Boots! And Other News

I found these inexpensive rubber boots on sale at Sears. They’ll take me through the next couple of months until I switch to my hard-core snow boots (which are toasty and dry but not conveniently slip-on).

I got the boots just in time. There was a hard frost yesterday morning, and a cold, driving rain, and possibly snow is predicted for the remainder of the week.

Meanwhile, it appears that Garnet is no longer pulling out Jasper’s feathers.

Four Gems are laying.

I harvested the last of the kale from the vegetable garden.

Winter is on its way!

Join Me On A Walk

The wonderful people who live in this house

sadly have to sell off some of the farm that they’ve lived in for over a half century. But, instead of cutting it up into a housing development, they’ve carved out the best piece, the acres that border a river and abuts a National Wildlife Refuge, and they’ve offered it for sale to a land conservation trust. Today the public is invited to walk on this parcel. The weather is fine. It’s overcast, but not cold. Pull on a pair of sturdy shoes and a sweater and join me.

There’s been no explosion of brilliantly colored foliage this year, but muted tones have their own beauty.

There are leaves underfoot along the woodland path.

Step carefully along the narrow wooden bridge that spans this small stream.

Suddenly the landscape changes. Fifty years ago this field was grazed by dairy cows. Now the white pines have transformed it into a forest. Even if you talk loudly, your voice is muffled by the deep bed of pine needles.

We’re coming up to the river.

Walk down the steep slope to the very edge. Where does the river begin and the sky end? It’s like a mirror.

It’s mushroom season. They’re everywhere. I wonder who took a bite out of this one?

Sometimes a horse and rider gallops through this field. Along with the riverfront property, the owners have to sell four other lots as well, including this piece. I hope that whoever buys it has horses. This is the sort of landscape that should have hoofed animals on it, don’t you think?

It’s a short walk from here to the parking area where apple cider and pumpkin bread is waiting. I’m glad you could come along.

Feather Picking

There’s always a hen at the bottom of the pecking order. That’s just the way it is. The chicken on the bottom of the totem pole will be the last to get the tossed treats, will wait to eat from the feeder until the boss-hens are done, and will, literally, rest on a lower rung of the ladder.

In the HenCam barn, Betsy, being a tiny thing, is told, by the other girls, to “shove off.” Betsy might be at the bottom of the pecking order, but she’s no wimp. She darts quickly out of the way of stabbing beaks, she dodges and dashes and does just fine. Buffy is also at the bottom, but it’s of no matter to her. She keeps comfortably to herself and no one bothers her. A visitor to this barn would see little drama and would have a hard time picking out who’s at the top of this peaceful flock.

The Gems have also sorted out their pecking order. As I expected, the Rhode Island Reds are on top. In my experience, they’re a breed that is possessive about food, which makes them avid free-range foragers, but when kept in pens, they’ll dominate the others. Opal, the Delaware, is a big hungry hen, and is also on top. However, once the pecking order is established, everyone plays by the rules and gets along fine. There’s no squabbling and no fights. The flock should be a calm unit. If there are problems, it’s usually due to mismanagement by their humans.

Jasper is on the bottom of the Gem’s pecking order. She’s a Welsummer, which is a lighter-weight, mild-mannered breed. Jasper is also the only Welsummer in the group, and that makes a difference. The old saws that birds of a feather flock together and there’s strength in numbers ring true. The Buff Orpingtons, Amber, Topaz and Beryl, form a troop of their own and no one bothers them; but I know if there was only one Orp that she’d be near the bottom with Jasper.

About two weeks ago, when I picked Jasper up, I thought that she felt light and I was concerned that she was getting enough to eat. Worried that she was being kept away from the pellets, I hung a second feeder in the coop. Last week, I noticed feathers missing near the base of her tail, and then a couple of days later I saw skin. Once there’s a raw, red patch, the other hens, even the ones who aren’t bullies, will peck. It’ll quickly turn into a gaping wound, and that can lead to cannibalism and death. Hide the red and sometimes the pecking stops. I sprayed on blu-kote (gentian violet) which colored the base of Jasper’s tail dark purple. That seemed to do the trick.

Yesterday the rain finally stopped and I let the girls out for a scratch and forage in the flower bed.

