Thursday, December 18, 2008

No Way, Snow Day


The hens met their first snow the other day. We had a rather atypical storm, for Seattle, of a few inches. Even more unusual was the fact that the temperature remained below freezing for a few days, so it didn’t melt off right away.



I awoke last Saturday all excited to see the chickens have their first snowy experience. I was imagining hens frolicking and gleefully kicking up white powder.

I should preface this by saying that on a normal morning, if I take too long to get the chicken door open, I’m met with loud squawks and thumping from inside the coop. Once I open the door, the hens practically push me down to get out.

So, I jumped out of bed, put on some boots, grabbed the camera, and went outside. I flung open the chicken door as fast as I could. And what I got was this.



Then they went back to bed. A while later they ventured out onto their porch for another look.



They eventually made it this far.



An hour after that, Sarah got tired of them being so, well, chicken. So she took some leftover French toast and tossed it on the ground. They peered at it from their porch with interest, but couldn’t figure out a way to get to it without touching the unfamiliar white stuff. Millie, clearly bored but still unwilling to get on the ground, later flew over to a branch we stuck in the corner of their fence some months ago but that I’ve never seen her use.



An hour or so later, Sarah couldn’t take it anymore. She caught Flo peering from the porch and she grabbed her and flung her on the ground. Flo was so surprised that she didn’t even kick up a fuss, and then she was pretty happy to find herself face-to-face with the French toast. The other girls, seeing that Flo had ingeniously figured out how to eat the French toast without being killed by the snow, quickly followed her down to the ground.



We got another, much bigger storm today. The city is shut down, and it’s been actively snowing almost all day. We’ve been working at the kitchen table with a really good view of the chicken coop. Other than the occasional tuft of yellow near the door of the coop, we have not had any chicken sightings.



Monday, December 1, 2008

Autumnal fun

We have a fairly substantial apple tree in the yard, so autumn is all about raking leaves and cleaning up apples. This year I've had a lot of "help" from the hens. (I’d also like to give a shout-out to the squirrel or whatever rodent it is that is eating up a good number of the fallen apples.)

Turns out the chickens' gangly, taloned feet are ideally suited to raking leaves. Unfortunately, their tiny, food-obsessed brains are not ideally suited to raking leaves into neat piles.

So, here's how it goes. I rake the leaves into small piles, like this.



The chickens, who treat me as sort of the big chicken on campus, see me raking and think it's a pretty good idea. I'm always coming up with the best treats (bowls of rice, stale cereal, seeds, mushy blueberries, etc.), so in their minds, wherever I'm scratching around must be the best place to find the good stuff. Shortly after I finish raking a pile together, the hens go at it, like this.



I think I know how my parents must have felt every fall when we would "help" them rake the leaves into giant piles, only to fly into them at top speed and redistribute them throughout the yard. But hey, I guess we were cute and funny, and so are the hens.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Late night peep show

When it comes to animals and how they work, chickens are a pretty basic model. They like food and dirt. Daylight = awake. Darkness = asleep. Unfortunately, their egg-makers are also controlled by daylight. So as the days get shorter up here around the 48th parallel, which I think also goes through places like Maine and Mongolia, we’re getting fewer eggs per capita (hey, “capita” means “heads” in Latin, so it still applies even if they’re chicken heads). We’re, uh, also just getting fewer eggs overall.

After extensive Internet research to verify that this practice is in no way harmful to the chickens, we decided to artificially extend their daylight hours by having a light bulb turn on inside their coop just as the sun is setting. Every morning I put a portable, rechargeable battery pack outside with a timer to a bulb inside their coop, and the bulb turns on for a couple of hours.



There is one pretty hilarious problem with this brilliant solution, which is the aforementioned “basic model” issue. For our chickens, I will add a couple more equations. Daylight = outside. Darkness = inside. Put all of the equations together, and you get a cluster of confused cluckers.

The first day we turned the light bulb on, the girls went inside when the sun set, as they always do. But when they got inside, they discovered that it was daylight. So, they turned around and went outside. But when they got outside, they discovered that it was dark. So, they turned around and went inside. I think you see where I’m going with this.

