Losing Livestock

Dealing with the death of something you care about is always hard. When something dies of old age or illiness, it hurts. There is still sadness and anger. When you can honestly say the death was not your fault then there is no shame. But when the death is your fault, the healing process is really hard.
I lost two chickens about two weeks ago. Not old chickens or sick chickens, but healthy eight-month old hens. And their death was my fault.
When you get pets or livestock you make a commitment to take care of them, protect them, and treat them with compassion. I loved these chickens and took good care of them, except I did not keep them safe.
At night they sleep in a henhouse, up on a roost. A ramp from the hen house goes out into a run that they can’t get out of. I thought the run was secure, so I stopped locking them into the hen house all the way each night. I locked up the run, but I left the door into the run open. Over the time they have lived outside this happened several times. A few times we forgot, but they were OK. So after a while we stopped closing it all together. And it was always OK.
Until it wasn’t. Some animal climbed a tree down on to the top of the hen house and found a way in.
When the first chicken went missing, I did not realize what had happened. There was no body, no feathers. She was just gone. I figured she might have gotten locked out when I let them free range the night before. She was a very broody hen and it was possible she made a nest under a bush. So I spent two days searching for her. I looked under everything, and went into neighbors’ yards. I even wandered around calling her name. She was my favorite chicken, Speckles. She was the sweetest when she was a baby. I would hold her in my hand and she would fall asleep. She was the most beautiful, most friendly, and had the most trusting nature.
I could not deal with the idea that she was dead. She must just be lost and I would find her. So it never dawned on me that something was able to get in the hen house. Two days after Speckles disappeared I went outside to find feathers everywhere.
I can’t describe what that felt like. In one moment I realized Speckles was dead, another chicken was dead, and that both deaths were my fault. I cried, I screamed. I wanted to find the animal who did it and kill it. I want to punch something. But what I wanted more than anything else was to go back in time and fulfill the commitment I had made to these animals.
Goldie was the second one dead. She was the warrior princess of our chickens. She scared my two twenty-pound cats when they came out with me for a visit. She once ate a snake. She took on a rooster role with the other chickens, looking after them. I think she did that the night she died.

The feathers were everywhere — in the henhouse, in the run, even outside the run. She tried to fight whatever got in, but she could not manage it. And it was not her job. It was my job to keep her safe, and I failed.
The run is secure now. We lock them up tight every night. I have had trouble sleeping every night since then, listening all night long in case they need me. And every morning starts with fear. Will I find five chickens this morning? Or four and a pile of feathers?
I don’t know how to deal with that. Sometimes I still think they might just be lost. But it is a lie my mind tells me when my shame is too much.

An Eggcellent Chicken

Sorry, I had to go with the pun; please forgive me.

Yesterday we got our first egg!   We knew it was going to happen soon because Snow, the leghorn, was starting to show signs of being ready.  She does not like to be petted, but for the last week or so, every time we got near her she would get into the hunched-down chicken mating position instead of running away.

Yesterday we heard lots of noise from the hen house, so we ran out to check on them.  When we got to the hen house we found a tiny white egg.  Snow is the only one of our chickens who will lay white eggs.   Leghorns are prolific layers; at their prime they can lay about an egg a day.   And our Snow is living up to the hype; she laid another egg today about 30% bigger than yesterday.

We got her on February 3 at about 3 days old, so she is just over 4 months old now. It is hard to believe that the little chick that was just the size of an egg then is laying her own eggs now.

Chicken Pictures!

Chicken? What chicken? No chickens here.

You have not heard about or seen my chickens in about a month.  I know that hurts you and I want that hurting to stop.  The doctor recommends chickens pictures.

Let’s see…what should I tell you?

They are still very cute, sweet and fun to play with.  As they get older they don’t like being held as much.  I can still pick them all up but they run from me if they can.  Unless I have treats.

Their personalities are strong.  Snow is flighty and paranoid. Betty is always looking for an adventure.  Goldie is protective.  Peeps is calm and low key about things.  Attila is high energy and plays aggressively.  Speckles is reserved.  Audrey is a little less adventurous then Betty, and the easiest to pet or catch.

They have a run now.  It is about 120 square feet, mostly in shade.  I am not going to post any pictures of all of it right now, because I am still working on making it pretty.   Right now it is safe and functional, but unpleasant looking. I have started painting it and adding things to make it more homey.

