Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Rise of Gwen

It was an uncertain time in the coop.  With Rosamond struck down in the prime of her glory by The Owl, the flock was without a leader.  All of the other birds were wary of the situation and it seemed at first that they entered a period of confusion in their mourning.  However, one should never underestimate the ambition of a chicken.  The mechanisms of social order were already on the move before the memory of Rosamond even began to fade.

The remaining hens, post Owl-attack, numbers two; Cora and Gwen.  Cora, the larger of the two, is quiet and docile.  Her comb is larger than Gwen’s and she seems generally indifferent to most things except for sprouts and bugs.  Nothing gets Cora moving faster than a bug.  Gwen, on the other hand, is slightly smaller and definitely feistier.  Her comb is close to her head and it gives her the look of being angry all the time.  Maybe she is.  

After a day or mourning, the antics had already begun.  Something was up as both Gwen and Cora looked at one another suspiciously.  Earl was unaware of any problems and worked hard to get attention from the hens as he had recently grew a new tail feather... his only tail feather.
Not long after Rosamond's untimely death, the stink eyes began.
Earl, of course, with the typical black cloud over him.
At first there were just a lot of angry looks and stink-eyes cast hither and dither but soon it was clear, the battle for the top peep was dawning. Who had the first dibs on the food? Who was allowed to use the best watering thingamobob? Who got to use the nesting box in the morning first? These questions and many more needed answered. The logical choice is, of course, to consult Chicken Law.
Chicken Law, once passed from chicken to chicken, was only recently enshrined in written form.

Chicken Law, Lead Chicken, Section 4 titled "How to determine lead head hen", paragraph six, provision II, sub paragraph 3 states, "In the event of the loss the flock's head hen, all other hens must wait a period of time consisting of the time between the loss of the head hen and the rising of the next day's sun before deciding on who the next head hen will be, unless the death happens at night, which in such case all hens must wait a period of time that is equal to the setting of one day's sun and the rising of another. This is unless the weather forbids the rising of the next days sun or forbids the flock from exiting the coop, which in such cases a special provision is established that all birds must play nice and share everything equally until such a day allows its sun to rise at which time the head hen can be decided."

Sub paragraph 4 goes on to say, "To decide who will be the head hen, all bets are off, all forms of fighting are permitted and though death is frowned upon it is acceptable.  Wing beating, head pecking and chasing are all valid forms of deciding who is head hen. If by the end of the day a single hen has all other chickens bowing down to her and serving her every whim, that chicken is proclaimed head hen. Coronation ceremonies are not required but highly encouraged." So Gwen attacked Cora.

All is fair in love and war.

A week before Gwen and Cora quietly chatted between one another about how awful Rosmand was behaving that when Rosamond was removed as a variable, so too was the civility between Gwen and Cora.  In the world of chickens, however, when life can be fleeting, one can understand how every chicken, no matter how much or how little ambition she may have, has to seize the moment. On the other hand, Cora didn’t care much.  She was surprised by the sudden act of incivility but her ambition didn’t demand she been queen of the coop, her ambition lay with the cracked corn sealed in the container she sits upon every day, trying hard to open it. Some hens need dominance and to rule over all, others just want cracked corn and some bugs.

Gwen, Queen of the Coop...for now.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Snow (or how to keep a chicken in the coop for several days)

The sun was out, the chooks were happy as could be and it was warm.  Gloriously warm!  Sure, there was something afoot, but the chooks neither cared nor could be bothered with the "goings on" about the grounds.  The wind was up but that's ok because when it does that it blows seeds and bugs into the run and lets face it, that's awesome in the chook world.

The chooks are under a year old, though-- still unaware and unlearned in terms of how Colorado can sometimes work in strange and surprising ways.  The wind was up, but it suddenly went up more... a lot more.

The chooks went tumbling like tumbling weed.
Great gusts of wind come barreling out of the mountains on some days, especially in the Fall and Winter!  Sometimes the clouds over the mountains look wispy and feathery, the tell-tale signs that a storm is bearing down on Colorado and has arrived in the mountains already.  On the front range, though, storms such as these are preceded by... great wind!  It warms us into the 70s and it is often very sunny.  Those who knows about this place call it, "The Warm Before the Storm."  The chooks were blissfully unaware but wary of the suddenly intense wind.  They went flying through the air, desperate to make it to their coop as they went tumbling across the yard like a tumble weed.  In times such as these, the chooks are disoriented and therefore docile-- enough that I could pick them up and place them gently in the safety of their coop.

As night fell, so did the temperatures and the wind (the two are tied together-- google "upslopde" and "downslope").  As the winds calmed they changed directions, too.  Quietly and gently, the storm that ranged like a maniac in the day crept in like a thief of the night.  Snow had come.

When the sun finally returned, the chooks were greeted by a landscape they'd never seen.  They were curious yet cautious, excited yet apprehensive.  The coop's design had worked well enough to keep the run under the coop clean and dry of snow but it was open enough to show a wintry landscape and the chooks were made wary of the odd cold and colorless stuff.

What the boooooock?
I went out to see the flock and let them out for the day.  They didn't move.  They didn't know what the heck was going on and what this white stuff was but Rosamond and the other girls weren't going to go out into it.  So they made Earl go.  Earl will do anything.  Earl did not enjoy his experience.

Earl had the look of a very shocked chicken betrayed by his girls
(which is odd because it happens a lot to him).  
Earl hopped out of the coop, looked around frantically, and hopped back into the coop.  I give him credit for trying.