This pacing and milling around in the doorway of the coop lasted no less than 15 minutes that first day. We’re not here most days when the bulb turns on, but yesterday, a good week or so after we first introduced the bulb, there was still some general confusion during this transition for at least five minutes.

Of course we have no way of tapping into the minds of our hens, but it certainly seems as though they are understimulated once they decide to stay inside their brightly lit coop. First, they eat their chicken feed and probably take a few swigs of water (we can see a little bit of this activity through the chicken door). Eventually, they end up on their perches, where they all preen together. And then they look really, really bored.



Fortunately, the windows of the coop only face us and our neighbors, so only our immediate neighbors have to wonder what the hell it is the crazy ladies are doing providing electric lighting for their poultry.

The good news is that egg production is up.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Happy Chickens?

You have never seen happiness, until you have seen a chicken taking a dirt bath. They make low clucking noises as they flop to and fro with their eyes rolled up into their heads. (Have you ever scratched a cat [or dog I guess] behind the ears in the "good" spot? That's the look.) Even when we go outside and drop a favored treat on the ground- the hens won't even see it if they are all hopped up on dirt...






It really is not difficult to make a chicken happy- they just need to roll in dirt, and scratch. That's pretty much it. This brings me to a more uncomfortable subject... although we have pet chickens that are the coolest, funniest animals ever, -we are not vegetarians. In fact, we do eat chicken. This horrifies our cute little artist/vegan neighbors- but the fact of the matter is that I have a very hard time staying healthy and active (not to mention growing my wrist bone back) without some protein.

Now I'm not going to shock and traumatize anyone with what really goes on in the commercial chicken industry- but I will tell you that there are no animal cruelty laws for chickens (there are for every other commercial animals). And I will say that the reality of life for a commercially raised chicken, is ugly. Really ugly. We intentionally ignore where our food comes from because it is traumatic,, and I think that is a bit irresponsible. Just because chickens are food animals, do they really deserve to live painful, joy-free existences just because American farming is dedicated to keeping KFC & McDonalds in business?

Of course, because I grew up with chickens and know what friendly goofy animals they are, I have been buying free range organic eggs/meat since I started shopping for myself, (it started with a concern for hormone and antibiotic injections, but then I learned a little more).

Lorraine agreed to this policy immediately, even though financially, it was not always the easiest choice. Of course, now that we have chickens ourselves, Lorraine has taken it a step further, and has figured out where to buy chicken that is not only free range organic, but a breed that is able to walk on its own, and is allowed to graze (and roll in the dirt). Check it out: http://www.skagitriverranch.com/pages/where.htm

It's is a local farm- and they sell their pastured eggs/meat at nearly every farmers market in Seattle, as well as at many grocery stores. I just don't think that it is foolish or sentimental to appreciate where your food comes from. Not to mention the well known fact that well-treated grazing animals taste WAY better than the alternative. Americans in particular it seems, are simply far too skilled at ignoring unpleasant truths in favor of convenience and comfort...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Getting eggy

As we had hoped when we embarked on our chicken adventure, we are now swimming in eggs. Pinky brown eggs, orangey brown eggs, green eggs, bluish eggs...so many eggs.



The different colors and shapes make it easy for us to know who's been laying, and we are keeping a tally. Flo is our most reliable. She was the first to lay and she rarely misses a day, except for when she lays a double-yolker. The girls always skip the day after laying a double-yolker, and I don't blame them. Those eggs are huge, and it can't be a comfortable process getting one of those out the hatch.



Flo's eggs are the lighter, orangey brown ones and they're small and skinny. Phyllis's are a bit darker, pinkish, and very plump (no surprise there). Millie's range from sage green to bluish green. Perhaps it depends her diet of the day? And surprisingly, her eggs are as large as Phyllis's despite the fact that she is really a rather slender hen.

They're all delicious. I love how deep orange the yolks are, and when you crack them, they are very three-dimensional because they are so fresh. All of the grass, bugs, seeds, and other free-range items the girls eat give the eggs a very rich texture and flavor. I like eating them just straight-up fried, but they even lend a nice fluffiness and yellow hue to Sarah's baked goods.



