Monday, April 27, 2009

Fright night

I had a huge fright yesterday evening. It's right around roosting time, the dogs are outside digesting their supper, I'm puttering in the house when suddenly I hear alarm squawking from the barn. That could mean "there's a hawk stealing the children" or it could mean "I layed an egg and that other hen looked at it cross-eyed". You just can't tell without going to look.

The hen pen is L shaped, with a 10x10 box stall being one side, and a narrower roosting section the other, divided with a chicken-sized passage. The lower walls are picket fence, the upper just chicken wire. I enter the stall side and find a red hen in a nesting box, and Egglebert with two hens pecking around. Nothing seems amiss. I speak to them for a moment, asking if there's something I can help with, reminding them that it's time to settle in. All seems well, so I step out of the stall.

At that point I almost leave the barn, but I think to myself "it's odd that Egglebert isn't roosting, he's usually the leader." So I look into the roosting side. At first glance all seems fine there. Some hens are roosting up high. The painted PVC roosting bars are empty, but then I see her.

There's a Cuckoo Marans hen in a strange position under the bars. She's hanging with her neck fully extended, her lizard toes stretching towards the floor, and she looks dead. I scream. I realize I must get her down from whatever she's caught in, but I don't want to touch her. Just dead hens are stiff and warm and feel heavy. Just outside the pen door is a blue plastic snow shovel I use to move used litter around, so I grab it and scoop it under her to lift her up, relieving the tension at her scrawny neck. And her eyes flutter. Oh, heck!

On closer inspection it gets worse. She is caught because she put her beak around a thick, hooked wire and somehow got it impaled through her throat. I see the end sticking out through her black and white feathers. Quickly I balance the shovel so she won't fall, grab her neck with one hand and the wire with another, and twist. Out comes the wire.

The hen takes a brief pause. Then she hops off the shovel and takes a few steps, shakes her head. I can almost hear her wondering "am I alive?"

The hen skitters off to find her compadres. I stand by to observe. She's panting, and holding her wings a bit away from her sides. Must be in shock. There's one drop of deep red blood on her feathers. She shakes her head a few more times. Then Egglebert goes in to roost and she joins the procession, hopping up on the top bar, right next to the boss.

Postscript: Here's a tiny url to Harvey's comment: http://tiny.cc/NewYorkerCartoon I'm undecided if I think it's so very funny or not...!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Chick Chick Chick DUCK!


Who can resist a fuzzy chick? For that matter, who can resist a fuzzy duck?! Certainly not me! Friday was Chick Day at Busy Solitude Farm. The egg supply diminished year by year and the time had come to restock with young girls who will provide for all of our customers. Besides, who can resist a fuzzy chick?!

The box held four Buff Orpington hens (Mama Hen was a Buff Orp, they're the sweetest birds), four Isa Browns (a new breed to me), and two Pekin ducks (the classic white duck). The chickens are sexed and should be all girls. But the ducks are "straight run" so fingers crossed there's at least one girl for eggs. Time will tell.

I noticed when I first let them into the kennel that one little girl (they're called "pullets" by chicken people) was pasted up. That's a condition that happens when the poop gets stuck in the feathers instead of falling away from the chick. It can resolve itself, but it can also become serious if it blocks other poop and things get backed up. So I planned to get a warm washcloth and come back to the barn to wash her off.

However, I got distracted and did not get back to the barn for a few hours.

When I got there I watched the chickens one by one, waiting for one to turn around and show me a pasty butt. But one by one they walked around and I saw clean feathers. Well, thought I, maybe she got cleaned up. But then I counted the chicks. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7... Where was number 8??? Take another look at the photo above. I realized the chicks are still small enough to get between the bars of the kennel. I started slowly walking around the kennel (which is up on a piece of furniture in the barn), pulling things away on the floor, looking for a chick. And there she was, absolutely still. Oh no!

I scooped her up from the chilly ground and surrounded her with my hands, brought her up to my cheek and was rewarded with a little peck of my nose. Working quickly, I washed up her butt and popped her back in under the heat lamp. This is not a great photo because the flash didn't work, but she's standing in the middle and you can see the wet feathers of her butt.


Now they're all settling in. The ducks are voracious consumers, eating, drinking, eating, drinking. They stomp around, a little unsteady still on their flat feet, and they tower above the chicks. The peeps are still cotton-balls-on-sticks, no sign of tailfeathers, just the very first pin feathers on the wings. They peep peep peep around, and then suddenly keel over on their beaks, sound asleep with wings spread out to the sides. There's no better entertainment than a pen of chicks and ducklings!

In fact, the adult chickens are trying to catch a glimpse of what's going on just outside their hen pen:

It will be a while before they can meet face to face. Hope they all become accustomed to their different sounds before then.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Monday, April 13, 2009

Slow, slow spring


It's one of those periods. We all have them. Seems every time I get a spare moment, the weather goes bad and I have to stay inside. Look at these gorgeous daffodils -- why are they staring at the ground? Because the frost was so heavy it pulled them all over. By the time the day warmed I was at work.

Today was another example. My first absolutely full day off -- no work obligations at all -- and it's been barely 40 degrees and pissing with rain. I had plenty of inside things to do, but I want to be outside building raised beds and pulling mulch and making space for new chicks! My next days off, Saturday and Sunday, have gray clouds on the 7 day outlook.

Luckily, one of the things I found to do instead is make caramel corn! Delicious! Can't make a full recipe because I could easily eat it all, but it cuts down easily and with a good show on tv, you can't beat it! I like to close on a cheery note!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Shameless Self-Promotion

I was recently interviewed by Gail Isaacson for her radio show, Harbor Country Inspired on WRHC / Radio Harbor Country. She focuses on interesting, creative people in our community and she wanted to talk about this here blog! (That's Gail and her husband, Dave, who also acts as her engineer and is a station big-wig.)

And, luckily for you the reader, not only is Radio Harbor Country broadcast here in the area at 106.7 FM, but they stream the broadcast so you can listen on the internet. The info is at the end of this post.

Gail and I have surprisingly similar backgrounds. We seem to have lived parallel lives, both college theatre majors, both working in the Off-Loop Theatre world in Chicago in the 1980s, both moving into more corporate activities, both relocating here to Harbor Country. As she says, how many people do you know in your everyday life who have heard of Ionesco and seen Rhinoceros?

In any event, we had a lovely chat, I read a few of my posts, and she acted the shill in directing people here to read more. I hope you can catch the broadcast.

This weekend you can hear me interviewed on
WRHC / Radio Harbor Country / 106.7 FM-LP, or catch the stream from their website. The schedule is Saturday and Sunday, April 4 and 5, 10:00 am EST or Monday, April 6, 10:30 am EST.