Chickens like duck eggs too.

Day 319 of 365

Tonight, I am still working, so I thought I would just share a little farm update and this picture of Bairre in Ron’s lap. That dog is beautiful. He’s a fantastic brat, but he’s so beautiful. It’s adorable to me that he still makes himself fit in Ron’s lap. Bairre relishes his role as the baby of the family right now.

We got 19 eggs today, which is just great! We didn’t have a duck egg this morning, but I saw one in the yard this afternoon. Sadly, it was a soft shell egg. It worries me a little to see a soft shell egg. Of course, if you see just one, it’s not a big deal. It does just happen sometimes. But repeated soft shell eggs can be a sign of a problem. Still, I am working on not worrying so much, so I am going to let it go. Hopefully, I just won’t see any more soft shell eggs.

The chickens had a treat of it though. I took the soft shell off, so it wouldn’t feel too egg-like (some chickens can get such a taste for raw eggs that they will start eating the eggs right there in the nest boxes). I have never had this happen (I am knocking on wood), but I do try to listen to the chicken lore and avoid things that might entice a potential egg eater. However, I was not going to waste that beautiful egg yolk.

So I found a bowl and put in the egg, minus the soft shell. Three chickens came running. It was Kate, Joan, and Penelope. Somehow, they were able to eat that egg pretty much unnoticed by the rest of the flock.

And I’m telling you that chickens really like duck eggs too. I could see on their little faces they were greatly enjoying that egg. It was really cool to see.

Ruby’s Rank

Day 313 of 365

This is a picture of driveway time from the other day. That’s Juliet and Kate in the front. In the very back, you can see Rooster, and on the back right, there’s Ruby. She finally finished molting, and her feathers are extra gorgeous. I have to try to get a good picture.

Ruby still sleeps in her crate in the garage some nights, but she has been sleeping in the coop more and more. I also noticed something in the last couple of days–Ruby may be trying to move up in the pecking order.

I always felt she totally could move up if she just decided she wanted to. She little but fierce and quite scrappy. When I have to handle her, like when she was broody or for health checks, she is a nightmare. She attacks me, and I just have to take it and keep trying to hold her in a way that works for both of us.

Also, she just has an attitude. Last week, she was sleeping in a nest box, and I had not collected eggs. First of all, she attacked my hand when getting the eggs. Most hens are very kind about it. About half of the hens even stand up for you, so you can easily collect the eggs. Not Ruby. Everything is a battle.

Second, when I finally had my hand under her safely, she reached up and pecked me in the head! No one else treats me like this. But, she’s Ruby, so I guess I don’t really mind. Plus, she gets picked on so much in the flock that I realize she just has to assert herself in whatever way she can, so I let her boss me around. Plus, as I have mentioned before, she has a flair for drama, and this fascinates me.

Anyway, it has never made sense to me that she was so low in the pecking order, but this week, I am seeing a change in her. Maybe she’s finally realizing her power. Maybe she’s finally realizing she’s not the youngest anymore. Two days ago, I saw her fight with Pumpkin over a scrap when I was feeding everyone. This never happens. I usually have to seek Ruby out to make sure she gets bites from me.

But there she was, having a dust up with Pumpkin, who is very chill in her old age but still much older and higher in the pecking order than Ruby. After a few rounds, Pumpkin walked away like, “Fine, take it. It’s not worth it.” Then, today, I saw Ruby give poor Bianca a peck on the head for accidentally getting too close, and Bianca just took it and moved on.

I think this is a good thing. Poor Ruby has been at the bottom of the pecking order for far too long, but I also worry a little bit. Can you imagine if Ruby was the head hen? Hopefully, she will chill out a bit before that ever happens. She can be a little tyrant.

My Favorite Farm Chore

Day 306 of 365

I remembered to take my phone with me to the coop this evening when I collected the eggs because the chickens sometimes make beautiful little nests of eggs. I wanted to share this on the blog, and I was in luck.

One of the joys of my life is collecting eggs every day, and every day I report to Ron how many we got for the day. Today was a pretty slow day of late, just 12.

I don’t know why eggs are so beautiful to me. Maybe it’s because they are so practical and magical at the same time. I love practical, but I also love magical. How that can be I just don’t know.

