Lyra-Girl

It’s been a sad couple days for my Hubby and I. Our hen Lyra died  two nights ago. A raccoon got into the coop and snagged her. We’re both so sad and feel incredibly guilty. For the past two years, we often wait until well after dark to close our coop up. We’ve never had a problem. Well this one time we weren’t so lucky. We got home late and following our normal routine we started to close everything up. As Matt approached the coop he noticed a raccoon scurry across the yard. He soon discovered poor Lyra-girl. We must have been just a few moments too late. She was in-tact except for an injured neck. We pray she went quickly. We buried her in the back yard and held Miss Marple for a long time. She narrowly missed being a raccoon snack as well. Now Miss Marple is out there all alone. Luckily for her, she’s got six buddies who will join her in a few weeks. Until then I take a chair out into the run and sit with her to keep her company.

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It’s odd. Matt and I actually grieve the loss of Lyra, not just a hen. The fact that I had about 80 pictures of her to choose from should tell you something. We’ve been talking about her individual quirks, her beautiful  feathers, her puffy cheeks and beard, her green eggs and memories of her crazy chicken-hawkness.

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I’ve come to realize that it will always be hard to loose a hen. The grief might become less and less shocking, but in reality hens die all the time. They get sick, they get eaten, they get in fights with cats/dogs/eachother, they don’t have very long life spans. Chickens die in chicken ways, which is usually not graceful. But when we think of our pets, we hope they die in natural and graceful ways. When they don’t, when they die suddenly and painfully, it’s all so tragic. So I’m working on how to reconcile these two elements of my pet-parenthood. How do I keep loving my chickens as dear pets, but grieve for them appropriately when they die not-so-pretty chicken deaths? Cause we’ve got 7 more to go folks and I’m really not looking forward to sobbing that much.

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If you feel like it, pop on over and read these old posts about Lyra (“A Brood Awakening” and “She’s Back.”)…they are some of my favorites.

P.S. To those with chickens…if you have a run to enclose your ladies make sure you lock them in there if you’ll be away past nightfall. If you don’t have a run, make sure you get them closed in their coop when it gets dark. You honestly never know when something might happen and it’s best to err on the side of caution.

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Christmas time is here.

Christmas CardIsn’t Gideon the cutest thing since baby ducklings?

We decided to do a Christmas card, mostly because this year we’ve felt so settled at our home and with our little family here. People like to hear about the chickens and Gideon. We thought it would bring a smile to their face to see them. We literally just turned to each other one afternoon and said, “Hey let’s go take a picture”. It was raining. We rigged up my dinky digital camera onto a ladder with a backpacking-tripod, and balanced an umbrella over it. Gideon got thrown in the wheel barrow, where he stayed freakishly calm. The chickens were swooped up, Matt and I posed. Done. Originally I wanted the picture to be a little chaotic. A chicken flapping around, Gid in mid-jump out of the barrow, Matt or I with our eyes closed, but it was all just so peaceful. I couldn’t bring myself to toss one of the chickens in the air. So I’m satisfied with this. Plus based on what I hear friends say, after you have kids, you consider yourself lucky to get a Christmas picture that’s not chaotic. And if it happens it’s usually after 50 takes. This picture is very reflective of our lives this past year. Busy little people, building our home and shaping our future together.

Have a great Christmas card idea? I wanna hear it! Merry Christmas to you all!

A Brood Awakening

I should start a new joke series: “You know you’re a legit chicken owner when…when a hen poops on you, you just wipe it off and call it good.”

Yup. Gross. But it’s more convenient not to care.

We’ve got our first broody hen in the family. She’s been sitting on her nest for about 4 weeks now. Our grand plan was to slip her some chicks to raise, but we’ve been so busy, we haven’t really been around to get it all set up.

For those of you confused, a broody hen is one who is trying to hatch her eggs. In this case, even without a rooster around her instincts tell her, “It’s time…hatch these babies.” So she sits…and sits….and sits some more. Until one day, even as much as 10 weeks later, she realizes it’s not gonna happen and snaps out of it. In the meantime, she gets pretty temperamental. They puff themselves up like a basketball and make a freakish clucking/growl sound. Sometimes pecking at you when you try to collect the eggs. This is Lyra in a trance in the early morning…she’s puffed up to about half her normal size.

