Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Fowl Story

On one of my internet groups there has been several discussions about peoples various experiences with fowl of all kind. I enjoyed the chook stories and remembered the fowl situations we have been through. Chuckling over the turkey stories (once you’ve known turkeys you would know why a person pulling a dumb stunt is called a turkey). I have never written of our challenging moments with the feathered “friends”. I decided this would be the time to bring them out in the open. Here is the beginning of our long association with feathered friends.

A very long time ago we decided we would move to the country. To be exact it was in 1973. The children were 5 and going to be 4. We left the subdivision and our home with a 2 car garage, fenced ¾ acre, four bedrooms, 2 baths and a full basement with a family room and fireplace. The house we were moving into had a 1/8 mile drive, 10 acres, no neighbors for ¼ mile any direction, three bedrooms, one bath, a combined living room dinning room and kitchen, with fireplace. There was no basement. It was built on a slab.

We lived in the house for three months when our almost 4 year old came up and said, “Mommy, when are we going to move upstairs.” I said, “We don’t have an upstairs. Why do we need an upstairs?” She replied, “This has tile floors like a basement we need rugs.”

Our “new” house had heating in the concrete floors. We couldn’t cover them with rugs.

We were very into gardening. We even started a wheat field on a half acre. We decided we could thresh our own wheat and make flour and then bake bread. Yes I know “back to the landers”. Our families were outraged. They said we were depriving our children.

We discovered our children were very sensitive to additives in foods and allergic to cow’s milk. We were gearing up to producing everything we consumed. We had already acquired goats and sheep. So we had available milk and meat. Next acquisition, Chickens!

I went looking for chickens already raised. We had neither the knowledge nor the room to raise chicks. I found a feed store that was also a hatchery. They had over-done layers, ones that had passed their prime. In other words they were not laying up to snuff.

I decided, if they weren’t laying every day, I should get twelve chickens. We used about 6 eggs a day for the families use. They boxed the white leghorns up in two cardboard boxes. I worried the poor hens would suffocate crammed in there and voiced my opinion about it. The clerk begrudgingly cut some holes in the sides of the boxes, immediately, out poked heads. They were ludicrous looking boxes eliciting a laugh from the other customers.

The hatchery must have never heard about loading a person’s car. They felt if you bought them you can cart them. So out to the car the boxed babes and I went in two trips. Six chickens moving around in a cardboard box are an armful. The boxes felt like they had a mind of their own.

Being I didn’t know I would be acquiring the hens so fast, we were not prepared with a place for them to reside. I called Hunny and told him about the hens and told him I would start making a place for them but would need his help finishing it up.

I cleared a corner in the old work shop, which was attached to the carport. Started looking for something to enclose the area in and couldn’t find anything. Off to the lumber yard I headed. I purchased a 50 foot roll of 4 ft high chicken wire. When Hunny came home he put up a corner post and another post 3 feet away on one side. Then we stretched the wire around it, leaving the three foot space open. In the open place he installed an old 3 foot wide screen door. We outfitted the 8x8 fenced area with a roost and feed and water dishes.

Are you worried about the chickens in the boxes? Don’t be, when I got home I hunted up the retired playpen and turned it upside down and placed the chickens under it. I had a surprise when I un-boxed the chickens. There were two eggs in one box. Those old ladies were not has-beens yet.

With the finishing of the “coop” we installed the chickens. The poor things just stood in the middle of the room. They had no idea what to do. We had to take each one and dip their beaks in the water dish to let them know where it was. And we had to peck with our fingers in the feed dish, they had no idea what the dish was for. Why were they so dumb? Because for the first 18 months of their lives the lived in a 10”x 10” x 12” cage. They did not know what to walk around was. It took three hours for them to start investigating their area. We realized the dilemma and knew we would just have to wait and watch till they got their land legs.

It took three days for the first one to realize she had wings. And when she started to flap them it was like there was no stopping. With in a few minutes others got the idea and you had 12 chickens running around on the floor flapping their wings.

They had no idea they could fly. We had not seen any evidence of the roost being occupied. We wondered how long it would take for them to find out they could fly. Their wing muscles must have atrophied with no use for 18 months. There was three weeks of running around and flapping before one run resulted in flight. Not too long after, the other hens realized they could fly and then they discovered the roost. As each hen reached the heights they would sit there and cackle at the tops of their voices. Bragging to the other hens they had done it.