I would also like them to have more to forage in there, but I have not figure out how to do that.  If I put down seeds for pasture they will eat the seeds before they are plants.  Maybe a container garden of chicken pasture, that I can bring in and take away as needed? 

Having a run does not mean they are locking in all day.  I am doing a sort of hybrid of penned and free range.  I let them out to run all over the back yard a few hours a day.  They love running around time.  It gives them a chance to forage and play.  The back yard is pretty unmanicured at present so there are tons of interesting things for them. Like plies of leaves to scratch around in, lots of plants to sample, bugs to find and bushes to sleep under.   They love the weed three-seed mercury, which I have in abundance.   They also love food plants, especially artichokes.  Betty does this thing where she tried to stand on the artichoke leaves, then she jumps up and down breaking the leaf.   I don’t know what that is all about.

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Their super growth rate has slowed down.  I no longer look at them and say “Wow, you are 10% bigger today than yesterday”.  They are filling out and their combs are coming in.  They look almost like full grown chickens now.   In a few months they should start laying eggs.

They can’t get enough cheerios. If they can get to the container the cheerios are in they will knock it over and peck at it.  Oh, I can’t forget tomatoes.  They do this weird thing with tomatoes, but no other food.  I call it “tomato chase”.  On of them will pick up the hunk of tomato in her beak and then run around making a high pitched tweeting noise while the other chase her.  Then one of them will catch the first chicken and steal the tomato right out of her beak and then that one runs.  By the time they finally get to eat the tomato it is a mushed dust covered mess.  But they are happy and that is all that matters.  I am actually going to plant a bed of cherry tomatoes in front of their run so they can pick off the fruit to play whenever they want.

They have figured out roosting.  They put themselves up there every night now and mostly don’t sleep on top of each other.

I love my chickens and I am really glad I got them.  Having them has been a bit of work, but the daily chicken theater more than makes up for it. I have a few video of them running around that I should post someplace.  Chickens are so funny, I find myself laughing out loud a them everyday.   If you have never just sat around and watched chicken I highly recommend it.

 

Welcome to the Hen House

Last night I put the chicks in their hen house for the first time.   The hen house has been my big project for the last few weeks.  I am pretty new at woodworking, so there was quite a bit of doing, undoing, redoing, but this weekend I was happy with it.  The chickens however were not.

After - New shutters, painting, water proofing, roost, new door, weather proofing, building a ladder and general repairs bring you this.

Before - I think this building was used as a play house and dog house before we moved here.

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We put them in a few hours before sunset so they could get used to it and be comfortable before the scary dark came down.  At first they wandered around a bit.  They tried out the ladder looked in the nesting box and explored.

Slowly moved towards me.  After a while they were happily settled down on and around me.  But since I have no intention of sleeping in the hen house I left before they could get comfy enough to fall asleep.

About an hour later we came back and they were huddled up very unhappy against the door.  So the way we had things was not working.  First we installed their red heat light and tried a few different method for getting them up on the roost.  This mostly ended with them getting angry or scared and trying to roost on me.   I had as many as 4 chickens at a time on my arms and shoulders making it pretty clear they wanted to go home.  At one point Peep got up on my shoulder, put her head by my ear and told me what she thought about the whole thing.   Of course I don’t speak chicken, but I got what they were saying. I have to admit I the thought did cross my mind they maybe they could live in the house forever and we could just learn to deal with it.   But I know that will not work of course.  They will be happier in their hen house and we can’t have 7 full grown chickens in the house.

So then we tried to make it as much like were they lived inside as possible.  We got their pen, put the small feeder and water in it, put the heat lamp in the same place as inside and put them all in there just like we have done ever night in the house.   That did the trick.  They settled down and stopped yelling at me.

After that I was able to go inside.  Not much sleep was to be had by me.  I stayed in a light sleep all night listening out for them.  I know the hen house is pretty secure, but it is hard not to picture predators getting in.

This morning when I went out there were fine, all cuddled up in the pen.   Last time I went out there I made them get out of the pen and showed them a big feeder and water again.  Hopefully they will understand this is home and feel safe there in a few days.   I will visit them often to make sure they are adjusting well.

The next project is to build them a run so that I don’t have to carry them to the working pen every day.  These chickens are starting to get heavy.

