Archive for The Hen House Gazette

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FollowTheLeaderThank you so much for following this blog about animals and animal communication! I wanted to let you know, however, that I have moved the entire blog to my main website and that is where new posts appear. I hope you will hop on over there to catch up and sign up to follow me at that location. And if you have a blog too, please put that in the comments there so I can check it out. Thanks so much! LetaSignature


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Want to Have a Baby? Just Adopt.

We’ve all known at least one couple who has tried forever to have a child then finally given up and adopted — only to find themselves pregnant shortly thereafter!

I don’t know what this odd sequence of events might be called, and my theory is not based on scientific evidence, but I’m pretty sure this amazing phenomenon applies to chickens too.

Two of the Foreign Adoptees

I have a hen, Blondie, who has been “setting” on the nest for six weeks trying to have a baby.  The normal setting time is 21 days, or 3 weeks, and hens go into a zen-like meditation experience during this time, only getting up occasionally to take a hasty bite and drink in order to survive. I think it’s kind of like hibernation for a bear.

After 6 of Blondie’s 7 eggs suddenly disappeared in the third week  (a snake, we’re sure), she was not deterred. She simply moved her egglet to another spot, added another egg (of her own or someone else’s, I do not know), and went back to setting.

The weather was very hot. I feared for her welfare. But she told me point blank that she was not going to give up. I didn’t even know if her two eggs were fertile, but even if they were I knew they were not due to hatch any time soon.

So after a friend found small batches of baby chicks online for a somewhat reasonable price (some places wanted $95 to ship 5 chicks, the chicks costing about 3 bucks a piece!!!), she and I placed an order for 4 chicks each. Wyandottes, which would be dark fuzzy little things. I knew Blondie wouldn’t care what color they were. After all, adopting children from foreign countries seems to be all the rage these days.

I kept my fingers crossed that Blondie wouldn’t give up after all, which would mean I’d have to raise the chicks myself.

She was true to her word and was still setting when the chicks arrived through the postal service, just 1 or 2 days old, alive and well. It was six weeks to the day since Blondie had taken on this project.

In accordance with standard procedure for such things, I waited until after dark, snuck into the hen house, and carefully shoved the 4 little fledglings in under Blondie’s plump body. She pecked at me once, but then seemed to realize a miracle was occurring, so rose up and tucked the youngsters in amongst her feathers.

All went according to plan and the next morning there were four dark, foreign babies hopping all around Blondie, using her body as a jungle gym and pecking at baby food. I checked them twice more during the day and all was well. The other hens were bubbling about, obviously excited about the new arrivals, and Mr. Smarty Pants, our rooster, was keeping a safe distance but clearly guarding the nursery.

Late in the day, at the evening horse feeding, I went in one last time to make sure everyone was all right. I only saw two chicks so was slightly alarmed. I wanted to make sure nothing had gotten the others so I gently prodded Blondie to stand up so I could make sure the rest of the brood were underneath.

You guessed it. Not only were the two missing chicks there, but one other as well — a tiny, few-hours-old, fuzzy yellow sibling, just hatched! I just started laughing!

The New Arrival

I guess Blondie knew what she was about after all, and the arrival of the adoptees just spurred along the natural processes.

Now we’ll see what happens with that last egg. Blondie is taking good care of her brood, but she is still setting ……….

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Can Love Boost Egg Production in Chickens?

girl holding chickenCan love boost egg production? I definitely think so. Those of us who have chickens definitely benefit from loving our brood. Not only from minimized chasing and pecking when we enter their pens, but also from (I think) increased egg production.

That said, I must admit I am going all out to sustain my brood’s egg laying during the coming winter months.

Apparently, scientifically speaking, chickens need at least 12 to 14 hours of light each day to lay eggs regularly. So, as all you chicken people know, your hens “lay off” during the winter months when daylight hours are short and don’t produce many eggs at all. Hardly any, to tell the truth.

What is one to do to encourage regular egg-laying during those short, dark days of winter?

Much is to be found in answer to this question online. Indeed. And here are a few of the answers:

1. Provide your hens with 14 – 15 hours of light each day.

2. Provide your hens with warmth.

3. Put a little cayenne pepper in your hens’ water to pep up their internal thermostat.

… from here on out are my own suggestions. BUT, they are based on my own chicken research over the past decade or so.

