In the Garden
I’ve had a few gardening challenges this year, but thankfully garden season is in full swing now and the harvest is looking promising. I started the cool season veggies successfully from seed as usual: lettuce, spinach, kale, broccoli, Swiss chard, leeks, and onions, and these all got off to a good start in the garden. Then the wild rabbits that I once thought were so cute when I would see them at the outskirts of the farm, began appearing in greater numbers than in years past. Whereas we used to see one rabbit or maybe two at a time, now we were seeing three at a time. Their cute nibbles along the edges of the leafy greens from last summer had turned to ravenous destruction this year. We enclosed most of the raised beds with chicken wire around the edge to keep the rabbits out, and that has worked, at least for this year. The plant starts in the smaller raised beds were protected with wire cages that I have used as plant supports in years past, but some of the cages have wider spaces between the wires, and the rabbits would still manage to get at the plants, and when I would go up to water in the morning several starts would have been entirely eaten. I replanted my squash seeds several times, but I finally resorted to buying a few larger starts at the store as it got to be too late for restarting seeds yet again. Even the chives had to be protected from the rabbits, as they seemed to find them especially appealing, and when I would go up to the garden the ground would be littered with chive blossoms.
I had a lot of trouble starting the warm season veggies from seed this year, and I eventually figured out that the 3-way planting mix I bought in bulk from the local bark chip place had too much sand in it and was way too heavy for starting seeds. So I ended up replanting the warm season veggie seeds in different potting soil, but eventually I gave in to temptation and ended up buying tomato, eggplant, and pepper starts because I grew too impatient waiting for my tiny little starts to get big enough to plant!
We have learned that we need to put bird netting over our berries if we want to have any to eat for ourselves, although every year we find ourselves conflicted because we end up having a few bird casualties due to birds getting caught in the net. Also, last year the rabbits chewed holes in the bird netting covering the blueberries, allowing more birds, and chipmunks, to get in before we finally figured out what was happening. So this year we tried something different. For the blueberries, which was the berry the rabbits seemed most interested in, we used chicken wire instead of bird netting over a PVC hoop structure. This has worked great, and we have not had a single bird get inside the blueberry hoop house. For the raspberries, last year we just draped the bird netting over the top of the berries and let the extra netting bunch up on the ground. We had quite a few birds get in under the bottom of the net, but then they couldn’t figure out how to get back out and would get caught in the extra netting. This year the raspberries got a hoop structure as well, and the netting was cut to fit and attached securely at the bottom with zip ties. We have only had one quail and one sparrow find their way under the net, and both of those I was able to free without much too trouble (although I did get quite a few bites from an angry sparrow, lol!)
The rhubarb is putting out a lot of stalks this year, and I have already made jam, rhubarb pickles, and frozen 10 pints of sliced rhubarb for making cobblers this winter. The broccoli grew some giant heads this year, and besides eating it for several dinners already, I’ve blanched and frozen several pounds. The cherry tomatoes will be ripening soon, and my eggplant that I feared was lost after the rabbit attack have rebounded with a ton of new growth. It’s time to rip out the bolted spinach and lettuce and get the basil starts planted. I’m also planning to harvest the garlic this weekend. The potatoes will be ready to harvest in a few weeks. They put out very lush growth this year with more flowers than I’ve ever had so I am hoping for another great harvest this year, and we’ll see if we beat last year’s potato harvest of 70 pounds. It will be time to harvest and can kale as soon as I find time to do it, and in the meantime I know a few feathered ladies who will be more than happy to help me eat it!
