Blackie’s New Home

Blackie and Twinkydink are six-year old Australorps. Last fall I was sure that Blackie wouldn’t last the winter. She slowed down and spent most of her days sleeping in the sun. Egg laying ceased. She went from being a dominant hen to one that kept to the sidelines. She felt skinny. Other hens died of tumors and reproductive diseases but Blackie continued to roost, eat, and poop. Her feathers became scraggly, then her neck went bare, which is like a bull’s eye target calling for the other hens to peck it. I sprayed blu-kote on the reddened skin. Dark again, the hens left it alone.

Blackie has been looking worse and worse. She’s lost the feathers along her back and so she’s been subject to more pecking. Blackie hides on the roost during the day and tries to avoid the other hens during her brief forays in the yard. She’s not getting enough to eat. I’ve been hand-feeding her in the morning, but her crop is never full. Her time has come, and yet she doesn’t die.

I like to let the hens live out their days, and, although Blackie looks moth-eaten, she’s still ticking. I’ve no idea how long she can last like this, or what is going on inside of her, but, it’s become clear that the biggest threat to her are the other hens, especially the young and active Golden Comets. Those two have been going after all of the hens, asserting their dominance and being all-around trouble. The other hens get out of their way, but Blackie can’t. I don’t want Blackie to die by bullying, and so today I moved her into what was to be the broody coop.

This is the first springtime that I haven’t had a broody hen. Of course, this is the one spring that I’ve wanted one – to care for the new chicks. I’m sad not to have a clutch of little peeps in the charming house that Lauren and I made, but instead of being a nursery, it’s become a retirement home.

Blackie is inside, nestled in hay, with food and water all to herself. I’m sure she’ll be restless this evening, wanting to roost. Chickens hate change. But, I think she’ll quickly settle into her new place. I’m not sure where we’ll end up putting it – I want the house inside of secure fencing at night. For now, though, she can see the other hens, and they can see her. Lulu is jealous.

Getting the Brooder Ready

The chicks are ordered and due to arrive sometime this week. Waiting for a chick delivery is worse than waiting for an appliance truck – for the latter you block out a half-day, but for chicks you block out the week and wait by the phone for the call from the post office to hurry down for the noisy box.

My nursery is ready. It’s taken awhile. The first step was to move the old hens out of the big barn and into the HenCam coop. Then the big barn got a thorough cleaning. Diseases lurk in dirt and the cracks in wood, but the worst culprit is dust. Chickens are dust generators, and cobwebs hold it all in place. I got out the shop vac and hoovered it up. In some places, like the beams above the windows, the dust was a quarter-inch thick. I got static shocks while vacuuming!

Meanwhile, my crack IT team (aka husband Steve) bought a new cam, installed it, fixed the web site so that it can be viewed, and did lots of stuff I don’t understand but is absolutely necessary to share the chicks with you.

I went to an appliance store and got the perfect box to build a brooder. A brooder is what the chicks will live in for the first few weeks. It has to be draft-free and hot – 95º F to start. Thanks to my crack construction crew willing to climb a ladder (aka husband Steve) the heat lamp is on an adjustable chain. Each week it will be raised and the temp in the brooder reduced.

Here is the brooder. You can see the camera mounted on the right:

For the first two days the chicks will be walking on that old towel. This gives them secure footing (newspaper is too slippery.) After the chicks learn to eat their chick ration, the towel will be removed and they’ll be on pine shavings. If the chicks were to start on the shavings they would eat them, and possibly get impacted. It’s best for them to get the knack of eating the right stuff, first!

Note that I’ve blocked off the corners. Chicks have been known to walk into corners and get stuck. They don’t know how to turn around. Never underestimate the trouble that a chick can get in.

The chicks will grow quickly, and as soon as the box becomes crowded, they’ll have the run of the barn. You can see there’s a lot of space.

But, even growing chicks need protection from drafts, so I have more cardboard to make a barrier to cold air that might blow in under doors. Also, as they grow they’ll want to get higher and roost. I have a branch just the right size to make a perch for little feet.

