...sometimes even a single feather is enough to fly. (Robert Maclean)


more adventures and mishaps with chickens

So much has been happening with our flock since I last wrote about them.
It's definitely gotten crazier and crazier around here.

(The things we do for these chickens... I tell ya!)

Brahmie, our special needs hen -- is still with us...!

She can ambulate a little by flapping her wings and taking a few steps.
She loves being fed comfrey leaves, sunflower seeds, worms, and any kind of treat.
She continues to lay eggs and has totally surprised us by being able
to walk / flap herself 20' into her spot in the coop at night all by herself!

Here's Kalinda, our cuckoo maran.
She's only a little over a year old, and she's had a rough and tumble time of it lately.
She lost her sibling Buttercup to a hawk last fall.
She lost her remaining sister Wynonna to the fox late this spring,
not to mention that Kalinda narrowly escaped the fox attack herself.

If you look closely at Kalinda, you can see that on her left side and up around her back
there are some patches where her feathers are a darker color --
that's where she was injured and has since healed. 
The fox basically had her in his/her clutches, but luckily she lived to tell the tale.

The day of the fox attack we heard all of the commotion and ran outside.
We must have gotten there just in time for her get away, 
startling the fox from its killing frenzy.

That was a horrible, horrible day. 


You might be wondering how Brahmie, our special needs hen, managed to survive the fox attack.
We think the fox never made it into the coop that morning.

Most of the flock was foraging all over their fenced yard --
they have an automatic door that lets them out at sunrise,
and they're eager to get going.

 (Now we keep them locked up securely in their attached run until much later in the morning,
more on that below, too...!).

So, Brahmie's limited ability to get out of the coop is actually what saved her.
She definitely knew what was going on, though, her adrenaline clearly kicked in.
When we found her, she had managed to FLY herself up onto a high perch,
to get as safe as she possibly could.
A stroke survivor and a fox survivor.
Now that is some serious resilience...!


 Our other survivors were Goldie and Commie.
Commie survived because her vision isn't what it used to be
and she's one of the last ones out of the coop in the morning.
She was still in the coop when the fox came,
and she was smart enough to stay in the coop.

Goldie, when I found her, was waaaaaaaaaaaaaay down in our fenced woods,
quietly hiding in fright.  I can only imagine what she witnessed.

If chickens are capable of having PTSD,
I imagine both Kalinda and Goldie would benefit from some therapy.

Unfortunately we didn't get out there in time to save our other girls.
Our 4 year old hens from our original flock
Jersey, Lorpie, Specky
and our two one-year-old hens, Betty and Wynonna.
Rest in Peace, sweet girlies.
We're so sorry we couldn't protect you from that damn fox.


We beat ourselves up for awhile about it.
We had been trying to sleep in for the first time in what felt like forever...  
We were exhausted from dealing with Calvin's cancer, his health demands, and his restless nights.

We heard a ruckus from the crows mixed in with chicken ruckus, which is not all that unusual --
chickens make a ruckus when they lay an egg, and crows are very vocal birds.
We thought they were just having a territory dispute or something.

We still wonder if we could have saved them.
But we could have just as easily been in the shower
or in the kitchen with the morning radio on,
and not even heard the attack at all,
and potentially have lost the whole flock. 

What-ifs are futile.

I try to feel grateful and good about the life we were able to provide them,
for as long as they were able to live it.

We buried the girls by covering them with comfrey and self-heal flowers.
Boo planted some wonderful plants there to remember them by.

We love you, girlies.
Thank you for everything.
After the fox attack, we felt really defeated.  
Not only were we so sad about the loss of our girls,
and the awful deaths they had,
we were also frustrated by how difficult it is to keep them safe. 
We have so many protections in place, and still this happened.

Briefly we thought about getting out of chicken keeping altogether.
The emotional impact of losing creatures you love,
especially in such a tragic way...
it really takes a toll.  

So we thought about letting the remaining girls live out their days,
and taking our chances with the foxes and hawks and the whatevers.

But it was too quiet.  Too empty.  Too sad.
It didn't take long before we both nodded our heads and said, Let's Do It.
Time for some new life...
Time for more chicks!


So we waited a little bit to see if Commie would go broody.  Like she always does.
Well, she didn't.  So we ordered 9 chicks.  (and they sent 11!)

Then, guess who went broody the very same day the baby chicks arrived at the post office?
Yep.  Good old Commie.  
She got the broody bug again, just 2 weeks too late. 

She then sat and sat so devotedly while we were raising up the Littles in the indoor brooder.
We shook our heads at her and said, "Too Bad, Girlfriend.  You waited too long."
Day after day we saw her sitting, barely eating, barelymoving,
just being earnest about her motherhood. 

