Sunday, October 23, 2011

Photos of the roosters

My husband and I often think of the same thing at the same time- we just don't often communicate this! As I was hitting "Publish Post", he sent me some of his wonderful images of the chickens.  I thought I'd share them with you as an homage to our beautiful roosters.  It is amazing to see how gorgeous these birds have become. Gorgeous, you might say? A chicken? Yes, they are so pleasing to the eye and relaxing to watch.  Although, it has been difficult to explain the mating process to our children...
"Oh, they are just playing hopscotch, sweetie."
"But they aren't jumping over," points our our 7 year old."
"Yes, they just haven't quite learned how to play yet," was my quick quip.
Let's see how long he buys that story! 
Fuzzball, one of our Mille Fleur D'Uccles
Butterscotch, our Easter Egger. The Flock
Cinnamon posing.
Cinnamon in his full glory!
Butterscotch with his magnificent plumage.

Our roosters move tomorrow

I haven't posted in a while -it's a busy time of year, but it's also been kind of sad with the chickens.  We lost another chicken last week.  Holly was one of our favorites and it was very upsetting to find her headless in our new run extension. Our best guess is she got too close to the fencing and a raccoon/possum/fox snagged her through the fence and chased her inside.  It was the morning and we hadn't staked down the fencing yet- that was our afternoon project but we were too late.

Tomorrow, we are taking 4 of our favorite chickens to live with Mr. Tony who has 30 acres and lots of room for 4 roosters.  We love our roosters but we are happy they have another place to go with reassurances from Mr. Tony that he won't eat them (our 7 year old's main question).  Incredibly, out of the 7 chicks that were hatched in the kindergarten, FIVE have turned into roosters!  What are the odds?  Clearly I didn't do a good job trying to figure out the girls from the boys.  In fact, I just need to do the OPPOSITE of whatever I did last May!  But that is fodder for another posting.

We are fortunate that this past spring Mr. Tony offered to take the roosters. They have been our most personable birds but as their testosterone has kicked in, their personalities have changed.  Our 2 boys have been very gentle with the chickens but they are boys. They love to pick them up and pet them, but the chickens don't understand the love in their little hearts. Typically, the boys back the chickens into a corner to pick them up. This was all good and fine until the rooster-instinct kicked in a few weeks ago and the roosters decided they had to protect their little flock. Cinnamon (to the left),the Bantam Mille Fleur D'Uccle (a miniature chicken) has been chasing our middle son (5 years old) around for weeks.  We found this rather humorous because our son would just bend down, scoop him up, and pet him for a while.  Cinnamon was trying to be so ferocious but a miniature chicken can't help but being cute.  They are less than a foot tall reared up to crow.

But when Midnight became protective, that was a different story. In one of those rare moment "I told you so", Midnight decided he had had enough of our older son picking up his hens. I was in the house and heard screams as this chicken chased my son around and around and around our driveway. Midnight is probably 2 feet tall and terrified our poor son. While it was a good lesson to be gentle with the chickens, our 7 year old was now too afraid to go in the backyard. As he is in charge of opening the run in the mornings, this wasn't a good development.

So it is with a heavy heart tomorrow that we are taking our 4 roosters to live somewhere else.  Our boys are at least reassured that they can visit Mr. Tony and the roosters in the future.  As I explained, it is better than them being on our dinner table...

Sunday, August 7, 2011

You can't be chicken around chickens

My heart is still pounding after tonight's chicken adventures. Who knew I would be battling a huge hawk when I picked up our 5 day old Wyandottes a few weeks ago?!  After a sad day 3 weeks when we came home to the following explosion of feathers

All that remains of Pigwidgeon, our Barred Rock
and a another headless chicken discarded in a bank of ivy, we have wondered what struck our precious birds. Was it another dog? The last dog quickly thrashed our chickens to death and didn't actually eat them, though. We thought our birds were too big to be preyed upon by hawks or owls. Did we have a fox attack in the middle of the day? A coyote?  Not wanting to lose another beloved pet (although whatever ate the head off of Fluffy at least chose the rooster that we were going to have to give away...), we have been very cautious in letting our chickens out of the coop.  We now let them out of the coop late in the afternoon or if we are going to be outside with them.

Our 2 blue-laced red Wyandottes and one splash Wyandotte
Tonight around 7pm, we decided to let the Wyandottes outside of the small coop to test their wings and eat some clover. My 4 year old and I were standing next to each other by the coop with the 3 little birds between us and the coop.  Out of thin air, a great whooshing and flapping of wings appeared and scratched my son's head as it tried to grab one of the chicks. Somehow, the flash of cream and brown registered quickly in my brain, "This is NOT one of our other chickens paying a visit and learning to fly for the first time." I knew immediately that it was a hawk and began screaming some lovely expletive that I am sure I will hear repeated many times over the next few days. The hawk chased one chick behind the coop and the other two chicks vanished. As the hawk's wings were outstretched over our poor chick, I grabbed the hawk's wing. I grabbed this amazingly beautiful predator's soft, strong, and very much alive wing. The rustling of the feathers sounded like a taffeta dress I wore in the 80s.  All that registered in my mind was that there was no chick in its talons as I flung this wing and the bird with it into the sky like a frisbee.  My child was screaming but uninjured.  Unfortunately he had just come outside to tell me about the movie "Rango" that he had just finished watching and the hawk that was scary in it (seriously, that was the timing of this bird!)