As soon as the chicks arrive we’ll turn the ChickCam on. Keep an eye on the HenCam home page – there will be a new button to click on for that camera. I’m hoping my friends at the post office will call me tomorrow. They’re almost as excited as I am!

Circus Goats

The Big Apple Circus is in Boston this month.

We go every year. I love this one-ring show with it’s gentle humor, amazing acts and magic dust in the air. We’ve been going for years, but I was especially excited about this year’s program. I’d heard that the Big Apple Circus would have pony riding goats. We got front row seats.

The trainer comes from a family with a long family history of circus horse and dog acts. I think that this is her first year with goats.

If you have goats of your own, you know how amazing it is that these goats are standing on their boxes. People are eating popcorn in the stands, and yet they’re not mugging the audience. They’re standing there!

One of the cute little dogs runs through this barrel while the goat pushes it.

The goat is rewarded with a treat.

The training is all reward-based. The whip is used to give the animals cues. It never touches them.

The grand finale is pony riding goats!

But do you notice that there are three ponies and yet only two goats? One goat has decided not to bother with this part of the act. He’s trotted back to his stand and is watching the show. Those of us with goats of our own are not surprised.

I hear that next year this same trainer will be using ferrets, capybaras and a porcupine. She’s probably decided that they’re easier to train than goats. But perhaps the trainer missed out on the secret training weapon for recalcitrant goats. Perhaps, since it’s right in front of her she doesn’t see it?

Popcorn. My goats will do anything for it.

Salty, oily circus popcorn is the best. Watch out, Big Apple Circus, there’s going to be a new act in town.

Bunnies, Wires and Barn Fires

Candy loves living outside with the chickens. First thing in the morning, I open up her hutch and she hurries down her long ramp, and then up the chickens’ short ramp to stare at the coop’s pop-door, waiting for the girls.  I go inside the coop and let the hens out. They hustle and bustle out their little door, Candy in their midst. It’s a funny sight – a calm zen-like bunny, immoveable as the hens run this way and that. Sometimes Candy plops herself on the ledge of the pop-door, blocking the chickens’ way. I’m sure she does this to cause consternation amongst the hens. A little white leghorn squeezes past, but the big hens, stuck indoors, hop up and own, peer at Candy, and squawk. I’m sure that Candy is laughing.

It’s such fun to house Candy with the hens, but it’s not something to do without thought and some construction skills. We’ve gone to a lot of trouble to keep Candy safe outside. Candy needs protection from predators. That required burying the perimeter fence 8-inches below ground, so digging predators can’t get in (and Candy can’t burrow out.) There’s hawk netting stretched overhead. At night, Candy is closed up in a secure hutch, with a raccoon-proof latch. We keep her warm in the winter by adding sides to the hutch, and cool in the summer by removing those sides and adding a shade awning.

House rabbits are renown for chewing on wires. When Candy first went to live with the chickens, we learned that bunnies can’t resist outside wires, either. She shut down the HenCam, and Steve enclosed the wires with conduit.

That’s the camera above the waterer. See the conduit?

On Saturday I cleaned out the coop. That metal base is a heater and keeps the water from freezing. Notice the wire. It’s tucked into the back of the coop and runs up the wall. In the five years that Candy has been outside with the hens that wire has been out of her reach.

Never underestimate a rabbit.

I picked up the heater and a flash of fire shot out. I’m not exaggerating. It was a flame, not a spark. The coop was dusty from my cleaning, and the dust in the air caught fire. It was dramatic, but, thankfully, very, very brief.

Candy had chewed the wire.

The electric zap shut down the HenCam for awhile. Luckily I have a live-in IT guy. The heater isn’t needed until the cold weather sets in next winter. So, there’s time to fix the wire and install yet another bunny-proof conduit.

It’s a good thing that I’m such a stickler for keeping my barn tidy and clean. Frequent barn inspections are essential. You never know what dangers lurk there.