The Grass is Always Greener…

It is early afternoon. The hens have been let out of their pens to wander around the yard. The girls that live in the HenCam coop are rustling in the leaves under the bushes. They are scratching up bugs in the partially frozen lawn. Eggers has gone to the pond to take a drink of bracingly clear and cold water. 

Six hens live in the big barn. They are, what I call, the “bossy girls.” They don’t tolerate bantams. They are aggressive to newcomers. They don’t like to share their corn or their space. You would think that they would be good foragers, but no, they are too jealous of the hens in the smaller barn. They think that it must be better there. So, while the HenCam barn girls are out and about, the big barn hens go into the smaller yard. They take dust baths. Surely, the other hens’ dust is better! They go into the coop and drink their water. They look for bits of corn under the rabbit hutch. Even the corn is better!

Meanwhile, the HenCam barn hens do NOT go into the big girls’ barn. They know that the good stuff is to be found in the grass and under the trees. They are quite happy.

Partly, the differences in these two flocks are due to breed characteristics. Some hens are bossier. Some more willing to go further afield. Partly, flocks take on personalities. It is fascinating to observe their differences.

One thing is the same for both – when I shake a container of cracked corn and call, “here girls” they come running. It is easy to sort them into the two groups. They know where they live and they know who their friends are. 

Interesting isn’t it?


Seven years ago we bought a piece of land because it was in the town we love and had some attributes that were hard to come by – no wetlands (which means no hassles with the conservation commission), 900 acres of conservation land and a great trail system next door, and in an established neighborhood of people of various ages. We hired an architect, but, honestly, he dropped the ball, and most of the design is mine. 

The entire house is designed around my office. Am I lucky, or what? We positioned the house so that I could watch for the school bus in the afternoon, but the view really is all about the meadow across the street. I have a small porch, wired for my laptop. In my fantasy life, I sit out there, with a glass of lemonade and write.

In reality, wasps have found the decking to be a perfect environment and I battle them all summer. This time of year there are no stinging insects, but it is too cold to enjoy. 

My dog, Lily, loves the porch. It has a great view of the evil UPS trucks that she is vigilant in defending our house against. Lately, there have been sunny days when it’s warm enough for her to curl up on her bed out there, but most days, it’s way too frigid. We have a routine. I’ll be working at my computer. She’ll come over and nudge me so that I can’t type. I say, “it’s too cold.” She pesters me until I get up and let her out. A blast of 20 degree cold air comes into my office. She circles the porch once, then comes back in. I say, “I told you so.” We are both ready for spring.


Blood in the Coop

There was a scary sight in the big barn this weekend – blood on the wall and a messy bloody dropping under the roost. Obviously, someone had expelled something.  I looked closer at the poo. It was wet, red and large. It was obviously blood and not stained from berries, or something else foraged. 

 At the first sign of illness, the sick hen should be isolated. Immediately. I looked at the hens to determine which one needed my help. All six were standing at my feet, waiting for treats. Everyone was bright-eyed and hungry.

I grabbed some cracked corn and squatted down to observe my birds as they ate from my hands.  There were no signs of illness. No raspy breath, lowered heads, or sluggish movement. 

I picked up each hen, turned them over and examined the vent areas. No signs of blood or injury. 

What to do? I checked in with knowledgeable chicken friends who were as puzzled as I was. Blood in the stool often indicates coccidiosis. But, the girls showed none of the other signs of that problem. Worms? No other signs.

My best guess is that someone had an egg break inside of her, and as she pushed it out, she damaged some of the oviduct, and so expelled a bloody mass. This is a guess. There was no shell or anything resembling an egg in the manure, other than that it was bigger and wetter. 

I could have put all of the hens on a course of antibiotics, but I decided to wait.

Four days later and everyone is still fine. Yet another mystery of chicken keeping. At least this one has a happy ending.

PS – After I cleaned up the mess, I thought that you all would have liked to see the evidence. I was so involved in caring for the girls that I didn’t think about it until it was too late. Next time, I’ll remember my camera! Meanwhile, this poultry forum in England has a new, terrific area just for photos of poo. It’s quite useful, as manure is one of the first clues when figuring out health issues in your flock.


Last year I planted rutabagas as a second crop after the greens (spinach, chard, mesclun) were done. They were fun to grow – they came up fast, and they were visible. Unlike carrots, I could see the bulging purple tops rising out of the ground. Immediate gratification!

Unfortunately, I harvested only a few before the freezing weather hit. The ground seized up solid and they were stuck! Then it snowed and they’ve been covered. This weekend the weather was in the 50’s and the snow melted and the ground softened. I pulled up a basketful. 

