Thursday, June 30, 2011

Coco is better

I am happy to report that Coco is doing better today.  But yesterday was a very long day which led to a very long night.

She spent the day at the vet's office having x-rays and other diagnostics done.  (How on earth they got her to stay still for x-rays is beyond me cuz even in her unhappy, wilted state, she wanted nothing to do with any part of the vet's office.)  It appears that my big Hoover Machine will eat anything and everything, including the straw I bought several weeks back and scattered in their run to give them something to kick around.

I've seen her eating sand inside their house and pine shavings from the nest boxes but it never seemed to be an issue so I just dismissed it.  Well, the straw got stuck in her crop and began to ferment.  Her crop was big and squishy and she had breath that could make a buzzard blush.

The vet gave her something to help move everything through her system and told me to take her home and keep her calm.  So I jetted by the pet store on my way home to pick up a dog crate and home we went.  She ate some mashed up feed and drank lots of water when we got her home so that was promising.  But she didn't poop.  She just stood in one place and didn't move.  Didn't talk and didn't lay down.  And didn't poop.

I checked on her several times throughout the night and there was no change.  This morning I got up at 5am and finally, the gas in her crop has subsided.  So I fed her some more mashed up feed and then her favorite thing in the whole wide world, banana.  She drank a little and then ate some more.  And finally, some 12 hours after we got her home, it started coming out the other side.  I went through all my old towels and had to switch to old t-shirts.

And then, she started to talk.  And she got louder and more vocal.  She was moving around more and finally started to peck at the cage and was clearly done being cooped up.  The vet had suggested keeping her cooped up one more day, but she wanted none of it.

So I opened the door and said to her, if you really want out, then you'll have to walk out of there on your own.  You walk over to me and I'll take you out to your sisters.  And if she didn't just march right up to me.

So outside we went for a reunion like none other with her two sister who were simply lost with out her.  Their run was spotlessly clean as I spent several hours out there last night raking up every bit of straw I could.  Obviously, there are some micro pieces here and there which make me nervous.  And she is by no means "all better".  This sour crop issue is going to be an issue for probably a few weeks till we get her back to her old self.  But I think the worst is behind us.

Thank you all for your kind words.  It really helped me get through the day and long sleepless night last night.  Who knew I could become so attached to a $4 feed store chicken in such a short period of time.  But she's my Alpha Hen and she's priceless in my eyes.

I don't feel well and what does mom do, takes me to see this strange man who pokes and prods me.
Then she brings me home and puts me in this silly cage.  And to add insult to injury, she's taking my picture.
I'm not a happy hen right now!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Coco is sick

She was standing off to the side this morning and was quiet.  Her being quiet was my first clue that she wasn't feeling well.  The other girls were gobbling up their treats.  So I went to see if I could catch Coco.  Normally, she won't let me get near her.  And she put up no resistance.  Clue #2 that I have a real problem on my hands.

I felt her tummy and her crop is very full.  It's soft and squishy and she's got terrible breath.  Sounded like Sour Crop to me.  I had to run to the office to do a few things, then dashed back home to take her to the vet.  She's there now.

They want to run more tests and take x-rays and said they would call after lunch.  I'm a nervous wreck.

She's not at all affectionate which disappointments me.  Although, she let me hold her w/ out too much resistance today.  When the vet tried to pick her up, she flew off the table onto my shoulder.  That's Ginger's favorite sport.  So she clearly knows who I am and trusts me.  She's so very sweet.  And she's my alpha hen and keeps the others in line.  I'd be a mess if I lost her.

Please say a prayer for my Sweet Coco Nogales.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

It's Raining It's Pouring

And you are thinking, yea, so?  But you must understand.  I live in California.  Sunny California.  It doesn't rain here in the summer.  It just doesn't.  EVER!  I mean, you can go back through the history books and find a random day of rain here and there.  More like a heavy mist.  But measurable rain in June.  Unheard of.

So when the weatherman said this morning that we might have a chance of showers in the North Bay, I ignored it.  I'm 100 miles south of the North Bay region of the state.  Besides, it was sunny and clear.

