Thursday, September 27, 2012

Hoarding: Nesting Alive


Whenever I find a hidden clutch of eggs that one of my chickies has worked so hard to produce and cleverly hide, I call her a hoarder. We have all watched those hoarding shows; where the camera crew climbs precariously over self-made mountain ranges of usually trash and junk and we watch as a professional organizer comes in and attempts to take a full grown man's teddy bear. The show ends with before and after shots of the home and you have scratched your skin raw from the invisible things that made it crawl from watching.

THANKFULLY when a chicken hoards, it is not that bad. Usually there are no bugs and bad smells and a professional does not need to be called in. The people featured on the show have hidden the fact they are hoarders. Chickens do not go to those lengths; their lives are a little more simpler than that. A couple of clues as a watchful chicken owner can lead you to discover if you have a chicken hoarder or not. Our most recent hoarder, we discovered was an Araucana ( I mean, who else would it be when the eggs discovered are blue!)

First thing to look for is a decrease in eggs. When you are getting a steady number of eggs for a few days and it begins to decrease, and none of the eggs you collect are blue, you can imagine they are laying somewhere else.

The second thing you look for is escapees. I don't know what it is about the Araucana breed and the need to fly the coop. Every single one of ours has escaped at some point in time. There are birds from Flock 1 who have never mustered the energy to fly above the bars of Kennel Bar.

Not long ago, we noticed an Araucana who would haunt the barn throughout the day (at least they don't stray too far!) Dan captured her with the intent to take her to the Shawhan Clip~and~Curl Beauty Salon, but after a quick wing inspection, we realized she had already been there. I told him I noticed a place in the fence where a chicken could easily squeeze under and play hooky for the day. It has yet to be repaired and this particular bird still escapes.

Another time when I was cleaning stalls, I saw her perched in the straw bales. There is a nice nesting place in one particular bale and the chicken was sitting on the edge. I walked over to her and scared the wits out of her. She squawked and flew off the bale and ran away somewhere, though not as far as Texas or California. I figured I'd see one egg. Nope. There were 9! (They are pictured above.) I called her a hoarder and kept them there so I can photographic them and show them to Dan.

After we raided her nesting place and cleaned it up, we have yet to find another egg there. Like I said, she still escapes, so I can only imagine the hoard we will find once we uncover her new place. It's funny because once you remove the clutch, the chicken rarely visits there again. Must be a protective thing. Makes sense.

Any leads to where this hen is now laying would be greatly appreciated!

                                                                                         ...cluck... cluck... cluck...

Monday, September 24, 2012

Crutchy the Comet


If I've said it once, twice, three times...I'll say again, and again, and again...once you solve one chicken problem, another will definitely arise. The same holds true that chickens are very dramatic animals. Every day is drama, drama, drama.

It's a good thing our one cluckie is over her bout of coccidiosis and Brooder Greys (my new hospital name for the old chick brooder where we can confine problems chickies) has a vacancy. One morning last week Dan and I let the chickens out for the day, and we noticed a Golden Comet limping around Kennel Bar. It was obvious something was wrong with one of her pencil-like legs. As the rest of the flock headed outside, she just sort of slumped down in the dirt. We picked her up and examined her...we didn't see any cuts or anything. Later that day I went out to see if she had at least moved, and to my relief, she had. That evening though, I saw her slumped out in the steer lot. I cringed as I watched an approaching Beefy Boy and hoped she felt OK enough to get up and get out of the way of sharp cloven hooves. I decided to admit her to Brooder Greys when I watched her painfully limp out of the way.

Brooder Greys offers an all you can eat buffet in your room 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It also supplies vital calcium supplementation. Crutchy has access to her own personal watering device, where she does not have to share. Her room is large enough she can get up and walk around if she so chooses to do so. It has a very low roost, unlike the higher one she would have to jump down from every morning if she was still in Cooptown. She can either roost or sleep in a straw bed. The best things about Brooder Greys is that roosters are not allowed to visit and she will never have to get up and scurry away from Beefy Boys. We are hoping with limited interruptions she can heal in a safe, quiet environment.

I have yet to research chicken splints. I'm not sure if splinting the leg would help at all, or if I could even do that. Crutchy must be relaxed enough at Greys since she's been laying eggs there. (Must not be in too much pain.) Cad-Buddy and Chicken Hawk have been asking about her, wondering when she's coming back. Cad-Buddy gave me a bouquet of worms he found in the steer lot to give to her.

