Saturday, November 5, 2011

Free range chickens, annual releasing ceremony, Deep litter chicken coop, winterizing the backyard farm, harvest is in

Yesterday saw  an annual  ritual take place in our backyard, micro farm. Jimmy and I jumped out of bed at the crack of dawn  (ok it was 9 am).  We had our coffee and then set to work  winterizing the back yard. I cleaned the coop and added about 6 inches of  bedding to keep the girls warm.  We  do a deep litter thing in the coop.  It means clean out the poop, but leave  the old bedding and add new on top of it.  By the time of spring cleaning there will be close to 14 inches of bedding in the coop.  This is something you want to do if you don't have any heating or a  lamp in your coop.  The old bedding on the bottom generates heat and keeps the girls warmer.  Its a good idea to sprinkle a little  seven dust on  the floor before the first layer.  When I cleaned the coop last month it was a thorough cleaning and debugging so all I needed to do was  clean out the poop and add new bedding.  I also moved the ladder which HashTag uses as a perch,  as far against the wall as I could.  (bantams like a lower perch)  cuz it was to close to the  high perch and every now and then someone would manage to poo on her head in the middle of the night. Hash and the oldest  girl  were cuddled together nicely  last night  when I checked.  The old grouchy one is now too old to get up on the high perch.  All is well in the Hen house now.  While I was doing this, Jimmy was busy  covering the cat  door in the  fence and patching all points of excursion.  Then we cleaned the  yard and put away the lawn chairs and all other signs of summer.  We put bird netting on the two winter beds ( which are still producing nicely).  Jimmy cut his precious pepper plant off at the base and it is now drying in the kitchen with the other herbs. We walked the perimeter  and policed the entire area for bits of plastic or wire  that might be indigestible.  Then we stood  back, surveyed what we had done and decide it was time.   The annual release of the prisoners  could now commence.   I got the camera and Jimmy opened the gate.   HashTag was, of  course, the first one to realize that   freedom was beckoning and casually walked   through the gate like it "weren't nothin'".  She really does have chicken "Cool" down to an art.  She kept looking behind her  and when she realized the other girls  didn't know the gate was open she calmly went back to tell them.   Unlike Hash, the other girls got all excited, had some sort of chicken  planning meeting and then they all lined up single file and marched out the gate  with  a dignity and ceremony we  humans could  only envy.  I've seen them do this before and I am fascinated by it.  They always seem to know it is  an important moment and they take the time to acknowledge it.    Interestingly enough, Elphie 'the fallen'  took point and led everyone out.  Prissy 'the benevolent' swept the rear.   The only glitch to the annual parade was  our grouchy old girl.  She kept lagging behind getting distracted by dandelions and beetles.  Finally the other  girls just went back, surrounded her and  escorted her through the the process.  They hit all their favorite spots order... and took about 5 minutes in each place.  After about  a half hour they  had another chicken meeting,  acknowledged  that the ritual was complete, and went their separate ways.   Last years ritual took almost an hour before they got to this point.  I think this year they shortened it  for the old girl cuz she just couldn't keep focused on the rite.  And so it is done.  The harvest is in and the girls are free-ranging. Drusilla has taken up her Lordly position atop the the Hot tub to watch over  all, accordingly, as Jimmy  and  I sit in front of a warm fire enjoying the fruits of our labors.
Aaaahhhh... life is good. 

The intrepid HashTag, first on the scene.

Elphie 'the fallen' leading the way. Prissy 'the benevolent' sweeping the rear.

Barred Rock Elphie 'the fallen' and  Leghorn Prissy 'the benevolent

Silkie 'the intrepid'  HashTag

Jimmy's precious peppers hanging to dry

an empty prison

Jimmy patching a point of egress

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The fall of Elphie, The rise of Prissy 'the benevolent', The intrepid HashTag, Coup' in the Coop

So, one day last month I went out in the early  morning to check on the girls and found Elphie hunkered down under the coop. Her eyes were a bit glazed and she was obviously cold and perhaps in shock.   My first thought was that a predator had gotten into the coop that night and she had battled it all the way out the door. I opened the coop door  expecting   an awful sight to meet me and was greeted by 5 serene faces  who just wanted to know what was for breakfast.  Over the next few days I watched Elphie closely as she sulked in whatever corner everyone else was not in.  Her comb  was a little deflated and her attitude was one of humility.   When snacks were pitched into the chicken run, Elphie would hang back  and not approach the food until everyone else happily grabbed what they wanted.  This is very un Elphie behavior. For the last two years Elphie has been queen and guard, choosing who eats in what order and strictly enforcing all coop rules.  Elphie was a bad-ass chicken.  Here's  a link to the first blog about her

Not that she was selfish  or   completely without thought for others.  She regularly stood back and allowed the two elderly girls to have first pick of tasty morsels.  But the key word here is  'allowed'.   During her reign she  was tough,exacting and at times brutal.  Always  in control and always alert.  She could be generous one minute and punitive the next.  But no more.  She is humbled in her fall.   It would appear that Prissy is the new sovereign.  Something happened between them that night  that only the privvy few witnessed.    A new era has dawned. Empress  Prissy has a very open  attitude.  She is the peoples chicken.  Everyone is treated the same.  She takes her meals with the common folk and  no one needs to wait for her permission to dine. She allows far more individual expression than Elphie ever did. Her second in command is Hester.  Hester, if she were human, would  be a drinking,wenching,partying, captain of the guard, removing herself from her  indulgences only when her sovereign calls upon her for action in the line of duty.  Which  often earns her  an eye rolling sigh from Prissy.   HashTag has blossomed under Prissys rule.   She has become the courts beloved scamp.  She knows everything, sees everything and talks to everyone. She is friends with everyone.    When she zips under all their legs to  steal  the  prime prize and zips out again  they all just  watch  bemused.   That HashTag has a cavalier disregard for the social order, and a bit of moral ambiguity, seems not to bother any of them one bit.  They allow her to steal   tomatoes the size of her head, they say nothing when she sprays them all with dirt  after a really good bath, and when she uses one of them for a springboard to jump to a higher location they just grumble good naturedly because they all know  that for all her high energy high jinks she is the bravest  and smartest of them all.  They know that when danger arrives HashTag will fight to the death for them if need be.  She is the greatest comfort of all to the deposed monarch.   In Elphies saddest moments  HashTag is there with an exaggerated  deference for her former position, cooing and comforting and keeping Elphie connected to the flock.  They have, in essence, become best friends.   Elphie in turn, is humbled and grateful for  the time and energy that the most popular girl in the coop gives to her. Our intrepid HashTag is indeed a treasure.  Long live Prissy 'the benevolent'!