So we caved.  Like we tend to do.
We decided to order her some baby girls, 3 mystery rare breed chicks, to be exact.
Two weeks later, we popped those babies under her in the cloak of darkness
and the next morning, like magic once again,
she was mothering them at sunrise
after keeping them warm underneath her fluff all night.

Within a day or so, she ventured outside with them
to teach them all about the world.


 So now we have The Littles and The Very Littles.

(Though now that it's almost 11 weeks later,
we're calling them "The Mediums" and "Commie's Babes.")

Commie has been an excellent mother, as usual.

One day we heard a ruckus
and it was because a young hawk had swooped down
in an attempt to get them.
She was calling in distress for her babies.
We searched and searched for them, and couldn't find a single one.
We thought they were all goners.

Boo gave up, but I kept looking.
After what seemed like forever, and just when I was about to give up, too,
I thought I heard some little peeps mixed in with the ongoing bird songs.
I strained and listened carefully... It was a peep!
Several peeps!

(They must have been quiet while they were scared,
until they thought it was safe to make a sound again.)

I pulled back the brush and there they were...
It was the most joyful reunion and the biggest relief!!!


Commie proved herself a wonderful mother in even more ways.
One day Boo heard a ruckus and came out to find her wrestling with a water snake
that she must have felt was a threat to her or her babies.

What a mamma!!!


Thelma and Louise.
Thelma, on the left, is a buff brahma.
Louise, on the right, is a speckled sussex -- and was a bit of a runt.
She wasn't sickly in any way, just very slow-developing. 
Her nickname is Weezy.
Thelma and Weezy really love hanging out together.

And this is a very dirt-covered Xena.
Her name ended up being very fitting - she is curious, bold, and independent.
She strays the furthest from her mother to see what's going on, much to her mother's chagrin.


So, between the 11 we got, and then the 3 that Commie "hatched"
it's really been chick city around here.

Chicks are tons and tons and tons of fun to watch!

(FYI, if you like these funky art posts,  you can find more info by clicking here.)
(FYI if you like these funky art posts, you can find more by clicking here.)
Everyone is all integrated into our main coop at this point.  

 The Mediums
Above, on the left side of the feeder:
Connie - buff orpington, just like Commie. 
Wellie 2.0 - a welsummer
Buttercup 2.0 - a barred plymouth rock
Joni - a Jersey Giant
Ernesta - an Easter Egger w/ smoky gray and black tones
On the right side of the feeder:
Jewel:  a Jersey Giant
Willa: a silver-laced wyandotte
Emmaline 2.0 - yep, another Easter Egger rooster -- i.e. another sexing failure at the hatchery!
Daisy: a dominique!

So if you counted that line-up, that's 9, not the 11 that we started with.
Unfortunately, the hawks found the Mediums.
Within one week, a hawk got two.
Both times I intercepted, chased the hawk off and interrupted the kill, 
but neither time did I get there quickly enough to prevent their death.  
Betty #2 died in Boo's arms, and Ruby was gone when I got her. 
After Betty died, we spent the entire day trying to hawk-proof their area:
We ran probably 1000' feet of fishing line from post to post
in a wild zig zag, it felt like weaving a dream catcher,
a spell of protection over the girls...
It took an entire day -- it was a beast of a project, but we did it and we were proud of it...!
We thought it worked, and it seemed to...
I even noticed the hawk overhead take a prolonged pause
checking out all of the shimmering lines meant to dissuade it from descending.
I thought it decided it wasn't worth the trouble.
Only a matter of days later, the hawk decided to test the lines.
When I intercepted it, it seemed it had discovered that the fishing line is flexible,
and breaking a couple of lines wasn't a big deal. 
It used our garage roof to get in and out.

That's when the hawk got Ruby,
after all of that effort to keep the Mediums safe.
And that's when I declared a lockdown.
 This ain't no drill, girls!
We rounded them up and got their fluffy fannies in the coop.
Sidenote:  our fishing line project was not entirely a waste.
a) we learned it doesn't work, which is helpful to know what NOT to bother doing and
b) the pole beans have totally loved spreading out more on those lines...!
So, we've been in lockdown mode for much of the summer, unfortunately,
but they're slowly getting more freedom, albeit with supervision or new safety implements in place.
The girls hate being on lockdown.
So do we.
But it's better than them being dead.  
And us being sad.
We've heard so many stories from our neighborhood.
Of the surrounding chicken keepers, they've all had recent  losses to the foxes, 
and a friend down the road lost his ENTIRE FLOCK (of twenty four hens!)
one afternoon when he was gone for a couple of hours.  
(probably the nasty work of a weasel...)!!!

It's all so upsetting!!!
 Even though it sucks, while the girls have been in lockdown,
we've reminded them that it's temporary and for their own good.
We've been working diligently, taking more precautions for flock safety...
And trying to balance safety with quality of life (theirs and ours!).
Most people would say our balance is pretty wacky... 
given that our free time is devoted to chicken security.
Not to mention that we probably take the cake in terms of going to the nth degree.
So what steps have we taken recently to increase chicken security?
I'll see if I can remember...