Crutchy seems to be getting along OK. She is moving around, though she still limps. She is eating and laying eggs, so that is good. She told me if I can arrange it, she wants a splint/cast, and that she wants a purple one since that is her favorite color and looks best with her golden hue. Plus she wants to return to the flock so she can see her friends and they can sign her cast.

You  (or at least I do) get really attached to these chickens. I think more so when somethng is wrong with them. Crutchy was looking up at me this evening and making a noise, I can olny describe as singing, very low in her throat. I feel bad for her because she can't tell me where it hurts and I can't tell her why it hurts and why she has to be alone right now. Sheesh, how will I ever deal with a human baby? Maybe God is preparing me... anyhoo, with all these chicken medical problems, I'm bonding more and more with my girls!

                                                                                                   ...cluck... cluck... cluck...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Dueling Sitters


Fall has come early here on the Shawhan farm. 2012 has brought all of its seasons early. Summer came in March and now fall has come in September; a month I remember reaching 90 degrees on more than one occasion. However, it decides to come, everyone around here is happy to have cooler weather. All the animals are outside more instead of loafing around in the barn all day.

I do have two cluckies who refuse to go out and enjoy the more moderate temperatures. Two hens from Flock 1 have decided now would be a good time to become broody, and I think they have made a competition out of it. (It is bad enough when one hen is in this mood. So far I have never dealt with two at the same time!)

As I was walking through the door the Cooptown the other day, I heard a clucking sound coming from nest box #2. It was a series of clucks, chirps and that guttural song chickens sing, I can't explain it, you would have to hear for yourselves. Anyhoo, it sounded a lot like the banjo music in Deliverance.  As soon as this "music" drifted out of next box #2, the EXACT same tune came from next box #3! This went on for several minutes, each time the melody shifted to the next box, it become more and more intense. It got to the point that I was looking over my shoulder for contorted hillbillies.
  "ENOUGH!" I screamed and lifted the box lid (which covers all three nesting areas.)

 What I saw shocked and then appalled me. I was shocked such horrific "music" could come out of my precious birds, and I was appalled that it was coming from the varsity team of Flock 1! (The same breed of chicken no less!) They looked up at me like I was losing my mind..and OK sometimes I do lose it because that is what owning chickens makes you do...

  I grabbed the first bird and plucked her up to see a bunch of eggs, roasty toasty warm.

  "HA HA count em up, mom. See how many I sat on today!" Though she spoke to me, she was staring at her sister.
  "Six eggs." I said and sat her back down. I gently collected her eggs and turned to the next box.

   "I have more eggs, mom. I beat her today! I beat her today!" The next bunch of ebony feathers told me.

Did you know, she was right? I didn't mention this to my first bird, hoping not to spark a competition or anything.

The next few days were the same, but at least they hadn't sang that song anymore. Occasionally you can hear shouts coming from the barn; taunts and threats, each claiming to sit longer than the other one and on more eggs. It came to a boiling point yesterday when Dan went in to hear "Your Momma" insults, which is ME! He went storming in there making all kinds of chicken dinner threats of his own, and dethroned the two misses by throwing them out of the boxes. I think they were too stunned to say anything, which was surprising..they had a lot to say the rest of the week.

They are still out there, sitting in adjacent next boxes. When you pick them up they get mad and puff out their neck feathers like a Cobra. I have a feeling it will be a long 21 days...

                                                                                            ...cluck... cluck... cluck...

Monday, September 17, 2012

In Remembrance


Sorry I didn't do my regular Sunday post, however, starting now I guess, I will post Mondays from now until the end of October.

Yesterday I had no clue what to write about. Sometimes it's like that and I don't write much; either not much is going on in the chicken world on the Shawhan farm, or life gets crazy busy and/or I'm too exhausted to get creative or into researching something cool about chickens. Usually if I wait a day something will come to mind. This week I was hoping to find a surge of inspiration at the last minute, and I have, but it may still seem a little dull.

I call this post "In Remembrance" because I am dedicating it to Ms. Fluffy Feathers, who was the first to depart from us one year ago this week. I know this, not from my former Facebook post, but because I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I received the news that my first beloved chicken had met a violent death.

This is the week of the Farm Science Review. Last year when I went there, I got up before the sunrise and took off with a band of men to walk all day long and look at farm equipment and other machinery. (Since none of that really pertained to me, I made it my mission to find as many free items (pencils, reusable bags, etc.)  that I could!) I looked forward to this day because I called it my "Man Day" since I was going up there with a bunch of men.
Just when we were hitting up a very exclusive, V.I.P., invite only after hours party at the New Holland booth, both Dan and I got text messages from our neighbors.

I think mine read: "Are your chickens OK over there?"