We have three turkey mommas at the farm this year, and they all have interesting stories. Two of the turkey mommas are co-raising nine turkey poults and two chicken chicks, which I wrote about a few weeks ago in My Two Moms. But this is the story of the third turkey momma, who decided to go broody at right about the same time as Eleanor and her daughter, June, went broody in the small chicken coop. Only this turkey, who is now known as Spaceship Turkey Momma, decided to go broody in the stainless steel dishwasher tub in the front pasture that I call the spaceship. A couple of the turkeys had decided to start laying their eggs in the spaceship this spring, and it was not unusual to see one or even two turkeys in the spaceship at the same time. After a few weeks of frequent turkey sightings in the spaceship, I realized that we had a third broody turkey on our hands. I debated about whether I should give her eggs to hatch, and if so how many, and should I give her turkey or chicken eggs to hatch. I had already decided that Eleanor and June would be the ones to raise the new batch of turkeys for the year, since they had the good foresight to go broody in a coop which would be a suitable and safe environment to raise the babies in. The dishwasher tub, however, is small and crowded and not a very safe or suitable location for raising babies. There was not much room for a family to grow in, and at night it could not be locked securely to keep predators out if they should happen to get in through the electric fence. But this turkey seemed very committed to her broodiness, and the quickest way to get a broody turkey or chicken over their broodiness is to give in and let them raise some babies. She had already been broody for quite some time by now, so rather than give her eggs to hatch which would take either three weeks for chicken eggs, or four weeks for turkey eggs, I decided to buy some chicken chicks at the feed store and slip them under her at night. I had done this successfully with our bossy alpha chicken, Raquel, several years ago (Raquel, Reinvented), and I was hoping this strategy would work again.
I bought three Light Brahma chicks, which are a large breed chicken that I thought would be a nice addition to our mixed chicken and turkey flock. I waited until after dark, and I went out to sneak them under the broody turkey. The thing about broody hens is, they are known for getting a bit of a mean streak, and they will peck anything that gets within beak’s reach with a surprising amount of force. I picked up the first chick and quickly put it under her, although not before she pecked my hand and wrist several times. I realized that I needed to get the other two chicks under her and get out of there quick, before she got too upset and ended up pecking the chicks instead of me. So I picked up the other two chicks in one hand, and I put my other hand in easy pecking distance of her as a sacrifice to allow me to slip the other two chicks under her while she was vigorously pecking my other hand. I left quickly, and I crossed my fingers for a happy outcome. It is not unheard of for chicks to be killed by a momma hen when attempting this, or even when the chicks are hatched from eggs by the momma. The next morning I awoke early and rushed down to check on her. I was thrilled to see her transformed from the hissing, pecking broody turkey of the night before to a proud momma, purring contentedly with the happy sounds of a momma hen talking to her little ones. I could not see the chicks because they were tucked safely under her, but I knew from the sounds she was making that my plan was a success!
For the next four weeks, spaceship turkey momma raised her chicks very devotedly, keeping them in the outskirts of the pasture or hidden in the grass, safe from the other chickens and turkeys and in particular away from the other two turkey mommas who were very protective of their mixed brood of eleven little ones. Early on in her foray into motherhood, one of the chicks passed away in the night. It’s always hard to lose them at this young age, and you usually don’t know what the cause was, but it happens. For four weeks, spaceship turkey momma and her babies slept in the spaceship at night, until one night the momma decided it was time for her to rejoin her turkey flock. I heard loud peeping one night from her two chicken chicks, and I looked outside to see her perched on the six foot high roost while her babies screeched at her quite pathetically from the ground below wondering why their momma was way up there and not in the spaceship getting ready for bed. I confess to being a bit of a meddler in the affairs of my chickens and turkeys. I just can’t help myself when I see someone is unhappy, so I try to fix the problem, with varying degrees of success. On this night and for the next several nights when I heard the chicks peeping loudly, I went down to the pasture and gave spaceship turkey momma a few pokes in the chest until she stood up, heard the plaintive calls of her babies, and flew off the roost and went back to the spaceship for the night. Then one night when I did this, instead of flying down to be with her babies, she gave me a stern look and hissed at me as if to say not tonight, I’m staying on the roost. Which she did that night and has every night since then. Her chicks are very different in terms of their flying skills than the two chicken chicks raised by the other two turkey mommas. The chicken chicks raised by Eleanor and June have no trouble flying up to the roost at night to sleep with their turkey family. The chicks raised by spaceship turkey momma do not seem to have gone to flight school, and they remain firmly planted on the ground the majority of the time. The spaceship turkey chicks continue their pathetic calls for their momma at night, and now my nightly ritual is that I wait until the chicks are setting down for the night in the spaceship, and I pick them up and place them on the roost in the small coop which is currently unoccupied. During the day, the chicks still hang out with their momma, and they are getting a bit braver and are spending more time in closer proximity to the rest of the flock. When they get larger, I am hoping that they become part of the chicken flock and will learn to go into the larger coop at night with the rest of the chickens. Oh and if you’re wondering about names for the spaceship turkey chicks, thanks for all of the great space-themed name options that my Instagram friends have suggested! I’ve decided on Sputnick and Stardust for the chicks and Starbuck for the momma. To keep up on daily farm happenings and photos, follow me on Instagram @5rfarmoregon.
