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chickens

Gone girl – An ode to an extraordinary chicken

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Maria  2016-2018

Maria was an ordinary chicken. Maria was an extraordinary chicken.

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Maria’s ginormous egg and an average Gretel-sized egg

Maria laid a lot of eggs like any good hen. She lay mondo eggs and would take some time to go about this.

IMG_5726.jpgUnlike Gretel and Leisel who quietly and quickly laid their eggs on the straw in their egg boxes early every morning, she chose to lay them out of the safety of her run and in the “wild” when they were let out to free range. She would often be gone for more than an hour.

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Egg cache number 1

Busy with our raspberry farm, it took a dedicated summer visitor Chris to hunt for and find Maria’s secret nest. Once a cache was discovered she would find a new spot and start over.

Very much unlike Leisel and Gretel, who craved attention, Maria shunned the paparazzi.

Unlike Gretel and Leisel, Maria would not and could not be picked up and was proud of this. She was standoffish and very, very large.

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Give your head a shake. I will not be your Instagram prop.
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Although pals with the other girls during the daily camp-out at the back door where treats where often dispersed, at other times Maria was a loner.
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Maria was not lonely, she just liked her own company and at times, I feel felt a bit superior.
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She didn’t understand the girls who conformed to the egg-laying box routine and would often question them about it.
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She couldn’t relate to their willingness to be apart of the whole social media scene which she openly disdained while secretly feeling much fancier than the other two and far more photogenic.
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This is the last photo of Maria. Taken on the very morning of her demise.

Gretel and Leisel, although conformists and social media early adopters did understand a key chicken survival lesson, there is safety in numbers. Free ranging comes with risks which were lessened by our rows upon rows of raspberry canes providing cover and making predator swoop attacks difficult and by having a pal to call an alert.

When we returned from the farmer’s market and checked on the girls, a small pile of fluffy breast feathers in one of the yard’s few open spots was all that was left of Maria. A hawk or an eagle are the most likely culprits that permanently solved a lovely problem like Maria.

Survived by her occasional friends Gretel and Liesel and greatly mourned by her human friends, Maria will be missed although her eggs won’t be as we could rarely find them. Maria was an ordinary chicken, Maria was an extraordinary chicken.

R.I.P. Baroness

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Just a pile of feathers…

The Baroness is Resting in Peace all right. She is resting…not having any eggs…trying to re-grow some feathers. Having gone through 21 one days of broodiness, with not a nice warm brown egg in sight, she is now post-Henopasual and has decided to go bald…otherwise known as molting vs. melting. 

The chicken keeper is the one melting down. During the molt lots of nasty stuff can go down, including and pretty importantly, still no eggs for cakes.

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Just when I thought I was out of the woods…The Baroness takes herself off her imaginary eggs after a normal hatching period of 21 days and decides to give up her broody nasty ways. All my folk remedies including frozen peas and ice cubes under her ass…had no effect. Times up. She takes herself out of solitary and begins hanging with her pal Maria doing happy chicken things like scratching around for bugs, chatting with friend, and chilling. Yippeee! Problem solved. Time to start laying eggs again which usually takes three days after the broodiness ends. Not.   Feathers, feathers everywhere!
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So many feathers that I feared a predator had snuck in the coop and ended it all…
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Still here…just super itchy.

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Looking bedraggled

Putting myself in her claws life sucks right now. She has just spent three weeks alone, hardly eating or drinking, fighting with me when I try to remove her from her fake children and now she is loosing her crowning glory, one feather at a time. It’s so much worse when hens loose their hair. Bald is in for men and they boldly own it. Not so much for women…

Molting can also cause bullying. It’s even more sinister than you think. The bullying is not about picking on the hen because she is not looking her best. The bullying is related to cannibalism! New pin feathers growing in have visible blood showing which brings on some survival base instincts. Other chickens want to eat their molting friend and peck them mercilessly.

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So far Maria is empathetic and is not shaming or trying to eat The Baroness.

IMG_1519.jpgSo, my chicken research says molting is pretty common after a broody hen hatches her chicks. The Baroness bought into this whole hatching thing despite no fertile eggs to sit on or any eggs at all…big time… so it’s not surprising that her changing hormones triggered a molt. It’s also a pretty common time of the year for molting as well. The molt happens not only for aesthetic reasons but also for health reasons. Brand new feathers help trap warm air during the cold winter months better than old feathers.

Now she needs my help in the form of extra protein. One book offers a helpful recipe for Molt Muffins which include oats, sunflower seeds, raisins, coconut milk, peanut butter and…. mealworms. Don’t think I’ll be baking those anytime soon but I will offer her some of the ingredients.

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How do you solve a problem like Maria? You don’t have to. She lays her egg, every single day, without fail or fuss. The Baroness is the high maintenance one….

Henopause — When a chicken goes broody

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Going all Linda Blair on me.