Dan's read: "Becca suffered a causality today."

(Can you tell my message was sent from the emotional sensitivity of a woman? And that Dan's message was from a more direct perspective of a man?)

 Dan knew the true story before I did. Poor Fluffy had wondered across the street...probably to try and get the monster ear of corn that was growing at the edge of the field. Our neighbor, Mike Harp, was even mowing around this gigantic stalk all summer long, almost making it stand out even more and thus appearing even more appealing to an unsuspecting bird. It was also this neighbor, Mike Harp, who took care of the body smashed to smithereens, so didn't have to come home and see it.

The drive home was endless; longer than what it seemed like we took looking over the whole Farm Science Review. I kept thinking maybe there were just a few random feathers about the yard and that all my cluckies were safe and sound. Upon arriving home and seeing what looked to be a whole feather down pillow scattered up and down the street, I knew we had experienced our first tragedy. After that day, the chickens were banned from roaming freely in the yard.

Poor Ms. Fluffy Feathers was a Light Brahma. Everyone likes those because of the feathers that continue down their legs and toes. I think one of the prettiest birds in the flock right now is one of my Light Brahma's, though don't tell Prissy I said that! The bird went through an ugly molt, but once all her feathers came back, she is without question the most attractive bird we have. (She also runs up to you almost every time you walk out to visit because she's always anticipating treats!)

So here's to you Fluffy and all the others we've lost. You are gone but not at all forgotten!

                                                                                    ...cluck... cluck... cluck...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

My Feathered Money Tree


I think it is safe to say that it is officially fall here on the Shawhan farm. That means life is about to get extremely hectic! While I'm thinking about that, beginning in the not so distant future, I will not be posting on Sundays anymore until the end of October. Instead I'll post Monday and Thursday.

The chickens are doing well and it seems my little sick chicken is feeling much better.

The other day I walked out to the barn to see a white dusting laying on the ground. No it wasn't snow, thank goodness! but a bunch of white chicken feathers. I frantically looked everyone over, making sure there wasn't a dead carcass somewhere or a hurt cluckie. Everyone seemed fine, and I have yet to determine the cause of so many feathers laying there.

Seeing this reminded me of an article I saw in Chickens Magazine about selling feathers to fly-fishermen. I hadn't read it until this afternoon and I learned that there is also a market for chicken feathers in the crafting world. (I wish I had read this article sooner, then I would have plucked some feathers off my latest dead chicken.)

Feathers are made up of mostly keratin and a little bit of water. It is keratin that gives feathers their strength and durability, not to mention their attractiveness. There are two types of feathers that are valuable to others.

The soft down feathers are used in the crafting world for general crafting purposes. They can be seen on masks, earrings, etc:

These feathers lay under the outer, stronger contour feathers that fly-fishermen like to use in their fishing flies:

Fishermen prefer feathers from chicken breeds like Australorps (which we have) Dorking, Sussex, and Wyandottes, just to name a few.

Apparently, it's simple to keep these feathers for the people in the market for them. Just pop them in the freezer for a period of time of no less than three weeks. There are even a few different methods of cleaning/washing dirty feathers with mild dish soap and a little bit of borax. You can find people in the market on ebay and

Like I said, I wish I knew about these markets before I buried my chickens in Manure Memorial Gardens...or last fall when Ms. Fluffy Feathers met her fate on the road and her feathers were scattered down Sinking Spring Road for a half a mile. Though I'm not sure what the going rate is for chicken feathers. Maybe I have a money tree in my backyard after all...

Looks like I'll be doing yet another task I imagined I would be doing by owning chickens...pricing the competition on these sites to get an idea!

                                                                                                      ...cluck... cluck... cluck...

Weaver, Sue. "For Fun & Profit; Your Flock's Feathers Could Bring in Some Extra Cash." Chickens Magazine September/October. 2012 44+

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Chicken Update


I have some good news and I have some bad news...

The good news is that our little patient is doing quite well. I believe she is over her bout of Coccidiosis and will re-enter the Flock tomorrow morning. She is ready to be done with her confinement and cannot wait to be social again. She tried to escape her temporary home the other day as I was refreshing her water. I figured she must be feeling better. That or she did not want another cavity search.

The bad news is that we lost a chicken last night. I found a dead Aracauna in the steer lot this morning. I'm not sure what the cause of death was. The other morning we found her outside as we were heading out to let the chickens out for the day. Obviously, someone didn't return home the night before. She looked a little worse for wear...sort of like someone who went to a frat house party and was discovered walking home in party messed clothes and reeking of beer and cigarette smoke. I am upset about this, however, if she was not using her head and didn't come home to the safety of the coop, well what can you do? It has already been decided we are getting more chicks this coming spring due to our few losses here and there and because Flock 1 will be getting older.