Our momma turkeys hatched their poults a month ago, and all of them were doing well except for one little turkey that came to be known as Pumpkin Pie. We had a camera set up inside the coop that live streamed to our TV so that we could observe the two turkey mommas and the poults and make sure that all was well without disturbing them too much. Right away I noticed that momma Eleanor would get up and move to another area of the coop, and all of the poults would follow except for one that would be left lying on its back waving its feet in the air frantically trying to right itself and not being able to. I went out to the coop a couple of times that first day to pick up the poult and stick it back under the momma, and hoped that after a good nights rest all would be well. The next day I noticed that the same thing was happening, so I brought it into the house and set up a small temporary indoor brooder with a heat lamp for the poult. I had read that sometimes newly hatched chicks had problems such as this which could be caused by not getting enough nutrition during development in the egg. So I decided to keep this poult inside, give it vitamins in its water and make sure that it was getting enough to eat, and hoped that after a few days of good nutrition, it would stop having this problem and be able rejoin the flock.
Turkey poults need to be kept in a very warm environment, approximately 100 degrees, for their first week after hatch. Within an hour or so of getting the poult set up in its indoor brooder with a heat lamp and a stuffed animal for company and feeling like everything was under control, a big wind storm blew in and knocked out our power! I quickly lit a fire in the wood stove and moved the brooder right in front of the stove. We spent a couple of hours hanging out by the wood stove, and by that time I was already becoming quite attached to this little one. Thankfully the power came back on later in the day, and we settled into a routine. Throughout the day I would check on the poult, and I would tap my finger in its food and water dishes, encouraging the poult to peck at them as a means of making sure that it was getting enough to eat and drink, since it didn’t have a turkey momma to show it the ropes. Whenever I wasn’t with the poult and I would hear a loud peeping, I would run to check on it. Occasionally I would find it on its back, although mostly it would be just fine, standing on top of its stuffed animal companion and peeping happily as if to announce its climbing achievement. In the evenings we would sit on the sofa together, and after a few days when it seemed to be doing well and I was no longer worried that it wouldn’t survive, I decided to name it Pumpkin Pie and let myself love her. I would get up several times during the night whenever I would hear loud peeping. Usually everything was just fine, I think she just wanted a bit of company. After the second night of loud peeping, Sean set up a metronome at night, which seemed to provide some soothing companionship. That’s when I knew that little Pumpkin Pie had worked her way into Sean’s heart too.
After about five nights in the house, Pumpkin Pie was eating and drinking well and was very energetic. I wanted her to be able to rejoin the flock, so I didn’t dare keep her inside any longer for fear that she would be rejected if I kept her inside too long. The morning I went to reintroduce Pumpkin Pie to the flock I carried her out to the coop in the pocket of my jacket. I opened up the coop door to find the mommas and the other eight poults and two chicken chicks all running around eating and doing what turkeys do, so I quickly put the poult into the coop with the others and no one seemed the wiser that there was a new poult in their midst. The reintroduction seemed to have gone perfectly, and I went back inside the house hoping that little Pumpkin Pie would remember me now that she had her turkey family back. I was pleasantly surprised to find that every time I would go out to the turkey yard to fill feeders or waterers and check on the little ones, that Pumpkin Pie would come running up to me. I would kneel down and lay my hand open on the ground, and she would sit down in my hand and let me pick her up. She is now a month old, and is still running up to me whenever I go out to visit the turkeys. The other poults will also come over to me to see if I have treats, but they will quickly lose interest in me if there are no treats to be had. Little Pumpkin Pie, however, is content to sit with me for as long as I like, no strings attached. It seems that after two years of having turkeys, I finally have the lap turkey I’ve always wanted, and I couldn’t be happier.
