Posts Tagged ‘the dark underbelly’

The sad side of things…

Ri-Ri is missing, and we lost the chicks to the cold. Some people would say “they’re only chickens,” and I know that when you involve yourself in any kind of animal husbandry on any scope, you will lose stock. But it just plain makes me sad, and the speculation on what happened to Ri-Ri is killing me. Rob said a minute ago, “I hope he just turns up out of nowhere.” We’ve seen far too many stray dogs in the area.

We are reinforcing the fencing soon.

Damn, I love those chickens.


More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Chicken Butts

The silkies are of laying age, or at least one of them is. A couple of days ago, hubby brought in an egg. At least it was roughly the size of an egg (a bit smaller than my ladies lay), and

The robot chickens in WoW lay no eggs and are impervious to predators. I want steampunk chickens now.

The robot chickens in WoW lay no eggs and are impervious to predators. I want steampunk chickens now.

roughly the shape of an egg, but it felt like it was made out of thin leather instead of encased in a shell. This is a phenomenon that happens when a hen lays her first egg, maybe even her first couple. Their bodies are learning how to produce something they’ve never done before, so the reasonable explanation (from is that it takes a while for their little egg producing selves to get with the program. First eggs have been known to come out without a shell (as this one did), encased only in the protein lining that is made between the egg itself and the shell. Some farmers have reported first eggs found in the nest in absolutely nothing–no pouch of any kind, no shell, they just looked like they were cracked right into the nest. Our egg was perfectly edible, just strange. (That said, I did toss it, albeit sadly, because I didn’t know how long it had been sitting out or how long it took hubby to find it, and I don’t know how porous that protein lining is). We have, just today, found our first solid silkie egg.

Chicken eggs (as do all bird eggs) come out of the hen coated in a substance (called bloom) that seals the egg, preventing its porous shell from allowing bacteria inside. If you have access to farm-fresh eggs, don’t wash them when you get them! Even if there’s a little poop on them. Set aside your sense of “ohgod, ick” while you store them. That substance in which they’re coated prevents spoilage (otherwise the egg would simply rot before a chick could hatch out of a fertilized egg). Farm-fresh, unwashed eggs can actually sit out on the counter for up to two weeks. I’ve heard. I don’t do that, because, well, at this point, it’s ingrained. I have a need to put the eggs in the fridge.

When you’re ready to eat them, that’s when you wash them (because even though chicken anatomy prevents waste from coming into contact with the egg as it’s laid, chickens really do let it out anywhere and everywhere, even in the nest, so don’t make me explain what you’re inadvertently doing with that bacteria when you crack the egg over your frying pan). Use hot water. Soap is optional; if you use soap, rinse thoroughly. Wash your hands after handling chicken eggs, because you just indirectly touched chicken butt. There. You can have your “ohgod, ick” back.


She looks like she could laserbeam that little dog right in half.

Completely unrelated: Kelsey came in the other day completely freaked out because she had to fight her grandma’s little shih tzu off of Scarlett. Okay, before my mother-in-law (or her friends, or anyone) sees this as a kind of indictment, it’s not. I’m not blaming Priscilla. I’m not even blaming the dog (though do not take that to mean I’m not very annoyed with him, and he is now banned from our yard for the foreseeable future). Dogs who have not spent their lives around chickens see them as prey. Chickens are small and fast, but not too fast. I mean, this little dog goes with us on our walks in the park, and you can see him thinking longingly about the pigeons there. What he saw the other day was a big, fat pigeon who was walking instead of flying. That’s the stuff dreams are made of in his little brain. The stuff of which dreams are made.

Luckily, Teebo is a small dog. Unluckily, he went straight for her head. She has a minuscule amount of blood that has come out of her eardrum and dried up, but she obviously did not bleed for very long–to be honest, he probably grazed her with a tooth by accident. These chickens are actually a little bigger than he is, so he got a mouthful of feathers from around the side of her neck and not much more. What she’s suffering from appears to be a flesh wound.

