All the babies are growing up so fast, I thought I might do an update post. My babies and Ruby’s babies are big enough to move into the coop. They hang out with the big chickens all day long in the main chicken area. But, at night, they turn into babies and want to come with me and sleep in the garage. Ron is tired of this because he cleans the poop out of the garage every morning while I feed the littles. But it’s so hard to put them in the big coop because they are still such babies on the inside. I especially worry about Piatigorsky. She’s so very sweet and has such a gentle soul. And one of Ruby’s babies is pretty gentle too.
The coop can be a rough place at night when everyone is getting settled in. They love to squabble for roosting positions. They will also only allow certain people next to them. If someone they don’t approve of tries to touch them, there’s going to be a squabble. How can I put those sweet babies into the middle of such squabbles?
“They’re not coming in the house,” Ron said. I know this, of course. I love my chickens, but they poop way too much to come into the house. Still, I worry about putting them in the coop. I’ve been providing Ron I would do it for two weeks now. Yet, everyone remains in the garage–including Ruby. Yes, Ruby still sleeps in the garage and refuses to go back into the coop–at all. I have no idea what we’re going to do about this long term. In the winter, we have to move the car and truck into the garage. The snow is too much.
Anyway, maybe I’ll move my babies tonight. Probably not though. Kate and Juliet’s babies are still too little and running around anyway. They are growing up too. I adore all three of them. One of them is a rooster. He’s a stinker, but he’s gorgeous. I will try to get a better picture of him soon. In the mean, I hope you enjoy this photo update of some of the babies.
Last night, I put eight hatching eggs under our first broody hen of the season. Her name is Ruby.
One day per week, we drive an hour and a half to Augusta for our son’s orchestra rehearsals. It just so happened that the breeder I contacted about getting some Salmon Faverolle hatching eggs is based outside of Augusta. So, last evening, right before rehearsals, I met the breeder in a grocery store parking lot and got this carton of eggs full of potential for adding a fantastic breed of chicken to our flock. I have been interested in this breed for some time, and I am excited to get these hatching eggs from a reputable breeder, Why Not Farms.
But the best story in all of this is about Ruby. Ruby looks almost like a red version of a Salmon Faverolle, but she is simply a barnyard mix. She is part Easter Egger, part Welsummer, and part Rhode Island Red, and somehow she is just magnificent to look at. She’s so unique–inside and out.
Ruby is a talker. She’s one of the most vocal chickens I have ever met, and as near as I can tell, she likes to complain. She’s low in the pecking order, and I’m pretty sure she complains about the injustice of this. I think she might also complain about wanting treats. She wants to be treated fairly, and Juliet, my most favorite misfit chicken gets treats every day when she flies over the fence from the chicken yard. Ruby, observing this, started doing the same and then complaining loudly until she got treats too. After all, fair is fair.
The most interesting thing about Ruby is that I just happened to be out in the coop this February when Ruby laid her first egg ever! Hatched last summer, without artificial light in the coop, Ruby was later to start laying eggs, so I was so excited when I went out to the coop one day this winter and found her in the nest box for the first time. She was standing up, so I knew an egg was coming soon. I watched and waited, and sure enough, a beautiful pale olive green egg landed in the nest box under her.
And what happened next was like nothing I have ever seen: Ruby turned around to observe what had just plopped out of her and had a look on her face of love. She stared a bit at her egg, like it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. And, truly, it was beautiful. The color of her eggs is beautiful.
Eggs are magnificent to me. Part complete nutrition and part work of art, I think eggs are gorgeous. I am not alone in this love for eggs. Chicken people spend a good deal of time taking pictures of eggs and sharing them on Instagram and Facebook and Pinterest. The eggs are posed in baskets, on tables, and if you have a variety of colors, well, then that’s something extra special. Books have been written on eggs. I own two of them. Somehow, Ruby was the first chicken I have ever met who seemed to get how magnificent eggs are. Most of my hens lay an egg and move on.
The way Ruby looked at those eggs was so interesting to me. I came inside and told Ron, “I am betting right now Ruby goes broody this summer.” I posted this prediction on social media. Sure enough, a few weeks ago, Ruby was the first of the flock to go broody.
Of course, once she went broody as I had predicted, I started to question how exactly I knew this was going to happen. I think it’s just from being observant. I can’t tell you for sure if chickens have facial expressions or if I am reading them in a different way, but chickens do express emotions in a way that seems fairly clear to me. Most people I talk to do not seem to grasp this, but it’s true. I see contentment, frustration, concern, hopefulness, and thanks to Ruby, I saw what adoration looks like in a chicken. Temple Grandin, the scientist and animal behaviorist famous for her efforts in changing the way livestock animals are treated, said that animals have emotions just like human animals. It’s just that these emotions are simpler. This makes perfect sense to me.
This morning, Ruby is still on her eggs. When I put the eight hatching eggs under her last night, she attacked me pretty solidly. This morning, I am bruised, but I don’t mind at all. When I finished putting the eggs under her, I watched her wiggle her little self onto that big clutch of eggs with contentment. Hopefully, her love of eggs will mean she’s a good mother. Hopefully, she will love what comes out of the eggs, too.
My chickens do not love the snow, not one bit, but I have a few free spirits who insist on leaving the coop every morning, despite the winter weather. Still, I’ve never had a chicken who will venture out in full-blown snowstorm—until Kate.
