On Friday and Saturday, the builder guy came back to do some finishing touches on the coop, not least of which were the egg doors. He and I both kind of had the idea to have little mis-matched doors on the back of each nesting box so that eggs can be collected without having to go into the coop and walk through shavings. Not that I mind doing that at all – in fact, I do it everyday to check their food and water, do a little cleaning here and there, and to just hang out with them. Nonetheless, I really liked the idea from many coop designs I saw to have an exterior door to the nests so that eggs could be easily collected for breakfast or whatever withour having to go inside… so like I could pop out in the morning and grab some eggs while still in my pjs and slippers and not have to worry about getting chicken poop on my slippers. So, it could come in handy. **Please note: I actually think all my slippers have chicken poop on them anyway at this point, because I’m not exactly on top of the whole wearing-shoes-that-are-appropriate-to-my-activities thing. Ce la vie! At least Brian will complain less if I make HIM go get the eggs :) **
Back to my story… so anyway now that everything is finished (yes, we are actually short one egg door, but I won’t bore you with that story), we get to paint the whole thing! I have to admit that I’m not thrilled with the prospect of yet ANOTHER project to hang over my head, but I am anxious to reduce the Beverly-Hillbillies-look of our yard in general. I think a nice new coat of paint will help me nicely toward that goal. The crap part about it is that neighborhood rules say that our outbuilding must match our house, and since the house is grey (a similar shade to the current shed color), grey it will stay. Why would anyone want a grey house? How boring and drab is that (no offense to other people with grey houses – if you love it, that’s cool by me. I don’t love it, though.)?? The good news is, after a couple of trips to Lowe’s to look for a similar shade of grey paint, I had a moment of genius and decided to check the many paint cans left to us in the garage by the former owners. And hey guess what? There are two full cans of paint in there marked, “shed.” Score. Of course, when we moved in, the shed was literally falling over (the construction guy had to straighten it with his truck and then prop it up with a bunch of braces), infested with insects, and being swallowed by blackberry brambles that had literally grown into the shed through the walls. That and the paint is peeling all over the place. So, I take it the last time they did anything with the shed or the shed’s paint was long, long ago. Does paint go bad? I have no idea. I haven’t opened the cans to look.
OK, so, I plan to paint the shed and the plywood behind the egg doors grey, put a new coat of white on the trim, and then paint the egg doors and The Post multiple colors. I haven’t decided yet on those colors – maybe red, white, and blue to be patriotic? Pink, green, and purple to be girlie? There are endless choices. If anyone has an opinion, let me know. I figure if the shed has to be grey, colorful egg doors will give it a lift.
Do You Think She’s Trying to Kill Us?
I have read many times how when you give chickens something new to eat, they always act like you might be trying to kill them with it. Until today, I hadn’t really experienced this. I guess it’s because generally when I bring them something fun to eat, it always takes a similar form – something soft, in a bowl. Sure, I’ve given them different things. In addition to their favorite yogurt, I have cooked them mashes with various grains, vegetables, and even meat. But all mashed up and stirred together, I guess it’s all the same to them. They always jump right in.
But today, I tried something new. I took the tops of the carrots I was cooking for our dinner and I tied them to the inside wall of their run. It was pretty hilarious. They all instantly gathered around and froze. JB was in the middle, standing up tall, and clucking cautiously at the carrots. <quietly> “buuuuuuuck buckbuckbuck buuuuuuuuuuuuck….” Slowly they all inched forward, eyeing the greens. “BUCK BUCK!!” Everyone fell back except JB and Scruff, who stood up tall and reached toward the might-be demon-spawn.
The Scruff got brave and pecked at the tag on the twist tie. No luck. Suddenly JB lunged forward and grabbed a piece; backing up quickly, he dropped it on the ground and eyed it, “buuuuuuuuck….”
I guess that was good enough for Scruff. JB wasn’t dead. He was going for it.
And that was that. The brave roosters had determined the safety of the new green stuff and the feast could commence. I was very amused.
But also, this event said something larger about the dynamics of my little flock. It said that they are all acting like they are supposed to act. The girls wait for the boys to say it’s OK. The boys bravely try it first, but not without clucking words of caution to their girls. JB is clearly in charge, with Scruff as seecond-in-command. A rooster’s job in the flock is to act as protector and my boys are doing just that, and with a clear chain of command. It will be interesting to see if it stays this way. Once the girls start laying, the real fighting should begin and then we’ll have to get rid of all but one or two boys. I keep telling each of them that they are auditioning for the role of head rooster around here and that the head rooster gets to stay. I don’t think they’re listening to a word I say. Teenagers. Always the same.
JB – Head Rooster?
For now, it is clear – JB rules the roost. At night when I go to “tuck them in” (close the chicken doors to the coop and count heads), JB is generally on the highest perch above everyone else. That is the position of the dominant rooster. He is also the only one who crows regularly, or maybe at all (Scruff did it that once on camera, but I’ve never seen him do it again, and one other boy tried once, but that’s all I’ve heard). He’s mostly the only one who tries to mount the hens, though Scruff tries now and again. And he is most definitely the only one to do the courting dance. IT IS SO CUTE!! He drops his wing to the ground and prances like a little ballerina on his toes in a circle around the girl. Of course, he’s still got to iron out a few kinks. Today I got very excited because he grabbed the feathers on the back of Pippin, and it seemed like he was trying to mount her. I thought – “YES! This means Pippin is definitely a girl! YAY!” But, JB giveth and JB taketh away – not 30 seconds later, he ran over to Scruffy and started to do his prancy-dance for him. So much for gender-clarity.
