Eggs go in the nesting box!

We lost one of the feral hens, Screamy (the black one), to the neighbor’s dog. She had been hopping the fence pretty frequently in order to lay eggs in their yard, and the old dog finally managed to get her.

The other feral, Blondie (the… well, the blond one), started to do the same. In fact, she was laying eggs all over our yard–in the shed, on the “grassy knoll,” in potted plants, and so on.

Left to rt: Peepers, Blondie, Crooksie, Bawk Bawk, Miss Red, Squawkers

Worried that she might meet the same fate as Screamy, I submitted a query to the local urban chicken mailing list to find out how to encourage Blondie to use the nesting boxes in the chicken coop, rather than roam all over the place.

The answer turned out to be pretty simple: add a nesting box, and put some ceramic eggs in it.

The reason she’s scattering her eggs all over is presumably a survival/reproductive instinct aggravated by the fact that she’s used to a feral lifestyle. The more nests she has, the more likely that she’ll eventually manage to collect a sizeable clutch in at least one of them, whereupon she may commence sitting and hatching some babies.

Because I was taking the eggs out of the nesting box every day, Blondie didn’t feel like it was a very safe place for her to leave her eggs. The solution? Leave some fake eggs in the box.

Dogs can't tell the difference, either. Dozer tried to eat these.

So far, it’s a great solution. No more eggs all over the yard, no more Blondie hopping the fence.

The only surprising side effect? Apparently, the tan color of the ceramic eggs has really ticked off the Ameraucanas; I haven’t seen a blue egg from either of them in a week!

In other news, Bawk Bawk finally molted! By the time the new ones started poking out, she was so bald, she looked practically plucked. Probably would have taken the prize in a World’s Ugliest Chicken contest. Now she’s fully feathered.

Also, it’s mulberry season again. Yuck yuck yuck. I don’t have the time to pick the berries for a pie or anything this year. The mulberries coat the ground around the shed and the chicken coop, and the sour, rotten smell of smashed mulberries brings flies and caterpillars and mosquitos and pretty much every wild bird and insect for miles around. If we didn’t value the shade from it so highly, I’m sure we’d have cut it down by now; it’s such a mess.

The ground covered in mulberries

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Chickens in Snow and Spring

We had a day of snow in February. It is unusual for Texas, but the chickens didn’t care at all.

Miss Red (big red hen in the center) was very sick and lost a lot of weight over the last few months, and for a while, we thought she might kick the bucket. She was listless, spaced out, droopy, and didn’t eat a lot. It was similar to the last time she had to go to the vet (where the vet said she “might” have worms and deworming “might” help, and Miss Red did seem better after that, but I never got a conclusive answer from the vet), and I really didn’t want to spend another couple hundred bucks on another vague diagnosis.

Clockwise from far left: Cackle (Ameraucana), raggedy Bawk Bawk (black sex-link), Crooksie (Ameraucana w crooked beak and bum leg), Peepers (mutt rooster), Screamy (black feral hen), and Miss Red (red sex-link). Blondie (yellow feral hen) is at the bottom.

Turned out I didn’t need to take her to the vet. One day while cleaning the coop I saw a little poo pile with a GIANT WORM in it.  It didn’t take a genius to figure things out from there. After a round of deworming, she’s back to normal. Since I figured out the problem all by myself, there were no vet bills.

As always happens in March, usually after February has had its last big bang (the snow, in this case), spring has arrived in central Texas. We have buds on the wisteria, which is usually the first plant to get going when the weather turns nice.

The chickens have started laying more. I get three or four eggs a day. The feral hens are the best layers, and the hardiest overall. Their eggs are small, though. Bawk Bawk (the black sex-link that’s always missing feathers) and one of the Ameraucanas also deliver. I’m not sure which Ameraucana is responsible–Crooksie or Cackle–but I see Crooksie sitting in the nesting box from time to time.

Which means two of the hens are not laying: Miss Red and the other Ameraucana (Cackle?).

Peepers is still a totally awesome guy. I love his little guts to death.

"Hells yes I'm getting cuddled by my Daddy. What's it to you, punk??"

He’s significantly smaller than most of his ladies, leading to some comical “romance” in the backyard.