I was shoveling the snow to make a path for the chickens one morning, and the conditions were terrible. It was snowing pretty heavily, and the winds were high. It was a good storm, but when I made my way to the coop door and opened it, Kate hopped out and took off.
I didn’t think she would go far, but when I looked up from my shoveling a few minutes later, I saw that Kate had trekked across the snow, and in the distance, though the snow was coming down all around her, I could see Kate walking around the tool shed on the far side of our property.
I had to know what this chicken was up to, so I trekked out there myself. I could see her footprints in the snow, but, suddenly, there was no Kate.
Kate was born on our little farm during the first few months of the COVID pandemic. It’s confusing to me that I have no baby pictures of her. Usually, my camera is full of baby chick pictures. But last year was different. It was like I was moving through molasses every day, and I did all of the farm chores, completed my work, and parented all while in some kind of “fog” that seemed related to stress.
But Kate brought me joy—and a little extra stress. She was the cutest thing I think I have ever seen. Kate is part Rhode Island Red and part Easter Egger, so she was this adorable reddish-brown color of the Rhode Island Red with the puffy cheeks of an Easter Egger. She looked like a chipmunk. That’s what I called her for several weeks.
“I hope my chipmunk chicken is a girl,” I would announce to my husband. We really hadn’t planned on keeping her when we were counting chicks as they hatched (I had been incubating chicks for others in our area who couldn’t get them), but when I saw her, I knew I had to keep this chicken. My husband, who is usually the voice of reason when it comes to the number of chickens we can keep happily in our space, didn’t argue a bit.
The chipmunk chicken won him over too. She was more than cute. She was brave, perhaps too much so for my taste, and, well, she was just sassy.
She was being raised by our mama hen, Pumpkin, along with another chick. Right next door to that little brood, another hen, Beethoven, was raising two chicks. You never know how a mama hen is going to react to other babies. There is some chance she will kill other babies.
We have never had this happen and have had hens raise babies together a few times. They generally end up co-parenting the whole group, and it’s magnificent. But, because of the potential risk, in the first few days, I will always build a little wall to keep the two broods separate. My little walls have always worked in the past, but Kate wasn’t having it.
I feel limited in my capacity to describe the cuteness of Kate’s little nightly adventures. After everyone was supposed to be tucked in with their correct mama, Kate would head out. She would take her tiny little chicken-nugget self all the way around that wall I built and would go visit the other mama hen and her babies.
She would never stay too long—just long enough to cause some chaos—and then she would head back around the wall, sort of. She would check out the garage, explore things, just sit there a little—all while the other baby chicks were tucked in with mama and going to bed.
I would often go out and scoop her up and try to deliver her to her mama, Pumpkin. But, when you pick up a baby chick, they will often cry. Let me tell you, you do not want to be holding a mama hen’s chick while it is crying. Mama hens fluff up to the size of a small turkey and become enraged at whatever is making their baby cry. I have been attacked by a broody mama hen several times in my life. I have always lived. But there has been blood, and I do not enjoy it.
One night, as I delivered Kate to her mama, Kate was extra loud, and Pumpkin gave me the full-on attack. Kate was certainly making my life difficult.
But Kate’s spirit charmed me, and when I found out Kate was a girl, I named her after Shakespeare’s famously-stubborn and powerful character, Kate. Of course, despite Kate’s charm, I figured she had a personality that would likely add to the number of gray hairs on my head.
I was a little worried at first, when I didn’t see Kate anywhere in the snow. Thankfully, I was able to follow her tracks. I followed her little chicken footprints all the way around to the back of the shed where they disappeared.
Kate was heading under the back shed to lay her eggs! This explained why I hadn’t seen one of Kate’s magnificent khaki eggs in a couple of weeks.
“That little stinker,” I thought to myself. I got down into the snow and crawled around. I couldn’t see her, so there was nothing to do but wait and dread the smell that would surely be coming from rotten eggs this spring.
When I saw that Kate finally returned to the coop later that day, I did a mean thing. I went out to the shed and covered her entryway with some spare fencing.
The next morning, when I opened the coop, it was another miserable morning, but I watched Kate as she took off and headed to her shed. She couldn’t get in and was visibly stressed. I spent the better part of that morning trying to convince her to go back to the coop to lay her egg.
I spent the better part of the next day doing the same. I didn’t want to leave her out there alone too much, as without the leaves on the trees, she was in a pretty exposed area, and we have had a couple of hawk attacks in the past. On the third day, I was growing weary, but I spent a good deal of that day tracking and coaxing Kate.
I was late on a deadline at work, so I was hoping Kate was going to accept the reality of the situation. How do you explain to your supervisor that you didn’t finish some work yet because you have a difficult chicken?
Thankfully, after three days of stubbornness, Kate accepted her fate to lay her eggs in the next boxes with everyone else. Kate’s beautiful eggs are back in the daily collection. Her little khaki eggs are like beautiful works of art to me.
The morning after I finished drafting this story about Kate, she discovered she could fly over the gate. When I saw her do this my shoulders slumped, and I let out a sigh.
I can see that Kate is going to teach me things about behavior and about myself. This is one of my favorite things about raising animals—the learning. I am just going to have hope against hope that I can teach Kate some things too.