My Two Moms
We have turkey babies at the farm! Eleanor, who raised turkey chicks, known as poults, for us last spring is raising another batch for us this year. The twist this year is that she is raising them jointly with one of her daughters that she raised last year. Eleanor and her daughter, we’re calling her June for now, both decided to go broody at the same time in the small chicken coop where Eleanor raised babies last year. After I was sure they were committed to the task, I gave Eleanor and June 12 turkey eggs. I also decided to try something new and give them some chicken eggs as well. I know a few people who have had turkeys raise chicken chicks successfully, and I thought it would be fun so see them all grow up together. Turkey eggs need to be incubated for 28 days, and chicken eggs need to be incubated for 21 days, so I added 8 chicken eggs under the turkeys 7 days into their incubation. Eleanor and June devotedly sat on the eggs for 28 days, rotating the eggs back and forth between themselves. Eleanor, as the experienced momma, kept most of the eggs underneath her, but I noticed on warmer days the eggs would be split more equally between them. We had a good hatch of the turkey eggs – 10 out of 12, but only 2 out of 8 chicken eggs hatched. Perhaps it had to do with adding the chicken eggs after the mommas had already been incubating the turkey eggs for 7 days, or maybe its because the chicken eggs looked different compared to the turkey eggs, either way I’m pleased that two of the chicken eggs hatched, and it will be fun to see them grow up with the turkeys.
We set up a camera inside the coop that live streams to our TV so that we can observe the turkey mommas with the babies and make sure everything is going well. The mommas tend to be very protective of their poults, and the poults are also very wary of anything that’s not their momma. The first few days after the poults hatched, whenever I would open up the coop door the mommas would call the babies and they would all run and hide under the mommas. Having the camera set up so that we can watch them without disturbing them allows us to see all kinds of things that we would probably never see otherwise. We did have a couple of things go wrong this year, both of which we saw on the camera. One of the chicks that hatched was weak, and it kept falling over on its back and couldn’t get back up. The mommas wanted nothing to do with this little one and would move away from it rather than sitting on it to keep it warm. I brought this poult into the house for some TLC, and I’ll post the happy ending to little Pumpkin Pie’s story in my next blog. We also had one poult die in an unfortunate accident. I found the poult after it was already dead so there was nothing I could do, and while it was very sad, it was helpful to rewind the footage on the camera to be able to know exactly what happened instead of it being a mystery.
About a week after the poults hatched, they were ready to go outside and start exploring. Both of the mommas escort the poults around the pasture. The mommas are very protective, and they make alarm calls over practically every bird that flies by, whether it be a harmless robin or mourning dove, or an actual threat such as a hawk, or many times something that their keen eyes see in the distance or in the fir trees but that I do not see. The mommas and poults are in their own fenced area, separated from the rest of the turkeys and chickens, so that the poults can eat the special high protein feed that they need and also for their protection from being pecked by the other chickens and turkeys that they will one day share the pasture with. I’ve begun treat training with the poults to hopefully get them to be a bit less skittish around me. They are so fun to watch grow up, they are two weeks old now and are already taking their first dust baths and practicing their perching skills.
It’s been a few months since I last wrote about the bees, and since then we’ve had a very soggy cold start to the spring. I had been waiting to open up the hives and do a quick inspection until we started having some days above 60 degrees which we finally made it to over the last couple of weeks. I took off the upper layer of burlap and wood shavings from the hives which helps to reduce moisture inside the hive over the winter. I had been worried about the moisture inside the hives with the record setting last few months of rain we’ve had, but aside from some mold on the underside of the top hive covers they looked good inside. I did a quick inspection of each hive by only removing a couple of frames in the top hive boxes, as I did not want to disrupt them too much while they are still in the early stages of rebuilding the hive after the usual winter die off. Each hive is a little different, but they all seem to be doing well. Our second hive that we started in 2014 from a split of our first hive, is consistently the strongest hive. This is Hive Rosemary, and the queen in this hive must have some great genes because this hive is always the quickest hive to build up its population and start putting away honey. True to form this hive looks the strongest of the three hives again this year. The other two hives, Hive Rosalind and Hive Buttercup, also look good, and on sunny days there is quite a lot of activity outside all three hives. All in all I’m very pleased with how our hives have done over the last four years since we started beekeeping. We are fortunate to live in a location with plenty of forage plants for the ladies, and thankfully we have not experienced any losses due to pesticides or any of the other problems that have plagued bees for so many years. I take a fairly low maintenance approach to managing our hives, I don’t use chemicals to treat for mites, and I don’t remove very much honey from the hives, but we have plenty of honey for us and healthy bees, and that’s good enough for me!