Some were cold damaged. I could tell by the texture and color. But a few rutabagas were in perfect shape. I can imagine what it was like, years ago, when your own garden was your only source of vegetables and how, after a difficult winter, you found a treasure like these remaining rutabagas in your garden.

I brought them in, washed them and pared off the peel and areas that had gone too green. Cut them into 1-inch chunks and put in my favorite old enameled cast-iron pan. Tossed them with oil, salt and pepper and roasted them at 350 for an hour. Then, as soon as they came out of the oven I topped with a handful of cheese and ate immediately.

It sounds simple, and it is, but it’s the attention to details that matter when working with only a few ingredients. The rutabagas were trimmed so that only the best parts were cooked. The oil was a mild olive oil. Not the most expensive, but just right for roasting vegetables. The salt was Sicilian sea salt that I brought back from Rome. Yes, those expensive salts do taste different than table salt. The pepper was fresh cracked from my mill. The cheese? Real Parmesan. The sum of the parts was perfect – sharp, salty, sweet and peppery.

I’m sorry that I don’t have a photo. I was going to go into the garden today and take a picture of the remaining rutabagas left to harvest. However, it is, once again, snowing. (sigh) I think that the thaw and now this freeze will ruin the rutabagas still in the ground. I’ve now had two chances to harvest those rutabagas… do you think I’ve learned my lesson?

HenCam Technical FAQ

[Check this page for more up-to-date information! -Terry]

I often get queries asking for advice on how to set up a system like The HenCam, after all, doesn’t everyone want to be able to keep an eye on their chickens when away, and share the fun of their animals with others? However our system is not easy to replicate – it’s technically challenging (I know because my IT Guy/husband is frequently working on it), nor is it inexpensive to run. But we love having the HenCam, and really like sharing it with all of you out there.

I honestly have no clue how it all works, and I get all woozy when Steve tries to explain it to me, so the details have yet to sink in. Therefore, today’s blog entry is written by my IT Guy – who deserves a big round of internet hand-clapping from everyone. (You’ll see why if you can wade all the way through this post.)

Here are some tips from my I.T. Guy and husband Steve:

There are various solutions depending on your budget and just exactly what you are trying to accomplish.

Web camera

The easiest (and cheapest) solution is to buy a web camera and attach it directly to your computer using a USB cable. These cameras are generally used for video conferencing and video instant messaging, but instead of pointing the camera at you, just point it out the window. Unfortunately the camera has to remain indoors and close to the computer (maximum length of a USB cable is 5 meters). Also typically you can only watch the video from that computer. For more information see this tutorial at HowStuffWorks.

Network camera

If the camera has to be far away from your computer then you need a network camera. These self-contained cameras are not attached to a computer, they just need power and a network connection (usually Ethernet, although some can also connect wirelessly with WiFi). These cameras have built-in webserver software, and a web browser on your computer is used to control the camera and view the video. If you intend to mount it outdoors then make sure your camera is weatherproof and can handle extreme temperatures.

If you want to view your camera from outside your home then you need an always-on Internet connection (e.g., cable modem or DSL). Your Internet service provider (ISP) must assign the camera a static IP address, or you can use dynamic DNS (DDNS) which most cameras support. One limitation is that network cameras allow only a small number of simultaneous users. The upstream bandwidth of your home Internet connection will also limit the number of viewers.

Supporting many users

If you want to allow many users to view your camera then consider a video hosting service that offers video streaming. Now your home Internet connection only has to upload a single stream from your camera up to the hosting service. The service takes care of the rest.

How The HenCam Works

We have two Toshiba IK-WB15A network cameras:

hencam Toshiba IK-WB15A network camera

The camera itself is inside the clear plastic hemisphere. It can pan left-right-up-down to look in all directions. We keep it pointing towards the right (the camera’s left) along the wall of the HenCam barn:

outside hencam Toshiba IK-WB15A network camera

The inside camera is in the corner above the waterer. You can see the metal heater that keeps the water from freezing:

inside hencam Toshiba IK-WB15A network camera

These cameras are weatherproof and can operate well below freezing temperatures. Image quality is excellent.

Originally the power and Ethernet cables ran unprotected to the cameras. However one day Candy the bunny started chewing on them, so now all the wiring is safely inside electrical conduit.

Ethernet cables run underground from the house basement out to the HenCam barn. Our server (an Apple Xserve) runs a custom PHP script that copies the image from the cameras. This script also automatically generates the nighttime “The chickens are in bed” message. (We added this message because early HenCam viewers were mystified when all they saw was a black screen at night.) Our web server is Apache running under Mac OS X Server. Finally a Java applet streams video out to viewers. (Someday we hope to switch to Adobe Flash for an even better viewing experience.) Our Internet connection is a bonded dual T1 link with 3Mbits/sec upload bandwidth.

It’s been great fun putting all this together. Thanks for watching The HenCam!