Friday, May 8, 2015

frantic feathered polka dotted antics

I acknowledge and accept that writing this is going to make me one of those women who writes about her cats.  Except that it is worse than that.  I am going to write about our chickens.  And the strange poultry antics that are going on around here these days.  Let's accept this and move on, shall we?

The chickens had free range of the fenced garden for almost a month once the weather became warmer here.  They were in there all day, hunting for sprigs of green and bugs and worms and grubs, all the while turning the compost and bedding we had spread in the garden into the soil.  Doing a bit of early work for us.  And they were enjoying their freedom after the winter months of feet of drifting snow that had kept them in or close to their coop.

We saw a huge surge in egg production, from the warmer weather of course, but also, I would like to believe, from their more varied diet and exercise.  We were loaded with eggs.  Frittatas, quiches, pancakes, crepes.  Things were good in the kitchen.  And then, kersplat, we began to have egg issues.  Eggs were going missing, and the ones we were finding in the coop were getting smooshed.  It was an egg mystery.  That we just had to crack.  Sorry.  

Unfortunately the coop is not attached to the garden area, and so, when spending the day in the garden, the ladies spent a good deal of time staring longingly over at the coop when they needed to lay an egg, shifting from one foot to the other.  One of us would take pity on the poor soul and lift her over the fence and she would run like a child at a rest stop on a road trip through the Midwest to the coop.

I placed a laying box in the garden where they would stand, hoping its positioning and comfy bedding would lure them in.  But mostly they just used it to climb up on, and the nonflyers now stared longingly from a higher vantage point and the flyers using it as a better launch pad.

With the first seeds now planted, the chickens have been cast out of the garden and into the yard, where, with some clever and constant maneuvering of fencing, we are able to let them roam inside a larger area, and they happily range the day away while we and the dogs keep a careful eye out for hawks and the occasional golden eagle.  

The best outcome of this arrangement is that they eat ticks, and we do have a tick situation here on the river bank at times.  We do not spray for ticks for a number of reasons, our honey bees being the most important.  So far, chickens scratching and digging and pecking on the river bank has kept the situation under control.

One would think this access to the wider world would be a good arrangement, that the eggs would be dispensed from them like a vending machine, and in years past, it has been.  But this particular flock seems a the changing arrangements.  Our chickens seem, especially around midday, well, angry.

See what I mean?

I hear them from up in the house and head down, spend a few minutes with them, fluff the pillows so to speak, and then they settle a bit and I head back up.

One day this week, I heard a different voice squawking.  I headed down.  And found Tiny, Not so Tiny, who we will refer to for these purposes as TNT, and very appropriately named as you shall see, doing this.  A strange and frantic pacing, jumping, searching routine that I am sure would be accompanied by talking to herself and wringing her hands if she could talk human and well, had hands.

I could not for the life of me figure out what was going on.  So I watched for a bit.  And took a video and sent it to Jonathan at work.  Crickets.  No response.  Apparently frantic chickens were not a priority to him.

After this, TNT hopped down and out of the coop and flew up onto its roof, and proceeded to do the same thing, pacing and seeking and pecking and hopping all over the roof at the back wall of the coop.  As though in her pea sized brain, there was something there, something she knew was there, just behind the back wall that I could not see.

This is when Platform Nine and Three-Quarters from Harry Potter popped into my head.  Was there a laying box back there that the ladies knew about but kept secret?  Was she trying to head off on a train to Fowlwarts?  Was she a genius, and could she read too?

I picked her up and sent her off into the yard and she promptly flew over the garden fence and approached the garden shed.

see her there under the left window box?

Pacing and pecking and searching ensued.  And then she flew up into the window box.

Ah,  I thought.  That's up, and in back.  Maybe...maybe this is what she was trying to make the coop into.  From her memories of the days in the garden.  I mentioned the pea sized brain.  

More frantic hopping down and fluttering up occurred, and eventually I headed back to the house.

But I was curious.  And so I watched her.

Some time later, I went out to see how Miss Wackypants was getting on.  She was still there.  Looking a wee bit uncomfortable, don't you think?  That's a very strange angle to sit at.  Kind of like if you tried to sit while aiming your bottom toward the sky.  On a hard edge.

