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).