Posts Tagged ‘chickens’

There and Back Again

“Not all who wander are lost.”

-J. R. R. Tolkein

About three months ago, Cory and I traveled down to Ludlow, Vermont to pick up a baby beef calf from Cory’s cousin. His name is Triscuit and he smells bad, but more on the cattle next post.

While Triscuit lounged in a calf box in the bed of the pick-up, five guinea fowl squawked and bleated and pissed all over the cab behind our seats. They were tucked into cardboard boxes but the effect was the same as if they had been running free.  After three hours I hated them more than I can say.

It’s just as loud as it looks

We housed them in the old chicken trailer and debated our permanent guinea fowl accommodation options. Guineas are not like chickens, as they don’t easily “home”. While chickens will head into an established coop as soon as it begins to get dark, guinea fowl will venture far afield, roosting in trees despite your best efforts. Sometimes they will just “leave”, never to be seen again.

I tried training ours with millet, a guinea’s favorite treat, and we had just arrived at the stage of, “at least they looked at me when I called,” when Cory’s father, in an effort to move things along, built them a pen and little house near the garden. We sighed and moved them in.

 Here at least they were a bit easier to care for, but try as we might, we still couldn’t get them all to go into the house at the same time each evening. We had originally wanted them to pest patrol the garden. Guinea’s eat bugs and seeds but generally leave plants alone. In their pen, they not only weren’t eating bugs off our cucumbers, but they were living in what amounted to a barely adequate cage. 

I still kind of hated them. They were loud, mean, neurotic, and ugly, but their feathers were beautiful, and I do get attached easily. It was all a bit of a puzzle.

Then, a little over a week ago, Cory discovered that something had squeezed through a hole in the fence and slaughtered four of our five guinea fowl. One hen remained. We named her Juno. 

As she certainly couldn’t stay in the pen amid the scattered feathers of her fallen companions, we put her in with the chickens. We weren’t sure if they would flock together, but we had to try. She needed company. I took Stan the Rooster aside and explained the situation. (I really did this). He cocked his head, looked me straight in the eye and I think, understood every word. 

Juno stayed close that first day and hopped into the coop with the rest of the girls when it got dark. I gave Stan a nod and whisper of thanks and breathed a sigh of relief. 

I was sure we were  in the clear, but it was not to be. The next day while weeding the beans, I watched as Juno traversed the meadow, passed the garden, and slipped into the underbrush at the edge of the woods. I thought about going after her, but stopped. I realized that she had chosen her freedom and I was not going to be the one to take it away again. She had been through so much, watching her friends get ripped apart while somehow managing to escape the same violent fate. She deserved to walk the journey of her life unencumbered by human constraints. Also, it was hot and my shoes were back at the house.  

She stayed away for two days and two nights. I thought about her out in the world, a great big world for a little guinea hen. I worried; I was feeling affectionate. I thought about the creature that had eaten her friends, and the rednecks with their guns and pickup trucks. But Juno was a survivor, I was sure of it. 

And then… 

When I got home today I immediately heard the unmistakable, bleating horn of a guinea hen. Juno was back! I raced around the garage to see her strutting about the yard, pecking the dirt. She had recognized our benevolence and come back! If she could feel at home here, so could I. All my doubts about our farm, our animals, and our vegetables faded. Surely, this was a sign! 

Juno is now roosting with the chickens, calm and happy. Perhaps the world was just a little too big after all. 

Or maybe she just got hungry.



A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.

-George Bernard Shaw

A few weeks ago I attended a weekend-long beekeeping workshop, (yes, beeeeekeeping!). Cory had assured me that all of the roosters would be gone by the time I returned, but when I pulled in, I heard the unmistakable sounds of scrabbling chickens. I think he realized that it was an easier two person job (or so one would think), so after dinner we got to work.

We set up an old table in the yard and clamped a piece of plywood to the top to make a stable work surface. I had gone to my local kitchen supply store, As the Crow Flies, where the helpful staff helped me pick out a sharp, heavy cleaver to quickly dispatch the boys. We decided to do the most troublesome rooster first, the instigator of most of the worst assaults.

And here’s where I made my first mistake.