Well, was I wrong, wrong, wrong.  Cuz by noon, it was getting dark and by 2pm it was pouring.  Not misting.  Not drizzling.  Not even a steady rain.  It was a full on downpour that lasted hours.  Needless to say, I got soaked coming home from work today in my dry clean only outfit and peep-toe sling backs.

And speaking of shoes, I came home to find my girls had on their rain shoes and were ready for their  free range time in my garden.  And there must have been some good eats out there because I can usually entice them to come back into their run by shaking some BOSS in a plastic container.  But no such luck tonight.  The girls were just stuffed full of good eats.

Ginger Bug w/ her mud shoes on ready for garden action.

Pumpkin with her muff and beard all wet from playing in the garden.

And here's Coco adding another layer of mud to her feet.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Home Improvement

I spent a few hours yesterday afternoon remodeling the interior of my hen house.  I LOVE my hen house.  It's little (which prevents me from buying the 100 chickens I'd love to have).  It's well built.  And it has a cute red roof.

We call their house The Spice Cabinet.  I put chili pepper lights on it so they could be festive.
But it's not big.  So there's not a great deal of room for the girls to jump up the 20" to their roosting bar.  This is not a problem at all for Pumpkin who can jump straight up in the air.  Ginger has to think about it for a while but eventually gets up there.  But Coco is just too big.  I've tried a number of different things to help them get up to roost but none were really good.

Here's an old shot of the interior w/ the ramp I had built for the girls.
So I had a new idea for a two part step out of some old lumber we had.  My friend Sandy came over with power tools too help.  Aren't friends the best!  So after some discussion and measuring we came up with this design.

The new step in the hen house.

Basically, it's a section of 6" by 6" with a 6" by 3" half the width laying on one side.  And then there's a 2" by 4" underneath to support it, which you can't see because of all the sand.  This way Coco can just step up onto this and from there, jump to the roosting bar.

"Um, Mom?  You left the door open, AGAIN!  This is totally unacceptable."

And while it looks good, one never knows.  So I patiently waited for dusk last night to go watch the girls go to bed.  This is always problematic because they get so excited when I come to visit.  I could have treats.  And Ginger wants to roost on my shoulder.

Pumpkin hops up first and takes the prime spot at the end and proceeds to look down at me.  Coco is pacing back and forth and not even looking at the new step.  And Ginger is trying desperately to jump onto my shoulder.

I patiently tapped the step with my finger and Coco would step onto the lower step, but couldn't grasp the concept of stepping up to the second level.  This went on for several minutes as it continued to get darker and darker.  And Coco was becoming more agitated.

Time to try something different.  So I picked up Ginger and put her on the top step.  She stood there for a minute looking at her feet like, hey, this is cool.  And with out use of her wings, jumped to the roosting bar.  Well, you could practically see the lightbulb go on in Coco's head.  She stepped up on the lower step, up to the higher one and with one big jump, was safely on the roosting bar.

And with that, everyone was tucked in for the night.  The new step is a success and I couldn't be happier.  And I got an added bonus this morning.  It's far enough away from the roosting bar that they can't poop on it at night.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Animal House

Sunset Magazine had yet another article in last month's issue about having a few backyard chickens.  These articles have become so common in the magazine, I'm surprised they don't have a dedicated section of the magazine for chickens.  The backyard chicken movement has really caught on and is almost becoming mainstream.  I'm amazed how many people respond that they have chickens too when I tell them that I have hens.

What I love is how creative people are when it comes to getting their flock established.  This couple found a dog house on clearance for $100 and converted it into a hen house for their chickens.  Which they lovingly refer to as Animal House.  And if that wasn't funny enough, they named their girls, Teriyaki, Extra-Crispy, Dumpling and White Meat.  So wrong and yet so very funny.

Chickens themselves are so very funny and entertaining so it all goes hand in hand.

We call our girls The Spice Girls and refer to their hen house as the Spice Cabinet.  I just love the phrase, "Honey, can you go check the Spice Cabinet for eggs?".  Huh?!?

Do any of you have themed names for your chickens?  And what do you call your hen house?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Baby it's HOT outside...

