Chicken Keeping Workshop

I’ll be giving a Backyard Chicken Keeping Workshop here at Little Pond Farm! It will be on July 30 from 2 to 4 pm.

(UPDATE: the class is full, but I’ll schedule another date if there is interest.)

You will get to meet my hens,

and their friends.

Some of their friends are grumpy. Don’t take it personally.

I will cover all of the basics – housing, feeding, and manure management. I’ll go over selecting and purchasing chickens and care of poultry of all ages.

You’ll learn about normal chicken behavior. (Yes, this is normal.)

And you’ll learn about messy bottoms.

You’ll get to tour my gardens, see the composting set-up and ask as many questions as you like!

You’ll even get to pick up a chicken and check for lice.

The fee is $20 and will include iced tea and cookies (homemade, of course!) Reserve your spot by emailing me. The class is limited to 15 people. Little Pond Farm is in Carlisle, MA, about 30 miles west of Boston. Can’t get here? Perhaps I can come to you. Can’t make this date? I’ll set another time if you can wrangle five more people to join you.

I hope to see you soon!

The Gems

When the chicks arrived, two days old, they were fluff balls. They looked either like striped chipmunks or yellow poufs. But now the girls are nine weeks old – old enough so that I can tell them (mostly) apart. Their personalities have developed along with their feathers. Some are calm. Some are skittish. Some are curious. Some stand out in the crowd, some don’t. It’s a peaceful flock. They forage. They flap. They roost. They scratch. They dust bathe. They have so much to do that they don’t hassle each other. The pecking order is there, but subtle.

Early on, I decided to name the chickens after gems, but I waited until I got to know the birds before making final decisions. Here they are. Introducing…

Little Blue Sapphire. She’s the runt, and spends most of her days sitting in regal splendor. No one bothers her. She’s small but has presence.

Pearl is a Splash Cochin. She’s large, fluffy and calm, but not particularly friendly.

There are three golden pullets. They might all be Buff Orpingtons. Or one might be a Buff Chantecleer. Right now they’re interchangeable. Topaz, Amber and Beryl.

The two New Hampshire Reds are also peas in a pod. Garnet and Ruby. This photo of one of them will do right now for both. I think that with time, their personalities will distinguish them.

Jasper, the Welsummer is a beauty, though a bit flighty.

The Barnevelder is active and not one to visit with me. Onyx.

The hen that clearly wants to win “Miss Congeniality” is Agatha Agate. Like my late, wonderful Speckled Sussex, Lulu, she’s curious and friendly. But, unlike Lulu, Agatha is calm and steady. She’s a lap sitter and a hen that wants stroking.

The other two Speckled Sussex are fine birds, but are not people-oriented like Agatha. I’ve named them after famous women geologists. Etheldred Benett (1776-1845) was an early British scientist. This Etheldred has much more white than Agatha.

Florence Bascone (1896-1945) was the first woman hired by the USGS. My Florence is the smallest of the Speckleds.

Lastly, there is Opal. She is huge. Her feet are huge, her comb and wattles are red and huge. And look at that tail! If she’s a he, there’s no sign of spurs or crowing or any other rooster-like behavior. Opal is the shyest one of the bunch. Maybe when she grows into her out-sized feet she’ll gain some confidence. Meanwhile, Opal gallumps around the pen, eats like a meat bird, and has yet to make any friends. I’m hoping she’s a she and she can stay. I rather like her.

I Have A New Camera

I’m one of those “point and shoot” sort of photographers. I’ve been taking pictures with my iPhone and an old Coolpix. Both limited my already limited skills. I’m delighted to let you know that I have a new camera. It focuses with alacrity. It can handle background light. It zooms. It flashes. It can do this.

Note the insect!

And it can do this.

Capers eyes are squeezed shut! And look how Pip is airborne! (Despite the belly. He’s defying the laws of physics!)

Agatha is delighted. She already loves to pose for the camera.

Now if I could just get Agatha out of the way so I can take pictures of the other girls…

…As A Wet Hen

Hens don’t like to get caught in the rain. Like most birds, they’re waterproof up to a point, but then they get soggy. Soggy is heavy and uncomfortable, a predator can snatch up a sodden bird, and damp leads to illness. So, chickens avoid getting wet. When it’s pouring my girls seek shelter under the rabbit hutch or in the coop; when it’s clear they’re immediately back outside. A hen will go out in a drizzle, but avoid real rain. Today was one of those days when the hens were in and out.If you’re not sure how hard it’s raining, just check where the chickens are. That is, look at everyone but the Polish hens, Tina and Siouxsie. It’s a well-known fact that Polish chickens have no common sense.

Late this afternoon the rain was coming down in buckets. I decided to close up the barns early. Most of the girls were inside, although a few were under the rabbit hutch staying dry. I shook some corn in a cup and they all came into the coop. I  counted. I was missing one. I found Tina outside, hunched in misery and drenched to the skin, her top-knot flattened and muddy. I scooped her up, brought her into the coop and toweled her dry. For good measure I trimmed off the longest feathers on her head. It’s still not a pretty picture.

Chickens aren’t known for their common-sense (why do you think it was a chicken who cried “the sky is falling!”) but the Polish hens make the others look like geniuses. This is one reason why I don’t recommend this breed to beginners. You have to take care of them when it rains. Their fancy feathers bobbing on their heads make them targets for pecking, and they can’t see to get away from the bullies. If you’re looking for easy-to-care for hens that lay lots of eggs forget about the Polish. But if you like silly, go ahead and get a couple. Just make sure you have a blow-dryer handy.

The Compost Queen

This New Hampshire Red is the Queen of the Compost. She’s perched on the bin in the chicks’ run. I put the muck from the goats’ stall in here, as well as discards and weeds from the vegetable garden.

When the old hens lived here they never roosted on the compost bin. These 8-week old chicks are more agile. We’ll see how long these acrobatics last.

(The chicks will be named this week!)