The flock spent the day inside the coop.  They also spent the next day in the coop as well.  Whenever it snows they stay in the coop, sometimes not leaving it for days.  This past week was snowy and intensely cold and they simply were not going to leave the coop.  It was so much nicer and warmer inside and that white stuff stayed out.

The chooks stayed warm in their coop (note: no actual fire exists inside the coop,
 except for the passion the flock has for staying warm and full of feed!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

In Loving Memory | Rosamond

She was an ornery character.  She was an "easter egger" but the only thing Easter about her was her rather Pontius Pilate demeanor and attitude.  She was, of course, the dominant, pardon me...creature on the grounds.  I believe if she were a military figure from history she'd be a cross between Ivan the Terrible and Napoleon.  She even kept our rooster, the Earl of Parker, in a constant state of humility and sometimes even pinned to the ground.  No one messes with Rosamond...or rather, messed with Rosamond.

Rosamond being terrible.

Rosamond being Napoleonic.

It was late on Thanksgiving Day, we had company that included some adorable children and they went out to see the chickens.  I messed up when I let the door to the coop go shut.  We left and I never opened the door again.  Nature wasted no time at all claiming the fine for screwing up like this so badly.

I returned to the coop some time later to see to the chooks and make sure they were safe when I found a darkened heap on the cold ground.  I've been through this before and know the feeling too well.  The chill of death drifted over me along with the icy wind out of the North.  There before me, on the ground motionless, was the body of Rosamond.  As any chook keeper would do, I quickly scanned around the run for the rest of the flock to find Cora huddled in a small spot between a container and the coop. She was safe!  I stood up, not immediately seeing the rest when the broad wingbeat of an owl filled the darkening sky and away it went-- Rosamond's murderer.  I picked Cora up, and she neither made a noise nor a struggle as I placed her, as if she were a stuffed animal, safely into the coop.

I quickly went around the run (it's enormous) and I found Earl and Gwen huddled together.  They pressed themselves against the wire of the run as if they were trying to become one.  Clearly frightened out of their minds (the owl had been perched just above them), they weakly peeped and moved uneasily in their place. Plucking them up again like stuffed animals, I got them to the coop.  Once inside, the remaining three were confused and scared.  I could do nothing more for them but at least they were alive.

With my remaining chooks safe, I stood there in the silence of the waning twilight.  Night was falls quickly and it was only me, the breeze in the trees and my beloved Rosamond.  I turned around, examined her, and discovered that though the owl had clear intentions of taking her, she was too heavy (she was roughly 7 lbs or more), the attack snapped her neck.  As one who appreciates the complexity and even humor behind irony in this World, it was all too well fitting that Rosamond, even in her death, ruled the situation and denied the owl the satisfaction of having its dinner.

I am sentimental, though I know she's just a chicken.  I won't waste where waste is obvious but I will appreciate the things in life that make it worth living and Rosamond was one of those things.  I gently and with care picked her up, said a little prayer of remembrance and appreciation and carried her body away.  I walked it out into the open field.  Rosamond loved to free range and though she enjoyed an enormous run with the rest of the flock, you could always tell she longed to run and be the crazy chicken she was in the broad open sky.  Most chickens fear wide open spaces.  Rosamond very much enjoyed them.  You might even say it lead to her downfall.  While the rest of the flock sought a safe place in which to hide, Rosamond went on to enjoy the openness of the run.

Rosamond's typical pose after bestowing the world with the most perfect egg.
In the end, Nature neither creates nor destroys energy.  Rosamond is still with us all, but she was sustenance for some lowly creature of the night and even now as I write this memorial, her very proteins bind with that animal's.  It very well is flying or prowling this very moment unaware of the spirit and energy it inherited of one of the greatest chickens.  Rosamond the Terribly Great.

Lady Cora pays her respect, if not love, of Rosamond.

Monday, August 1, 2011

O' Mon Dieu! L'Oeuf!

I had to work this Saturday and so got up before my birds did (this is not recommended). Before I sped away in the civic to go to work, I checked the birds had food and water as the days would be another hot one. When I returned later in the day, I was greeted with warm birds that looked thoroughly put out by the fact that they aren't free from the bondage of the coop. They're dramatic that way. I threw open the door and they darted out of the coop as if it were on fire, Rosamond leading the way (more on her later). They spent the day foraging and chasing grasshoppers and were really enjoying themselves but soon night was falling again. Before I put them to bed, I looked into the run to gather their water dish and feeder that they trashed (chickens act out like children if cooped up for too long). To my surprise, looking down into the run, was this small brown and speckled egg. It was nestled among some stones and I figured it would be for sure broken, but no, it was a small and near perfect first egg. The maker of it is unknown but I suspect Rosamond.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Earl of Parker, Lord of the Manor

Earl's guide to managing one's ladies.

Step one: choose your leading lady.

Step two: make her feel special by bringing her greens and bugs.

Step three: let some of the other hens near.

Step three: observe the jealousy well up in your chosen lady.

Step four: allow leading lady to exact punishment on other hens.

