Sunday, December 28, 2008

Our Winter Chickens

Our girls have come a long way since the first group arrived in July. They have established a definite “pecking order”. The head chicken made herself known on the first day. The others were skittish and nervous, but not this one. She ran up and immediately pecked my shoe. She has always been the first on the scene for treats and the first to react if another hen gets any attention. She’s just an “in your face” kind of gal!

All of the chickens come running when they hear me near, looking for treats, but “Queen Hen” is always in front. For the most part, the other hens go about their business but keep an eye on me in case I might suddenly start throwing treats around for no reason.

“Queenie” stays with me the entire time I am in the coop. She hops up on the perch behind my head and watches closely as I collect the eggs. Today for the first time, she gently pecked the back of my head when I was facing away from her. I knew it was her, wanting my attention. She’s a hoot! Another chicken is always there, as well, but she is more curious about what I am doing than wanting my attention. Whenever I set the eggs down, she has her little head in the bucket to see what I have in there, just in case it might be treats. You never know when treats are going to suddenly appear out of nowhere!

The rooster just watches from the sidelines (Isn't he beautiful!) and won’t take food from my hand. He is far too dignified for that! He will eat it if I set it down beside him on the perch. This doesn’t work if he’s on the floor, as he is always surrounded by voracious hens who don't think they ever get enough to eat. They are fed all day long with complete layer feed and constant goodies chopped from the kitchen. Of course, it all has to be chopped. They don’t seem to know what to do with anything whole. They are very spoiled.

The “girls” are bored with being “cooped up” for the winter. The roof of their pen collapsed with the first heavy wet snow so we let them out to free range when the weather is still and not too cold or windy. They are brown and so are prime targets in the snow for hawks in the daytime. I do leave the radio on in the chicken house when they are awake, hoping it will help deter a daytime predator. I think this gives them some company too and might help keep them from getting so bored. We have had some severely cold (-20c) days this month when I have had to leave them inside with the light on. I am now looking for some old windows I can install to give them more daylight and a view of the outdoors when they are all closed up.

I gave them a whole cabbage last week, as I read that this is a good thing to do for entertainment when they are shut up in the winter. They did show some interest in it, especially when I peeled off the leaves and broke them up into tiny little pieces. (These girls are really spoiled.) They didn’t seem to know what to do with this now half-frozen cabbage ball I left on the floor. After a few days of this and being covered in poop, it went into the compost pile.

When I let them out I have to shovel a space for them in the snow, as they don’t like walking in it. (Did I mention that they are spoiled?) I’m sure their wild ancestors didn’t need the snow shoveled for them. They love to be under the deck in the winter. The snow doesn’t penetrate there and it’s covered with old hay. They can scratch around and find stones and bugs to eat. They’re welcome to eat all the bugs they can find. Especially spiders. We seem to get a lot of those in the house in the winter. I do, of course, have to shovel a path to the deck for the little princesses.
Here they are going along the path from the hen house to the deck. Occasionally one of them will discover that she can fly over the snow. Then a few more will do it. They invariably land in deep snow and don’t seem to know what to do. I usually have to rescue them, so I keep a close eye on them when they are on their way to the deck. The last time I let them out I just watched. The “stuck” ones did manage to walk across the top of the snow to the path. It took them a few minutes to figure it out though. They REALLY don’t like snow. Living in the great white north, I should probably trade them in for some geese or ducks who are at home in the winter weather. I have read that duck eggs are rich and delicious. Watch out little princesses!

They have just recently discovered the front porch, unfortunately. They like it there too. They can roost on the railing and are protected overhead. I was quite annoyed to find little chicken poop piles on the front porch when I came home from work last week. Hubby says he came home and found the chickens all over the porch. He seemed to think this was “cute”. He loves those chickens! Usually the snow is not shoveled enough from the hen house to the porch, so they haven’t been going in that direction, until last week. I now make a point of not clearing the snow in that direction and it has kept them away. I trip, slide and fall all the way there, but hey, I’ll gladly trade that for little chicken poop piles on the front porch. The same thing happened when they found the shop/garage in the fall. We had to start keeping the door closed.

We will be repairing their pen as early as possible, before the spring. They will have to be restricted to their pen after the garden is planted or they will destroy it, scratching up the seedlings and eating the seeds. I think I’m going to repair it sooner than that. I will, of course, have to keep it shoveled out for them. I have considered putting some perches in the pen. I may do that now so they can sit up there in the winter sun, out of the snow. They are so spoiled. Did I mention that?

These days all of the chickens are laying.
Even with the short days, we are getting 15-18 eggs per day from 20 chickens. We waited for the numbers to drop off with the short days, but they haven’t. Odd that… Could it be because I am there early, turning on the light to collect the eggs and waking many of them up? I hear the rooster crowing inside the house at about 5:30 am, announcing the morning, in the dark. We recently started getting the odd, small, light coloured eggs from a first time layer, so we are sure everyone is laying now. No one seems to be severely picked on, at the bottom of the “pecking order”, thank goodness. Hens can be mean to a newbie. They all seem to know their place most of the time, although a couple of the younger ones are still sleeping on the floor and not with the group. The occasional problem develops when treats are not plentiful and are being parceled out carefully or someone steps out of line. Then I hear squabbles, but they are short lived.

All in all, they have settled nicely into their new home. What would they do, I wonder, if I added a few ducks… "Ducks! Yikes!"

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Our Farm Dog

This is Barnard Edward Gallant (BEG). Also known as Begedy, Barns or Barney, for short. He is our 14 year old shi tzu/ bichon farm dog. I know what you’re thinking. “This is a farm dog?” I, too, have visions of a Great Pyrenees when the phrase “Farm Dog” is mentioned. I would love to have a Great Pyrenees! Alas, it’s not to be, not this year, anyway. What we have is an “indoor” farm dog.

He loves to follow me around the garden, sniffing and digging in the dirt and tracking it all in the house. He has learned to follow the basket around the garden and steal things out of it. He learned that from the new little shi tzu puppy we had for a short time. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? He loves all things from that basket: peas, corn, beans, anything. (I have to be careful not to leave it on the floor when I bring it in.) If it comes out of that basket, it’s got to be better than anything he’s ever eaten before!

Our very own Easter bunny! We have considered raising rabbits for food. This is a we like rabbits? Hmmmmm, I think so.

Not a winter dog!

When he was a young dog, he was a force to be reckoned with. Well, I guess we all grow old and mellow with time. He did show some interest in the chickens when they first arrived, for about an hour. After that he acted like he had lived with them all of his life and couldn’t we please get something a little more interesting? We let the chickens out of their pen from time to time and watched him closely with them. He looks at them in the yard but then goes on his merry way. It would be way too much trouble to catch one of those and who wants one anyway?

He did have a close encounter with one of our lead, assertive hens for the first time last week. This is where the fierce farm protector instinct came in. She pecked him when he got too close, so he backed off. She was blocking the door to the front porch, so he stood and whined until one of us moved the hen out of his way.

So much for our “Livestock Guardian Dog”. Has anyone ever had a “Livestock Guardian Chicken”?