Happy Homemaker, Ph.D.

A novice homemaker's attempts to use her engineering Ph.D. to serve her family

The Chicken Chronicles – New Quarters and a Smaller Brood

It’s been a while since I’ve had any chicken stories to speak of.  Spring seems to be the busy time for changes in the hen house, and this year is no different.  Since Pepper and Wilhelmina died, we’ve just been enjoying our eight hens and the eggs they’ve produced throughout the fall and winter.  And, thanks to my husband’s grand ideas and handy work, they again spent the winter in their beautiful home, complete with heat lamps and glass windows.  (Did I share the story about the time they started a fire and nearly burned down their house?  Maybe that’s another post.)

Side View of the Chicken House

Side View of the Chicken House

We loved letting the chickens roam freely in the yard.  They loved it, too.

But we did not love their poop.  Especially on the patio.  Especially as we planned to spend more time outside.  Especially as our one year old was crawling, but not walking yet (and still putting many things into her mouth).  ICK!

So, one day, my husband took down the chicken house.  A flower garden is growing in that place now.

And, the chickens got moved to their summer house, a structure my husband had built a few weeks earlier.

The chickens' new summer house.

The chickens’ new summer house.

Alas, this new home was too small for all eight of the girls, so one day, Salt and Henrietta took a ride to go to a new home.  Shortly after that, Big Red Mama and the Rhode Island Red that I think was our infamous Toe Pecker (I don’t miss her going after my toes!) also moved on to grander adventures.

Now, Bandit (who is totally our alpha chicken), Ginger, Mary Ann, and the unnamed remaining Rhode Island Red have the house to themselves.   They still get to wander the yard at times, but it’s more rare.  They seem to be enduring the change.  None of the girls has seemed excited about it.  Egg production has gone down to nearly nothing, and for a while, they were pecking open and eating the eggs that were being produced.

They seem to be getting used to the new arrangement, and they were delighted when my husband added an extra feature to their home recently!  I’ll save that for another day.

To read more of our history with our chickens, check out these past posts:

The Beginning
The Surprise
The New Kids on the Block
The Eviction
Thelma and Louis’ Last Adventure
Making New Friends
The Pretty Birds Join the Brood
The Attack
Kidnapped!
A New Home and a New Beginning
An Update
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A Gift That Keeps On Giving

My husband is amazing!  I just wanted to take some time and a post to describe a small portion of his sweet love for me.

Some men probably bring their wives flowers more than mine does.  That’s good, because while I’d enjoy that, I’d be thinking at the back of my mind what they must have cost and how we could have likely spent that money on more useful things.  This week, and actually all spring, I’ve been delighting in what he does do to bring me beautiful flowers in a way that is so sweet and tender and that I can fully enjoy and delight in!

Last fall, he bought and planted tulips that were stunning in a new section of garden by our driveway.  He also worked hard to transplant some iris plants, and we have these flowers growing in three different places in our yard.   Most of the flowers have some shade of purple in them, my favorite!

Our purple and white iris garden.  (Go, Kansas State!)

Our purple and white iris garden. (Go, Kansas State!)

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These lavender iris are my favorite with their delicate, ruffled petals.

 There’s another thing that’s special about the iris for me.  My grandma has an iris garden at the farm that I remember weeding and enjoying.  She had such a variety of colors, and the smell of the flowers is better than the sweetest perfume.  My mom also had a large iris garden in town that was always stunning.  I remember experimenting with some of the concepts I learned in my advance biology class in high school to see if I could create some new varieties.

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If not for my husband’s hard work, these plants would still be in the bag my mom gave to us over a year ago.  (I spend too much time trying to find the perfect plan for something so the task never really gets done.)  He worked hard to plant and transplant them as we changed landscaping ideas.  He keeps our rose bush trimmed, and now it is filling with beautiful pink blooms.  He waters the lilac bushes that produce a scent I treasure (again, perhaps due to good memories from smelling them as I passed a group of bushes on my walks to the library or other places in our small town).  He brought home and planted lilies.  He planted seeds for sunflowers (another favorite of mine), wildflowers, and a hummingbird mix.

And now, though he’s not coming home from work with a bouquet behind his back, he’ll be giving me flowers all summer long!  Does it get any better than that?

(Update:  Why, yes it does!  Tonight he came home with flowers, and over the weekend, he brought in a cut, fragrant rose for me!)

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The Chicken Chronicles – An Update

Since I finished the Chicken Chronicles series this spring, we’ve had some more stories and adventures with our chickens…

Where’s Pepper?

