Life with Chickens

I go out to pick blackberries at about 8pm. Four of the flock of five chickens come running for discards.

No Gertrude.

Now, Gertrude is my first chicken. I guess at this point she’s about 3 1/2, which is at the end of her laying life, for the most part. She’ll lay an egg about three times a month at this point, and the shells are tissue paper, despite regularly getting oyster shell. If this were a working farm, she’d be eaten.

But this is not a working farm, and she’s my first pet chicken, and by dog, I will keep that chicken if she lives forever.

But she didn’t come out for blackberries.

I went out front (since the blackberries are split by a fence, and half hang over to where I must go out on a step stool to pick them), and still Gertrude was nowhere to be seen.

I went out to the yard again to look for her, fearing finding a pile of feathers where a hawk might have gotten her (one nearly got ‘Stache once, and I’ve been outside several times where that hawk flew over, rattled off a curse at me for protecting my chickens, and flew off angry and without a meal).

I checked under the deck and in the forsythia bush where the chickens like to hide, and in the brush, and nothing.

As a last resort, I opened the coop, where she was sitting asleep. Even though there was still light out.

I guess she needs the extra sleep these days.

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The Rebound

It’s been far too long since I have offered any stories of my attempts at homesteading. I am vowing to begin to post again, and have created a facebook page for the homestead.

In the mean time, here I am playing a live-action first person shooter with ‘Stache, who I succeeded in thwarting her laying eggs in our burn pile.

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Been a while…

Been busy with the day-to-day of work, mostly. My home-based business is doing well, and in my rapidly dwindling spare time, I freelance as an artist, which has also been going well.

I sold a trio of rabbits, and have yet to find the guts to eat the rest. I need to do it soon, so I’m not feeding 6 rabbits over the winter when I don’t have to.

My garden this year was an absolute bust. Between work, and my other new projects (the rabbits and meat birds), I just didn’t have the energy to put into it.

Sadly, I had to put Lucille down about a month ago, and it still breaks my heart to think about, and she was “only” a chicken. But she was my favorite chicken.

After treating her as if she were egg-bound (hot baths, rectal… er… cloacal exams), I figured that she was suffering ascites, and retaining fluid.

I tried removing the fluid, which was an unbelievable amount; I filled a Solo cup with it, but she did not recover. She was cold and not eating at that point, and I ended her suffering.

‘Stache chicken has begun laying, at least, so now I’m back up to two actively laying birds, and it’s nice to have pretty blue eggs again. Edna-209 has yet to begin laying, although that does not surprise me, as that animal is as large as a beach ball.

‘Stache is actually quite funny. Despite trimmed wings, she still jumps/flies/climbs out of the pen, and essentially free ranges in the back yard. She puts herself back in the pen to lay and to sleep at night. It’s ridiculous and precious.

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Over it

This heat, I mean.

I spent all weekend playing musical rabbits.

Boobs and her babies are still indoors, but Buddy and the two boys who I am too much of a weenie to have processed yet are still outside.

They spent half the afternoons and evenings in cat carriers in the air conditioned house. They were certainly glad for it.

I wasn’t bringing a pair of full grown chickens and a pair of half grown chickens indoors, however.

They made do with frozen water jugs and a litter box with ice and water.

Lucille complains about the heat to me as if it’s my fault.

I hope everyone is weathering this heat okay.

October, where are you?

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What a night…

So early Wednesday evening, when I went to make sure everyone had water, Boobs was acting a bit…. off. I was afraid she was having heat exhaustion, and brought her inside. It wasn’t terribly hot at that point in the day, but I wanted to be cautious.

She seemed to enjoy just chilling out on the floor of the chinchilla room, so I cleaned out the vacant chinchilla cage (it had recently housed chickens). She wasn’t hot to the touch, and her ears weren’t red or hot, so I was really kind of ruling out heat exhaustion.

I made sure she had some hay and water and left her alone for a couple of hours.

When I went to check on her, wiggling on the floor of the cage was a pink baby.

I knew she was pregnant, but her complete lack of nesting behavior over the past couple of days lead me to believe she wasn’t due for a few more days yet (I think she went about 33 days last litter, if I recall correctly. Wednesday was day 29). She’d also been peeing in the nest box every time I offered it, so I wanted to wait ’til she started making bones ’til I gave it back.

This baby was cold to the touch, but moving. So I scooped it up, put it in my shirt, and warmed up a heating pad while I set up the nest box.

Still no nesting behavior.

So I built the nest for her with bedding and hay and held onto the baby for a while.

She didn’t seem interested in continuing the birth process, so I put the baby in the nest and plucked some fur from momma to keep the baby warm, hoping the baby and the fur plucking would urge her to continue.

I checked on her at about 1:30 AM, and there was a second baby on the floor of the cage. A little chilly, but not cold. So I put THAT baby in with its buddy, and I hoped momma would be done birthing shortly.

I went to bed, slept, and got up at 4:30 to check again. No more babies.

At 7 yesterday morning, when my husband left for work, I checked on the rabbits again. There was another baby. On the floor, of course. Still warm, so I put him into the nest.

I thought for sure Boobs was done, since rabbits just don’t labor that long (or do they?).

When I got up two hours later, there were four babies on the floor. Three were dead. :’(

But one was still wiggling, so I warmed him up and put him in the nest.

