Chicken Paradise

The chickens have moved into a heavenly new home at my relatives’ ranch a little over an hour’s drive away.

The soil is sandy, perfect for dust baths and scratching around, and there are 800 acres of greenery and insects for them to eat. They also have a talented builder on staff, so they are guaranteed a fancy new coop. And my relatives appreciate the eggs far more than we do.

I’m very excited for the chickens, because the ranch is a perfect place for them to live happy lives. I would like to have a place like that for them, myself, but we’re not ready to have a ranch just yet. We have to finish our house remodeling and buy some land first!

With the chickens safe in their new home, we are free to move forward with our remodeling without fear that the chickens will get into the debris or get out of the yard.

We are definitely going to have chickens in the future, when we’ve got a good setup for them. If the original crew are still alive when we finally move into our own piece of property, I’ll see about getting them back from my relatives. 🙂

But until then, I bid a fond farewell to my dear pet chickens–especially my Peepers, who will always be my baby boy–and close this chapter on chicken ownership. Of course, I can go visit them on the ranch any time!

–The End–

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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.

Feral Roosters

A flock of feral roosters has invaded our yard. One of them even beat up Peepers yesterday. I found poor Peepers hiding in the shed, under the riding mower, with a bloody face. The hens were hanging out with the victor.

So last night I set up a trap made out of the spare dog kennel. It involved one corn cob placed on the ground inside the kennel, and a piece of string tied to the kennel door. The string, of course, leads into the house through a window.

This morning I heard plenty of crowing and I knew there were roosters afoot. From inside the house, holding the string, I watched two of the roosters wandering near the dog kennel. Peepers was livid but he was stuck in his own coop.

Then one of the roosters walked right into the kennel to eat the corn! I yanked on the string, which shut the kennel door, and the rooster is now trapped. Now I just have to figure out what to do with it.

IMG_0554

One rooster down, two to go. And maybe the hen that laid these guys, too.

Cantaloupe

Woot. Finally!! Check it:

The reason I planted Dill: to lure Swallowtail caterpillars.
The reason I planted Dill: to lure Swallowtail caterpillars.

My first caterpillar. It’s about time, dude.

Also popular on the dill… aphids. And aphids lure ladybugs. Can you see the zillion ladybugs and ladybug larva cruising through the dill?

The red dots are ladybugs. The black dots are ladybug larva.

The red dots are ladybugs. The black dots are ladybug larva.

Then there’s the cantaloupe. We spotted the first fruit the other day:

A baby cantaloupe!

A baby cantaloupe!

And today I spotted a bunch more in various stages.

A babier cantaloupe!

A babier cantaloupe!

The babiest cantaloupe!

The babiest cantaloupe!

It’s no wonder… the cantaloupe vine has gone nutso. It’s swamping the whole garden.

It's climbed fences on two sides, too.

It's climbed fences on two sides, too.

We also have one remaining squash plant. Squash borers got to the other two (the patty pans) and then there was the one that Dozer crushed. But the one squash plant is doing great.

DSC00397

Still growing:

Carrots

Carrots

Green beans

Green beans

Corn

Corn

Pumpkins

Pumpkins

Watermelon

Watermelon

Every time I go outside, I get hungry.

Peepers is doing much better. His pox are pretty much gone. He’s still got a bit of a respiratory problem, but the antibiotics are taking care of it.

Yummm! A caterpillar! (Not the swallowtail caterpillar!)

Yummm! A caterpillar! (Not the swallowtail caterpillar!)

Ladies? Hello?

Ladies? Hello?

Peepers has Pox

Peepers has fowl pox. Or so I believe.

He developed scabby lesions that look a lot like online photos of chickens with dry fowl pox. This is not really something to worry about; dry fowl pox generally clears up after a while.

Fowl pox doesn’t transfer to humans, but other chickens can get it, so I put Peepers in isolation. It’s a rather weak gesture because, in addition to spreading via direct contact, the virus transmits via mosquitoes. So I really need to vaccinate the hens before the mosquitoes start coming out, but the vaccine is difficult to find in my area. A feed store in a nearby town has me on a call list and I hope they will get the vaccine in the next day or so.

That extra dog kennel actually came in handy!

Peepers can still see his ladies through the chain link.

Peepers can still see his ladies through the chain link.

I made Byrd and Eddy whip up a chicken house for Peepers. They put together a great little hut in 20 minutes.

Peepers doesn't really like to roost, so the "perch" inside is a flat board that he can lay on.

Peepers doesn't really like to roost, so the "perch" inside is a flat board that he can lay on. Still, I usually see him sleeping in the grass.

Unfortunately, Peepers also started coughing and sneezing, which is not really an indication of fowl pox (at least, not the dry fowl pox), but more likely a secondary infection of some sort.