You may recall from an earlier post that our silkie chickens were given to us by our neighbors.  Salt and Pepper had grown and started laying last fall.  Salt, the white silkie, endured molting in the spring, and she rarely joined the others in the yard, seeming to prefer her small cubby inside the chicken house.  I would not have been surprised if we went in one day to find her lifeless.  But, she has recovered and is back to normal, enjoying yard time with the others.

In her absence, Pepper had come to be more independent, and I enjoyed watching her in the yard as the only chicken alone.  She seemed confident, and she was developing a personality that I really liked.  With her feathered legs and fuzzy top not, she may have been becoming my favorite.

Pepper – I’ll miss her.

As Mother’s Day approached, our neighbor’s son came to visit his mom, and they asked to see the chickens.  He hadn’t seen them since the year before when they were just chicks.  They went out back and found Pepper (a.k.a. Kevin/Kevina) dead in the chicken run.  She had been fine the day before, and there was no sign of what may have caused her death.

Now we had nine chickens.

Saying Goodbye to Wilhelmina

Not long after that, my husband and other neighbor thought that Wilhelmina might be suffering from being egg bound.  Since it had been several weeks (maybe months – I’ve had other things on my mind this spring.) since she had laid an egg, and she did seem uncomfortable, they decided to put her down.  I feel her loss even more than Pepper’s.  I think it may be because she was the first chicken we really named.  She was the first one to show me that chickens had fun personalities.

Wilhelmina left a legacy.

She helped me become excited about having chickens – beyond those few weeks with the cute, fuzzy chicks and beside the benefits of having fresh eggs.  Now with only eight chickens remaining, and Wilhelmina and Pepper not among them, the yard seems quite empty.

New Daredevils

This spring, we got five new chicks.  They have grown to be nearly full-sized birds now.  But, this is the next generation.  They don’t know the stories of Thelma and Louise, and as adolescents, they must be looking for ways to rebel.  The black chicken decided to jump over into the neighbor’s yard one day, but chose a day when the big dogs were not outside.  (I was somewhat excited about this because this behavior could at least give us some ideas for names, and the chicken was safe, so there was no harm.)

I thought Black Bandit might be our only dare-devil chicken, but later, the newest white chicken jumped into our other neighbors’ yard.  Their two Chihuahuas seemed unalarmed and harmless, though she did panic when my husband worked to corral her and return her to our yard.  I think she’ll always have trust issues now.

A few days ago, we closed the door to the chicken house for the night, thinking everyone was in.  My husband and I were enjoying the summer evening with our daughters outside.  Suddenly, we heard a combination of chicken squawking, dogs running, and our neighbor screaming, “Drop it!  Drop it!”  Chad ran to try to help, and the buff-colored chicken was returned to the yard with many fewer feathers and a slight limp but otherwise apparently fine.

Ironically, the only two chickens from this year’s addition that haven’t attempted an escape have been the Rhode Island Reds.  Perhaps Thelma and Louise did somehow leave a warning, at least to their own breed.

The chickens are on lock-down, confined to their luxury chicken house, until further notice.

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The Chicken Chronicles – A New Home and a New Beginning

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My amazing husband is quite a handy fellow.  He can envision a project and make it come to life before I would even be able to decide what was needed.  I am continuously amazed by his abilities.

Regarding the chickens, I’ll show you some of his work.  Recall that I wasn’t too excited about the whole chicken idea at first, knowing I’d have my hands full with a new baby in a few months.  Chad took on the task of not only caring for the chickens, but also providing a great coop for them.  The coop we started with looked like this.

The chicken's first "house"

Since the existing fences made up two of the walls, Chad put this together very quickly.  As time passed, he added a “chicken run” so the girls could venture out at will to a small area of the yard without waiting for us to open the door.

As time went by, we realized a few limitations of this design.  One was a safety issue as we heard the chickens’ panic-stricken clucking one night indicated an intruder.  No one was hurt, but we realized the lack of a roof over the chicken run left the potential for predators to descend the tree and help themselves to our poultry.  The other was the height of the coop, which required us to bend over to enter.  That wasn’t a big problem, but one that was considered in the redesign.

I still can’t believe the amazing chicken house we have in our yard now!  Take a look at what Chad constructed!

The chicken house with enclosed chicken run

Side View of the Chicken House

Chad even provided landscaping as there are iris planted on this side of the house and native limestone rocks for decoration.  The rustic exterior even has a way of promoting poultry.

