Friday, October 22, 2010

Cooped up in Autumn

Lily and Dolly have stopped laying and have begun dropping their feathers everywhere they go. I believe this is called molting. Other than that, they are behaving normally.
They are tolerant of a little rain, but after a while they retreat under the deck, specifically under the deck under the eaves; they are no dummies.
I read that chickens will eat yogurt so I put out some that had gone past the expiration date; They devoured it.
They go to bed very early these days, even while the sun is still up.
Dolly still sleeps on the perch, while Lily prefers snuggling in the cedar chip bedding. I’m with Lily on this one.
Yesterday I opened the coop door well before sunup. The girls were both still in the sleeping quarters. Lily came flying down the ramp and outside the coop in under a second. I have no idea what she was thinking, but I would love to know.
Since I finished fencing the backyard, we let them run free all day. We know this means they will likely have a shorter life, but a better one too. I have to remind myself that they are not helpless and still have the self-protection desire that all living things are born with.
My spouse suggested I raise the coop off of the patio, in order to keep the straw drier. This may have been her best suggestion yet. I have done so, and I’m very pleased with the results.
Let’s see what a long NW winter brings to the coop.

Monday, June 21, 2010

early summer 2010

We almost always get two eggs per day now, and we got three one day! How is that even possible?
I am noticing some character traits of the hens; Lily is very adventurous. She comes up on the second story deck, she goes out the gate if it’s left open, and she always comes a runnin’ when a person comes into the backyard.
Dolly is more timid, she never goes on the deck, and stays closer to the coop.
I’ve been reading up on hens and hot weather, but now it looks like I needn’t have bothered. If summer does show up, the hens will be fine in hot weather as long as they have plenty of water and shade.
I’ve been training the girls to be petted by me. They are getting used to it, and someday maybe they will like it.
They have figured out that if they follow me while I’m mowing, the bugs will be easier to get at and will likely be stunned by the mower. They had a feast today.

Monday, May 3, 2010

More eggs

As promised, with the longer days come more eggs!
I put up a small fence to keep the hens from wandering the neighborhood. They had begun to go farther and farther on their journeys. They have a large backyard to themselves, and should be content. As a result of their new boundary, they can be let out for longer periods of time. This is good and bad; the good is obvious, the bad is that I know the chances of a predator getting them are increased, and when they do not get out, they make quite a racket.
Getting them back into the pen when they don’t want to go is quite an exercise, both literally and figuratively. Two people helps, and so does a long stick to help herd them. I hope no one ever gets it on video, I’m sure it’s not complimentary.
Dolly is more amenable to going into the pen, Lily is not. If she just happens to be in the pen anyway for a drink or a bite or to lay and she’s hears me, she darts out and makes a run for it.
One more feed store story. There was a woman who worked in the retail part of the feed store who I had a major crush on. She was tall and thin and blonde and sweet, and she drove a Toyota Land Cruiser! In those days a Land Cruiser was not a luxury SUV, it was a Jeep, for the youngsters reading this it was like a Jeep Wrangler, but with more power.
One day she came out to the warehouse and said that I was supposed to help her with a project. I was ecstatic and probably showed it. Our job was to get rid of many spray cans of some kind of hazardous substance. It was a weed killer or an insect killer. The manufacturer had instructed her to spray the contents into the dirt. We went to a vacant lot and started out just spraying them a can at a time into the dirt, but it was soon obvious that it would take all day. So I devised a setup where we could spray 10 cans at once. It worked well. I probably inhaled enough of that stuff to shorten my life, but spending hours with her alone was worth every minute.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter

It’s kinda fun to go out on Easter morning and get a warm egg. Thanks Dolly or Lily. After two days of nasty weather, today it’s relatively pleasant. The hens are out rototilling the yard.
I have been asked to write another feed store story. Here is one.
One of the geniuses had gotten a forklift hopelessly stuck in the mud. How there was ever mud in Reno, I don’t know, but there was some. The brain trust got together to figure out a solution. I just watched, because I knew from past experience that something bad but funny would surely happen. They lead guy got the biggest truck we had and tied a very long rope to the top of the cage that covers the driver of the forklift and the other end to the truck. He then got into the truck and gunned the engine. At this point I ran for my life. I finally had to turn and see the result. As the rope went taught, the cage ripped off the forklift and flew through the air at Mach 1, and coming to rest on a pallet of chicken feed and sending feed to the corners of the earth. The forklift did not budge. If only we had cell phones with video cameras in those days.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A steady pattern