Step five: enjoy some chicken feed and indulge in some bugs for a job well done.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Replacements

It's been several weeks now since the loss of Sybil, Helen and Edith. They were such fantastic birds and I really grew to enjoy they with the passing of each day. Naturally, the loss of my flock was enough to give me pause about whether or not I would continue to keep a flock. I was leaning towards calling it quits, when, a very kind and generous person offered me three The fact that they were free was really nice, but it was the fact that someone reached out in such a way that made the difference. I had no issues paying for the birds, but it was the idea that someone was making such a kind offer that made me give in. I was about to have my flock back!

The three chickens I got first were two buff orpingtons (yes, I have a thing for orpingtons) and what is basically a mutt, a cross between something and something else. LOL I was told it should lay as a Easter egger. I had these birds for a week before I got the second two, another orp hen and a orp rooster. Yep...I got me a roo! I got him mostly because people keep telling me how they defend and protect the flock really well, so I caved.

As for the names... The first two orps are Cora and Isobel. The EE is Rosamond. The newest orp hen is Violet and the roo is The Early of Parker !oD in case you're wondering, the names were inspired by the characters that make up the series, Downton Abbey, a British series that I love (mostly because I'm a serious anglophile!). Orpingtons are, after all, British bred.

Pictures to come, but for now, even while the new flock is in lock down to establish them in the coop, I'm back in the flock business.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A sad day on the ranch...

I'm sorry to not have written in such a long time but today warrants a post.

Last night, Sybil, Helen and Edith were taken by predators. It was stupid in that it fit like a cheesy it was a dark and stormy night. But what is not so cheesy is the intense feeling of disbelief, denial, hope, loss of hope and now the deep feeling of sorrow my wife and I now feel for our dearly departed birds.

They became a part of our life here in Colorado. My daughter who was just coming into speech when we got them called them, "the girls," and would sit and watch them with me as they grazed the yard for bugs and seeds. My daughter is too young to be greatly affected by this loss but my wife and I are so sad. They would let me pet them and hold them while they cooed and clucked softly. I could feed them all manner of things but their favorite food were strawberries. They'd play chicken football with a strawberry...always five minutes of pure joy. They would come up to the screen door and say hi. They would crap all over our deck! But I didn't care, they were chickens and lived happy lives. Their reckless abandonment was a release for me, something I envied. They were beautiful birds, too. And yes, I could tell each of them apart from one another. Their soft colors were pleasing to the eye and their feathers were soft and full...they were amazing.

Sybil, Helen and Edith were the best buff orpingtons I have ever known. People think chickens are stupid but these birds were smart, crafty, and even sneaky in so many ways and it breaks my heart to think that they are gone. They were here for such a short time, but they have left a long-lasting impact on me. And for the happiness and joy you brought into my life, thank you, girls and good bye.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Lettuce Eat Strawberries and Avocado

Lettuce Eat Strawberries and Avocados

My Chickens Begin to Eat Better than I

2 May 2011

I have begun experimenting with different food that come in the form of scraps from our kitchen when feeding the girls. And though I know well-enough that they should get the bulk of their food from the chick feed, I have to admit, their food looks less-than-appealing to me. It looks like rocks or dirt ground up in consistently small sizes of pebbles. It hasn't an ounce of excitement in the entire bag! And while taking the girls out to the garden and around the house, I noticed how insane they went when they would find something new to eat-- chicken football always ensued. So I decided it was time to give them a treat. Based on the wild peeping and fervent wing-beating, I think I hit the spot.

The first thing I gave the girls was chick grit. Chick grit? What the…? Well, it seems chickens don't have teeth-- I know, it was news to me as well. But the grit is important because it acts as teeth in their digestive system. It is important because things like fresh greens, vegetables and fruits may need some extra grinding to properly digest everything. The grit was received, neither ill or well. However, next came the lettuce. I was shocked at how excited these birds got over lettuce. It was really something. It was like I had brought a bucket of chum to a shark feeding frenzy! But it occurred to me that these birds have no idea what it is I'm feeding them. So after they savagely consumed the lettuce, I decided to throw in a toilet paper roll. It didn’t work-- well done Nature. My chickens aren't dump trucks, eating up whatever I offer.

Next I tried strawberries-- these come with a warning. If you feed your birds strawberries, please remember that you did so, because they will peck the bejeeses out of these things and scratch at them like they do with everything else (they scratch everything! It doesn't matter what they're eating, even out of a dish, they'll scratch the ground even though it makes no difference). So, I happily fed them the berries and bid them good night. I closed the coop door and made my way inside, a smile grew across my lips as I heard the noises of busy hens barely holding it together as they excitedly consumed their most recent buffet. It was this morning, though, that that smile was wiped away quickly.

I inspect my chickens every day. I only have three so it's quick and easy to do. I do it because I hear and read of horror stories of people losing birds to the most insane things like "pasty butt" or "impaction." (Look it up… it's pretty gross). As usual, Sybil lopped over to me in a hurry, got in my face and took the position she's become accustomed to these days. She will stand with her legs apart so that she's stable and she'll stick her head out towards me and relax her wings-- she does this because I will pet her head and neck and it seems she loves it. I don't know if a chicken can have dreamy eyes but if they can, Sybil has them-- she looks lovingly at me while I pet her. During this time, though, I noticed red on her legs. I stopped everything and got closer to see. It looked like blood-- fresh blood! It was bright red, which is why I felt it was fresh-- and so I looked at Helen and Edith-- they too had red on their legs! I thought maybe a fight ensued or there was a nail or screw or something catching them. I was ready to freak out when Sybil picked up a ratty-looking strawberry with her beak and tossed it out the door as if say, "We're done with these, thank you." I was alone at the time… just me and the chickens… but I felt very foolish. My chickens had strawberry on their legs, not blood. I felt like a big chicken.

