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.

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Reprise

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.

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.

Chilly hens and New Jersey

The ladies seem to be doing well even though it has been getting below freezing at night. Last night the temp was down to 29 F and I had to crack ice in their water bowl. This isn't the first time that there has been ice on top, but it was much harder to break this AM. Tonight I took a suggestion from Mark and emptied the container while locking up for the night.

I have a thermometer in the Eglu now and it showed a temp of 38 F this morning. The girls didn't seem uncomfortable at all, though. They hunker down at night and sleep close together.

I took a business trip this week and poor Mark had to get up several mornings to take care of the hens. He was quite happy when I returned a day early. But, while I was gone the ladies seem to have learned that they can get through my rigged-up barrier to the landscaped yard behind the house. The dog walker left a note that the chickens were in the main yard last Tuesday, so he wisely chose not to let the dogs run around. Luckily the hens didn't destroy any plants. They did scratch around a lot of mulch and eat the dill to nubbins, but the dill was popping up in places I really didn't want it, so they sort of did me a favor.

Today and yesterday I worked from home instead of going into the office. So, I followed the normal routine yesterday and opened up the run and coop in the morning when I fed them. By late morning, I saw them in the main yard scratching away and eating more dill. I lured them back towards the barrier with mealworms, then crossed over (I can step over the makeshift trellis barrier) and waited to see how they came into the side yard. Mark and I were thinking they were flying over the trellis barrier since we know Betty and Selma are capable of scaling a 32-inch fence. But it wasn't that complicated, at all. The trellis has wide openings. They just hopped through them. Duh. Good thing for them that the dogs weren't out!

Once I had lured them back, I locked them in the run with some dill I pulled up for them. (Who knew they liked dill?) This morning, I did not open up the run, but I found some time to get out before dark and let them roam for a while. I unrolled some of that icky plastic mesh fencing (we have tons of it) and sandwiched it between the trellis barrier layers. Then I positioned another trellis on top just in case they do try to fly over the barrier. Now that they know there is more green stuff over there, they may be determined to get at it. I'll have to see if this works.

I was in Princeton, New Jersey on my business trip. I was inside all day, but the conference room had a wall of glass that looked onto the woods. The colors were great and it was nice to look out the window for a break. One morning I saw some sort of woodpecker.

We didn't get out during the day, of course, but one evening we went into town and walked around Princeton University campus and the old town square. I couldn't resist this lone bicycle. So, can I now say I've been at an Ivy League school, even if it was just for one night?

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Hen hijinks

This past weekend there was quite a bit of excitement around the chickens.

First, Selma literally "flew the coop" on Sunday morning. I'm not sure how long she was outside the yard since I let them out of their coop and run at around 7 AM and then went back to bed for a couple hours. As I was standing at the kitchen sink filling the tea kettle, I happened to look out the window and see Selma busily standing on the alley side of the fence scratching and pecking. It was a bit of a dance trying to catch her, but I did it then promptly reported to Mark that I would need his help clipping wings before he headed out for a bike ride.

We had ourselves nearly together and ready to trim wings about 30 minutes later when we nearly lost Selma for the second time that morning. I was standing in the driveway with my back to the yard where the chickens are wandering when I heard a strange thunk from their general area. I turned to see what made such an odd noise only to see little Selma crouching low to the ground near the intersection of the fencing and frozen in place. Maisy and Betty were several feet away also being very still. There was some other movement that drew my eye upwards and that's when I saw the hawk. It was winging its way upwards, around the branches of the maple that overhangs the driveway, over the upper porch and onwards to wherever it was bound.

Now, I know there are raptors in Chicago. And I've heard there are Cooper's Hawks active in Chicago, too. But this is the first time I've seen any sort of raptor in my neighborhood. This has made me pretty nervous, I must say. I think that the way the yard is laid out, with all of the raised beds and hoop covers, and tall fence on 3 sides, etc. makes it quite challenging for a hawk to swoop in and grab a chicken, but I'm not sure. I can't put bird netting over the entire yard, nor can I keep the chickens confined to their Eglu run all day every day. They've really been enjoying having the run of the yard every day, and I've noticed that I don't get so many soft eggs when they can roam. I think it's best for their "mental health," let's just hope it isn't bad for their physical health now that the hawks know there are tasty chickens roaming my yard.

We did get down to business after the excitement and clipped the primary flight feathers on one of Selma's wings and one of Betty's wings. As if they were trying to prove that the exercise was pointless, later that day both Selma and Betty managed to flap their way up to the top of the fence running along the driveway (which is just under 4 feet tall) and sit up there mocking me. I had to pull out all of the various trellises I've collected over the years and line them up along the inside of the fence. That adds at least a foot of height and hopefully will keep the naughty chooks in their yard.

It was a relatively warm and sunny day on Sunday so I gave their Eglu a thorough cleaning, as well as watering all the planting beds. I couldn't resist taking a short video of the Maisy and Selma taking a dust bath in one of the unused beds.

 

Dust Bathing

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Our growing family

Well, I've really done it. I've been thinking about this for nearly a year, talking about it for the past several months, and yesterday it all came together.

We have chickens.

Say hello to the girls. At the far right in the back is Maisy. Near the front on the left is bold little Betty, and…well…not sure about the name for the third gal yet. All my friends are suggesting names, but none is really striking me yet.

These ladies were shipped from the Murray McMurray Hatchery in Iowa on Aug. 15 and arrived on my doorstep at about 9:30 AM the next day. They were very quiet in their snug little shipping container. When I opened up the top and began to reach inside to move them from box to Eglu run, they got a bit agitated. I was glad to find that I could slip the whole container into the Eglu run, tear down a side of the box, and leave them to exit the box on their own.

When I peaked back at them about an hour later, they were all outside the shipping box pecking away at their food and water. In addition to the laying feed in their food dish, I gave them some active culture cottage cheese topped with some raisins and a bit of leftover bread. By the end of the day, the cottage cheese mixture was thoroughly devoured.

The girls are technically pullets: immature hens. They should start laying in about 4-6 weeks. So, I must be patient…

They are a Rhode Island Red hybrid called a Red Star or Red Sex-Link. This breed is supposed to be hardy, friendly, and an excellent layer of brown eggs. As they mature, their feathers will become ginger-colored, with just a touch of white around the tail.

Introducing these girls to the canine girls, Hannah and Sadie, is going to take some time. I had to block off the side yard from the dogs since they became much too agitated and boisterous around the chickens yesterday afternoon. They charged the run and Sadie started barking a lot, which really worked the chooks up. The more agitated the chickens became, the more agitated the dogs became and it was not a pretty sight. I ended up physically hauling the dogs away from the run and holding them in place until all calmed down a bit and I could move the dogs out of the yard. Yes, I could have handled that initial introduction better!

The dogs have not given up in their quest to get to the chickens, though. Hopefully Hannah and Sadie will not drive me totally nuts today as they occasionally break out in a whining binge. 

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