One thing I’ve noticed is that when chickens are attacked by a predator, they are very slow afterwards for a good while, and they tend to keep at least one eye closed if the predator got anywhere near their faces. I’m sure that’s a protective measure. When Ri-Ri was attacked, it took her days to even come up out of a crouch, and she was probably sore. Imagine if something as big as you  are (or many times bigger), something you knew wanted wanted to eat you, threw you to the ground and started pulling your hair out before going for your throat. At the very least, given your survival, you’d feel violated, exhausted, and achy. Scarlett is going through exactly that.  She’s been in the henhouse for two days, quiet and uninterested in frolicking with the other hens, and doesn’t want to come out. When I petted her, she didn’t freak out, but she isn’t exactly in a position to do a lot of flailing and yelling.

Chickens need time, gentleness and extra food to get over stress (which is why chicken factories are horrible, horrible places). Scarlett will be all right. She will get extra mash and extra scratch and lots of fresh water, lots of time in the cool of the henhouse and grass and bugs when she’s ready to come out. I will spoil her well again. Poor chickie.

I love those birds so much.

Oh! Rob said that the other day, the day he found the silkie egg, he heard a wee rooster crow! Somebody got laid, and it wasn’t an egg.

In other news, still no lambs. Stupid, stubborn, overly pregnant ewe.

Phew! and other relieved noises…

Had a terrifying moment of and then there were three settle in this morning. Boychild reported the headcount last night when he put the Ladies to bed, and one of the hens was missing.

They’ve done this before. Barred Rock hens tend to be very adventuresome, so on occasion they might split up. That’s…unusual for hens. I’d always thought they’d just be running around each other all the time, lost in their little chicken brains without all being present at once, like a Borg collective member being cut off from the hive mind. At the very least, they tend to wander in pairs. The first time one really wandered off, she made it into the dog run, which…did not end well for Lady Rogue. (That’s what we called her, “Rogue,” because she was the first one out in the morning, the only one to figure out that she could fly to the top of the fence and escape the hen yard.)

It’s a dangerous thing, having dogs first and then getting livestock. The dogs are not used to the chickens or the sheep, and as an aside, it’s a damned sight better to have two yards than one. We wouldn’t even have the yard next door had I not insisted that it was a good investment (which, on the whole, makes this whole chicken and sheep thing…my fault? Oh, boy. I just can’t parse that right now…).

This would be Merlin. His previous owner once said, upon seeing him after a long absence, "What are you feeding him, cows?!"

This would be Merlin. His previous owner once said, upon seeing him after a long absence, “What are you feeding him, cows?!”

Anyway, the dogs did not grow up around stock of any kind. It’s taken them years to get used to the cats, and the cats were here first. But then take into consideration that we rescued Lucy as a stray with absolutely no clue as to her early background.  I have caught her in the act of terrorizing a chicken, though, so we are on point when it comes to her.  Her offspring Dexter is a massive, hairy coward of a Wookiee , so I think he’d probably run away if a chicken so much as bocked in his direction. Blossom is as laid back as they come, but I don’t know that she’d sit idly by if she had actual access to the chickens. What amuses me no end–and I’ve been trying to get a picture since I first saw it, believe me–is the fact that Merlin, our massive black longhaired cat, will lie down in the grass in the middle of the chickens while they scratch for bugs. It’s the most fantastic image, primarily because he’s the only cat in the yard big enough to take down a chicken if he wanted to. But I think he likes them.

When I do get that snapshot, I’m going to caption it, “We get along–what’s your excuse?”

At any rate, I got out to the hen yard after my walk, fully expecting to see Mz. Thang waiting at the door to the henhouse. She wasn’t. For an irrational moment, I hoped the boychild had miscounted, or just not seen one of the hens when he put them up last night. That, too, was not the case. I opened the door to three Ladies and five chicks.

So I started calling.

You know, the instant we got these things, the chicken call came right back to me from my teenage years. The inflection, the speed, the tone…My nerdy writer and gamer friends would laugh their butts off to hear me out in the yard yelling CHIIIIICKchickchickchick. But yell, I did.

No dice.

Crap, I thought. Lost another one. So I fed the babies, watered the babies, put the hens out, fed the sheep. Called some more, but by this point it was a little despairing, and then my morning routine was done; #4 Lady did not come.

I gathered yesterday’s eggs and made for the gate–and then, like the lover running down the airport terminal for a tearful reunion in a stupid rom-com, here she came. She’d been in the front yard, and, well, you’ve seen chicken feet. They only move so fast. But boy, she was hauling little chicken butt for me, and I’ll tell you what, I was bloody overjoyed. I let her in the gate and watched her reunite with the others, but that was a little anticlimactic after watching her book it for her usual corner of yard.

The sheep watched, too, with some consternation, but they watch everything, all the time, with some consternation. It’s their state of being. It must really, really suck to be them.

In other news, what is THIS below? Abandoned chickens? The horror!

NBC blames hipsters, news at 11.

Quickie Post: Not So Great, Actually

The other day, a predator of some kind (I suspect a fox) got three of our silkies and injured a fourth. The fourth is doing okay–that is, she’s very skittish and moving very slowly, but she’s keeping hydrated and well-fed, which is a good sign. There is a problem with her right eye and her neck, and she stays huddled up. However, chickens don’t do well with stress, and the fact that she’s made it this long is very encouraging.


I’d ask what they’re good for, but I don’t want them taking on a large predator, either.

I’d suspect cats, but whatever the animal was, it was got into the henhouse and out again without leaving any detritus behind (see how politely I put that?), and none has been spotted in the yard, either. This was a thief.

Have no fear. While we were sad and rattled, the henhouse has now been reinforced six ways from Sunday, and the Ladies and other babies are doing okay.

It has been suggested that we need a goose, to which I say no. No.

Don’t make me get the squirt bottle.

More history, and some current chicken events.

This would be an album cover.

Now that you’ve had the “How the hell does this happen to Hilary the Wonder-Nerd?” story, let’s give you a little idea of the makeup of this geeky farming situation. I went into this under protest, but let me assure you it’s not because I don’t love animals. I do. I adore them. We have…well, I’ll just say a lot of cats, who will be named as they come up in our adventures together. We have three dogs, who are Lucy (because when Rob found her one day wandering the disc golf park, he thought she looked like a Lucy, and she took to it), Blossom (named for a Power Puff Girl when the kids were little), and Dexter (named for the great, hulking, four-armed cook in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, who was probably the best bit of acting we saw in the whole prequel trilogy). We have a pet fish in the house (a betta who is named Mr. Fishy, because…well, I don’t know) and we have several tilapia outside in the storm cellar underneath my husband’s aquaponics system. That, my friends, is a whole ‘nother blog post, but let me tell you what, I am drowning in the biggest mint plants I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen mint take over a garden. Aquaponics is the wave of the future, right up there with Google Glass.

We have four adult Barred Rock hens (those were the ones who came software-bundle style with the sheep) and eight silkie adolescents. I call the hens “the Ladies,” and yes, the “L” is capitalized. I call the silkies “the chicks,” even though technically they’re in between chicks and chickens. I still call our pushing-11-year-old dog Lucy “PUPPY!!” Though the cats, they are cats. I don’t know. You can examine the psychology behind my naming conventions another day, if you want.

Imagine my joy--and skepticism--when I heard "No shearing."

Imagine my joy–and skepticism–when I heard “No shearing.”

I call the sheep the b– well. Not the Ladies.

Why the animosity? Well, I suppose I just can’t quite get over it. I have sheep. I mean, when I sold my last lamb at the county fair and hied myself off to become a soldier, the great thing about it was I’d never have to take care of sheep again. I’d never have to clean chicken coops. I’d never have to haul five-gallon buckets of water, milk a goat, assist the birthing of an animal in the snow in the middle of the night. Yeah. That one was a fun one. But the sheep…I am, and have been for about 25 years, completely over the sheep.

The thing is, the sheep I dealt with were primarily Suffolks (this one you’re looking at, if you clicked on the link, is a HUGE example of a show Suffolk, either some kind of gargantuan spring lamb or a very tall breeder adult) and Hampshires. Suffolks have white wool but their legs and faces are black. Hamps tend to be white (or at least the ones I raised were), but they’re often cross-bred with Suffolks and end up with fuzzy gray faces and legs.

