The Biggle Book

I have recently purchased a slight, yet wise, book. Published in 1895, The Biggle Poultry Book has advice for farmers, and as Mr. Biggle calls it, those who keep a “village hennery.” (I love that term!) The start of each chapter has a quote from either his wife, Harriet, or Tim, the farm manager, or Tim’s wife. Here’s one: “To me, eggs are like morals – they have no middle ground. If not good, they are bad.” — Harriet

Here’s another saying from Harriet: “In cold weather keep your eyes open and the cracks in the hen house closed.”

I’ll have more from Harriet, Tim and Mr. Biggle in future HenBlogs.

Petunia Saved!

Yesterday, as I was harvesting veggies for dinner, I cut the tough tops off of a few leeks and tossed them into the chicken run. The girls also got the old bean stalks, carrot greens and a few insect-chewed kale leaves. The hens clucked and chuckled at this manna from what appeared to be heaven – being as how I was literally throwing it over the fence and into their yard, it must have appeared to them as gifts from the gods.

Awhile later, after prepping my own dinner in the kitchen, I came out with a few more veggie scraps for the girls and the compost. Walking through their pen, I noticed that Petunia had a long leek leaf hanging from her mouth. Really long, about ten inches. She was trying to swallow it, and was taking it in like a worm. Of course, a chicken can’t spit something out. Once she started, she had to finish. Petunia had a distressed look in her eyes. Eating a tough long leek in this way must be uncomfortable! Not to mention a choking hazard. So I pulled and pulled and out it came. It was at least sixteen inches. Poor Petunia was vastly relieved to be done with that leek.

Is there a lesson in this story? Perhaps “don’t feed hens anything that looks remotely like a worm.” Or, ‘chop up long, stringy things before tossing them to the girls.” Or, “keep an eye on your hens; you never know what sort of trouble they can get into.” Or, “if you’re going to keep chickens, you can’t get grossed out at things like pulling a leek out of a gullet.”

Bear Spots and Bare Spots

We live less than 30 miles outside of Boston, but there’s lots of wildlife around here. Just last week a black bear came and smashed our bird feeders to bits and ate all of the highly caloric, fattening sunflower seeds, which is the ideal meal for a big animal that needs to bulk up before hibernation. We’ve bought another feeder, but will wait to put seed out until the bear is sound asleep.

Several of you have asked why some of the hens are bare around their vents (that’s a chicken term for “butt”). Snowball is at least partly to blame. When the hens loll about, taking dust baths, Snowball pecks at the now easy-to-reach vent feathers. She’s little and never draws blood. Annoying, but rarely so bad that the bathers bother to get up. Chickens pick up weird habits.

Oh, and by the way, Candy is fine, she’s just shedding big clumps of fur. Her way of getting ready for winter. Yes, the leaves are beginning to turn colors. Summer is over.

Scruffy and Scraggly

It’s not surprising that many of the emails I get from HenBlog readers have to do with plumage. After all, it’s the feathers —  the variety, the shimmer, the lovely fluff of them –that make our chickens so lovely. People into the “fancy” — that is, those who take their chickens to poultry shows — select chickens for conformation and how they fit the “type” (think dog show, but with chickens.) They also select their show stock for how perfect their plumage is. My hens are not fit to show. Snowball has wayward feathers that jut out. Ginger has rubbed her neck so that now no feathers grown in a stripe down it. Petunia has lost the feathers near the base of  the tail and they’ll never grow back. Buffy was pecked at when she was younger, and she has a bald spot on her head. All of this is normal for backyard hens. But if you want to see chickens with perfect, bathed, fluffed and glossed feathers, and if you want to see plumage extravagant and fanciful, go to a poultry show. Poultry Press is the paper that lists the shows. Check my chicken keeping Web site for details.