Hello and Welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes. Today’s post isn’t going to really cover a lot of food stuff, so if that turns you off, then…why were you turned ON to begin with? You find me writing about food to be erotic? That’s…nice, but a little weird. Don’t tell people about that. Anyway, if you’re “not interested” in me talking about “not food”, come back next week, when we’ll definitely be back to our regularly scheduled irregularities. Today’s post is going to instead talk about our chickens!
In case you’ve somehow missed it, last year, my family began raising chickens. We started out with 7, then went up to 8, and then later dropped down to 5. That last step isn’t quite as tragic as it sounds. See, as I covered in the last full post I dedicated to these feathered menaces, it turns out that 3 of our chickens were roosters. And, after a few weeks of them crowing, my father worried they were upsetting the neighbors, and resolved to give them away to a farm. (It would later turn out that every neighbor we talked to not only WASN’T upset by them, but actively enjoyed their crowing, but c’est la vie.)
Here they are, on their road-trip to Destiny!
We gave them to the unfortunately named Happy Rooster Farm. I say “unfortunately named” because the name is SO positive, everyone we’ve told that to has immediately assumed it was a euphemism for killing and eating them. Which we didn’t. Turns out, about 40 minutes from my family’s eight chicken rinky-dink operation, there was a guy raising over Four HUNDRED chickens. (Also, a recent news story revealed that there was a three-hundred bird Cockfighting ring about 10 minutes away from us, so apparently there are chickens EVERYWHERE these days.) Anywho, long story short, Roosters don’t fight if they can have 7-8 hens as their personal “flock”. So this guy just takes in roosters, because he always had room for more.
Since then, the hens have started laying, then stopped laying for the winter, and then started laying again. So I figured we’d check in with our chickens once more.
The Kingpin of Queen Hens
The First chicken I’m going to talk about is Blue. And right now, Blue is being a complete pain in the ass, because of a habit called “brooding”. And while, no, I’m not talking about what teenagers do with The Cure, or Linkin Park, or (INSERT MODERN SAD MUSCIAN HERE BECAUSE I HAVE BECOME OLD), it IS remarkably similar.
See, a “broody” hen has a relatively simple goal: she wants to hatch some mother-cluckin’ eggs. (Good. Got the pun out of the way early.) To this end, she stops laying eggs, and starts sitting on a batch of eggs to hatch them. This is slightly problematic in our case, since, well... there are no roosters around. Unless one of this chickens is about to start Chicken Christianity, none of these eggs are ever going to hatch. As such, it means that Blue spends about 22 hours a day sitting in the coop, away from the sun, squatting on eggs.
The light, hobbitsss, it burnses us!
During this time, hens also become more aggressive. If you put your hand in the box, she will bite at it. Now, personally, she’s never actually drawn blood, and I actually view It as a mild game to play, as her snaps only rarely actually cause any pain or discomfort at all. The most irritating part of the process is that she’s gumming up production: see, Blue is what chicken scientists call “A fat little monster”, and therefore cannot comfortably sit in the actual nesting boxes attached to our coop. So instead, she sits on the floor of the coop directly in FRONT of the boxes. The nesting boxes. Where the other chickens are supposed to lay their eggs. While being an aggressive little diva.
As you might guess, this has resulted in our eggs turning up EVERYWHERE now. If the chickens can’t get to the nesting box, they like to lay their eggs in relatively dark, covered areas, where they’ll be safe. And, as you might guess, ‘safe’ here also means “hard to find”. They lay them under ferns next to fences, in a little dirt divot next to a rock wall, underneath a blackberry bush. For months, they laid underneath one of our barbecues, and then suddenly stopped for no reason. (My guess is that they no longer felt as comfortable, as they stopped laying there right about when my brother moved back in, and brought his cat. Which he then left here.)
Who can tell why the idea of a cat at the sliding glass door would make them uncomfortable under the barbecue?
Also, damn, I need to clean that siding. I didn't even notice it until editing the picture.
Now, from our five chickens, we average about 3-4 eggs a day, when they’re all laying. And that number ticks up during the summer, and down during the winter. Even WITH Blue not laying, we’re still getting about 3 eggs a day. So when we only get 2 eggs, or 1 egg, that just means “they have found a new spot to lay things.”
Now, we COULD fix this: you can “break” a broody hen just by physically hauling her out of the box a couple times a day until she figures out “You don’t get to do that.” We just…haven’t committed to the level of effort and emotional assault that would require yet. So let’s move on from our tiny tyrant, to her faithful second!
Qui Custodiet Ipsos Pullum?
Alright, jokes in LATIN, that’s the ticket! In case you DIDN’T see Zack Snyder’s last good Movie, Watchmen, (And I say this as a man who LIKED Sucker Punch and the sequel to 300) or aren’t brushed up on your Juvenal, the title is a reference to the famous line “Qui Custodiet Ipsos Custodes”, or “Who will watch the watchmen?” Which is why we’re talking about the SENTINEL.
Sentinel Chickens are…apparently a term for chickens used to see if a particular region is at risk for West Nile Virus or…Mad Horse Disease? What the fuck? Am I reading this right? Like, it’s named “Eastern Equine Encephalitis”, and I’m pretty sure Mad Cow Disease was “Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis”, so those are…Ah, close but no cigar. It was “Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy” You can see where I would make the mistake. Because I’m not a veterinary neurologist, I can’t begin to tell you the difference. Anyway, these aren’t even the chickens I wanted to talk about.
In addition to the medically relevant sentinel chickens, there is also a position in chicken flocks CALLED “The Sentinel”. In our flock, that position is held by Ozzie.
Seen here looking stalwart and picturesque, instead of bug-eyed and goofy like she does up close.