I was watching when Ruby trotted up to Jasper, pecked a feather off her tail, and ate it.

So, what I had was not just a case of dominance, but had become the very bad habit of feather eating. It can start from hunger or lack of nutrients, but that wasn’t the case here. It can start because an aggressive hen pecked at a subordinate and discovered that feathers are edible. That was likely what happened. Or, it can start from boredom and closed quarters, which, with the rain and being kept in, probably contributed to Ruby seeing Jasper’s tail feathers as an addition to her diet.

I need to break this habit. Ruby has a taste for feathers, but I’m sure that she’d prefer to eat other things. I’d like to let them out more – which will be possible soon. Today I’m having a fence installed to keep wandering dogs off the property. I’ll rest a lot easier when that is up. Meanwhile, I put a pumpkin in the pen. I’ll fill the compost area with weeds and leaves to keep Ruby and the Gems busy. It’s possible that I might have to switch Jasper into the HenCam flock. She’ll probably be on the bottom there, too, but at least she won’t be treated as a walking snack bar.

Rainy Day Chicken Care

We’re having a drenching autumn rain. It’s miserable out. These days morning is slow to come and now that winter nears, nightfall seems to happen suddenly. On a day like today, it’s hard to believe there’s a sun in the sky at all, and the word dreary is an understatement. The ground is muddy and slippery from fallen leaves. No one wants to go outside.

The goats loathe getting wet. I don’t usually feed them hay during the day. Lazy boys that they are, they’d never venture back into the meadow if they had food in their stall. But when it rains, I give them a flake, or the the poor boys would starve (emphasis added by Caper.)

Chickens don’t mind getting wet, that is, as long as it’s not windy and the rain isn’t cold. Their outer feathers shed water (silkies aren’t waterproof and shouldn’t get wet), but on a day like this most of the hens are inside. The Polish, of course, go outside and let their heads get soaked first. They have very little sense.

Candy joins the flock indoors. It can get boring in there, so I’ve put the last of the wormy kale, and some parsley, from my vegetable garden into the suet feeder (which, by the way, is the perfect way to feed green to your hens. It takes them longer to peck at it and the leaves stay fresh up off of the floor).

I’ve attached the feeder low enough so that Candy can have a nibble, too.

Buffy has no desire to be inside with the rest. She’s old and mellow and wants to be left alone. Under the hutch is dry enough for her.

The Gems are all inside, where there’s plenty of room for everyone. Still, Jasper, who is on the bottom of the pecking order, is showing signs of her low status. So far, Opal and the rest have only pulled out feathers from the base of Jasper’s tail.

But, today I noticed exposed skin, so I treated it with blu-kote, which darkens the skin to make it less attractive to the peckers. It’s also an antispeptic.

To keep the Gems busy and less focused on Jasper, I tossed stale cheerios onto the floor. It’ll take them awhile to hunt and peck for all of the tidbits.

It took less than fifteen minutes to do my rainy day chicken care. I’m back inside, holding a hot cup of tea. On a day like today it’s hard to get motivated to work on my writing projects. Thank goodness for the barn chores which give my day a sense of purpose and accomplishment!

Barn Boots

I’m hard on boots.

I keep a pair of slip-on rubber boots by the back door. I like waterproof boots which keep my feet dry through dew, rain, snow and mud. I like boots that are almost knee-high so that I can stand in the pond and pull weeds. I like boots sturdy enough to stomp on electric fence posts, and not rip when a goat stands on my foot. I also like to buy my boots on sale because I know from experience that in no time at all they’ll look like this:

Those charming pink boots were bought (on sale!) in England in May. Only five months ago they were bright pink. They’re now cracked and soggy inside.

I’ve bought expensive boots; I’ve worn LL Bean boots and Muck boots, and I’ve even bought Coach rubber boots. In a few short months they all end up looking like those pink boots. Replacing boots is one of the costs of having chickens and goats. Manure eats away at rubber, sunshine dries and cracks it, and cold makes it brittle. If I weren’t tromping around outside with my animals, my boots would look pristine. Disreputable boots are an indicator of a life well-lived.

This morning, with no boots to wear, I mucked out the barn in my crocs. Goat “berries” smooshed on my socks, which were already damp from walking across the wet lawn. It’s time to go shopping for new boots.