Countdown to Cute
Spring is the time for chicks at the feed store and all manner of cute baby animals on the Instagram pages of my farm friends. I have been telling myself to stay strong and resist the temptation of baby chicks, that we don’t really need any more chickens at the farm. But need is a relative term, and I’m happy to say that the countdown to cuteness has begun here at the farm! Three of our five turkey hens have gone broody, meaning that they are ready to set and hatch eggs. Last year Eleanor did a great job hatching and raising eight turkeys for us in the spring, and then she went broody again in the fall although we didn’t let her hatch that late in the season. I had a feeling that she would go broody again this spring, and sure enough she did. Even better than that is that one of her daughters also went broody at the same time, and they are camped out together in the small coop in the turkey yard. I gave them a dozen turkey eggs to hatch ten days ago. Eleanor and her daughter are so adorable, sitting side by side and sharing the egg incubation duties.
A third turkey, another one of Eleanor’s daughters, decided to go broody a few days ago in the repurposed dishwasher tub that I like to call the turkey spaceship. I debated about whether to give her some eggs as well, because the quickest way to get a broody girl over her broodiness is to just give in and give her what she wants! I thought about giving this third turkey some chicken eggs to hatch, since none of our chickens seem interested in going broody. But the spaceship is really not all that spacious, and I thought it would be better if all of the turkey poults and chicken chicks were hatched in the same location so that they were already integrated together and I wouldn’t have to relocate the chicks and momma to more suitable location for raising chicks. So I decided to put eight chicken eggs in the coop and see if the turkeys would accept them and sure enough they did. Turkey eggs take 28 days to hatch, and chicken eggs take 21 days to hatch. I put the chicken eggs in after they turkeys had already been setting on the turkey eggs for a week, so all of the eggs should hatch at approximately the same time. I know several people who have had turkeys raise chickens and vice versa, and I’ve been told that after the little ones grow up and reach the age where they leave the care of their momma, they just naturally know to join the rest of the flock of their species. I am really looking forward to seeing how this all works out – two momma turkeys raising a mixed flock of turkey poults and chicken chicks. This should be interesting!
At long last, spring is here! It’s time to get my hands in the dirt and fight the good fight against slugs, rodents, cute little wild bunnies, birds, and whatever else tries to get a free meal in the garden this year. Kale, Swiss chard, broccoli, spinach, and lettuce were all started from seed and have been transplanted into the garden. I’ve found the best way to protect my veggie seedlings from slugs is with 2 inch wide copper tape glued around plastic cups or pots with a hole cut in the bottom and placed around each seedling. Plus they have the added benefit of providing a little bit of thermal protection since it’s still getting pretty close to freezing on some of the colder nights. Leeks and potatoes will be planted later this week. Tomato and pepper seeds have been started, and every new seedling that sprouts gives me such a thrill. I save many of my own seeds, so it just makes it that much more satisfying seeing them pop out of the soil.
Our bantam chickens, Millie, Salt-n-Pepa were helping me up in the garden today. And by helping I mean getting in my way when I’m trying to turn the soil as they dash over to the freshly turned earth and gobble up worms by the dozen it seems. Then of course when I get my seedlings planted, they come over to try to take a nibble. Since all it would take is a few pecks to wipe out an entire bed, there comes a point where I have to put an end to the hen party and shoo them over to scratch around in the compost pile.
The garden is starting to sprout back to life again. The raspberries have been pruned and are just starting to leaf out. The chives, garlic, rhubarb, and artichokes are about a foot tall and are looking great. The strawberry bed is also sending up new leaves, and I need to get in there and do some thinning so my asparagus still have some room. I’m hoping that the asparagus do a bit better this year than last year, because without asparagus there’s no sense in putting up my “this is the awning of the cage of asparagus” sign that is on my to do list! I hope you will forgive my extreme garden geekiness, I am just so happy for the return of gardening season.
