The Ruby Gift

Day 193 of 365

Ruby has charmed Ron. She’s so difficult and somehow so completely charming. While she is no longer allowed to live in the garage since it is very cold outside and we have to shut the garage doors, she still roams around our property as she pleases when we are home. Today, Ron was outside building a winter “camp” for the chickens, and Ruby was hanging out with him all day. When I went outside to say hi, I saw that Ron had moved the dog crate out of the garage and into the driveway because “Ruby wanted to lay and egg and didn’t want to do it in the coop,” he said.

I took a peek, and there she was, completely satisfied with herself that she was back in her crate. She did lay an egg, which was great because we only got three eggs today.

But the best story was one Ron told me tonight. He said Ruby was on her gate tonight as usual. This is where she goes since she is reluctant to go into the coop, but she needs to sleep in the coop for safety and warmth.

She won’t do this for me. I have to scoop her up, which she complains about very loudly. But, for Ron, he just holds out his arm in front of her when she’s on the gate, and she will jump onto his arm. He carries her to the coop, and she hops off his arm.

Tonight, Ron said Ruby was hesitant. He said it was pretty dark, and Ruby was acting like she couldn’t see very well. So Ron held his arm out a little more to be better in her line of sight. And then he slowly moved his arm toward her.

He said that Ruby very slowly held out one foot and kind of reached for his arm. Then, she carefully brought over her other foot and adjusted her little feed to get a good grip. She wrapped her feet around his arm, which is such a cool feeling. He said he took her to the coop door, and she hopped off. He told her, “Good job, Ruby.”

When he was telling me this story, he said, “You were right about chickens. They are special, some even more so.”

This is true. They are all special, but some are extra. And when you meet those extra special chickens, the ones who just don’t do well with the flock, who connect more with you than their people, I feel you have to do your best to accommodate them. It’s not always easy, but, in return, you get to know a truly unique, interesting, beautiful being. It’s so worth it. And, after all, I know how it feels. I connect better with other species than I do my own people.

“Ruby’s a gift,” Ron said to me. “Like Poe was. Only Ruby has a very different personality, but she’s a gift like Poe was a gift.”

And this made me have tears.

Grateful for Chickens

Day 191 of 365

Last night, I had a bad dream. I dreamt that I had to give my up chickens. In my dream, we moved to an apartment, and I had to give my chickens to someone. I was in a panic. I knew my chickens would be stressed and scared, and I didn’t think anyone else could take care of them as well because they wouldn’t know their individual needs. I mean, who else is going to know what Ruby wants? Anyway, the dream was full of terrible anxiety. The last thing I remember was waking up the first morning in our apartment and hearing a rooster crowing. When I went to see why I heard a rooster, I saw that there was a house next door, and the people had a handful of chickens. When I saw the rooster, I started to cry from a broken heart because I missed my chickens. And then I woke up.

I am telling you I have never felt so happy to see my chickens in the morning, and I generally really like seeing them every single day. I felt badly for them though because it was a snow day. The first snow day is always hard on our chickens, especially the new people. I was so happy to see them, even though they were grumpy about the weather. I took them treats twice, and when I went to get the eggs, I thanked those chickens so much–and they only laid two eggs today. But that’s okay. I gave everyone who would allow it a pet. Jane is a mean chicken and pecks me every time. I still try though. And Mary Jane just lets me pet and pet her. She knows me well, and I love that.

Also, little Arwen, who has been Ruby’s sidekick since her mama Juliet ditched her at four weeks old, still can’t stay in the coop with the rest of the flock. Well, she can but chooses not to, so I assume she really just can’t.

We had to close the garage door because it’s getting too cold, so she had nowhere to hang out today. I figured she would stay in the coop with Ruby since it was bad weather, but nope. She got out somehow and hung out under Ron’s pick up all day. I took her food and water, and brought her extra treats a few times. She’s very young and a very interesting chicken. I’ll be interested in seeing how she behaves as she gets older.

Anyway, when I went outside to check on her the second time. I saw that I could see what she was up to all morning by following her tracks in the snow. She made some interesting decisions about where to go, I thought. She did come finish her treats while I was gone, but she also checked out the flower bed, the flower pot, and made various circles around the Subarau. She also had a little helper, some wild bird, eating some treats she must have left.

I love that I get to live so closely these animals. I must love them even more than I fully understand. My dream was terrible, but I woke up grateful for our chickens. I treasure getting to work with these fascinating animals.


Day 187 of 365

Tonight was tough. I had to say goodbye to Rostropovich. I am going to miss him very much. I cried all the way to the house where we delivered him. I hope he’s going to be okay. Their last rooster was killed by a predator. I hope, hope, hope he’s going to be okay.

