Those Naughty Hens

Eleanors_nestWe thought we had foiled the chickens’ attempts to lay eggs outside their box by clearing out the nest they had made and blocking the entrance to it, but Eleanor stubbornly refused to give up and made herself a new nest under the berry vines, where the tangle of thorns almost prevented us from finding it.  All four hens have been lectured sternly and sent to bed.   I have no idea what’s gotten into them.  They’ve gone quite wild.

Our Naughty Chickens

EggsWe had noticed that we weren’t getting as many eggs from Eleanor, and we thought it was awfully odd that we got no eggs at all yesterday, but we didn’t think much of it until Scott found an egg in the compost pile today.  What was it doing there?  Then he noticed that Eleanor was going off by herself and was hard to find.  That’s unusual, because usually when they’re free-ranging in the backyard, they stick together.

So after a little investigation, we found this nest behind a tall clump of tansy.  It looks like Eleanor, Abigail, and Bess have all taken to laying an egg in this spot when it suits them.  So the girls were rounded up and herded back into the coop, where they will be spending a little more time over the next few days while they get re-acquainted with the concept of laying an egg in an egg box.  They are, after all, farm animals.  When they go off and start acting like wild birds, building nests wherever they please, it’s up to us farmers to get them back in line.

Eleanor–by popular demand!

Eleanor_8_x_108 x 10, oil on gessoed board.  Click to bid.

The other day I was thinking about blogs, and how difficult it would have been to start a blog without digital photography.  In other words, what if all this internet stuff had happened, but somehow no one had thought to invent digital photography along the way and we were all still using film cameras, getting pictures developed, scanning them, etc?  It would be impossible for me to run outside and take a picture of the garden and post it online a few minutes later.

So here I am, illustrating my blog with oil paintings. Is that a step backward?  Of course, the oil paintings do have to be photographed… with a digital camera.

Anyway, this is Eleanor, our Rhode Island Red.  And this is the posture I most often find her in, with her head down, digging for worms.  She’s my favorite chicken to paint because I love those orange and red feathers.  Of our four chickens, she is really the quintessential barnyard hen.  She doesn’t go in for silly little tricks or the other kinds of antics that our other chickens get into.  What she wants to do is get up in the morning, scratch around for food, and lay an egg. She lays lovely, dark brown eggs, and she acts like she rules the roost, although Dolley, one of our Araucanas, is also under the impression that she’s in charge of the flock.

Thanks to whoever posted the suggestion about chicken paintings. I’ll do a few more.

The Girls!

Chickens_by_shedLots of people write to me and ask for more chicken posts.  So here, by popular demand, are some pictures of the girls.  There’s not a great deal of news to report–they are all healthy and happy, and they spend almost all day free-ranging in the backyard now. 

Dolley had an impacted crop for a while, and then it got very swollen and seemed like it was no longer able to expand and contract the way it needs to in order for food to keep moving along.  But I’ve found that if I massage her crop, the food gets going and the whole thing seems to start working again.  The funny part is that she really, really seems to enjoy this.  I put her on my lap, give it a little massage, and she closes her eyes and leans up against me.  Perhaps I should give them all massages.

Other than that, everyone is well. We continue to get just about one egg per chicken per day–far more than we can eat.Bess_in_window
Bess likes to hop up on the windowsill and look in at us when we’re in the kitchen.  She seemed particularly interested in the basket of strawberries I had on the counter.  Sometimes all four of them crowd around the window, looking in at us or simply settling down in the shade of the house for a little afternoon nap.

Gardening With Hens

My good friend Michele over at Sign of the Shovel and GardenRant asked me how on earth I keep the chickens from destroying the garden.  I thought this was a blog-worthy topic, so here you go:

  1. Forget about annuals.  Anything that self-sows is history.  The girls love to scratch in the dirt, and when they do that, they uproot tiny seedlings and probably even eat some seeds.  The bright side?  They do the same thing to weeds.
  2. Fence off the food crops.  If you love it, so do they.  Fortunately, a silly little 18-in tall wire fence works just fine.  Chickens are not very adventurous, and when I’ve put the girls into the vegetable patch just for fun, they have completely freaked out and tried to escape, ignoring the salad bar before them.
  3. Brand new plants might get accidentally dug up.  Fence off a newly-planted area or fashion a little cage of chicken wire and cover new plants for a few weeks while they put down roots.
  4. Don’t plant anything poisonous, like monkshood, foxglove, oleander, etc.
  5. Remember that different chickens have different tastes.  One might develop a taste for your geraniums, while others leave it alone.  In my garden, I’ve found some nibbles on heather, geraniums, yarrow (but just a few plants–not all of them) and Maximilian sunflower.
  6. On the plus side, my girls love snails and slugs.  So I’m gradually moving all the plants that snails eat to the part of the garden they have access to.  Hello, dahlia!
  7. So what does grow in the chicken garden?  Plenty.  Here’s what grows in the part of the garden where my chickens free-range:

Lamb’s ear
Yarrow (especially the silvery "moonshine" varieties)
Perennial herbs, including rosemary, oregano, thyme, sage
Shasta daisies
Lady’s  mantle
Butterfly bush

We Interrupt Our Regularly-Scheduled Programming for This Important Chicken News

Dolley_moulting Dolley’s moulting!  Look at this scraggly girl.  For those of you who aren’t chicken owners–and why not, may I ask?–hens go through a moult in the winter where they lose their feathers in patches and grow them back.  Here you can see quills coming back in to cover a bare patch on her breast.  I sure wish they wouldn’t lose all their feathers just as the cold weather sets in, but that’s nature’s design.  It takes protein to grow feathers, so they take a break from egg-laying in the winter to get this job done.  She’s the first one to really start moulting–the others are just losing a feather here and there. 

It’s hard to get her to sit still for photos, and she doesn’t like us to pull her feathers back and explose that bare chicken skin to the wind, but we managed to get a couple of shots.  She’s actually lost quite a bit more on her back than you can see here, and the quills look so creepy when they grow in–they’re a grey-blue color and they make her look like a porcupine, or a pincushion.  Poor girl!


A Damn Fine Chicken Coop

Dscn1926 Spotted in the English countryside:  just about the smartest little chicken house a flock could ever want.  (Sorry for the fence in the foreground; there was no getting around that.)

On the left, a nice wooden coop with nesting boxes sticking out the side, making it easy to collect eggs from the outside.  Windows that can be shuttered up on the coldest winter nights.  A nice big run, screened on top, with board along the base to keep predators out and chickens in.  And if you were very smart, you’d make the entire run detachable so you could rotate it around and attach it to another side of the coop next year, giving the girls some fresh grass to go to work on.

Fabulous British Eggs

Dscn1853 Walk into just about any grocery store in London and you can buy these gorgeous eggs.    Made us feel like we’d brought our chickens with us on this trip.


Yet Another Reason to Raise Your Own Chickens

AdsoneggsThat’s right, advertisements for TV shows.

On your eggs.

I am not making this up.

I’ve written before about EggFusion, a company that has developed a laser etching technology that allows eggshells to be engraved with, say, an expiration date or other information.

But then it occurred to the execs at CBS that there was a moment in our day that was not already dominated by television and advertising:  that moment that we spend cracking an egg into a bowl.

Fresh, commercial-free eggs.  Ah, those were the good old days.

More on the technology involved from the New York Times.

Mr. Parker said the destination of eggs was tracked so precisely that he envisioned being able to offer localized advertising, even aiming at specific ZIP codes, to promote events like local food festivals and concerts. He is setting aside a portion of the ads for charities, too, he said.

The imprint is applied in the packaging plant, as the eggs are washed, graded and “candled,” or inspected for flaws, when the eggs are held by calipers and moved along a production line at 225 feet a minute. Right before an egg is packaged, laser light is applied to the shell, giving it the etching.

Each imprint takes 34 milliseconds to 73 milliseconds, so the processing of eggs is not appreciably slowed down, Mr. Parker said. The etching is ultrathin, to a depth of 50 to 90 micrometers, or 5 percent of the shell’s thickness.

The imprint cannot be altered without breaking the shell, Mr. Parker said, in contrast to Europe, where ink is used to apply expiration dates on eggs.


The Fotis and Their Chickens

I’ve been a fan of the Foti Family blog for a while now, but somehow I didn’t get it that they were part of the Edible Estates project until I saw the NYT story today.  Read more about all of this over at GardenRant, but meanwhile, I point you to the Fotifarm Egg Production Chart, which put me to some shame, as we have slacked off considerably in our own tracking of egg production.  Then I realized that the Fotis, too, stopped tracking their egg production in May, and I felt much better.  Four eggs a day, three eggs, two eggs–who’s counting.  Just eat ’em!

Only a chicken lover could appreciate this video on the Foti blog: