November 18, 2013 § Leave a comment
Music Mondays! (I just made that up, I think this is the first time I’ve ever posted anything musical on a Monday). Either way, this song/video is someone’s current favorite.
Paul plays it to calm her down. (You can tell she was angry before, because when she gets upset she pulls her hair/grabs her ears. She still has one hand on her head gripping her hair, which means she’s still deciding whether or not she’s pissed.)
It is also a song that will be stuck in your head the rest of the day. You’re welcome.
September 27, 2013 § 2 Comments
As I was walking down Stanton Street early one Sunday morning, I saw a chicken a few yards ahead of me. I was walking faster than the chicken, so I gradually caught up. By the time we approached Eighteenth Avenue, I was close behind. The chicken turned south on Eighteenth. At the fourth house along, it turned in at the walk, hopped up the front steps, and rapped sharply on the metal door with it’s beak. After a moment, the door opened and the chicken went in.
September 16, 2013 § 3 Comments
It was a dark and stormy night. Literally.
With all the chaos with the new baby and people visiting, the past few weeks have caused us to kind of fall out of our normal routine. So when the severe weather sirens went off one night as we were on our way out the door to dinner at the inlaws, and I thought I heard Paul say “I’m going to go put the girls away now because of the weather”, like we normally would, I shouldn’t have assumed that’s what happened.
Long story short, we realized at 10pm that no one had actually put the chickens away. This isn’t the first time that’s happened. Early on I was always afraid that if we didn’t put the chickens on lockdown in the coop right at sundown one of the many critters that comes out at night would get in the pen and have a feast.
our super secure entrance to the chicken pen
But inevitably, there were a few times when for whatever reason we couldn’t get home before it got dark. And every time they’d put themselves to bed and were fine.
This time, though. Paul went out to put them away and came back in cursing. And I knew.
You see, while Romy and Michele would always put themselves away, Brunhilda liked to perch on top of the coop.
And when we’d come in to close everything up she’d jump down and run in the coop. Sometimes if it was really late before we could make it back there, she’d make her way into the coop on her own. But not always.
That night, apparently she decided to stay up and perch. And something got in the pen. And it got Brunhilda.
I’ll spare you the details, because they aren’t pretty, but there were feathers everywhere. Romy, per usual, had put herself away and was fine, hidden inside the coop. But poor B didn’t survive.
Even though I had kind of assumed when we got the chickens that this would eventually happen (I actually expected it to happen like the first week), we felt (or still feel) absolutely terrible.
So Paul and I headed out in the dark, in a torrential downpour with lightning flashing and thunder rumbling, to clean up the remains and put her to rest.
The next day we decided that with a newborn and Paul back at work, it probably wasn’t the best time to try to introduce a new chicken to the coop again (which, in retrospect, I realize I didn’t even cover completely the first time we tried to replace Michele with a new chicken. Probably because it was traumatic on so many levels. But trust me, it involves a lot of quarantining and violent pecking and can be an ordeal.)
And so, after a year and a half of quality time and quality eggs, Paul drove out to the farm the next day and dropped Romy off with her old flock.
He said that dropping her off was like dropping a child for her first day at preschool.
That afternoon Paul and my dad disassembled the magical hidden chicken farm.
And so ends an era. Even though it was the right decision for us, it still feels like there is a chicken-shaped hole in our lives. No early morning clucking. Nobody to greet you when you open the garage door.
At least we have something else to help fill it.
Even though she doesn’t lay eggs (fortunately).
Farewell girls. We miss you.
September 9, 2013 § Leave a comment
…when you can rent?
The price seems a little steep, but for the right market…
…“Homestead Phil & Jenn” have a proposal for you. They will rent you chickens. For $350, they will show up at your house in May, drop off two hens, a chicken coop, enough chicken feed to last you six months, and feed dishes. (If you live more than 50 miles away from a town that’s about 35 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, there’s an additional delivery fee.) Come November, they will come back, pick the chickens up, and keep them warm and cozy through the winter, when they don’t lay as many eggs.
August 31, 2013 § 3 Comments
A few weeks ago, despite the fact that we recently put some logs back there that we flip every other day (it introduces a bunch of new bugs for them to munch on), Paul got worried that the chickens were getting “bored”. Considering the fact that, after a year and a half of living in that pen, they regularly try to run through the chicken wire to get back into their coop, I am not too concerned about keeping them mentally stimulated.