Eggs are archetypal, aren’t they?

Winter Walks and Chicken Talk

Day 305 of 365

This picture was taken two years ago, when my son was still about my height and would still hold my hand a little. My son and I have done winter walks together for years. It’s when we talk. Well, mostly he talks, and I listen. But I think it’s important for me to make time in my day to just be that present for him. I am always multitasking far more than I would like to be. I like that our walks make me slow down and just enjoy that kid’s company. In five years, he will be out of here, and I am certain, if the world just hangs in there, that he is going to travel a lot, one way or another. He’s in love with the idea of all of Europe, and he will have to check it out in real life–like all of it.

Today, on our walk, we talked about geography. He told me he wanted me to teach him something about all of the states in the United States, and, in turn, he would teach me a little something about every country in Europe. I told him that was a great deal!

I started and went through all of the states in alphabetical order, which I can only remember because of the song. As I talked about each one, I told him a little about the state in terms of something he might know, so it would stick for him where it was located. And it was great to also ask him what he knew about a state, which led to a side conversation about stereotypes. Then, he told me a little something I could maybe relate to for each country in Europe because I am terrible at European geography. It was all a treat.

I love these walks. On a walk a few months ago, he talked non-stop about World War I. I learned more than I ever wanted to know. My son is neurodivergent, as am I.

When we got home from that same walk, the chickens ran up to see us, and I started talking to them.

“How do you tell apart the ones that look the same?” my son asked.

So I told him, in detail, how I tell recognize individuals from the same breed. I told him about how Juliet and Bianca are identical, but that Bianca is much sweeter and has a birthmark on her leg, how Betty is the perfect Rhode Island Red, like could be a show chicken maybe, how Joan has a fancy comb, and how Vivaldi is bright red–like the composer.

I told him Pumpkin is the orange chicken “abducted by aliens” (This is a hilarious story I will have to write soon.) and that the orange chicken with more gray is S’more. The orange chicken who has little speckles of almost blue is Circe. She is a very interesting chicken and actually loved her brother more than any chicken I had ever seen. They were inseparable long after most brothers and sisters go their separate ways, but her brother was a rowdy rooster and couldn’t stay. I worried about Circe, and, truly, she’s never been the same since. I should not have named her Circe!

My son asked about all of the buff-colored hens. I told him Mary Jane is the one that is super big, that Emily has a giant comb and Charlotte always looks worried, that Saint Saens is the chicken he named after the composer when she was a baby many years ago. I told him that she has one tiny white feather on her left side that doesn’t match any of her other feathers.

“You have autism too, don’t you, mom?”

“I do,” I said.

“Cool,” he said.

*As an aside, I just want to post a note about life on the spectrum. It is certainly more complex than just talking extensively about a topic for a long time. There are perks I am thankful for but struggles that can be challenging. If you are curious about ASD, you can read more here.

Good night, Rooster. Good night, Dvorak. Good night, girls.

Day 302 of 365

Tonight, I went to get my boots before I tucked in the ducks when I accidentally ran into Ron at the front door. We are both home pretty much all day and will go hours without seeing each other. We both stay pretty busy around here. But I ran into him, and he said he wanted to tell me a story.

He said, tonight, as he put up the food and water and closed up the chickens, he said, “Good night, Rooster. Good night, Dvorak. Good night, girls.” He said he says this to them every single night, and he thought tonight that it’s going to be so very sad when Rooster is not there to say good night to. Rooster has certainly been a fixture around here for seven years.

He said he started to feel really sad about losing Rooster but then realized just knowing this is the cycle somehow has to have soften the blow and make the grief more bearable. This seemed so wise to me.

I have definitely learned a lot about death from living on a little farm. It has forced me to think deeply about my own death and how I feel about it. It has also forced me to come to terms with grief. I am such a deep feeler that grief can be a little panic inducing to me, but I am learning. I am learning that my experiences with grief are a part of what makes me who I am, how I grow as a human, and how I honor the amazing souls I get to know on our little homestead.

A long time ago, I read an article about a woman who lived somewhere in Europe, I think, on a farm. She provided end-of-life care to old, abandoned, or injured farm animals. At the time, when I read that article, I admired the woman so deeply for doing that for these wonderful animals, for giving them love and care at the ends of their lives. I wished to do something so noble with my life, but I also wondered how in the world her heart could handle that much grief.

I think I am starting to understand. I think going through the cycles of life so much on our homestead has made me have a better understanding of the cycles of life. Maybe. I hope.

A Rooster Update

Day 297 of 365

I just wanted to share a Rooster update. He has had no new injuries, but I have made him sleep in the crate in the garage at night the last two nights. He just walks out to the coop in the mornings, and Ron lets him in.

But last night, when I went to get him to put him in the garage, I saw he was on the second rung of the roosts. This made me so sad because Rooster is always on the top roost. He’s the flock leader. He’s old and worn out, I am sure. He worries all the time. I know how tired makes you to worry too much. It’s hard to see him in decline.

My plan for tonight is to just let him sleep in the coop if he’s still on the second rung, though that would make me so sad to see it happen again. If he’s on the top rung, I may bring him in. His comb looks better, but it still pretty rough.

In fact, I should go check on him right now. It’s pretty late. In fact, I’m going to go to that right now…

Well, he was on the top rung, which is great, but he was trying to hide from me because he knew. I just let him stay. Hopefully, he will be okay. He was perched next to Jane though, so that’s a bit of a worry. Hopefully, he won’t snore too much. It’s good for him to be back on the top rung.

I have to tell you chicken snoring is the cutest thing to me. I mean, it’s sad poor Rooster snores because of his health struggles, but when Broody Hen was alive, she had a fantastic snore. Do you know how Big Bird from Sesame Street snores? It was actually kind of like that. I tried to record it, but my presence in the coop would always wake her up. That hen was the best.

Farmer-ish Report: Egg Sales for January and February 2023

Day 296 to 365

A couple of weeks ago, I was chatting with a fellow farmer friend about selling eggs and the loss we take on them. We were talking about the prices of eggs going up and shared what we thought we would have to get for a dozen eggs in order to maybe break even. We both, at the same time, said about $12.00 per dozen–at least. And, even then, that would not address our labor. Raising chickens humanely means good space and good care.

We also take the welfare up a notch on our little chicken farm in that we let them rest in the winter instead of adding light to the coop and also keep “retired” hens until they pass away, which, as my skills in animal husbandry have improved, can be a lot of years. And, I guess, if you follow my blog you know that we step it up another notch around here in that we do our best to give our chickens what they want, within reason, most of the time. Some of them are very good at expressing their needs; some of them have many extra needs.

Of course, chickens are much more than eggs on a homestead. They provide pest control, and for us, their composted poop fertilizes our garden. It’s so great because we feed our chickens organic food only, so we have organic compost for our organic garden. Our chickens are our partners and help us create a cycle of sustainability on our homestead.

Plus, I love these animals. They are fantastic to me, so they are so much more than money. However, I was curious to carefully track sales and costs because my dream is to have a barn with a lot of chickens and sell the eggs. It is clear from the first-of-the-year report that this dream is never going to come true.

Without further ado, here is my first ever farmer-ish report on egg sales. This is for January and February 2023. Things will be way better in March and April, as these first numbers include food for the ducks, and they aren’t laying at all yet. Still, our 7 ducks do not eat that much in the winter. They are very efficient.

Eggs eaten by our family: 7.5 dozen x 9.89 per dozen (organic, humanely raised eggs) = $74.18

Eggs sales: $68.00 (13 dozen x 5.00 per dozen plus a few tips)

Feed cost for organic feed: $434.44

That’s a loss of $292.26. We sill have some chicken feed left, which will help a lot with March’s numbers. Plus, we got 22 eggs today, which is going to help so much with sales. We should have much better sales for March and April. On top of this, we have stacks of compost out there that will feed the garden for a whole year.

Still, the numbers speak volumes about my dream to have a real egg business. In fact, I think we may have to slowly downsize our flock and just not replace hens who pass away. I am not sure if I am going to give this report to Ron though. I think I might just lay low with January and February numbers and report findings after we get through March.