Lastly was the avocado this morning-- well-received, I must say! Chicks dig green stuff! Now, I just have to remember that when they have avocado stuck to their legs, not to freak out and think they're going moldy.

The chicks are in the coop, and the coop is still in the garage, and it is May and it did snow this morning-- hence the chicks in the coop, in the garage. All of the doors are on the coop, though not all the doors are securable at this point-- as in locks etc. The coop still needs painted and sealed. I did most of the sealing yesterday while the girls played around me in the garage. I have already used three tubes of silicone on this thing and there is still more to do. My biggest concern are drafts, but soon, with all of this sealing, I will have to consider ventilation as well. Thankfully, moisture shouldn't be as much of an issue as gas exchange as our State is super dry!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Question: Why?

This is a post on another blog I keep-- mainly for record-keeping and sharing about my garden-- but it's applicable here, too.

The Question: Why?

Changing everything-- from diet to hygiene and more

25 April 2011

Growing a vegetable garden these days has become more common-- especially with the sudden rise and attendance of farmer's markets in local communities and such. But even with keeping a garden, most people tend to stick to the things they like the most-- which is natural. Tomatoes, lettuce, maybe broccoli. But what if you take it one step further-- or two or three steps? What does a garden become? For me, it's transforming into a new way of living.

I grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania-- nestled in Dutch country, I was surrounded by farming communities, intermingled with white-collar businesses for those who liked the scenery of the country, but not necessarily to live off the country. The farm was a dairy farm but also had loads of land for crops. Most of the crops were for the cows, but that didn't mean it couldn't yield food stuff beyond what the cows needed or wanted. I remember my dad selling soybeans and alfalfa on a regular basis to other farms and through local auctions. We lived off of the milk those cows provided and off the meat the steers would provide every year. On occasion we would even butcher pigs and chickens-- it was a working farm, after all. It was a way of life I knew-- I knew of no other and it's interesting now as an adult to look back and examine that way of life and just how far removed I am from it.

A few months back, Carrie began looking into natural products. I look to Dr Bronner's Soap as the catalyst that began the transformation or how we use, procure and dispose of things. For those not familiar with Dr Bronner's Soap, it comes in many forms but the one I'm used to is castile soap that is highly concentrated-- a drop goes a very long way. Dr Bronner and his family (I believe the good Dr has since passed) are committed to making natural, bio-based soaps that are meant to simply clean, not destroy every living thing in it's path-- and it does just that. Anyway, this gate-way "drug" into the natural products world is what opened up my eyes to not only the possibilities, but the insanity of my daily living and just how much toxicity I lived in. I even considered myself a environment-conscious individual and a clean one at that!

Dr Bronner's was about as far as I was willing to go at first. It's like trying out something before buying-- you are skeptical of the new product or new way of doing something and need proof to further invest yourself in something that could change your way of life. I wish kids were this way, but they seem to be an all-or-nothing product. Carrie really focused on the cosmetic side of things, though-- mostly because of her epic struggle to find things that work for her but also because Colorado has some of the driest air you'll ever experience and she uses a lot of moisturizers etc-- well these products have some of the most bizarre ingredients, most of which haven't a single drop of naturally occurring elements in them. I on the other hand looked at food. Why food? Well, we all have our reasons for things, right?

Because of a personal health issue, my attention turned to food. I never considered myself an unhealthy eater but looking back, there were some serious flaws. I ate vegetables and fruits but I also ate a lot of meat (maybe not compared to others but compared to now, definitely). The amazing thing is, I could not tell you one single thing about where my food came from. Was it local produce? Was the hamburger from the next town over? Where was the bread baked? No idea… absolutely none. And I should know better, right? I mean, I grew up on a dairy farm in Pennsylvania where were knew precisely where our milk came from-- where our cows were butchered and our ham cured (our farm!). I am many years removed from that way of life and sadly, I slowly and quietly progressed the point where I am now-- wondering where my food comes from and why the food I eat is not necessarily helping my body.

My change in eating and in my food is simple-- I learned too much bad stuff about the food industry. Monsanto is not a tool of the Devil, but just might be the Devil itself! (Devil claim is a personal belief of mine and is not based in fact) This company, in particular, has been the focus of some more recent outrage in the food industry. Companies like this are pure evil and are taking ingenuity, tried-and-true traditions and the very essence of living off the land and stomping on it with its huge, well-funded legal boot. Monsanto and others like it are unwelcome in my life and are strongly urged to stay out of my wallet. Given that our food industry is controlled by very few companies now, it is near-impossible to cut them out of the loop, but I'll never stop working to that end. Other issues focus squarely on meat. I love meat-- especially a good hamburger (steaks are nice but they mess with my stomach too much!) but the cost of raising an animal under healthy circumstances and butchering it humanely makes meat very expensive. (The American Association of Meat Processors is an organization that lobbies for major meat-producers-- and nothing says trust than a huge lobby with a logo that has a piece of meat in it! A law suit from a Brazilian company about producing bad meat in the US). I should mention at this point that I'm not a huge fan of using my money, either, especially when I know it goes to corporations instead of my neighbors. The economic impact on me and the ecological impact on our land is a good enough case for me to simply lower-- even by half-- the amount of meat I consume. It feels odd to say it, mostly because of the stigma around diet and food in this country, but I've changed my diet from meat-based vegetable supported to vegetable-based meat supported. And though we're still using up our supply of store-bought meat, our plan is to purchase our next order of meat from a local butcher. It'll cost a lot, I'm sure-- but the responsibility that goes with how we live and operate on this planet falls on the individual. I'm tired of shrugging off my responsibility for the sake of cheap food that makes me sick.

