Full cycle

Missy, one of my Delaware pullets, died. I’m not certain what happened, but I discovered her dead and stiff this morning while I was letting the chickens out of their coops. She was laying on her side, halfway in and halfway out of the coop door.

That detail distracted me for a moment, as I KNOW I shut the doors on the coops last night. It’s possible I didn’t push the door hard enough to lock it, I guess, and the others pushed the door open so they get into the run. There’s no way Missy froze to death as it the temps were actually rising last night.

I examined her body closely looking for some sort of clue as to why she had died. I didn’t see any marks on her, nor did I see anything that looked like mites or parasites had been at work. She was fleshed out well, and otherwise looked very robust.

Yesterday I had to leave for work exceptionally early (just after 6 AM) and by the time I came home it was dark and all the chickens were inside their coops. I therefore had no time to observe behavior yesterday, although I had been home the day before and didn’t see anything unusual.

Missy was a 23 week old pullet. She hadn’t started laying yet, and her comb and wattles were barely developed. (She seemed to be lagging as the comb and wattles on the other Delaware pullet, Speedy, are much more developed.) I doubt she was eggbound, but the only explanation I can come up with is that she had some sort of impaction. As I looked at her vent, I could see some fecal material lodged there and it looked like the flesh surrounding it was much too reddish: as if the inner tissue was exposed and torn.

As a days old chick, Missy earned her name due to the fact that she suffered from “pasting up,” a potentially deadly problem that can occur in chicks where fecal material gets stuck around the vent and plugs them up. The solution is to monitor a chick with this condition closely and manually clear away the droppings from the vent whenever they start to accumulate. I started calling her Miss Poopy Butt, which I shortened to Missy as she matured and I could stop wiping her bottom all the time. It almost seems as if she was meant to go this way.

I didn’t see Missy hatch, but I got her when she was one day old. So now I feel like I’ve experienced nearly the full cycle of chicken life: as a chick, as a pullet, as a hen, and now, at death.

Rest in peace, Missy. I tried to give you the good life, and I think I succeeded. I’ll miss you.

More eggy goodness

Shortly after I came home tonight, I let the pullets out to graze in the yard and checked the nest box. Look what I found today.


In the front is Selma's first egg. Hooray for Selma! Maisy's fifth egg is the dark one in the back. So, it was a two-egg day on September 12, 2007.

Maisy is producing one egg a day, and she is clearly still "calibrating the system." Out of 5 eggs, one was quite large and had a double yolk. The rest have ranged in size from small to medium.


Seen here from top to bottom are Maisy's first, second and third eggs. On the right at bottom is an egg from the last dozen I bought at the farmers market a couple weeks ago. That third egg was the double-yolker. Rachael and I ate them for dinner Monday night. We sauted a bunch of swiss chard in some garlic-enhanced chicken broth, then added the eggs on top, a la Barbara Kingsolver's Eggs in a Nest recipe. Yum!

I couldn't resist taking a little video of "the layers."



Maisy and Selma are now extremely focused on eating as much protein as they can get. They spent their entire time outside the run scratching for insects. I guess once they start laying they become voracious!

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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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