Everybody likes chicken dinner

Way back in 2007 when it looked like chicken keeping was going to become illegal in Chicago I became a sort of spokesperson to local press. I was interviewed on the local public television news program, and was also interviewed for print articles in some major newspapers. I’m OK with the fact that my 15 minutes of fame are well over now, but when I do still occasionally get interviewed about keeping chickens in Chicago my favorite pithy tagline is “Everybody likes chicken dinner” by way of warning people about predators.

While I’ve dealt with raccoons and raptors regularly enough that they no longer surprise me, a couple of weeks ago I had to deal with an unusual predator: a mink.

To put the attack into perspective I first have to note another event that happened recently. The same neighbor who discovered my little rooster in the woods, found another chicken in the neighborhood recently. (This guy’s ability to spot chickens is phenomenal.) The poor chicken refugee had actually been placed in a box and dumped in the alley behind my house. The chicken found its way out of the box and hid behind another neighbor’s trash can, which is where the keen-eyed neighbor spotted it.

When dealing with an unknown bird, it’s never a good idea to mix it into your flock right away, so I placed the bird in a separate coop I keep around to quarantine or isolate chickens. The coop is one of my original Eglus, which are handy little coops that are quite safe for chicken keeping…if you close and lock the coop door at night.

On this particular night about two weeks ago the weather had been very pleasant and I had the windows open. At about 2 AM, I was woken by a chicken alarm call. I dashed outside in my PJs and some sandals, grabbing the keys to the coop as I ran. There’s a street light not far from my yard, so as I approached the coops I could take in a disturbing sight: the refugee chicken laying very still in the Eglu run, accompanied by lots of scattered feathers; a hen standing in the run of the big coop crying the alarm, and my little rooster laying very still on the bottom of the run next to her.

I unlocked the full-sized door to the run and flung it open, then stood there trying to figure out what had taken down two chickens and was causing the hen such panic. As I started to enter the run area, I saw something dark moving around under the ramp up to the roosting area. It had a body like a weasel, but a black pelt that gleamed in the low light. I screamed and stepped back out of the run. I needed that thing to get out of the run as quickly as possible, and it had moved in a direction away from me (thank goodness!) and closer to another exit. I quickly unlocked and opened the side exit the critter had moved towards, then dashed back to the house for a flashlight and to rouse B and the dog for back up.

By the time I got back outside with the flashlight, trailing B and Hannah dog, the critter was gone. The distressed hen had dashed out of the run and retreated towards the safety of the house, while the other three hens remained inside the roosting area. I grabbed a long stick and started probing around the run to make sure the thing was truly gone. At first I was too frightened of it to step into the run for a good look with the flashlight, but I finally managed to do so.

It was definitely gone, so my next task was to figure out how it had gotten in. There are several doors and entrances on my coop/run combo, but every single one was padlocked shut for the night. I probed around on the coop floor and found the likely entry point: a small depression in the floor of the coop. The critter had dug its way into the coop.

My coop is skirted with 1/2-inch hardware all the way around the outside…except for one small section. There’s a built-in feed storage area and when the coop was raised into place we lined that storage area with 1/2-inch hardware cloth. Stupid me to think that lining the area and skirting the area would accomplish the same thing. For two years the coop has withstood night-time predators like raccoons, but it wasn’t enough protection from a vicious mink who was OK with doing a little digging to get some tasty chicken.

I hastily added some heavy concrete pavers around the vulnerable area, retrieved the frightened hen and put her in the roosting area, and then turned to the grisly task of dealing with the dead. Except the rooster wasn’t dead! When I went to move him, he stood up and walked a few steps before pausing. His head and neck were covered in blood and he was unsteady, but he was alive! 🙂

The refugee chicken was not so lucky. I tried to turn the body so I could figure out how it had been killed. I couldn’t see any marks on it. Then I finally maneuvered it to a better angle and shined the flashlight on it. The head was completely missing. I found it the next day inside the coop. Apparently mink and weasel are known for decapitating chickens and leaving the bodies behind. They kill for blood and sport.

I went back to bed because there wasn’t much more I could do at that time of night. I only slept lightly, though, and decided about an hour later to go back outside to check on the situation. I found the rooster sitting in the run. He didn’t have enough energy to go up the ramp into the roosting area. I didn’t want to leave him there, so I brought him into the house to clean him up and assess the damages.

Chickens don’t actually have a lot of blood in their bodies and he had lost quite a bit. When the mink had entered the coop, Little Roo (that’s what we call him since he’s a bantam rooster) had taken his role as protector of the flock very seriously and engaged with it. The mink had bitten up Little Roo’s head and neck and apparently stunned him, which is why he was laying on the ground when I arrived outside.