Out of the blue, The Baroness has turned into a maniac. She won’t leave her nest and growls and bites when you try to dislodge her. She is no longer the docile chicken who follows me like a puppy making happy chicken noises.

This new creature has gone broody. Her biological clock has flipped some weird switch and she has stopped laying and is desperately protecting one of Maria’s infertile eggs. When that’s removed she is as hell bent on protecting absolutely nothing and is a fowl in a foul mood.

I now use gloves as I lift her from the nest dodging henpecks. Once out she screams and flaps her feathers indicating her frustration at being ousted from her invisible eggs with their invisible chicks forming in them. She clucks worriedly.

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Pacing all around the run she is locked out of.

Since a setting hen only takes short breaks to eat and drink a bit and stretch her legs, most broodies get skinny. She is not herself when she is hungry. She is also making life difficult for Maria by hogging the prime egg laying box. Maria waits patiently for her turn and then finally squeezes in and awkwardly gives the Baroness another potential chick to hatch. Oh and I’m down to one egg layer now as broodies don’t offer up poached, fried, scrambled or egg salad. The broodiness is also catching and sweet-tempered Maria may fall prey.

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She tries all sorts of crazy cirque moves to try to get back to her invisible clutch.

IMG_0539.jpgIMG_0572.jpgIMG_0565.jpgIf not for the growling and biting I might feel sorry for her.

The cure includes:

  1. Gloves and courage and picking her up out of the nesting box
  2. Remove Maria’s egg out from under the Baroness pronto
  3. Locking them both out of the coop after Maria has had her morning egg
  4. Inserting a bag of frozen peas or ice cubes under her tummy
  5. Pen the offender in a cage — solitary confinement – with no nesting material

The results:

  1. She sees me coming with the gloves and we go at it until she is removed from the box…literally kicking and screaming.
  2. Baroness doesn’t really care if she is laying on an actual egg or not. She has a vivid imagination.
  3. She finds a suitable “nest” pretty much anywhere, fluffs up her feathers and sits ALL DAY in that spot.
  4. The peas melt and are canabalistically and joyfully eaten by Maria. The ice cubes happily turn into nice warm water in a ziplock.
  5. Last resort… solitary… coming up

“I find that gently removing the broody hen from the nest, taking any eggs she is sitting on, and then releasing her at the far end of the run where I have some special treats for everyone, generally works in just a few days,” says Lisa Steele in Fresh Eggs Daily. Clearly she has not encountered The Baroness. We are on day eight of the battle. She has taken to sharpening her beak on any solid object.

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Steely-eyed determination
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The flap after the scream.

So much for “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” The Baroness is haunting my dreams.  My Rent the Chicken  farmer says I can send her packing and get a replacement if she doesn’t get her act together and give me eggs to make fluffy cakes again. Mmmm…would you do that to a friend with Henopause who becomes ill tempered as she copes with a hormonal issue? Maybe if the friend bites…

The great chicken coop escape

 

IMG_8268.jpgThe girlies would tell you this tale if they could but their typing is hunt and peck at best and would take far too long. I think the whole event confuses them as well. An aside… Did you know chickens have a great memory and can differentiate between more than 100 human or animal faces. They love to play, they dream (about eating millions of bugs?), they mourn for each other and they feel pain and distress. They also make great moms — they talk to their chicks while still in the egg and turn the eggs about 50 times a day.

IMG_8288.jpgA week into chicken husbandry I am still getting up at 6 a.m. to check on them. In my pjs, no coffee on board, I duck into their coop to change the water and hear the run latch gently click shut with me inside.

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The run is some distance from the house and the sleeping Handyman who decidedly  does not wake up at 6 a.m.

Three old ladies stuck in a lavatory”

The old weird song lyrics start going through my head…

Oh, dear, what can the matter be
Three old ladies locked in the lavatory
They were there from Monday to Saturday
Nobody knew they were there

I try using a stick to poke through the hardware cloth and lift the latch up.

The first one’s name was Elizabeth Porter
She went in to be rid of some overdue water
And she stayed there far more than she ought to
And nobody knew she was there.

Maria and The Baroness are watching me curiously. (Re side note…they are smarter than you think.) I then try pushing the hardware cloth out, with a fair bit of force, in several spots. The Handyman is really good at building things and the coop is racoon-proof, or so we thought.

The second one’s name was Elizabeth Pomphrey
She went in and made herself comfy
Then she said: “Girls, I can’t get my bum free.”
And nobody knew she was there

After only a week with my new pals we aren’t super comfortable with each other. They are eyeing me suspiciously and making low murmuring sounds. Another aside…Researchers have shown that there are at least 24 different sounds chickens make and maybe as many as 30. While chickens don’t have nearly the vocabulary that us humans have, and their chicken brains don’t allow for abstract and deep conversations, they are still a very vocal and conversational critter.