The hens and the people have developed a steady pattern. One egg per day, a half hour out of the coop near sundown, and clean straw in the hen house most days.
I wonder if they’ve forgotten their lost buddy Gloria. I think not. I’ve always believed animals are smarter than we give them credit for. This is due to the fact that animal intelligence and human intelligence are as different as night and day. We can’t understand them, so we think they are dumb.
My son planted new grass in an area that a backhoe had torn up. As I suspected, the girls thought I made it just for them. I put up a fence to keep them and the humans out while the grass gets a chance to grow. I used metal fence posts, but found that I did not have enough to do the job. As a boy growing up in Nevada, I remembered that fences there often have a repeating pattern of one metal post and one post made from local plants (not trees, this is Nevada). I made some fence posts from some pruning remains and the fence looks very good to me. The hens were a bit perplexed at the new state of affairs, but quickly adapted.
One activity that Dolly, the Rhode Island Red, loves to do is have a dirt bath. She wiggles around in the dirt and turns upside down and makes very contented sounds. If I was a predator, that’s when I’d make my move. Luckily, she has me and Lily to watch out for her during these periods of luxuriating inattentiveness.

Friday, February 26, 2010

and then there were two

I let the girls out yesterday for a good long time. Every time I checked on them they were enjoying themselves. When it came time to put them in for the night, only two hens were visible. I looked and found Gloria sitting in the leaves behind the shed. Her eyes were open, but when I knelt down to pick her up she didn’t move and I knew something was wrong. I gently picked her up and put her in the hen house. She didn’t move. Then she flapped around and stopped suddenly. I knew she was gone. I had to go to an important meeting but returned hours later to find her in the same position, and Dolly and Lily were not themselves.

I buried Gloria in the backyard with Wendy the hamster, Sgt Pepper the mouse, Mr. Wiggles the mouse, the tawny mouse whose name I can’t remember, and the mole with no given name.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hen scratch

Seattle Tilth, the organization that taught me about chickens, wants my straw/chicken-poop mixture! They need it for an advanced class in composting.

Letting the hens out to run around close to sunset is a good idea; they don’t stray as far and getting them back in the coop is much easier.

Several neighbors have come over to see the setup. Chickens are a real draw for people. Could it be that our historical relationship with chickens is now in our genes, similar to dogs?

Today the girls should use the last of the feed that came with the chickens. I’m anxious to try the new feed.

I watched the hens go up and down the ramp. I have to add some traction; it’s more like a theme-park ride at this point.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The hens got a good long time out of the coop today. They actually all went back in on their own; all I had to do was shut the door.
I have also installed a HPS (Hen Protection System) on the side of the coop, for the odd canine who ventures in my backyard looking for an easy lunch. I suppose it would also work on a raccoon or pole cat. See attached picture.
I did the first big cleaning of the coop since I got it. It was pretty easy. I plan to make a way to hoist the roof of the coop. Luckily there is a big tree overhead that should work well.
The hens are continuing to give us over 2 eggs/day on average.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


As my poultry keeping starts to become more routine, my mind wanders. What the heck is straw anyway? Thanks to the internet, it is easy to find out.

I thought straw came from a straw plant. Wrong. Straw is merely the by-product of grain production. It is the stalks of cereal plants. This is why when I put new straw into the coop, the hens go to town looking for little bundles of left-over grain.

As Mr. Spock would say, “Fascinating”.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


One side-effect of chicken raising I had not anticipated was the relaxation it brings. I find letting the hens out to run free and cleaning the coop to be among the most relaxing of activities.

Yesterday I saw Dolly sharpening her beak on the cement, fascinating!

Gloria is very friendly and will come over for petting.

When they want to, the hens are very fast. They stick their wings out and go like the wind!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

salt of the earth

Are you up for another Alber’s feed store story?

I was the youngest and hardest working feed man at Alber’s. I was pushing a large handcart full of feed out to a waiting customer. There was probably 600 Lbs of feed on the cart, and on top was a large salt lick. As I rounded a corner the salt lick fell and broke. My immediate boss was sitting around with all the other guys chewing the fat. He yelled out, “Now you have to eat it”. They laughed and laughed at the joke. Unbeknownst to them the top boss was watching. He said to my boss, “Maybe if you helped him, he wouldn’t have dropped it”. My boss said some words not fit to repeat here, gave him a gesture and quit. As I was picking up the salt, the big boss turned to me and said, “You’re the boss now”. I remember thinking, “That’s how promotions work”!

The great escape

The hens were making a lot of noise this morning, so I let them out into the yard. I then went back to bed. Soon the phone rang; it was neighbor letting me know the girls were in his yard. I did not think they would go that far from the coop. I went over and managed to grab Gloria and take her home. The other two would tolerate no such treatment. The neighbor’s daughter and I managed to herd them back into my yard and then set Gloria free. I took four fresh eggs over to the good neighbor and resumed my Sunday morning.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Another plus

I like to spread my home-made compost on the bare spots on my lawn. I’ve found that it leads to almost miraculous results. I had done this recently, but had not done a great job of spreading it evenly. Today the hens did it for me, and I must say they did a great job.