I rinsed off blood and soil that had caked onto the side of his head, then I placed Little Roo in the dog crate in the basement with some water and covered the crate with a blanket. After about two more hours of sleep I had to get up and get ready to go to the office. As much as I would have liked to stay home that day, I had a very important meeting and was not going to be able to re-schedule it. I scrambled an egg for Little Roo and gave it to him to eat with some leftover cooked grains, then left for the day.

When I arrived home that evening, my first order of business was to bury the decapitated chicken. Then I had to address the deficiency in the coop security. I did NOT want to be woken up again in the middle of the night because of a predator attack. With B’s help, we added more 1/2-inch hardware cloth skirting to the area lacking it. I also walked around the entire coop/run, looking for any other areas that seemed susceptible and testing how well the wire was attached to the frame. Everything else was fine.

While I was working on the coop, I had several neighbors stop by to ask what had happened. Everyone was worried about Little Roo, who has apparently become a neighborhood favorite. One would think that a creature that starts making noise as early as 4:30 AM would not be so beloved, but apparently my neighbors admire his moxie.

Meanwhile, Little Roo was still resting in the quiet and calm of the basement. He seemed weak and wasn’t eating or drinking very much which worried me. By the time I had finished all the outdoor chores, it was nearly dark outside and past the time when the avian vet office was closed. But the very next day I was telecommuting and so I called the vet’s office and got a time slot to bring Little Roo in.

Yes, I am a softie when it comes to my chickens. I just couldn’t stand to see this brave little rooster die when it seemed like it would be easy enough to get him examined and perhaps even patched up.

I had to leave him over the weekend so he could get fluids and injections of vitamins and antibiotics, but he was ready to come home on the following Monday. I kept him in the basement isolation area for a few more days before returning him to his “ladies.” He promptly chased them all down and pecked them to re-establish his place at the top of the flock. Then everyone settled down and continued with life as usual.

My coop appears to be secure now since it’s been nearly two weeks with no attacks. And while Little Roo still doesn’t have his crow back to normal, the flock has been restored to a stable place.

As for the refugee chicken, while I feel bad that it’s life was ended so traumatically it wasn’t long for this world anyway. It was not a laying breed and was instead what is unofficially called a “meat chicken;” a breed commonly found shrink-wrapped in plastic in supermarket coolers across the world. These breeds often develop health problems if a do-gooder tries to keep them alive past their usual life span of about 8-12 weeks. I was planning to take it to the live poultry butcher so it was going to wind up someone’s dinner one way or the other. Too bad the mink beat me to it.

Drive By Blogging

Some quick, odds and ends updates.

  • Yesterday I had to call the complimentary road side assistance number to get my car started. I guess the other day when I went out to check on the mileage so I could blog about the car, I must have not turned the car off properly and that drained the battery; not the hybrid battery, just the 12V one that powers accessories and so forth. The car was still in the garage and I got the car started in plenty of time to run the only time sensitive errand I had (picking up a friend from the hospital). I have no idea what I did wrong to drain the battery, but at least I can say the road side assistance offered as part of the Toyota certified program was very prompt and helpful. The guy liked my chickens and was actually quite envious of my little rooster.
  • Speaking of the chickens, the winter decline in egg laying has started. Yesterday B told me we got two eggs, and the day before that it was only one. I should hopefully still get half a dozen eggs a week since there are five hens, but there are no guarantees.
  • The chickens are also molting, so they are looking rather ragged. At least they aren’t looking as bad as this chicken. Yes, that’s a real, non-Photoshopped image of a chicken going through a horrific molt. You can see more of little Kung Fu Henny in this post, and some updated lyrics praising her bravery here.
  • “Little roo” (a.k.a. Rory the rooster) is very cantankerous whenever we open up the coop to let the chickens out for their afternoon stroll. He apparently thinks we are after his ladies. I guess it’s understandable since in the past few months I’ve temporarily removed a hen or two about four times so they could be taken to various chicken-promotion venues, chicken-keeping classes, the vet, etc. I hope he calms down a bit since we are tired of him acting like an asshole and flogging our legs.
  • I’ve lost weight over the past few months. Yay! I have no idea how much weight since I don’t have a scale at home and rarely weigh myself at the gym. I know I’ve lost weight, though, since my clothes are much more loose, I had to buy new bras in a smaller size, and I was able to fit into some suits that I haven’t been able to wear in at least a year. 🙂 I’ll probably write more about this in another post since there are a lot of points I could expand upon.
  • I spent nearly $900 last month getting my heat to work properly. I made a stupid mistake letting the handy man move a pipe that is part of the radiant heat system for the first floor of the house. It took four visits by the heating service to properly identify the problem and fix it since there were so many variables in play. The heat works really well now, though, and I’ve learned another valuable lesson about boilers and radiant heat. Too bad these lessons usually result in me spending a lot of money.