And then at 7:30 last night, that darn rabbit finally decided to build a nest. Sigh.

What gives? I didn’t think rabbits labored that long. I’m wondering if the stress of me having moved momma is what caused her to birth outside the nest box.

…and if you’ve read this much, I reward you with a picture of three of the five:

In total, I have two red broken, one black (I think? The one at the top left there), one red (I think? The one at the bottom left there), and maybe one agouti, since its color is in between the two dark guys pictured here. But I don’t know rabbit color genetics, so I don’t know if an agouti is possible.

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Well, Lucille must speak English.

I told her yesterday, “You know, I’m a little worried with you only laying an egg every 5-6 days or so. Please don’t make me poke and prod you. You have ’til tomorrow to lay an egg, or else I will.”

This morning was a large blue egg in the nest box.

The Architect offered that it must be the hot weather, which is possible. She’s eating, drinking, and acting fine, and is not unkempt, so it’s unlikely that she’s truly egg bound.

However, Gertrude is laying almost every day. Who knows?

I know I was certainly NOT looking forward to becoming intimately familiar with a certain part of chicken anatomy…

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Tick tock

Lucille has until tomorrow to lay an egg, or else I do something drastic.

And by “something drastic,” I mean figuring out what to do for an egg bound chicken. Which, to a chicken, is likely very drastic.

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I think it will be fun to tell some of the stories of my resident animals.

I’ll start with Una, the One-Eyed Wonder Chinchillas (who also has her own Facebook Fan Page ).

Una was originally sold to a family at a local Big Box Pet Store.

After a week or so, she developed a serious problem with her left eye. The family returned her to the PetStore.

It is my understanding that rather than paying to fix this chinchilla, the PetStore opted to have her euthanized at the veterinarian that was inside the store.

The vet, who had owned chinchillas before, said that there was nothing wrong with the animal aside from a badly ulcerated eye. The vet took time out of her schedule to remove the eye herself.

Una sat at the vet for a couple weeks. The veterinarian had too many pets herself, and no one else wanted her.

My friend Crash covered a shift at the vet office, and asked about the chinchilla when she noticed her.

The staff told her the story, and Crash offered to take Una home.

When Crash moved to a new house, she offered Una to me. I figured another chinchilla wouldn’t make a difference, as at the time I had 12 (I used to breed and show chinchillas – I am down to three total now).

I would have figured that after such and ordeal, Una would be shy and nervous. Surprisingly, she’s the calmest, friendliest chinchilla you’ll ever meet, and she’s very photogenic. :)

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Well, the slaughter was the first hurdle.

The second was whether or not I’d actually be able to eat an animal I raised.

I had an early and light lunch, and roasting chicken always takes so much longer than I anticipate, so by the time it was ready, I was famished.

It wasn’t pretty – the wings had been removed for the sake of ease, we’d cut through the breast bones to make it easier to remove the organs, and I’d cut the feet off a good bit too high on this one by accident. I put some herbs in the cavity, “stitched” it all back together with toothpicks, set the bird on a bed of potatoes and carrots, and smothered it with herb butter.

The taste was absolutely incredible. More people should do this.

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I did it

It was absolutely sweltering yesterday, but it was pretty much the only day I could arrange with my friends to slaughter the meat chickens.

Everyone arrived at about 4:30. I paced around the house with my heart in my throat for about an hour.

I’d never deliberately taken the life of another creature aside from bugs. I’ve cared for these chickens for the past seven weeks. They were now eight and a half weeks and bigger than my laying girls.

click for larger

Crash declared that I would have to be the one to kill the first chicken. While I kinda hoped that Bubba could show me how to do the first one, it was fair that I do the first one – this was my project.

I wasn’t having second thoughts, I was merely nervous. But this was my burden. This is how I’ve chosen to rage against the governmental and corporate food machine.

Our timing was pretty good – my nosy neighbors weren’t home.

We rounded up the meat birds and put them in the dog crate. I had a pair of 5 gallon buckets with holes cut in the lids fitted for the gallon jugs The Architect fashioned for killing cones.

I’d bought a new pair of poultry shears I’d hoped would be up for the job of beheading.

I was wrong.

Crash held the first bird in the cone while I tried to cut through his neck. I succeeded in severing his jugular, and he calmly bled while I panicked that I hadn’t totally removed his head. Bubba rushed in with his knife and removed the chicken’s head.

I did the next four, and D did the last one.

Meat is not murder.

There was nothing cold blooded in what we did yesterday. These animals got fresh air every day and sunshine and fresh water and the best food I could afford. The most stress they were under was when I gathered them. When they were put into the cones, I petted them and thanked them.

The chickens were then skinned and gutted. We were done killing, dressing, and cleaning up in about an hour and fifteen minutes. Our nosy neighbors returned just as we finished cleaning up.

D & L and Crash and Bubba each got a bird to take home. The rest are sitting in the fridge in brine. I’m going to roast one tomorrow.

The whole thing was not nearly as bad as I anticipated. I didn’t cry (although I almost did when I couldn’t get the first head removed), and I never gagged (although I thought I would).

I will absolutely do this again, although I will wait until I have a farm so they have more room to roam, and I have a better set up to accommodate animal processing.

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