Chicken Update: Month 4

Dega: Remember what the chicken said to the weasel?
Papillon: If he was a healthy weasel, the chicken didn’t get a chance to say anything.

My husband & I recently watched the movie Papillon and the quote above really resonated with me. Four months ago, I used part of my Mom Central grant money to buy 6 laying hens. In the weeks since my last update, we’ve lost two of our 6 chickens. Not to a weasel, but to a hawk. A very, very large hawk, cinnamon in color, and brazen. The last visit the hawk paid ended with the bird swooping down several feet away from where I stood with the chickens, scraping his/ her talons on the driveway loudly, before ascending quickly and flying away. The hawk means BUSINESS.

Until the end of August, I let the chickens wander freely throughout the yard, grazing leisurely and returning to their coop at will. But no more. The first chicken was taken 6 weeks ago, while the flock stood unguarded. The second, two weeks ago, when I was briefly inside. We found nothing of the first chicken. Of the second, a few handfuls of feathers. I gathered them up and placed them in a vase inside. It pains me to think of their last minutes of life. It takes mere seconds for a chicken to be snatched; I won’t take the chance again.

Thankfully, the chickens don’t seem to mind spending time in their coop. There’s plenty of space – ironically, extra space, now that 2 of the flock are gone. They dust bathe, eat heartily and go about their chicken business. I let them out periodically throughout the day, standing guard over them. There’s an unspoken trust between us, and whenever a shadow passes overhead, they scurry towards me or the closest bush. They follow my lead, and when I say, “Come Chickens!” – surprisingly, they come. It’s a little funny, and never fails to pull at my heartstrings.

Our year-old Rottweiler puppy, Roxy, also does her part. You can see her in the photo above, the black mass behind the birds. You’d think a frisky puppy might harass the hens, but Roxy’s more intent on garnering my love, so she helps herd as well as guard the flock. The dog will even calmly eat as the chickens look on. No food aggression here. Except for the *%$&@#! hawk.

Apart from the losses, the chickens are doing very well. At 16 weeks, they’re almost fully grown and now sport combs and sturdy chicken legs. Their feathers are soft and luxurious, their tails fluffy and erect.

Chickens begin to lay somewhere between 18 and 22 weeks of age, so we should be seeing some eggs soon. I check the coop daily, but nothing yet. Hopefully by the next update, I’ll have something to report. My only concern? The chickens, as much as they enjoy hanging out in their hen house, seem to sleep strictly outside. They like to roost in the rafters.

Even on nights when the temperature dips into the 30s, the chickens appear to be roosting outside. As a comfort and warmth-seeking human, this makes little sense to me. But from a chicken’s perspective? Chickens seek out the highest perch wherever they are. And the chicken with the highest perch is considered top chicken. My hens, rather than hole up in their hen house, seem to be striving for TOP BIRD. Either that, or they just like it. Who knows? My only concern is that they’ll start laying while they’re up there. And I’ll wind up with a whole lotta scrambled eggs.

Perhaps it’s because the chickens are spending more time confined in their coop that the Eden-like harmony of earlier days seems shaken somewhat. Don’t get me wrong; the hens seem to get along with one another. But there’s a definite (to me, indiscernible) hierarchy in the hen house ranks. The chickens now, when they’re out free ranging, go through iterations of what I’ve dubbed the “Face Off.” One chicken will become startled, or bothered, or something. She will puff up and lunge at a neighbor chicken, for whatever the perceived slight. The chickens will stare each other down. Then almost as quickly as it began, the “Face Off” is over and the chickens resume pecking and doing their things. It’s strangely fascinating.

Fortunately the pecking order seems well established, and the chickens for the most part spend their days happily chilling out together.  I love it.

 

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13 Responses to Chicken Update: Month 4

  1. Elena says:

    Wish we could have chickens in our yard but HOA restriction does not allow it :( Believe or not, I was actually late for work the other day as I headed to the city, a chicken was crossing the road to get to the other side and I had to slam my breaks. Imagine, me trying to explain that excuse to my boss, “I was late because the chicken was trying to get to the other side”. Sounds like a joke punch line! So, my question for you is… do you use only their eggs or actually USE the chickens?? I thought you were going vegan? ( I m not but just curious)

  2. Christy says:

    Haaah!! Elena, that is too funny. Sort of like “the dog ate my homework” excuse. Hope your boss believed you!

    As for the chickens and their eggs… the answer is NO and Yes!

    Veganism is a wonderful thing. Those who adhere to a vegan diet are giving up much for the sake of health &/or compassion and (in my mind) should be commended. I am so proud of my dad for going vegan! There are so many amazing vegan dishes out there, and his choice has inspired me to create more.

    I am not a vegan though. I could write an entire blog post about this – and perhaps I should.

  3. shambo says:

    Christy, thanks for the update. Sorry about all that hawk business. You’re absolutely right — they do mean business. We’re out in a rural area, so we’ve got to watch out for hawks and buzzards in the skies too. Your chickens look happy & healthy. I’m sure you’ll really enjoy that first omelet.

    We’ve been out of state for a while, so I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. It may take a while before I read your past entries from the last couple of weeks. I always learn something new from your posts.

    Sue

  4. Sandi says:

    Haha! That “face off” pic made me laugh out loud. This is SO COOL! Oh gosh, just aged myself with that term. Keep us updated on this, it’s not something those of us in big city suburbia get to see very often.

    Your talk about TOP BIRD, made me think of the Dr. Seuss Yertle the Turtle story, “oh marvelous me…king of all that I see!”

  5. Christy says:

    Shambo, hope all is very well with you! The remaining chickens are doing great and I am eagerly awaiting that first egg. Between you & me, I’m a little tempted just to KEEP it. Like those framed dollar bills you see at restaurants! lol

    Hey Sandi! SO funny you say that – my mom was telling me that down in Atlanta they had chicken coop tours throughout the city. Keeping chickens truly must be in vogue!

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  7. awful! so sorry to hear about that hawk. :( my parents have a gorgeous pond and waterfall that used to be filled with koi until an egret swooped in and ATE THEM. my mom went to all lengths to protect her fish, to no avail. xo

  8. Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaasically my favourite post you’ve ever written. I just think they’re SO BEAUTIFUL. Thank you for the gratuitous artful shots, and I’m so glad these lovely ladies have you watching over them.

  9. I love your pictures!!! Ok, so a few things. Some of our chicks got snatched by a hawk recently :( How sad! We’ve since covered their area but the adults still roam free.

    Also, have you put out any fake eggs yet? You can buy wooden ones at the craft store. Put them in the area where you want them to lay, one or two, and just move them around every day. They will get the idea that this is a safe place to lay their eggs. Otherwise, you will find them all over the yard! They won’t lay them when they are on the perch. Its too much work for up there! LoL

    And last, we have one rooster who exclusively sleeps outside. Last year, he even got a bit of frostbite in a snow storm. The second night of the snowstorm, he slept inside. That is the only night he’s ever spent inside the hen house. LoL!

    Glad the chickies are doing so well!!!

  10. Christy says:

    Nat, those egrets are HUNGRY. We watch them all the time down the hill at the marsh. They’re always spearing frogs, fish and more. Your mom would have had to sit out there 24/7, seriously. PS: Hope you’re having FUN!!

    Katie, I tried my best to get some still photos. It’s HARD – these chickens are constantly on the move. (and who can blame them w/ that hawk above?)

    Angela – thank you so much!!! I am off to get some wooden eggs now. Told my husband all about it this morning, and he reminded me, “Make sure you get some for the girls.” He’s so smart! You can bet my daughters would help themselves. hahahah THANK YOU!!

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