This past week we said goodbye to Autumn one of our Silkie Bantams. She died unexpectedly.
Early last Thursday morning, I opened up the coop and found all of the girls happy, giddy, and excited to greet the cool fresh morning air. Then later around 10 am. I saw Autumn laying in the corner of the run. She was not moving. Dolly was near, seemingly curious about her sister and friend.
Last week, all four Silkies, Dolly, Autumn, Feathers and Fifi were broody. It doesn’t take much to convince a Silkie that they should be broody. Clearly this was the trendy thing to do this week. There they were piled on top of one another inside the nesting boxes. Toward the end of the week, Tilly decided to join them. For the past few days, one by one, the Silkies gave up being broody. It wasn’t as much fun having Tilly there sandwiched between the two boxes overflowing with Silkies.
Tilly has been taking her time to decide if she truly wants to be broody or was just under the weather. It seems like the old chicken and the egg argument; which came first. This morning, Tilly was the last one out of the coop. I watched as they one by one popped out of the coop with a lust for life. Dolly and Tilly took some coaxing. I could hear them “talking” to their invisible chicks as I have heard mother hens do.
They all came outside and were enjoying exploring the run. A pair of robins landed outside the coop. Tilly ran for them. Like a watch dog, she chased them away. They had no business being anywhere near the newly reseeded grass outside the coop. Life somehow seemed to be returning to normal for Tilly today.
I went inside to finish up with the morning chores and returned about a half hour later to clean the coop. There, something caught my eye. Tilly and Fifi had returned to the nesting boxes. I had to remove them one by one and place them in the run. I always clean the coop without any chickens inside. There, I noticed underneath the coop ramp someone had made a nest. Two pearly little Silkie eggs were laid inside.
The eggs were tinier than usual, due to the Silkies returning to the egg laying process after being broody. I removed my coop cleaning gloves and gently scooped the still warm eggs up into the cradle of my hand. I was surprised that Sunshine had not discovered them. She is ruthless when it comes to discovering eggs that had not been laid by her. It is amazing to me that she recognizes her own eggs verses those laid by others.
Tilly is quasi-broody. The Silkies are laying again. Sunshine did not use the Silkie eggs as kick ball. Somehow, things are off kilter, but make me feel content. Life isn’t how one would expect it but somehow, option B turns out to be just as good as option A.
Habits can be classified as good and bad. I think that we all tend to have both. Good habits can benefit us directly and some are even chore-like. When I think of good habits, I think of brushing my teeth, setting a bed time, eating healthy (or at least trying to), catching the school bus in the morning, going to church, or regularly meeting a friend for coffee. Good habits can also be chores, such as paying the bills, mowing the lawn, cleaning the house and cooking dinner every night. Unfortunately, we all have bad habits too. I think of young kids picking their noses. Biting our nails. Chewing with our mouths open. I happen to pick my cuticles and hangnails. Interestingly, I have noticed that chickens also have both good and bad habits.
Their bad habits include kicking shavings into the water, emptying their feed dish, hogging the roosts, sleeping in the nesting boxes and eating eggs (gasp)! Their good habits include rising early in the morning, running out first thing to have some scratch, going to sleep at night and carrying on conversations with me.
Tilly’s best habit is the job she does as head hen. Every evening, she is always rounding up everyone and making sure that they are all in for the night. Her bad habit is being mean to the Silkies. Sometimes, she tends to overreact.
Oyster Cracker’s best habit is always being first to greet me at the run door. Her worst habit is repetitively jumping into my lap when our quality-time session was only supposed to last a few minutes.
Sunshine’s worst habit is pecking my hand very hard when I hand feed the girls scratch. You’d think she had to make a kill before she ate. Her best habit is being Oyster Cracker’s inseparable best friend.
Dolly’s best and worst habit is always being broody.
Autumn’s best habit is surveying the run first thing in the morning before dining on any scratch. She seems to be checking that the perimeter is secure, or…she could be trying to escape. Her worst habit is sleeping in the nesting boxes.
Feathers’ worst habit is pecking at my jewelry. Her best habit is being my most friendly Silkie.
Fifi’s worst habit is pretending to be broody and faking me out at least once a week. She sure does put on a show, complete with growling, tail in the air and the classic poufing up. Her best habit is taking care of her feathers. She is the fluffiest little girl for a non-show quality chicken.
If you look closely and observe most species, you will find that they over time develop patterns and repeat things. Some say that routine is familiar and familiar feels good. Others say that sometimes things are merely according to schedule. Animals instinctively fill roles that aid in survival. People, I believe, are the only ones with the power of insight to change them or at least add one new good habit to out-number our bad ones.
Today I removed the hen saddle from Dolly. Just as expected, it took three weeks for her wound to heal and new feathers to return. Her feathers have grown back beautifully. Truthfully, I was a bit sad to remove the hen saddle from her. When it was on, she didn’t seem to mind it and she just looked so darn cute. My kids loved the fact that she was wearing an outfit just her size!
