Category Archives: chickens

Flock Integration: Can’t we all just get along?

Poor little Katniss and Primrose. They’re beautiful, certainly, but sometimes that’s not enough. They seem to be inadequate at being chickens. They aren’t comfortable with basic chicken skills like “scratching and pecking at the same time” and “perching on a stick.” There are certain chicken behaviors that I believe(d) to be inherent to “chicken-ness” but these two are continually teaching me that in fact not all chickens have survival instincts.

But we’re fed up with having chickens in our house and I started to have nightmares about them starting to lay while they still lived in the brooder, so they got booted out to the coop. We’ve been nervous about flock integration. The “pecking order” is a very real thing, in that chickens actually peck each other to establish a social hierarchy, sometimes injuring or killing each other. It turns out that our concerns were not unfounded.

Lenora, queen of the roost, could not care less about the little chickens. She’s got a really busy calendar and so much to do. She can’t be bothered with some little newbies and simply ignores them 99% of the time.

But Pepper is another story. My theory is that Pepper is second in the pecking order, and she has more to lose with the integration of new birds. She definitely doesn’t want to play second fiddle to younger, smaller, dumber birds. Or maybe she just can’t respect them in their inferior chicken-ness. I’m no chicken sociologist, but either way, this is the face of our bully bird.

She chases them and tries to peck them; they cry desperately and run. No one has drawn blood yet, so we’ve been trying to stay out of it and let them work it out themselves. It’s painful to watch, though. I want them to cuddle up and sing Kumbaya, you know? Until we get there, we’ve been free-ranging a lot to distract Pepper, and Krista built some hideouts for the Littles to escape to.


Unfortunately the Littles don’t seem to be smart enough to hide inside the boxes yet, but they learned to stand on top when Pepper gets aggressive — which is progress! Two days ago they flapped and squawked and tried to fly through the fence when she came at them. Keep your fingers crossed for some peace in the hen house soon.

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preserved lemons

If you drop enough hints, sometimes your wife might do something extra sweet like start a couple batches of preserved lemons for you. She used this Food in Jars post for the method.

After they finish, I just have to figure out how to eat them!

And a bonus chicken shot for good measure and because apparently the weather forecast isn’t favorable for some time to come.

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weekend chickens

We’ve had some actual, bona fide sunshine here in Olympia this week. Fingers crossed it keeps up. This, of course, means chicken photos.

Leave it to Levi to accidentally behead or precious squirrel. At least no real animals were hurt.

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chicken check-in

We still have the chickens separated for the sake of quarantine.

Katniss & Primrose are still inseparable.

And they are growing like weeds.

Unfortunately, the weather has been mostly terrible so they have been pretty cooped-up. They need a lot of practice exploring the world, because they have a lot to learn about it. It’s so strange to have babies in the house again. They are getting braver and testing their wings little by little. We have read that we need to quarantine them for 30 days, but I’m not sure how easy it will be to keep them separated for so long. We are anxious to see how Pepper & Lenora treat the little ones, and to get these ladies out of the brooder and into the world.

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Lavender Hens dilly dilly

Thanks so much for your kind words about Ramona Rickettes. Your sentiments help us get through rough spots and we appreciate it.

Today, I bring another chicken update.

Over the past month, we have been discussing adding to our flock. Even before Ramona passed away, we needed two more birds. We researched our options: chicks-by-mail via USPS, buying chicks from a feed store, buying hatching eggs, getting older birds, etc. We scoured craigslist, mypetchicken.com and breeders’ websites for hours. I have called just about every farm store in a 100 mile radius to talk to them about chicks. I made plans to pick up day-old chicks, but the chicks died in shipment. None of our options seemed like the right fit.

Some history: Years ago when we started planning our future as chicken keepers, Krista and I became a little obsessed with a British breed, the lavender orpingtons. They are like standard orpingtons, fluffy and docile and dependable layers, but they are a very strange color. We did some research and learned that there was only one breeder in the US actively improving the lavender orpington. We couldn’t find a single breeder in our state. Those were the good old days when I didn’t think I would drive to another state for a chicken. So we put our lavender dreams on the back burner and focused on some more practical breeds for our backyard flock.


Photo from Feathersite.com
They are so pretty.

Last week, Krista saw an ad on craigslist from a lavender orpington breeder who sounded competent in her ad. If you’ve ever looked at chickens on craigslist, you know that competent craigslist ad-writing is not a prerequisite for chicken husbandry. I placed a phone call and we found ourselves in the car lickety-split. After a harrowing experience with traffic in Bellevue and several conversations about how we would never, ever willingly move to that metro area, we found ourselves at a 10-acre farm some 30 miles outside Seattle. It was dark when we arrived, so we took charge of two sleepy young pullets and brought them home.

Welcome home Katniss and Primrose!

They are such a peculiar color. I can’t wait to see them fill out with fluffy feathers. We’re very smitten. They are being quarantined in the brooder for a while because biosecurity is important. It’s very sweet to hear the peeping and talking of young chickens in the house again. We’re spoiling them with cuddles and treats so they will be trained to worship us like the big chickens do.