Hot, hot, hot

Summer didn’t officially start until a couple of weeks ago, but it’s already been brutally hot. Last Thursday we had a heat index of 110 F and a city-wide heat advisory. These heat advisories started being issued after the 1995 heat wave that was deadly to over 700 Chicago residents. At that time I was living in an apartment with no air conditioning and spent most of my evenings in a cool tub of water or laying prostrate in front of a window fan. I was young, healthy, and unafraid to open my windows, unlike most of the people who died. But ever since that time the city has issued these heat advisories and prompted people to check on their elderly and infirm neighbors, leave their stifling apartments for air-conditioned city facilities, or call our non-emergency number of 311 to arrange for city employees to visit or transport people who need well-being checks.

In addition to the heat, its been very dry. We are in drought and while the extreme heat has brought it’s share of storm activity, most of the rain has been missing my area of the city. Two nights ago we got a very good shower that provided close to an inch of rain according to my rain gauge. That’s the first shower we’ve had in at least two weeks. I’ve been watering the raised beds full of veggies at least every other day and setting the sprinkler up to water the front and back yard ornamentals about once a week. It’s times like this that I mentally kick myself for not putting the soaker hoses back in place after I took them up nearly two years ago. My ornamentals are all well-established and tough perennials, though, so they are doing OK with the limited rain.

I did make one bone-headed mistake early last week. I set up the sprinkler to water the ornamentals behind the house one evening after work. I started it about 7 PM and then went back into the house to prepare and eat dinner and do my normal week-night things. I meant to turn the sprinkler off after about an hour, but I completely forgot about it. At roughly 1 AM the next morning, I woke up and realized I had left the sprinkler on, so I dashed outside to turn it off. The plants really enjoyed that watering, at least, and this was one of those times I was extremely grateful that older houses like mine in Chicago do not have water meters.

The chickens have been doing very well, too, and for that I’m grateful. According to the posts on the Chicago Chicken Enthusiasts Google Group, two of our local chicken keepers lost hens due to the extreme heat last Thursday. My chickens get a lot of shade and I’ve put out an extra two-gallon water fount for them ever since it started getting really hot. Several weeks ago I also reconfigured the roosts inside their coop to allow for them to spread out more at night and have enough room to cock their wings to dissipate body heat. They also have a roosting bar in the attached, secure run so they could hang out there at night if they want. I’m very impressed that their egg production has stayed so high despite the heat. Most days I get four eggs a day from the five hens. Truly amazing.

“Little roo,” as I call the rescued bantam rooster, is firmly integrated into the flock. It only took him a couple of weeks of getting to know the hens before he started jumping them, but the ladies seem to have him in hand. It was actually a bit funny to watch since he is so much smaller than the hens; this seems to be one of those situations where size *does* matter, so I don’t think there will be any fertile eggs coming from the hens, despite his best attempts. With the extreme heat, I’ve seen almost none of this activity on his part, so maybe he’s giving up for now. His crow has changed lately, too. For the past week he’s sounded almost as if he has a sore throat!

He’s wary of me, and also a bit touchy if it seems like I have “intentions” towards his ladies. When the flock is let out to wander the yard, he’s pecked me on the foot a couple of times and thrown himself at the back of my legs a few times, too. I’ve taken to giving him plenty of room and being firm, but kind when he shows any aggression to me. I’ve managed to catch him a few times, hold him firmly, and stroke his neck. He calms down right away when held and the neck stroking makes him almost purr.

A pair of young squirrels are now living in the big maple behind the house. Hannah dog has been getting quite a workout chasing them along the fence and in the yard. The squirrels are still learning their own limits and one day last week Hannah actually caught one on the ground. I immediately called out to her and she dropped it. The little squirrel hid in among some plants, while Hannah moved away. I routed it with a broom and it scampered to the tree and up to safety, so it was unharmed.

Despite all the fun we have with Hannah’s squirrel obsession, I don’t want her to actually kill a squirrel, and I was happy she was so attentive to my call. There’s more to write about Hannah dog and how we’ve been relating over the past several months, but I think I’ll save that for another post.

Today is a lazy Sunday, or as lazy as I usually let them get. I have to drop off the overflowing recycling (this household produces only one 13-gallon bag of trash every 2-3 weeks, but the recycling is 2-3 times that much! how I wish for a blue cart!) and neaten the house. The dining room table is piled with stuff that needs putting away, but I also want to sit in the cool air conditioning and do some knitting. And since the day will be too hot to take Hannah dog out for a walk (she overheats easily, maybe due to her dark coloring), we’ll have to fit in some indoor play time, as well.

So I am off to enjoy my day! I’d love to read comments from my few readers about what you’ve been up to and how you spend your weekends.

Rooster introduction

I’ve finally taken the plunge and introduced the little rescue rooster to the hens.

