Cooler days are also starting to arrive. Molting has begun and I swear, some mornings when I open the coop it looks as though a chicken has exploded! Just the other day as I was scooping up freshly fallen feathers in my hands from the run and Fluffy, one of our new Easter Eggers, came over to me and stole a large feather right out of my hand. She was so proud of herself!
Chicken keeping can become addicting if you let it. Before you know it you will want one of each breed. You will lose all will power on the trips to the feed store and you will find yourself craving “just one more”. I too admit that it is difficult to control these such urges. Goodness knows that I have them! However, I have resisted for a number of reasons. The best one being that as the flock ages, the number of eggs it produces tapers off.
They’ve named it Hercules.
I’m not sure what to think of the first big snow storm of 2014. Living on a man-made island that juts into the Atlantic Ocean, the forecast is always variable and unpredictable. Sometimes, the forecast is for record amounts of snow and we get a dusting, other times it is the complete opposite. Regardless of the forecast, it is always essential to be ready for anything.
|Fresh herbs and flowers dry along side mini-potatoes and garlic on vintage flower bulb drying trays.|
Like most chicken keepers, I love spending time in the garden. Each year I plant and grow plenty of herbs for the family and the chickens. In the summer, the girls enjoy nibbling on the fresh herbs. However, as the season begins to come to a close, we harvest what remains in the garden before the first frost. We then dry the herbs prior to future use. We use a few different techniques to dry the herbs and flowers based on their moisture content. Once dried, we use the herbs in cooking and also in the chicken coop! Adding a sprinkle of dried chicken-safe herbs to the coop helps keep insects, mice, and parasites away. Plus I think it soothes the girls during their egg laying. To learn how to add herbs to the chicken coop read on.
|The back garden|
|Spring in the back garden|
|Beehives in the blizzard|
|Beehives in spring|
|Looking into the front yard (see the chairs?)|
|Late spring in the front garden|
|Thank goodness I added the tarp.|
|Springtime near the hen house|
Photo Credit: Tilly’s Nest
|Oyster Cracker gives me the stink eye!|
A huge winter blizzard is heading our way. I took the time yesterday to clean the coop, cover the run with some plastic and refill all the feeders and waterers. This morning when I opened the coop, the winds were beginning to whip and a wet light snow was beginning to fall. Surely the chickens sense that the storm is coming. Just what do they do when there is an impending storm?
They scratch in the run.
They lay eggs.
They eat their fill of chicken feed.
They fluff their feathers.
They take dust baths.
They snuggle together on the outside roosts.
They take naps.
They peck at the head of cauliflower in the run to prevent boredom.
Oyster Cracker gives me the stink eye when I can’t snuggle at the moment.
Hmm…seems just like what they do every day.
I don’t think the chickens care that the blizzard is coming. They are acclimated to the weather and to them, this is just another day in chicken paradise, at least until they realize that there will be no free-ranging for a bit due to snow up to their eyeballs that the weather man is predicting!
Photo Credit: Tilly’s Nest
|Two fluffy butts free-ranging in the woods.|
Other than a good dust bath, there is no other place that a chicken would rather be than free-ranging about their environment. Chickens love to scratch in the dirt. They love to discover bugs, worms and tasty grubs as they explore their surroundings. However, most folks never free-range due to the risk of predators. Those that allow their chickens to roam freely on their property accept and understand the risk of losing members of their flock from time to time. This was not an option for me nor was it a risk that I felt comfortable with. One of the best solutions that I came up with three years ago was supervised free ranging. Supervised free-ranging allows your flock to be out and about in the yard as your presence keeps predators away.
Yesterday, it was week one of fall clean-up around here. I mowed the lawn, raked up the leaves and saved the best for last, cleaning out the chicken coop! The girls always look forward to this because they love to free-range as I clean their house and run. I let them out. Tilly is always first. Cautiously she pokes her head out from the run door. Once the coast is deemed clear, she and the rest of the girls come out to explore. The first stop is the wood chips. They love to make a mess, digging and scratching. It looks to me like they are revving their motorcycles, especially the little Silkies! Over time, they meander down into the grass and the woods announcing every tiny bug, grub and other tasty morsels that meet their beaks.
Finally when the free ranging is done, all it takes is a shake of the Chicken Crack bag and me to yell out, “Giiirrrrrrrllllllsssss.” They come running, giddy with excitement. Their crops are full but they always find room for more. I toss some Chicken Crack into the run and like popcorn, the girls one by one can’t wait to go back into the run! Today, Dolly was the last one, stuck on the other side of the run, frantic to get in with her sisters. I scooped her up, took off her hen saddle for a washing and plopped her in with her feathered family. All is well in their world. Well almost, poor Oyster Cracker is currently tailless due to molting.
Photo Credit: Tilly’s Nest
One of the things I love about living on Cape Cod is that it is full of avid gardeners. In the Spring, those gardeners love to have plant sales. I love going to them, because many of the plants you purchase come from other people’s backyards. They are hardy, prolific and grow well in the areas where we live. The plant sale that I look the most forward to is run each May by the Thornton Burgess Society.
|Enjoying scratch early in the morning|
We all have them. Even the most happy go lucky people tend to have routines in their day. Some routines are simple like drinking a cup of coffee, driving a certain way to work or talking to someone on the phone everyday. Other routines are elaborate such as getting ready in the morning, coiffing hairstyles and applying make-up. I think we all develop routines because in many ways, routines are comfortable.
Unbelievably, our chickens have daily routines. They are smart. Their own routines include waking up in the morning, early activities in the coop as dawn arrives before they are let out and their afternoon siestas. These routines, though simple, make up parts of their days. Interestingly though, I have noticed that they have become accustomed to routines that I have created for them as well. Just as a dog knows when it is time to partake in a daily stroll, our chickens know just what lies ahead when they see me.
Each morning, our routine is pretty simple. I refill the outside waterer first and scatter a bit of scratch on the ground in the run. I open up the coop door and the girls pop out of their coop one by one like pieces of popcorn. It has been this way for years. One day, I recall that I mixed up this routine. I had done everything else that I typically did, except instead of scratch, I scattered fruits and veggies in the run. They were so confused. They were so focused on looking for scratch that they neglected to care about the fresh goodies in plain view. Those fruits and veggies arrived too early. They are usually given as a late morning snack. The poor girls were so confused that I actually did go and get some scratch and scatter it about. Instantly, they set off into their routine as though nothing had ever been askew. It was at this point that I realized the importance of their habits. Perhaps, knowing what to expect in some way made them feel safe.
Last week as we left the house around 5:30am to catch our flight from the airport, I decided to open up the coop early. It was still dark. Yet, the early morning wild birds had begun to sing and I knew that daylight was mere minutes away. As I opened the coop, It was very still and quiet. All of a sudden, I heard one of the chickens say in a quiet deep voice, “Burh, burrrhhh”. I translated it as, “Is that you?” I whispered back, “It’s just me sweeties, have a great day girls, I’ll miss you.” I heard no response. Later that evening, I had called our chicken babysitter to check on the girls. Despite looking everywhere, she told me that no one laid any eggs that day.
Eggs that chickens lay in the morning are formed in their bodies overnight as they sleep. When chickens are disrupted or startled in the evening, it can lead to a decrease or lack of egg production. I guess even something as simple as my opening the coop early contributed to the lack of eggs.
The following evening, I checked on the girls. Everything was back to normal. They were back on their schedule and the chicken sitter was graciously thanked with seven beautiful eggs.
Photo Credit: Tilly’s Nest
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