Speaking of the big chickens, stay tuned for our experiences with flock integration. The pecking order is very real and merciless, so keep your fingers crossed for us.

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R.I.P Ramona Rickettes

I know a lot of our new readers are here for the food, but the heart of our operation is really the animals that live with us. I need to share a few words about our recently departed hen, Ramona Rickettes. When Krista went out to let the chickens out yesterday morning, she found Ramona lying still and quiet in the run. There was no sign of violence or illness, just a quiet bird lying down like she was taking a nap. We spent a long time trying to guess what went wrong – was she egg-bound and we didn’t notice? It seems unlikely since we spend a lot of time with them, but it’s possible. Could she have eaten something sharp or poisonous? Did her heart give out from the excitement of a rare sunny day? We’ll never know, we can just re-double our efforts to be vigilant, re-read all the books and hope we’re better at spotting problems in the future.

She was supposed to be a Welsummer, but through a fateful mix-up, we got a Speckled Sussex instead. She was an extremely cute, spirited chick who grew into a beautiful speckled bird. She reliably laid lovely light brown eggs. She was one of the best models during the early days of chick photography.


She was best friends with Pepper Walker, and you rarely saw one of them without the other. They were closer friends than any of our other birds, and I feel especially bad for poor Pepper, who has lost her kindred chicken spirit.

I know she was “only a chicken,” but what a chicken! She was one of our first chickens, and she brought so much joy and life into our backyard. Thank you for the cuddles, Ramona, and for your peeps that grew into squawks. Thank you for quiches, fritattas and poached eggs on toast. Rest in Peace, Ramona Rickettes. You were a funny, beautiful bird and we miss you so much.

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2012 Homies

We’ve missed you, faithful readers! Sorry for the unannounced blog hiatus. A few people were worried by our silence and I feel bad about that. I have been out of town for work and while I was gone Jess and Levi were under the weather. We are still here!

We are super excited to have our little blog nominated for Apartment Therapy’s 2012 Homies in the Healthy Cooking Blog category. We don’t expect to win, but if you enjoy our blog please head over there, we’d love to have your vote! Even if you don’t go to vote, the Homies are a great chance to find wonderful blogs you might not have on your list yet. You do need an account to vote, but I can’t think of a better site for it.

And for those of you who were missing the chicken updates, I have a special moment between Levi & Lenora for you.

xo Krista

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mystery feathers

I have a question about chicken feathers. Not when they get all ruffled like Ramona here. I love when they do that. My question is about Pepper Walker.

Chicken experts, please tell us novices – why does my chicken have whiskers on its butt?

None of our other ladies have these sticking out, hair-like feathers. I thought this might be a temporary thing, but they seem to be sticking around.

You know what is not easy to photograph? Tiny hair-sized feathers on your chicken’s butt. They sure enjoyed the glimpse of sunshine we got in the afternoon.

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Chickens Disapprove of Snow.


The first snowfall of the season

We can happily say that winter has arrived in Olympia. The weather people are predicting a ridiculous amount of snow in the next twelve hours, which will get annoying quickly. Snowy weather around here is quite funny. Everyone forgets how to drive. The grocery store shelves are stripped bare. I think our county owns two snow plows? It’s a special time.

We took this opportunity to introduce the chickens to snow.

Chickens are like cats. They don’t really like new things. Most of the time, they hate new things. Lenora had a strong reaction to the snow, while Ramona was just stoically offended. Pepper was too busy hunting worms to be photographed.


Cold weather is a good excuse for some snuggling.


And also snowball fights.



Don’t worry, I have really bad aim so I didn’t hit any chickens. I hope you’re enjoying some winter weather, too. Send hot chocolate.

xoxo,
Jess

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a little chicken update

Freshly washed eggs. Our ladies have muddy feet lately.

I am happy to report that we haven’t had to buy eggs since Lenora first started laying. I keep enough on hand that we have plenty to pull out for an egg heavy recipe when needed. See that brown pointy one in the middle? Pepper finally started laying! Her eggs are a very slightly different shade of brown than Ramona’s. I think the only reason we can tell them apart is she is still new at this and they are on the small side.

It’s about time, Pepper!

It’s cold, grey, and wet out but at least it isn’t freezing. Everything is covered in a layer of wet leaves.

The chickens love the okara we give them sometimes after making soy milk.

I love watching them get messy faces. Usually they wipe their beaks on the ground to clean up. This continues to be funny each and every time.

I tried to get a picture to share, but today they decided to take a different approach – shaking it off.

We are still keeping the ladies locked up when we can’t be outside with them. No luck catching a raccoon at night in the trap we borrowed. At this point I think it is unlikely we will. Our neighbors have had their flock outside free ranging just over the fence and haven’t had any attacks, so perhaps we will get brave and things will go back to normal soon.

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