluptuous tail)

Neighbor’s Roaming Husky (not my photo)

Stella

Stella is not a chicken predator, but I think she would like to be if she weren’t such a fraidy-kitten.  Oh, she’ll pretend to be a big, stalking jungle cat, but when the chickens stop and stare back,  she scampers away.

The worst predator problem we have had so far is with the neighbor’s roaming husky.  I built the coop and attached pen strong enough to keep out every chicken predator in our area (I think, knock wood), but the chickens have to use just a teeny bit of common sense.  When the husky wandered into our yard, I found out that might be asking too much of our hens.

The hens were in their pen when the dog started harassing them.  One chicken went into the coop (or may have been in the coop), and the other three stayed in the pen.  The dog raced around the pen, barking furiously, and the hens panicked and threw themselves against the wood and wire sides of the enclosure.  I chased the dog away after only about 10 seconds, but it was enough time that three of our hens cracked their beaks in their frenzy to get away from the dog.

It looked really sore.  After a few days of soft food, supplemented with some extra protein and fat, they seemed to be back to normal.  Now they are completely healed and you can’t see any sign of damage.  It was traumatic for all of us and especially disappointing to me, that despite my best efforts, that the chickens could still be harmed even if the predator couldn’t actually touch them.

And now the hawks are back.  Last year we didn’t see a lot of the hawks; we had a murder of crows (how great is that phrase) move into our backyard and they are known to chase hawks away.

So we will have to see what this year brings.  Will the crows come back and rid our yard of the hawks like a group of Guardian Angels?  Will the hawks think our chickens are too big to handle, being deceived by their extreme fluffiness?  Or will this be a summer of keeping the chickens in their pen unless we can be out there patrolling and watching them like…like…a mother hen.

Springtime Arrives!

Finally, after a winter where the depth of snowstorms was sometimes measured in cats…

and the weather conditions made even the most usual chores a challenge.

Where the decision to run out for a quart of milk sometimes required a little extra effort…

We are beginning to see signs of spring!

Despite our inattention, the rhubarb abides.

The daffodils remind us of the work we did in the fall…

while the side garden sits fallow, a reminder of work to come.

But for now, the work will wait.  These early spring afternoons are meant for sunning at the beach…

and treasure hunting on the rocks.

We are enjoying our time to free-range

after a winter of being cooped-up.

Spring has finally arrived at Casa de Pollo Loco.

Chilly Morning at Casa de Pollo

With an overnight low of just 5 degrees, it is certain that the hens’ water has frozen.  I have easily fallen into a morning routine, this first winter of keeping hens.   I hop onto the frosty deck, still barefoot, and grab yesterday’s waterer.  We keep two waterers, one in use in the coop while the other waits, literally, on deck.

I bring the plastic waterer inside and start thawing it in the sink by running hot water over it.  I enjoy watching the patterns that form as the ice melts and always think how pretty the ice looks, so wet and clear.

I refill the waterer, grab the chicken bowl and head out to the coop.  Depending on the temperature, I am sometimes accompanied by the cat.  This morning it is just too cold.

The hens hear me coming and start their low bawkkkk bawkkkk calls that almost sound to me like growls.  Maybe purrs would be a better word, I think they are happy realizing they are about to be let out into the run.

The morning frost has frozen the latches shut, so I have to briefly hold them in my hands to get them to open.  They are so cold they burn a bit.  The hens are getting impatient.  Finally, I can open the door, and our four big, pretty hens are waiting.  I’m not sure if hens can be Rubenesque, but with their pretty cream and buff coloring and their full-figures, I think they fit the bill.

I dump the chicken bowl into the shavings in the coop, and switch the iced waterer for the new one while the hens fight over the grapes.  The contents of the chicken bowl reflect the cast-offs of the previous day.  The rejected toast and sandwich crusts, Life cereal, wrinkly grapes, small bits of American cheese and Annie’s Mac and Cheese rejected yesterday are gladly gobbled by the hens.

I close and latch the coop door, and open the pop door into the run.  Usually the hens immediately run out, but this morning the scraps are too good to leave.  I open up the small galvanized can that holds the black oiled sunflower seeds and the sound of the small scoop running through the seeds calls the hens into the run.

I sprinkle out their morning treat, and then check the nest box for eggs.  None yet today.  Winter has slowed their egg production to only one or two per day, but it is still enough for us.

I am grateful for our hens.  Not just for their amazing parlor trick of producing eggs from our garbage,  but because they force me to go out every winter morning, at least for a few minutes, and experience the crisp and quiet cold.