Everybody Loves Chicken

After a morning of puttering around the Queendom, FM and I had just come inside and were beginning to prepare a late lunch of soup and cold pizza. Out the kitchen window, movement caught my eye. I called out,

Look at that! Our those eagles mating?

We ran to different windows, picking up both the binoculars and the camera as we tried to get a better look.

Fighting

FM answered and he was right. As we watched two full-grown Bald Eagles jostle for position, we could see that they were intent on getting the other guy out of the way.

Eating.

The dominant one had finally scared the other eagle back a bit and got down to the business of eating something. What was it?

Chicken dinner, anyone?

Chicken dinner, anyone?

Oh my god! It’s a chicken! I saw the foot!

Oh no. It’s Benedict! Oh no!

I wailed and my eyes started welling up. How could we lose another of our flock? This cannot be happening. I stepped out on the kitchen porch to try to get confirmation. My panicked motion and voice sent both Bald Eagles and an angry Raven flying away.

We quickly donned our coats and boots (and safely turned off the soup pot burner) and ran outside. Before we left the house, he looked me in the eye and said,

There won’t be much that we can do for her.

Despite the situation at hand, it was a comical fact. There was nothing we could do. We could run over there but that was it. He was preparing his soon-to-be hysterical wife for the worst.

As FM headed straight out to the spot where the eagles had been, I ducked down under the front porch and counted. One, Two, Three. All three of our hens were cowering under the porch. Our fourth hen was safely locked in her broody pen in the garden shed. I recounted and put names to each one.

Benedict. Tweedle Dee. Chip.

With an enormous sigh of relief, I ran to catch up with FM and share the news that it wasn’t one of our hens.

The mystery chicken was, indeed, way beyond help. Already missing all the innards and the head, we couldn’t tell if it was a hen or a roo. The carcass consisted of legs and wings connected with the back bone. Orange-brown wing feathering suggested a typical Rhode Island Red. From our reading, we knew that if one of your chickens simply disappears from your flock, the culprit is either an eagle or an owl. Now we could see the truth behind it. The owners of this chicken could be our neighbours or could live many kilometers away. Probably they wouldn’t even notice their loss until their remaining chickens went to roost that night and someone counted them.

We left the chicken remains in the same place, hoping that the eagles or ravens would sate their hunger with the remainder of this chicken instead of hankering for one of ours.

Because, you know, everybody loves chicken!

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Another Sad Day

One year ago, we delved into the world of backyard chickens. We took on a clutch of 6 chicks and have watched them as they learned to peck, run, roost and lay. All of them have stolen our hearts and each for a different reason.

But with chickens come some sadness. We lost Croque Madame to sickness, Peeps to a mauling and Roo to aggression. But we gained happiness too. Benedict and Florentine were hatched just 5 months ago and showed such promise as the new generation.

But then, we lost sweet Florentine earlier this week.

The grey speckled sisters found refuge up on the nesting box.

Always inseparable, the grey speckled sisters found refuge from the older girls up on the nesting box. Here, Flo is in front and Benedict stands beyond.

Only 10 days earlier, she was running through the yard, with Benedict hot on her heels, flapping at the newly arrived Robins, tromping fearlessly through the deep snow and keeping an eye on the Mallards on the pond. She had even become comfortable enough to hop up onto my legs while I was having my daily visit with Chip. And, most importantly, she had just begun to lay eggs.

IMG_0849

Perfect posture Florentine. If only this pic showed the beautiful proud tail she carried.

We first noticed her sneezing. Initially it sounded kind of cute but, within a day or two, it became a little too regular for my liking. She was also wheezing as she exhaled, making an upwards musical scale of five notes with each expelled breath. She stopped laying and had terribly watery poops. I started pulling her aside to feed her, wanting to watch how much she was consuming. But she was eating like a fiend, barely stopping long enough to catch her breath. I started to do some internet research and found everything from funny YouTube videos of sneezing chickens to complicated symptoms of respiratory infections. I learned that a sneeze may actually be a cough or a hiccup and that roundworms can increase appetite.

I called the local farm vet clinic, described her symptoms to the receptionist and then waited two days for the vet to return my call. Dr. Alicia eventually let me know that she wasn’t an expert in chickens but she recommended three medications to cover the bases of the symptoms shown – a de-wormer liquid for 4 days, 7 antibiotic tablets for 7 days and a soluble coccidiosis treatment for the whole flock. Armed with $9.00 worth of medicine (and a $14 dispensing fee!), I headed home to start her new regime.