4. Give your chickens fresh greens every day (yes, even if you have to buy them in the winter — or give them some of your horses’ alfalfa).

5. Go in your chickens’ pen every day at least 2 or 3 times and talk to them. Play like you are bringing new delectables, even if what you have isn’t that special.

6. Provide interesting water. Fresh and running, if possible. A fountain would be nice. Mine have a “pool” that I refresh twice a day in summer.

7. Talk to them. When one egg per day was being pecked apart and eaten a couple of months ago, I zeroed in on the errant hen and had a serious discussion with her about cannabilism. Since our talk not one egg has been ravaged.

So here we are. It is now suddenly winter. And here’s what I’ve done for my chickens, not only because I love them, but because I really, really want to have their eggs throughout the winter.

1. I built them a huge hen house, complete with electrical outlets for various accoutrements.

2. I roofed a small yard area just outside their door so that, even when we have snow, they will be protected and can go “outside.”

3. I fenced in and covered with bird mesh another yard, outside their “inside” yard, so that they can really, really go outdoors (the mesh is to protect them from predatory birds). That is where their summer pool is.

4. I have gates and doors between all areas to insure their security, and I lock them in very carefully every night.

5. They have a lovely camping ground spot (an old shed) for passing time during moderate seasons — I call it a hovel, but they seem to love it and demonstrate that by occasionally laying eggs in it and by sleeping on it’s low roof during warm evenings.

What else? Oh!

6. Yesterday I spent the entire afternoon hooking up bright lights on a timer in their house so they’ll have the prerequisite 15-16 daylight hours in which to do their duty (eggs!). I also hooked up two heat lamps over their swank, homemade nighttime roost (which, so far, they have snubbed their little beaks at in favor of the roof of the aforementioned,  hovel for sleeping on). And, last but not least, they now have a heated water bowl. Ta dum!

I trust all this will pay off. All I want is a few eggs a week out of the deal. That’s not an unfair trade for the hundreds of dollars and dozens of hours spent on my chickens’ behalf.

But you know what? I think my love for these guys matters the most. They know me. They get real excited when I come to their pen. They cluck and posture and beg and flap for whatever tidbits I might be bringing them. We have conversations. They love the attention.

Never mind that my rooster, Mr. Smarty Pants, immediately dive bombs my feet if I walk in wearing a pair of shoes or boots he doesn’t recognize. On the whole, I just know it’s all about love with these chickens. And I will report back on egg production mid-winter.

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Bessie Has a Guardian Angel (or an orb … or a ghost!)

Bessie & Her Guardian Angel Orb, 6/15/09

Bessie & Her Guardian Angel Orb, 6/15/09

I know I’m blogging a lot about Bessie right now, but when I took her picture a couple of days ago while she was out and about with the horses, I noticed something I’ve noticed before in her pictures: a lovely white orb hovering over her head.

The first time I saw this orb was when I took a Madonna and Child shot of her with her new babies on April 2d of this year. It did not surprise me at all to see an orb keeping her company. Bessie has led a truly charmed life and survived many calamities — it sure seems like someone extra special is looking out for her! Why not an orb?

Guardian "Orb" Sitting on Bessie's Tail! 4/2/09

Guardian "Orb" Sitting on Bessie's Tail! 4/2/09

Here’s what I know about orbs, and to further check out this phenomenon you might visit a site like this one:

I first learned about orbs back in 2003 when visiting a friend who was obsessed with ghosts. Digital photography was still coming into the mainstream at the time, and it had been discovered (by whom I have no idea) that certain forms of plasma that heretofore were uncapturable on the run-of-the-mill 35 mm camera most people owned became visible in digital format. I think this may have been kind of an accidental discovery, not sure, but no matter what it was poo-poo’d (and still is) as being dust particles and all sorts of other what-have-you’s.

My friend had a brand new digital camera, so we decided to go out to an old cemetery one night and see what we could see. It was mid-January, frigid, and windy — perfect conditions for ghosting, right? It was scary as hell!

Well. My friend had read that it was best to kind of protect oneself with prayers before approaching unearthly beings, and then to kindly ask permission from them to photograph them and try to prevail upon them to “show” themselves in the photo. So, in spite of flapping coats, hair whipping around all over the place, and our toes freezing off, we took the time to do all that and then started taking pictures.

