Friday, August 8, 2008

A Chicken Update While I am At It

And because I know that all of you have surely been wondering how my chickens are, I guess now is as good a time as any for an update. First of all this is a picture of our hen house and coop and no one has to tell me that we are verging on white trash here:My son's summer project was to paint the exterior barn red, but he has been terribly busy what with sleeping late and listening to the Beatles during every single one of his waking hours. And Doug is supposed to put some metal roofing up (in place of the lovely tarp) so that the girls can be outside but out of the rain/snow. I may just have to buck up and do this stuff myself, even though I already do almost everything else around here. Oops, sorry for the mini-rant. Anyway, something will be done about this soon, hopefully before winter and I will grace you all with that update when it happens.

Last fall we started letting the chickens out for the last few hours of the day, after they are done with laying each day's eggs, so that they could free-range. They love it of course, and pretend to be happy with the 17 acres that is all theirs south of the coop:But what they really want to do is decimate my flower gardens across the road (where the house is). Not two minutes after I let them out here they are crossing the road:We keep a bright red plastic rake handy and if you were to come by sometime, there is a good chance you would see one of us running crazily across the front yard, waving the rake and yelling "shoo, shoo" which is oddly effective at getting them back to their side of the road. No fatalities on the road yet, thankfully, (ick, dead chicken body to deal with) but that is probably because our neighbors know they need to slow down for any number of reasons when driving past our house. The drawback to letting them out each day is that in so many ways chickens are very smart and ours actually know how to make me feel guilty. Every day they start crowding around around the door at about noon (too early for them to be let out) and I swear they look at me with hang dog eyes, begging me to let them out.

After the unfortunate death of Rooster #1 last year, Rooster #2 stepped up to the plate and he is really a good rooster. Although he hangs around me, keeping an eye on me when I go into the coop, he does not attack me like Rooster #1 did. He is very diligent about getting the girls in and out of the coop and if I am watching them I always know if a storm is coming. He rounds them up and has them in the hen house before we even see the dark clouds. It's amazing. One night he came up to the house at dusk, when they should have been roosting already and when I went down to the coop I found that the door had blown shut and the chickens were all huddled by the door waiting to get in.

One negative about Rooster #2 is that he does have a tendency to maul the girls and so most of them look pretty bedraggled. Basically he pins them down, applying pressure on their heads and lower backs with his talons while they squawk and squirm and pretty soon their feathers are gone from those areas. It is very violent but no one listens to me when I tell them to stop, so I just turn the other cheek.

And because the hens have a lot of bare skin showing, I have to keep a close eye on those areas. We have two identical hens that I call the peckers and they have a habit of following the others, even the rooster, and pecking at their bottoms or anywhere else actually. A minuscule break in the skin can turn into a gaping wound with those two around. They managed to peck the rooster's bottom so badly last winter (there tends to be more pecking in the winter when they can't go outside as much) that he lost his tail feathers. He has looked a bit unbalanced ever since: The peckers happen to be good layers though, so I let them live.

Right now we have 19 hens plus the rooster. So we get A LOT of eggs each day; anywhere from nine to eighteen. This is the haul from yesterday and today (plus some blueberries from our own two bushes):Unfortunately, at this point, we are all more than a little sick of eggs and anything that is made with eggs. Our friends and neighbors often get free eggs and since I haven't seen as many people during the summer I have taken to flagging down the cars that are driving past in order to give them a dozen eggs. Just kidding, but it's a good idea, one that I should pursue. Heh. Yesterday I had eight dozen eggs in the fridge until a friend came by and I begged her to take a few dozen at least.

For a very long time, Penny, who is a bird killing dog in addition to being incredibly sweet, had to be IN the house when the chickens were out or one of the kids had to play sentry. But this summer, she seems to have other things on her mind and she hasn't paid any attention to them at all. She even hangs around when I go to collect the eggs and calmly stand right next to the rooster, without licking her lips at all when he comes to see what I'm doing. I am cautiously optimistic that we at least won't lose any more chickens to our own dog.

So the egg layers are good and we love having them around. Watching them in the yard is quite entertaining and I am so glad we got us some chickens. I find myself with barn envy now though, wishing I had a BETTER! BIGGER! BRIGHTER! hen house, and a new one built by the Amish folks down the road is high on my wish list, believe it or not.

Maybe for my birthday in December.

14 comments:

Phyllis Jennings said...

