Things Have Changed

It has been a while, hasn’t it?  A lot of things have happened in the last few months – some good and some bad.  We’re going to focus mostly on the good stuff, but I do have a bit of sad news to share first.

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We’ll miss you, Dr. Orpheus

My dear, sweet rooster, Dr. Orpheus, was killed in the line of duty recently.  Something was attacking my hens and he ran to the rescue and met his end in the jaws of a coyote.  He performed his primary task, protecting the hens, and we will miss him very much.  He was a beautiful bird, sweet and gentle with the ladies.  He would follow them into the coop when they went in to lay eggs and coo at them – a loving labor coach.  He had several devoted ladies among the flock and I know that they miss him, Miss Digby especially.  He was her lobster.

You do not need a rooster in order to successfully keep chickens, but they do have an important function.  It is not acting as an alarm clock as crowing is a territorial call.  Hens do not need exposure to a rooster in order to lay eggs.  As Dr. Orpheus fatally demonstrated, roosters are there to defend the flock.  They are there to put themselves between the hens and danger.  Luckily, because you really only need one or two roosters per ten to twenty hens, roosters are plentiful and usually free if you go through a site like Craigslist.  So that’s what I did:  I cruised listings until I found a likely candidate.  He was part of a group of five roosters, but he was a loner and had never been housed with hens.  I counted on him being at the bottom of the pecking order.  They tend to be nicer to the hens and usually won’t dream of flogging their keeper.

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Looking a little rough there, Tom.

After much deliberation, and to honor one of our favorite musicians that recently passed away, we named him Tom.  He’s molting right now, which is why he looks rather scruffy, but he shows the potential of being a lovely bird.  The girls aren’t too sure of him yet but they have started sleeping near him on the roosts.  He’s two years old and looks to have suffered some frostbite to his comb, but he is healthy.  We’ll see how he works out.  He failed a major test yesterday, though.

I decided to go down and sit near the run in the late afternoon to socialize with him and the ladies.  He was hanging out in the middle of the yard by himself and I was in the middle of a group consisting of Duck Duck, Goose, and Miss Digby.  They were holding very still, which should have tipped me off, but then Duck Duck growled very, very softly.  I looked at her (I know that sound is a warning) then looked off to my right under the trees and there was a large and rather healthy-looking coyote standing very still, looking right at me.  I pointed at her, saying, “I see you!,” and ran over to where she was standing.  She ran down into the trees, but stopped.  I moved around, trying to see her and encourage her to move further away so I could run and get the treat bowl and my husband.  I managed to get everyone safely back in their runs while my husband walked through to trees to make sure the coyote stayed away while I was securing the birds.  To be fair, the rooster wasn’t in a good position to see the coyote, but he also tends to wander off and leave them by themselves.  So, like I said, we’ll see how it goes.

In other news, the vegetable garden is doing… not great.  I have tomatoes on the vine, but have only harvested three ripe ones so far.  The cherry tomato is growing well and I have managed to harvest quite a few of the tasty little nuggets, but not as many as in years previous.  I have had luck with carrots and beets this year, but the lettuce and radishes never really grew, they just bolted as soon as they were big enough to fill out.  The green beans I planted went gangbusters and soon took over the cucumber trellis (I got no cucumbers at all), then became infested with Japanese beetles.  I got some good harvests from them, and have some stored to eat over the winter.  The peppers grew some tiny little fruits, but nothing worth mentioning.

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Slow as hell tomatoes

Out in the country where I live, terrible people often dump “unwanted” animals.  It is one of the cruelest things we humans do to animals, and if I could only get my hands on these people…  Anyway, some excellent news to end things here: We have been adopted by a gorgeous little kitten that someone obviously dumped.  She isn’t feral – she’s a real sweetheart and loves to cuddle.  She was well-fed, her fur soft and not matted, but she had a terrible injury to her right ear.  We think she took refuge on our porch because it is fenced in and relatively safe from larger animals.  We just opened the door one day and there she was.  I’ve named her Sorcha, and anyone familiar with Outlander will recognize the name.  Essentially it is Gaelic for “light” or “brightness”.  She has the most gorgeous golden eyes, so I named her after Claire in the book series.

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Sorcha with the golden eyes.

She’s a happy girl and relatively healthy aside from ear mites and an ear infection.  She loves to play with a twine and chicken feather toy I made, and the catnip mouse my mom got for her (thanks Grandma!).  I’m teaching her to look where I point with treats, and she gets wet food when she lets me treat her ears.  She helps me garden, too.  Well, mostly she ambushes me, swatting at my hands while I’m weeding and she sleeps in my parsley.  Sorcha is a sweet girl, so thank you to whatever low-life dumped her.  You don’t deserve her.

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Sleeping in the parsley.
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“Helping” in the garden.

 

 

 

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Mother Nature’s Wrath

A few weeks ago a storm blew part of a tree down in the yard.  No big deal, you would think, but it landed on my chicken’s run.  18839197_10209908475528901_444556221561405161_n.jpg

We were able to trim all the smaller bits off, but the main part is still attached to the trunk.  The run was usable in the meantime, just still very dangerous.  I would have to duck walk across the length of it to open and close the pop door.  The birds had to live under it.  It was nerve wracking and causing a lot of anxiety all around.18836019_10209908474888885_742831737197446740_n.jpg

As you can see, it was not very safe at all.  We had constant raccoon incursions because there was no good way to secure the run at night.  We finally did manage to kill one and figure out where she was getting in, but there was no way around it: We had to rebuild.

My husband Travis is a carpenter, and a very good one at that.  Here is his beautiful and, most importantly, SECURE run:

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We took down an old barn a few years ago so have piles of this corrugated metal laying all over the place.  We lined the bottoms of the walls to discourage critters from digging their way in.  It is staked down to allow us to mow around it.

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It has a fully covered roof now, too, to help keep rain and snow out.  The litter gets soaked otherwise and becomes a vector for disease.  If anything, we want to prevent trench foot.

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The metal is double-height in the back to help keep predators out.  It wraps around the coop, as secure as we could make it.  We ran our chicken wire around the run, then secured the metal down over it to make it more difficult for predators to rip apart.  It should be hardware cloth all around it, because chicken wire is really only good at keeping chickens out of things, but this works for us for now.  In the spaces between the studs, the chicken wire is secured to the metal with strips of wood, and where the wire overlaps, we have “sewn” it together with metal wire.

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Nothing is getting in here.

The inside of the back has a small, hardware cloth vent to allow for the shape of the coop and for air circulation.  The door is an old screen door that we reinforced with hardware cloth and more metal.  Their food is also protected from becoming a wet lump.

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My birds are happy and safe, and I don’t have to crouch to take care of them.  We’re a happy bunch, thanks to my husband!

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