The thermometer got up into the 90's today where we live.  Pretty hot for my little ones.  I noticed the other day that the portion of their run covered with the clear plastic corrugated panels felt warmer than the other parts of the run.  I had my DH come out to see if he concurred, and he did.  I think the clear plastic was intensifying the sun like a magnifying glass.

So I ordered a few more aluminum panels to lay over the plastic ones during these hot summer months.  It makes it a bit dark in one half of their run.  But if it keeps them even a few degrees cooler, then it's well worth it.  And when the weather cools, I can slide them over and out of the way to give them more light.

I've tried a number of other things to keep them cool.  I know that some chickens like to cool their feet so I bought a large plastic saucer and filled it water.  But they won't stand in it, they just drink from it.  I've tried putting out bowls of ice water for them but they don't go for that.

They do seem to like laying on the wet ground in the shade so I gave the shady corner of their run a good hose down to get it good and wet.  They also like melon, tomato and strawberries so I try to keep some of those on hand and chilled to give them so I know they stay hydrated.

I've also read that you can give them sorbet if it's really hot out.  Sorbet is preferable to ice cream because you don't want to give them too much fat or sugar.  And apparently giving them something ice cold will give them an "brain freeze" and make their neck feathers stand up on end.

Hmmm, I see a trip to the store for sorbet on my list of things to do today.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Update on Pumpkin

My last posting was about Pumpkin picking on Ginger.  And I was SUPER frustrated!  So I've tried a few different things and I think I'm getting the upper hand on the situation.

For one thing, Pumpkin had stopped egg squatting for me.  I didn't think much of it at the time, but now that I look back, I think that might have been more important than I realized.  My girls don't have a rooster to keep them in line.  I guess to some degree, I fill that role by giving them a good scratch when they egg squat for me.  So I've been trying to get her to squat for me and she's resisted up till tonight.

I've also been separating Ginger when I give them treats.  It's more work on my part, but worth it if it keeps the peace.

And today I picked up a spray bottle which I filled with water.  What I like about this is I can give Pumpkin a spray of water right at the moment she pecks which really reinforces a behavior as negative. And I only had to hit her once tonight with a shot of water before she got the message.

I also noticed tonight that Ginger no longer runs away from her.  They were all together eating wheat grass that I had growing out of a large pot for them and they were side by side eating together so Ginger is getting her confidence back.  Which really makes me feel good.

So I guess you really can modify a chicken's behavior.  I was seriously toying with giving her away and now I don't see that happening.  And I really do love her pretty green eggs.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Pumpkin Stew?

Hmmm, doesn't sound so good.

Pumpkin Cacciatore?  No, that's not good either.

Pumpkin has started to peck at Ginger when I dole out treats.  I hadn't noticed it till about a week ago so I'm not sure how long this has been going on.  I did wonder why Ginger didn't run to eat the BOSS I tossed out in the morning, but rather stayed right at my feet while I tidied up their run.

And I'm kind of at a loss as to what to do.  I know that some degree of pecking is normal.  And she's not drawing blood or anything like that.  So a part of me says to ignore it.

But Ginger is just the sweetest thing in the world and I can't ignore it.

Yesterday, I gave the girls carrot tops and held my hand out to keep Pumpkin away while Ginger ate.  Probably not the best solution.  But it kept Pumpkin from pecking Ginger till she had her fill.  And once Pumpkin gets near her, Ginger quickly moves away.  So I suspect this has been going on much longer than just the week.

So for the near term, I think I'll give Ginger treats separate from the other girls.

If this situation gets worse, I might be making changes to the flock structure.  I'd sure miss her pretty green eggs.  But her pecking ways will simply not be tolerated.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

174 Eggs! Oh My

That's how many eggs we've received thus far from our three hens.

I bought them as day old chicks on October 30th last year.  I knew that the hatcheries would shut down production over the holidays and I wanted to get my girls growing so we'd have eggs in the spring.  Rather than buying chicks this spring.  Had we gone that route, we'd still be waiting for our first egg.

And I'm sure I would have ended up with a different mix of girls.

I wanted a Buff Orpington, which we got.  That's Ginger.

