Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Gift of Simplicity

I think I should  have been a farmer.  Maybe not for my livelihood but maybe a hobby farmer.  When I started this chicken adventure I truly did not appreciate the joy I would get from this.


Last week we had so many beautiful days in the Berkshires.  One day I decided to take my sandwich out and have lunch with the Ladies.  The sun had not quite hit the run yet so I was looking forward to watching the chicken sunbathing start.  In the meantime, I brought them a few chunks of apples.  This was new to them so I was treated to a lengthy discussion about what these could possibly be.  Bella and JiJi - always the more cautious about new things were clucking in mild alarm.  Luna was peeping with interest - head cocked to get the best view of this new thing.  And Ebony was right there, ready to check everything out and let the others know.  She's always been the first to try new things.  Always alert but brave.  So Ebony tried the apple.   The others, then being convinced it was not a strange red monster, tucked right in and had some too.  Shortly after, the first rays hit the run and Ebony immediately collapsed into her sunbathing posture.  And I just sat quietly, simply watching. 

Jiji, Ebony, and Luna looking for new foods

There is something simple yet profound and satisfying about doing a good job and getting (relatively) immediate results.  Making good choices about what to feed the chicks and figuring out how to keep them warm and clean resulted in seeing them grow.  And fast!  With our new Lady - Lacy - it was easy to see that our efforts to make sure she was comfortable and happy (even though in quarantine) resulted in eggs.  So many things in our lives these days don't show us results so quickly.  It makes everything seem complicated but some of the best things are simple.  It's a nice thing to see results.

Lacy's first egg for us

And there is joy in the little chores.  As anyone knows me can tell you,  I am not a morning person.  Or at least I wasn't until we got the Ladies.  When they first arrived, I would get up early to make sure they had survived the night.  Then when that worry subsided, I found I was still getting up early.  Mind you I still need my coffee.  But then I'm throwing on some jeans and a sweatshirt to go get the Ladies started on their day.  No one could have convinced me how pleasant it is to stand there in the yard in the quiet of the morning.  See the moon still high in the brightening sky, watching the sun light up the morning clouds and hearing the Ladies scratching around.  The simplicity of the beginning of a new day.  It happens seven times a week, and until we had the Ladies - I had missed it.  Or at least hadn't slowed down enough to enjoy it.


Ok, so maybe cleaning out the coop isn't the most glamorous job, but I do love that as I take care of my "chambermaid" duties, Luna comes to greet me and to inspect my work.  It is a little harder to clean a coop with a beak in your face.  But simple and sweet all the same.

Good Morning Luna!

Last weekend I was feeling guilty about Lacy being stuck in quarantine in the garage during such beautiful fall weather.  We decided it would be safe for the rest of the flock if we took her out to the other side of the yard for some fresh air.  Again - I found joy in this simple thing.  Lacy was over the moon, scratching around in the garden and taking a dust bath.  Once I realized she was happy dust bathing and I didn't have to shepherd, I lay down on my stomach in the grass, soaking in the sun.  I can't remember when I last did that.  Boy did it feel good.  Such a simple thing.  Now we do it when ever we have time and it's nice enough.

Lacy supremely content in the garden

I think the thing that gives me the most joy is just watching the Ladies doing what Chickens just naturally do.  It seems closer to nature.  We have a dog and a cat, but they are much more domesticated and usually do what we have trained them to do.  Don't get me wrong, I know chickens are domesticated and not wild animals.  But the Ladies just do their chicken things.  Sure they come running if they think I have a treat but the rest is just instinct for them.  Whether it be scratching in the dirt and leaves, running for cover at a new sound, taking a dust bath, collapsing into a funny sunbathing heap as soon as the warm rays of the sun hit them, or working out their hierarchy with a few pecks and posturing - that's their thing.  I have nothing to do with it.  I didn't have to teach them this.  It's simple.  They've known how to do it since they were a few days old.  There's something very cool about that.
Chicks gotta sunbathe!
The Chicken Chick

Saturday, October 12, 2013

"You Big Chickens" (and other chicken and egg sayings)

The other day I was hanging out watching our four younger Ladies doing their thing.  They were scratching in the dirt and pecking at the remainder of some treats I had given them.  They are pretty chatty - always peep peep peeping.  But lately their voices are starting to change.  They sound like some adolescent boys with their voices cracking.  While I watched, one of the Ladies - I think it was Bella as she is noisier - said "Peep Peep Bok!"  At that all four - including the offender - bolted for the coop, terrified by that new noise.  My immediate reaction was laughter and to tell them they were a bunch of "Big Chickens!" which in turn made me laugh even harder.