We've been giving them out to the neighbors, and the grandmas on both sides seemed very appreciative. Grumpy Grandma's son was around today and he told me that Chinese people are very fond of fresh eggs and attribute healthful properties to them. Makes sense to me.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Chicken booty

I apologize for the delay since the last update. Our chicken ladies have really matured over the past couple of months and we owe their fans some photos.

To start, our little Phyllis has become quite the impressive chicken. Even the two elderly Chinese women who live on both sides of us have managed to pull together some English to comment, “BIIIIG chicken,” while pointing at Phyllis and motioning that she is very fat.



Indeed, Phyllis has junk in her trunk. Baby got back. A coworker recommended renaming her JLo.










Her front is also quite plump and attractive.




The other hens are looking healthy and mature as well, though not as large as Phyllis. Millie is kind of tall and lanky, but she has developed terrific cheek feathers (“muffs”) and a little bit of beard.










Flo is very pretty, especially in bright sunlight, but didn’t quite develop as much golden lacing as we thought she would. She is, however, our most reliable egg layer. I’ll provide a more detailed egg update once I remember to take some photos of them.


The chickens’ latest adventures involve two new additions to the yard: a wild bird feeder we’ve been filling and a giant hawk that likes to perch on the chicken coop and drool as she watches the ladies. It is entirely possible that the arrival of the second is directly related to the first, so we may decide that we have to remove the bird feeder.

On the fun side, now when we open up the coop, the hens practically push us down to get out and run to the ground under the bird feeder, where they scramble to find lots of seeds the wild birds have dropped. I’ll try to get pictures of this sometime.

On the not-so-fun side, the hawk, who we believe to be a Cooper’s Hawk, has come around a few times and is very big and very scary. Fortunately, the chickens actually seem to have some instincts, and when they see her, they freak out, try to run for cover, and holler loudly. This alerts us (we only let the chickens run around the yard when we’re home) and we run out of the house and chase her off. I doubt we’ll ever get pictures of her because whenever she comes around, we’re too busy trying to keep her from killing the girls.


This a photo I found of what she looks like. Yikes!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

updates

I will leave any serious update to Lorraine-

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Egg Has Landed


Yep, we found our first egg the other day! Flo laid it in a dirt ditch off the patio (off course). It was a remarkably large and well-shaped egg, just a bit skinny.

Today we got another egg, properly laid in the nesting box with a little hay nest dug in around it, but much smaller and pocky-looking. Sarah thinks that it's Phyllis's, but I think it's Flo's. I think she just got it unusually right on the first try and the second one was weird looking (as the first usually is).

We're hoping they continue to lay in the nesting box so we don't have to have an Easter egg hunt around the yard every day. As soon as we found the first one, we put a plastic egg in the box to convince them that that's where the eggs go. Apparently, this works because, well, chickens just aren't all that smart.

But they do lay tasty eggs. Maybe we'll have an omelet this weekend?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Knock Knock


Who's there? Oh, why, it's Millie, Flo, and Phyllis.

Indeed, the other week when I was working at home following Sarah's wrist incident, I heard a "knock knock" at the back door. I got up to see who it was and when I opened the door, lo and behold, who do you think was there?

You'll note the utter destruction of half of the begonia plant as well as the large blob of chicken poo on the porch. They sure know how to make themselves at home.

I've spent most of the past few weekends attempting to chicken-proof the patio and gardens, with some limited success. Turns out that the only lightweight fence that works against chickens is...chicken wire. Go figure.

Our girls are turning into quite the full-figured ladies. Flo has blossomed into a real beauty, although her waddles and comb are hilarious when they jiggle around during a sprint for a blueberry.















Mildred is still the most curious about us and likes to stick her head right up at us as if to say, "What do you look like...up close?"















Phyllis, alas, is still the dumbest, but she's darn cute and getting super plump. I call this one "Yellow Chicken with Purple Flowers."








Sunday, June 29, 2008

I lied...