Failing to properly calm myself, I barreled into the coop to grab the first rooster. No deep breaths, no contemplative gratitude, just a frenzied struggle to the death. I caught him in an awkward hold, and on the verge of tears (me, not him), I marched him squawking and flailing to the table. Cory told me to flip him upside-down, but I was holding him wrong and wearing large, awkward gloves. I started to panic. I managed to tilt him only by leaning over myself. He tried to bite me.

Finally Cory got a sock over his head. This is supposed to calm chickens but I had mishandled the situation so aggregisly that this rooster was beyond calming. When we had finally wrestled the bird into position and Cory had delivered the fatal blow, the rooster lost his head…and so did I.

You see, being the suburban girl that I am, I thought that “running around like a chicken with its head chopped off” was just something my grandfather compared me to when he wanted me to make less noise. This was apparently my second mistake, because the rooster jumped off the table, and began to running in circles, blood spraying from its neck. It was at this point that I began a mixture of laughing and crying commonly known as hysteria. Cory stood patiently with his arms crossed, and after waiting for the bird to bleed out, he scooped it up by the legs and began to rip feathers from the rooster’s still warm body. I helped in between gasping breaths, but when that headless chicken started clucking, I panicked afresh. Cory calmly (why is he always calm in these situations?!) explained that the birds voice box was in its throat. Oh. I should have known this.

We got through the first bird, somehow, and did a second. This next slaughter went far more smoothly than the first. I even remembered to thank the little creature before we whacked it. I felt thoroughly ashamed of my lack of preparation for this event; the ultimate event in this animals life. I spent days and days preparing for the pig slaughter and I wasn’t even present, but I barely gave the chickens a second thought and we all paid for it. No animal should have to die with me looking on, screaming and panicking, without an ounce of reverence.

But I am human, and still figuring it out.


If only all of Rome had just one neck.


So remember yesterday when I said we were waiting for some “definitive rooster behavior”? Well, today when I went out to feed and water my birds, I was violently reminded of a scene from the 1979 movie, Caligula, starring Malcolm McDowell and Peter O’Toole. Far be it from me to attempt a definition of sexual assault for another species, but I’m going to guess 6 roosters to 7 hens is probably not a good idea. Cory is particularly incensed because one of the new roosters went after little Edna. Stan intervened but Cory is determined to avenge her honor. Such as it is.

Heads are gonna roll.

Egg on my Face

We can see a thousand miracles around us every day. What is more supernatural than an egg yolk turning into a chicken?

~ Rutherford Platt

So the new batch of chickens have been with us for about 2 months. This was the free flock of 12, 4-month-old chickens I found on Craigslist in January. After a tragic encounter with a red-tail hawk we’re down to 13 total birds (old and new batch). We suspect solidly half of the newbies to be roosters. They’re huge with upright bodies and long pointed feathers. Stan, our original rooster, is currently the only one who crows (1am -3am, nightly) and the only one who *chases* the hens…yet. Roosters take a bit longer to sexually mature, so we’re just waiting for some definitive rooster behavior to drag out the chopping block. So sad I know, but we only want one rooster, and Stan’s the man.

It’s been especially confusing and frustrating because nobody’s been laying eggs. We had two hens laying regularly, but alas, they’re no longer with us.

So it was with excitement and glee that Cory discovered two eggs in the hen-house yesterday, a large green and a tiny brown. We jumped about like fools, screaming and cheering. We were convinced that the small brown egg had been laid by Edna, our little bantam (miniature breed) and special friend. We were sure she’d never lay, but she was too cute to fry. But here was proof, it had to be, that she was laying at last! Hurray! We were ecstatic.

Little Edna

That is, until Cory’s father informed us that many chickens start off by laying small eggs. It was probably just one of the new hens starting to lay. Apparently they’re called fart eggs. How cute.

I’ve officially labeled Cory’s father, “The Ruiner”.

Catching Chickens

People who count their chickens before they are hatched act very wisely, because chickens run about so absurdly that it is impossible to count them accurately.