The hawk flew away, came back a few minutes later, and perched on a branch 15 feet above us. It was huge. We decided it was a red-tailed hawk which means it really wasn't huge (up to 3 pounds) but red-tailed hawks can grow to 2 feet high with a 52 inch wingspan. I would say this one had a wingspan of 3 1/2 to 4 feet based on how its wings were outstretched when I grabbed it.  I flapped my arms at it and yelled. It flew 2 trees away. I'm glad I didn't injure the bird as I flung it in the air.  I'm very happy it was as surprised as I was and didn't claw me when I grabbed it. But I feel sad for our birds because we don't know how to protect them.  I don't want them to stay cooped up -that's not the point of being free-range.  But at least we have our answer as to what killed our other 2 birds. And I know that I can be brave and quick in the face of a small, fierce bird attacking my chicks.  That has to count for something, right?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

No longer cooped up

When we realized we really enjoyed our chicks and added a few more, we knew we needed a bigger coop.  My husband is very handy with electricity, fixing things, hanging pictures on the wall, and all things computer-oriented. But he'd never built anything with a electric saw. And we had salvaged wood in our garage plus wood siding that someone dumped in our dumpster. And so a challenge was born!  Could we build a coop ourselved entirely from recycled or salvaged materials?

And the answer is YES!  Except for the hardware cloth- we decided the chicks' safety was most important and couldn't scrimp on that.  First, we reused a pile of bricks that were dumped in our backyard.  We thought these bricks would be the ideal base for the coop. Raccoons and other animals will not be able to dig up under the floor to get inside.  We (the collective "we"- I just watched) chipped the old mortar off the bricks, laid them down for the floor, and put concrete in between:


Next, we added the walls above the brick. It leaned a little bit at this point (we didn't exactly know how to build walls...) but we decided the windows and siding would give some stability to the coop.  A contractor friend brought some lumber by that he was going to throw away because it was warped. Chicks don't care about warped wood so we were grateful! The windows were found in a dumpster at my old studio.  The door was actually on the back door to our house- I think it looks much better on the coop.

The trip to the salvage yard for the metal roofing and sides was quite interesting.  They weren't quite sure what to do with me showing up in flip flops at a metal junk yard and were very concerned I was going to cut my feet. Because apparently I might burst into a run in a metal junk yard and not watch where I put my feet. They ignored me at first but once I started picking up metal siding and moving it myself, men showed up to help with a forklift in tow.  Any reason to use the forklift is apparently cause for celebration at Star Salvage.

We had leftover paint from my studio- our choices were either periwinkle blue or lime green. The lime green was rather jarring in the garden so we decided to pretend that the coop was Monet-influenced:

And the crooked door inspired our name "The Crooked Coop".  Inside the coop, we put roosting bars, a box underneath some of them to contain some of the poo (important for keeping disease down), and added nesting boxes.  We also built a drawbridge door to use once we build the run on the outside. Of course the leaves and pine shavings got mixed together after 10 minutes of  furious chick-scratching. But the chicks decimate the leaves nicely which will be delightful for our compost.

To the left are the nesting boxes. To the right, you can see the roosting bars, door to what will be the run, & the shelf above the window where chickens sleep

We added the run this past weekend and the chicks are happy and safe.  The chicks love that they can escape into the run and we cannot follow easily. Actually they seem to like my husband and me- but escaping from our lovely, enthusiastic children makes them happy...  Here is the completed coop/run:

Friday, July 1, 2011

Trendy or trend-setter?

One of our neighbors heard us hammering the other day and came over to see what we were building. We told him about our new chicks and he scoffed, "Chickens! You and everybody else in Buckhead has chickens nows." Really? Are we (horrors) trendy? Granted a number of our friends have brought little flocks home recently or are planning to get chickens. But why is that unusual?  We seem to be one of the few cultures that doesn't have chickens roaming around. When we visited my brother in Greece, we woke up with the sound of chickens. In the Bahamas, chickens. A friend from Kenya says he had a hard time acclimating to the silence of this country because there were no chickens.  People we know from Mexico, Ecuador, France, and Jamaica all think having chickens is a normal part of life.  You raise the chicks and eat the roosters for Christmas dinner. Well, we won't be eating our roosters for dinner because we are softies but for many other parts of the world, this is an expected cycle of life. 