In addition to the hen saddle, we also treated her wound with Vetericyn spray gel and fortified her diet with Manna Pro’s Poultry Conditioner. The Vetericyn gel helped to speed up the healing process and prevented the wound from becoming infected. We used the The Poultry Conditioner to boost her nutrition aiding her to regrow gorgeous feathers.
Just as I was finishing taking photos of Dolly for this post, in came my camera hog, Oyster Cracker. Dolly and Autumn continued to have a mid-morning snack while Oyster Cracker wanted love. Soon enough, she hopped out the coop door into my lap. Dolly and Autumn left the coop and settled in to take a nice dirt bath. It is so nice to have our Dolly happy, healthy and feeling good again. It was also nice to get a bit of love from my snuggle chicken. What a wonderful way to start the weekend.
My children love to draw. Sometimes, they like to sit back and watch my husband draw things for them. Many times these involve drawing aliens and animals. I can remember one day, my kids asked him to draw lots of animals. When he completed drawing everything that came to their minds, the kids asked him to go back and put a goatee on all of the animals. When he draws aliens, they come up with the most clever names related to some foreign appendage that is hanging from their body. Well, last night, as I was busy filling calendar orders, little did I know that they were downstairs drawing our chickens. It was my daughter’s idea. Tilly came first.
Then came Sunshine and Oyster Cracker, our inseparable Buff Orpingtons.
My husband, confessed that Dottie Speckles was the most difficult to draw.
Of course, he captured the Silkies too, my daughter would not have it any other way.
He was under specific instructions to write out the ENTIRE name of each chicken.
But my favorite, is how my daughter asked my husband to draw Dolly; broody in a nesting box.
My husband doesn’t think he is a very good artist. The kids and I beg to differ.
Would you be so kind, and vote daily for our tree? Melissa C. #20.
This morning I awoke to one of those peaceful and quiet Saturday mornings. There was a serene calmness about everything outside. The wild birds were quietly bouncing amongst the branches in the trees. Neighbors were still sleeping and not even distant cars could be heard zooming past in the background. The woods surrounding our home are beginning to settle in for the Winter, now the trees are mostly barren of leaves. The sky was a piercing blue and the sun was shining brightly. It was one of those mornings where I find myself stealing a peaceful moment away with just me and the girls. I joined them as they were starting to take their morning dust bath.
I quietly observed the girls and their beauty ritual. I was incredibly happy to find Oyster Cracker finally taking a dust bath after her long and severe molt. She had it the toughest this year. Finally, her pale comb had glimpses of red as I discovered her among our Silkies, Feathers, Dolly and Autumn,enjoying a communal dust bath.
There the four of them were enjoying one another’s company. As three faced one way and Dolly faced the other, dirt was thrown, fluffed and kicked into every feathered nook and cranny all the while eating bits of found goodness from each other’s feathers. Dottie Speckles on the other hand, was content to inquire about my visit and continually interrupt the girls as they were dust bathing. Sometimes, she is such a bully!
Finally, after spending a spell with the girls, I checked for egg. In the nesting box, I found broody Fifi sitting on her invisible eggs. Of course, I would expect no less from my egg detectives. Dottie Speckles and Sunshine followed me inside the coop. There were two eggs that I gladly retrieved, still warm in my hand after being laid.
It was nice to steal this morning away with the girls. Quality alone time is important with any pets you might have. It is during quiet times like this that you notice behaviors, personalities and what goes on in their minds. Suddenly, you realize that you are catching a glimpse into the life of a backyard chicken.
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting Joel from the Woods Hole NPR station. I had received an email that she had discovered the blog and was interested in doing a radio piece on the girls of Tilly’s Nest. She came across us while researching farming on Cape Cod. We reviewed our schedules, arranged a time and met yesterday morning.
It was a glorious sunny day. We reached temperatures in the mid 60s. Joel, who is a chicken keeper herself, arrived mid-morning with a microphone and a tape recorder. First, we went over to the coop to meet the girls. Of course, as expected, Tilly was a microphone hog! She is always the chicken who has so much to say and yesterday she did not let me down. In fact, all of the girls were their usual delightful selves; chatting up a storm. Joel captured the dialogue. Crouched down at chicken level, I introduced her to all of the girls one by one in detail.
Soon enough, we ventured inside away from any background noise. We had a lovely conversation. It was informal and relaxed, despite knowing I was being recorded. It was easy. My initial nerves were replaced with comfort as I began to talk about my feathered girls. She asked me some typical questions as well as a few unexpected ones. We spent two hours together. It was nice.
Before Joel left, we revisited the girls. She wanted to record them talking one last time. People are always surprised when they hear the girls. Since they were a day old, I chatted with them. As I would sit on an old worn out comforter in front of the brooder our conversations began. I suppose they emulate what they learn, like our human children. I felt proud of them. It is true that you get out of life what you put into it. They were friendly, for the most part well mannered and polite. From the beginning, our family gave the chickens much love and attention. Yesterday, I realized that it had and does indeed make a difference.