I'm still disgruntled that I fought to save one but lost anyway....

                                                                                                  ...cluck... cluck... cluck...

Thursday, September 6, 2012



Or should I say, SQUIRT, SQUIRT, SQUIRT! LOL OK that's mean... anyhoo, Coccidosis is what this poor girl, pictured above, has, I am sorry to report. (Once again, I feel like a bad owner to one of my beloved pets.)

According to Wikipedia, which is not the most reliable source for you kids doing any research projects, Coccidiosis is "the disease caused by Coccidian infection. It is a disease of the intestinal tract of animals caused by Coccidian protozoa." So far in my experience of watching this girl poo, it seems a lot like the human stomach virus. Except she isn't puking, but has a case of the runs. Which we all know can be deadly if left untreated.

How did I know she had a case of Coccidiosis? Well, in the beginning I didn't. I noticed this bird, one of my Speckled Sussex, laying around Kennel Bar one day. She was laying down, half on her side and when she did get up, she walked hunched over with her wings out a bit. She wouldn't venture very far before she'd slump back down again. It was super easy to catch her, another indicator something was wrong.

 I decided to isolate her in the cat carrier first, just in case she had something that might infect my other birds. Next I thought maybe she was egg bound or even worse, have had an egg break inside her. This thought came to my mind first because when I picked her up the first time, some yellow stuff that looked a lot like an egg yolk came out of her butt., well technically, her vent. I was hoping for just a lodged egg, since if you can catch a stuck egg and help the poor girl out, it is less deadly.

A chicken can get egg bound when she can't pass an egg, if the egg is too big, she's stressed out or any other number of reasons. You can check to see if there is an egg in the vent.

How do you do this??? The only way is to stick your finger inside the vent. Apparently, if an egg is in there, you'll know.

So of course, you all know what I did...

Yes, I put on a pair of stolen rubber gloves and stuck my finger up her butt. I didn't feel anything...unless I didn't go in far enough, but I don't know how far is too far. I didn't want to hurt her. I also thought perhaps she was constipated...either way, a warm bath would help her relax her back end and I could maybe find the problem.

To help a chicken pass an egg you can submerge them in warm water for 20 to 30 minutes.

Here she is enjoying her bath. I asked her if she wanted a book to read, but she said she wouldn't enjoy the trash novels that I like...

She got a little self-conscience when Dan got home, so I had to hold her in place:

I did this twice that day, and after each "bath" she pooped A LOT but still acted the same. I even repeated her cavity search and still felt nothing. That evening I was going to keep her in the cat carrier for observation, but when I checked on her for the last time, low and behold there was an egg! I felt relieved and figured she was egg bound that day and would be good as new. Hot dog! I had saved her life! I let her back in with the rest of the flock, confident she was OK.

The next morning she was behaving just as she was the day before. My elation sank. After reading Google and getting nowhere fast, I used my ace in hole and put a phone call into Gene Debruin. Gene is an animal nutritionist and if you ever have an animal-related problem you call Gene...because the saying around here is, "Gene knows everything." (He helped me the day the chicks got pasty butt.)

After relaying her symptoms, Gene said she was most likely suffering from Coccidiosis. We were to isolate her and give her Amprolium in her drinking water. If we caught it early enough, she would be fine. If not, death is the most likely outcome. I had gotten Amprolium and treated the chicks with pasty butt, so thankfully I already had a big bag of it. I was actually debating just giving her that anyway, but it's always good to double check. Gene also said that usually when a chicken acts weird, you can pretty much bet Coccidosis is the problem.
Good to know.

I learned after some research that Coccidosis destroys cells in the intestine. The protozoa are passed through eggs in poo and this usually affects younger birds in warmer months. By the 8th or 9th day, the bird is either recovered or dead, where death usually occurs around day 4 to 6.

Today is day 4...she was still looking good, to my eyes, tonight before I sat here to write this. Please pray my little cluckie gets better! She is more comfortable living solo in Brooder 2.0, which I'm thankful we kept. It's a good large, safe place she can hopefully recover.

Saturday there will be extensive coop and kennel cleaning. Not only to kill any protozoa that may be lingering, but it needs it anyway.

                                                                                                        ...cluck... cluck... cluck...

"Coccidiosis." Wikipedia. 2012. 6 Sept. 2012.