Sort of. So I won't bet getting the girls drunk- Lorraine points out that this would not be responsible chicken-owner behavior, and she is right.

But I will post an update of the girls. I promise to limit the update to mostly pics- since,well you know, a thousand words and all... (well actually, I will freely admit that my updates are far less entertaining than Lorraine's)

Essentially, the chickens are bigger, better and starting to plump out like real chickens.

Of particular note this month, the girls have discovered that they love blueberries. And I mean 'love' in the way a crack-head loves crack. Toss one in their direction, and instantly three sets of eagle... well, chicken eyes fasten onto this minuscule globe. Before it has even hit the ground, all three birds are flapping and scrabbling to be the first one to snatch it up and run flying across the yard in a ridiculous game of keep-away. They can maintain this for several minutes, until there is so little of the blueberry left, that someone just swallows it. (The same thing happens to moths that they discover in the lawn, alas...).


Flo is also becoming more spectacular, with shinning gold feathers rimmed by black (difficult to capture by camera) - but Millie remains the favorite, possibly because of her silly "ear muffs" but most likely because she is so extremely friendly and inquisitive.





(Millie right, Flo, left)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

hiatus

I have to appologize for the lack of updates. I seem to have lost the camera and there doesn't seem to be much point in blogging without some sort of photographic evidence of progress...

Needless to say, our blog is a bit dull and Lorraine is a bit put out.

I promise to make it up to everyone once I find the camera by getting a pic of Millie the next time she hits the sauce.

However, in the interests of staying somewhat current, I will say that the chicks are definitely looking more like chickens these days, and Flo is getting downright pretty. The neighbors are also big fans by now, and even grumpy grandma was seen to be smiling at the girls as they spun crazily around the yard last night in pursuit of moths. (I let them out into the bigger yard when I grill, although I will not admit what it was that I was grilling last night...).

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Drunken Chicken

There is a type of drunken chicken you get when you cook a chicken on top of a can of beer. I’m not really sure how that works, but I’ve read about it.

Then there is the type of drunken chicken you get when Millie goes on a bender. Yes, I got my chicken drunk yesterday. It was not my proudest moment.

Listen, here’s how it happened. We have a slug problem in the garden. Given that we’re not into poisoning the environment (not to mention the local birds and our chickens) with chemicals, we do not use slug bait. Instead, I set beer traps throughout the garden beds. The slugs are attracted to the yeasty brew, they slime their way into the low, beer-filled cups, and they get drunk and die happy.

I was working on the tedious project of repairing the raised garden beds yesterday and so I let the chickens out to roam freely in the yard. They absolutely love pecking around looking for bugs to eat. I looked up frequently to make sure the girls weren’t destroying any flowers or getting themselves into trouble. I was even paying special attention to make sure they didn’t linger near the beer traps. But after quite a while out there, I looked up and spotted Millie: she was not just lingering over a beer trap, not just pecking at the trap, but chugging beer like a freshman at a frat party.

I ran over and chased the girls to another part of the yard and went back to my project, but as soon as I sat down, I saw Millie walking purposefully toward the beer trap. I got there just as she was going in for another swig. This time, I chased her even farther into the yard, but as I walked back to my project, I kept a sharp eye on her. She set off at a full sprint toward the beer. At this point I gave up and corralled the girls back into their pen.

Needless to say, I was concerned about the effects of alcohol on a pre-adolescent chicken. From our observations, it seems that they are similar to the effects on humans. After a while, Millie was rolling around on the ground and flapping her legs and wings around in what seemed to be a really happy, if ungraceful, manner. She didn’t try to get up much, but when she did, she didn’t stay up long. Phyllis and Flo, who are used to following their fearless leader around in their regular pecking and scratching activities, sat with her for a while and looked really confused. Eventually they got bored and went back to pecking while Millie lolled around for the rest of the afternoon.

My name is Lorraine and my chicken is an alcoholic.