But Paul was, and he did his research (he googled “bored chickens”) and found that apparently chickens love dangling vegetables. Specifically, cabbage. If you hang cabbage about a foot and a half off the ground, the chickens will peck at it all day long.
So Paul decided to utilize the old bird feeder…
the old bird feeder
…and now we have a head of cabbage suspended in the middle of the chicken coop.
And the chickens are entertained.
July 28, 2013 § Leave a comment
June 11, 2013 § 1 Comment
After Michele’s untimely demise, I was hesitant about getting another chicken. I began to see them as less of a cute feathery friend and more as a traumatic experience strutting around on two legs. Because ultimately, we all know how this story will end.
Not Paul. After a few days of mourning, he was back to this:
and was quick to inform me that chickens are flock animals so it is NOT OK to have only one. Especially in winter, when they need each other to stay warm. I told him so long as he’s comfortable pulling the head off of the next sick chicken we get, it was OK with me. (The truth of the matter is, Paul loves having chickens. A lot. And I do too, the yard would feel a little empty without them.)
And so, after a trip to the Memorial Day chicken coop tour….
…and a talk with the woman selling year-old pullets, meet Brunhilda.
And yes, that is where she perches, up on top of the coop. But the reason for that is another story for another time.
Brunhilda (Paul’s default name for her, pronounced “Broomhilda”….yay, German) is a Swedish Flower Hen, which just sounds adorable.
Unlike Romy or Michele, however, when you walk into the coop, she doesn’t come running up to you looking for spinach. She runs away. Fast. And when you do finally get a hold of her, she will fight and squawk and flap to the DEATH. So putting her in the coop at night is a two man job that usually involves a rake, at least one chicken getting stuck in between the slats of the fence, and takes an average of about 10 minutes.
Coincidentally, the two things progressively becoming most difficult for me to do are: 1.) move quickly, and 2.) bend down to pick something up off the ground like…oh, say, a chicken. So for me, this whole bedtime process is rapidly approaching humiliating. I am kind of beginning to suspect that Paul says he needs my help for entertainment value.
And according to some meganerd magic site that Paul sent me, this is what the mythical Brunhilda looks like.
Welcome to the ranch, B.
May 29, 2013 § 6 Comments
If I haven’t scared you out of getting backyard chickens (and I’ve already had 3 different people, unsolicited, come up and tell me that all the stories of the egg-eating has done just that), this will most likely be the final nail in that coffin.
And before we start, a brief warning: some of you may find this post disturbing.
It is so, so appropriate that last Wednesday I came across this article and sent it to Paul with the intro, “Awwww we could never do this to the girls!!”
Here’s what happened:
Michele started acting a little weird on Thursday. By Friday mid-morning it was clear that something was wrong with her. By Friday evening, it was clear that something was very, very wrong with her.
I googled the crap out of her symptoms. Long story short, it could have been any number of things. Regardless, at that point (over 24 hours in), most sites suggested putting the bird down. Especially because any sort of bacterial or fungal infection can be easily spread to the rest of the flock.
Further complicating the matter was this: we were going out of town the following morning for the weekend. So we had to deal with the chicken like RIGHT THEN.
I, personally, have never killed anything larger than a fish (and that’s relatively easy, just pull it out of the water and it stops breathing). It was my understanding was that my brother in law’s farm, where we got the chickens, had a cone (if you don’t know what that is, don’t google it. Unless you want to see a lot of blood.) So we called him and asked him if we could use the cone to put down a chicken. Turns out, they don’t have a cone.
Us: Oh, ok. So, then, how do you usually kill the chickens?
Bro in Law: With a shotgun. Or sometimes a shovel.
On to Plan B. I was like well maybe we can take it to the vet and have them put her down. Yes, it’ll cost us money, and that sucks, but it’ll be humane and she won’t suffer.
Here’s another fun fact: local vets won’t see chickens. You have to call like a country vet to come to your house. And who the crap lives in the suburbs and has a country vet in their rolodex.
