Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Roo the Day

Well, so yesterday morning was momentous.  Floss walked up to the top of the gangplank behind me while I was setting out the feed. And crowed.

I whirled around and our eyes met. She looked right at me and crowed again. 

He, rather. He looked at me directly while he let out that squeaky, pre-pubescent, yet unmistakable crow. I laughed to myself, wishing there was someone else around at 7 AM to have witnessed this chicken clearing up my burning hen-v-rooster question.

Now all those little things I was noticing--his brighter coloring, his erect stature, his red comb--seem like clear signs of his chickie manhood. Poor little guy had to actually crow at me to set me straight.

This is Gertie--a definite female. The difference is quite obvious to me now.

And luckily my chicken-raising coworker is open to adding another rooster to her flock. Living in a more rural situation, she can have the noisier roosters without upsetting neighbors.

I don't want to separate anyone from my flock, but I also don't want a loud bird in the back that will wake the neighbors. My coworkers wisely instructed me that it won't be a problem as far as the eggs are concerned--apparently those who eat farmer's market eggs often eat fertilized huevos. It's simply a matter of collecting the eggs before the hens go "broody" and decide they want to sit on them to hatch 'em.

Still, I can't be that neighbor who wakes everyone up at the crack of dawn with a cock-a-doodle-doo. Not a great way to make friends on the street.

So Floss, who is now a Floyd, will find a new home. And now I anxiously watch Peepsie and Glennie's combs for signs of super redness. Theirs are bigger than those of the other girls. I'm sure they'll have to crow at me to make me know for sure, so I'm waiting. I've got my fingers crossed for girls!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Ladies, Please

The Girls(?) enjoy some watermelon
We're all led to believe that the age-old question has to do with the order of chickens and eggs. I disagree.

Don't ask, "Which came first?"

Rather, let's ask, "Are you a hen or a rooster?"

Supposedly the folks that sell the chicks are knowledgeable in this area. Good. I want them to be.

But to err is human, and I don't think that Callahan's has robots for chickie-rear-checking employees yet. So it's possible that we could have gotten a rooster among our little flock. And now I'm concerned.

You see, one of our sweet little chickens is developing much faster than the others. While all of our girls will eventually grow a comb (floppy part on top of the chicken's head), it is very noticeable that one chicken is growing hers with...with more gusto than the rest.

Can you SEE that thing? It's huge!

Floss, is your already-prominent pink comb a sign that you are actually a rooster? Please, no!

(A little science lesson: like human females, hens produce eggs regularly that will only result in babies if a male is around to fertilize them. Roosters are not a part of our backyard plan. If Floss is a rooster we'll have to donate her to a farm.)

There are plenty of websites explaining the finer aspects of sexing your chickens. Frankly I'm not interested in careful examination of their little chickie rears, especially since I don't yet have an eye for what I'd be seeing. It just sounds like an uncomfortable--for all parties--waste of time.

They say that how your chicken behaves and how its tail looks can also indicate hen/rooster-ness. Again, this ranchess sees everything with brand-new eyes and is untrained. I see that Glendora is extremely bossy and protective as if she were a rooster, and I have noticed that Peepsie has yet to grow herself a proper tail.

But Glennie has always been pushy, and Peepsie is still quite behind the rest of the girls in development. She still has some of her chickie fluff.
Sweet, semi-unattractive (right now) Peepsie
So all I can do is continue with my routine of feeding and watering them and watching them be silly chickens. I delight in the fact that they now eat scraps of people food (maybe we won't have to buy a garbage disposal after all!)

I do not delight in the fact that Peepsie likes to stand very very close to me and poop. Open-toed shoes in a chicken coop are a poor choice for a ranchess.

While I am taking this photo Peepsie is creeping closer to my toes...ew, stop it!
I also should admit that I can't always tell them apart. As their feathers have come in, I've had to perform little tests to see who was who among the flock. I used to tell Gertie and Floss apart by their looks, and again the same with Ruby and Lemon.

One day I simply couldn't distinguish between them--all of their colors suddenly seemed different. But Floss was always the one who'd peck at my ring, and Lemon without fail will step up into my hands when I hold out feed. It was kind of sweet to be able to offer my hands out and identify them by their signature pecking and stepping.