I’m not sure if our story will end up airing on NPR. It is still in a raw form that needs to be molded into some sort of airable piece. We could easily end up cut by an editor who needs to make room for something more exciting than backyard chickens. It doesn’t matter to me really. Sure, I would love to hear our piece in some form on NPR but the greater joy was knowing that I was able to connect with Joel and she was able to connect with Tilly, Oyster Cracker, Sunshine, Dottie Speckles, Dolly, Feathers, Autumn and Fifi.
As I was refilling the feeder a couple of days ago, I happened to notice some spilled scratch on the workbench. Mindful of wasting and little critters, I brushed the 10 pieces or so of scratch into my hand and tossed it in the feeder with the rest of the feed pellets. Big mistake!
That afternoon, when I went out to check for eggs, I found the entire feeder emptied. Feed pellets were scattered all over the inside of the coop. Every pellet, except for a few orphans, was on the coop floor. The feeder was empty, twirling in the slight breeze! One of the chickens either smelled or discovered the few morsels of scratch amongst the pellets and decided to search for every last bit.
Did they take their time and methodically search the feeder one pellet at a time? Or, was it frantic, like feeding time in the shark tank? I can only imagine pellets flying everywhere in the chicken’s determination in finding those hidden treats. Even though I missed the show, the two broody girls in the boxes, Dolly and Autumn, were privy to the entire escapade! I removed the feeder, washed it completely and filled it with feed only. So far, feeder etiquette has resumed. It has now been 2 days.
I learned my lesson. Never underestimate the smarts of a chicken and the power of treats.
Yesterday, I went out to the coop. I could not wait to say hello to the girls. I missed them so. It was funny. At first, I do not think that they recognized me. I opened up the coop door and tossed scratch onto the run floor. No one seemed to care that I was home. I was sad. I figured we would get reacquinted when I cleaned the coop later. It was on my to do list. I opened the nesting box door. I did not find any chickens in the boxes. Yet, I discovered my worst nightmare. Someone had pecked open an egg and ate the entire contents!
Strewn on the shavings in the nesting box were pieces of egg shell, gooey strands of yolk and remnants of sticky egg white underneath one of the roosts. Sunshine, Oyster Cracker and Tilly came into the coop. Like addicts, they began to peck at anything that seemed like it had raw egg on it. They pecked at the shell. They pecked at the egg-soaked shavings. They pecked at the walls dotted with yolk. They had glazed over looks in their eyes. They could not get enough.
Horrified, I chased them out of the coop, scooped up the egg shell and decided that I needed to clean out the coop immediately; so much for those 6 loads of laundry that I had planned on washing. As quickly as I could move, I cleaned out the entire coop, disinfected the walls, floor and roosts. I also used an anti-icky spray to rid the coop of any egg smell. Surely if it worked on pet urine, it should work on raw egg! I refilled the coop with clean dry shavings and added nesting box blend to the boxes. Then, the test-I let the girls back inside.
Tilly, Oyster Cracker and Sunshine entered at once. Still recalling the egg, they searched frantically for signs of that ill fated egg. After a few minutes, they left disappointed. I determined that this behavior needed to be nipped in the bud. For me, it was this chicken owner’s worst nightmare come true. I was going to have to check on the girls every half hour or so for eggs. I needed to break this habit. Thank goodness, that huge laundry pile had me on house arrest.
A half-hour later, I went outside and found Dolly in one of the nesting boxes, still broody. This time though, she had a friend. It appears while we were away, Autumn has decided to join Dolly’s broody club. Just like Dolly, she has removed all feathers from her chest. For once, I thought that this was great timing. These two broody girls would be protective of any eggs laid. I should be able to use them to my advantage.
A couple of hours later, Tilly was in the nesting box on the left. I waited. The entire egg laying process takes about 15 minutes. Soon, I peeked in and saw Tilly standing. I opened the nesting box. Outside Tilly’s box were Sunshine and Oyster Cracker. Tilly’s egg was all the rage. Everyone was interested. Risking life and limb from a vicious peck, I grabbed the still wet with bloom freshly laid egg. Phew, I at least saved that one. And so the day went. I ended up with a total of 3 more eggs and not one was damaged.
This morning when I woke, I was anxious as anything to get out there early and rescue any eggs from the girls. There were no early eggs. I saw that as a good sign. Today, the chickens were not interested in the eggs. I kept them distracted with the chicken toy, the treat ball and lots of TLC. They laid 4 eggs again and none were disturbed. Overnight, in one fowl swoop, they seemed to have forgotten about pecking the eggs and suddenly remembered how much they loved and missed me. Today, after my week-long vacation their little brains remembered their chicken mama.