Peepers is very good at sharing. I buy mealworms for them from time to time, and though Peepers loves the bugs, he never eats any. He always passes his treats on to one of the ladies.

"Okay, Daddy, put me down. I have ladies to keep in line!"

Thing have been very peaceful here now that I’ve caught and relocated all of the feral chickens that were invading our yard (with the exception of two of the three hens, which as you see I kept). Peepers does a little crowing throughout the day and night, but there aren’t any more extended crowing contests between him and the rival roosters.

I have read general complaints about roosters and how noisy they are, but Peepers is actually a rather quiet crower, as I learned after listening to the feral roosters. From inside the house, I can barely hear him in the backyard, but the feral roosters could be heard from blocks away. I feel lucky! My rooster is small in size and voice.

World’s Most Expensive Chickens

So I haven’t posted for a while; it’s been busy. And the chickens are partly to blame. Three chickens have been to the vet in the last week.

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The three hens that went to the vet: Miss Red (digging in grass), Squawkers, and Bawk Bawk

We lost Squawkers at the first vet visit. She “crashed” one day (became lethargic, droopy, clearly sick) and I took her to the vet immediately. After an exam and x-rays, they determined that a massive growth in her stomach area was essentially crushing her internal organs. There was very little to be done at that point, so I had her euthanized. 😦

Taking no chances, I decided to have the vet look at Bawk Bawk, the black sex-link hen. Bawk Bawk came to us with a distended crop, which I had thought was simply normal for her, since the guy who had sold her to me didn’t seem concerned about it. But the diagnosis for her was a crop yeast overgrowth, so she’s now on two medications, twice per day, to clear it up.

Seeing as how Bawk Bawk is a feisty, lively girl, the process of catching her and administering medication in the morning has become something of a circus show. At night, it’s not so bad, because she’s asleep and easy to catch, and as a bonus, Byrd is home to provide an extra hand or two.

Just when things were looking up, Miss Red suddenly got lethargic and started having diarrhea. After an overnight stay in our bathtub and yet another trip to the vet, we were sent home with dewormer. Miss Red has perked up considerably since then.

I think the only chicken I have NOT spent over $150 on at the vet is Cackle. She’s moulting right now and looks something awful, a bit like she ran into a hedgehog, because of all the new feathers coming in. But she seems to be normal aside from that. Fingers crossed.

I really need to find a new chicken vet.

First, I don’t like this vet because they are expensive. Chickens are “exotics” and therefore every trip is guaranteed to be over a hundred dollars.

Second, I don’t like this vet because they provide way too many options and very few up-front answers. The typical visit goes like this: 1) The vet examines the sick chicken and asks a bunch of questions. 2) The vet makes four or five possible diagnoses and suggests at least three different treatment options, all of which are expensive. 3) I try to figure out which of these treatment options is the most reasonable/logical; the vet plays coy when I try to narrow it down, using lots of words like “could” and “might.”

And even after all that, I’m never sure if I made the right treatment decision. I sort of wonder if the vet is doing this because either she/he is trying to get me to spend as much money as possible, or else she/he doesn’t really know enough about chickens to determine the “best” course of action.

I mean, consider Miss Red. Sure, her symptoms could have pointed to quite a few things. But I got the following options from the vet (on top of the $60 “exotic” pet exam base fee):

  • Stool exam for worms: $60
  • Stool smear for bacterial infection: $40
  • X-rays for tumors, infections, etc.: $130
  • IV fluids and tube feeding for “exotic”: $120
  • Deworming medication: $20

I stood there and puzzled over all these options while the vet and vet tech said that each of these things “could” help or “might” give us the answers we want. I kept asking what the problem was most likely to be. I mean, why do an x-ray when it’s probably worms? Why do a stool smear if it’s probably a tumor? But the vet wouldn’t give me any real answers, just more “could”s and “maybe”s.

Finally, *I* had to decide. I picked the stool exam, basing my decision on my own uneducated guess that worms was a likely culprit.

The vet did this, and found “a” parasite on the slide. Was this enough evidence that worms were causing my chicken’s ailments? The vet didn’t sound very convinced and kept suggesting that the x-rays “might” show us more. But once again, I had to make the decision, and I decided to take a conservative course, buy some deworming medication, and see how Miss Red did over the next few days.