And now I'm watching Floss with even closer eyes. Her pink comb and new feathers are lovely, but I just have to make sure she doesn't start getting, well, cocky.

Is this the face of a dude? Gosh I hope not.

Friday, July 1, 2011

He's a Buddy

So I never thought I'd be crazy about plastic grocery bags. Never, that is, until we got a dog.

Honestly, I never thought I'd be crazy about a dog.

Here it is, my true and probably not-so-surprising confession: I am not a dog person.

I'll concede that there are dog people and then there are Dog People. Shall we say that...dog people just love dogs, all dogs. But Dog People love their dogs, who are in fact small furry people who speak to them and have a dresser full of outfits and have prescriptions that need filling courtesy of their Doggie Therapist.

As a new convert to the world of wet-nosed appreciation, I do not mock any of these people--non-dog people, dog people, or Dog People. (Well. Okay, maybe I'll snicker about the Doggie Therapists. I'm trying to be open-minded, I swear.) Having recently had drastic changes in my feelings toward these creatures, I should grant that everyone's feelings toward dogs must be in some way well-founded.

Slobber. Still gross.
And here were and are mine. I used to not like how dogs smell, how their wet noses leave those gross marks on your clothes, the feel of their slobber, the itchiness of their fur all over the furniture, and their propensity to chew/pee/poop on your property.

And I still don't like those things. Yet...when I come home and Buddy almost pees himself for all the excitement he feels at the site of me, I am...happy.

When I run with him in the mornings and he occasionally (and yeah, kind of stupidly) looks up to confirm that it is still Shannon who is running next to him, I am content.

When he does that joyful leap into the futon at night to go to sleep out in the other building, I am thrilled to know that I am integral to his favorite daytime routine.

What happened? He licks my face sometimes and I actually have to remind myself that that is also his butt-licking tongue. How did dog ownership so quickly get me to a place where I must cue myself on getting grossed out?

How did I suddenly become obsessive about having enough plastic bags to comfortably and regularly pick up my own dog's fresh piles of poo every morning? And I am...satisfied every time he promptly makes this pile at the stop sign on our street. Happy to have the bags, happy that his little body is working as expected, happy to be cleaning up that stink.

This is not the Shannon I used to know.

It's got to be the tongue. That stupid tongue, always hanging out of a mouth that seems to be smiling. The tongue that laps up water in his baby pool while he lounges in it, the tongue that drops the squeaky ball in the water before returning it to me during fetch--as if he is washing it off for me before I throw it for him again.

Or maybe the eyes. The rolled eyes that show the whites and turn him into our "Demon Dog" in the evenings as he squirms on the bedtime futon. The eyes that stare up under his furrowed brow in that freakishly human look of sweet expectation.

Hello, Demon Dog
I just don't know. Am baffled at this change of heart. I put on my "dog clothes" when I come home from work and am fine with getting hot and muddy as we cavort around the backyard. My favorite time of day is also when we sit down before he goes to bed. I pet him while he converts from Demon Dog to Sweet Sleeping Puppy. I giggle as he suddenly remembers that he's thirsty, just puts 2 feet on the ground, and streeeeetches to drink his water without fully descending from the couch.

He follows both Brendon and me everywhere. He doesn't try to run off or chase things. He just wants to be where we are, whether we're taking the trash to the street or building a chicken coop in the backyard or discovering the volunteer sunflowers around the property.

Like a little shadow, he's just a buddy.

So blame Buddy for this sappy confession of conversion. WoMan's Best Friend has brought me to the other side, and I feel it's appropriate to explain the change.

The Great Chicken Migration of '11

Gosh, they grow up so fast! One minute they're stinkin' up your house in a dusty flurry of cute fluffballness, the next they're establishing they're own fully-feathered flock outdoors.

And tantillizing your new dog with their smell.

Buddy stared up at their roost and wagged his tail. He drooled. I tried to explain to him that this was not the doggie equivalent of the Taco Cart, but I don't know if the pertinent facts were conveyed. Pretty sure that to him, it is just a boxy wooden structure that serves bite-sized chicken nuggets.

