Little things matter. Along the way you discover they weren't so little after all.

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Ferdinand with a treat she found.

Ferdinand with a treat she found.

Our white chicken disappeared.

We closed the coop later in the evening when it was already dark and we assumed they were all inside. (They naturally go into the coop as night approaches.) I opened the coop the next morning and went about my day.

The chickens stick together most of the time but when one needs to lay an egg, she goes back to the coop by herself for a bit then rejoins the “flock” when she’s done.

All of that to say, I didn’t notice that she was gone until many hours had passed.

Our chickens are not our pets. They do not have names. We like them but we do not love them. They are not part of the family.

But…

The white chicken was a cheeky hen who had too much personality to NOT earn a name,

So my husband and I called her Ferdinand (yes I know it’s a male name) after the mischievous duck from the movie Babe. It fit her.

In honor of Ferdinand, I offer this short poem.

Where’d You Go?

Your tail feathers cut a line through the air, stiff and sharp.

Ferdinand, where’d you go?

Rather than peck at your food or mill around with the ladies,

you snuck out through the nesting box,

anxious to begin your day.

Bright eyes, inquisitive with unspoken questions,

you cock your head,

bemused to find we won’t let you in the front door

even though you wait patiently.

You run toward me, skirts swept up, feathery petticoats charging up the hill,

your gaggle close behind

for the promise of

bread scraps, leftover oatmeal, limp lettuce.

Stark contrast of white against jaunty red comb,

You stand out amongst your more camouflaged friends

like a white-blond in a room of brunettes.

I like to think you took yourself on a road trip,

got cabin fever and went to visit some ducks across the pond.

Maybe you’ll show up at our door like no time passed,

tiny suitcase next to you and a grin on your beak.


Three hens being let out of their Eglu.

Three hens being let out of their Eglu. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After most of our chickens were killed by a neighbor dog over the course of six months, we considered giving up the backyard flock. After all, if they couldn’t keep their dog in their yard, wouldn’t we just be inviting trouble to introduce more meals for him?

The problem is: we love having fresh eggs. We know where they’ve come from, what the chickens have eaten and how they’ve been treated. We know they are healthy and not living in close quarters where illness can easily spread, necessitating medications to prevent said illness. And it keeps our kids connected to their food source rather than thinking eggs magically appear in cardboard containers in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.

So my husband secured some new chickens, fully-grown layers that needed a new home.

Thirsty Chickens

Thirsty Chickens

Because we only had one lone hen left, it was easy to introduce new chickens to the coop. Chickens really do have a pecking order, and they establish it by man-handling each other until one is established as the Boss Lady Chicken (not a scientific term). We were getting four chickens from the same coop, so they already had come to an understanding with one another. There was some flapping and feather nipping at first, but it looks like peace has been established and the lone chicken has been sworn into the group.

The one other noteworthy item is that when you are teaching chickens where home is, it is important to keep them in the coop for a little while, somewhere between three to five days, so they can get used to their new surroundings. Then when you let them out, as we plan to and have done when the weather/season cooperates, they won’t stray too far from their food and water. If you are the one to feed them, it can be very fun to be the Pied Piper of chickens, and lead them back to the coop all in a chicken-y row because they think you’re going to give them food, very entertaining.

Check back here for more details about the marauding escapades of our neighbor dog and how this all works out with the chickens.

Chickens


We’ve had bad run of luck here with animals. But before I can tell you about it, I have to tell you about the transformation that’s been happening since we moved to our house two years ago.

We acquired our dog first, nothing unusual about that. Here he is (and yes, despite the scarf and painful cuteness, he is male):

Don't I look sassy?

Don’t I look sassy?

And then this past spring we got chickens.

Two of our chickens prancing around the coop.

Two of our chickens prancing around the coop.

The chickens did well and after a few months we started to get eggs from them each day. We settled into a good pattern.

Then somehow my husband talked me into getting a kitten. It was going to stay in the garage and be an outside cat. We kept her out of the house (except when she snuck in), but I didn’t manage to keep her out of my stupid heart. I don’t even like cats! But she was irresistible. She ended up being fun all the way around for everyone; she had a great personality. The kids loved and hated the way she attacked their feet when they went out into the mudroom for their coats or backpacks. Even when she tripped us on the way out the door, it was because of love.

It was all going so well.

Two weeks ago, our kitty met an untimely demise in our garage. She darted across the garage as my husband slowly entered, and she misjudged her own speed and agility. Her death was quick, for which I was grateful.

When it happened and we realized there was no saving her, it was a study in child development to watch how my kids reacted. After about five minutes, my first grader and preschooler  asked when we could get a new cat. They wanted to pet her and say goodbye, but it was more of a scientific observation. “Here is a dead cat” type of thing. However, my third grade son retreated to his room, where he asked if he could watch a video or read his book. His eyes were watery and he was upset.

I felt the same way. I wanted to pretend it hadn’t happened, and my first reaction was to find something that could distract me from being sad. I’m a happy gal usually, and feeling sadness is…well, a bummer. I noticed again that when dealing with a difficult situation, my gut reaction is to retreat.

When my son felt the sadness of loss, I didn’t want him to have to feel those emotions. I wanted to cheer him up (and myself too). However, rather than ignore or dull the experience, I took a different approach.