Knowing where my food comes from is the major factor that drives the changes in how I live. My experience and childhood on the farm is something I long to return to. It wasn't an easy life-- my parents and my siblings all worked very hard and went without plenty of things to make life work on the farm but times are different and I'm also not running a farm-- rather, I'm introducing things I know are good and though they may not be easy-to-do, they are much better than the alternatives. So for the first time since leaving the farm, we have a vegetable garden planted. It is 400 square feet and I'm stoked to learn how much money we save (if any) in terms of produce that we get out of the garden. We have plans to freeze, can, preserve… you name it. We also bought chickens. Yep. Chickens. Sybil, Helen and Edith are three buff orpingtons that we got just over a month ago and they are here for one purpose-- eggs. But they're also here for other reasons-- they give great compost, eat bugs in the garden and are funny as hell. One day they'll even be on our table-- but that's not for a while yet! We eat a lot of eggs, mostly because they're cheap, readily available and a good source of protein and good fat but there is a catch-- they're produced from birds that are kept in some of the more outrageous conditions. You'll hear the term "organic" or "cage free" and think you're getting eggs from happy chickens-- but this could not be further from the truth. Eggland's Best defines cage free as, "The hens selected to lay Eggland’s Best Cage Free eggs are not kept in cages and are free to roam. The hens are provided with sunlight, shade, shelter, an exercise area, fresh air, and are protected from predators." If by "free to roam" you mean housed in a huge-yet-jam-packed metal box, then no, they are not in cages. I don't mean to pick on this particular company because I have no specific quarrel with them but I find it very difficult to believe they provide a humane existence for these birds and give them what they need to produce the best-quality egg out there. And I'm not saying I can do any better but at least I know where my eggs are coming from-- my yard.

This movement to a more natural way of life makes sense to me. It takes work and thought but it is rewarding and I enjoy the work. I've even come to enjoy the look on people's faces when they hear I have chickens! It's the "are you nuts" look-- classic. And no, I'm not nuts, it is perfectly natural to have such animals in my care and on my land. Nowhere else in the World, than in America, does one buy acreage of land and not use it for a single agricultural purpose. I like having several acres of land, as it keeps other people away from me, has a great view of the mountains and is full of birds and deer and other cool animals-- but it is land! It can be used responsibly to provide me and my family and in the healthiest way possible. To me, there is no question as to whether or not to do this-- the answer is clear.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Peaceable Peepdom

Peaceable Peepdom

Or, How I've Come to Serve, Rather than be Served, by My Peeps

24 April 2011

The peeps have been in their coop for a week now. After the Great Avian Revolt two weeks ago, the message was loud and clear-- give us our coop or we'll send you to sleep with the worms! What puzzles me, though, is that they have never even seen a worm. Either way, I didn't take their spirited peeping lightly. I had to finish the coop-- at least enough to allow them to safely live in it while the finer details were completed. There was a peace about the kingdom almost right away when I put them in the coop but that was short-lived. Why? I'll tell you why. You give these birds an inch and they take a foot!

I thought I'd be a good Peep-daddy if, while working in the garden trying very hard to bend the Colorado dirt to my will, I took the peeps outside with me. When I opened the coop door, there was Sybil with her in-your-face bobbing and weaving and peeping. She was anxious and excited and thankfully for the flock mentality, Helen and Edith were quick to follow. I scooped them up and put them back into their old brooder-- Ole Blue-- and amazingly, they calmed down immediately. And off we went-- the peeps safely and demurely inside the box being carried at my expense out to the garden. I had a vision during the short walk that this seems to be a role reversal or sorts… me carrying the peeps. It didn’t seem right but with stink-eye from Sybil, I focused and got my rear in gear-- Sybil had things to do!

When I released the orpingtons onto the dirt of the garden, they were wary at first. It occurred to me that this is likely the first time they've seen the sky, the trees and all that makes up the immensity that is the World around us. But in typical chicken fashion, it didn't take much-- a wayward piece of straw, to catch the peep's attention. They went from scared and intimidated peeps to, "Oh! Look! A piece of straw!" A pick-up game of chicken football ensued. Before long, all three of the peeps were about the garden and completely unaware that the vastness of Space still remained. How liberating it must be to move on from such a huge, scary thing-- and onto something as simple as a piece of straw!

Sybil amazes me. She is so forward, curious and spirited in everything she does. Once the straw situation was dealt with, she turned her attention to more pressing issues-- bathing. How amazing it is to me that these things are engrained in the bird's knowledge of the world that something as obscure as a dust bath would be seemingly automated in the hardwiring of the peep. They've never seen it done before and yet without prompting, Sybil nestled into a pile of dust and dirt and went to town-- kicking it up and over and under every nook and cranny and she looked positively blissful. Her little chicken eyes rolled around as if biting into a well-cooked steak, or brownies fresh from the oven-- the pleasure was complete. I'm sure if she could, she would have giggled delightfully at how great her bath was going. The other two, Helen and Edith, watched with curiosity but without much prompting, got into the dust bath, too.