Hens have been known to starve themselves to death because they won’t get off the nest to eat. So, once a day or so, you have to grab them off the nest and put them in the yard, forcing them to eat, drink and poop. We have found that the other hens will sometimes kick her out when they want to lay. She’ll run around the yard, squawking, flapping her wings. She’ll run up to me and grab onto my pant leg with her beak and swing herself around squealing. It’s really quite terrifying actually, haha. Then she’ll dust bathe, eat, poop and growl some more before jumping back in and adopting any newly laid eggs. And yes, we collect the eggs (which for some weird reason I feel bad about) because otherwise they rot. But even with an empty nest…she sits and waits. Here is Lyra in full-blown brood:

But I get it, she’s supposed to be terrifying. She’s being maternal. I just kept wondering why on Earth, would she be such a jerk to the other hens? They’ll walk up to her when she’s out dust-bathing like, “Hey…haven’t seen you in a while. Good to see you out. I’ll join you for a bath.” They’ll attempt to join her and she’ll puff up, squawk and usually get pecked by the other hens. I know she is “protecting” her eggs, but really, the hens aren’t even near the coop! I read that it’s about more than just protection, it’s a hen’s way of preventing chicks from bonding with other hens. So even though Lyra doesn’t have chicks yet, she’s keeping everyone else from joining any bit of the experience. They are her babies and when her chicks hatch, they need to know that.

But eeerrrrr…how to tell her she’s sitting on my breakfast? Well, I’m over it at this point. At first it was fascinating and cute. Now…it just is. Snap out of it Lyra and get back to laying eggs!

The Three Musketeers

Before I leave to go anywhere, I check on the ladies, just to make sure they are all there. Two of them can slide under the fence. The other one is too fat to do so and doesn’t even attempt it. They usually only escape when they hear me working in the garden and want to join in. They’ll slip out and help me weed. I’ll usually go grab Amelia (the fat yellow one) so she doesn’t feel left out.

But we have had reports from a couple of neighbors that they were spotted wandering around outside the confines of their lovely fenced yard, which is worrisome to me. Loose dogs, angry kids, large mean cats…these are all common predators in urban chicken life.

So before I left the house yesterday I went out back, peered over the fence…no chickens. It wasn’t raining…so they weren’t under the coop staying dry. “Heeerrrre chick, chick, chiiick.” No chickens. Every single time I walk into the back yard, the run to me. No exception. This time…nada.

I looked around our small backyard highly confused. I opened the coop, peered in…no chickens. I looked behind the compost and the bushes…No chickens. I walked around the house…no chickens. I peered into neighbors yards and under their porches…no chickens.

Okay at this point I’m panicking, assuming that they were all three carried off by the Bald Eagle residents of the Willamette River, which is three blocks from our house. I walked back into the yard again…my hopes dashed, feeling quite helpless and sad. I basically started screeching, “Chick, chick, chick, chick, chick, chick, CCHHIIIICCCKKK.” “HEEERREEEE CHICK CHICK CHIIIICK!”

They must have been able to understand what that call was communicating, which was, “Please, oh please say you are here!” “I’m freaking out ladies!!” Because the next sound I heard was a soft and distant, “Bbbuurrrrrrrruuck”. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from! I heard it again, a little louder this time, “Bbuuurrrruckcluck!”

It sounded like it was coming from the direction of the coop, where I had already looked. But I ran over there anyways and looked inside where I didn’t see anything. But sure enough loud and clear, “Buurruuucckclcuk!” I basically crawled inside and when I did so, I realized I had never checked the laying boxes. Why would I!? They were all missing and all three of them can’t cram into one laying box! Plus usually, if they’re not too into the egg-laying process, they actually run out of the laying box when I come outside.

But here is what I found.

All three of them, crammed into the box. They stood up when I opened the lid, appalled that I would do such a thing while they were in the middle of such a thing. Amelia (the yellow one) was quite upset, as you can see by her raised feathers. She always acts a little broody. I know flocks of chickens like to share laying boxes, to lay in “community” if you will. But this is not a typical sight. Sometimes two but not ever all three.

Anyway I snapped a picture, which captured their death stares but doesn’t capture the low, growly clucks that were getting thrown my way. I closed the lid and heard the clucks fade away as they began to nestle back into position. These hens are so neurotic. Honestly though, I’m just glad they’re not eagle snacks.