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Here are a few cute pictures of some of the chickens.  I find them all to be so pretty and to each have their own personality.  These three are great examples of that.  Atilla is aggressive and weird.  Betty is curious and though the smallest she has the biggest drive for adventure.  Speckles is prim, proper and polite.

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Chicken Tractor

My chicks have been outside during the day since Saturday.  They love having more space to play, being able to stretch their wings and do their weird hop-fly thing.  They are really enjoying all the new foods.  They have no idea that this is work not play!

They are eating the compost crops I put down a few months ago.  The plan is they will mow down all the crops, killing them but leaving the roots intact to help the soil texture.  While they eat they will poo adding more nutrients, and they will mix everything up with their scratching.  Hopefully they will also eat some insects that I don’t want.

The structure is my own design.  I am very proud of it.  Woodworking is something that has always intimidated me.  It seemed expensive, complicated and scary.  So anytime I have needed something made I have asked Jeff, Erik or other friends help me.   But this time I wanted something done right away and I did not want to wait for anyone else.  So I just did it.  I mostly used scrap wood from the garage, thought I did buy a few 1 x 4s and  1 x 2s.  I only used tools I had (miter saw, screw driver, staple gun and a hammer).   It is not fancy, but it is pretty sturdy and will do the job I needed.  Puck (my husband, the guy in the super man pants) helped me put together some of it, but he knows less about woodwork then I do.  So we both learned new skills.

Of course once they were outside Donnie (the black Maine Coon) had to come out too, so he could keep an eye on them.  When I am outside he sits right beside their pen, and when I am inside he stays in the window looking out at them.  His interest in the chicks is so odd.  Last week the leghorn got out of the pen inside while I was giving them water. She ran away from me and hide behind Donnie.  They have almost no fear of him and he seem to have no urge to eat them.

At night I bring the chicks back inside, because I don’t trust this structure to keep them safe and it is not quite warm enough.  The hen house will be done this week and then they will be out of the house full time.  About 8 weeks from babies to living in their own apartment.  They grow up so fast.

Chicken Babies – First few weeks

I have been wanting chickens for years.  They are cute, good garden worker and they will give me eggs.  I have not gotten them before now for several reason but the big one is them not actually being legal here.   The people I have talked to in the government swear that is going to change this year.  But they have been saying it for years already.  So by getting chickens I am taking a risk.  Lot of people have them, everyone (government people and people who have them) says it should be ok, but it might not be.  If a neighbor complains I could loose them or get fined or something.  But part of getting the law changed is making it more commonplace for people to have them, so I have decided to go for it.

Playing Dead

I got my chicken in two groups, one week apart.  The first group was from Chattanooga.  It was a long drive and they did not bring the birds I wanted most (Americanas), which is why I had to get a second batch.  For the first few days they would just fall asleep randomly and fall over. Chicks are sort of delicate, so the first few times they did this I was afraid they were sick. But I figured out pretty quick that they were just sleepy.   The breeds of the group from Jan 28 are two Barred Rocks and two Buff Orpingtons.   One of each is for my friend Erik when they are big enough to live outside.  If I can bear to part with them.   I love my chicken babies.

The next Friday I got another three chicks from a nice guy in Austel.   He only sold them if you bought at least three.  I have no idea why that is.  I got the the two Americanas I wanted and I also got a Leghorn.He had a few types to choose from but the leghorn was least like all the others I have.  She will be my only white egg layer, and my only white bird.  Leghorns are not as docile as the other breeds, sometimes they are insane.

When I put the groups together I was afraid there would be fighting, but it only took about 20 minutes for them to be a happy flock.  All seven do everything together now, I think there might only be one brain between all of them when it comes to some things.  I guess that is why they are called a flock.  The Americanas seem to be the smartest, the leghorn the most aggressive. 



Having chickens is lots of fun so far.  They mostly hate me and scream every time I touch them, but they will eat out of my hand if I stay pretty still. They are confused about freckles (which I have lots of) so they have pecked at them until I have bleed a few times.  I hope they don’t get a taste for human. I don’t want to be found dead in the back yard some day killed by chickens.

Right now they are all between 3 weeks and 1 month old.  I am amazed at how much they have grown and changed in such a short time. The biggest Buff is almost compeletly feathered now, and the others are not far behind.   I have a hen house for them but it needs some work (it was a children’s play house) but no closed in run area yet.  At the rate they are growing they will be ready to go outside in less than a month.