Monday, February 28, 2011

Winter days and chicken keeping

Spending the $100 on the water heater and watering can (below) was a good investment this winter with all of the freezing temperatures. I wonder if the birds object to drinking warm water.

The hens tipped over the water can sometime in the past 24 hours, so I started the day by cleaning up wet shavings mixed with chicken manure before breakfast, then disinfecting the water container.

The birds sometimes tip over the water to protest  something. Not sure what they're mad about except the continued warm weather that freezes their beloved compost pile at left.
There aren't many bugs to eat this time of year. The hens are still laying quite well thanks to the light installed in the coop. And they're continuing to bully poor Mooey -- see the bare spot on her back, above. Speckle, top right, has also been victimized by the bullying.

My school presentation "Rules and Rulers of the Roost" is taking form. I'm getting lots of photos and creating ways for the students to solve problems and answer questions on barnyard bullying. I'm looking forward to hearing their solutions.

Animals have a lot to teach us about bullying. Establishing a pecking order lets every chicken know her place.

I don't like how they peck on poor Mooey. One explanation could be that they're stressed by being cooped up during the long winter. They choose to stay cooped up on snow days, like yesterday when it snowed four inches. They hate to go outside in snow and rain. Unlike water fowl, chickens lack a way to make oil to make the water roll off their feathers.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Coop renovations by Farmer Ian

When I was growing up, farmers were considered kind of backwards, like the hayseeds wearing overalls on Hee Haw.

My son Ian, 26, the organic farmer, has taught me otherwise. Farmers are problem-solvers and fix-its who care about the earth and animals. We would be very hungry without farmers.

After Ian took care of my small flock of backyard chickens when I was in St. John Virgin Islands for a week, he announced, "We have to make some changes in the chicken coop so you don't have to go inside of the coop every day."

When backyard chicken keepers go in the coop to refill the water and feed, and to gather eggs, we bring in snow and bring out chicken manure on boots.

Chickens like to stay dry, especially when it's cold outside. Humans don't like chicken manure in boots.

Ian and I rearranged everything: the nesting boxes, the electrical outlet, a roosting perch, the locations of the feed and water, and installed a new egg door. All of the renovations are egg-cellent. It took about an hour for three of us. Bob got involved in installing the egg collection door.

Now we have four doors -- one for humans, two for chickens [one is a fire exit :-) ], and one to collect eggs -- thanks to my smart, problem-solving farmer son. I like the convenience and clean boots. The chickens like to be dry.

Note to self: building a chicken coop requires lots of hinges and doors of all sizes.

Monday, February 14, 2011

"All cooped up" and "The pecking order"

Raising chickens has taught me a lot about animals and human behavior, and the etymology of words.
Birds and people get stressed from being all cooped up because of cold weather. Like humans, birds take it out on whomever is most convenient. They target weaker birds and pick on them to relieve the stress and establish a pecking order.

Witness "Negro Dos" (Blackie Two) above. The other five birds have pecked off her tail feathers out of frustration, boredom and instinct.

Did you know that state law requires that chickens can only be sold in groups of six because chickens are social creatures. They need a group of at least three to be happy. The law also prevents one or two birds being sold at Easter as a living toy that may be neglected and abused.

Chickens know how to abuse each other. I'm not sure that it's good. It is natural instinct to establish a social order. Someone has to be in charge. And unfortunately, someone has to be on the bottom. Bullying is an unfortunate fact of the animal kingdom.

We humans have the intellect to be aware of bullying, educate each other and make different decisions. We can learn from "being all cooped up" and "the pecking order." I wish my chickens could.

Monday, February 7, 2011

There are reasons for the chicken to cross the road

Cars, trucks and people stopped for this hen and her chicks in the center of Cruz Bay in St. John US Virgin Islands. She had the sense to cross just in front of the crosswalk.

The reason she's crossing the road is, um, to forage for more bugs, scraps and food on the other side. And for a different view. It's fun to explore.

I ate more factory-processed meat on my one-week vacation in St. John/US Virgin Islands, than I have in months.

These birds remind me of my own backyard chicken flock who RUN out the door when I open it every morning. They LOVE it outside.

Chickens who are raised with one square foot of cage, piled on top of each other, with beaks cut off, have a completely different life than the birds above, who live more naturally.

Of course, when roosters started crowing outside of our hotel room at 4 am, I had a different opinion of free-range chickens. However, when we previously lived next door to roosters, we became inured to the crowing. I just didn't hear it.

I was so cock-a-doodle deaf that one day a friend came over and stopped mid-sentence, "Is that a rooster crowing?!"

I said, "What rooster?" I had heard nothing. Like the chickens in the photo who can navigate in a town with vehicles, we adapt to our surroundings. We prefer the best surroundings possible.