As if she knew that I was now feeding her medicine, she stopped eating. Completely. And she began to make coughing sounds that sounded like a painful rooster crow. It was as if she was occasionally gasping for air and it seemed to happen most often when she ate. It sounded as if something were wrong right at the vocal chords.

Florentine was brought inside twice daily for her medications. She enjoyed a little FM scritch and often fell asleep on my lap.

Florentine was brought inside twice daily for her medications. She enjoyed a little FM scritch and often fell asleep on my lap in between her doses.

It took two of us to get those tablets into her. It felt so cruel to sneak them inside her beak as she was gasping for air and FM was holding her wings tight. She would sometimes stand up, look me square in the eye and then peck my forehead to show her displeasure. But then she would nestle down and drift off to sleep on my lap, enjoying the peace and quiet outside of the hen house. She was utterly exhausted, probably not getting any sleep because of the cough/sneeze.

One of her last days was a bluebird days with perfect snoozy sunbeams on the front porch. Here she is in full chicken melt.

One of her last days was a bluebird day with perfect snoozy sunbeams on the front porch. Here she is in full chicken melt.

Only 5 days into the antibiotics, she showed a real decline. Her throat and wattles suddenly were slightly purple and swollen, giving her neck an unnatural thickness. Inside our house after we gave her the pills, she had been sleeping comfortably on my lap with little wheezing but, when I brought her out to the coop, she was suddenly panicked. She began shaking her head wildly and scratching her throat and wattles with fierce aggression. She even started pecking and eating the pine shaving bedding. Her coughing and crowing increased too. I watched for a while, feeling completely powerless and knowing that she wouldn’t last through the night. In tears, I left the coop.

Sure enough, in the morning we found her dead. The other chickens were still up on their roosts, not wanting to go near her on the floor, and making a cacophony of squawks. She was still warm with her mouth and throat full of pine shavings, for some unknown reason. We do not know what illness or condition killed her.

You might say that this is a stretch but Benedict is showing real signs of grief over the past week. She has begun to lay shell-less eggs here and there around the Queendom. She can often be found hiding in the nesting box softly clucking to herself with no egg to show for it. Suddenly she is alone with the older girls, making her the lowest of the pecking order. When she had Florentine beside her, I think it was tolerable to be below the others. Florentine had been moving up in the ranks, foraging with Chip and roosting up with the ladies, and she always brought her big sister along with her.

I don’t think I’m tough enough for this backyard chicken business.

Look at that tiny beak poking out of Tweedle Dum's feathers!

Look at that tiny Florentine beak poking out of Tweedle Dum’s feathers!

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A Nickel Bet

FM and I have a very civilized way of agreeing to disagree. When we cannot meet eye-to-eye on a topic, we propose a nickel bet. A nickel is the highest monetary stake either of us is willing to take, yet it is a small enough fund to make the bet an easy way out of any disagreement.

For almost five months, we have been trying to figure out the sexes of our chicks. For most of that time, we have both waffled in our beliefs. For a while, we agreed that, whatever the sex, both chicks were the same. And then we both decided that Florentine was a hen. But Benedict has been difficult to figure out. About two months ago, I decided to bet my nickel and my bet was that Benedict is a rooster. FM quietly voiced his disagreement and claimed that Benedict is a hen. With time, these claims would prove a winner.

Today the truth was revealed.

Benedict is a hen!

Benedict left the flock this morning and is nestled in the nesting box!

When I was leaving the house for work, Benedict was missing, despite my scratch offerings. I peaked my head in the chicken door and, lo and behold, Benedict was tucked away in the nesting box.

When I came home from work, there were two tiny eggs together in that same box. So, as an offering to FM, I let him know that he was right (as usual) and left him this little peace-offering. With two different colours, two tiny eggs and photographic proof that Benedict was in the nesting box, we can be assured that this non-meeting-of-the-minds has been resolved.

A well-earned nickel!

A well-earned nickel!

Hooray!  We now have 5 laying hens! And still no rooster!

 

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The Torture Chamber

For the second time in her short life, Tweedle Dum has gone broody on us.