When children feel pain, it is important to assure them it isn’t the final thing they will feel.

Feelings can be scary and overwhelming. Parents can help them walk through the intensity.

Here are a couple suggestions:

  1. If you can, try to keep your own emotions somewhat in check. It can be scary for a child to see his parent openly distraught. Sharing some tears is healthy; asking your child to bear your grief is not.
  2. Assure your child that it is okay to feel sad, that it a strong feeling, much the same as anger (which my son and I have talked about in the past).
  3. Kids don’t need to hide from their feelings even though they were kindof overwhelming. The feeling “sad” is not a permanent emotion, and “happy” will return.
  4. I told my son it was good to be sad because he had loved the kitty and when pets we love die, we feel sad and will miss them.

We got through it. We aren’t getting another cat, even though my first grader seems to have one picked out in his mind. In another blog post, I plan to talk about the difference between the way we handle life and death with animals that we have for food production versus pets.

Was this helpful to you? I sure hope so. How do you deal with strong emotions and life lessons with your kids? I’d love to hear about it. But in parting, I’ll leave you with a photo of our kitten (almost cat) climbing up on our windshield:

Fuzzy pic but still cute

Fuzzy pic but still cute


These chickens have a thing for Cher-hair.

New chickens as they scurry away. Man, they’re fast!

Introducing new chickens into a “flock” is something that presents challenges, no matter how small that flock may be (say, like, two chickens).

We read up before we accepted the replacement chickens (they are replacing two chickens which, over the span of a couple months, were injured by a neighbor dog who developed a taste for chicken). We found out that there can be problems bringing in new chicken pals and they can get picked on quite a bit. Here’s how we did it…

First we put a dog kennel inside the chicken coop run. Then we put the Silkies into the kennel so they could be close but not in danger.

Then after a day or two we let them go into the coop after it was dark and the other two chickens were already roosting for the night. In the morning we tried to open the coop earlier than normal so there would be limited amount of “play time” for the two sets of birds. We kept the Silkies in the coop so they’d learn where home was.

At the end of the day we opened the coop and our other chickens returned home. There was a bit of pecking at this point, but nothing too harmful. We repeated this cycle for a few about a week. Then we let all the chickens out and left the door open so they could come back in when they wanted.

So far so good! Everyone is still alive and we haven’t seen any pecking that’s been anything more than posturing. I’ll have to check in here in a couple months and see if things have continued to go smoothly.

I should mention that the Silkies were laying eggs at their former location but they have yet to lay any for us. We think they are stressed out and need a bit more time to adjust. Our other chickens should begin laying within a month or so, so it is possible that we’ll have four eggs a day for a while, until it gets too cold. Should be fun!


My sweetie spent much of his Father’s Day making a plan and getting the necessary materials to build a chicken coop in our backyard. Check back for a progress report very soon! And Happy Father’s Day!

(I should mention that chickens are notoriously tricky to photograph, as you can probably tell.)


It was bound to happen. Between the fox, the bald eagle, the dog and general wildlife, one of the chickens was bound to make an appetizer, if not a main course. And yesterday it happened. Somebody took a bite of my chicken.

A big bite.

Like almost her whole left wing is gone.

When viewed as a scientific experiment, it does seem to prove the survival of the fittest theory. The one that got nibbled was the smallest one, who has developed her grown up feathers the slowest and tends to be the last one to get the memo about taking cover in the hostas.

What to do now? We set her apart in her own convalescent quarters, luxurious by comparison. We bought some super glue so we can try to stop up her injury. But I haven’t had the courage to go out there and check on her yet this morning. If she made it through the night, that might mean she’ll recover. Being left alone without other chickens bugging you has got to help with that, so we’ll leave her separate for a while longer. Past that, I don’t know what else to do.

Anyone who has chicken experience, please feel free to chime in with any helpful advice. This certainly accelerates the coop construction plans! More on that project soon. I’m going to go check on Chicken and see how she fared. Wish me luck!

 

Image


This has been a busy week! Amongst a lot of other things, I potted up the flowers and veggies I got at the Friends School Plant Sale and I brought home four chickens from my sons kindergarten class. Wow. I need to sit down.

As I was putting the plants into various pots, I was struck by one fact: it took me years to realize there are petunias and then there are TRAILING petunias. Not all petunias are automatically trailers, something I didn’t pay attention to and which caused me a lot of confusion. I finally learned this and yet last week I almost forgot it again! You can’t train petunias to trail gracefully down the side of your pot no matter how nicely you ask them. They won’t do it. And in spite of all this, the non-trailing petunias were actually in my cart! I almost spit on the asphalt floor of the temporary garden center when I realized it, I was so disgusted.

Whew!

I’m glad we got through that together.

But because we’re friends I just couldn’t let you make the same mistake I made (for years). I wanted to save you the frustration and angst I went through.

You can thank me later.

The other thing I felt you should know, us being such close friends and all, is that even though we brought home baby chickens, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never had chicks and I’m still waiting for my requested library books to get in. In the meantime, if you, Dear Reader, have any words of advice or warning — wait! Don’t warn me. I already have them in a tupperware tub in my garage. But I’ll take advice, tips and encouragement. How’s that?

Hope you are enjoying your spring and that you are trying out something new that keeps you just a little off kilter. We can’t let ourselves get too comfy, now can we?

Here are the chicks:



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