Standard advice is to quarantine a new bird about a month before introducing it to your flock. I kept the rooster in a separate coop for only about 10 days before introducing him to the hens. I decided to take the chance because I had seen no signs of any illness or problems: his feathers and plumage were in very good condition, he had no discharge from his eyes or nostrils, and his droppings were normal and showed no signs of worms.

B took a video of this initial introduction. I think the rooster (we’re calling him Rory after the neighbor who suggested we rescue him) is a bit overwhelmed with the hens here.

Yesterday afternoon I took the final step of integrating him with the flock. I let him roam the yard with the hens and then put them all to bed in the main coop. There’s still a bit of adjusting to do, but they’ll all work it out.

To catch a rooster

I now have a rooster. This is a surprise to the hens (heck, it was a surprise for me!) and it will take a few days for them to adjust, so there’s a bit more noise coming from the flock this morning.

Hens don’t need a rooster around to produce eggs. The rooster’s “job” is to watch over the flock, keep the hens safe from predators, and fertilize the eggs. (Some people think that fertile eggs are healthier for you, but that’s not true.) Since we backyard chicken keepers have taken over the job of keeping our hens safe from predators, the only reason to keep a rooster these days is if you want to breed chickens or if you really fancy roosters. I don’t want to try breeding and hatching eggs, and while I do find some roosters quite good-looking, their crowing has always made me avoid them.

But yesterday afternoon when one of my neighbors stopped by and asked me to help a stray chicken he saw in the nearby forest preserve I told him I would check the situation out. This neighbor is a bit of a pain at times, but he recently had to euthanize one of his dogs and he’s still raw and upset about it. He walks around the neighborhood everyday for his health and he noted that he’d recently seen a coyote in the same area where he saw this chicken. He couldn’t bear the thought of this poor chicken being killed by a coyote. He also thought the chicken may belong to a guy who lived closer to the woods and kept pet chickens, too.

Since I was planning to take the dog for a walk anyway, I decided to see what was going on. I put a small bag of chicken treats in my pocket (cracked corn, bread, and dried mealworms) and B and I headed out a few minutes later. On the way to the spot where I was told I’d find the bird, we stopped to talk with the other chicken owner my neighbor had mentioned. Luckily he was home and in the yard, so we chatted for at least 30 minutes about his chickens, my chickens, and the fact that it is not uncommon to find roosters loose in the woods around here.

The typical explanation for this phenomenon is that it is due to practitioners of Santeria leaving them them there. If that’s the case then these chickens must be escapees because everything I’ve found online about Santeria says that the chickens are sacrificed/killed and that the bodies are usually eaten. I suppose it could be that people are just trying to get rid of roosters (since these loose birds are typically male) they don’t want or need, but that doesn’t fit well with the model of most chicken folks I’ve met who either keep chickens as pets and would try hard to find a home for a rooster or who see roosters as something to take to the butcher and put in the stewpot. If any reader can fill me in on why chickens (and mostly roosters at that) are let loose like this I’d love to hear it.

Talking with this fellow chicken owner did establish the fact that he wasn’t missing a bird so the chicken in the woods wasn’t his. I continued on my walk towards where the neighbor had reported seeing the chicken and found it right away. It’s pretty easy to spot a white chicken in the springtime woods, after all. Not everything has grown in yet and he stands out pretty well against the soft greens of the early growth and the browns of the fall leaf detritus and bark of shrubs and trees. I tossed some cracked corn his way and he came readily to eat it, but he was wary of me and wasn’t going to get close enough for me to grab him. I wasn’t prepared to do so anyway; I just wanted to find the chicken, see what condition it was in, and figure out if it was a rooster or a hen. This was definitely a rooster and quite a good-looking one, too. He’s a bantam: smaller than a full-sized rooster, but otherwise a fully functioning rooster.

We walked the dog home and then started prepping for the rooster-catching operation. First I prepped the spare Eglu coop that I keep next to the main coop where the hens live. It’s never a good idea to immediately mix a new bird in with an established flock because it could bring in parasites or diseases, and it really messes up the flock dynamics in a big way. Putting a new flock member into a quarantine coop is the way to go, and if the coop is near enough to the main coop for the birds to see each other its even better because they have time to check each other out before introductions are made. Once I established that the Eglu was stocked with water and had the feed container in place, I went back into the house and pulled out an old sheet and a box big enough to put the chicken in. Then I changed into my gardening/chore clothes and shoes and B and I headed out to wrangle a rooster.

The neighbor happened to stop by the location, too, so he tried to help. My plan was to lure the rooster close enough with cracked corn and treats, then toss a sheet over him to make him easier to grab. Let me cut to the punchline and say we were not successful. Chickens are very hard to catch and this guy had a big area to run around in to avoid us. While the woods weren’t fully grown in, there still was a lot of brush we had to maneuver around, too. To top it off the ground was muddy and it was hard to find good traction at times. B actually slipped and fell at one point, getting mud all down one leg. Our shoes were a mess and I had twigs in my hair, too. I called a strategic retreat. The neighbor thanked us for trying and I told him we may try a bit later when it was dark enough for the chicken to roost.

