Posts Tagged: Chickens

Peeps in Trouble

You will remember that Peeps is our third rooster. Third as in pecking order third. He’s a great bird, but life has become cruel in the chicken yard and he’s hiding more and more in the chicken coop. Something is wrong. Peeps is in trouble.

I noticed he was starting to languish. I counted on my fingers. How old was Peeps? I think at least 6, which is old for a chicken. Was he dying of old age or was he ill? He let me pick him up, which was a bad sign all unto itself. He felt light and bony. I brought him into the house and placed him in front of the wood stove. Maybe a night in the house would do him good.

Crammed into the chick cage, Peeps endured the cat looking at him eye to eye. His long tail had to be held down to close the door to the cage. The bird stood and looked at me as I filled a bowl with grain and another with water. It was a vacant stare. Was life really worth this. A cat on the outside and he on the inside?

The next day he ate a little food, but mostly slept with his head under his wing. It didn’t look good. He ate more and then, all of a sudden, he was ravenous. Peeps was beginning to look too big for the cage and I decided he was. I let him out on the lawn with the peacock. It was time for roosting and a return to the cage. We couldn’t find him. Had he wandered off to die. Just great!

As we walked back in through the mud room where the door had been left ajar, Peeps was crouched near the front door. Time to come in. One more night in the safety of the house. Even with a cat at eye level.

The next morning he ate a breakfast of corn and returned to the chicken yard. I think the problem all along was starvation. In a yard full of chickens, Peeps had not held his own when it came to feeding time. He now gets an extra handful when I catch him on the outskirts. However, he had devised his own plan for eating. When I take the top off the feed bin and scoop out a bucket to scatter to the hens, he will jump into the can and eat his fill until I return and shoo him out. If it works for him, it works for me. Heck, this winter he might even be able to take care of the wayward mouse or two that inevitably finds its way into the bin and tries to run up my arm as I dip for the grain. If ever I have wanted to yell “Eeek”, it would be then.

Photos: (top) Peeps squished into the chick cage for a night or two; (bottom) all better and looking the pretty boy in the sunlight.

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2010 Scottie Jones

Chicken Prison

They say chickens have a brain the size of a pea. So then why do they look so guilty when I catch them on the outside of the chicken yard. Could it be because they have dug up the new cucumber plants for the third time which means we won’t be growing any cucumbers this summer?

I like free-range chickens, really I do. They eat slugs and all sorts of bugs. They fertilize as they move through the bushes and flower beds. It’s just that small, new growth doesn’t have a chance with the scratch, scratch, scratch of those busy feet. It’s amazing what devastation one to two loose chickens can cause in a short amount of time.

Mound saw dust around the base of the blueberry bushes and a loose chicken can spread it across the grass before you even know the bird is out of the coop. Pile up leaves as mulch for the Cascade berries to keep down the grass and weeds and it ends up pushed around in clumps with bare spots of earth showing through.

Leave the door to the greenhouse open so the temperatures won’t climb to 120 degrees and this is an open invitation for the birds to scratch in any disturbed area for worms. We plant our tomatoes, chiles, cucumbers, dill, basil, and eggplant straight into the ground, providing plenty of disturbed dirt for a good scratch, scratch, scratch.

What made farmer Jones the maddest this summer, however, was the ruthless pursuit of his baby potted veggies on top of the planting table. Nurtured from seed, it’s a hard thing to see dirt dug from the middle of carefully tended six-packs and wilted plants dying on the table, roots bare and dry. So, he thought he would try to hide his plant starts in the garden, with its 8 foot fence and lush growth from cool weather plants like lettuce, peas, and broccoli.

Too bad the garden actually shares 100 feet of fence with the chicken yard because somehow Boston, our hand-raised white chicken, and two smaller Red Caps figured out how to squeeze through the woven wire despite my attempts to cover more and more of the fencing with a double layer of chicken wire.