So Paul googled “how to kill a chicken”, hoping we could find something reasonable, quick, sanitary, and humane, and came up with some answers:
The best way to quickly and painlessly kill a chicken is to chop its head off. First, be sure that you have an axe that is both very heavy and very sharp. Make sure you have something holding both the head and the feet down, and be careful of your fingers and thumbs. Also keep in mind there will be quite a bit of blood, and you will most likely get sick watching it.
I used to chop their heads off with a hatchet, but it makes a bloody mess and the headless chicken running around is unpleasant for women and children to see.
You have to chop its legs off first otherwise it’ll run around after you cut the head off.
I vetoed that approach for any number of reasons.
Next we called Alix, who lives on a legit farm and has had to deal with this before. She basically said, “Dude, that sucks, it’s hard to do, I’m sorry” and told me that one other option was to pick the chicken up by the head and swing it around in the air.
At this point, I started to get anxious and feel sick. Yes, she was a chicken, and she was obviously suffering, and I didn’t feel that putting her down was particularly inhumane or the wrong approach. But when you get down into the nitty gritty, it’s one thing to talk about doing this stuff and another to go out there, pick up a live animal that you’ve been raising for over a year, and actually DO it with your bare hands. Mostly I was terrified of having a legless half-decapitated bird flopping around on the ground suffering because we didn’t know what the shit we were doing.
It also probably didn’t help that we had named her and constantly referred to her as “one of the girls”.
Then Paul swooped in with a pinch hitter and saved the day: his dad, Bernie.
Bernie is a biochemist and works in a lab, where he has spent much of his life killing mice and rats and other small animals. We called him to ask his advice on how to do this, and he said “Oh, I’ll come over and do it now.”
I’ll spare you the details, but Bernie walked right in, picked up the chicken, and without flinching did the deed while we stood there awkwardly watching. It was quick and horrible and there was some flapping, but it was all over in a few seconds.
Take aways from this experience:
- Ms. Strauss, in my opinion, hit the nail on the head. Chickens aren’t normal pets. It’s a different kind of responsibility than getting something like a dog or cat or even a rabbit. Before you decide to raise laying hens, make sure you know what options you have should one of them get sick or stop laying (whether that’s getting them treated or otherwise).
- I’ve always told myself that my philosophy on meat eating is that if a person is going to eat meat, they should be comfortable with killing the animal they’re eating. In sticking with that rule, I was convinced that I could easily kill a chicken if the situation arose (since I eat a lot of chicken and turkey). Turns out I am a total hypocrite and very good at lying to myself.
- I have a new found respect for Bernie.
And so, we’re down to one. Updates to come on where we go from here.
RIP Michele, you were a good chicken. Thank you for the enormous eggs. We all miss you. Especially Romy.
April 29, 2013 § 2 Comments
After a failed initial attempt, Paul started doing more research on how to get the chickens to not lay while they’re roosting.
This is tricky. The two chickens currently roost on this, butts out:
Generally speaking they get up with the sunrise (which keeps getting earlier and can be a real bitch on Saturdays). On random days, though, they will lay before the sun comes up. From the perch. And we aren’t always there to let them out right away (especially the mornings that I leave the house at 5 to coach and Paul either works overnight or has to be at the hospital really early). And that often leads to cannibalism.
So Paul found some perch designs online that were attached to a laying box. The idea is the chickens roost on the perch (so they can sleep without sitting in their own turds), and when they’re ready to lay, jump into the box, lay, jump out of the box, and go about their business.
New perch! Foolproof, right?
Day 1: Chickens are found facing outwards while sleeping and sticking their butts into the box (backwards from how they normally position themselves). In the morning, the box is full of turds. But no eggs.
Day 2: Chickens are facing their usual way, butts out. No eggs anywhere.
Day 3: Chickens are both found sleeping IN the laying box when we go to let them out. (One is crushed in front of the other…it is kind of impressive that they can both fit.) Later that day, one egg is on the ground of the coop, one in the penthouse.
What the crap.
Later on Day 3 I found an article explaining how the laying box should be on the other side of the coop from where the chickens roost, so there seems to be some debate on this issue. I sent it to Paul. He stressed about whether to take the box out.
Day 4: ONE (soft and broken) EGG FOUND IN THE BOX! UNEATEN! Minor success.
We’re giving it a few more days, see how it pans out. Maybe they’re just adjusting.