Chickens are much easier to catch when the sun is down. They have very poor night vision and their natural tendencies are to find a place off the ground to perch or roost at night. If attacked at night they’ll do their best to save themselves, but since they can’t see very well they’re pretty vulnerable. (This is one reason why raccoons are a much bigger threat to chickens than coyotes or foxes; raccoons can climb, so even if a chicken roosts fairly high in a tree, it can’t escape easily from a raccoon.)

We went back out after the sun had set and my own hens were well settled for the night. Finding a white chicken in the dark woods shouldn’t be too hard, I thought, but if we had scared him enough to push deeper into the woods we would be out of luck. It was B who spotted the rooster sitting on a shrub branch just a few feet in from the road. There was a bit of chasing involved, but he was much easier to corner and when he tried returning to his roosting spot I just managed to grab one of his legs, then the other, and to pull him in close enough to tuck the sheet around him. He was fairly subdued, so it was easy to pop him in the box. B sat with the box in his lap as I drove the few blocks home.

Transferring the rooster into the Eglu went pretty well, and then I filled up the feed bowl and slipped it inside. He paced around a bit making soft noises. After a few minutes we left him and went inside so he could settle down on his own.

First thing this morning I went out to check on him. He’s already trying to impress the girls next door, flapping his wings, dragging them across the ground dramatically, and crowing. The hens aren’t sure what to do. The ones higher in the pecking order are making more noise this morning, and are eyeing him up; the ones lower in the pecking order are checking him out the most, though. They seem fascinated by his display and are spending a lot of time hanging out in the area of the coop where they can see him.

I haven’t decided if I’m keeping the rooster or not. He’s quite a good looking rooster, but his crowing could make some of my neighbors pretty unhappy. For the next week or so he’ll stay in the spare coop to make sure he isn’t going to make my hens sick, at least. And since I’ll be out of town at a conference and B is taking care of the household by himself, I’ll be relying on his reports as to how the little guy is getting on.

A new flock!

It’s been hard to sit and write lately because there are so many pressing things going on. I work very full days, I volunteer once or twice a month, I grow and cook food, and I have a house and yard to keep up by myself.

But as busy as my outside-of-work commitments make me, I really love them. One “hobby” that I’ve really missed over the past several months is keeping chickens. Last fall I decided to take a break from having a home flock. It was nice having time to reassess my coop and run set up, and to make some much-needed changes to it. It was also a good winter to take a break from tending a flock; I don’t know how I would have been able to tend to the hens in their Eglu coops when the blizzard rolled through this year. But I missed the amusing antics of chickens in the yard, not to mention the high quality eggs.

Here I’ll confess something that may shock the more frugal folks who occasionally read this blog: when I buy eggs, I typically pay nearly $7 a dozen. Really. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to get some eggs for less than that at the farmers market, but I haven’t been making it to the markets very often this year due to my other commitments (work, volunteering, etc.). So when I have to buy eggs at a store, I buy them at Whole Foods where I can get a brand called Vital Farms. These are the closest thing to backyard eggs I’ve found at a major grocery store and I will gladly pay the extra money for many reasons.

I first became interested in keeping hens because of their usefulness to my first big hobby: gardening. They eat weeds and bugs, and they produce excellent fertilizer for the garden in return. Oh, and they give you tasty eggs. Win/win/win! But to me there are also ethical reasons for not buying standard store eggs. The hens that lay those cheap eggs are treated horribly, and the eggs themselves are bland and tasteless. Once I got my first hens, I also found out how fun they are. They have distinct personalities and are amusing and calming to watch.

So that’s what I was doing tonight after I stopped working, and just before the sun set: relaxing by watching my new flock of little hens. I opened up their coop door to let them roam the big yard and watched them busily scratch, peck, stretch their wings, and explore, all while making soothing peeps and clucks.

Below are the oldest of the little hens.

Honey, the mystery pullet

Honey, the mystery pullet

Honey is about five weeks old and is my favorite. She was an “impulse buy” because I hadn’t planned on getting six chickens, but she was cute and lonely sitting by herself at the store. She was obviously hand raised as a pet because she likes to sit on my arm and be held. Technically I didn’t buy her, and the store owner gave her to me since she knew I’d provide Honey a good home. But she still was a big impulse acquisition and so far I’m glad I gave in.