Infection requires antibiotics. Antibiotics require a vet visit. Off we went to the vet.

Peepers was cool as a cucumber, even though he was crammed in a cat carrier and bumped around in the car.

Peepers was cool as a cucumber, even though he was crammed in a cat carrier and bumped around in the car.

The trouble with chickens is that we only have one vet in the entire city who deals with them. And as would be expected, that vet considers chickens “exotic,” and charges insane rates for any sort of procedure.

I hate having to put a price on love. I love Peepers. But I can’t justify spending $500 (no joke) to officially diagnose his problem as fowl pox, run a bacterial culture to determine what type of secondary infection he’s dealing with, and get x-rays of his lungs.

Chillin' on the vet table.
Chillin’ on the vet table.

 

I felt really bad saying “Let’s just give him a general antibiotic and see if he gets better.” It’s not that we can’t afford to spend $500–we’re not choosing between food and vet bills or anything like that–but… geeze. Where do you draw the line? As it was, the vet visit and antibiotics cost me about $100.

His feathers got a little ruffled when the vet poked his butt (part of the checkup, I swear).

His feathers got a little ruffled when the vet poked his butt (part of the checkup, I swear).

Anyway, we got the antibiotic. Here’s hoping it helps. The good news is that other than a bit of sniffling, Peepers is still eating, drinking, crowing (sort of weirdly due to mucus in his throat), and strutting around like a normal rooster. So I’m thinking his infection can’t be so bad, and maybe the antibiotic will do the trick.

Interestingly, the vet said that Peepers had apparently regained sight in both his eyes. So the mystery of why he doesn’t fly, jump, or perch is left unexplained.

As for the other chickens, they are all doing fine. The ones with bald patches are growing their feathers back at last.

She's very proud of her single tail feather. I see some more feathers on the way, fortunately.

She's very proud of her single tail feather. I see some more feathers on the way, fortunately.

We are going to try trimming Crooksie’s beak ourselves this month, I think. We just have to find our old Dremel tool. I’ve been doing daily stretching exercises with her in the evenings to help her jaw re-align. She is not too bothered by it, but I don’t really know if it’s helping.

The beak looks almost normal.

The beak looks almost normal.

Star has improved greatly in her behavior around the chickens. This is a dog that used to run around and around the kennel, bark insanely, and pound her front feet against the chain link.

Star in a calm sit-stay right next to the kennel.

Star in a calm sit-stay right next to the kennel.

Make no mistake… I still don’t trust her around the chickens, but at least it’s not pure chaos anymore.

The Squash is a Patty Pan

Good guess, Daisy’s mom… the squash is a patty pan. I finally got off my duff and found the tag that came with it.

Patty pan is not common around these parts, which is why I didn’t have a clue what it was. Most of the squash in our grocery stores is either acorn or yellow.

Peepers had to go to the vet today. More on that later; I have to upload some pics.

Chickens and Vegetables

The chickens are doing great. Life is so dull, though I imagine chickens don’t care about excitement. Peepers is still a bit on the small side for a rooster. He’s about nine months old, I guess.

Peepers, Cackle, and the black sex-link (still unnamed)

Peepers, Cackle, and the black sex-link (still unnamed)

We get four eggs a day, or thereabouts (Cackle is still not laying). I’ve worked out a distribution cycle for neighbors and family since I really don’t eat eggs very often.

We had a scare the other day with a stray border collie that wandered into our backyard. I have green plastic fencing stretched to keep the chickens/dogs from walking out the side driveway, but it’s not particularly secure. A dog with enough drive could get through it.

The border collie hadn’t gone through the plastic fence, but its stare had pierced the mesh and was fixed on the flock. Peepers was squawking loudly. I came out to see what the noise was about, and saw the dog in half-crouch on the other side of the fence.

My presence broke the tension. The dog ran off down the driveway, and Peepers strutted off into the middle of the yard with his flock.

We have plastic fencing up around the vegetable garden too. It keeps the chickens out, no problem at all.

Canteloupe. No fruit yet.

Canteloupe. No fruit yet.

Squash. The rear right one got trampled by something (Dozer?) and the top broke off, taking a bunch of baby squash with it.

Squash. The rear right one got trampled by something (Dozer?) and the top broke off, taking a bunch of baby squash with it.

Yellow squash. Mmmm.

Yellow squash. Mmmm.

Mystery squash. I have no idea how to cook this, or even when it's ripe to pick.

Mystery squash. I have no idea how to cook this, or even when it's ripe to pick.

Green beans sprouting.

Green beans sprouting.

Corn sprouting (canteloupe is a little pushy there on the side)

Corn sprouting (canteloupe is a little pushy there on the side)

More dill than I know what to do with. Hey Monarch butterflies, this stuff was for you, so wth are you???