Another small detail that is important to know: if you get ghosts in your pictures, they deplete your camera battery much more quickly than normal — like about ten times — so if you go out ghosting be sure and take extra batteries. We did. And our camera batteries went dead after only 5 or 6 shots.

But woo-hoo! We couldn’t believe what we got. In one picture there were probably 20 orbs just standing there, or rather hovering there, over their headstones, just staring at us . . . in an orb sort of way. We got orbs of all sizes and varieties, in every picture.

A few years later I took some shots of two children up in the hay loft of the old barn on my ranch. It was an old, old ranch, a place full of spirits if ever I knew one. I took several shots, all the same, and out of the blue one of them had a bunch of orbs in it! I had forgotten about orbs so was pretty wowed. The kids had not moved to stir up dust, and my camera was clean. And the little girl was so scared by the time I finished shooting that I had to climb up the ladder and carry her down. Count on a kid to dispel your doubts!

Lots of Ghosts Who Came to be Photographed

Lots of Ghosts Who Came to be Photographed

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Bessie Flew the Coop!!!

Bessie, Keeping Her Preferred Company

Bessie, Keeping Her Preferred Company, the Horses

As she raced by me and squeezed out the gate like greased lightning, I distinctly heard Bessie say: “I’m done! I’m outta here!”

This was yesterday morning. I was entering the chicken coop. And she was exiting it — and not to be deterred!

It took me a few minutes to realize what had just happened and to register what she had just told me and what it meant. Then I just had to chuckle to myself because Bessie has always had such a knack for self-realization and manifesting her dreams. And she had just done it again.

You may recall from earlier blogs that Bessie is 9 years old, an age few of her feathered friends reach. She has survived foxes and coons in Texas, coyotes and hawks in New Mexico, and several broods of wild crazy babies — the latest being made up of 10 chicks I brought her on April 1st of this year (April Fool’s, Bessie!). Being the gracious maternal spirit she is, she welcomed them warmly and gathered them up under her fluffy self. She even quit moulting in order to deal with her new family.

But “Enough is enough!” she told me yesterday. (These babies are almost her size now, and quite demanding!)

In retrospect, I have noticed in just the past week or so that Bessie has been feeling very fussy with her family, very irritable. If one happens to be standing in a particular spot Bessie doesn’t approve of for instance, she just gives it hell and instantly banishes it to the outer yard. And Lord have mercy should one take a bite of bread she has her eye on! She’s just been in a really bad mood.

I guess Bessie needed a break, just like every mom does sometimes.

As soon as she was out the gate, Bessie heaved a chicken sigh of relief and pleasure and started clucking and eating bugs that one simply cannot find in an enclosed chicken yard. As soon as she had feasted on those a bit, however, she ran over to the barn to dive into her favorite-of-all-time snack: horse manure! She was in Seventh Heaven, chirping and rooting around under Copper’s feet while he ate, happily picking out invisible-to-the-naked-eye fly larvae from his recent poop.

“Ah, this is the life,” she muttered pleasurably.

In Texas my chickens were always at liberty (“free range” in nouvelle cuisine lingo) during the day, safe in their hen house at night. But in New Mexico that doesn’t work so well. There’s just something different about the predators here, even though they are fewer in number and type than we had back at the Texas ranch. Go figure.

So, after losing Bessie’s 3 remaining buddies last fall, all in one fell swoop, I decided it was time for my beloved Bessie to move “indoors.” We had been through way too much together for the past 9 years for her to become one more piece of coyote bait.

Bessie spent the winter all alone, under a heat lamp in a small abode with a small yard attached. True to form, she seemed quite contented until lo and behold one day she had a new, huge hen house and yard plus 10 new chicks to mother, and that was the icing on her cake. She was ecstatic!

Yesterday I allowed Bessie 24 hours of freedom, which she spent in and around the barn and hay room, her favorite place of all, before throwing a big white sheet over her this morning in order to return her to the safety of the hen house.

She resisted just a little, but kind of breathed a big sigh as I set her down amongst her brood. I think she was secretly relieved to be back with the family, and she seemed to be in a much better mood.

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The True Meaning of the Word “Cocky”

Mr. Pants, Inventor of the Word "Cocky"

Mr. Pants, Inventor of the Word "Cocky"

At the risk of inviting thousands of blog hits by folks searching for pornography (I should be so lucky – with the hits, I mean, not the porno freaks), I just today really grokked to the true essence of the word “cocky” and from whence it most assuredly must have come.