Emma and Jane, Speckled Sussex pullets

Emma and Jane, Speckled Sussex pullets

Emma is in the foreground and Jane is in the background. Both are a breed originally from England called Speckled Sussex, so they’re named after Jane Austen characters. They’re about eight weeks old now. Emma is the bossiest and I think she has established herself as top of the pecking order for now. She isn’t really red; that’s just the way the light was striking her feathers at the time.

Jane, a Speckled Sussex pullet

Jane, a Speckled Sussex pullet

Here’s another photo of Jane. It’s very hard to take photos of chickens since they are almost constantly moving. This was a rare time when she was standing still for a few seconds.

In addition to these lovely young hens, I have three more chicks that are about one week old living in a brooder set up in my basement. No photos of them yet, but I’m sure to get some soon.

For now the pullets are outside in my one remaining Eglu coop, which is plenty large enough for such small chickens. By winter I’ll have everyone snug in the new coop, which is nearly ready for them. All that remains to do is installing the raccoon-proof locks (slide bolts with padlocks! Yes, those ‘coons are smart little beasts!)

My new chicken coop

My new chicken coop

A pair of fine days

I’ve been going through my share of physical challenges lately, but the past day-and-a-half have been really good ones. I started an increased dosage of my Armour yesterday and was feeling well enough to tackle some outdoor chores before the heat built up.

Clean chicken coops? Check. Pick up dog waste in the yard? Check. Mow the lawn? Check. I was so happy that I could get through all of that and still have time to sit on the porch and enjoy the relatively cooler weather, too.

B came over about mid-afternoon and seemed disappointed that the lawn was already mowed. He offered to do it when we talked Friday night and I had gratefully accepted the offer. But it kept looking like it may rain throughout the morning and I was feeling so good that I just went ahead and did it myself.

Today I slept in quite late (well, technically I was up early for chores, but then went back to bed), had a light breakfast and then decided to do some cooking. I defrosted two small ducks, put them in the slow cooker and started a loaf of bread in the bread machine before heading out for a late lunch/early dinner with B. (Real deli flood at The Bagel in Skokie…mmmm!)

When I got home, I cleaned out the entire refrigerator, washing all of the shelves and drawers and tidying up things a bit.

Such productivity makes me really happy. Let’s face it: I hate being idle. Even when “resting” I feel the need to be reading something, knitting something, or…well, just plain doing something. During comfortable summer days on the weekends, I love to sit on my back porch, sipping a cool beverage and enjoying the fresh air. But I find that I can only sit still for a short period of time. I need to get up very 20 or 30 minutes to pull some weeds, prune something, or mess around in the compost.

Ah, well. At least no one can call me lazy.


Betty the hen has been very productive lately, too. I was worried about her last month. Neither she or Selma were eating much and I was getting no eggs at all for at least 3 weeks. Betty is quite thin under all her feathers, although Selma seems well fleshed out. Selma very rarely lays an egg,  while Betty was one of the heavier layers. I think that is why Betty is so much thinner.

Laying eggs takes a lot of energy and doing so very frequently seems to make the hen thinner fleshed and finer boned. So when Betty seemed to be eating very little, I got worried. She wasn’t interested in her normal feed nor was she interested in the weeds and greens I offer them from the yard. Frankly I was concerned that I’d have to be burying another hen soon.

During that time we were also having a lot of heat and humidity, but the hens have lived through a few hot and humid summers without their eating slowing down so much. Eventually I started trying to feed them a few different things. In the freezer I found a loaf of stale “health” bread one of my neighbors had left for the hens to eat. (I had put it in the freezer as there were too many other breads to feed them at the time, and it’s not good to give them a lot of bread anyway.) I defrosted the stuff and found that it was one of those heavy, dense, brick-like “health” breads.

I broke off a chunk and offered it to the hens, but it was so dense they couldn’t peck much from it. So, I crumbled up a portion in a dish with some water and let it sit to get soft. I also mixed in some oyster shell and some food grade diotomaceous earth (DE), which is supposed to be good for helping to eliminate intestinal parasites when ingested. I offered the hens this “mush” and they eagerly ate it down. They got a serving of this “mush” over the course of several days and always dug right in.

Next, I found some dried soybeans in my pantry that I’d had sitting around for several years. I soaked them overnight and then cooked them plain the next day. I offered these beans to the hens and they gobbled them down, too. After that they started back on their regular feed quite eagerly and Betty resumed laying again. I’m not sure if it was the DE, the oyster shell, or just the temporary change in diet, but it seemed to work. Betty has laid an egg every day for the past 6 days, and she’s eager to eat up any of the weeds I offer her. There’s been quite a bit of wild amaranth popping up here and there and that seems to be one of her favorites.


Having a 2 good days under my belt is very good, but I know better than to start pushing myself too hard too soon. If I can have another 2 or 3 days like this, then I’ll try going back to the gym and doing a short work out. Until then, I have work to do for my job and odds and ends to do here at home that will keep me productive and occupied.

