Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sucking up to Chickens

I am the type of pet lover that totally obsess about their pets all the time. Not in a dress them up and carry them around all the time kind of way, but in the no one can take care of them better than me kind of way.

Faced with the choice between a family member or a pet of who I would try to save when they are hanging off the side of the cliff it would be a pet. My rationale is that, as a human being, you can do a pretty good job saving yourself, but my pup can't even make it on to the bed by himself, much less scrabble back over the cliff edge. So get climbin'.

Anyhow, we went away for the third trip in less than a month and had to again board the dogs and get a sitter for the cats and, more difficult, the chickens. Now the chickens are fairly easy to care for, but because it is a bit out of the ordinary it's kind of hard to get someone to come and take care of them. The folks we know who are used to chickens are dealing with more animals than we are (surprisingly) and can't help us. We typically ask the high school girl next store but they were out of town too. So we kind of had to scramble to find a pet sitter. I was actually to the point where I was possibly going to bail on the trip if we didn't like this person because I think it is more important to find someone we trust than go out of town.

I don't think we are that difficult in general to work for but maybe we just have too high of expectations. Maybe we're the problem, but as of yet, we have not found a professional pet sitter that we are 100% satisfied with. The girl next store is #1 in our book at this point.

We did meet and use a new sitter for this trip and actually felt pretty good about them during the first meet and greet. We took them through what they had to do for the cats (not much) and then took them through the chickens.

Granted, Napoleon is a pain in the butt. He's defensive and territorial and stupid (I love him, but he isn't bright). And he really needs to have his spurs cut. But he's like 12 inches tall and about 3lbs, so, if you're wearing jeans, boots and gloves you should be fine.

Anyhow, we take them through the process: arrive as early as possible, put out the food, open the coop door and let the chickens run out, go inside and shake out the buckets, pour in fresh water every other day and then leave. Ignore Napoleon until he leaves you alone. Not that hard really.

I think the biggest problem is that I didn't have her do a trial run while I was around, because after day one we got a call from the sitter that she was freaking out and scared of Napoleon. We immediately identified that she was going over way later than she should have. At that point they had been awake and locked in the coop for more than an hour and a half and were pissed off. She also was wearing my boots rather than the husbands so Napoleon was pulling on her pants and kicking her. Annoying, yes, but while you may get a bruise he can't really hurt you.

We gave her some advice for dealing with them and advised her to go over as early as possible so they are more sleepy and to just avoid Napoleon because he will eventually walk off to the two hens.

The next day we got another call saying she was scared of him still and that she was worried he was going to jump up at her. At this point I'm one of those horrible mothers who never thinks bad about their bratty kids and blames everyone else.

In instances like these I don't have much sympathy because, hello!, you're the person who opted to do this for a living. And I had never worked with chickens before a few months ago, so just get over it! We ended up telling her all she needed to do is put out the food and open the coop door - not change out the water or shake the buckets. But the whole rest of the trip, all I'm thinking is, sweetie, you just lost a job because we probably won't use the service again. It's too bad too because she managed the house and the cats pretty well.

So, luckily we had booked our trip back for Saturday. That way I was able to get the coop and pen cleaned up and I was able to let the chickens free range for a while on Sunday. It was kind of cold and overcast but they didn't mind. The played in the leaves and compost pile and watched me carry fallen branches to the burn pile. We also put a heat lamp on a timer inside the coop because nights are getting pretty cold around here. We still need to get them some more hay for snuggling into.

When I had cleaned everything up I sat down on the ground and Napoleon ran over to me and jumped onto my lap to be held and petted and cuddle. I even tucked him into my jacket and carried him around for a while. Who could be scared or such a sweetheart, right?

My new goal is to teach him to walk on a leash. Maybe. We'll see.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Livin' for the weekend

I think the chickens live for the weekend because that is when they get to free range. This weekend was kind of hectic, but since we've been traveling and have more to do, I wanted to at least give them a few hours out in the yard.

The husband mowed the grass and did some yard stuff, but when he was done we let the chickens out to run around while I cleaned inside the pen and the coop and we raked the leaves off of the top of the screen. It was nice and sunny and warm and the chickens had a great time eating the freshly mown grass. Plus they found where we'd filled up the bird feeders so they ate up the spilled seed.

When the coop was all cleaned up, I pulled out the lawn chair to read a magazine while the gang continued to roam around. Napoleon loves when I sit down because he wants to jump up and sit on my lap. The minute I put the chair down he is running over to me to jump up and be petted.

Lately I've been sort of pushing him gently down so he goes into a sort of broody resting mode and he actually was falling asleep a bit. The girls will roam all over the yard but Napoleon wants to be held on my lap 75% of the time.

He's so small and warm. It's kind of cute.

Of course that lasts only until he pinches me with his beak.


Today's Feed: Egg Mash Pellets and lots of grass and bugs, For Monday they got corn & tomatoes
Today's Eggs: None! Stupid winter!
Today's Temperament: Very very happy. They love the yard.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Lonely Chickens

Poor chickies. They didn't get to have their free-range day this weekend. And it gets dark so early, I don't think they will get to get out until the weekend. I'll be glad when it's December because I'm taking off for a while and they can get out much more often. Of course that means I'll have to sit outside with them... probably freezing or something.