Tracy, I am your Uncle Jim and Aunt Shirley's friend and neighbor, and I absolutely love your blog. Have been reading it for a couple years and always intended to write and tell you that it is like reading a wonderful novel -- one that you don't want to end. Even though you are a fantastic artist, you are a very gifted writer. I don't know you except through Jim and Shirley, but I wish I did. Besides your artistic talents, you're a great wife and mother -- and I love that you tackle anything that needs to be done around your home (a girl after my own heart). I just want to say thanks for your blog -- you make my day every time you post. Shirley and Jim are so proud of this terrific person you've become. Looking forward to more posts!!!! And thanks to Shirley for cluing me in about them in the first place.

ohboya said...

Hi Tracy, my name is Traci and I'm from the Midwest myself (WI), am graphic artist, and also draw and paint (I'm also the same age as you). Anyway, I thought all the similarites were funny! I ran across your blog yesterday and I absolutely love your work! Your paintings are beautiful and I wonder if you would let me know what kind of board you paint on. I'm trying to expand my oil painting horizons and would love to find that out from you. I also have been enjoying reading your blog. Reminds me of home (I live in California now). Your life seems to be quintessential to what I'd like mine to be! At least now I know I can read, look at some great photos and paintings and feel transported to the way life "should be" in my eyes. Anyway, you write wonderfully too. Thanks so much for sharing your life.

Kim Morin Weineck said...

Tracy, the more I read your blog, the more I wish you were my neighbor! Enjoy your chickens :)

Tracy said...

wow, such great comments tonight!

Phyllis, I am so glad that you have finally shown yourself here! Thanks so much for your very kind words and I am so glad to know that Jim and Shirley are singlehandedly doubling my reader stats:) So nice to hear the compliment about my writing-it's always been one of my interests and this blog has just been the perfect place to pursue it. Hope to hear from you again!

Traci, and so nice to hear from you too. We DO have a lot in common, except that you ended up in the land of sunshine and I stayed with that long hard winter thing:)

I paint on birch panels that I buy from Soho Artist Materials in NYC. I wrote more about it here. Hope it helps and don't be a stranger now!

Kim, there just so happens to be a house for sale down the road and I guarantee that you would have plenty of fresh eggs if you moved in:)

Katherine Tyrrell said...

You ARE my neighbour Tracy - you're just over there (points west) - "along aways apiece" - and your blog is very definitely one of my 'must reads' because of the writing as well as the images.

Now - a suggestion for your chicken house. How about just reminding the men folk who does all the work round your place? After you've finished giving an extreme makeover to the chicken house and run, maybe you could erect a sign which says something like "Girls made all of this" or "Girl Power" or some such - and then invite all your girlfriends round for an 'at home' party for the girls and #2 rooster. I'm sure it'll give them all something to talk about in the local neighbourhood...........

Janet said...

If you are looking for some cheap entertainment, feed your chickens beer soaked bread. There is nothing funnier than drunk chickens. Well, maybe a few things, but not alot. Just don't let them drive drunk. Or cross the road.

Tracy said...

Katherine, Aw, thanks, that's so sweet, neighbor! Great idea about the party!

Janet, um, thanks for the suggestion, but I'd rather shell out a few bucks and go see a movie, than get my chickens drunk.

Deborah Paris said...

Wonderful post, Tracy! It reminded me of when we had chickens about 14 years ago- 13 of them, all named Judy (you know, Judy, Judy, Judy..Cary Grant) Anyway, I finally started taking the eggs to the homeless shelters, Salvation Army, etc. They even saved the cartons for me to refill. If you have a food bank in your area you might try that. I also loved the post from a while back about Penny and Rooster #1!

Janet said...

I guess I left out the part about getting them drunk..........and then making them play the piano.

Tracy said...

Great names, Deborah, that is too funny! In the spring when we have even more eggs I deliver a few dozen a week to food pantry here in town. I should be doing that now too, I guess, thanks for the reminder. And also everyone that I give eggs to is kind enough to give me the cartons back, so I haven't had to buy any for a long time.

A friend of mine told me I should be selling the eggs but I like giving them away. I have spent so much of my live needing help from others that it is nice to be able to be the one helping now.

Deborah Ross said...

This was a great little story....I can picture it as you tell it. Oh, I think Rooster #2 must be really smart!

gary rith said...

Tarp roof=hillbilly, right?
It is always impressive that you raise your kids, paint, have a beautiful house AND you farm. Must be a lot of coffee brewing at your place, day and night...

Block Dog Art said...

Hi Tracy,
Just stumbled across your blog, it is very refreshing and great to read, maybe you can do a segment on duck tape, it usually comes after the tarp. I also saw your art on your website and wanted to tell you that I love your work.

Martha Marshall said...

Tracy, thanks for the chicken update. You continually provide me with my vicarious country homestead enjoyment.

That is too cute about Rooster #2's sense of responsibility. Too bad he's got a domestic violence streak.

I love your writing too, as well as your painting, of course. What amazes me is all that you manage to accomplish. Probably lots of coffee for sure!