Frog and Toad

We take notice of very little of what surrounds us. For one thing, we’re limited by our senses. We don’t see the entire spectrum of light, and at night we see even more poorly. Step outside and there’s a cacophony of animal and insect noises, and yet block out the sounds and ignore them. Animals traipse through our yard, leaving pungent scent messages that our noses don’t detect.

We’re also limited by our busy days. After dinner, do you stand in the yard, looking? And not just looking out, but looking down and looking under? Do you stand there, swatting mosquitos, being delighted by the flashes of lightning bugs? If you do, and you live in America, on a spot of ground where there is damp earth and a pool of water nearby, you’ll likely see this hunter: the American bullfrog.

bullfrog in grass


They can be long-lived (a decade!) and get very large. Here you can see the size in comparison to Steve’s hand.

bullfrog size


We humans see smiles and project personalities onto animals. This frog can’t help looking cheerful, but who knows what it’s really thinking? A frog this size needs to hunt up insects, and even mice and snakes, for it’s supper.



After night falls, we go outside to say hello to the American Toad that has taken up residence by the back porch. I’m happy to see it there. I think that it’s a female, because of the pale coloration of the throat.

American toad


She sits, buddha-like, in the same place, night after night. I love seeing toads. They are voracious consumers of bugs that I’d like to have gone from my garden. My son feeds her beetles.

I challenge you to go out into your familiar landscape and become aware of some living thing that you hadn’t noticed before, then come back and tell me about it. I’d like to know what I’m missing!

(FYI, all photos were taken at night with a flash.)

The Broody Hen

A broody hen is sight to behold. She’s perpetually in a furious mood.

Here is Onyx in the nesting box. Note the erect feathers and the flattened posture.

angry broody


Compare her to Ruby, who is in the box, laying an egg. More pleasant, isn’t she?

laying hen


A broody hen will get out of the box, at least once daily, to eat, drink and dust bathe. She’ll still look angry.

broody eating


Don’t be alarmed if you notice that your broody hen has pulled all of her feathers off of her chest. She’s not molting. She’s exposing her skin so that her body heat will be directly on the eggs (that is, if she did have eggs, if she was actually going to hatch eggs, which Onyx is not.)

bare breast


Removing your broody hen from her nesting box will do nothing to break the broody spell. She’ll plop down, in a huff of implacable feathers. The other hens will not be intimidated, in fact, they’ll beeline for the broody and peck at her head. Chickens hate changes in the flock, and a broody upsets their social structure. They’ll let her know it.

pecking the broody


If you want to break your hen of broodiness, you’ll have to use an anti-broody hutch. I’ve written about that here.

Right now there are two broodies in the Big Barn, Onyx and Pearl. Pearl is a cochin, which means that if I break her broody spell she’d go right back to it. So, I ignore her. Onyx is a Barnevelder, and it might be that if I put her in the anti-broody coop that she’d snap out of it and go back to laying. But, honestly, I’m feeling lazy and don’t want to do the work of taking care of her separately. I’m collecting enough eggs from the other hens. So, she has a bald chest, she’s taking up a nesting box, she smashes an egg on occasion (I had to hose yolk off her the other day) but, I’m leaving her to it. That’s what happens after twenty years of chicken keeping – you can relax and let them be.


Perfect Imperfection

Sometimes the most perfect things have imperfections.

half moon


LIke these two sunflowers.

two sunflowers


I didn’t plant them. Seeds from last year’s sunflowers must have somehow survived chipmunks and free-ranging hens, a bitter winter and a cold spring. They’re perfect simply because not only did they grow and blossom, but they are exactly where I was going to plant sunflowers again this year. Because these sunflowers had such an early start, I have sunflowers blooming a month earlier than I usually do.

No matter that they are not symmetrical.

leaves gone


The birds think them perfect, too, and have been eating the petals.

bird eaten


I’m happy to share.

* New Chicken Workshops Scheduled!* On Saturday, August 23, I’ll be teaching my Chicken Keeping Workshop which covers all of the basics (and more!) On Sunday, August 24, I’ll teach the Advanced Chicken Keeping Workshop. Both will be here in my backyard. There should be more sunflowers to see at the end of the summer. For details, see the Upcoming Events Page.

Grapes for Chickens

In the early spring of 2013 I planted grapes. I ordered three varieties, all seedless, all of which were supposed to thrive in my growing zone. They have.



They came bare root. They looked like supple twigs. Optimistically, I had Steve build an arbor over half of the Gem’s run. (You can see in this photo from last year how the hens crowded into their small bit of shade.)

new arbor


The idea was that the grapes would protect the hens from hawks*, as well as provide a shady and cooler spot to hang out. The grapes do all of that.



This year the vines have grown with exuberance. They twine and drop down into the pen. So far, the grapes are just out of reach. So far, the fruits are just small green promises of good things to come.

baby grapes


The hens are keeping an eye on them.

Don’t worry, girls. There are plenty to share with you.


*The run is narrow, the fence is high, and the large Red Tailed hawks that we have here might be able to swoop in, but they know that they can’t fly out. At least that’s my theory. The Little Barn’s pen, which is wider, and with a lower fence, is covered with hawk netting.

An Early Molt

Good animal husbandry (which is what care of farm stock is called) is all about paying attention and noticing when something is off. If chickens played poker, they’d be very, very good at bluffing. What, me? Nothing wrong here, a hen says, even when she hasn’t been able to eat and swallow food for two days. I’m laying eggs, daily, like I always have, says the hen in the nesting box, who goes in as if she’s going to leave an egg, and yet hasn’t produced one for weeks.

Mid-July always brings changes to the flock. Heat and humidity stresses birds. Some go broody. I listen. I watch. Are they breathing normally? Are they roosting as always or has there been a rearrangement of hierarchy?

The Gems turned three years of age this past April. That’s old for laying hens. Despite a good diet, shells thin. Animals get diseased. So far, all is well.




Someone has been losing feathers. It’s a Speckled Sussex.

It’s Florence. She’s starting to molt. Look at how loose her coat is.

loose feathers


Ruby notices. She sees feathers dangling and moving, and so she pecks at them. Florence doesn’t mind. The feathers are falling out anyway.

feather picking


All chickens molt, usually late in the summer. Molting marks the cessation of the laying season. Hens that are poor layers are the first to molt; I’ve known that a few of the Gems were slacking off of the laying, and now I know who at least one of them is. It might be age, and Florence is otherwise fine, or it might be an underlying condition. I’ll pay attention.