We bought the chickens for eggs. We had provided them with two nest boxes. They were about 2 feet off the floor. Needless to say, they were not used. Eggs were laid everywhere. Some of the Hens picked the same corner to lay in. I was getting no less than 10 eggs a day…and sometimes 12. I was deluged with eggs. What to do with the excess. First I started making Challah requiring 12 egg yolks, the egg whites were used in an angle food cake. 
Tutorial For making Challah, not the one with 12 egg yolks:

I had plenty of cream and yogurt from the goats, I sometimes used the 12 egg whites to make a Bavarian Crème. Sponge cakes, I was making one a week. The kids were taking egg salad sandwiches in their lunches. I was still being overwhelmed with eggs. I decided to put the word out I had fresh country eggs for sale. People were disgruntled they were white shelled eggs and that they were not fertile eggs. The hunt was on for the one thing I could fix (I couldn't change the egg shell color). I could get a rooster to provide that function. It was just our luck; friends had bought pink and green chicks for their kids for Easter. Their kids were bored with caring for the “chicks” which had turned into roosters. The roosters were 6 months old and getting ornery and the neighbors did not like their morning revelry. They asked if we would give them a home. We told them it was very fortuitous, we were looking for a rooster for our hens.

Pinkie and Greenie (You could still tell who was who. The ear holes had stayed dyed.), arrived with feathers ruffled. When we put them in with the hens, they ran to one side of the pen and the hens to the other. We had a Mexican stand off. The roosters had never seen other chickens before. It was good they were leghorns. Chickens will pick on other chickens that look different than themselves. (This does not happen when they are raised together.) That night the hens got on the roost to sleep and the roosters staked out their corner and went to sleep.

The next morning (a nice fall morning with the windows open) we were startled out of bed with non-stop crowing. The previous owners only said the neighbors did not like to hear them crow, not that they crowed constantly. We went out to observe the crooners. They were occupying the roost and the hens were huddled in the corner. The roosters were still non-stop crowing. This time they were bragging they were king of the hill, gleefully waiting for someone to challenge their ownership of the perch.

It took four days before we noticed there was a mutual admiration society beginning in the household. Observing the tenants, I mentioned to Hunny we needed to make a pen for them to go out side. The living quarters were a little crowded for the shenanigans going on in the pen.

He used “T” posts and the remainder of the chicken wire to fence an area on the side of the work shop. He cut a door into the wall and hinged it so it could be closed when we wanted to keep the chickens in and other animals out, namely raccoons, opossums, and skunks who love to dine on a chicken smorgasbord.

There was still one more chore to be completed before the hens could make an excursion into the great unknown. They needed a ramp to go from the little door to greener pastures. Hunny fashioned a ramp with bars across it to give them traction to maneuver up and down it. (Chicken talons don’t grip flat boards well).

The ramp was installed and the door was latched open. We stood outside and watched the door….and watched the door…and watched the door. We went inside to see what the hang-up was. Why wasn’t the gang flocking out? The strangest sight greeted us. The chickens were lined up and parading past the door. They would look out one by one and then move on so the next one could look. We put on our thinking caps to see how we could get them to go out the door. Finally decided some cracked corn on the ramp to lead them out would work.

The corn was sprinkled, 3 heads reached out and promptly ate all the corn within reach. The other chickens decided they wanted in on the corn and tried to reach through the door. 

Mind you this door is only 12 inches by 12 inches. And 14 chickens are trying to reach through it. All of a sudden, with a squawk, a hen falls out the door and jumps up cackling and ruffling her feathers. She discovered the corn on the end of the ramp the other chickens couldn't reach. She started eating all the corn. The other chickens observing her decided they would brave the out of doors. They ran out together, getting stuck again in the door. With in 5 minutes the outdoor pen was filled with chickens learning how to scratch in the dirt. They were so excited. Then we wondered how we would get them to go back in.

There is nothing more perplexing than trying to out think a mini-brained bird. We went in the pen as the sun was going down and tried to herd them to the ramp and in. No way were they having anything to do with going in the door, much less being caught. We couldn't leave them out all night. It was going to rain and the coyotes had been running through the yard at night.

We went in for supper, leaving the light on inside the coop. We hoped they would be afraid of the dark and go inside.

When we went back outside to close the door and put them to bed we were the ones who had to apply a new strategy. The chickens had bedded down in the grass when the dark descended. We went in the pen and picked each chicken up and put them by the opening and pushed them through. Every chicken was clucking and fluffing wondering why they had rudely been awakened. We gave them time to settle down and hop on the roost and turned out the light.

The next day the chickens acted like they had done the routine everyday of their lives. Coming and going, in and out the door all day.

Next Chapter: Leghorns, the mass exodus.

Other blog sites by me:
Where I have stories of my cats and other pets
a blog about my courtship with my husband,
and a blog about my most embarrassing moment.
A "Soap box" blog where I do air my opinions.

blogs about the wildflowers on our farm
Organic methods we use, some cooking and some poetry,
blogs about Seed sprouting, insects, and garden pictures
Blog about an endangered beneficial beetle

Blogs about our pair of pitbulls.

All recipes, pictures, and writings are my own.
I give credit for items which belong to other people in my blogs .

Please do not copy without permission 

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