But as Brendon and I keep saying, it's Go Time. Sink or swim. Time to really let Darwin take the reins. Maybe Buddy will turn out to be a wonderful guard dog. Or maybe I'll come home one day to see him sitting outside with feathers in his mouth like Sylvester the cat. (Or did he never actually get Tweetie? I don't recall.)
Yes, those little dots are the tiny chickens in their huge coop.
Anyway, the chickens were definitely restless last Thursday as I dragged their bins to out to the patio. Brendon's mom was in town, and in order to give her a proper guest room it was kind of necessary to move the chickies outside. It was good timing, though; they're definitely big enough to survive the 70 degree temperatures of our nights now.

As I predicted, when Nancy saw the guest room--filled with chickens and chicken paraphanalia--she was quite motivating in helping Brendon to finish the area where the chickens could sleep comfortably outside. And they were putting the finishing touches on this when I arrived home from work Thursday evening.

So I began The Great Move. Nancy filled the box with pine shavings and the 3 of us transferred each chicken up into her new habitat.
Sweet little runt
Even Peepise. Ah, Peepsie, my little favorite. The total and unquestionable runt of the flock now, Peepsie was suffering on and off since the days of the Splayed Legs. After recovering from her permanent splits, she suddenly became weak again and pretty much sat on her little butt for 5 days. We were doubtful that she'd make it, but every morning and afternoon I'd find her alive, chirping and still clearly breathing.

She even pecked for food and would drink thirstily when I pushed her close to water (I know, I promised I wouldn't do this...but I kept thinking that if she got strong enough with proper nourishment, she might be able to pull through).

And then she did. As I transferred the chicks from bins to coop, I saw that she was again on both little legs, hobbling around to try to keep up with her little coopmates. Brendon was shocked, having not seen her make a recovery before.
Lemon, Gertie, and sweet Peepsie
Lord help me but I'm attached to that little chick. Just like I am to Lemon, her splayed-leg partner. Lemon regularly eats out of my hand now, and she likes to perch in it too. Just steps right onto my open palm like she belongs there. Probably because I man-handled her to change her leg band-aids so many times. Poor little thing. Now she's like a miniature mother hen, guarding Peepsie like it's her job.

Yarrr, Floss and Gertie walk the plank!
I just adore watching them run down the gangplank in the mornings as I fill their feeders with food. Brendon and Nancy did such a bang-up job of finishing of the coop that he and I started last time he was home!
Chicken coop beginnings: mixing concrete

Thank goodness Brendon notices details like...things being level

It's a coop!
Now we can step within the confines of the chicken wire and just watch them be silly chickens.

Clockwise from the yellow one: Gennie, Gertie, Flossie, and Ruby
Floss is the most adept at avoiding capture, with Fat Gertie about as elusive as she. Glendora continues to be the leader of them all, often the first to charge across the coop and fly to a new perch. I call these 3 The B*tches, pardon the crassness. They charge and bump their way around their space with little regard for the 3 smaller girls, and I love it. They are our Ameraucanas; we can expect the green/blue/pink eggs from these ladies.
Lovely little Ruby Lee, our resident redhead chickie
And then there are the Sweet Ones: Ruby, Lemon, and Peepsie. I think they're some kind of Wyandotte. Smaller and considerably more docile than The B's, they seem to watch out for one another and are less anti-human. Both Ruby and Lemon are often content to eat out of our hands, though Peepsie is still a bit mistrusting. I admit that, after all her special nursing, this kind of pisses me off, but still I'm happy to see her so healthy now. She even has a few little feathers sticking out of her tiny butt--the beginnings of a real tail! One day she'll catch up with the others.

She doesn't eat out of my hand, but she adores pecking my toes.  Not exactly brilliant, that little bird.
And really, that's quite enough. I've got to quit pining over these silly birds and address the bigger issues: how can I go on eating chicken when I have them as pets? Because let's be honest, they're clearly not livestock at this point. We almost shed a tear last night when they went back into their roost of their own accord at dusk. Instead of our circus-like routine of catching chickens to shut back into their box, they abruptly ran up the gangplank once we moved their food and water inside.

Speechless, we shut the box and enjoyed their sudden silence as they bedded down.

Holy cow. We're Pet Parents. I have real feelings for chickens now. What does this do to our relationship with the fried and breaded variety?