That time we forgot to close the little coop door…

Day 295 of 365

That time was last night. It was mostly on Ron, as we have a routine in general: I wake up the chickens in the morning while he takes care of the ducks. At night, I put up the ducks because we have to play the “duck game,” and Ron puts up the chickens. Still, we had both been outside last night, in the coop, because we had to trim Mary Jane’s beak. Mary Jane has an unusual beak that just keeps growing, so we have to trim it every few months.

Anyway, we were both right there, and neither of us noticed the little door was open. It was dark, but it’s still a worry we both missed that. We have a fence, but we live right next to the woods. There are so many chicken predators out there that could definitely go through or over a fence.

I woke up a little early today because I had a dentist appointment at 7:30. It was just a little past 6:00 when I went downstairs and saw Dvorak, our young rooster, looking at me from the chicken run. I swear, he was looking at me like, “I don’t think we’re supposed to be out here.” By the time I got out to the chicken run, there were several chickens outside, and I started to really worry when I saw what had happened. I was afraid to open the big coop door and go inside. I didn’t know what I might find in there.

But I went inside and didn’t see any issues initially. I was trying so hard to count the chickens to make sure everyone was there, but when some are inside and some are outside, it’s hard to count. So I tried to just look for everyone I knew: Ruby, check. Mary Jane, check. Faure, check. Arwen, check. I could see the Faverolles and the Orpington sisters. I saw Schumann and Schubert and Pumpkin. I saw Rooster’s tail through the window. It seemed like all was well.

When I went back to the coop to get ready to bring in the water, I noticed a fairly large blood stain on the straw in the floor. It was pretty big, about the size of a saucer. That was terrifying. I started checking people for injuries. I ran back outside and didn’t have to look far, I saw that Rooster’s comb had been beat up pretty badly, and oh the head wounds bleed! I just couldn’t imagine that Dvorak would hurt him though. Dvorak knows his place very well and always stays out of Rooster’s way, but Rooster looked pretty bad.

I scooped him up, took him in the house, and cleaned him up. He was such a good boy about it. At first he grumped, but after a bit, he just leaned into me. It’s so funny. He’s such a big tough boy, but it seems that he doesn’t mind being babied by me if I talk sweet and give treats. I put some antibiotic ointment on him and gave him bread scraps for treats, all the while wondering who had done this to him and also all the while worrying about being late to the dentist. I was a little down when I realized there would be no hot tea this morning and definitely no breakfast. By the time I had all of this wrapped up, I was worried I might be late for my appointment.

When I took Rooster back outside, I told him he was maybe going to have to sleep in the garage tonight, and when I sat him in the coop, I noticed what had happened. There was blood all on the wall where Rooster sleeps at night. Someone had pecked him on the head while they were roosting, which meant it was a hen! What a low-down thing to do!

But, truly, the winter is long, and people start to get grumpy right before spring. Plus, Rooster still has respiratory issues because he’s old and struggling, so he snores really loudly at night. I have no doubt that a hen got tired of listening to him snore and let him have it.

Poor, poor Rooster. He’s definitely in the decline of his life, and he’s so regal, so stoic, so proud. It’s hard to watch his fall from grace as the strong leader of his flock.

Tonight, when I went to get him off of the roost to put him in the garage for the night, just until that big wound heals, I saw who was next him–Jane! Now, I am not saying she’s the one who did it, but Jane is a known b*%$#. Well known! She used to not be this way, but she is this way now. So I wonder if it was her.

Still, Rooster is okay, and tonight, I confirmed we still have 38 chickens. We are so, so lucky. Leaving the little coop door open was a risky mistake for sure.

Oh, and I was late for my appointment, but it wasn’t exactly because of Rooster. Ruby, Kate, and Juliet were all running around the driveway because they insist on it. Normally, in the mornings, I give those three a little scratch as a morning treat. I had no time for it this morning because of the chaos with the coop door and Rooster.

Well, when I opened the garage door and tried to pull into the driveway to leave, those hens wouldn’t budge. I was running so late, so I tried honking at them. Nope. They didn’t budge. I tried to shoo them away, but no. I had to go get the bowl and give those three scratch before they would move. Sigh.

I have been late so many times because of difficult chickens, but I don’t know what else to do but let them be who they are as much as I can–and then just write about it all, I guess.

