Thursday, January 23, 2014

Me? A Crazy Chicken Lady??? Oh Yeah!

Recently someone was asking me about "The Ladies" and made the comment that I seem to have a connection with these chickens.  That got me thinking.

I never - in a million years kind of never - would have ever expected to have a little flock of chickens.  Even if you had asked me at this time last year, it wouldn't have even been on my radar.  I didn't grown up with chickens, or farm animals of any kind.  I definitely always had pets.  At times bunches of them.  Our standard when I was growing up was three cats and a dog.  At any given time you could throw in a parakeet, two hamsters, a mouse, or a fish.  I think tadpoles and grasshoppers made an appearance too.  But never Chickens!  There was even the time that my Mom and I raised a litter of wild bunnies until they were old enough to release.  I remember dropper feeding them at all hours of the night.  But never Chickens!  I went through the typical young girl phase of wanting a horse.  But never Chickens!

So what was the appeal for me about The Ladies?  I've had friends with chickens and have always been amused watching them.  But I still never considered becoming a backyard crazy lady!  What was it about taking care of my friend's chickens this summer that changed everything?  I wish it was something really deep.  But the best I can come up with was that it was Fun!  And sometimes in the craziness of life - working and parenting - I realize I sometimes (often) don't stop to have fun.  This started out as a job.  I had to take care of my friend's chickens.  It was a mandatory break and time for a laugh.

When my friend first offered me their old little coop, of course I said "No thank you!"  After all what did I know about Chickens?   And would it be Practical?  Would it be Responsible?  What would people think if I just brought Chickens into the neighborhood?  But then the wheels started turning.  I am a masterful rationalizer when I want to be.  And the rest was history.  Well except for all the research.  When I decide to do something - I make sure I know what I'm doing!

So what is my connection to The Ladies?  I think it is gratitude.  Their imminent arrival gave me special time with my daughters as we readied their new home.  I will treasure those memories.  The days of The Ladies being itty bitty chicks also came with lots of time with my daughters - marveling at their antics and growth.  Somewhere in there I was reminded how funny I truly find these creatures.  Once we moved them outside, they blessed me with the discovery of the peace of an early morning, and a reason to take a quick break from other demands to check in on them and laugh.  And honestly I love learning.  There has been much to learn - baby chick care, predator proofing, frostbite care.  The list could go on and on.  But that's just the requirements.  There's also learning about different breeds, genetics of coloring and many other things which I don't really need to know but find fascinating.

I still wonder what it is that is different about My Ladies from our dog or cat.  I love them too.  But they don't make me laugh in the same way.  So I guess maybe it all comes down to laughter.

How can you help but laugh at that face?
The Chicken Chick

Monday, January 13, 2014

Windchill, Frostbite, and Eggs! Oh My!

What an interesting few weeks it has been at the coop! 

The weather has been crazy with huge temperature changes.  In one 24 hour period we went from 52 to 5 degrees with a wind chill that made it feel like -20.  I have been on a crash course in chicken keeping in severe weather.  I have also discovered the need to be more aware of the weather.  Previously I just worried about what it was like when I had to go to the car or the kids needed to go to the bus stop.  Now I'm paying more attention to lows and highs and wind speeds and wind directions.  Add meteorology to the list of skills Chicken Keeping taps into!

So after learning that while the Ladies can manage the cold temperatures the sudden radical changes are not good, we instituted the Great Chicken Round Up!  We set up the big dog crate in the garage and brought them all in.  The garage stays pretty cold - stable at around 20 degrees but that was good so that they wouldn't get used to being too warm.  We brought them in right at roost time so it was just a matter of plucking them off the roost.  They were not amused!  With the exception of Lacy who just hopped up on a perch in the crate and went back to sleep, the other Ladies made a ruckus.  Bella was most vocal about her displeasure and alarm.  But let's face it.  Bella is always most vocal about her displeasure and alarm!  They spent a few days in the garage and it got us through the cold spell.  I should also say - I sure wasn't minding only having to go into the garage instead out to frigid temps to take care of them!

Even with all that, Luna got a touch of frostbite on her comb.  The very tips of her comb first turned yellowish and then grey.  Now the tips are whitish.  It doesn't seem to bother her in the slightest.  We've been coating her comb with Bag Balm and that seems to have prevented it from getting worse.  Now the Bag Balm.... that she minds!  Who knew a chicken could actually wipe things off their combs with their feet!  Now all the feathers on the top of her head are all greasy.  All she needs now is a little leather jacket and she can join a 50's sock hop!  I'm hoping the points of her comb don't fall off.

White tips and greasy head!

This weekend it warmed up to normal winter temps and the Ladies were beyond happy to be out in their coop and run.  They really don't seem to mind the weather at all.  Rain, snow, cold, wind - they are good.  Soon after moving them back out, I noticed Miss Luna squatting whenever I'd come near.  Apparently that is a sign that a first egg is imminent.  And yesterday our long wait and months of good chicken tending was rewarded.  Seems silly to be as excited as we all were, but since Luna is one of the ones we have raised from chickhood it does seem more exciting than when we brought Lacy home and started getting eggs immediately.

Luna at 1 week

I had been told to put a fake egg in the nest box so Luna would know where to lay.  I didn't have quick access to ceramic eggs so I raided our Easter supplies and found as neutral a plastic egg as I could find - bright yellow.  I filled it with sand and plunked it in the nest box.  I think chickens are smarter than people give them credit for.  Luna was not fooled.  She examined it and pecked it and rolled it around.  But when the time came she dug herself a little nest inside the coop (not in the nest boxes) and laid her big beautiful egg.  I found it first thing when I went to clean the coop.  Luna came running in.  I'm not sure whether she was coming to show me her egg or to warn me away from it.  Too slow Luna!!  I had already scooped it up so she spent a little time looking for it before getting on with her day. 

Today her egg was in the nest box snuggled right up against the bright yellow Easter egg!  Way to go Luna!  Now Jiji, Ebony, and Bella!   Get going.  No more freeloaders around here! Or off to Chicken Jail you go!

The Chicken Chick

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Years at the Coop

Happy New Year!

I love this time of year.  I like reflecting back on the previous year.  What was good?  What was bad?  What did we learn?  What did we have fun doing?  What should we not do again?  Thankfully there hasn't been too much in the "bad" and "do not repeat" columns.

In the "good" and "fun" column was a wonderful trip to Florida for the family.  Emma and Meghan really had a great time and learned a ton seeing a different part of the country.  Some job changes for Scott and I fit into the "good" and "learned a lot" column.  (I purposely didn't make a "Stressful" column!)

But when I think back on 2013 I think one of the things that covers it all is the addition of the Ladies.  It was definitely "Good."  They are fun and entertaining and it brought the four of us together on a common project!  Parts were "Bad" or more "Sad" like Rosey  dying and when we had to bring Hedwig back to the breeder.  But the "Learned a lot" category gets filled right up with The Ladies.  How to modify a coop, how to build a run, how to pick chicken breeds, that there even are different breeds of chickens, how to keep baby chicks alive, how to transition a new chicken into a flock, and how to prepare for winter.  Is there anything we wouldn't do again?  Not that I can think of.  I definitely will get chicks again someday when the Ladies are old and gray (do chickens turn gray?).  And I loved learning the coop/run construction part of the process so would do that again too when it's time for reconstruction or tweaking of the existing design.

The other thing I like about New Years is the thinking ahead.  I'm really not a New Years Resolution girl, but I do like to think of what's on the horizon for us.  2014 is shaping up to be a busy year.  Meg will finish elementary school and start middle school and Emma will officially become a teenager in 2014.  The Girls and the Ladies will participate in their first 4H show.  Since Emma and Meghan so much enjoyed seeing Florida, this year we will venture to another location - Washington DC.  And without a doubt JiJi, Luna, Ebony, and Bella will start giving me some eggs!

A big Happy New Year from the Ladies

The Chicken Chick