But here is where the issues began. Just like with the brooder, once I began taking them out, they experienced a bit more of freedom and they couldn't readily put that idea out of their tiny brains. They wanted more. And because it was a rather cool and unsettled weather pattern this past week, I didn't have much of an option than to keep them in their coop all week. I also want them to learn that the coop is now home, too. Having read several places that they should be locked down, for lack of a better term, in their new home for a week or so, I thought I was doing them a favor. But now, every time I open the coop, Sybil leads the charge! With three orpington peeps storming me every time I open the coop, I'm running out of time and really need to get the rest of the coop completed. They may take a foot for every inch I give them, but if there is one thing these peeps are teaching me is, they'll lead the way. I'm amazed at how apt they are at not only exploring and learning their world, but teaching me about their world as well.

I hear you loud and clear, Sybil! I'll get your run done tomorrow.

Sybil is in the front-- of course. How can I tell? She's darker than the other two and slightly larger. She also has absolutely no reservations about getting in my face, where the other two shyly stay in the background.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Making of the Coop, Continued

The Making of the Coop, Continued

The Best Laid Plans…

22 April 2011

Flexibility is the key to success in many things. If you're too rigid with, say, traveling you will no doubt use up any patience and convert it to frustration in a matter of hours. If a tree does not yield to the wind, it'll snap and fall. If you are unable to bob and weave during your annual family reunion, or go with the flow at the company picnic,

someone will eventually find you rocking yourself in the hedge, sucking your thumb. So it is clear to me that if you are inflexible in most matter of life, you'll develop an attitude that it seems life itself plots against you. Building a chicken coop is no different. In fact, when building your coop you may find you need a disproportionately greater amount of flexibility and patience than with most other things-- wood is definitely one of those things in life that plots against us. You've been warned.

With the plumbers bill in one hand, a grand coop design in another and a brooder with three dino-peeps growing in the next room, I realized some things had to change. I never had any intentions on spending hundreds of dollars on a coop, but I did have it in my mind that it would be built with the future in mind-- both in terms of size (adding

more chickens in the future), ease of use, ease of cleaning and longevity. With all of those things in mind, the coop I had hoped to build was one I was pretty proud of! I "shopped" the internet for ideas, pros and cons to each as I found them, and incorporated the best features I could find into my coop. I used Google Sketch-Up to render the plans in 3D. If you do not know about Sketch-Up, check it out. It is a free program (though there is an option to upgrade to a professional version) to use and is pretty powerful. Don't be intimidated by the features and use of the program. I have zero engineering background and I would not consider myself by any stretch of the imagination gifted at the art of woodworking or design. Also, Google does host a sort of forum and tutorial site for this program. You'll find the answers to all your questions there.

Here is the original design I came up with. It was made large enough to house about 6 chickens. Pretty isn't it?! Sadly, it's officially on hold.

Once I realized how much my bill would be for my home repair, I knew I had to come up with option B for the coop. The dino-chicks were not going to wait for more options to become available, so I had to come up with something quickly. So I went back to the internet and looked for a minimalist's approach to coop building. It was then that I found this coop design-- I loved it!

The coop design (I assume) and product is by I have no affiliation with them but link to their site as it's their product and want to give credit where credit is due! Even at their reasonable prices, though, I couldn't swing the expense at that moment, or the near-enough-for-the-dino-peeps future. But you have to admit, it's a fine-looking product!

So I went back to Sketch-Up to do a redesign of something similar to this coop design but more catered to my wants and needs. Did I say mine? I meant my chickens' wants and needs, of course.

Meh… did a better job, for sure. Oh well. So I did the next logical step in the process-- score material. In my attempt to save on money, I turned my attention, as mentioned in previous posts, to the ridiculous-sized shelves in my garage. They were so insanely deep, that if anything fell to the back, it would be lost to eternity and bound to live out the rest of existence as a house for a mouse or some other woodland creature we seem to have so many of around here. And, I remind you, that the wood the builder and previous owner used to make them was scrap-wood from the making of the house.

Whilst demo ensued, I happened to save several large pieces of wood that would make for the perfect foundation of the coop. I threw the very lower base together and it hit me just then. I looked up at my house and realized that it would be perfect if the coop were built in the image of my own home, since it would be made of the same material! Too Google Sketch-Up!

Thank you, Google, for making this amazing program!!! Now, I didn't have the time or the will to draw up a intricate design at this point. I had two weekends at most before the dino-peeps really would revolt, escape and get me into serious trouble with the rest of the house's population. So, back to the garage for more demo, more wood reclamation and getting on with building a decent coop.

Sadly, I did not take photos while making the coop. In hindsight, that would have been nice of me to do, but with ripping apart shelves, old nails scream in protest from being taken from their homes, and saw dust flying, I couldn't be bothered. The coop took shape quickly, though. So here are some photos of the now stocked, but not-yet-finished coop.

The girls really like their new home! Lots more space to run and stretch their wings.

You can see the structure of the roof. At this point you might be thinking, "Hey I thought he said he'd build it in the image of his own house. This looks like a barn!" Well I don't live in a barn, but it certainly looks like one!