Moving on… do those look like growing sickle feathers to you, on his tail? I hope so! Long, curving, flowing tails are one of my favorite things about roosters! I was recently dismayed to learn that Marans have characteristically short tails, even on roosters. Oh well. He should still get some sickle feathers, even if they aren’t long. I’ll keep an eye on them and try to get progressive pics for you.
Making New Friends
Since the blackberry event, I have a newly-found determination to make more sunggly chickens (more than just Lady B, I mean). I have decided that the advice I got to just leave them be as babies and they will come around was nonesense. I have read too many stories now and seen too many pictures of people who pick up and play with their chicks from day one, and they generally turn into snuggly chickens. Well, I want snuggly chickens, dag nab it. So, I am going to create them – at least, I hope. The fact that a couple of them let me pick them up on Friday showed me a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Since then, I have made it a point to pick up the ones that will “let me” every single day and hold them for a while to show them that I’m not going to eat them. When I say they “let me,” I mean that they aren’t so paranoid around me that if I so much as flex an arm muscle, they run away. These girls are easier to catch because they don’t mind my hand so much. This group includes both Marans pullets and some or all of the Orpingtons (I still have a hard time telling those girls apart). When I catch them and hold them, they cluck nervously and JB comes running to their defense (I am hoping this won’t turn into his attacking me when he gets older) by standing tall in front of me and clucking like he did for the carrots, “buuuuuuuck buckbuckbuck buuuuuuuck….” But soon, the girls calm down and they really never struggle and I pet them and tell them how nice and pretty they are, and then I squat down with them and let them go on my knee and they stand there and then get down of their own accords.
I can tell that they don’t mind this so much because I learned what it’s like whe one DOES mind it so much. One of the Easter Eggers (I’m going to stop calling them Ameraucanas for correctness’ sake) was grazing under my legs as I was sitting on a garden box and I took the opportunity to catch her. HOLY CRAP. She SCREAMED and fought and kicked and flapped – you would have thought I was mudering her. Try as I may, I couldn’t even keep a hold of her and she eventually wrenched herself free and ran.
Now, all this may have you wondering how Miss Lady Banks is doing. Well, she is doing just fine, thanks. She is just a cute and snuggly and social as ever. She likes to follow me around outside, often at a full-on run to keep up, which is pretty funny. At other times, she likes to be all by herself out in the open. Forever the free-spirit. She also still likes a nightly snuggle inside the coop on my lap – I sit down and she immediately jumps up and settles down to sleep on my knee. She’s still my girl. At this point she seems so be somewhere in the middle of the pecking order – she wins some battles and she loses some. She picks on some and others pick on her. All in all, she is well.
Today I set up my little collapsable greenhouse tent, called a “Flower House.” It’s more or less a heavy-duty, lightweight translucent tent, but I’m excited about it. I bravely moved my seedlings out to it today and I have decided to leave them in there overnight. During the day it was massively warm in there. Tonight will be another story. But, because I don’t have a grow-light setup, my seedlings were getting weak and spindly in the house and they need more light. The only way for them to get that is to be outside. Well, in the Flower House is better than nothing. I know could bring them in at night, but I didn’t. Maybe I’ll wake up to a bunch of dead seedlings. I sure hope not, but if I do, all is not lost. I could plant new seeds now and they’d quickly catch up. Next year I’m not going to bother to start them so early unless I get a grow-light. There’s really no point, I’ve learned, no matter what the seed packets say. Starting them that early just makes them grow super-slowly until there are more hours of daylight, when their growth accelrates. In the end, it’s all the same thing with starting seeds unless you have a grow-light.
In other garden news, my prized Mara Des Bois strawberries have started blooming! Last year, I half-killed them in the bed of my truck when we moved out here in June and we hit a snowstorm in Wyoming. They were pretty freeze-dried when we got here and it took them all summer to recover. I only started getting berries in September and that’s when they would normally start slowing down, so I didn’t get many, though they produced a little through November. This year I’ll be getting them Spring, Summer, and Fall. Yippee! They are incredible and worth every penny if you can find plants. They are the most popular strawberry variety at farmers’ markets in France and are all but non-existent here. They are a cross between an alpine (aka woodland, aka wild) strawberry, “fraises des bois” and a regular eating-strawberry like you get at the store. The result is a larger, juicier berry than the alpines, but with all of their exquisite, perfumed flavor. I paid a pretty penny for mine and I’m so happy to have them. Plus, they throw out runners like crazy and they multiply at the crowns so you can perpetuate your own with just a few plants in the beginning. I started with enough plants to fill one strawberry pot last Spring. After mercilessly pinching out runners so that they would keep giving me berries (plus, in pots, the runners have nowhere to go), I got to divide the crowns this Winter/Spring and now I have four pots full! So, that’s quadruple the plants I had last year. Totally worth it.
I still win the flower-choosing contest.