— Oscar Wilde

Craigslist and I have a bit of a love/hate thing goin’ on. I check the farm and garden section daily for deals and opportunities, and while many times the sellers are unreliable and the merchandise crap, sometimes I find a gem. Like last week, when I was the first to answer an ad for a large flock of four-month-old laying hens. Usually free chickens are geriatric; no more prone to lay an egg than knit a sweater, so when I saw their age, I pounced. A wonderful woman named Bridget responded, and explained that the chickens had been a sort of rescue mission. Their original owners apparently hadn’t realized that when you combine a hen and a rooster, you get many, many little chickens. They were planning on leaving the chickies out in the cold to die, so Bridget, who was blessed with a whole human heart, offered to take them in and secure a new home.

On Wednesday I headed out to North Hero, one of the Champlain islands, to pick up my new friends. I brought a few small cardboard boxes and a cat carrier. I had been dubious about the size of the boxes, but Cory’s father assured me it was OK to “cram them in”. When I arrived, Bridget eyed the boxes with suspicion. It had come out during introductions that neither of us had ever chased chickens with the intent of actually catching one, and I think the appearance of my pitiful cardboard cemented her notion that this was not going to be a pleasant experience.

The chickens were housed in a horse stall. They were beautiful but skittish, careening around the stall in a colorful herd. In the center of the stall was the huge dog carrier they had arrived in. Fortunately Bridget was willing to let me borrow the carrier, and we soon abandoned the boxes in favor of this far superior option.

It was chaos. Chickens shrieking, feathers flying, round and round we chased. Our only real hope was to herd them towards a corner where we could snatch them up and fling them, one by one, into the dog crate. I turned out to be quite skilled at the snatchin’ and flingin’ and soon they were all secured. I have no real idea how many chickens there were, but it seemed like thousands. I had been told I would be getting ten, but I ended up leaving one behind (I think it was dead. It was jammed into a corner and not moving. I didn’t investigate further). When I stopped at a gas station on the way home, I counted 12. Whatever.

When I got home It dawned on me for the first time that I had a giant dog crate full of grousing chickens in the back of my car. I had to leave for work in less than three hours and I was the only one home. I had managed to keep them relatively calm on the ride with a rousing rendition of Old MacDonald (I’m not kidding), but now they were fussing. Beginning to panic, I searched through the garage for something helpful. What I found was two long pieces of plywood I could use as a ramp. I leaned one end against the bumper of my Forester, slid out the crate and dragged it over to the chicken yard. The chickens did not find any of this amusing, but they lived. So did I, albeit covered in chicken poo.

Meet the Girls!

Here they are! I’ve been researching breeds but if anyone knows for sure what my girls are I’d be appreciative. We’re naming them slowly as we discover personalities.

Stan The Chicken King

We’re never so vulnerable than when we trust someone – but paradoxically, if we cannot trust, neither can we find love or joy. 
 – Walter Anderson

I love Stan, our rooster. People are always trying to get rid of roosters. Craigslist is littered with ads for free roosters. I guess because they’re noisy and useless, unless you’re going to breed chickens. It’s also sometimes hard to keep more than one because they can be aggressive.

Not so around here. Stan is very quiet; I’ve never heard the slightest cheep, let alone a full crow. While he’s definitely the king, he’s also extremely polite. When I open the door of the coop he stands between me and the hens. After I replace their food or water he struts forward to sample my offerings first. I like to think he’s checking to make sure it’s good enough for his hens.

I admit I have the occasional pastoral fantasy, common enough for the suburbanly raised, in which I hand feed chickens while wearing clogs and a large hat. A few days after the chickens arrived, Stan and I started playing a game. I would hold a few pieces of grain out to him to see if he would take food from me. For weeks he would just eye me cautiously and wait until I gave up and set the grain on top of the water bottle. I tried over and over again; holding out grain and then setting it down. No go.

This morning when I went out to the coop, I knew today was going to be different. Stan seemed almost ready for our game, as if he expected it. I grabbed some grain, squatted down to his level and offered my palm. Stan walked towards me quickly and with only a brief hesitation, pecked the grain from my hand.

It’s a bit of a relief having animals we don’t have to kill. Stan is going to live a long chickeny life if I have anything to say about it. This is one chicken who will never find his pot.