On this side you can see the door to the coop, which is the upper "half" of the entire design. I made it in such a way that when the door is opened, it rests on the upper roof and the peep droppings can be swept right out the door, as the floor is level with the bottom edge-- no mess! You may also be thinking at this point, I thought he wanted this thing to be portable, too. Well, it is. I mean anything can be portable so long as you can apply the appropriate amount of force to something, right? But yes, it's very heavy. Definitely movable but it's not meant to be moved by someone who is weak nor frail. I haven't decided yet, but I may get castors for the bottom that can be put in or out and moved at will.

In the design, I had a much larger opening for the egg door, as that is where the nesting boxes would be; however, you have to be flexible, remember? The door got a lot smaller and why? It was too messy to cut a bigger one and having a smaller one meant I could finish the coop sooner. Sold.

At this point here is what I've spent:

Hardware Cloth - $30

Braces and Brackets - $25

Hinges, Screws, Fasteners - $15

Total so far - $70

I've included the price only of those things I had to actually buy. In fact, some of the stuff I even plan to return to the store as I wasn't sure what I needed and what I didn't. With that said, I have everything else here to finish the coop-- including caulking, paint and some thick plastic/rubber for making a baffle for around the doors.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Making of the Coop

The Making of the Coop

Wood, Screws, Glue and a Saw

19 April 2011

The coop is built. It even contains three (3) chickens. Well, they aren't exactly chickens in the sense that they're still peeps (they still make the "peep peep" sound) but they are of the chicken variety, despite what seems to me to be three very distinct and rather fun personalities. I never knew chickens could have such fun personalities! I grew up on a farm and we had plenty of chickens but I suppose I didn't pay much attention to the nuances that were part of my flock back then. But yes, they are finally in the coop. Currently, I have them locked in the actual coop itself (to be sure, there is a different part of the overall structure called the run and it is not accessible to them presently). I'm told they need to be in lock-down for a while so they know that the coop is there safe, new home.

So I have contemplated the completion of the coop and I'm not yet ready to show the entire thing… yet. It still needs some sealing and paint to protect it from our highland sun and rain-- I don't need wet peeps (plus the smell would be horrible). Plus, there are things that have yet to be finely tuned-- like the egg door and the ventilation door. When making the egg door, I wanted the option to open it to retrieve the eggs but I also wanted the option to leave it open to improve air-flow, or conversely, to close it completely so that during the colder months, I could offer some extra protection from the cold and wind. I've re-used and re-purposed all the wood for this coop and so I used wood from some shelves I made for the house to make the doors-- big mistake. The wood was weak in the sense that it split easily when screwed or drilled into when the pieces were of a smaller size. After three very frustrating attempted to attach the hardware cloth to the frame, I turned to the glue-- Gorilla glue.

Gorilla glue is strange. It looks like maple syrup and has a slightly thicker consistency of the same. It's really easy to apply a bunch of it to your project and while it cures, it bubbles, filling gaps and solidifying and making a holy mess-- so a little goes a long way! It is also supposed to be extremely strong-- hence the menacing Gorilla on the label. I know real gorillas are big and strong but I doubt they could do as good a job on my door than glue can so the metaphor doesn't go far. Thankfully, and despite my lack of tools, I did have clamps on hand and it was easy to clamp everything together while the gorilla juice did it's thing. This longer and slightly irritating method of fashioning the doors, though, created a delay, meaning the coop is not yet finished if for no other reason than the doors being glued together.

As mentioned before, the coop was built using left-overs from the house when it was built 36 years ago. Having now built a coop out of this stuff I can say with a fair bit of surety that our house is heavy as hell-- and it is no wonder to me now that house does not even budge when the winds are fierce. Tongue-in-groove construction, I'm now convinced, is unbelievably strong. But yes, it is heavy as hell, too. I built the coop with it in mind that I'd like to keep it moveable. Not moveable in the sense that the wind could relocate it, but in the sense that my wife and I could move it. I now know this is unlikely. And I'm not entirely sure how it will be moved from our garage even now, with the exception of maybe enlisting the help of more people. It isn't immovable, but it will require a slight change on the idea of what portable means.

Finishing the coop enough to safely house the peeps, though, was very important. Feathers, legs, wings, bodies-- all were growing at an amazing rate and the brooder (a large recycling bin) wasn't cutting it. These peeps were escaping and creating one helluvah mess for me and my family-- not to mention the dust that comes off them from the feathers growing. So though I'm not ready to say the coop is complete, yet, here is a teaser…

Sunday, April 17, 2011

To the Coop!

To the Coop!

They Grow Up so Fast

17 April 2011

The clock strikes midnight at the very moment I begin typing this sentence. It's sad that I can't seem to sleep tonight but of all things to think about, awake in bed, starring up at the ceiling, I'm thinking about my chickens. This weekend was a big step for my chickens-- they finally got to leave the Solarium and went off to the coop-- their home for the foreseeable future. They've done really well so far. The coop is built well-enough that three escape-like-artists haven't managed to find a way out, yet. And for now, at least, they have the warmth of their lamps and the fact that the coop is still in my garage. But what worries me is have I built them a good enough home-- not to just survive, which clearly is important, but to thrive? I suppose time will tell but I'd rather not play the trial-an-error game with my three birds.