In the end, the questions is this. Why did it take until the last cucumber shoots were scratched out, along with many of the new flowers, to consider chicken jail for the worst offenders? While we offer our chickens a Hilton Resort in terms of their yard space, we also have smaller containment areas usually reserved for introducing chicks and new animals to the flock. It wasn’t that hard a leap to make, but it took threats ranging from shooting to eating to provide the ultimate incentive.

The morning after, there was peace in the yard, peace in the garden, and three chickens staring at the door every time it opened for water and food. Do I feel badly? Absolutely not. Well, for the chickens anyway. As for the farmers, they just need to be smarter than a neural tube and not nearly so soft hearted when it comes to their feathered friends.

Photos: (top) Peeps, (middle) Boston scratching in a window box, (bottom) free-range chickens in early spring before they can do a lot of damage to the flower beds

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2010 Scottie Jones

The Honey Grove Massacre

polish-tophat-leaping-lamb-farmWhen you risk your life to steal eggs from the turkeys, just so you can incubate them and try to be more successful at raising poults to a Thanksgiving weight, it doesn’t seem quite fair to get half way to the goal line and have a raccoon change the end game. There are so many calculated steps to raising turkeys in the best of situations. And for what?

Maybe if I hadn’t just looked at the turkeys that day and thought how big they were growing. Maybe if we hadn’t named one Nellvira after a friend’s daughter. Maybe if we had paid more attention to what could get into the enclosure rather than how the babies kept slipping out of it through the lattice work. Or, maybe nothing could have kept this raccoon from taking advantage of not only six turkey poults but also five chicks we had enclosed in the same pen.

The thing about raccoons is that they get into a blood lust with young chickens. This has happened before, but a long time ago. When I think back, I would have blamed the last massacre to ignorance on our part. Now I think it is just a crime of opportunity.

We were new on the farm and we had 12 chicks that were probably three-months old. They had been staying in one side of the coop at night and everything seemed calm. Six were in one section and six in another. I came out one morning and all the chicks were dead or missing in the back part of the enclosure.

The next evening I moved our remaining birds into a smaller coop area since I could see where the raccoon had broken through some rusty chicken wire. When I came out in the morning, the remaining chicks were also dead, strewn over the yard. A new hole had been punched in the wire just to prove a point. My birds had been trapped with a maniac. I had that sick feeling. We re-fenced everything immediately, but, as the barnyard saying goes, “It’s like closing the stall door, when the horse has already bolted.” or something like that.

The thing about raccoon frenzy attacks is that they don’t kill the birds because they are hungry. They kill them because they are blood crazed. Heads are ripped off or guts spilled out, but there is no eating. There are actually very few feathers spread around either. The lesson drives home: the farmer needs to be more attentive, but then, if you think about it, the farmer always needs to be more attentive!

Plus, raccoons are smart. After this last attack, for which one lone chick survived, we set a trap baited with cat food and salmon. If I was a hungry raccoon, I would have gone for the food. But, wait, we said these raccoons aren’t killing for hunger. Heck, no! They’ve been eating all the cherries and berries they can find, enough that there are none left for us.

The only thing we ended up catching was a chicken when I forgot to spring the gate in the morning. It was my escape artist, the chicken that dug up the new garden veggies 2 times running. If I had paused long enough to think about it, I might have left it in the cage to be bait for the raccoon. Could have taken care of two problems at once.

The raccoon has not yet been caught. We have five turkeys left for Thanksgiving… possibly. They are still so small we have them in the house and it’s doubtful they will have enough size by November. We removed the massacre enclosure and are re-securing the chicken wire in the coop for a later release. Maybe they will be Christmas turkeys if they ultimately survive the chicken yard battle zone.

The lone survivor of the attack now has a name. We call her Tina Turner. She is a Polish Top Hat and shakes her head of feather hair as only Tina Turner could. So, drum roll please… Presenting…Tina Turner, a hell of a survivor. Let’s just hope I haven’t jinxed her here. Of course the raccoon will have to catch her first and none of us is quick enough to sneak up on her these days…I doubt even the raccoon!

Photo: Tina Turner as a Polish Top Hat chicken!

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2010 Scottie Jones