Cinnamon and Fuzzball- our Mille Fleur Bantams

Midnight and 2 of our black Penedesencas
Bringing these little creatures home has been such an unexpected joy! Unexpected in many ways- first, they were only 2 weeks old when they joined us. I thought they were going to be 4 or 5 weeks old.  Not that it really matters except that 2 week old chicks don't have feathers yet and have to stay inside under a heat lamp. And we have cats. 

Second, these little chicks are growing so fast and have really endeared themselves to us.  When the chicks were inside, each of our children would wake up and immediately want to play with the chicks. Now that they are outside, the kids love wandering behind them and watching them. Or scooping them up and carrying them around to play.

In the last month, we found a previous owner of our house who lived here in the 1950s.  He said they had a chicken coop with 70+ chickens. So we aren't trendy after all! We're just getting back to the roots of our house. 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

And then there were 9... and then there were 8

Or "How not to meet your new neighbor".

We have been very diligent about security with our chicks.  Our new coop has hardware cloth covering it to protect the chicks from raccoons and possums (I think possums is plural...) We close the chicks up at night in the coop so that they don't get eaten by an errant fox. We heard there was a coyote in our neighborhood last year but haven't seen it this year. And we stayed with the chicks when they were small while they free-ranged out of the coop during the day. Our chicks are just now big enough that we didn't think the hawks or the crows would abscond with them- and interestingly, the chicks are slightly smart.  They run to the coop if they hear the hawk family overheard or the crows get particularly rowdy.

Caramel- our Easter Egger
 So when Caramel disappeared yesterday during the afternoon, we were baffled.  We knew something was wrong when she was not with the group as we began to herd them back into the coop. [As an aside, we have been thinking that Caramel might actually be a he and not a she- those tail feathers have begun to arch and 'her' legs were much thicker than our similar chick, Butterscotch].  At any rate,we searched and searched for her as the rain began to pour last night. I was looking for a pile of feathers somewhere and hoping to find any remains before the kids did.  No luck. 

Today, we were hesitant to let the other chicks out of their coop. We decided a hawk must have taken Caramel off to a nest somewhere because we could find no evidence anywhere. When we began working in the yard, we felt it was safe to let the chicks out because there were four of us in the backyard- definitely a deterrent to hawks. And the chicks love roaming the backyard- scratching for bugs, shredding my tomato plant leaves, uprooting the beans I planted...  As I was pulling ivy, I heard a child scream and my husband call my name sharply- I ran wondering if a child was jumping up and down in an antpile or something.

My husband disappeared in the woods on the side of our property.  Our 7 year old, was screaming, "It got Neige!" As I got closer, I saw my favorite chick- our white Aracauna Neige- laying on her side in a spray of white feathers writhing around.  I ran and picked up her limp body and asked our son what happened. "It was Sadie! She grabbed Neige and Daddy told her to drop it."

Sadie is our neighbors' dog. We didn't see that one coming.  We haven't even met all of our neighbors after our recent move.  Sadie visited us twice in January but we haven't seen her since then. Her owner called out "Sadie" and that's how we learned her name. I was devastated and furious, picked up Neige, and went in the woods after my husband.

Neige was older and close to "The Egg"

I found him at a fence trying to figure out where Sadie had gone.  He is a nice polite type. I am not. "Who owns Sadie?!," I yelled out to several times to seemingly empty houses. Tacky, yes, but my children's pet was now dead in my arms.  Eventually at a house undergoing a renovation, an older man walked out and said Sadie belonged to the owner. The man spied the limp bird in my arms and ran to get him. 

A nice young man came out (Ian), saw the bird, and a flicker of recognition flashed in his eyes.  He claimed Sadie and began apologizing for the dead bird. "Can I get you a new one?" No, that's really not the point- your dog killed our chick in front of our kids. "Oh, oh, [as this sunk in and his little boy wandered out] and are you missing another one because I think she brought one home yesterday."

This is really not the best situation under which to meet your new neighbors.  Sadie had carted off Caramel last night and Ian and his wife could not figure out where in the world she had found such a beautiful bird as a snack.  Normally, Sadie is fenced in but with construction at their house, she escapes. We haven't seen her since January so didn't realize we had a dog nearby that would threaten our chicks.

While my husband exchanged info with Ian, I took Neige's body back to the boys dreading having to tell them about her death. I firmly believe that death is all how you present it, however, and drama doesn't serve anyone well (Aside from yelling WHO OWNS SADIE, of course).  Our 4 and 7 year old sons were waiting anxiously on their parents who had disappeared into the woods. They were sad to see Neige dead but being able to pet her body and say goodbye seemed to help.  I told them that Sadie also killed Caramel. "Where is Caramel?", they asked. I should have said in heaven but I was thinking very literally at that point. "She's in their trash can." "Well, why didn't you bring her back so we can bury her with Neige?" You can't really explain to a 7 year old that the chick is at the bottom of a trash can. Under trash. With trash on top. "Well, get it off. I'll go get my boots and go tell Daddy to get Caramel."

