Feb 19 2013

Tragedy in the Henhouse

Thora killed one of our chickens. This happened a couple of weeks ago, but I didn’t have the heart to write about it until now. She came trotting into the house with a chicken wing in her mouth: I screamed, everyone came running, there was yelling, and Thora dropped the severed wing and went tearing all around the house peeing and defecating everywhere to signal her submission and distress. A few minutes later she puked up a belly full of chicken innards. As apologies go I must say it is the worst I have ever received.

Eventually we comforted the dog, Sam went outside to gather up the remains (it was not an open casket funeral), and we gave Penny a decent burial. I said a few words. Her sisters did not attend the ceremony: chickens are not sentimental creatures. Sam said they were busy cannibalizing the corpse when he arrived at the scene.

We have mostly processed the whole episode at this point. The boys wanted to talk a bit about death and what it means: for Robin, it seemed to bring up some dim memories of Marlis, because he began saying things like “We used to have a cat but we don’t have a cat now.” I reiterated some of the things that I told him when Marlis died. I told him that death means you aren’t in the world any more. I told him that everything that is alive dies eventually, but that he and we are young and won’t die for a long, long time. I told him that when someone dies you can be sad and cry because you miss them a lot, and also that sometimes you might not feel sad, even though you still miss them. I suppose this is one of the benefits of keeping livestock: kids grow up experiencing the natural cycles of life.

For a while Davy and Robin would say “Thora is a bad dog!” because one of the things I yelled over and over, when I was yelling, was “Bad dog! Bad dog!” So I also had to explain that actually Thora is a good dog who did a bad thing. And that it is not really her fault, she was just being a dog. (Although I have to admit that it changed the way I look at her a bit. “She’s a murderess,” I told Sam, who responded quite reasonably that her kill count is nowhere near the total that Marlis racked up. “Yes,” I said, “but Marlis never killed anything with a name!”)

The boys also seemed to just like to tell the story of what happened: “Thora killed our chicken and then you screamed,” one of the boys would say, out of the blue. And I would just say, “Yep, that is what happened.” “And then you cried.” “Yes, I cried because I was sad.” We must have had that conversation ten or fifteen times in the first few days after. At this point they don’t seem to need to go over it so much.

Robin is very keen on getting a new hen. “We need to get another girl chicken with a bow,” he says. I did try to explain to him that not all creatures that are girls wear bows on their head, but he is quite certain that the next hen ought to come beribboned.

In fact we probably will want to replace Penny at some point, but introducing a new hen to an established flock isn’t necessarily easy. The existing chickens will try to drive off any bird they perceive as an interloper, and can injure or even kill a new hen by relentlessly pecking her. One way to get around this is to wait until one of the hens goes broody and then to slip some fertilized eggs underneath her, letting nature take its course from there. So I’m inclined to give it some time and see if Henrietta or Genevieve show any signs of wanting to be a momma.

Meanwhile Thora and the chickens are no longer allowed to share the yard. Instead we keep the hens cooped up until late morning, giving Thora a chance to run around for a bit, and then the chickens are let out and Thora is kept inside until sundown. (She also gets a walk in the early afternoon.) Once the chickens have put themselves away, Thora gets free run of the yard again. In some ways it’s a better arrangement anyway, because I don’t have to worry about the dog finding eggs before I do.

Here is a picture of Thora looking angelic. (Murderess!)

mastiff on the rug

Oct 7 2012

Our First Egg!


Robin produced this blood-curdling grimace when told to “hold up the egg and smile.” I think it’s probably for the best that we cut short his modeling career! (On the other hand, he wants to be “an evil scientist” for Hallowe’en, and I think this expression will serve him well.)

Sam discovered the egg in a corner of our yard today. I don’t know if it’s the first our hens have produced, but it’s the first we’ve found—they’ve been making a lot of noise lately, so I was wondering if they might start laying!

Jul 9 2012

New Camera

I got a fancy new camera (well, a fancy new-to-me camera: I bought it used) so this afternoon I went around snapping a lot of pictures of random things. Like knick-knacks on a bookshelf:


and chickens:


and flowers:


and my little garden, which is now bursting over its boundaries:


I’ve learned an important lesson about squash and zucchini, by the way. Squash and zucchini don’t play nice in an intensive gardening set-up. They’ve already swallowed up the eggplant and the artichoke and are muscling in on the thyme and the chives. The mint is fighting back, though, and the tomato plants are holding their own and protecting the basil and parsley as well. Next year the squash and zucchini get their own bed.