Within a month of laying her first egg, she got a wild case of Baby Fever and went on to hatch two chicks – Benedict and Florentine. After a certain amount of time, she became aggressive towards her babies and got back into the business of being a regular chicken and laying eggs. And now, only a few months later, she won’t get out of the nesting box again. This time, she has no fertilized eggs beneath her. In fact, she sits on no eggs at all and doesn’t seem to be bothered by that.

Broody Tweedle Dum is not earning her keep

Broody Tweedle Dum is not earning her keep

Her mood has changed. She sits in a trance-like state all day. She growls and barks instead of clucking and chirping. She gets up once every 4 or 5 days to drink, eat, poop and cause havoc in the hen-house and then she returns to her non-existent clutch of eggs for another long stint. She is losing weight. And, most importantly, she has stopped laying eggs.

After about 18 days of this behaviour, I discussed it with a chicken-farming friend. She reminded me that heritage breeds tend to be more broody than other chicken varieties. It is probably caused by long-term in-breeding. Not only does her broodiness stop her from laying eggs, but it also causes her to stop preening, dust-bathing and caring for herself which can lead to mites, infection, malnutrition and other nastiness. Tweedle Dum needs to either successfully hatch a brood or she needs an intervention to break her.

With a foot of snow on the ground and temperatures still dropping, we decided that it is not the right time of year to bring chicks into the Queendom. We could easily acquire fertilized eggs from a number of friends and colleagues, but we don’t have the facilities to keep Tweedle Dum and potential chicks both separate from the flock and warm in these late-winter nights. So an intervention it is.

What more could a girl need?

What more could a girl need?

I pulled the old brooding box out of storage and lined the bottom with thick cardboard. On top of that, I placed a wire mesh false floor which sits about 2 cm above the cardboard.  I filled up the old waterer, the chick feeder, a small dish of scratch and a lid of oyster shells, small gravel and egg shells. The point of a broody pen is to make the hen realize that this is not a good place to raise young. We left the light on 24 hours a day to prevent her from getting cozy. The mesh floor and the lack of bedding cause her to change her mind. She cannot get into a comfortable nesting position. The wire mesh is uncomfortable to stand on but it is more uncomfortable to lie down on. She is away from the other hens so that she cannot hear them and become defensive about her young. Although there is no water-boarding, it is truly a torture chamber.  On the upside, she is tempted to eat and drink. She has room to stretch and preen.

This Betty Ford Clinic is housed in our computer room. It was easy to grab Tweedle Dum out of her nesting box and place her in her temporary housing. I was told that a hen can be ‘broken’ in a day or two if you separate her as soon as she shows signs of broodiness. But Tweedle Dum had been broody for almost three weeks – so we were anticipating having her cooped up for about a week.

She is showing her displeasure and giving me the ol' one eye stare.

She is showing her displeasure and giving me the ol’ one eye stare.

For the first day, there was no change at all. She continued to growl at us and tried to assume her nesting stance in the darkest corner of the box. But the next day, she was standing more, eating more and occasionally chatted with us as we used the computer. By day 3, she had come completely out of her broody trance and was far more alert. She would watch us and chat away in an accusing tone, letting us know how displeased she was with us.

In the afternoon of the third day, with guilt weighing heavily on me, I decided to try re-integrating her with the other hens. There was enough daylight left for her to re-acquaint herself with the girls outdoors and, if she went directly back to the nesting box, I could separate her  again. With no issue at all, she joined the flock, began re-establishing the pecking order and chattering away in her typical bossy way.

Welcome back, Tweedle Dum.  You owe us about a dozen eggs, so get busy! Hopefully you’ll be broody again in April because I think a flock of 8 or 9 would be ideal!

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A Teeny Egg

What a joy to come home and find a teeny egg in one of the nesting boxes today.

The teeny egg on the right is from one of our chicks. The long brown egg on the left is Chip's.

The teeny egg on the right is the first egg from one of our chicks. The long brown egg on the left is Chip’s.

Florentine and Benedict hatched in mid-October which makes them four and a half months old now. Since then, we have been watching them for signs of typical hen or rooster behaviour. Until now they have kept their cards close to their feathered chests and kept us guessing and betting.

And although we got proof today that one of them is a hen, we still don’t know who is which!

They are hard to tell apart. Ben, on the right, is bigger and whiter. Flo, on the right, has a tall tail and is far more curious.

They are hard to tell apart. Ben, on the left, is bigger and whiter. Flo, on the right, has a tall tail and is far more curious.

