More Snow Day Treats

I’m fortunate to have two barns and my hens are divided into two flocks, one in each space. They could all fit into the big barn, but the Wyandottes don’t like the bantams, and the Golden Comets can’t resist pecking at the Polish’s pom-pom heads. I’ve sorted them into two peaceable groups. There’s rarely any pecking and aggression. But being indoors can drive anyone stir crazy, and it’s snowing. Again.

I grew these last summer:

Usually, the wild birds eat all of the seeds, but this year I was able to harvest a bucketful of the dried flower heads. I saved them for days like this. This morning, I tossed a few on the floor of the big barn. That will keep the girls busy for awhile.

The hens in the HenCam coop still have their cabbage tetherball, but it’s almost gone. I put kale in the suet feeder that is attached to the roosts (Yes! That’s what that’s for.) Candy got some kale in her hutch this morning, but I bet you’ll see her in the coop, eating the chicken’s stash.

The temperature is supposed to drop well below freezing this weekend, so the chickens will be indoors for awhile longer. Now, what to do for the goats?

A Respite Between the Storms

On Tuesday we had snow, rain and ice (all in one day!)  Tomorrow more snow is expected, and then temperatures will drop into the single digits and stay there. But today is gorgeous! There’s no wind, so each branch is laced with brittle snow and the entire world is sparkling. Lily Dog has been going bonkers from inactivity, so I took her across the street, through the meadow and into the woods.

I wish I’d brought my tracking field guide.

Here is the view coming out of the woods and looking up towards my house.

The short walk was a hard work-out! The snow is deep and crusty. Next time, I’ll wear snowshoes.

It’s Me or the Dog (or Chicken)

Well, the cat (ahem… chicken) is out of the bag, and I can now tell you about being on It’s Me or the Dog on Animal Planet.

Last July I got a call from a producer from the show. He wanted to know if it was true that learning to train chickens is an effective way to learn how to train dogs. The answer is a resounding YES. There’s so much emotional neediness that owners bring to their relationship with their animals. They think that their dogs should behave out of unconditional love. But, love isn’t enough to teach a dog to sit quietly, and to pee outside, and to not snarl at guests. To get a dog to do these things, and the other behaviors that make a dog a good household companion, requires training. How to train is made clear by working with chickens.

Dog owners often resort to baby-talking, pleading, bribing, yanking and yelling, which is ineffective at best, and counter-productive at it’s worst. Instead, I use a clear form of communication called “clicker training.” This works on all species, from fish to elephants; I use it with my chickens. Training a chicken shows that getting angry and using punishment, or conversely, sweet-talking and tossing food, will not get you the behavior that you want. What is effective is to break down the behavior into small steps, and to reward each moment on the the way to the end goal. I use a clicker because it marks each step in a clear and distinct way. Using this technique, I’ve taught my chickens to follow a target stick (note the one in the photo.) A trained chicken will go anywhere with confidence. Coco posed with aplomb on a toy truck in the MARTHA studios. Philomena, the hen in this episode, was willing to walk over scary shiny black plastic. As you can see in the show, this same technique was applied to the poodles and the pig, and didn’t they look relieved that their owners were finally communicating in a way that made sense to them!

Watching the show, you might think that it was exaggerated, but Matt and Melissa (the dog owners) were even more eccentric in real life. The 6 minutes that I was on was edited down from 2 1/2 hours of filming. You never know what the producers are going to do, so I was relieved that I came across as being the sane one, and that my training technique was clearly presented. I know that my name was misspelled, but otherwise, I was pleased with the show. What did you think? If you missed it, it’ll be on reruns. Check the Animal Planet listings. It’s also available on iTunes (The episode is titled, The Castle Goes to the Dogs.)

Winter Water Woes

In the summer there’s running water in my two barns, but in the winter the pipes are drained and I have to get water from the laundry room inside the house. Keeping everyone in fresh water took a lot of walking back and forth – a trip each for the two chicken waterers and another for the goat’s pail. Invariably some would spill on gloves or jeans. It was one chore that set me to cursing under my breath.

Luckily, I came up with a solution before the big storm!

This blue tub is a heated water trough designed for horses! It can hold 16 of those red buckets worth of water, a week’s worth, including what my thirsty, fussy goats require. We still have to cart water from the house, but it can be done in one fell swoop – at a day and time of our choosing (not when there’s two feet of snow falling!) When the wind is biting cold and the snow is deep, it’s such a relief to have water in the barn.

I still haven’t found a solution to keeping Candy’s waterer from freezing.  We swap her bottles twice a day; sometimes they freeze in between but it’s not a problem – she likes to drink from the chicken’s waterer.

Chicken Cabbage Tether Ball

As you can see, almost two feet of snow has fallen here at Little Pond Farm. Although Steve shoveled a flat space outside, the hens (and the rabbit!) are in the coop. A rule of thumb is to have at least four square feet per bird of interior floor space. The coop is larger than that, but still, the hens get bored indoors, and that can lead to pecking and bullying. However, it’s nothing that a rousing game of cabbage tether ball can’t fix.

(Note that I’m out of town with my oldest son touring a college. The two of us flew out before the storm arrived. Steve is home, shoveling. This now evens the score for all the times Steve was away on business and we had severe weather at home. It even pays back the time he was in sunny California, and  lightning struck our house. Thanks for shoveling, Steve!)