The roof is green tin, and the interior is very nice as well, including boxes for the chickens to lay, storage for food, and perches for the ladies to enjoy.

Real windows let in natural light, and Chad plans to put these on hinges before summer to aid in ventilation.  There are two doors, one that leads to the chicken run, and one that opens to our garden.  Chad has an eye for detail.  The chickens even have their own porch light!  (While there is electricity and a water line going to the chicken house, I don’t think the exterior light is wired for use yet, but it does add a special touch.)  Chad put cardboard around the door to help in insulating the inside during the winter months.  During warmer seasons, the chicken wire is uncovered to aid in ventilation.

So, this is where our little ladies spend their time when they’re not enjoying roaming the yard…

Except for these new additions!

The New Chicks

On Sunday, we picked out five new baby chicks so our toddler can watch them grow and so we can increase our egg production at home.  Chad picked out two Rhode Island Reds, I chose the black chick, and the other two are breeds that we are not altogether sure of.  They are pullets, though.  🙂  We bought another chick that we hadn’t planned on as well.  A straight run Cornish hen (we’ll see…) was bleeding and being continuously pecked by the other chicks in with it.  We thought he/she would have a better chance at survival with us than by remaining at the store, so we brought him/her home as well.  That chick is doing very well now!

Over time, we’ll see what these chickens’ personalities are, give them names, see how they all interact with each other, enjoy their eggs, and share their stories.  We really enjoy our little “micro farm” in town!

~Dana

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The Chicken Chronicles – Kidnapped!

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After Ethyl’s raccoon encounter, we were even more conscientious about closing the door to their coop at night.  But a few days later, we were surprised to find that Ethyl had disappeared during the day.  There seemed to be no signs of a struggle.

She was just gone.

Perhaps she didn’t trust us anymore and went out on her own, going on a last adventure like Bilbo Baggins taking off after his “eleventy first” (111th) birthday party.  Perhaps one of our now-country roosters came back to make her his princess.  Or, perhaps the raccoon — no, I don’t think too long about that possibility.  I like happy endings better.

I liked Ethyl, and I miss her still.  She seemed humble or at least resigned to her place.  She was a good and consistent layer.  She seemed somewhat alienated from the other hens, but she didn’t seem to hold a grudge.

Later on in the summer, we lost another chicken as well.  Stacy, one of the Leghorns, became ill and died.  Stacy had walked with a limp since her encounter over the fence, but you should have seen how fast she could run, even with that handicap!  She was always more of a follower (with Wilhelmina being a leader and more independent), but her loyalty to her white companion was admirable, and they were often together.

So, now our brood is down to five.

Wilhelmina hasn’t been the same since Stacy’s death.  She is no longer assertive.  The leader role of the brood has been taken over by Ginger, it seems.  She has stopped laying for the last few months.  (She is the only hen that lays white eggs now, so it’s easy to tell.)  She just doesn’t seem her old self since Stacy is no longer around.

Wilhelmina

Her brown “sisters” seemed unaffected by Ethyl’s disappearance.  Ginger and Big Red Mama have somewhat switched roles since they arrived, though.  That began during the summer when Ginger decided that she was going to be the first hen to any food.  That included helping herself to ears of corn off our garden stalks.  We were amazed at how she jumped to husk and eat the corn on the cob!  When the girls come running, she’s usually at the front of the pack.

The ladies came running toward me as soon as I came outside. Too bad I had the camera instead of some leftovers this time.

Ginger

Big Red Mama

Big Red Mama was so named because of her coloring and her attitude when she came to stay with us.  Her name is not any reflection of any Husker loyalties my Nebraska friends may imagine.  🙂

Pepper (a.k.a Kevin) has grown into more of an adult, taking her place among the others.  She used to stay close to Salt (a.k.a Barok), but now she feels free to be more independent.

Pepper

Salt, however, is going through some sort of phase where she is not leaving the coop when the others run out to roam the yard.  I thought she had perhaps become more maternal, feeling obligated to sit on the eggs while the other hens went off to have fun.  Yesterday, though, she was sitting in the cubby beside the eggs, so I still wonder.  We hope she’s not ill.  She really is a pretty hen.

Salt

These are our chickens.  Stay tuned for the next (and final – at least for a while) post that will show you the new house Chad built for the girls over the summer and a surprise!

~Dana

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The Chicken Chronicles – The Attack

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That is, most nights they were safely locked in their coop.  One night, we forgot to close the door to the coop.