Savage Chickens: Drink Beer Cartoon

Friday, May 23, 2008

Top Chicken

I don’t have any new pictures to add today. Just a quick anecdote. Opening up the coop yesterday morning was pretty fun. When I opened the chicken door, I saw all three girls sitting in a row on their perch. Within a few seconds, they were dropping down like paratroopers. It was as if a sergeant was slapping them on the back yelling, “Go! Go! Go!” They each jumped down, one, two, three, and emerged onto their “porch.” Then, of course, the appearance of organization fell apart and they started running around like…well, I won’t use the obvious cliché here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Still trying to get the hang of things

So I finally finished the chicken run and the girls get to roam outdoors within the confines of their fence all day now. They were clearly meant to be outside enjoying tasty grass and weeds and digging for bugs. They're catching on to the pleasures of worms, slugs and bugs. Every time one of them finds a creature, the others start running around after her maniacally and it passes beaks a few times before someone finally gobbles it down.

When I opened the chicken door to let them out of their house for the first time, they behaved, of course, like the chickens that they are. I eventually tossed some grass on their "porch" to coax them along. It turns out that while Mildred is the most curious and brave, Flo is the greediest. She came out to munch on the grass first, she was the first to walk down the ramp to get the next pile of grass I left there, and she was the first to jump down onto the ground. She is also the one who usually gets the worm.

Mercifully, the ugly adolescent period has passed and they are getting cuter, fatter and fluffier every day.


They're still kids in many ways, though. The girls' voices are still more peepy than clucky and they haven't gotten the hang of eating vegetable scraps yet. We tried some parsnip peels the other day and they just got thrown around and trampled a bit. And they're still not sleeping like adults do, on a roost that's high up. In fact, for their first few days outside, when it got dark they just face-planted in a pile in the corner of their fence. We had to scrape them up each night and stick them inside their house. Now they seem to be going inside at dusk, although it could just be that I'm running out of the house and shutting them in before they get a chance to bust outside again. I have been accused of being overly protective of the chickens. I suppose it's pointless to argue.

Here's Flo waving at ya.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Grass! Grass! Grass!

Following moving day yesterday, we let the girls out to graze for the first time today. The fence that goes around the coop isn't quite put together yet. First we have to find some strong people to help us move the coop a few feet over so it fits in the allotted space. This is one of those times that it would be nice to have a big dude or two around. Sigh.

So, we let Mildred, Flo and Phyllis out in the cat run (sans cat) because it is secure from predators and fairly escape-proof. There, I said it. We are THOSE neighbors who not only HAVE a cat run, but we put our CHICKENS in it.

While it is admittedly difficult to gauge the emotions of chickens, I am fairly confident in saying that the girls were thrilled to be running around eating grass for a few hours. They certainly seemed more relaxed than I've seen them in a while.


Pretty different from the peeps of just a few weeks ago, no?

Our neighbors are now all fully aware that the weird little house in back is for three chickens. The little boy who frequently visits his grandparents next door seemed excited about them, but he's two and he doesn't speak any English so all I could do was hold Mildred in front of him. His Dad asked a few questions and I made it clear that we will not be keeping any roosters, so hopefully that will help calm any fears our neighbors may have had. We can only talk to the youngish generation of the two families on both sides of us since we don't speak Chinese. We're hoping that the fact that they are very Chinese will help them accept the chickens as not too freakish an addition to the neighborhood. We also plan to ply them with eggs.

Here are the girls relaxing inside their new pad. It's a cozy, second-story property with eastern and southern exposure. I think they got a great deal on it considering home prices in Seattle these days.

Moving Day

So we've been really lame and haven't updated the blog in a while, which apparently has more fans than I would have expected. Frankly, I've been really busy doing a ton of stuff to the chicken coop to make it as cute and as easy to maintain as possible. The former owners left us paint, so the coop is painted the same way as the house (except for one wall that I've left white so Sarah can paint a fruity mural on it). I also primed the whole interior and put down some scrap vinyl flooring since I have become very familiar with the cement-like properties of dried chicken poop. Behold.

The girls officially moved out of their "parents" basement and into their own place yesterday. They seemed a bit nervous about the whole thing, and possibly chilly. However, we have a ceramic heat bulb in there that we turned on overnight because, well, we're those insane people who spoil their chickens.