They were eager to get out of their brooder (which, coincidentally, is a large blue recycling bin-- how's that for re-purposing!). In their coop they flap around and chase one another when I throw in something other than peep crumbles. The coop is cozy, no doubt about it, but it is leaps and bounds bigger than what they've called home for the past few weeks. My hope is that they will love their coop and consider it as much as a home, comfortable and safe, as I regard mine. Their safety is one of the utmost important things for me. Living in Colorado, I know full-well the dangers that exist for my girls. Coyotes are a sure bet-- they come around fairly often but never stay long (that is, until there is something finally on the menu!), but it's also large birds of prey. I don't think I have to worry too much about the hawks as I do the coyotes, but I wouldn't put anything past Colorado. This State is rugged-- it exudes the very essence of what it means to be the "frontier," where everything fights to survive under some pretty austere conditions. And though it is no longer the Wild West of Clint Eastwood or John Wayne, there is plenty yet to be called "wild" in this part of the West.

So now the peeps are in the coop-- and I mean in it-- thrown behind bars, unable to leave. Having read the forums, I found out that it is advisable to shut in your chickens in their new coop so that they get the clue that this is now home. Know it, love it, live in it. Outside of these walls is not home. You may leave home for many reasons but in the end you must always come back to it (does anyone else find the parallels forming here for us Humans?). Home is where the flock is-- it is safe, it is cozy, and it will have food and a roost. Thankfully, I think my peeps get it. They seem perfectly happy to be in their coop, blissfully unaware that that goofy board thing in the corner that rattles when they walk on it is a portal to a who new realm and dimension-- the run. That got me thinking, though, that because it was sunny and warm today and I had to be outside in the garden anyway, the peeps shall join me.

Something I did not expect was just how familiar the chicks would be with me. When I gathered them up to put them in their old brooder, they peeped loudly in protest over this...peep-handling, but quieted down almost instantly when I got them into their old blue box. When I got out to the garden and took them out of the box, they were visibly upset over the situation and as I stood back to watch what would unfold, it occurred to me that this is the probably the first time they have ever been under the vast Colorado sky, without a box, or a cage or something between them and the eternity of Space. I took a few steps closer to them and they calmed down. So I sat with my peeps until they become bolder and began to explore and I was eventually able to get back to work.

But what a wonder these birds have become. While toiling away at the dirt-acting-like-concrete soil typical of our "highland" country, I was aware all the time where my peeps were. It seems my daughter has made a good protector out of me after all. With Anna, wherever I am, I know what she's doing, what she's near that could hurt her or what she's already managed to pull from the counter-top because she's growing so damn fast. It was much of the same feeling with the peeps. I knew where they were and I knew, by the cries of the bird, that a hawk was just over the way in the trees somewhere and that straying from the peeps or letting them stray from me for long gave the ill-chill, as I call it, when your baby is too far out of your range to be comfortable. The soil won, I was spent and though I got the job done, I needed a rest. I sat down next to the scar I committed upon the earth and watched my birds play. They played chicken football with a blossom for a while but tired of that and decided to have a group dust bath in the waning sun. We were, in the moment, a happy flock-- nothing but sunshine and cattails today-- no hawks, no coyotes, no Dies Irae today.

Avian Unrest

Avian Unrest

The Orpingtons want out

16 April 2011

*queue late-breaking news music*

Protests broke out this Saturday morning in The Solarium among the chicken community due to unrest over what some peeps are calling unlawful imprisonment. The scene this morning was one of mild indignation with fervent peeping, complete with standing atop water bottles and rapid head bobbing and wing flapping. Dust could even be seen rising from the The Solarium from the Living Room, where most of the House's citizens have taken refuge. When asked to comment on the situation, Sybil, known among the group as the defacto head chick, simply chanted "Peep!", her tone rife with frustration. The apparent unrest is due to what some would say is blatant laziness on behalf of the ruling party, The Humans, and was inspired by other great revolutions in recent past such as the Egyptian Revolt in Cairo. There is no evidence currently of any out-side involvement or influence, but there has been rumor around the brooder of possibly bringing in camels, an obelisk and some humus to support the protesters in their cause. The Arab League was asked to comment but they declined to say anything except that they wish the peeps luck.

Lucy, the dog-Minister of Homeland Security, was asked to give her take on the situation. "Ruff! The peeps are pretty angry, and rightfully so. The Human Party, though very busy this week, has been late in delivering what is expected of them. Why, just yesterday I had to wait 30 minutes longer than I normally do before I was let out to pee and poop. And the scratches behind my ears? Where are they? It's gotten pretty lame around here. Some would say that's a minor issue, but it's been happening with more and more lately. Ruff. What amazes me, however, is just how dignified these peeps have been in their struggle for better living conditions. They're British, after all-- a people known to always have a stiff upper lip no matter how hard the times are, making this all the more amazing, considering chickens have no lips." Our fact-checkers backed up the dog-Minister's claims and in fact, chickens do not have lips.

The rest of the community is watching with great anticipation for the outcome of this latest stand-off. Anna, High Chancellor of University of Better Learning Through Getting into Trouble & Playing with Things She Knows She's Not Allowed to Touch (UBLTGTPTSKNAT), encourages the peeps in their endeavors, but warns them of possible outcomes they may not expect. "Of course these peeps deserve better living conditions-- that goes without saying; however, there may be a day soon when they'll be cast out of the House-- and I'm not sure that is what these peeps want, or expect. I've been threatened with this several times and I can tell you, neither Mom nor Dad are kidding." She declined further comment due to a tight schedule involving breakfast, Sesame Street and a nap with The Stuffed Animal Council. The marine fish were also asked for their take, in which they simply replied, "glub glub....glub glub," and then simply swam away.

That is all for now from Colorado.