And so that is what we did.  We went back over to our poor neighbor's house who was still feeling awful about what his dog had done.  And our boys asked him to get Caramel out of the trash can.  Well, why not?!  He was very accommodating [I mean, what else could he be?] and unearthed our chick. We buried both of them together in the back yard.

Our neighbors' construction will be finished in about a month and they have promised to have the fence fixed then.  I shared that I don't like the thought of locking up their dog but I I don't want to coop up our chickens either... I just hope this month passes quickly and Sadie forgets her tasty chick neighbors next door.  In the meantime, we are going to build a roost swing so that our chicks can play in the coop more.  And we will finish the run attached to the coop.  We didn't think we needed the run because they could free-range but obviously we do.  And we will miss Neige and Caramel.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Cooped up

One of the first challenges with our chickens is giving them a place to live.  Apparently I can't count by weeks anymore. I thought they were going to be about 5 weeks old when they joined us- no, they were only 2 weeks old. And they were so cute and fluffy! But they had down instead of feathers which meant they couldn't go outside yet.  I thought it would be rather sad if I sent the class chicks outside and they got ill and died...

Our soft, downy chicks in the bathroom.
So we brought them into our downstairs bathroom.  It's a small bathroom that is completely tiled and should be easy to clean, I thought. As the odorama hit us after a few days as we walked in the back door, though, we quickly began counting the days until the chickens could live outside.  The positive side of the chicks being inside is we got to spend lots of time holding them and they were easy to catch.  They would chirp their melodic sweet sounds until we went in and visited in the morning. When night fell, the chicks became silent as the huddled together in comfort.  But the task of sweeping out the bathroom and cleaning the poo off the floor became rather tedious. A fellow "chicken" friend suggested putting them in a large dog crate which would make the cleanup easier.  At first I thought this wouldn't give them enough space, but as the weather warmed and the chicks went outside more during the day, the crate was perfect.  Thank you, Robin! 

Keeping the chicks inside gave us a few more weeks to solve the coop challenge: where to locate the coop and the run.  At first we thought we would tuck the coop in a cleared out wooded area. It was shady and cool but there wasn't any greenery to munch on. We quickly discovered how much the chicks like to eat clover, grass, and anything growing in the garden.  We bought a kit to build a small coop with an attached smal run- perfect for 3 to 4 chickens. But we wound up bringing home 7 chicks because I can't count chicks either. Here is the photo of the coop we built from the kit you can find at

This coop was great temporarily- until we realized we just love the chicks and got 3 more (we know some will be roosters). We decided to turn the smaller coop into a tractor coop which means that we can move it around so they can eat fresh grass and clover. But most days, we just open the doors and let them free-range.  It's interesting how they roam around but don't go far from the coop- hence the term "coming home to roost". 

Next up, the new coop my dear hubby built completely from recycled and reused materials...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Why chickens?

"What are you going to do with them when they grow up?" was the disdainful, doubting question from two moms as my 4 year old and I walked to the school office with our 7 chirping chicks.  Their sideways glances at each other were a bit startling and they looked at me like I surely had no idea what I was getting into. "Well," I said gently, "That's sort of the point. When they are full-grown, they lay eggs."  "And you're going to eat them?!" Hmm. This was not a reaction I predicted...  I felt better when the next mom I encountered expressed enthusiasm and support "Oh, we took the class chicks home for two years in a row.  We LOVED them." But then wild dogs ate them and it was a tragic loss for the family.

So what are we getting into and why are we doing this? We joked that it might be easier than getting a dog. But we thought it might be a fabulous experience combining our love of nature and healthy food (well, generally healthy).  We garden, compost, drink organic milk, buy some organic food, recycle, you know, the usual steps towards a healthier more self-sufficient lifestyle.  We moved in December to a new house (actually ancient by Atlanta standards) with more property and for some reason thought, Let's get chickens. We need a new project.  Three kids aren't enough. Neither are 4 fish tanks and 3 cats. And a house that needs much restoration and renovation. Chickens.  My husband raised two chickens in high school and so considered himself an expert. Granted he had to give them away when one turned into a rooster and began crowing in the middle of Buckhead.  Why not take a leap into something simplifying the farm to table trend?

So, why not chickens? We researched chicken coops, how to tell male from female chicks, daily maintenance, fancy breeds, and visited some friends' coops. Then came the email from our son's kindergarten class: Homes needed for the chicks being hatched in class- the farm that donated the eggs doesn't want them back. So now we could have RESCUE chicks!  Well, not really rescue but certainly ones in need of a home.  Sold! Sign us up.