But it sure feels great to be perky again. 🙂


It’s baaa-aaa-ck!

Well, it may not be the same one, but there’s a raccoon messing with the hens again. This time, I’m not too concerned since I lock them securely in their Eglu at night. I’m sure it’s stressful for the hens, though.

Really, I wonder what it’s like: hearing “the beast” attacking your shelter at night and knowing you’re just *that close* to being torn apart. *shudder* I guess when our way-distant ancestors first descended from the trees they had similar experiences. But we’ve been predators and up near the top of the food chain for so long that we really don’t have to worry about such things. Unless we live in an unstable urban area or a war zone, that is.

Well, that was quite a digression!

Anyway, I’m really only assuming it’s a raccoon visiting at night since I haven’t actually seen it. But what else could be messing up the run cover every night for the past  3 nights? I’ve even figured out where it’s getting into the uber-run (as I call my large run in which the Eglus rest), and frankly there’s not much I can do about it.

As long as the hens keep inside the Eglu coop at night and don’t try to wander out into the attached Eglu run area they are safe. I could close the door to the Eglu coop and take away this option entirely, but then the hens would be stuck without food or water until I rolled out of bed an hour or two after sunrise to let them out. It’s summer and with the shorter nights I’d have to be out there at about 5 or 5:30 AM every day to beat or meet the sunrise.

I’m down to 2 chickens now and I’m actually thinking I may bring them to my mom’s farm this fall and go without hens for the winter. It would give me a bit of a break and allow me to plan a better coop and run layout, perhaps. After all, as anyone with chickens will admit, you always contemplate ways to improve your set up .

In the meantime, I wonder how much longer the raccoon will keep trying to get at a hen until it finally gives up and leaves for good. Or at least for another few months until the morning light comes later.

Of want and plenty

I nearly resorted to buying eggs this week. The poor hens have been so discombobulated by the raccoon visit that they still are not back to a regular laying cycle. After the “misfires” in the days immediately following, I was finding nothing in the nestbox most days. A week has passed and I’ve gotten only 2 eggs: one today and one on Wednesday.

I had planned to bake some chocolate zucchini bread this week, but I’ve held off because I don’t want to use up every egg in the house. And if I need to buy eggs, I’d rather use the store bought ones for baking than fresh eating. So I just keep holding off on baking or eating eggs. I suppose I’ll give in sooner or later. Or maybe the hens will be back on schedule soon. Is that too much to ask?

This week I’ve worked at home a lot because I caught a cold and didn’t want to pass it on to my colleagues at the office. I’m so thoughtful, aren’t I? Working at home also means I can slip in little naps and lie-downs, too, which is helpful when one is feeling icky.

Being cooped up in the house this much hasn’t exactly been a hardship, but I realized today that my solitary time at home is much more precious when its balanced by time out in the world. And today I went out into the world in a big way by going to Stitches Midwest.

The main attraction was really to see my friends. Adrienne was spending the weekend at the convention hotel because she’s taking a class. Rachael, her mom, Jamie, and Krista were heading up just for the day to shop at the Market. I could have caught a ride with them, but I needed to run some errands in the area.

So this morning I popped a Mucinex D and hit the road. I didn’t go to Stitches last year so it was the first time I’ve experienced it at the Schaumburg convention center. Very nice. And while a person may not be able to take the el out to Schaumburg directly, there’s a free trolley service that stops at the Convention Center and connects up to the PACE terminal, making it possible to get there and back on public transit.

I had a budget in mind and Adrienne promised to help me stick with it. Walking around the Stitches Market its possible to lose control pretty easily. There are many, many books to browse and amazing yarns of all colors, weights, and fiber compositions abound. We walked around fondling and exclaiming over them all. And we totally lost our heads.

As much as Adrienne said she’d help me stay on track, she couldn’t restrain herself this year. After being in the Market area for 6 hours and filling up her large Loopy Ewe shopping bag plus acquiring another to shopping bag full of yarn to boot, she barely pulled herself away from a skein of cashmere as we exited the Market floor.

And me, how did I fare? Well…yeah, I blew my budget. I’ll own up to it like a big girl. It’s too dark to take photos but I’ll make note of the purchases now while they’re still fresh: a kit to knit Cia in Island Moss (green) KidLin ; a huge hank of un-branded sock-weight superwash (enough to knit a pair of socks for one of the Esalen workshop leaders, as promised!); a pattern for a cardigan; a pattern for a wrap; a set of 3 funky ceramic buttons for a sweater I just finished; a pewter shawl stick; and a silk Lantern Moon bag.

I made two major splurge purchases. At the Elegant Ewe‘s booth I spotted a rare find: a few copies of A Stitch in Time. I first heard about this book on the Cast-on podcast and was greatly intrigued. A book full of vintage patterns updated to work with modern yarns and in modern sizes, it sounded amazing. And it is. I wasn’t going to order it from the UK sight unseen, but browsing through the store copy today I decided it was well worth the hefty price of nearly $50.