It’s certainly interesting to see how chickens behave when they are given agency, isn’t it?

I’ll follow you anywhere…

Day 289 of 365

This afternoon, I didn’t have to let the chickens out at 3:00 for play time in the driveway. Apparently, the chickens have figured out how to open the coop door. For the last three days, right about 3:00, I see they have let themselves out. I told this to Ron, and he seemed skeptical. I told him I only had three days of evidence, but I’m definitely starting to wonder.

In the front, that’s Penelope on the right and Silver on the left. Beyond those two is either Vivaldi or Joan, and then you see Schumann in white and Juliet next to her on the right.

But they don’t let themselves out earlier, which is interesting. I am outside a lot checking on Ruby and now Kate and Juliet, so I can see when that everyone is up to. They seem to wait until about 3:00.

“Why wouldn’t they let themselves out sooner?” Ron asked, implying this seems like an unlikely phenomenon.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess they know they’re supposed to wait ’til 3:00.”

Ron is skeptical, but I think they have figured out how to push on the coop door, and if you do that enough, eventually, you’ll get lucky, and the latch will come up.

We’ll see, but I do know those chickens will follow me anywhere. Today, I went to check the mail, which I never want to do after the chickens are out in the driveway, as I worry they will follow me to the road. Sure enough, that’s what they did today since they let themselves outside.

Thankfully, they followed me right back to the front door.

The Precious

Day 285 of 365

Arwen has been laying eggs for a few weeks, but I had yet to figure out which egg she was laying–until today.

If you don’t remember Arwen, she was the baby chick who, this summer, would run under the fence into the big chicken yard and steal watermelon. I had never seen anything like it. I have seen smart chickens, but I haven’t seen such cool-headed, smart chickens, except for maybe Poe.

And that is who Arwen reminds me of–Poe. Poe was not only smart, she had this coolness about her. She was wicked curious about everything and had a way of making her needs and wants known without ever seeming demanding. My other super-smart hens, like Broody Hen, Ruby, and Juliet, can be really bossy. You’re just like, “ok, ok, whatever you need.” Poe was patient. You could tell she just really liked you, and if you could throw in some grapes, well, all the better.

In my time with Poe, I only saw her really down twice. Once was when she was dying, and the other time was after she had been mated for the first time. We had an aggressive rooster at that time. When I saw what happened, I could see Poe was devastated. She lay on the steps by the coop the whole rest of the afternoon, her body in a heap. I’m not gonna lie, seeing Poe like that made me have deep, deep, deep questions about everything I thought I knew–and everything “we” think “we” know–about chickens and animals in general. But I digress…

Arwen is like Poe, and like Poe, she really likes Ron. She hangs around Ron while he is working. Ron said today that she even hangs out with him while he chops wood. The loud bang of the ax keeps a lot of chickens away, but Arwen is curious–and not afraid. Ron said, this evening, she was out there with him all by herself for at least an hour, so he went and got a bowl of scratch just for her. He said she was there eating it forever. This made my heart happy. Arwen is special.

Earlier today, I saw Arwen in one of the nest boxes. I was so excited because I have only seen her in the nest boxes two other times, and she moved both times. I have been so anxious to know what egg she lays. I very respectfully reached under her to remove the other eggs, so I could know which one was hers. Then, I had a second thought that she might move if there were no eggs there, so I went back and very respectfully put one egg back. I made a note of what the egg looked like, so I could still know which one was Arwen’s.

As I left the coop, I saw Arwen checking out the egg, and she seemed satisfied. I was hopeful.

Sure enough, I went out there just a little bit later and found two eggs in the nest box! Arwen’s egg could have looked like anything. She is a true barnyard mix. She is part Easter Egger and part Welsummer though generations of mixes. Her egg could be olive, light olive, dark brown, light brown, and anything in between. I am so pleased to share that this beautiful medium brown egg with a million speckles in the photograph is Arwen’s egg. It’s so beautiful to me.

Arwen is the last baby Rooster will ever have. She is the daughter of Cora and the great granddaughter of Poe. How wonderful that, after such a quest to continue her line two years ago, I maybe have another Poe.

Arwen is the precious for all the reasons.