Well, gosh, sorry I’ve taken a few weeks off from the blog. There’s not been too much going on at the farm recently except for a whole lotta rain! I’ve been doing some indoor gardening – cleaning up the greenhouse and starting seeds for the cool season veggies, which are just about ready to be transplanted into the garden on the next sunny day. We have had a few dry days in between all of the downpours, so I’ve been finding a bit of time to get out in the garden to spread compost and trim back the raspberry bushes to get the garden ready for spring.
The chickens have been gradually laying more eggs as the days get longer, and today I was very pleased to gather the first two turkey eggs of the season! We have five turkey hens this year, so soon we’ll be having lots of turkey eggs which I will be selling in addition to chicken eggs. The turkeys are a bit more wild at heart with respect to their egg laying tendencies as compared to chickens. One of our younger turkey hens has been pacing the fence surrounding their pasture back and forth, and I can tell she wants to escape to run off into the bushes to go lay her eggs in the middle of a blackberry thicket! I have added a few more options for nesting areas to the turkey yard, in the hopes of persuading the turkeys to stay close to home and lay their eggs somewhere safe instead of off in the bushes. Fingers crossed that the turkey ladies all behave themselves and lay their eggs where I can find them. This morning I went out to find the first turkey egg laying on the ground right out in the open, and then a short time later I returned to the turkey yard to find an egg in the repurposed dishwasher tub/chicken spaceship in the turkey yard. Pretty soon gardening and outdoor project season will be in full swing and I’ll have more exciting updates to report on. For now I’ll leave you with some pretty pictures of the #eggvignettes I’ve been having fun with on my Instagram account. Follow us at @5rfarmoregon.
Birds and the Bees
One of the things I really enjoy about living on the farm is the change in seasons. After a long cold winter, and many days of mucking about in the rain and mud doing chicken and turkey chores, it is so exciting to have that first feeling that spring is around the corner. Even before the first spring bulbs poke up through the ground, the birds and the bees provide the first signs that spring is in the air.
It is always a thrill to see the bees make their first appearance outside the beehives on the first sunny days in January and February. This past winter was an unusually cold, snowy, and wet winter, and I waited anxiously to see if all of our beehives would make it through until spring. Bees can survive the cold weather we get in the Pacific Northwest just fine. It is the wet weather, and in particular the moisture inside the hive, which poses a greater risk to them than the cold. When I get the hives ready for fall, there are a few things I do to vent moisture from the hives and try to prevent condensation from occurring in the hives. Even though the hives are not very active in the winter, I do check on them after every cold snap and snowstorm to clear snow away from the hive entrance and to clear dead bees away from the bottom of the hive so that the dead bees don’t block the entrance. It is normal for quite a lot of the bees in the hive to die over the winter, and every time I brush the dead bees out from the bottom of the hive there will be several dozen. At times I’ve seen a large pile of dead bees right outside the hive entrance after the bees have done a bit of housekeeping themselves and removed the dead bees from the hive. Even though it’s normal to see a pile of dead bees outside the hive, it does make me worry at times, and so it is with baited breath that I anxiously await the first sighting of bees outside the hive. The bees made their first appearance in mid-January this year, on an unseasonably warm day, and there have been a few other days since then when the bees have also been out. I am happy to report that all three of our hives have survived the winter thus far.
The behavior of the chickens and turkeys provides another clue that spring is around the corner. As the days start getting longer, the chickens start laying eggs again. Many of our ladies are approaching old biddy status, so they are taking a longer vacation from egg laying than they did when they were younger. From early November through January, we were only getting a few eggs a week from the few hens that laid during the winter, but by the end of January many of the ladies were starting to lay again. The chicken yard, which had been pretty quiet during the winter, was now filled with the sounds of the “egg song” as the ladies leave the nest box and announce their proud achievement. Our roosters and Ringo the turkey have begun enthusiastically courting the ladies again thanks to the annual spring rise in hormone levels. The turkey hens should begin laying eggs by March, and soon we will be inundated with their jumbo sized, beautiful cream colored eggs with brown speckles. Turkeys do not have as long of an egg laying season as chickens (which is why turkeys are not used for commercial egg production), but we got approximately 175 eggs from our two turkey hens last year, so we should have our hands full with the eggs from five turkey hens this year. Their eggs are delicious when eaten just as you would eat chicken eggs for breakfast, and they are also great in baking. I am really looking forward to having turkey eggs again, and this year I will also be selling them along with chicken eggs. As the weather allows, I’ve been getting the garden and greenhouse cleaned up and ready for the start of gardening season, which thanks to my birds and bees I know is right around the corner!
