Chicken Training

The first photo shoot for my childrens’ book, Snowball Lays an Egg, is happening this coming weekend. I have been preparing the 7 hens in my new barn for their moment of stardom by training them to pose next to a target stick. I’ve also been trying to get them to go in and stay in a nesting box on cue.

It turns out that some hens have more aptitude than others for this sort of thing. After only a few days of training sessions, I decided to replace my New Hampshire Red, Marge, with her sister, Petunia. Marge was posing just fine – but she was too obnoxious! Marge is the loudest hen, and she clucks with such an insistently complaining tone, that I just couldn’t work with her. Petunia, on the other hand, is a pleasure to be around.

I’ve always loved the Australorps, Twinkydink and Blackie, because of their calm natures. Physically, I can’t tell them apart. One of them went into the new barn. After a week of training sessions, it was clear that she couldn’t handle any separation from the flock. Even if she could see the other hens from the other side of a screen door, she’d fly into a panic. So, I switched her with her twin, who I am calling Twinkydink. This Australorp (same age and background) is also nervous, but can be handled and trained.

So, for those of you keeping track, in view on the Hencam are Blackie and Marge.

Meanwhile, luckily, thankfully, Snowball has emerged as a true star. She follows the target stick and stands next to it. I have gotten her to walk in a circle on the roof of toy truck – a skill she needs for this book!

Training animals is a window into their personalities and quirks. Not only have I learned breed differences (the Barred Rocks will do anything for food, and the Orpingtons are gentle but nervous), but I’ve learned about each individual in my backyard flock.

Now, if I could find the time, maybe I could train my puppy, Scooter!

Name That Hen!

Thank-you to everyone who wrote and suggested a name for my new Rhode Island Red. I had such fun reading your emails. Selecting a name was very difficult as there were so many good choices.

Several of you suggested the names of favorite redheads. I particularly liked “Lucy” for Lucille Ball, Brenda Starr and Red Henlton (for Red Skelton).

Then, there were the plant and flower names, such as Pansy, Fern and Rosemary. I think I shall name my next hen Philanthra, which means “lover of flowers” (is there a word which means lover of eating flowers?) I also liked the food names, especially Salsa, Brownie, and Miela (which means honey in Italian.)

Also in the running were the cheerful names, like Emily (who came with a delightful nickname – Emsy LuLu), Mitzi, Dixie, and Clarissa.

Many entries found inspiration in the state that this breed was developed. Rhoda and Rhodie were popular. One person suggested Buddy – for Buddy Cianci, the infamous, corrupt, RI politician now out of jail.

Rhode Island is a small state with delightful placenames, such as Tiverton, Bristol and Little Compton, all of which would make excellent names for a Rhode Island Red. The winner suggested the name of the third largest island off the coast of RI, Prudence. I love old-fashioned names for hens, and since this also had a Rhode Island connection, I couldn’t resist.

The winner hails from England and will be starting her own backyard flock soon. Congratulations Tory!

What Not To Wear

This fine, warm weather means that I can dust off my sandals and forget about socks. Joy! So, the other day, in celebration, I painted my toenails red. Today, I wore my Teva sandals when I went into the coop to collect eggs. Big mistake. Chickens will peck at anything red. And red things that move right at ground level are especially appealing. Ow! I’ll wear my gardening clogs into the barn from now on.


A coyote, the size of a German Shepherd Dog, has been using my backyard as a highway to get from here to there. Most coyotes are scrawny animals and they move with stealth and caution at dawn and dusk. Not this one. I’ve seen it at night and I’ve seen it at noon. When I do, I go running into the yard, screaming like a banshee. It takes a insouciant look at me and barely speeds up into a trot before it disappears into the woods. I don’t let my good farm dog, Lily, out to scare off the coyote – and it drives her mad from inside the house – but I don’t want them to tangle.

There are worries you have when you’ve got domestic animals on your property. Wildlife viewing just isn’t the same.

Egg Colors

Three years ago I took my family to a poultry swap and show. I told my sons that they could each pick out a chicken. My oldest son selected two silkies (one is never enough!) Jacob, then six years old, spotted a bright-eyed white hen and said, “This one.” I was worried. She had a different look than the other chickens. Something lively, something mischievous. Nothing like the sweet and placid Silkies that we already had in the car. Still, my son insisted, so we took her home and named her Snowball. For three years, now, we’ve collected her little eggs. White Leghorns lay white eggs and we’ve always described hers as such. But now we have two new White Leghorns, Egger and Betsy Ross. They lay little eggs, too. Theirs, though are truly white. Here  is a photo for comparison. The egg on the left is Betsy’s. The one in the middle is Snowball’s, and the one on the right is from one of our large brown hens. So, yet again, Snowball proves that she is a little different. She doesn’t even lay eggs the right color for her breed.

The Name The Chicken Contest continues! I think that I’ll have to get more hens just to use the wonderful names that you are sending in! The contest closes on Wednesday, May 23. I’ll announce the winning name on this blog.