There are 56 patterns in the book and while I certainly wouldn’t want to knit all of them there are more than enough to make my hands itch to get started on one. I showed the book to Adrienne, who barely glanced at it before reaching into her wallet for the cash and sending me back to the booth to get a copy for her while she completed another purchase.

My final splurge purchase was a sweater kit to knit Imogen. I’ve had this pattern on my wish list for years (no exaggeration) and Adirondack Yarns sold it bundled with Fleece Artist Blue Face Leicester Aran. I got a lovely, mottled, pewter gray kettle-dye. I suppose I could have purchased the pattern separately (I see they have it on Patternfish now), but this is a pattern that must be knit in a yarn with subtle color variations, and the Fleece Artist yarn fit the bill beautifully.

I nearly bought the Lady of the Lake kit, too, but I restrained myself. I do have *some* control. But now I’m quite certain that I will cancel the bi-weekly cleaning service so I can get back on budget again. Because budgeting is all about prioritizing, right? And I’ll pick yarn over a clean house any day. Is that bad?

Thief in the henhouse

We had a visit from a raccoon early this morning. Luckily, all the hens are OK but it was pretty scary at the time.

The dogs woke me up at about 4:15 this morning when they leaped out of bed and began barking. Then I heard the chickens squawking in distress. I threw on something suitable to wear outside and rushed out to the chicken run. I made the dogs stay inside just in case there was something out there I wouldn’t want them tangling with, like a skunk.

When I first approached the run, I saw something on the fence along the alley out of the corner of my eye, but by the time I shifted my focus, there was nothing there. The hens continued to squawk in distress, but I couldn’t see anything amiss. I walked through the garden, around the back of the garage, and into the yard behind the house. Still nothing moving. So, I let the dogs out and went back to calm the chickens down.

The chicken run. The raccoon was sitting in the tree just above.

The chicken run. The raccoon was sitting in the tree just above.

The dogs were going nuts dashing around the yard chasing scent trails. When I approached the chicken run this time, I finally saw the cause of their disturbance: a raccoon, calmly climbing along the tree around which the chicken run is built and settling into the place where the trunks converge. It seemed inclined to just stay there, and the dogs couldn’t do a thing to help. I couldn’t let them into the run, and even if I could, there is bird netting secured around the tree and covering the top of the run, making it challenging for anything to get in or out of the chicken run from the top.

This bird netting — flimsy as it may be — is the only thing that saved my hens. It’s not stretched taughtly across the top of the run. Instead, it is draped and tied in a loose and floppy manner. I think that this made it too difficult for the raccoon to bite it’s way through, so instead it had to try to reaching through any convenient opening to grasp whatever it could find.

I had to get rid of the raccoon, but I wasn’t sure what I could do. I looked around for something to throw at it, but nothing seemed suitable. So I pounded a bit on one of the posts and said “Get out of here! Go!” The raccoon obliged, climbing down the tree, down the fence, and then disappearing down the alley.

I opened up the run and the stepped in amidst the paniced chickens, who were crowding along the doorway. I picked each one up and shoved it into an Eglu run, then secured the run door closed. Now if the raccoon came back they would be able to take shelter in the Eglu coop where it would impossible for the racoon to reach.

I went back to bed, but it took a while to fall asleep. I was too keyed up and a bit afraid that I’m here by myself having to deal with this big, bad, ol’ raccoon with only a couple dogs to help. I slept an hour past sunrise, then got up to let the hens out of the Eglu into the main run. It was then I saw the evidence that Speedy had been in the clutches of the raccoon for a bit, at least.

Evidence of a crime

Evidence of a crime

White feathers were scattered here and there around the coop. I recalled how Speedy had been separate from the other hens when I first approached the coop in the early morning’s racket.

I looked inside the run and saw her hanging back a bit. Was she injured? I quickly grabbed her and checked her out. Near her tail I found a bare patch of skin where her feathers had been cleanly plucked out. There was no torn flesh and no bleeding, though she’s likely bruised. 

She was lucky. I have read in the Backyard Chicken Forums of chickens who’ve had legs and wings ripped off by raccoons. They grab whatever they can reach and can kill a chicken by tearing it apart.

Since the weather has gotten warmer I’ve gotten lazier about locking up the Eglu runs at night. The chickens have taken to roosting on top of an Eglu run, where they find the air cooler and they can satisfy their desire to perch above the ground. After the visit from the raccoon, I can’t let them do this anymore.

I’ve been keeping chickens for 3 years now and this is the first time I’m aware that a raccoon has come visiting. Now that one knows there are chickens here, I suspect it won’t be the last.