They seemed okay while we were away. But I worry about them. The new pen fencing and roof reinforcements seems to be functioning well. A lot of leaves have not dropped yet, however. I'm sure we'll have to do a clean off prior to Thanksgiving now that the colder weather seems to have settled in.

The chickies missed out on their fresh food while we were gone too and they were out of the regular egg mash so we went to a pellet format, which I don't like for them as much. But they seem to be doing okay with it.

I think I just want to spend more time with them and I feel bad that I haven't.

Today's Feed: Egg Mash pellets, fresh corn, apples
Today's Eggs: None. They hate me, I know it.
Today's Temperament: Probably wishing they were in the yard

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

No-So-Warm Wednesday

It was quite chilly here last night and this morning. I'm sure the chickens were are snuggled in their hay keeping warm.

One of the things we like about the chickens and the main reason for keeping them is, of course, fresh eggs. You really can't beat fresh free-range eggs. Plus, we know the chickens are happier and healthier. They get to fun around, and get fresh veggies, fruit and grass and you can tell in the egg-iness of the eggs.

The husband eats eggs for breakfast about every other day. His favorite breakfast is to cook eggs over-easy on whole wheat bread from the Amish family at the farmer's market. It's soft and delicious.

Recipe is:
Two fresh egg-ies

Fry in pan

Serve over fresh bread to absorb up the vitamin rich, 1000% more flavorful yolk.


Today's Feed: Egg Mash, fresh white corn on the cob, apples, tomatoes
Today's Eggs: One
Today's Temperament: Sleepy

Tuesday Time

Today was a little overcast, so when I got the chickens up and out, I put their feed pan inside the coop so it would stay dry. If I put it out in the pen and it rains, the food turns to an oatmeal-like mush that I would be surprised if they ate. It just seems wasteful and gross. Unfortunately, this always totally confuses the chickens and they act like I've deprived them of their food for the day. Their water is inside, so I know they figure it out eventually, but I kind of feel bad.

Chickens just aren't that bright.

I also felt bad because with the new roof, the door to the coop interior is not held in place and the poor chickens got locked out most of the day. They were already snuggling down outside getting ready to power down for the night. I have to remember to open the small flap cut in the door so they can get in and out, even if the big door closes.

Today's Feed: Egg Mash and 2 apples
Today's Eggs: None
Today's Temperament: Chilly

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Monday morning

In spite of the pen roof only being half finished, the chickens, namely Napoleon, stayed in side the pen all day. Napoleon has lately been known for escaping by going over and under the chicken wire surrounding the pen, so I'm very happy he stayed inside.

When we first built the pen outside of the existing coop to give them a place to run around outside, we had not put a roof on. That had to be hastily corrected the next day when Napoleon flew over the 7-foot fence and chased my husband around the yard. Napoleon is not fond of other manly competition around his ladies.

So we had hastily constructed a "roof" by draping more chicken wire over the top. And it sagged, collected leaves and generally looked horrible. Months later we are finally fixing the situation. We've reinforced the fencing and are creating large wood squares is screening material to prevent escapes and potential hawks. Another advantage is that we can lift them up and knock all the leaves that collect there off.

When we get everything completed, I'll have to do a full coop/pen photo overview.

Today's Feed: Egg Mash, fresh white corn (on the cob), chopped fresh apples
Today's Eggs: None - too much running around yesterday.
Today's Temperament: Tired - I woke them up while it was still dark.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Free Range Sunday

The weekends are always an exciting day for the chickens, because that is the day they usually get to "free range" out in the backyard. We have just under three acres that is virtually unused so they get to get out of the pen yard (even though it is pretty big for three chickens), kick up the accumulated leaves in the bushes and eat grass to their heart's content.

Their coop is back behind our garage and off to the left going waaaay back is our backyard - so you can see they have lots o' room.

Here's a better view going straight back from the back of our house. Their coop building is off to the right of this picture. There is grass and trees and lots of bugs to chase around.

Many people let their chickens roam around because they are pretty territorial and won't go that far from their coop, but we live on a very busy road and I am totally paranoid that they are going to get too close to the road and get squished. This is a rare picture of our road with out cars speeding 15+ miles over the speed limit.

They had a very long day out of the coop today. We were working on some ongoing major coop improvements, which I will share with you later, and it took us about 5 hours to get done what we did. And we have some more to finish. But with the time change, we lost daylight around 5pm, so they headed in for the night and so did we.

Today's Feed: Egg Mash and lots of grass and bugs
Today's Eggs: Two! One fresh from Gertie during the day
Today's Temperament: Very very happy. They love the yard.

Meet the chickens

Welcome to The Daily Coop!

We just wanted to share with everyone the great experiences we have been having since we moved to our little town. There are always adventures and having chickens is a new one for us!

First, meet the chickens:

Napoleon is our rooster, in the front. We think he's a Bantam, but we need to do some research on all three of them.
Gertie is the black and white hen in the middle
Nutmeg (a.k.a. Meg) is in the back.

We've had the chickens just a few months now, so I think we're in a place where we can share some actual learning about them - although we are still learning more about them everyday.

I'll have to get some more and better pictures of them. This was taken not long after they joined us. You can tell because the pen yard still has tons of grass in it. This is no longer the case because they've either scratched it up or eaten it (Yes, they love fresh grass and veggies and fruit - but more on that later).

Each day, I'm going to share how they are, what they do, the food we've given them and the egg production. It will be interesting to see how the first year goes.