Mr. Pants, this very morning, began learning to crow. It sounded like someone trying to learn to play the washboard – sorta. It was really beyond description. And believe me, any being brave enough to emit that kind of sound out loud has definitely got to have balls enough to be called cocky! And of course, as you all know if you’ve delved back into the bowels of this blog, Mr. Pants is just that — a young cock.

Born April 1st, he is just coming on 2-1/2 months of age and, true to his history is continuing to perform quite precociously in all respects. You may recall that he’s the one who, within days of his birth, learned to simply “leave the building” through the wire mesh fence and go on long forays outside the safe chicken yard. We knew then he was a rooster, and a smart one at that, thus he was dubbed “Mr. Smarty Pants” by my friend April — “Mr. Pants” for short.

A couple of weeks later, when his siblings who had followed a more normal developmental rate began catching up with him, he showed several of them how to leave the premises as well. Alas, he lost one of his followers to a quick coyote one early morning, and a 2′ chicken wire barrier was quickly erected around the entire pen to prevent further escapades.

All of this is by way of saying that Mr. Pants = cocky, hence my new definition:

. . .the primary trait of a being who is so totally sure of themselves they will perform in an exhibitionist manner and will unabashedly pursue whatever their cocky little heart desires, destroying all in their path . . .

The Webster’s definition of cocky as someone who is boldly or brashly self-confidant/jaunty doesn’t begin to capture the true meaning of the word and is indeed quite frivolous and trivial in my opinion.

And I would venture a guess that whoever came up with that definition had never raised a rooster. And they had certainly never met Mr. Pants!

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Bombs Away! (Dive-Bombers, That Is.)

Dive Bomber!

Dive Bomber!

This weekend I accomplished a major feat for my feathered friends, the hens. Well . . . for the hens and Mr. Pants, the coming-of-age, very precocious rooster who was supposed to be a hen.

In this part of the world — the high desert — where there aren’t a lot of big trees, but lots of open spaces, losing small animals to predatory birds is very common. Unfortunately cats number among that lot. But we’re not talking about cats here. For now, I’m talking about chickens.

Last year, about this time, when I was still allowing my small brood of hens to run free, I literally had to wrestle one of them away from a hawk who had her pinned to the ground and was trying to figure out what to do with her. I think the hen was a little heavier than the hawk had anticipated, so lift-off was somewhat difficult, fortunately for me and the hen. I did win the fight, and that hen survived (only to be snapped up months later by a more successful predator whose identity is still an unknown, but I digress).

Now that my new flock is securely enclosed in a rather plush henhouse with two yards and plenty of space, all inside a fence that is totally coyote proof, its only exposure to mayhem is from the sky. I had not thought this would be much of a problem, as the inner yard is covered with wire mesh and shade cloth, and the outer yard is about half taken up with a huge cedar tree whose limbs stretch out all over the place, including snaking around on the ground, which the chickens love.

But oh no. I should be so lucky. Just a mere few days into the introduction of the new accommodations, I looked out my window to see a huge black raven waft gently down out of the sky and land in the cedar tree. He sat there eyeing my then still-small chicks as Bessie quickly herded them all inside under cover. So . . . so much for that theory. (And yes, ravens will eat chicks — don’t know about full-grown chickens yet.)

Cutler’s Poultry Supplies to the rescue. I ordered large amounts of “poultry netting” from them and this weekend strung it up in all directions around the cedar tree, wherever there was exposure from above. Mr. Pants’ hen twin went with me the entire time, stepping along and watching my every move.

Like her brother, this henlet shows signs of being a most inquisitive and intelligent chicken, so is fast becoming one of my favorites. I hate to think about giving her a name because I don’t want to lose her. And, after several years of experience, it appears that as soon as you become attached to a chicken enough to name it, that ensures its demise. . . . except for Bessie, who’s 9. . . . and Mr. Pants, who seems to be indomitable. But again, I digress.

Anyway, we got the netting all up so now it looks like a Ringling Bros. trapeze act out there.

At least I know that if some brash sky-diver DOES come zooming down from the heavens, at least he won’t be hurt!

Never a dull moment around here.

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