We really wanted to keep him, but we do not have a large enough flock for three roosters. We have Rooster, and I have to keep Dvorak, as he was always such a mama’s boy. I just wanted to keep Rostropovich as well. But he was starting to bother the girls who were low in the pecking order, and just a few were getting all of his attention. He wasn’t too rough, but there just aren’t enough hens to go around. So Ruby and a few of the younger girls were being bothered by him. I learned a long time ago that, when a rooster starts picking on a favorite or two, you have to make a change. He will wear her down, and it will impact her health big time. I decided a few years ago that I would be way more proactive and never let that happen again. Plus, it was Ruby. Ruby is the special.

On top of this Rostropovich really loved to sing! He would get on top of the rocks and just crow and crow and crow and crow. Then he would get Rooster going. Then Dvorak would join in. We live in out in the country but do have neighbors fairly close. Last weekend, Ron said, “You have one week to find a home for that rooster.” I understood.

He’s so absolutely beautiful, and he’s a very, very good rooster. In the photo, he’s the rooster on the right. Just look at that tail. Both of these birds are magnificent. I knew I would be able to find a home for him, and I did within a few hours of posting his picture and telling his story. The lady wrote me though and said she had to be honest because she could tell I loved him. She told me their last one had been taken by a predator. This is so common. It would be impossible for me to find a rooster a home if I held everyone to my standards for chicken safety. I mean, we have Great Pyrenees. They help more than I can say. So I told the lady that I would just be thankful for him to have his own flock and have a chance. She also seemed to really love chickens.

Still, I cried and cried taking him over there tonight.

When I scooped him up to kidnap him, he didn’t even fuss. So I snuggled him and told him to be brave, to be tough, to be smart. I hope he understood. I tried to think about what I was saying so deeply, hoping he might read something from me about what was about to happen. Most of my chickens don’t study me very much though. I study all of them, but only a few have deeply studied me right back. One was Poe.

Anyway, we drove him over and played Tom Petty for him for the drive. Birds always like music, I have found. I sure hope he makes it. The good news/bad news is that it’s not that far from here, and they free range their chickens. This means I can drive by and try to see him. You know I am going to be doing that.

I should add a small side story at the end of this one. Ron and I drove Rostropovich over to his new home, but our teen wanted to stay home. We wouldn’t be gone long anyway, but we told him he would have to watch Bairre, who has been a little terror all day long. Boudica was very frustrated with her new little brother today and has been staying away, refusing to play with him. But when we got home from delivering the rooster, I found our teen on his computer playing video games with Boudica fenced into the front of the house via a baby gate, stuck babysitting Bairre. I swear, when she saw me, it was like “thank goodness your home.” I told her I was so sorry.

I grumped at our son for making Boudica do his work, and he said he only sort of felt badly because Boudica is a better babysitter. Teenagers.

A Ruby Update

Day 177 of 365

I am working on a longer post for later in the week, so I thought I would just tell a short Ruby story tonight and give a little update on the chicken that has become the most prominent little personality on our homestead. As you may remember, she was moved to the coop for sleeping at night last month, but she continues to fly over the fence (well, sometimes, I just open the gate for her) in the morning.

She spends her days hanging out in the front yard and in the driveway and front woods area. She never goes too far. She moves with the UPS driver comes down the driveway. She, like Juliet, seems to know how to handle herself very well away from the flock, so we let her roam. It’s a risk though. She’s safer in with the flock, but she just can’t take it in there. So we let her have some freedom at the risk of some security. I love her very much. She’s a difficult chicken, is very vocal, and she’s wicked smart. I have found in my life that some of the most difficult people I know are the smartest people I know. Ruby is no exception.

At night, when it’s time to go to bed, Ruby usually perches on the gate by the coop. She has done this her whole life, even before she moved to the garage this summer. It’s like she can’t take the stress of going to be. Roosting at night is more than a bit rowdy. There is a lot of fussing. Sometimes, the fussing is so bad that I got outside and grump at people. They will behave until I am about five feet from the coop, and then they are right back at the fussing.

Anyway, when we are away from home on the nights our son has orchestra, I worry extra about Ruby. I am terrified an owl is going to get her. So far, she’s always there when we get home.

Tonight, I had a run some errands, and it gets dark so early that it was dark when I got home. I didn’t see Ruby on the gate and started to worry immediately. She’s always on the gate. I looked in the garage and didn’t see her there either. I started to panic a little bit and ran inside to get the flashlight to check in the coop. I scanned the roosts and the nest boxes and still didn’t see her. So I called to her, “Ruby! Ruby!”