More dill than I know what to do with. Hey Monarch butterflies, this stuff was for you, so wth are you???

Sheetrock is not food

We hit our first major chicken farmer problem today.

We spent much of the day tearing the walls out of our back addition. Crumbles of sheetrock and tufts of pink insulation covered the dirt outside the back door, remnants of what didn’t quite make it into the trash trailer.

I didn’t intend to let the chickens out today, seeing that there was so much debris near the chicken coop, but I suppose it gets dull being stuck in a muddy coop for several days in a row (free range prevented both by heavy rain/flooding and our construction activity). So today after I made a last check for eggs, two of the braver hens darted out of the coop as I stepped out. They were literally pressed against my leg on the way through the gate–that’s how desperate they were to squeeze out of there.

So I reasoned, well, since two of them are out, I suppose I should let the others out. And I did.

The next thing I hear is Peepers: “Bip-bip-bip-bip-bip!” I’ve learned that this odd peeping sound means, “I’ve found something yummy!!” All the hens come running as fast as they can when he makes this noise.

I look down to see what he’s got and I’m horrified to see him pecking at a little piece of sheetrock. Peepers thinks sheetrock is edible. Worse, he keeps telling all the ladies that he’s found something delicious!

So I start flapping my arms and screaming “NOOOOOO!!!!” After scaring the chickens into the safe half of the yard (far from the construction site), I get Byrd, and together we herd the chickens back into the coop. Squawkers gives us a really hard time.  She did NOT want to go back into the coop!

So we are now facing a few options.

1. Move the hen house and chicken coop into the “safe” side of the yard, and erect a plastic barrier to keep the chickens on that side of the yard when they range. This is my preferred option. Byrd objects because he thinks the chickens will ruin the grass under the coop. He’s right, but then again, the winter rye grass that’s there now will be dead in another month anyway, so what’s the big deal?

2. Erect a plastic barrier around the construction area to keep the chickens out. I think this is harder because it will cramp Byrd et al when they are working on the house. They will have to be careful not to let debris fall outside the barrier, and they will have to keep their tools and trailer within the barrier. It’s not much space.

3. Stop letting the chickens free-range until the construction is complete. I don’t want to do this to the chickens. They really love their range time. And construction might last for months.

Guess we’ll see what Byrd decides is the best option.

Peepers bites, Crooksie goes to the vet

Okay, perhaps the wrath of the zombie chickens is a real thing after all.

Peepers bit me yesterday. It wasn’t hard and I think it was a mistake. I was putting Crooksie into the hen house and he chomped down on the back of my hand. I think he was trying to peck Crooksie and he missed (because he is, after all, half blind and therefore has poor depth perception).

The reason I was looking at Crooksie was to inspect her beak. It is crooked, and the result is that it doesn’t wear down properly. I noticed yesterday that the bottom part of the beak is starting to curl inward on itself.

So I took Crooksie to the vet today and got her beak filed down a bit, which should help her with things like eating and drinking. We’ll have to go back and get it trimmed every month or so for a while, but the vet is hopeful that if we are consistent about it, the beak will realign and start to fit together normally again.

Aside from her beak, Crooksie got a clean bill of health.

This one is Crooksie.

This one is Crooksie.

Zombie Chickens

Dennis and his dada James gave Peepers this fine award. I imagine it was simply because Peepers is a chicken, not because the blog is particularly amazing. Or because Peepers is a zombie.

zombie_chicken_awardThe text that goes with it is as follows:

The blogger who receives this award believes in the Tao of the zombie chicken – excellence, grace and persistence in all situations, even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. These amazing bloggers regularly produce content so remarkable that their readers would brave a raving pack of zombie chickens just to be able to read their inspiring words. As a recipient of this world-renowned award, you now have the task of passing it on to at least 5 other worthy bloggers. Do not risk the wrath of the zombie chickens by choosing unwisely or not choosing at all…

Now, much of the text is true, especially the bit about grace in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. I’m well known for my refusal to panic, even when things are at their most panic-worthy. I’m not so sure about the “inspiring words” bit, though.

The threat that comes at the end intrigues me enough that I think I will, in fact, refuse to pass this award on to anyone. Bring it on, zombie chickens!!

And here is a recent photo of the chickens for your viewing pleasure.

OMG OMG fresh grass clippings yay!!!

OMG OMG fresh grass clippings yay!!!

This is the best time of year for the chickens. Our yard consists of soft, moist rye grass, and our evil mulberry (or something) tree is staining everything with its delicious purple berries. So the chickens gorge themselves during their afternoon field trips (free range from 3 PM to sunset). They better enjoy it while it lasts–summer is just around the corner, and it’s going to be hot and miserable.

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