Although this egg is teeny, as the hen develops and gets used to the process, she will lay more normal-sized eggs. Perhaps her eggs will eventually be as big as Chip’s – since Chip is the bio-mother to one of them. But the pale pink colour is typical of a Chantecler, which would come from her father, Roo.

Although this egg is teeny, as she develops and gets used to the process, this hen will lay more normal sized eggs.

It gets lost in the egg carton!

Teeny eggs like this give new meaning to a 3 egg omelette!

Teeny eggs like this give new meaning to a 3 egg omelette!

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Snow Day!

As the day winds down, the snow just keeps falling steadily. It has been snowing heavily for a couple of days now and the accumulations are shutting everything down. And, although the local forecasters keep claiming that the storm is over, we have proof that we are still in the thick of it. No end in sight, says me! We are sitting at 28 cm at our place so far. I’d like to break 30 cm, at least.

A thick white blanket covered everything!

A thick white blanket covered everything!

As the day wound down, FM measured the snow in a bunch of places. This 28 cm reading was the deepest.

FM measured the snow in a bunch of places. This 28 cm reading was the deepest. But it continues snowing!

The Queendom came to a stand still today:

No work – A district-wide snow day closed all the schools in the valley. FM decided not to risk a challenging drive in and attempted to work from home (between outages!)

No power – Truthfully we have had power some of the time but it was out for a chunk of the morning, out again for a few hours in the afternoon and then just as we were thinking about cooking dinner. Out here, no power means that our well water pump doesn’t work so our water supply is limited to what is left in the pressurized tank. It also means that our septic pump cannot pump UP to the field so you better limit your grey water and flushing. The good news is that the power outage was not due to one of our fallen trees. The other good news is that FM dusted off the generator in order to brew up a second espresso this morning!

Everywhere we looked was beautiful!

Everywhere we looked was beautiful! We sipped tea and read in between walk-abouts.

No heat for the chickens. The two read heat lamps in the coop are out so it cools down pretty fast in there. These birds are hardy but Tweedle Dee is in a full moult right now and has lost most of her feathers. With sparse feathering on her wings and about half of her usual down, she is practically trembling. It baffles me that this would happen to her in the winter. I’m thinking of sneaking her inside beside our wood stove. (Don’t tell FM)

Taken in the days before the snow, you can see her bald patches and chicken skin showing.  Brrrr.

Taken in the days before the snow, you can see Tweedle Dee’s bald patches and chicken skin showing. Brrrr.

No light in the coop and this makes the birds CRAZY! A few months ago, the power went out so I headed out to check the chicks. There was mad flapping and crashing and begawking going on as they flew around in a panic. Ever since, I have left a battery-powered night-light inside which gives them a little glow.

Florentine is the only one brave enough to peek out at the storm.

Florentine is the only one brave enough to peek out at the storm.

And on the fun side:

Snowshoeing instead of shoveling! Our driveway is LONG and there is no way we’d consider shoveling it but tramping the snow down with snowshoes was pretty fun. We managed to drive one car out to the end of the drive for easier escape tomorrow. The car acted like a snowplow and left a smooth center between the tire ruts.

After sinking deeper than my calf-high Bogs, I realised snowshoes were really in order.

After sinking deeper than my calf-high Bogs, I realised snowshoes were really in order.

There is no way to shovel this on. Using the car like a plow had a similar effect.

There is no way to shovel this one. Using the car like a plow had a similar effect.

Hot Tubbing – Aren’t we glad we opted for the wood-fired variety! We spent hours in the tub over this snowy weekend.

It's hard to read but that thermometer reads 106!

It’s hard to read but that thermometer reads 104° F (40° C)!

Is there a better place to enjoy a snowfall?

Is there a better place to enjoy a snowfall?

Creative Cooking – We had to pre-thaw a tub of homemade chili in the hot tub and then transfer it to a pot on the wood stove. We warmed up some of B’s Foccacia loaf and had a candle lit dinner for two.

FM floated the chili container in the hot tub jsut long enough for it to loosen.

FM floated the chili container in the hot tub just long enough for it to loosen.

We already had the stove cranking out the heat so warming the chili and foccacia was simple.

We already had the stove cranking out the heat so warming the chili and foccacia was simple.

You gotta roll with the atmosphere that nature provides.

You gotta roll with the atmosphere that nature provides. FM is sipping a scotch while waiting for his rustic dinner.

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