In this situation, I think–I hope–I made the right choice. Miss Red is doing 300% better, eating a lot, clucking and pecking and scratching, and the diarrhea is gone. But it bothers me that the vet offered so many expensive treatment options without any real guidance or evidence to indicate that the treatment was necessary.

Maybe the world of avian veterinary care is just really different from that of cat/dog veterinary care? Or maybe I need to find a different vet.

Pics of the Chicks

Peepers, Squawkers, Cackle, and the new black sex-link hen

Peepers (rooster), Squawkers (left), and the new red and black sex-link hens

The new sex-links are missing feathers in patches. Probably a result of feather-picking by other chickens. We are hoping the change in scenery will help: fewer chickens in a larger area, and free range every afternoon.

The black sex-link hen--she has a bare spot at the base of her tail.

The black sex-link hen--she has a bare spot at the base of her tail.

"No pictures! I'm naked!"

"No pictures! I'm naked!"

The new Ameraucana is very pretty. She’s a bit of a loner and likes to do her own thing while the rest of the flock stays fairly close together. Here she is scratching the dirt in the coop while everyone else is halfway across the yard.

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"Field trip schmield trip."

Since the new Ameraucana has a crooked beak, I’ve started calling her Crooksie. She’s the only one of the new hens that I’ve needed to name so far, because her affinity for wandering off means I frequently have to ask “Where’s Crooksie?”

Wisteria gone nuts. I think that's the red sex-link beside it.

Wisteria gone nuts. I think that's the red sex-link beside it.

Our remodel project has moved to the exterior of the addition (technically, the rear addition, since house has had multiple additions). I had to comb the dirt carefully to pick up nails, plastic pieces, foam, insulation, and all sorts of construction debris so the chickens wouldn’t accidentally eat any of it.

Mmm... bugs!

Mmm... bugs, not nails!

More Chickens

Oh my. I have more hens. I bought two more, and got an additional one for free.

We are now officially one chicken over the city limit (five chickens) but I’m really hoping no one will notice. I’m buying the neighbors’ silence with eggs.

I got a black sex-link and a red sex-link. These are prolific brown egg-layers.

The black sex-link has very pretty feathers with a metallic green sheen. Her eggs are smallish, and she is the smallest chicken of the bunch. She’s also one of the braver hens, and will come around to eat things from my hand with Peepers and Squawkers while the others peer at me suspiciously from around the corner of the hen house.

The red sex-link is missing most of her feathers, poor thing, but I think a bit of time and some free ranging will do her some good. She lays HUGE eggs.

The third hen is another Ameraucana. She was given to me for free because her beak is a bit crooked; the top and bottom parts don’t come together perfectly. She eats fine, but I can see how this might be a problem in the future, because the beak doesn’t wear evenly. Well, we will see how it goes. This Ameraucana is also fairly small–she’s very young–and she has a lot of white feathers around the head and neck. I wonder if she will stay this color? She’s very pretty.

Peepers is truly in heaven. He spends all his time strutting his stuff for the ladies. (They are not impressed.)

The amazing thing is that with three more hens, we get three more eggs a day–so in the one and a half days I’ve had them, I’ve gotten five eggs. The eggs are a lovely array of pastel blues and light pink-browns. They’ll be killer for Easter and I’m hoping their flavor will give me an edge in Mousse-fest 2009 (my family’s annual mousse-off).

I do have some photos of chickens and eggs but haven’t uploaded them yet. Will do it soon.

Still need names for the new hens, too.

Also, the Austin Funky Chicken Coop Tour is coming up! I’m so excited. I want to see what other people’s coops look like.

Chickens are dangerously addicting.

Spring Days

I’ve gotten over my initial worries about letting the chickens roam. Nowadays, I open their coop for free range in the backyard from about noon to dark. The chickens put themselves back in the coop when it starts getting dark. They haven’t left our backyard yet, even though the back fence is a mere four feet high. Hopefully they realize there’s a dog over there (untested around fowl).

Chickens framed by wisteria about to bloom like crazy.

Chickens framed by wisteria about to bloom like crazy.

Where'd my ladies go?

Where'd my ladies go?

This used to be a leaf pile. Then the chickens came. Now it is a leafy expanse.