Hanson, J.A.  (BSC., D.V.M.) & Kennedy, Murray, J. (P.H.D.). "Coccidiosis in Chickens." Alberta Agriculture. 6 Sept. 2012.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

My First (and Failed) Attempt at Chicken Stew


My Grandma Shaw likes to forward my Chronicle posts to her friends in Florida. (Thanks again, Grandma!) Out of these forwards have come my 2 pieces of what I like to call my "fan mail." Thanks to this fan mail and everyone else's comments, not only on cyberspace, but in person, I feel it is my duty to report everything chicken that takes place on the Shawhan farm. Even if the events are my failures.

That being said, one gentlemen who Grandma forwards my posts to sent me a polish chicken stew recipe a few months back, in response to the post Two Birds in a Bag in a Bucket. That post was about acquiring 2 old butchered roosters from the Amish in exchange for my young and vivacious sons, Chaz and Foghorn. I remember that day. It was a Saturday and for whatever reason I was in a hurry that morning so I wrapped my 2 dead birds in wax paper and put them each in a plastic bag. A skill that will NOT get me a job at the Tyson packaging plant. I had asked if anyone knew any good chicken stew recipes. Ask and you shall receive! John Wazniac e-mailed Grandma a yummy sounding recipe and she passed it along to me. Ever since, when opening the freezer door and seeing my 2 plastic bags I would think to myself, I need to cook those. One day when I get time....

I thought yesterday would be the perfect day. Dan had just returned home from a week long bear hunt, victorious I might add, and I had all day to make stew. I even drove out to the Mennonite general store and bought parsley flakes and chicken bullion cubes. Hot dog, we were gonna have us a stew!

The night before I went to the freezer and looked in on the birds for the first time since I put them in their icy tomb. I selected the smaller bird since I thought he wouldn't have to cook as long. After removing him from my awesome packaging job:

 I realized the chicken looked to be a bit freezer burned. I think it's obvious I like to name things around here and since I doubt this guy had a name at his Amish farm, I decided to give him one. I named him Freezer Burn.
Grizzly Adams, which is Dan's new name around here, said a little freezer burn wouldn't hurt, so I shrugged my shoulders and stuck Freezer Burn in the refridgerator to thaw, since that is supposed to be safer than letting him sit in the microwave overnight like I usually do.
At 5:00 last evening I started my stew. Two hours is long enough, right? To begin, I had to remove Freezer Burn's neck. After several cuts and some pulling and twisting, I succeeded. The first step of my stew recipe called for me to cut the bird in half. The Chicken Lady has a very sorry assortment of knives. Besides several steak knives, all I have is a small sharp one and another huge blade that looks like it has the starring role in a horror movie. I took the smaller one and began to cut. Or TRIED to cut. The skin was so tuff the knife wouldn't go through. I tried some kitchen scissors. That didn't work very well either. I debated looking through Grizzly' s hunting supplies to find a skinning knife, but I made a few cuts by the wings so Freezer Burn would fit in his pot of water and said "Screw it!"
As Freezer Burn set to boil, I chopped up my vegetables I'd add later. I chopped celery, carrots and half an onion...which made me cry. I filled up a bowl and set it aside.
Freezer Burn had to cook until he fell off the bone. An hour later he was fitting into the pot better, but he was still putting up a fight and hanging onto his bones. It was getting late and the Chicken Lady was getting hungry. I figured I could cut Freezer Burn off the bone, so pulled him out and gasped at the horror of what was once a pink chicken. Where I had made my "cuts" and used to be pink meat, was now an interesting shade of grey.
Freezer Burn had deteriorated in size and had actually gotten tuffer. With a sinking heart, I put him in a pan to show Grizzly when he got home. We were not going to have chicken stew since he didn't look that appealing and after all that work I STILL couldn't pierce his skin with sharp objects. I covered my chopped veggies and will use those with a roast later this week. Grizzly got home, wrinkled his nose and gladly accepted my crepes I made us for dinner.
Perhaps my failure was because the chicken needs to be fresh? I know it was my fault in how poorly I wrapped him up. I also know not to expect a chicken like that from Kroger's. I cringe in how tuff the bigger one will be and am wondering what in the heck am I going to do with it? I really wanted my chicken stew. Besides, what kind of farmer's wife would I be if I can't make a chicken stew?
Mr. Wazniac's recipe sounded so good! I AM going to try the stew again, this time with a chicken from the store. Maybe I need to practice on fresh meat.
Thank you 'Wiz of Woz'! I have not forgotten your recipe and I will succeed in making it. Thanks again for sending it to me.
If anyone ever wants to contact the Chicken Lady, my e-mail is:
                                                                                               ...cluck... cluck... cluck...