Jun 19 2012

One More

I’ve got my chickens all in a row:


Jun 19 2012

Girls and Boys

My pullets are getting big and sleek:



We had to put chicken wire around the garden because they were eating my cherry tomato plant, and my parsley. It was odd: the other two tomato plants they didn’t touch at all. They’re very specific in their tastes, I guess.

The exciting news around here is that we will soon be adding another girl to the family. We’ve been on the waiting list for almost two years for an American Mastiff puppy, and that wait will shortly be coming to an end. We get to bring home our new puppy next Monday. She’ll be seven weeks old, and Robin has decided, sight unseen, that her name is Mona. I was lobbying for Lucy or Alma, but I have to admit that Mona is a pretty good mastiff name. But I insist on seeing her before I decide for sure! We are all a-twitter, getting the house ready for our newest “baby.”

Bonus picture, for gender balance: a little boy.


May 28 2012

Hangin’ With the Boys, Pickin’ Up Chicks

hangin' with the boys, pickin' up chicks

The girls have been moved into their coop full-time now. They’re just about fully feathered now, and they were telling me as clearly as chickens can (pretty clearly, actually!) that they were sick of the brooder box. Most domestic animals, I think, are basically good at communicating their needs to humans: it’s kind of a prerequisite for making the whole thing work. Anyway, the chicks were flapping all around in their box, roosting on the side and pooping on our floor, squawking loudly to be taken outside at the break of dawn, and scolding and haranguing me at night when I brought them back in. They seem much happier now that they’re in the coop full-time.

I’m starting to let them go out a bit in the larger yard, too, as you can see. But they’re still quite little, and I’m concerned about roaming cats. So they won’t get to be outside without supervision until they’ve grown up. Eventually they’ll have the run of the backyard all day long. The fun thing about chickens is that they put themselves away at night—when the sun goes down, they file back into their coop, no chasing or herding required. They are little homebodies at heart.

Here’s a close-up of their beautiful feathering:


May 21 2012

Chicks, Three Weeks

Genevieve, perched on the side of her brooder:


I know it’s Genevieve because Robin told me so. You can see she’s looking a bit ratty, as her chick fluff is being steadily replaced by adult feathers, but I think her adult coloring is gorgeous too. Genny’s the biggest of the chicks, and the one most interested in getting up to perch on the side of the box. I take them out to the coop most days, now, and they all really like the time outdoors. But they also still seem to appreciate the warmth of the heat lamp at night. It’s probably going to be at least another week before I can move them out full-time.

May 11 2012

Change of View

It’s super warm today. And the girls seemed restless, flapping around in their brooder box and fighting over their own poop. (It’s pretty frequent that one chick will spy something dark and bug-sized hidden in the pine shavings, and start scratching and pecking at it to see if it is a bug, and then her sisters will come over to see what she’s got and whether they can take it from her, and that’s how you end up with three chicks fighting over their own poop. They are extremely cute, but their beauty is matched neither by their cleanliness nor by their intelligence.)

So, I decided to take them out to the coop for the first time. I only planned to have them stay out for a couple hours, but they seem to be having such a grand time in there, roaming all around and scratching in the dirt, that I guess I’ll let them enjoy it as long as it’s still warm. The coop is predator-safe, and I figure it will do them good to have actual bugs to fight over.

UPDATE: No, actually, after having been exposed to real bugs, they’re now going after their poops with twice the vigor. Sheesh, girls.

May 10 2012

Chicks Chicks Chicks


And a funny chick joke:


I’ve been told that the important thing is to make sure you’re holding their wings to their sides, and supporting them from underneath.

May 9 2012

Chicks, Week Two

I think my girls have probably doubled in size this past week. They’re starting to, quite literally, stretch their wings, and even hop/fly up to perch on the side of their box. This probably means they need a bigger box.

Starting next week, if the weather stays as warm as it has been, I’ll be able to take them outside to their coop for a few hours at a time. I’m sure they’ll have fun exploring the big henhouse and scratching in the grass of their enclosed run, even though they can’t yet be allowed to roam freely in the yard. They are still little babies. Just not quite so little as they used to be.