Around 5:00 a.m. one morning, we awoke to the sound of the chickens clucking loudly.  This was about an hour earlier than usual for that time of year.  (They had been getting up with the sun around 6-6:30 a.m. usually.)  I asked my husband if they were alright, since it seemed strange for them to be up so early.  They sounded somewhat hysterical.

Chad got up quickly, not taking the time to dress, and ran outside barefoot, clapping his hands to make noise.  He saw two dark objects in the middle of the yard and ran toward them.  As he ran, one of the dark objects (that he quickly discovered was a chicken) was running toward him.  He jumped over her in pursuit of the attacker.  As he ran toward the redbud tree in the center of the yard, he saw the raccoon climb the tree.

Chad called for a flashlight, and I brought one as quickly as I could.  He remembered a shovel left near the tree and went back to try to displace the raccoon with it, but the animal somehow dropped from the top of the tree and escaped to the wooded area behind our yard.

Ethyl had been attacked.  The other chickens seemed riled but unharmed.  Apparently, Ethyl had been dragged from the chicken house toward the tree.  There were feathers all over the site where the raccoon had begun his work, but she was fine except for being scared and having a few scratches on her back.

We were more diligent in making sure we locked the door to the coop each night after that.  While we want to protect our egg supply and our small investment in the hens, we feel a great responsibility to look out for their welfare, to be good caretakers for these hens, and to give them the best lives possible, protecting them as best as we are able.

~Dana

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The Chicken Chronicles – The Pretty Birds Join the Brood

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With the introduction of the brown chickens, Big Red Mama, Ginger, and Ethyl, our yard seemed more full.  We were excited, though when our neighbors asked if we could care for their two Silkie hens they had bought as chicks earlier in the spring.  (They had just discovered that their third pullet was actually a cockerel and had to find a different place for him.)  I had only seen Silkies at the county fair and thought of them as somewhat exotic.  Their silky feathers, feathered feet, and poofy head feathers make them different and special.

Our teenage neighbor who had brought up the chicks named the white one Barok (since that’s what the other chickens were calling her.)  She named the black chick Kevin, having always wanted a black chicken named Kevin.  Chad named them Salt and Pepper after they came to live with us, but we refer to them by both names.

The Silkies - Barok and Kevin (a.k.a Salt and Pepper)


Salt and Pepper have been fun additions to our small brood.  They began laying last fall, shortly before the weather turned colder, and while this species is not known for strong egg production, they have been doing a good job of producing for us.  (Which has been good since Wilhelmina seems to be on strike this winter, and one of the brown chickens is also taking a break from laying.)  Their little pullet eggs are the perfect size to poach for our toddler’s breakfast each morning!

Now our brood was up to seven again.  Yes, there were definite cliques: the Leghorns, the Silkies, the younger Rhode Island Reds, and Ethyl.  But they all seemed to do well together, enjoying their time roaming free in the yard and closed safely into their coop at night…

~Dana

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The Chicken Chronicles – Making New Friends

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Winter came and went with our two white chickens, Wilhelmina and Stacy, providing us with eggs.  The coop and yard seemed somewhat empty now, though, with just the two of them.

Spring came.  It was a busy time for us as we traveled out-of-state for my Ph.D. defense, I continued to teach at the university, and Chad began work to expand the chickens’ quarters (I’ll provide more pictures in the last segment of this series.)  We didn’t think it was the best time to get new baby chicks, but we were hoping to find more adult hens.

Stacy and Wilhelmina

Summer came.  We celebrated our daughter’s birthday and mine.  A couple of weeks later, we decided that our beloved dog, Maxine, was suffering so much that we should say goodbye to her.  It was a very sad day for us.

Saying goodbye to Maxine

We were glad she didn’t have to suffer through the brutal, dry heat that came that summer, but after so many years as a faithful companion to my husband (They’d been together about twice as long as hubby and I had.), there is still a loneliness without her.

This side note about our dog isn’t a complete tangent that’s unrelated to the chickens, though.  While talking to the vet that day, my husband found that she would be willing to part with some of her older hens.  They worked out some kind of arrangement (I don’t recall if it was payment or some kind of trade for something useful.), and soon, we had three new girls in the yard, all big, brown, and beautiful.

One was noticeably older than the others.  Chad called her “The Old Lady.”  I started calling her Ethyl.  Another hen was a beautiful lighter reddish color.  I named her Ginger.  The third had darker feathers on her head and neck, and the first name that came to me somehow stuck with her.  It had more to do with her attitude, for now SHE had taken on the most aggressive behavior, seemingly unaware that the white chickens had seniority on her here.  Big Red Mama thought she was the new leader, and somehow, Wilhelmina let her assume that role.