And then I heard some chicken talk from behind a group of young chickens from this year’s hatch. There, behind the muppets, sat Ruby. When I saw her and said her name again, she talked back to me again. I later found out that Ron had encouraged her to go into the coop early, so she went to bed early for him. She won’t do that for me. She is a much better-behaved chicken for Ron. It’s okay though.

I love that she knows her name. Ruby is such a difficult chicken, and I don’t know what I would do without her.

Rooster, the Best Rooster

Day 170 of 365

When we decided to get a rooster for our flock, we did not take the decision lightly. There are pros and cons to roosters, but in our efforts to be self-sustaining, we decided we wanted to try a rooster. We special ordered a Rhode Island Red rooster. I hand raised him and followed every bit of instruction I could find about raising a good rooster. I found out later that most of this information on the internet about raising a good rooster was incorrect, and our little Rhode Island Red rooster turned out to be pretty much a monster when it came to the hens. He was great with me, but he terrorized the hens. I kept reading that this was “normal.” I asked questions in forums, and people said it was “normal” rooster behavior. I had my doubts, but I was fairly new to chickens and doubted myself. 

Then, in a batch of baby chicks we ordered online, we got a free “surprise” chicken. A couple of months into raising that group of chicks, I heard a crow. What would we do with two roosters? But, since our Rhode Island Red was a holy terror, I wondered if this new little guy might be better. 

I moved the little guy into the garage where my favorite chicken in the world, Poe, often hung out, and I asked her to raise him. She did a great job. She pecked him on the head so much that I questioned her methods, but she helped raise a good boy. I have also learned that genetics help A LOT, but being raised by a strong female also helps the boys be a little better behaved. 

We named him “Rooster” by default, I suppose, and Rooster loved Poe. He stayed with Poe until he was big enough to move into the coop. He was always shy around us, but when we moved him into the main flock, we saw fairly quickly that he was great with the hens. He danced to woo them and seemed to be far less aggressive than our Rhode Island Red rooster.

Then, there was one day the neighbor called to say a fox was in her garden, which was right next to our chicken area. I thanked her and ran outside to try to save my chickens, only to find that Rooster was at the gate to the run, calling to all of the girls. He had every one of those hens lined up (they were literally in a line) and headed to the coop to safety. When the last one was headed to the coop, he followed them in. He had organized a plan, and everyone was just fine!

I knew we had lucked into the best rooster, but it wasn’t until the Rhode Island Red rooster nearly killed our sweet girl, Broody Hen, that he went to the pot and Rooster became the full-time head of the flock. 

Over the years, he has still never been comfortable with me touching him. He’s very proud, and we learned a few years in that he’s an organizer and a thinker—but not a fighter. 

The first time we had a hawk attack, I ran out to find it killing one of our hens, Lucy II. It was devastating. I scooped Lucy II up and looked around to try to find Rooster. I found him. He had called for as many girls as he could and was holding them in the shrubs, but I guess the attack surprised him. He stared for nearly an hour at the place where the attack had happened. I could see the devastation on his face. 

When he finally got all of the girls to the coop later, he would not let them out again for nearly two weeks. I didn’t know how obvious a chicken’s sadness could be until I saw Rooster. He was depressed for the longest time. I could see he thought he had failed his flock, and it had broken his little heart—and his spirit. I worried for a bit that he might not snap out of his depression, but he finally did.

He is still not a fighter, but he’s very, very good at alerting us to danger. And I am now smart enough to know what his calls mean and when I need to come running in a hurry. Just last summer, he screamed like I had not heard in years, so I dropped everything and ran just in time to see two hens fighting off a hawk. Rooster seemed so relieved that everyone was okay.

I have two particularly powerful stories to tell about Rooster that will help you get a sense of who he is. Because he’s so proud and doesn’t like my touch, I would never give him health inspections like I did the girls. I figured if the girls were overall healthy and mite free, Rooster was as well. But one summer, I saw him being really tired and droopy. I had been really busy rehabilitating a duck I had inherited and didn’t notice Rooster until he was in pretty rough shape. I realized I was going to have to make him uncomfortable and give him a full health check. He was getting older, and I thought we may lose him. 

I went to the coop that night with a flashlight, and I didn’t have to inspect very much before I saw the problem. My sweet Rooster had mites!

I was a little nervous about doing this because he’s a big boy, a Welsummer, and his spurs are big too, but I scooped him up and took him to the guest bathroom for a bath and mite treatment. On top of the humiliation of a bath, because I couldn’t stand the thought of those mite eggs being stuck in his feathers, I spent more than an hour picking out eggs of poor Roster’s feathers while he stood on the towel after his bath. He just stood there and let me do my work—forever. 