While Blue is the hen in charge, (which you can see any time they all try to eat something: if anyone is in front of Blue when she gets there, she will pop that sucker one right in the noggin to remind them who’s boss.) Ozzie is her second, and the flock sentinel. Interestingly, sentinels are a position many farmers may never encounter, because only flocks without a rooster get a sentinel. The job is relatively simple: just keep an eye out for anything that looks dangerous, and let everyone know if you see something.
Here’s the issue with that: Chickens are pretty dumb. And delicious. Which means most things want to eat them. And therefore most things are dangerous. Ozzie is whining about something…I’m going to say about 40% of the time. “Hey, I can’t see one of you guys”, “Hey, the furry thing is back”, “Hey, the big thing that brings food is here, but not giving me food”, “I hear that same scary noise I hear roughly 3 times a day”, “Don’t touch me, big thing.” It’s a demanding job, but someone’s got to do it.
(Side note: the ONE time an actual predator “threatened” the chickens, Ozzie did absolutely nothing. A family of raccoons that lives nearby walked through the yard in the middle of the day to get home, and ran into the chickens for the first time. The chickens all clumped together to be safe…in between the raccoons and their home. So the raccoons, startled and confused by these huge bird things, climbed up a tree in the middle of the chicken’s territory. And both sides sat there for 15 minutes just staring at each other, and whining. Eventually, I discovered what was happening, and simply moved the chickens to the other side of the yard, the raccoons hauled ass, and Ozzie spent the next hour inspecting leaves for treasonous thoughts)
Nick, temporarily deputized, remembers she came here to do SOMETHING with the leaves, but...simply cannot remember what. Eat them?
We Meet in the Middle
The next chicken, I confess, I’m becoming prejudiced toward. And it’s because the rest of the chickens are douchebags.
I’ve mentioned how Blue will bite you, but I haven’t talked much about how the chickens like humans. The answer is: they don’t. Specifically, they don’t like being picked up, pet, touched in any way, looked at without food being offered, or being near you at all. This is a relative process, of course. If I walk out and sit down in a lawn chair, they’ll run up to see if I have food, and then disperse around me. But of the five chickens, three of them make strong efforts to avoid human contact. Blue, as the boss, doesn’t like that we don’t respect her authority. Nick, as the bottom of the pecking order, is just constantly afraid of everything, and Ozzie has an important job to do, you asshole, leave me alone! That leaves only Mary and Red as being tolerant of human contact.
And of the two, Mary is the more amenable.
This is what emotional trust and support looks like, in the world of chickens.
Mary, I have discovered, is incredibly easy to bribe. As long as you have a tablespoon of snacks, she’s willing to tolerate just about anything. You can pick her up, put her on your shoulder like a very fat parrot, get her to jump up on your leg, all just by offering her a snack. She also hangs out right in front of you until she’s sure you no longer have food in your hands.
Red, who ranks just under Mary and just above Nick, is similar, but with a more independent flair. She likes to stand underneath people in chairs, for reasons we don’t understand, and she’s the most likely to jump up on your lap to get food from the chair arm. She’s also the most likely to attack your clothes, in case the pattern is hiding food from her.
Her hunt for sustenance drove her to begin her ultimate work: The Great Chicken Burrow.
Hen-Pecked to Heck
Our last hen in Nick, the Naked Neck. She’s the bottom of the pecking order. Literally everyone can pick on her. As such, Nick is consistently afraid that everything is going to hurt her. She’s also the hen LEAST pleased by being touched, probably because we have to do it so often, to treat her when she gets picked on too fiercely
Which is why she has been banished to the Stone Zone, to scratch and dig amid the rubble of lost nations.
And speaking of Hen-pecking, there’s another victim of the majority of our chickens: our YARD. Chickens are omnivores in a fairly literal sense: they’ll eat EVERYTHING they like. And this runs into a seasonal issue: see, chickens don’t really like the snow, so during the winter, we took their normally mobile coop and set it in one position. For about 5 months and during that time, they DECIMATED the ground cover there. We’ve since moved it, but the regrowth is slow.
Seriously, this is after a month of regrowth and healing.
So, if they’re irritating, bitey, don’t like to be touched, and destroying the yard, why do we put up with them? Well, for one thing, they’re living beings that depend on us, we’re not just going to kill them or something. For another, you may have forgotten my math from earlier. Our hens lay an average of 3 eggs PER DAY. That’s almost 2 dozen eggs a week. And these eggs are organic, free-range, farm-fresh. The kind of thing you can sell for $5 at a farmer’s market, no problems. Even eating over a dozen eggs a week, my family can’t keep up with production.
This is our collection of roughly 5.5 dozen eggs, built over the last month. Normally we'd have given more away, but people have been leery about coming over for the last month...for some reason.
The other facet is, of course, that chickens are like any other animal: you get what you put in. While they’re not particularly pleased by being touched, simply touching them more helps acclimatize them. Over the last week, I’ve gotten both Mary and Red to do a Falconer’s pose, standing on my arm, by luring them with food.
I had a clearer picture of Red doing this, but I just really loved Mary's head popping up between Red's legs in this one.
"Hey guys, what's going on?"
And sure, that’s a silly, kind of dumb accomplishment…but have you READ this site? That’s exactly the kind of thing I’m aiming for!
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MONDAY: JON, HAVING DROPPED SOME HEAVY SHIT LAST MONDAY, DECIDES TO GO DECIDEDLY LIGHTER, WITH A DESSERT THAT’S BARELY WORTH SPEAKING ABOUT. A TRIFLE, REALLY.
NEXT THURSDAY: HOLY SHIT, JON DIDN’T TALK ABOUT KEY LIME PIE HISTORY AT ALL DURING MONDAY’S POST. HE SHOULD HANDLE THAT.