Luna running for safety!
As I stood there waiting for the Ladies to settled down and venture back out I began thinking.  There are an amazing number of sayings that are related to chickens and eggs.  There's the obvious insult to someone's bravery.  Until we got the Ladies, I never realized how chicken Chickens really are.  But seeing as they are prey - I guess their fear serves them well.
Then there's "Don't count your chickens before they hatch."  Although we have never hatched eggs, from what I hear, it is definitely not a 100% success rate kind of enterprise.  We certainly did learn that even after they hatch, some don't make it.
JiJi, Luna, Ebony, and Rosey at arrival
"Don't put all your eggs in one basket." They do break easily - ask Emma.  She has been known to drop an egg on occasion. 
How about figuring out the "pecking order"?   I watch that on a daily basis.  The Ladies are always jostling for top bird position.  It was particularly noticeable when we still had Hedwig.  Luna is definitely top Lady right now, but Hedwig as a young rooster was always challenging this position.  It always involved some pecking.  It's kind of related to "ruling the roost".  Top bird gets choice spot on the roosts and therefore gets to rule!
JiJi, Ebony, and Luna on their first roost
Then there is "Playing chicken". You know - the game where you run at each other and see who "chickens out" first?  Apparently that really is a chicken game.  The Ladies love to play.   I see it most while they are working on the pecking order.  You know how it goes - if you chicken out first, you are NOT top bird!
And...  "Nesting behavior".  I remember before we adopted the Emma and Meghan, I definitely did some nesting.  It didn't look like what I see Lacy doing but I get it.  Lacy actually makes more of a mess - sitting in the nesting box and throwing shavings everywhere.  Me?  I was more focused on cleaning up!
Lacy's "nest" in the garden
I could go on and on.  There are a few that I think aren't very fair to my Ladies.  Bird brain.  Dumb cluck.  Bad egg.  In a Stew. Chicken Scratch.  Maybe the people that came up with those didn't have chickens.
The Chicken Chick

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Changes in the Coop

For several weeks we have suspected that we had an imposter in the Ladies' ranks.  Our little Hedwig was growing a comb and wattles faster than we considered Lady-like!  And demonstrating some decidedly unladylike behavior!  We really like Hedwig so it has been hard to acknowledge that we can't keep him.  We've waited a few weeks to see if his inner Lady would show itself...  No - it did not!

Hedwig 4 days

Hedwig 1 month
Hedwig - 2 Months

After consulting with the breeder, Michael, we decided to bring Hedwig back to his first home.  So after some last pictures of our boy, we headed off to Connecticut this morning.  And our decision was confirmed when Michael peeked in the cat carrier -  I mean chicken carrier - and said "Oh yeah!" without the slightest hesitation.

We saw Hedwig off to his new coop where he will be living with a bunch of other English Orpingtons about his same age.  I wish I had captured that reaction on film!   Michael put him in the coop with the others who gave him the hairy eyeball, and Hedwig's look was "Oh Dang, I am not the Big Bird In the Coop anymore!"

So although we've been prepared for the change, the coop seems a little empty without Hedwig puffing himself up and trying to stomp on the Ladies.  Luna never did put up with that though.  She even photo bombed one of his last pictures.  Doesn't his look just say "I just can't get no respect around here!"

I wonder if the Ladies miss him.

In true keeping with my newfound chicken addiction, as soon as we knew Hedwig was going back to his first flock, I had to find a new bird to fill the hole in our flock.  After much debate about whether to add another to the flock or stay at 4, and if we add then what age and breed, I soon found our new Lady.

Lacy is a 6 month old Silver Wyandotte.  While she doesn't add more color to the flock (Luna still provides the only splash of color but doesn't seem to mind that role!), Lacy sure adds some cool feather patterns.  I'm thrilled.  Once I caught the chicken bug and started thinking of my next flock which would be years down the line, I knew I wanted a Wyandotte.  They 're striking.  Lacy came from another backyard flock whose owners were downsizing for the winter.  She seems very sweet and pretty tame.  And she is already laying!!!!   Although she hasn't presented us with our first egg yet.  I guess the stress of the move might delay that.  Scott thinks she may have performance anxiety.  Which could be since Meghan keeps running in and asking "Is she making an egg?"  I think we'll have to work on the lingo!

This is a whole new chicken keeping lesson for us.  When you add a new chicken to the flock, there is a process.  First quarantine to make sure you are not introducing bad things into your flock, then let the old birds see the new bird and vice versa (without the ability to attack one another).  Then let them all share the space and work out the pecking order.  So Lacy is currently in quarantine in a big dog crate in our garage.  She seems happy.  We are trying to give her lots of company so she doesn't get too lonely.  She talks a lot.  A big change from the "Peep Peep Peep" of other Ladies.  Lacy is all about Bok Bok Bwok!  She has a quiet, sweet voice except when she gets her britches in a twist about something.  Then she gets a little raucous.

So quarantine underway - check.  Here's to hoping that introduction to the rest of The Ladies goes well in a few weeks.  But I'm sure that will be another story.

The Chicken Chick