When I had gotten as much as I thought I was going to be able to get for that night, I told Rooster I was so sorry, that I would make sure he never had mites again. And I am not kidding even just a little bit, this happened:

I was in the floor with him. We were both a wet mess. He turned around to look at me and then came up to me and leaned his body into mine. There, in the bathroom floor, he leaned his head on my shoulder and held it there the longest time. I gently put my arm around him and realized this was one of those profound moments of my life. My sweet but stand-offish Rooster was giving me a hug. 

If I wasn’t in love with him before, I surely was after that. When I told my neighbor about it, she said I might need to be careful about telling people that story, that people might think I was crazy. Here I am now, with full confidence, telling you this story. I have seen so much more since then, and I can, without hesitation, say that chickens can give you a hug in a special moment. The bonds we share are real, and they are highly intelligent animals, some especially so.

That was the sweetest story about my Rooster, but I have an amazing story too.

A couple of summers ago, I had just moved some young chickens out with the main flock. They were still little, so I had to try to feed them their special baby food every chance I got. I was out in the chicken yard one morning, feeding the babies, when Rooster came up, ran them off, and started eating their baby food. In his old age, Rooster has definitely become a foodie. 

I shamed him and told him, “These are your babies, Rooster. Shame on you for stealing their baby food.” 

He backed away, obviously ashamed of himself, and then I felt terrible for shaming him. I could see I had hurt his feelings. I did not mention this story to my husband, Ron.

Later that afternoon, Ron came into the house and said, “I have to tell you a story about Rooster that you aren’t going to believe.” 

Ron said that he was out in the chicken yard, and he saw Rooster near the babies. “I saw the most remarkable thing,” he said. “Rooster picked up a pellet of food in his beak and then leaned over and fed it to a baby chicken!” 

I could NOT believe this. I then told Ron my story from earlier in the day, and we realized we, indeed, had a very intelligent and very special rooster on our hands. 

In his very old age now, he’s far too grumpy. He used to give all the food to the hens. Now, he takes the food for himself. He doesn’t mate much, but he still tries some. This summer, when we tried to raise some chicks from our own eggs, we had about a 25 percent fertilization rate and an even smaller success rate. 

We need a new rooster, but the new rooster has to get along with Rooster and know his place because, no matter what, our Rooster is going to be cared for to the best of my abilities until the day he passes. And when that day comes, I will mourn him with all of my heart. 

Rooster is one of the greats. 

Pumpkin Progress

164 of 365

Today was the best day. It was far too busy, but it was still a great day. We just finished the second Farmer-ish online reading party, and it was wonderful. I got to listen to stories about happy cows, chicken folklore, and the thin veil between worlds during this time of the year. It was magnificent.

And I wanted to share that Ruby is doing fairly well in her adjustment to life back in the coop. I worried so much about her since she had lived in the garage since early May, but she did it. She complains to me a bit at bedtime, but she goes back to the coop. She, of course, flies right out in the morning, but that’s fine. We just had to move her out of the garage because, in winter, it’s too cold for her to stay in there. Plus, we have pipes above the garage that would freeze if we left the door open for her. So she has been a big girl. She does complain, but I am very proud of her. I love that little stinker of a chicken.

The chickens are making great progress on the pumpkin. I didn’t get a picture tonight, but they finally made it through the center. This picture is from last night though. It was dark before I could get out there to take a picture, but I loved how spooky the pumpkin looked with the flashlight on it. I am going to love putting a candle in this thing and showing all of our neighbor kids on Halloween that this is the pumpkin my chickens carved. That’s going to make my night!

Just This Chicken Video

Day 163 of 365

It’s Thursday night, so I am up to my ears in giving feedback to students. Actually, tonight, I am grading revisions from my freshmen students. Although my work with my graduate students can be more challenging in some ways, working with freshmen college students is definitely the most challenging work I do. I have more to go, so I will be brief tonight and just share this video of my chickens working on their pumpkin.

They made a little progress yesterday, so I put more seeds on today and got a video this morning. The best part is just seeing and hearing these sweet girls. I love the ones who keep going back and forth, kind of fretting around the edges. You can definitely see pecking order at play here. Some hens are allowed up front. Others are not. But aren’t they all just the cutest things?

And Piatigorsky makes an appearance. You will see her, and at the very end, she walks right in front of the camera. She’s light gray and just beautiful! I hope this makes you smile.

