Agatha’s (Mis)Adventure

I had the perfect composting system in the Gem’s run. There were two bins made out of wood pallets. I put garden and kitchen waste, and used goat bedding in one, and when that filled up I switched to the other. Meanwhile, the chickens scratched and turned the piles, shredded all the material into tiny bits, and added manure. After a year of letting it rest, I shovel out gorgeous, loose, rich compost, which is perfect for the garden.

I’ve had this set up for several years. I never had a problem with it when the old girls lived in the barn (these are the hens you now see on the HenCam.) Then the Gems moved into this barn, and they took right to their compost duty of turning and scratching. But, two days ago, I had to dismantle one of the bins. It’s Agatha’s fault.

Agatha saw the bins’ potential- as a launching pad. Despite the twine criss-crossed over the run to keep the hawks out, and despite the fact that she’s a heavy Speckled Sussex who is decidedly not aerodynamic, Agatha flapped her way here:

The other chickens were astounded, but remained on the ground, that is until Onyx leapt up to join the instigator.

Doesn’t Agatha look pleased with her new vantage point?

Obviously, despite their glee, this is not a good idea. The fence keeps them safe. They’re about to launch themselves further afield into a yard with dogs and hawks, fox and coyote. I had to get them back into their pen.

Agatha thought about stepping down onto my arm, but even standing on a stool, I was too far off.

I was just able to reach up to poke their chests and push them back into their run. Their landing wasn’t exactly elegant, but it didn’t hurt, either.

Now, there’s just one compost bin in the run. I’m putting more string up, too. If bulky, awkward Agatha can get out, a hawk can fly in.

They’re safe. For now. But who knows what Agatha will think up next?


Ten years ago my sons were eight and four years old. We had a small room, not much bigger than a walk-in closet, that we used as the “lego space.” Both boys were avid builders. Those first days, after hearing the news, I sat in the room with my youngest son while he and I played. Without thinking about what I was doing, I constructed towers. Solid, tall, colorful, beautiful towers. During the few hours in the morning that he went to preschool, I went back into the room and kept building. I didn’t recognize what I was doing that first week. I built with those legos until the tips of my fingers were sore.

Solid lego towers use up hundreds of bricks. Eventually they were needed for other buildings. There were castles and shops. Airports. Pizza parlors. Slowly my lego towers were taken apart and used again. It’s an apt metaphor. When disaster strikes, work through grief, then build and rebuild, not to put the past aside but to use it as a base for an ongoing life.

I have one tower left. It’s not the biggest, or the prettiest, but I’ve had it above my office bookcase for years. It’s solid all the way through.

A Rainy Day

This is the third day of rain. For the last two days there’s been an intermittent mild drizzle. I was able to pick tomatoes, the chickens were in and out and in and out, and Lily chased squirrels.

But today it is dark and pouring. The pond is near to over-flowing. The fish don’t mind a bit, in fact they seem to enjoy exploring new areas.

Candy is not so happy. Getting her furry feet wet annoys her to no end. By the way, note the toy with the bell hanging on her door. Candy knows how to use it and will ring it to get attention and tell us that her food bowl is empty. Also, note Twinkydink under the hutch. She did have to walk through the rain to get there, but it’s a dry spot out of the hubbub of the coop.

Inside the HenCam coop, the hens are eating and milling about. Often the Polish don’t have the sense to get in out of the rain, but today it’s bad enough that both Siouxsie and Tina are indoors. Siouxsie looks like a poster child for the expression, “mad as a wet hen”, but that’s how she always looks.


The Gems are dry and have plenty of room indoors. Perhaps boredom will induce one to lay an egg today?

Goats hate to get wet. Absolutely loathe it. So, I didn’t open their door this morning, and I gave them some extra hay. It’ll be gone soon, and I can’t keep giving them more. Goats do overeat. I’ll go out later and give them a few green beans, which is a good use of the big and starchy haricot vert that hide in the garden and can only be found when they are inedible for human consumption.

Of all of the animals, one knows best what to do on a rainy day.

Scooter refuses to get out of bed.


Waiting For Eggs

The Gems (so-called because I named them all after pretty rocks) hatched on April 24. They are now 19 weeks old. They are old enough to start laying eggs.

My ten old girls (those in the HenCam coop) provide only one or two eggs a day. Mostly, it’s Betsy and a Polish laying. These are tiny eggs. Not enough to make a custard with. I’m hankering for custard.

Some breeds lay at 18 weeks, some not until 22. If your chicks hatched late spring or summer, they’ll be affected by the shorter daylight hours of fall and winter, and won’t lay until February or March. But my Gems are ready. I’m ready. Right now I’d rather have a dark-brown egg from my Welsummer Jasper than a golden egg.

Steve hung the nesting boxes last week. I waited to install them in the barn because the Gems first needed to learn how to roost. Given a choice, a pullet will chose a nesting box over a roosting bar, but you don’t want her sleeping and pooping in there, dirtying eggs and the bottoms of the hens who do use the boxes for laying. Once your pullets’ bedtime routine is established, but before they begin to lay, is the time to introduce the boxes.

I like metal nesting boxes because wooden ones can harbor mites. These boxes have removable bottoms for ease of cleaning and a bar in the front so the girls can hop up and look in. Incredibly, right when I was about to go on-line and buy nesting boxes, I won these on a giveaway from a blog I’ve been following for quite sometime! Pam is a farm woman in Georgia and her talented husband, called Farm Man crafts all sorts of things, from boats to soap molds. He builds these boxes and sells them on-line. As a general rule, you need one box for every five hens, so the girls could use another. I have too many nesting boxes in the HenCam barn, so I might move one over.

Chickens innately want to lay in a safe, semi-dark place. But their idea of a good place is not necessarily yours! If they’re free-ranging, they’ll find a nook in a stone wall or a hiding place under a bush. So, when your girls begin to lay you might want to keep them from wandering. Keep them near the coop and install inviting nesting boxes. Attach the boxes about a foot off the ground (although they can be higher if they’re near a roost so they’re easy to access.) A chicken might be surprised the first time or two an egg comes out. It’s not unusual to find an egg on the floor. But soon enough, the hen will want to find a nest to lay in. They especially like to lay where there are already eggs. That’s why I’ve put a wooden egg in each of the nesting boxes. Chickens are quite gullible.

Sadly, there is one Gem that won’t be laying eggs. One of the cochins in the chick order was weak from the start. She was half the size of the others and walked with a stiff gait, as if her feet or joints hurt, though an external examination showed nothing wrong. I named her Little Blue Sapphire. Her feathers were a gorgeous slate grey. She ate. She grew. But she never looked comfortable. She’d walk a few steps and sit down. I didn’t become too attached. A hen that’s not vigorous has something very wrong with her. Two days ago her legs were no longer able to hold her up, and yesterday they stopped working. Little Blue couldn’t even bend them under herself to sit up. Steve euthanized her. It was the right thing to do.

I know that I have new readers because of the Country Living Magazine contest. I could have left this news out. Writing about death is not a way to win votes. But, this is not one of those “cute animal of the day” blogs. When you have chickens, you have losses. And yet the experience, the whole of it, is worth it. I’ve heard from many of you who have told me that watching the HenCam and reading about my animals is what you turn to when you need some sanity in your workday. Some of you have been with me for years and have seen real heartbreak, and yet stay with me because the life going on here in my backyard is joyful. Chickens live in the moment, and that moment is always tinged by curiosity and optimism. Visit with them awhile and some of that will rub off on you.

I’m optimistic. I’m looking forward to eggs.