Given that she was giving me the hairy eyeball, I wandered away and around the side of the shed. 

And spied, behind a piece of slate that is stored there to be a someday-table, this.  Tucked in the small space behind it.  Hmmm.

Back to TNT.  Not happy to see me round the corner again, I think.

But then...taking a looksie down under...


Now this is truly magical.  Because, well, not only could I see two eggs.   But these were our blue eggs.  From our Americuanas.  Which TNT is not.  She lays brown eggs.  Curiouser and curiouser.  She rounded off the whole moment of wonder and amazement with a dramatic act of one legged levitation.

Hopped down.  Gave me that look again.

And was off.  

To join her crew, waiting patiently on the other side of the garden fence.

I peeked into the window box as she deftly hurdled the garden fencing like an olympic pole vaulter.

I am trying to figure this all out.  Because eggs scattered all about the yard like an easter egg hunt is not going to work.  So far one child is willing to run around looking for eggs, but this will get old soon.

I feel I am being very understanding, given that this means I am forgiving them for digging up my freshly composted and tended grape vine about 5 mins after I had spread a lovely layer of straw around it.

Come on.

And so, this week, I began chicken coop experiments. Putting my psychology degree to good use.  Trying to figure out how to let the chickens roam but still be able to and enticed to come back and lay their eggs in the coop and not, say, under the stairs to the river.

This is what our coop area looks like.  Feel free to giggle about the giant sized storage bin we had built by a lovely, and very tall and long armed giant.  I cannot reach anything in it.  I keep a patio chair nearby to climb onto and then stretch down in to reach what I need.  Dumpster diving style.  But I do appreciate the fewer trips up and down the hill for supplies that I can now keep down here.

I decided to try to rearrange things to see if we could calm the frantic and place a lock down on the eggs.

Of course, as is my way, I decided to undertake this in completely unsuitable clothing, and just an hour before I was due to head back and pick up the kids from school.  But I did this.  I elevated the row of laying bays on some scrap wood, remembering the hopping and preference for height that TNT seemed to desire.  And I put the closed laying box in the back corner, giggling about my memory of the woman who sold us the coop .  She ran after Jonathan as he was about to drive away with the coop in a UHaul trailer and handed him the box and said, Here.  Take this.  Some of the ladies appreciate their privacy.

So I popped the closed laying box in the back corner where I had been finding eggs most often on the floor, and not in the lovely fluffy fresh straw I put in the open laying boxes.

As I was filling it all with straw and fresh bedding, Raspberry came in unexpectedly and scared the skirt off me by flying past my face into the coop.  I banged my head on the roosting bar and smeared my shirt with something stinky and brown, and then Raspberry immediately climbed into the laying box.  Well, I thought.

That seems to be an improvement.

I heard rustling to my right.  I looked around.  Nothing.  I heard it again.  I put my chinny chin chin on the top edge of the bin and looked down into the giant cavern that I had left open to take out the fresh bedding materials.  


It was now 15 minutes to pick up time.  I mentioned the whole unsuitably dressed part right?  I do love my polka dotted skirt.  I wear it often, though I am pretty sure I have never cleaned and redesigned the coop in it until that day.

Okay.  I pulled the handy dandy patio chair over.  Climbed up on it.  

Lifted one leg over the bin and dangled precariously for a bit, the chair rocking back and forth on the unlevel ground, and felt around with my left foot until it found the broken edge of a bin to rest on.

And took a deep breath and lowered myself ever so gracefully down deep into the giant bin.  I wondered, if I did not show up for pick up, would they think to look for me in the giant bin?  

And so, with a bit of effort, the eggs continue to roll into the kitchen.  And I am continuing to make adjustments and figure out what in the world these confuzzled friends are doing out there.  Chicken Whisperer I am not, though the idea is intriguing, but as was probably obvious at school pickup that day, when Julia gasped and picked a piece of straw from my hair and asked what that smell was, I am spending a good deal of time trying.

What?? I can hear her asking in her best teenage irritated voice

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