The Great Chicken Pumpkin Carving Challenge

Day 162 of 365

Ron makes fun of me when I do my best to follow social media trends with my chickens, but I don’t let that stop me. If I like something, I’m going to do it. And the chicken pumpkin carving thing going around social media seems like a great idea to me because a) it’s adorable and b) pumpkin is a natural worm preventative for chickens. Please note it is not an official de-wormer; it just helps prevent overloads. That’s probably a lot of information for those who are not chicken people.

Anyway, I read through other posts to see what you had to do. You just get it started, let your chickens work their magic, and you end up with a monstrously carved pumpkin–handmade (well, beak made) by chickens.

I got a fantastically giant pumpkin at a local grocery store the sells local farm food, and this morning, I made my cuts. You have to get the chickens going in the right direction, of course. While I was making these cuts, Ruby hollered at me the whole time. I was in the spot where I always cut up watermelon before everyone gets a watermelon treat, and I think she was upset I was not cutting up watermelon. I threw her a little chunk of pumpkin. She continued to holler at me while the rest of the flock, being the good chickens they are, watched from the other side of the fence.

I put the seeds in the eyes, took some pictures, and left. Mostly, all the chickens seems a little suspicious of this giant pumpkin. Later, I got a message from a friend who writes for the local newspaper. She wanted to know if I would make a video of my chickens in action for an article she’s writing about the great chicken pumpkin carving challenge. I told her I would do my best.

When I got home tonight from a long afternoon of being cello mom, I took a flashlight out to the chicken pasture to see what they had done. They did some pretty good work today. I’ll have to share pictures and keep you posted. Let’s see what our flock can do.

20 Weeks Tomorrow

Day 158 of 365

Today, when I collected eggs, I collected just five eggs. We are definitely well into the molt now. But, as I considered our lack of eggs right now, I started to wonder how close our summer babies were to laying age. I realized our little group of Salmon Faverolles, which have just been affectionately labeled as “my muppets,” were the first ones born and might be close to laying.

I normally write baby chick birthdays on the calendar in the kitchen, but I did not this year. Thankfully, I realized I have this blog as a fairly detailed record of all things chicken, duck, and garden in my life. And there it was. On May 30, Ruby became a mama, and my little muppets hatched.

I counted the weeks. This means our babies will be 20 weeks old tomorrow. Time has flown, has it not?

Anyway, I looked up to see what age Salmon Faverolles tend to start laying, and it’s 20 weeks! Of course, with the light fading, there is no telling if they will lay any time soon. The 20 weeks is really just under ideal conditions, but still, there is some hope.

Of course, right now, I can’t imagine them laying. They still seem like such babies to me and are still very, very melodramatic. When I try to pick one up, you would think I was trying to eat it. I think I’m making a little bit of progress though. They are tempted to eat treats out of my hand. No takers yet, but I can see they are considering it.

But I am excited we are close on the eggs. Their eggs are supposed to be creamy and light creamy brown. I’m going to be watching the nest boxes hopefully and keeping my fingers crossed.

A Rooster with No Name

Day 149 of 365

It’s Thursday, so my post will be short. I just have this picture to share of Juliet’s babies, whom she ditched when they were just four weeks old. They have done so well on their own, and I am so impressed with their intelligence and temperment. The little hen has a name. Ron named her Arwen after his first love in The Lord of the Rings. He doesn’t tell me she was his first love, but I know it. Ron read the trilogy three times when he was a kid.

This little hen is a cutie pie, and she has just enough Easter Egger in her that she has a little bit of the fluffy cheeks–but not the normal amount. It’s just enough that, when you look at her straight on, you can see that it’s like she permanently has a baby bird face. It’s adorable!

The most adorable to me, however, is this little rooster. We have been blessed/cursed with too many good roosters this year. I cannot believe the good roosters. Normally, our roosters are little terrors. But we still have Dvorak and Rostropovich, though we certainly cannot keep both of them. Then, this little guy came along and looks so much like his daddy, our rooster named Rooster that I almost can’t believe my eyes. He’s very good so far too.

My thinking is this: Because Dvorak and Rostropovich are so well behaved and are pure bred roosters, I may be able to find a good home for them, but it would be ideal if they could go together. But I almost started crying writing that sentence, so I don’t know. Then there’s this little guy, perfectly magnificent so far and with no name because I have been telling myself all summer we can’t keep him. Still, he’s a mutt, a barnyard mix. No one is going to want him. If I can find a good home for my other boys, maybe this little guy can stay.

And maybe we need to name him. Something from The Lord of the Rings, right? Who did I love in The Lord of the Rings? Hmm. It would have to be Faramir.