Posts Tagged ‘Backyard Chickens’

The girls (Popcorn, Tipsy and Sesame) checking me out on a sunnier day.

Three of the girls (Popcorn, Tipsy and Sesame) checking me out on a sunnier day.

I’m probably too sentimental to have chickens as pets. These are barnyard birds after all (or at best backyard), apparently with little need for extraneous things like light, warmth or comfort. Except of course that they appear to crave those things, if you really watch them. Which is why I turned the light back on.

I was so proud of myself, and my little girls (who just turned 8 weeks old), when I finally stopped plugging in their lightbulb this week and let them find their way into their house and to safety on their own in the dark. They’d been getting themselves in there very predictably the last week or two, and all I had to do was go out and shut the door; but whenever I then also tried to unplug their light for the night, they’d scream bloody murder, so I always just plugged it back in and figured I’d wean them off it slowly. I gradually went from a 100-watt bulb, to 40 watts, to 25. Still, I plugged it in around dusk every day because I thought they needed it to “lure” them into their house (which initially they did, actually; one night, when I wasn’t home before dark to plug it in, I found them in a pile outside by the gate – but that was in their first 3 nights outside and they clearly now know where home is). And after that, of course, I couldn’t unplug it again without setting off a terrible screeching. Which is probably not the way to endear your odd choice of pets to the neighbors, if I had to guess.

Anyway, last weekend I was discussing this dilemma with a more experienced chicken keeper and she just looked at me and said “Why are you unplugging the light? Just don’t turn it on in the first place!” Well duh. I guess I just didn’t spend much time thinking THAT one through; it seems pretty obvious now. So that’s what I did. They were on their own at dusk, no guiding light to lead them to their doorway. Lo and behold, they quickly (in 3 nights) graduated from being piled just inside the coop door – with their heads hanging out over the threshhold in the dark – to getting all the way inside and sleeping in the corners, to actually roosting on their pole tonight. Except tonight I turned the light on.

It was raining cats and dogs. We just got through breaking all previous records (set way back in 1906 or something like that) for longest heat wave – 23 days straight in the upper 90s and 100s. And today the skies opened up and it has been raining, then pouring biblically, then raining. Everything is soaked. The new ‘rain garden’ that Tomas and I built in front of the house next to a drain pipe is a giant lake. The vegetables are drooping drastically and some plants are just flat. During a drippy interlude, the chickens were out and about, and I was visiting them just to see how they handle the rain. Their whole coop, the plants, the air, the ground, all of it was just so damp and chilly that I felt terrible for them. Who wants to go to bed in the damp and cold and dark? Not me! I HATE being cold. Damp is even worse, and both is just awful. I thought it would be nice to plug in their lamp for a bit to sort of warm up their house and maybe even create a little area of drier, comfier indoor air to hang out in, instead of a dank, cold, poo-smelling shack. So I did, and went inside to do other things.

Well, before I knew it it was dark… so now they are roosting comfortably in their LIT house again, since of course I want to bet that pulling the plug on them at this hour would cause a ruckus. Maybe I can just alternate for another couple weeks – give them light and warmth on wet, chillier nights and leave them to their own devices on the more typical summer evenings. They are only 8 weeks old, after all. Babies, really.

Goodness only knows what I will be like when it really gets cold and dark. And snowy. And cold…

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Tipsy has a drinking problem. It’s getting better now, but when we first noticed it (at about 2 days of age), we were a little concerned. Would she survive with such a severe behavioral defect? Would it compromise her ability to function like a normal chicken, especially in stressful situations where quick reflexes are needed?

I’m not giving my chickens beer, I promise… Tipsy just appears to be a little bit “special.” While all the other chicks quickly learned to sip a bit of water and tilt their heads back just a smidge to swallow, Tipsy would take a sip, sit back on her haunches (do chickens have haunches?), tip her head WAAAAY back over her back until she was looking backwards, and swallow that way. Except that half the time she lost her balance and fell over onto her back, causing a big commotion because she’d have to scramble and flap wildly to get herself upright again, inevitably disturbing some other chick’s peaceful moment.

At first we laughed heartily at this, thinking she’d figure it out in an hour or two. Then a day or two. She didn’t. This went on for days, and when I tried to gauge the normalcy of this behavior by asking more experienced “chicken people” about it, they frowned and said “that doesn’t sound right.” Great. It so happened that Tipsy was also significantly smaller than the other chicks. I decided she was a runt, and instantly felt something between despair for her and anger at the hatchery that would pick out a runt and ship it to me. Conventional wisdom dictates that runts won’t make it, and it’s better to put them out of their misery right away than let them suffer the overwhelming cruelties of life.

But after a bit of thought, I realized that if someone had to inherit a runt, it may as well be me. Here in her spacious run, with only 4 other chickens to contend with and plenty of daily personal attention (not to mention food), she could be as special as she wanted or needed to be, truthfully. And she is just too cute. Besides, I was a runt of sorts when I was younger. I know what it means to be smaller and skinnier than the other kids, and to be picked on endlessly because of it. I turned out ok. So I resigned myself to the fact that I have a runt, and resolved to pay special attention to her.

Well, she doesn’t really need it. Tipsy is tipping less, though I still catch her doing it once in a while. She’s still smaller than the others, with lots of fluff left and not much of a tail while the others are practically 100% feathered out by now. But this is one quick, tenacious little chicken. She chases down bugs with total precision, and often is the first to jump up and snatch a treat out of my fingers and take off with it (though her ensuing high-decibel, excited cheeping gets her in trouble immediately and she usually loses the prize). She protests vocally when pushed around, so I can’t be convinced that she’s on the bottom of any emerging pecking order. I think this girl is a survivor.