So, to go back some weeks, after our last posting in the awkward early adolescent period things progressed quickly. The girls kept growing and getting more feathers and eventually they stopped looking like hideous monsters. Even Phyllis is turning into a rather attractive, fluffy little chicken. At some point they couldn't get enough of running around their basement room. Every time we lifted the cover off the brooder, Mildred would pop up to the rim instantly to check us out and the other two would follow. They often played, well, Chicken, as they tried to balance on the slippery plastic rim and knock each other off American Gladiators style. The running around the room was fun to watch except for the inevitable clean-up of copious amounts of poop. The cramped quarters in the brooder and farm smell in the house just got to be too much, and so moving day arrived.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Please contribute to Phyllis's therapy fund





I'm skipping over a whole week of crazy develop-ment, but I just can't resist quickly posting this picture of Phyllis in what has to be (please!) one of the most train-wreckish weeks of her life. I should just start putting money into a fund now for the therapy she's going to need once she realizes how I mocked her in public during her vulernable adolescent period.

In other developments, Phyllis finally made it to the rim of the brooder last week. Only Flo has actually jumped off the edge to the outside of brooder. We were out of town, but our expert chicken-sitter, Chris, reported that as soon as she reached freedom, Flo did...absolutely nothing.


Sunday, April 6, 2008

Week 3

We've had to face a cold, harsh reality this week: the girls are getting ugly. They've hit the equivalent of the acne and braces stage, and it's difficult to watch. We still love them, of course, but it's the unconditional love of a parent who knew them as adorable babies and who can anticipate their potential. But right now, Phyllis is looking kind of hideous. Her feathers stick out every which way, and every time she turns her neck to preen, big patches of dark pink skin are visible between the clumps of incoming, disorganized feathers.















Flo is losing ground as top of the pecking order as Mildred's mad flying skillz have improved. She spends a good deal of her time on top of the feeder or the waterer these days, and she happily flies up to get a better look at us every time we take the screened lid off. She's definitely vying for favorite chicken status as well as top of the pecking order. She has also somehow managed to stay somewhat fluffy and keep her cute chipmunk cheeks despite her tremendous growth spurt this past week.




Until a few days ago, Flo was definitely top dog, and she was fearless in her defense of the other girls in the face of intruding cameras. This photo is from last week, when she was still the largest. This week she's the smallest chicken, but we expect that will change again.

We just really, really hope Flo doesn't turn out to be a rooster. Apparently you only learn for sure about five months in, when they either start laying eggs or start crowing.

One cock-a-doodle-doo, and Flo will be packing those bags for a more rural locale.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Phyllis frequently falls asleep on her own feet-


video

Week 2



They're less than a week old, but they're not babies anymore. In the past day, our chicks have become little girls. Today when we came home and sat down to play with the chicks, we noticed that in less than a day Millie had gotten bigger and more mature-looking (we saw that with Flo yesterday). We also noticed that while Millie and Flo had sprouted full wings, Phyllis still had her little incomplete things sticking out. It was hard to get pictures of them tonight because they were running around all over the place and flapping their new wings. Then, in the course of one set of flapping, Phyllis suddenly had full wings.




Phyllis wings before (5 minutes before)



Phillis wings after... (can you see how they unfolded?)

A group shot of the girls at week 2

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Peeps in the house

PEEPS!

week 1

Despite growing up in a crowded L.A. suburb, we had three city chickens. I always planned to have them again, once I had my own house.

However, it was actually Lorraine that launched us into full city-chicken planning mode...

A little research revealed that lots of people keep "city chickens" these days, especially in Seattle. As a result, we started planning own backyard flock.

This weekend, we finally got our chicks.

Meet Millie, Flo and Phyllis. Millie is an Americana, Flo is a Gold laced Wyandotte, and Phyllis, my favorite, is a Buff Orpington.


When they grow up, they will look like this:





Since we blew it on the house warming for our house, we plan to have a chicken-house warming party for the girls when the house is finally finished.