Rosie & Reuben
This winter was colder than usual, with several weeks of freezing or below freezing temperatures. Most of our feathered friends get along just fine in the cold weather, with their downy under-feathers to keep them warm and their own personal human servant handing out the extra treats to keep their bellies full of heat-generating calories. While they can handle the cold temperatures, most of the chickens do not like snow. We had snow on the ground for several weeks in a row, and the chickens stayed in their coop most of that time. There is plenty of space for the chickens in their coop and attached covered run, but the down side of everyone staying cooped up is that the chickens that are lower in the pecking order, or that that are not feeling 100%, will not have anywhere to hide or to get away from the other chickens if they are getting picked on. It’s one of the worst behaviors of chickens, the instinct to pick on, drive away, or kill those that are sick, for the health and the survival of the rest of the flock. I’ve seen it before in our flock, and unfortunately with this long, cold winter it happened again. This time it was to Rosie, one of the founding members of 5R Farm, and one of my favorites. Although she is one of our two oldest hens, which usually imparts a higher place in the pecking order, she is an Easter Egger chicken, a breed that is known to be shy and reserved. Ever since her BFF Ramona died over a year ago, Rosie doesn’t really have a clique anymore. Sometimes she hangs out with Rosalie, her daughter with Ramon, but she is often by herself, preferring to stay away from the fray of the flock. There were a couple of times over the last month when I went out in the morning to check on the chickens that I found Rosie with a purple bruised comb, presumably from someone pecking her in the face. Sometimes I would find Rosie sitting alone in the coop on the perch where she had slept while everyone else had come out to the secure run when they heard me coming with breakfast. Other times I would find her sitting in an odd posture in the coop, her legs stretched out in front of her. She seemed to be having a bit of weakness in her legs, and she had also lost a bit of weight, probably because it was a bit harder for her to get her fair share with everyone spending so much time in the coop.
A week ago when I went out to the coop in the morning, I found Rosie had been pecked in the comb again, but this time she had received a more serious injury and her comb was bleeding. I picked her up and brought her into the mudroom to get her cleaned up and inspect her injury. I couldn’t help but wonder if there was some underlying illness that was the reason for her getting pecked, so she stayed in the house until I could get a vet appointment for her. She stayed at the vet’s for a couple of days. She got a clean bill of health in terms of not having any parasites or internal infections. But the vet did not like the look of her injured comb and scab, something about the way the cells looked was abnormal. She also thought Rosie was having trouble seeing out of her left eye, possibly due to a detached retina, which could explain why she was being attacked. Rosie is six and a half years old, which is more than middle aged given a chicken’s lifespan of 8 to 10 years, or maybe up to 12 years for a long-lived chicken. It’s not unusual for health issues to arise by Rosie’s age, but I sure hope she will have a few more years with us. When I brought Rosie home from the vet, I couldn’t put her back in with the flock because they would be drawn to her red scab and would surely peck her scab and comb again.
I decided to put Rosie in with Reuben, my special needs rooster. Reuben lives in his own separate enclosure right next to the other chickens. His toes are curled due to some mysterious malady and he can’t walk very well, but although I keep expecting to have to put him down one of these days, he still seems to have the will to live. He even seems to be quite perky at times on those sunny days when he sits right up against his fence watching the ladies or sometimes having a stare-down with Brown Rooster. Rosie’s new routine is that she spends the day in Reuben’s area where she has her own food dish so she can get enough to eat and can graze on the green grass to her hearts content. At night, I move her to a separate pen inside the main coop so that she is safe from the others and so Reuben can have his house all to himself. So far it’s working out well, neither Rosie or Reuben are inclined to pick on each other, perhaps recognizing that they are both in the same boat and they may as well make the best of it. Rosie does go into Reuben’s house when it rains during the day, and I find myself constantly going out to check on them to make sure that they are both okay, given Reuben’s rather clumsy way of getting himself into his house. At some point I will try to reintroduce Rosie back to the flock, although it is likely that she will have lost her place in the pecking order and will have to reassert her position, and I don’t know that she has the confidence to do that. If that’s the case, it looks like Reuben will have himself a full-time roommate.