Tipsy is a Buckeye, a ‘critically endangered’ rare breed of chicken developed in Ohio (where else) long ago by an enterprising woman who wanted a docile, cold tolerant egg laying breed. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy describes Buckeyes as having “a personality all their own. They are a very active fowl and are noted for being especially vigilant in the pursuit of mice, some breeders comparing them to cats in regard to this ability. They tend to have very little fear of humans and are possibly too friendly.” Well, little Tipsy is quite fearful at this stage in her life. Perhaps she’ll grow out of it, but she screams bloody murder when I try to turn the light out, so the girls are still sleeping with a lamp on at night which I guess is normal for now. She’s flighty and the least easy to handle, screaming bloody murder (again) when caught. But as with all chicks, her personality is evolving quickly. She is eyeing my lap more curiously, and she steps readily into an open hand – just fights like a banshee when grabbed. It’s truly impossible to contain her and I end up carrying her perched on my hand and flapping rather than ensconced in any secure way. Her agility when chasing bugs makes me think that the bit about catching mice may yet turn out to be true, and quite handy too because we have those now, after the resident cats moved out a few months ago. The only thing I doubt is that she will be six and a half pounds. But we shall see. She’s certainly proved herself to be a unique and uniquely keep-able girl.

Tipsy at one week of age; a tiny, dainty little thing.

Tipsy at one week of age; a tiny, dainty little thing.

Tipsy is the smaller yellow chick with the brown spot on her head.

Tipsy is the smaller yellow chick with the brown spot on her head.

Miss Tipsy at 4 weeks of age, about a week ago. She's getting browner.

Miss Tipsy at 4 weeks of age, about a week ago. She's getting browner.

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Popcorn is the chicken in the bottom of the picture. Check out her

So about four weeks ago, June 9 to be precise, I got a small package in the mail with five loudly peeping chicks in it. I should have blogged about it immediately, but it was all I could do get a few lousy blurry photos that whole week – I was consumed with chicken care and worry, their box was lit with a red lamp that is horrible for shooting photos, and they were at all times moving WAY too fast for snapshots, especially snapshots in a dim red light. That’s my excuse. In case you’re curious, I got 5 different breeds, and I got them at My Pet Chicken – a great website for browsing fun photos and descriptions of dozens of crazy heritage breeds.

In the meantime, they are growing by the minute and changing every day. It’s high time I got them up on this blog, since they will be an integral part of my kitchen garden, after all. So instead of trying to tackle a summary of the whole lot of them in one post, I am going to go the route of posting profiles for each of them. While this may seem extreme, I think that they are developing enough personality by now to justify the attention… and according to the amount of chicken activity out there on the web, I am NOT alone in thinking that this is one cool pet. Worth writing about. So here goes; first up is:


Popcorn is a Polish Crested chicken, a Bearded Gold Laced Polish to be precise, and she is really just here for fun. Polish aren’t supposed to be great layers, and they’re apparently not even all that hardy in the cold – two criteria I had set for all the other girls in the lot (the third criteria was a calm personality, which all 5 breeds were described as having, though it’s all relative I guess… I ended up with a couple of slightly bizarre characters). But for pure entertainment value, you can’t beat this chicken.

From the beginning Popcorn was both the most mellow and the most curious chick in the lot. In the first couple of days, when I picked her up, she instantly fell asleep in my hands. That’s pretty cute stuff, but it turns out that all day-old chicks will do that if you hold them a few minutes – it’s the warmth of your hands I guess. They need lots of sleep – and Popcorn was getting more of it than the rest. This chick was always sleeping. She was always getting rudely awakened by other chicks trampling over her, and we worried that she was a little too lazy and maybe something was wrong with her, but I think it’s just her personality. In the following weeks, while two of our other chicks quickly began flying up to the rim of their cardboard box and perching, Popcorn slept on – she had all the feathers and wingspan and no motivation. I don’t think she even really tried until about a week ago. Now she’s flying just fine. Some chickens just need a little more time, I guess.

Popcorn’s curiosity also stood out – she was always the one to crane her neck up and cock her head to look at us when we approached the box. Everyone adores her – between her fancy headdress and this adorable head-cocking behavior, she gets all the oohs and aahs. While she doesn’t hop onto my hand or into my lap as readily as my Ameracauna, Sesame, she is quite tame and when I set her on my leg, she’ll often just settle down and stay put. She also doesn’t squawk and run around in fear when I get too close; I can stroke her feathers when she’s passing by my hand without setting off alarms. She’s often a bit of a loner, doing her own thing while all the others cluster around a new object or head off as a group to check out a new area of the coop (where they are spending just a few hours a day at the moment). And she doesn’t say much. Some of these chicks just will not shut up, and one (Tipsy) cries loudly in the most vaguely stressful of situations, but Popcorn is a pretty quiet chicken. She’s basically a sweet, gentle and slightly eccentric girl with really silly hair.

I’m including a few photos of her at different ages along the way. The best is definitely yet to come; these birds feather out into a truly dramatic topknot and I just dare you to keep a straight face when looking at one. You can see one here – though it’s a different color than Popcorn, it’s a gorgeous picture of what I have to look forward to.

Popcorn at one week old. Still sitting calmly in my hand.

Popcorn at one week old. Still sitting calmly in my hand.

3 weeks old. This gives a slight idea of her cute

3 weeks. Trying to be tall for the camera.

4 weeks. That’s Sesame on the right: “Whoa! Get a load of her hair!!”
Blurry, but the only decent side shot I have. That is a mullet!

Blurry, but the only decent side shot I have. That, my friends, is a mullet!!

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