I also wanted an Ameracuna which I thought we got.  But as Pumpkin grew up, she's an Easter Egger.  Which means she has some Ameracuna in her, but she's been bread with other birds over the years.  Doesn't really matter.  She's a PRODUCER and I get a green egg from her nearly ever day.

I wanted a Black Astralorp which is Australia's version of the Orpington.  But the store was out when I arrived and I settled on a Black Jersey Giant.  That's Coco.  A bit more hen than I was prepared to raise.  She can and does do some serious damage to my yard with those big feet of hers.  But she's sweet and keep the peace in Cluckie Ville.

And then you remember Poppy, who is a Cuckoo Marans.  Poppy turned out to be a rooster and now lives in San Jose with some people who own some land.  Roosters are not allowed where we live.  I miss Poppy.  I wish all the time that he was properly sexed as a she and that we still had her/him as part of our flock.  But oh well.  Things happen for a reason.

And maybe it's just as well that Poppy turned out to be a rooster.  We can't keep up with all the eggs we currently receive.  If we had one more hen, we'd have that many more eggs.  I'd be setting up a stand in front of our house two days a week.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Lots of Love again

This is a follow up to my last post about not getting any eggs one day.  After that post, I received another soft-shelled egg from Coco which had me worried.  That just wasn't like them.  So I did some research online and found more fascinating info.

Chickens have rather sensitive digestive systems.  Now for you non-chicken owners, you are probably rolling your eyes like I did when I first read that.  I mean really, they eat off the ground all day long.  But it's not the dirt factor.  It's the fact that their little bodies require an amazing amount of protein and calcium every day to produce an egg.  And if their bodies are not getting the required amount of protein and calcium, they become protective of those vital nutritional building blocks.

Chickens can stop laying eggs altogether.  They can lay eggs that don't have a yoke.  Or soft-shelled eggs if calcium is what their bodies are trying to protect.  This is why it is so important that chickens are fed a diet that is specially formulated just for them which is high in protein and calcium.  I call it Chick Chow, but the proper term is Layer Rations. 

And my girls have access to a whole feeder full of chick chow.  The problem is their Flock Mistress (aka: me) loves to dole out treats.  And while I feed them healthy things like fruit and veggies.  Those are not high enough in protein or calcium to supplement and must be given out in very small quantities.

So I cut them off from treats except for a handful of BOSS (black oiled sunflower seeds) which I toss all around in the morning to give them something to hunt and scratch at for a bit.  And within a day, we were back to three eggs a day.

Unfortunately, we're also back to all three eggs being laid in the same nest box.  But that is their issue to work out.

Friday, June 3, 2011

No Love Today

Translation - No eggs today.  This was the first day since the girls started laying eggs that we didn't get a single egg.  Well, that's not exactly true.  Coco laid a shell-less egg sometime last night or early this morning.  She laid it from the roost and I found it this morning proudly sitting in a pile of droppings under where she sleeps.

Not exactly a keeper.  More like, one for the compost bin.  A shell-less egg is just that.  An egg that never formed a shell to keep it contained.  It's really kind of disgusting.  It's like a blob of Jello in the shape of an egg.  We've had one before and it didn't even have a yoke inside.

Not sure what the problem was today.  Maybe I'm not dolling out enough treats.  Or maybe I'm over treating.  They could be protesting not getting enough time in the big garden to dig up the few Daffodil bulbs that are still planted.  Or maybe they've become true California chickens and they are frustrated with the lack of sunny, warm weather.  Not sure how they would know any better as this is their first spring EVER.

Regardless, I came home to three empty nest boxes.  I thought someone was playing a trick on me.  I even searched their run.  I looked under the hen house, behind the compost bin, around the Camellia trees and behind the waterer.  But nope.  The only eggs to be found were the two plastic Easter Eggs I put in the middle nest box to entice them to lay there.

DH says I should give them a break.  That they are over producing and deserve a day off.  But I've come to expect colorful little presents waiting for me in the nest boxes at the end of the day.  So I gave them some treats and told them how much I loved them.  Gave each one a good scratch behind the neck.  That is my role as their Flock Mistress since we don't have a rooster to do that for them.   And hopefully, tomorrow, everything will be back to normal.