Not unlike the lack of association between chickens and bad smells, there also seems to be a lack of association between sheep and training. Yes. You have to train the creature that, if introduced to something new and tasty, will eat until it dies. This is not what we tend to call a smart animal. Yet this creature must be instructed in the way of the bridle (which really is as it sounds; like a horse, the sheep can wear a kind of harness setup that goes onto its muzzle and around the back of the head), the grooming table (which bridles the sheep’s chin into a device that holds her steady for detail clipping, wool-shaping and things like painting of hooves and coat forshow), walking with the trainer (for showing, whether it’s for display or sale), and positioning (ideally, the sheep must stand with its feet positioned in a perfect rectangle so the judges can adequately discern shape, muscle tone and quality when it comes time to rank the sheep for sale). If you Google “show sheep” or something like it, you will be gifted with many many images of young 4H and FFA members squaring off the stance of their lambs, gripping them under the jaw just right so that the lamb can’t helpbut allow itself to be tugged around the ring, strapping them onto those tables…

Can you believe how huge she is? Nobody's strapping her anywhere.

Can you believe how huge she is? Nobody’s strapping her anywhere.

Really, it’s barbaric. I mean, those poor kids.

Now. It’s not as though I have to do all of these things with the current b– sheep, or even most of them. I want the sheep bridle-trained because that makes them easier to get to the vet if something goes wrong. Otherwise, they’re so skittish that I’d have to hit them with a tranq gun before I could get close enough for an examination. I want the sheep to be comfortable walking beside me. I don’t want to have to grab the white one by the horns and drag her into the truck (as they did the day we brought her home). I certainly don’t want to have to upend the brown one (called Sarsaparilla, because she’s the color of the root beer Rob makes) and two-man carry her by the legs to throw her in the truck (as, yes, they did the day we brought her home).

The reason for the animosity is that when we got them home, I was a little excited. Believe it or not, it’s true. Oh, sure, I was grumbly, but I’m an optimist. I kept telling myself it could be fun. “It’ll be a few days before they warm up,” Terry of Slowpoke Farm warned. “They need to get used to you.” Okay, I thought gamely, I can wait a few days for animal nuzzles, for surely, they will nuzzle.

But they remain skittish, and it’s now been a couple of months. Why won’t they love me?? I go out there, I rattle the food, I make it clear that I’m the one providing the tasties, and the closest I can get is about five feet away. If I move wrong, they’re darting to the back of the yard again.

That’s disappointing for an animal lover, isn’t it? People who love cute things want to pet all the cute things. It’s in our nature to want to snuggle them, a biological imperative. And yet these sheep, they remain unconvinced despite my offerings of food and calm.

I think this is why my guilty pleasure is Farmville 2. Those Katahdins aren’t rude.

And this does concern me a little, because Sarsaparilla is about five feet wide. Seriously, it could be any day now, and I think she must be carrying twins. I don’t want her running off when we try to help her care for the lambs. I don’t want her conveying to the lambs, in whatever slow-witted mindspeak sheep use, that the two-legged food providers with the flat, disgusting eyes-front faces are not okay.



But the chickens…they don’t do that. Not to me, anyway. I say “Good morning, Ladies,” and here they all come, trotting on their little hen feet to see what I’m sprinkling.  They will also eat vegetable scraps, day-old bread, old eggshells (don’t make that face; the calcium is good for them). I love it when I feed a thing my garbage and it feeds me back.

In reading about chickens, I’m discovering that there is an actual psychology behind their actions. Color me stunned, because look at that head-to-body ratio. Their brains are about the size of a peanut.

To my horror, one day I caught two of the hens picking on one of the silkies. They were plucking feathers out of his back, and s/he was making awful, distressed noises (as would I!). I shooed them away and fretted a good while. Why on earth would they do that? How are we going to prevent it? That’s terrible! Is that one male? Are they going to attack all the males? Is it because that one’s the biggest? How horrible!

Well, Rob found a way to separate the hens and the chicks as well as keep the chicks away from the cats. And in my research, I discovered that it is a thing. They do that. Sometimes, on a whim, a hen will just decide she don’t like yo chick face and will come after you. Chickens have been known to harbor these feelings of dislike for years. Is it shade? Gender? Size? Could be none, could be all. Maybe he smells different. But she might never get over the urge to attack him. I’m wondering if it’s some kind of old-lady “Hey, you punk! Get offa my lawn!”

Who couldn't love that face? Rather, those feathers.

Who couldn’t love that face? Rather, those feathers.

There. The dark underbelly of farm life. See? That’s another reason I’m better off programming computers. My keystrokes don’t randomly decide that they hate each other.

But my keystrokes are also not cuddly. Oh, the conundrum.