I finally hit on the solution and break a few zip ties that are securing a set of overlapping panels of the hardware cloth and make my great escape. Coffee!

The last one’s name was Elizabeth Carter
She was known as a world renowned farter
She went in and played a sonata
And nobody knew she was there.

Later that day The Handyman installed a rope gizmo allowing the latch to be opened from the inside as well.

 

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The day after the escape from the coop I woke at 6 to find the nesting box door hanging open. I ran to the coop expecting it to be empty or a scene of indescribable carnage but found the girlies milling about in the run, all feathers accounted for. The new bungee addition makes the coop really racoon proof.

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Chicken TV

Because chickens are clever creatures, each occupying a different role in the pecking order, keeping them in your backyard gives you a chance to see the individual personalities and quirks. Maria is fascinated by holes of any kind. She is also the boss.

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Here she is sorting out the perfect spot for a dustbath. Distracted momentarily, The Baroness steals her spot… not for long. After a dust up Maria reclaims her throne.

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The girls and The Handyman

Despite being told I am the chicken lady and in sole charge, I catch The Handyman letting the girls out when he is working on the farm…and he talks to them and makes a special clucking noise. The exercise king, here he is taking them on a little jog…which is funny itself. Something about chickens running cracks me up.

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A taste of country life

I love our chickens. Who would have thought it. They are curious, interesting, sweet creatures who demand little and give us eggs daily. I feel good about giving them great food, room to roam and a nice, cruelty-free life.

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Hens with Benefits

They give us breakfast in return and lovely fluffy cakes.IMG_8150.jpg

Chicks are hip – the revival of back-yard chickens

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Meet The Baroness … a Black Sex Link in her laying prime

Ordered on Black Friday as my Christmas present I had to wait months for my May Christmas morning chicken delivery which I anticipated with almost ponyesque excitement.

My grandmother would be astonished to know how eagerly anticipated my chickens were. “In my day they were meat and eggs and they would never be named,” I hear her say in my head as she long since gone. She would also be very perplexed that I am RENTING my two laying hens from Rentthechicken. com and have read up on all the treats I can feed them such as a half a watermelon, which now on the grocery list.

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Maria sticking her neck out for treats.

Chickens seem to be a perfect convergence of the economic, environmental, foodie and emotional matters of the moment, plus, in the past few years, they have undergone an image rehabilitation so amazing that it should be studied by social media experts. Why do posts of a grinning person holding a garden variety chicken get thousands of likes?

Now that my chickens have arrived I am the object of more pure envy than I have ever experienced in my life. (I kind of like it.) I can’t count the number of friends that want to know all about chicken raising before they decided to give it a shot. I’m thinking of charging an admission fee to see them.

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They forage for food all day long!

Until the nineteen-fifties, it was common to keep a few chickens around. They were cheap and easy to raise. Some table scraps and bugs, a coop and you were good to go.  A hundred years ago, a chick cost about fifteen cents and a laying hen a few dollars. A hen in her prime, which lasts two or three years, could produce an egg every day or two in the laying season, and once she stopped laying she could be cooked.

Then came urbanization, the supermarket, the egg cholesterol scare, giant egg farms and you know the rest and all the horrible images of tens of thousands of birds crammed into a giant industrialized egg laying factories. (After hanging out with these friendly, curious and surprising un-bird brained creatures I feel even more strongly about giving them a nice life…)

Renting the girls will give me a good taste of what’s involved in chicken husbandry without worry about wintering them over or fully committing to the idea. I can adopt them permanently if I get attached or request the same pair again next summer.

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My first two eggs.

Here are some observations after a couple of days of chickening.

  1. They are friendly…at least they seem so once they established that every time they see me I’m holding out some scratch, freeze-dried mealy worms, prize dandelion leaves, grapes, a bit of toast or to-die-for apparently…tattertots.
  2. Chickens make a wide-range of cool noises from a sort of purring sound to a happy cackle after egg-laying that I interpreted as I MADE EGG!!!!! But research says the egg-song made a distance away from the just laid nice warm egg is to distract predators from the bounty.
  3. There is a pecking order and a bit of squabbling between the ladies. The Baroness took a good peck to the neck over a grape squabble but shook it off like a prize fighter.
  4. Their legs and feet are kind of creepy and dinosaur looking and their toes are very flexible.
  5. Finding the first set of eggs was pretty cool, OK really cool, cooler than it should have been, but really, really cool.
  6. I’m losing sleep. I get up with the chickens to make sure they are OK. I imagine I will chill out soon. I had a reason to worry this morning. The door to the nesting area of their coop was wide open this morning and I had spotted a racoon in the hood last evening. It’s like the racoon was pulling up at a drive-through…just checking for his egg McMuffin. The girlies were OK but the nesting box is getting a second latch today.
  7. I like them!
  8. I was shown how to pick them up so I can have one of those Instagram grinning-person-holding-a-chicken photos but haven’t gotten up the nerve yet.
  9. You haven’t lived, if you are chicken, until you have had a dust bath. They really, really, really like it and fling dirt around, loll around, flap wings…
  10. Still not sure if chickens have lips.
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Maria was shy at first but is coming out of her shell.
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Egg salad sandwich in the making.
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Omelette with fresh herbs from the garden and Upper Bench Winery & Creamery Brie.
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Marie from Rent The Chicken in Kamloops letting the girls out with The Handyman looking on.
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Hand feeding. I’m working on getting them to come when called, “chick, chick, chick, chick” so I can let them do some free-ranging.