Today they started following me around the yard. I have no explanation for this other than they seem to recognize me. I reached down and petted one today. She seemed to like it.

We are still averaging over 2 eggs per day, and my daughter stated the great idea of dating the eggs with a pen.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Hen names

Yes the hens have names.
  • The darker colored Orpington is called Gloria, my daughter named her.
  • The other Orpington is called Lily, from the song by The Who, "pictures of Lily". I named her
  • The Rhode Island Red is called Dolly, after Dolly Parton, I think. My wife named her.

Dick Albers

As a teen I worked in the animal feed industry. I worked at Alber’s, a feed plant and a retail store. I did many different jobs while there.

We sold many types of poultry feed, among them, chick scratch and hen scratch. They differed only in size. The owner of the facility, a diminutive man, loved to come out and catch us taking a break. I devised a plan. Whenever anyone saw him sneaking around, that person would call out “chick scratch!”, and if we were resting, we would spring into action. It worked like a charm.

The chicken guy said scratch feed is not great for chickens, as it does not contain enough protein. But the mere mention of it brought back great memories of my days at Alber’s.

chicken scratch

Another three egg day! I thought we might have four, one of the Orpingtons looked like she was laying in the dirt, but I guess she was just resting.

I started making the wind shelter yesterday. Properly removing chicken wire is time consuming work. I finished one side.

Getting the hens back in the coop is easier at dusk, because they are ready to go to sleep anyway.

The hens like oranges, and cheese.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Cretaceous fowl

If birds have evolved from dinosaurs, and I believe they have, then chickens most remind me of Tyrannosaurus Rex aka T-Rex. They both have no or useless arms, run like the wind when they want to, eat anything, use their tails for balance, and have the same feet!

After observing my hens, I have no trouble making the connection. Are you having trouble? Try imagining a chicken from the ant’s point of view.

Municipal code :(

I’m a little worried because I saw a uniformed person in the yard next door. I hope I’m not in for a legal battle.

I asked for advice from the “chicken community” and one guy was very helpful, and said I don’t have anything to worry about. He even studied the Park’s municipal code for me. What a guy!

I’ll write more about that loathsome subject if anything comes to pass.

The girls are averaging over 2 eggs per day. The Orpington’s are supposed to lay the same number year around, and this seems to be so.

My wife ate an egg today! She was a bit squeamish, but overcame it! What a cowgirl!

Monday, February 1, 2010


Two more tan eggs! The chickens seem to like their new roof. I'm planning to create a new sheltered area (on three sides and the top) so they can get out of the wind and rain and not have to go in the house where they spend a lot of time this time of year.

Bulldozer or rototiller?

The Chicken class instructor (from now on called the chicken guy) said that chickens are like little bulldozers and that they can tear up a garden in record time. I was dubious about the second claim, but count me in as a believer! They love to move a bunch of dirt and then look for bugs, and will repeat this ad infinitum. It is so obviously a instinctual behaviour.

So far they have stayed out of my garden (maybe because it only contains garlic right now). There is nothing else in the backyard they can harm, so they have the run of the place (supervised in case of predators). A Louisville slugger is my weapon of choice (we have big dogs in the park).

Sunday, January 31, 2010


I finished the roof today, and I must say the improvement is huge. The girls seem to like the new airiness. I'm sure the neighbors like it too!

The girls are still averaging 3 eggs/day! I harvested a warm one today.

Poco now knows he is not welcome in the coop!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

How this poultry thing got started

My teenage daughter wanted to get chickens. She loves animals, and the more the better. Apparently, two cats, a hamster, two frogs, and a fish are not enough. I finally agreed and we took a class at Tilth in Seattle. The class was fantastic, and by the end, I couldn't wait to get chickens of our own.

I wanted to make my own coop, but I knew that would take months at best, so I looked online. The variety of coops for sale is unbelievable. I found one that was both good looking and well designed. I was almost ready to hit the purchase button.

The instructor at Tilth suggested we sign up on and join the
"chicken lovers" group. I did so.

The next day I got an email (sent to all the chicken lovers) that a guy was selling his coop and chickens. The price seemed right and my daughter and I went to look. We decided to but the whole shebang. We loaded the chickens and the coop into the Ridgeline and brought it home. The chickens spent their first night at our house without incident.

The next afternoon I got a call from my daughter that we had three eggs! I was delighted but it got better when I tasted them! Since then we have averaged two eggs per day.

Our killer cat is fascinated with the hens, but is also afraid of them, just like the instructor said would happen.

The breeds of our chickens are as follows; two Buff Orpingtons, and one Rhode Island Red. They are all big girls, and love to wander the yard searching for things to eat. The instructor said they will eat anything that does not eat them first.

They can be quite noisy, but only during the daylight, and they are no where near as noisy as a rooster would be. After dark they go into their house and sleep quietly.

I'm looking forward to more good times with the jungle fowl in the Park.