This used to be a leaf pile. Then the chickens came. Now it is a leafy expanse.

On the back porch for a drink from the dog water bowl. Over 90 degrees today, and we were all panting--chickens, dogs, and humans.

On the back porch for a drink from the dog water bowl. Over 90 degrees today, and we were all panting--chickens, dogs, and humans.

No Idea

Cackle’s name doesn’t fit her nearly as well as “Caterwaul” would have. This morning I woke up to hear what sounded like a cat in heat, yowling loudly in my yard.

Bleary-eyed, I stumbled outside in my robe, prepared to chase off the predator that was undoubtedly tormenting my chickens.

The sound was coming from Cackle, and once I was outside, I realized it was some sort of crazy clucking noise. It’s the sort of sound I might expect from a hen trying to lay a particularly big egg, except that she was just standing there on a cinder block (Squawkers was “occupying” the nesting box).

Then Cackle caught sight of me, gave a final yawk, and dashed behind the hen house.

I still don’t know what that was all about.

Hens in the Works

I found a local guy who raises chickens and who is thinning his flocks a bit. He had a variety of hens to choose from, including Ameraucanas, so I asked for two of those. Yay!

Finally, Peepers will have some lady friends, and I will be able to let him roam in the backyard with less supervision because he will have a little “flock” that can work together against the stray cats. It won’t just be tiny, tasty Peepers (he’s still small, but the Ameraucana hens are rather big compared to a cat).

I can’t wait. I’m picking up the hens tonight. Gotta think up some names for them.

Egg Inside an Egg!

This morning’s coop cleaning netted a rather interesting and unusual discovery. Cluckers laid an egg… inside an egg. For some reason, the outer shell didn’t stay together when she laid it (though it was not any thinner or more brittle than a typical shell).

The first photo here is exactly how I found it. I did not touch it.

The outer eggshell was a lighter color, almost white, whereas the inner eggshell was the typical light aqua color Cluckers usually lays.

The outer eggshell was a lighter color, almost white, whereas the inner eggshell was the typical light aqua color Cluckers usually lays.

I did touch and turn the outer shell to take this second picture.

However, the inside of the outer shell was aqua. It was like the outer shell was inside out.

The inside of the outer shell was aqua. It was like the outer shell was inside out.

Part of the eggshell was still stuck to Cluckers’ rear feathers. I will have to figure out how to catch her so I can clean her rear end.

1-30-09-cluckers-egg-shell-stuck-to-butt

I’m not sure whether this counts as egg number 4… or egg numbers 4 and 5.

The intact egg is a little more oblong than a typical egg. I’m curious to see what’s inside it; it felt rather heavy. But it will have to wait until I’m ready to use it.

Cluckers–and a Scandal

The new chicken has at last arrived! We got her from a lady who was reducing her chicken flock to save them from raccoons, or so I understand.

Cluckers (as my brother-in-law titled her) is a full-grown Ameraucana hen. She is apparently already laying eggs but has stopped for the winter.

Peepers on left, Cluckers on right

Peepers on left, Cluckers on right

I have a few concerns about Cluckers (odd growths in particular) that I will take up with the vet at some point after she settles in. She’s very shy and doesn’t appear to have been handled a lot; it’s quite a contrast to Peepers, who is not the least bit bothered by being picked up. I don’t want to traumatize her with a trip to the vet so soon after she’s been rehomed.

Peepers tried to beat the crap out of Cluckers for the first couple days, but they’re inseperable now. Cluckers takes all her cues from Peepers (except running and hiding, which she does by herself whenever she feels necessary).

And here’s the scandal–I think Peepers is a boy after all.

He/she is growing little nubs on his/her legs where roosters get spurs. He/she is also getting an exceptionally fluffy tail and a rather large comb. And finally, the neighbor claims she heard crowing very close to the house a few nights ago.

I have heard crowing a few mornings, but every time I rush to the back door to see if it’s Peepers, I hear nothing. I think what I’m hearing is probably the crowing of one of the other roosters in the feral flocks in the neighborhood. I don’t know if the neighbor heard a stray rooster that wandered close to her house, or if it really was Peepers after all.

Anyway, I guess only time will tell. I sure hope Byrd and the neighbors let me keep Peepers if she ends up being a rooster. :-/

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