How do you solve a problem like Maria?

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My Rent The Chicken, named Maria, is a rare Partridge Chantecler.

This year’s Christmas present is a pair of laying hens from Marie and Ron McGivern’s farm  in Kamloops, a coop, feed and some help getting up and running. My RentTheChicken.com pals will be delivered in May and picked up again in October, unless I get so attached I will need to give them a forever home…

Marie has indulgently agreed to let me choose my hens now and says she will band them and help them get used to their new names… Maria and The Baroness. They are such smart feather-brains that they will come when called or when called and a bowl of feed shaken…same, same.

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The Baroness is Black Sex-Link, so called because the hens and roosters are different colours as chicks so easy to tell apart.

 I can’t seem to stop singing wherever I am. And what’s worse, I can’t seem to stop saying things — anything and everything I think and feel.

It will be interesting to see how the two ladies will get along. They will get a trial run paired up together before being delivered Marie says as, “hen pecked and pecking order” are real things. I may be dooming them from the start with their names but without Rooster Georg in the mix they may be OK with some brown paper packages tied up with string, whiskers on kittens, snowflakes that stay on my nose and my lashes…

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Marie kindly sent me a photo of Maria who is a pretty special Canadian.

Somewhere out there is a lady who I think will never be a nun. Auf Wiedersehen, darling.

Maria may never be a nun but a monk is responsible for her breeding. The Chantecler breed was developed in the early 1900’s by Brother Wilfred Chatalain, a monk who resided and worked at the Oka Agricultural Institute in Quebec, my home province. He was in charge of the poultry yards there, and one day gave his visiting father a tour of the facilities. After viewing the various breeds housed at the Institute, his father remarked that there seemed to be no uniquely Canadian breed. That gave Wilfred the idea to create the first Canadian breed of chicken. He decided it would have all the traits necessary for superior winter laying ability and at the same time be a superior meat bird. He worked on his creation from 1908 until 1918 when the first Chantecler was released to the public.The breed is very suitable for colder climates. They have a super small comb so their head literally doesn’t freeze off in winter. They are very good layers, also in winter months, with an average egg production of 200 a year that weigh around 60 grams. The egg colour is pale brown.

The Partridge Chantecler was developed approximately 30 years after the White Chantecler, by Dr J E Wilkinson of Edmonton Alberta, my other home province. Just as Brother Wilfrid made a series of crosses to come up with his “ideal”, so did Dr Wilkinson. Ultimately he came up with a bird that he called the “Albertan”. It is important to note that they actually had nothing at all to do with Brother Wilfrid’s White Chanteclers and that they were essentially completely different breeds. However when Dr Wilkinson submitted his “Partridge Albertan” birds for recognition by the American Poultry Association, they did accept them but then rather arbitrarily renamed them as a Partridge Chantecler, much to his huge disappointment.

Chantecler, Partridge Albertan… both developed in Canada these breeds almost went the way of the dodo but thanks to farmers like Marie and Ron this Canuck breeds are making a come back. It is a friendly breed that is reliable towards it’s fosterer. I have confidence in sunshine, I have confidence in rain, I have confidence in confidence alone that I can raise chickens… Helps to have a friendly one I imagine.

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Marie’s photo of The Baroness.

Oh Georg, if I had known we were going to have a sing along I would have brought my harmonica.

Black Sex-links are cross-bred chickens whose color at hatching is differentiated by sex,  making chick sexing easier.  Sex-links can be extremely good egg-layers which often produce 300 eggs a year or more depending on the quality of care and feed. The Baroness is going to be an omelette queen. The color of their eggs vary according to the mix of breeds and blue-green eggs are possible. (How cool would that be?)

Blacks are a cross between a  Rhode Island Reg or New Hampshire or rooster and a Barred Rock hen.

You know how Sister Berthe always makes me kiss the floor after we’ve had a disagreement? Well, lately I’ve taken to kissing the floor whenever I see her coming, just to save time.

I may be counting my chickens before the hatch anticipating my May Christmas gift but it feels good to put faces to the names. Next…chicken raising research…so I can solve a problem like Maria…

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