Now, the two younger red hens seemed to hang out together.  The white hens kept close to each other, and Ethyl, well, she just seemed glad to be by herself.  Some of her feathers were missing, indicating the others may have been pecking on her a bit.  She seemed resigned to her place at the bottom of the “pecking order.”

The dynamics of our brood would continue to change in the weeks ahead, though…

~Dana

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The Chicken Chronicles – Thelma and Louise’s Last Adventure

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September 12, 2010.

We had waited months for our chicks to begin laying, and now one of the two Rhode Island Reds was providing us with an egg daily!  We were excited to have our own small production going on and enjoyed seeing the hens’ different personalities and behaviors.

We were returning from some place that evening (probably eating out), pulling into our driveway, when our neighbor ran out to us holding something white in her arms.  She was clearly upset, crying as she tried to explain that the chickens were dead, but this one was still alive – for now.

I must have needed to get our infant daughter inside because I don’t remember most of what happened except from the stories I heard later.

Our Rhode Island Red girls, Thelma and Louise, had never seemed to be the brightest chickens in the yard.  Chad had clipped their wings when they were chicks to keep them safely inside the fence, but they had grown now, and we didn’t realize how high they could jump or fly.  I guess that day, they decided they needed something different, that the grass was greener on the other side of the fence.  Stacy, one of the Leghorns, was always more of a follower than independent Wilhelmina, so she must have gone along with the plan.

My husband wrote the following on his Facebook status:  “Three Chickens went on a mission today and crossed enemy lines into (neighbor) territory. Their mission was a complete failure, bodies were recovered but funeral services will not be held. And then there was one…”

Our neighbor (who dearly loves animals) told us she had heard their dogs barking outside and had seen something brown being tossed in the air as a toy.  She thought perhaps it was a brown sack of sorts.  Feathers were everywhere.  She disposed of the lifeless bodies of our brown chickens, and rescued Stacy, though she wasn’t looking too well.

Chad tried to console our teenage neighbor girl.  We knew the potential danger for the chickens if they went over the fence and did not hold any ill feelings toward them for what had happened.  It just happened.  We deliberated as to if we should put an end to Stacy’s pain, but decided to give her the night to see if she might recover.  Chad gently placed her in the chicken house with water within reach.

Amazingly, Stacy did recover.  She always walked with a limp after that and seemed a little more timid.  Wilhelmina seemed unchanged by the event, as if she knew it was a stupid idea to jump that fence to play with the dogs.
So, our brown chickens turned out to be aptly named, and their first big adventure outside the fence turned out to be their last.

And now we were down to two chickens…

~Dana

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The Chicken Chronicles – The Eviction

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Yes, we had five roosters, somewhat unwanted roosters.  We hated to break up our little family of chickens; they seemed so happy together as a large family of seven and then nine (Though the Leghorns kept to themselves still.).  But about the time we thought those boys would start crowing any day, we decided it was time for them to move on to a better home.

This was an end to the innocence for our little Rhode Island Reds.

Chad spent what seemed like a long time chasing the chickens around the yard to capture the little roosters.  He knew a woman south of town who had the space and an interest in the roosters, so Chad drove away with the caged birds in the back of the pickup, to take them to their new home in the country.

In my every-chicken-story-should-have-a-happy-ending mind, they live there still, crowing at dawn, strutting around with beautiful feathers, and living a happy life of freedom.

It was my hope that, if that wasn’t going to be the case for them, someone who could handle the butchering process better than we could would enjoy a blessing of free, fresh chicken to eat.

It was a real possibility that wild animals may have enjoyed the meat first, but I don’t dwell on that.

So, the boys were gone – and now our brown little hens were rather terrified!  They wouldn’t come near us like they used to.  They seemed traumatized by the chasing and then the loss of their brothers.  I can’t blame them, but it made us a little sad.  They no longer seemed as happy and were plagued with worry, despite our diligent care and their fine accommodations.

They seemed to keep close together and away from the Leghorns, especially Wilhelmina.   Chad named them Thelma and Louise…

More to come!

~Dana

P.S. If you’re interested in the possibility of having your own chickens, check out this post from Soulsby Farm that describes the benefits and what you need to get started.   http://soulsbyfarm.wordpress.com/2012/02/04/why-everyone-should-own-chickens/

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