12.18.2010 A Little Chicken Panic

Thankfully this week has passed us by without a major tragedy, but it wouldn’t be farm life if I didn’t get to suffer a few moments of panic. On Tuesday, I was stocking up on animal feed ahead of the series of winter storms that was supposed to roll in beginning Wednesday night. I sort of make it a policy never to remember anything I can look up, so every time I go buy feed, I thumb through the calendar on my cell phone and figure out how old my chickens are. Chicken feed is sold in three basic formulations: starter, grower/finisher, and layer for 0-8 weeks, 8-20 weeks, 20+ weeks, respectively. The panic arrived when I realized my chickens were 18 weeks old. Oh my gosh! In two weeks, I might actually get eggs. Now, you might think, “That’s great! You’ve brought them all this way even though you’ve done just about everything you could to kill them. Why are you panicking now?”

The answer to that is my chickens are still out on pasture, locked up against predators in their chicken tractors. There are no nest boxes in the chicken tractors. Which means if my hens start laying they’ve no where to lay except on the ground, in the poop. And chickens don’t exactly look where they’re going and they’ll eat just about anything they find in their pen. None of which bodes well for harvesting eggs intact and relatively clean. So, we’ve put it a long weekend of hammering, sawing, digging and fencing. The coop is nearly done. Just the roosts left to make and hang. I’ll be moving my now 19 week old chickens in sometime in the next few days. The bonus to having them in the coop is that I can give them some additional lighting during the day which may improve my chances of getting my girls to lay during the short days of winter.

I’ve also spent some time this week just looking at my chickens. Essentially trying to figure out which roosters will make the journey to the big house and which lucky little devil gets to stay with the girls and move into the coop. I actually haven’t made that decision yet. Do I keep the Black Giant, using his hulky genes to bulk up the offspring? He’s a big brute, and is already feeling a bit randy. Do I keep the Wyandotte? I have three Wyandotte hens which means some pure bred chicks (assuming the hens go broody) The Wyandottes are bigger than the two Buff Orpington hens and would be worth more if I’m selling by the pound. I have male and female Rhode Island Reds; they have a good all around reputation. None of my chickens seem particularly bothered by the cold and at least for now, none of the roosters has shown any aggression toward me, though they are just now sprouting their spurs. Finally, considering all they’ve been through, all of them are survivors. Decisions. Decisions.

Did you know chickens have pointed ears? They are most prominent on my Rhode Island Red rooster which has earned him the name of Spock and incidentally, Spock is on the Big House short list.

Fortunately, I don’t have this trouble with the turkeys. Even though the Burbon Reds are supposedly the best eating bird, they are going down. Of the three breeds I have, they are, and always have been, the most aggressive. They are getting quite large and when I tie on extra tarps, they peck at my knuckles and leave me bruised and sore. I ordered the processing equipment this past week. Looking like Burbon Red for Christmas dinner and we’ll finally get to see if they are worth the trouble. Bye, bye, Burbons. Archie will be pleased.

By the way, there were days this week when the chicken tractors were frozen solidly to the ground and there was simply no moving them. The poo piles up and it gets pretty stinky in there after a day, so I had this brilliant idea to drop a little hay into the pens so the birds wouldn’t have to walk in their own poo and they could forage for the seeds in the hay, and spread the seeds around the pasture while they were at it. Well, now I know why Chicken Little was blamed for telling everyone the sky was falling. Toss anything new to a chicken and she’ll tell you the exact same thing. Pretty funny stuff, but you sort of had to be there.

To change subjects entirely, my daughter decided to have a party tonight. Since the house is so small, and her gathering promising to be in the 15-20 person range, she opted to have the party in the barn. So this afternoon we decked the stalls with cedar bows, strung some lights and set out a couple of decorations that we used in the yard at our old house. Looked quite festive when we were done. Ophelia, however, did not approve. Cedar trees are for keeping the rain off. They are not for stinking up one’s stall. She’s a regular Scrooge. As for Venus, you could almost hear her humming Christmas tunes.

Bah Humbug! You are a bunch of indolent asses and I demand to see my pasture, immediately.

The barn turned out to be too cold for a party venue, so they moved the festivities outside and lit up the bonfire I’ve been building for the last three months. So much work to put it together and it went up like kindling. But standing fifteen feet away, you definitely do not notice the cold. It’s been a good day!

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