- secured hardware cloth along the floor of the run to prevent digging predators
- added safety latches and bolts for latch-smart animals like raccoons
- combined the mediums with the main flock 
(more manageable instead of having multiple chicken zones to watch / secure)
- decreased the size of our chicken yard by gating off the lower area
- dropped lots of brush for safety / cover
- improved our chicken run with hardware cloth (and fun distractions for the girls)
- added improved fencing to weak areas 
- installed an aerial net like they use at game farms to keep raptors from landing
The only things we haven't done yet are:
-electrifying the fence
-killing the fox 
Both of those things are still totally on the table, though killing the fox is our absolute last resort.  
Our electric fence supplies are ready to go and we may do that anyway,
our only reluctance is that we don't want to shock / hurt our dogs or any harmless critters.
So, we'll see if we do that or not.
But... I know if any predators got in and killed our girls,
we'd regret not having electrified, so I think we should probably just do it...
Anyway, doing the net was a massive project.  
And I mean massive.
As in, totally overwhelming
As in, I was actually kind of freaking out,
looking at the 90'x90' area,
full of trees and brush and structures...
and wondering how in the world we could do it...
The hawks were coming ALL THE TIME, 
and it felt like it absolutely had to be done,
or else the girls were never going to be able to be out of lockdown.
   Lots of folks didn't even think it was possible.
But now it's there, 
and I'll tell you how we ultimately managed to get it there.
But the net took a long time to finally get up, 
and much trial and error and improvisation along the way.
In the mean time, 
we felt like we could only let the girls out of their locked run
 in the evening after our dinner --
and we'd stay with them until it got dark.  
Basically, we became chicken security guards.  
Scanning the skies, working in shifts

Family members teased me 
and said I looked more like a chicken gym teacher than a security guard,
because I was constantly wearing a crow call whistle around my neck.

What's the crow call for?
Well, for calling in the crows...!
The crows and blue jays have been great allies to us in terms of alerting us to predators... 
But not every time, so when I have seen hawks circling nearby, 
I have called the crows in, and typically, they chase the hawks off.  
It's an interesting dynamic to see one or two much smaller birds in the air, 
chasing off a hawk several times their size.  
It's like a David and Goliath of the skies.

We are grateful to them for their alerts, and their help escorting the hawks away.


Here's how to put overhead netting in your chicken yard that will
a) hopefully keep aerial predators like hawks out and 
b) doesn't feel claustrophobic

From some angles, you can hardly see our netting.

Other angles, it's more visible.  We had to let go of any desire for aesthetics.
Safety is way more important!

what you need:
- an existing perimeter fence
- plenty of 100# strength laundry line.  Comes in 100' lengths in most hardware stores.
  (green blends in fairly well, so it gets our vote over white.)
- enough 2"x2"x8' pressure treated stakes for support roughly every 10'. 
- plenty of zip ties.  probably about 300 or so. 
- 1 5/8 (or 2" is fine) outdoor screws
- 2"x2" knotted nylon netting, enough for your area.  We needed (4) 50'x50' pieces.
- two people, but three or four is even better.

 Here's what we did first:
- site prep was critical... we cleared the area of any trees that were going to get in the way of the net spreading easily.  (some big trees that were near the edge we kept and simply cut a slit in the net and went around them, being careful not to wrap the trees too tightly.
- we cleared the area of any brush that was going to make running the netting treacherous in terms of our foot traffic or likely get caught on the netting
- we had to kill a nest of yellow jackets in the ground that were making the project even less fun. 

then we:
- secured laundry line from one end of the fence to the other, about every 10', simply by wrapping and twisting the ends.  We left a few feet of extra on either end, and left it hanging low instead of highly taut -- some slack in it helped with getting the bulky long pieces of net over it.

- unrolled / untangled the netting, one piece at a time.  

- secured the netting to the perimeter fence with zip ties.  

- lifted the netting  over each laundry line to spread it over the quadrant / area.  
We took it as far as it would go.  

- then we worked in some of the wooden stakes to lift the lines covered in net up.
(we first put two screws in the tops of the stakes, one slightly taller than the other, with enough of a gap to get the laundry line in -- but not too much that it wouldn't stay put.)

- we used existing structures to provide more lift / support, 
like our coop / run / garden shed, and some raised garden beds. 

- then we stitched on another square of netting with zip ties and repeated the process until it was all up and connected.

- at the end, went through and added more zip ties along the whole perimeter of the fence,
and tried to wrap around the edge trees without girdling them. 

Definitely cause for a celebratory dinner...
At last, I got to take off my crow call necklace!


Knock on wood, but we really can't see how a hawk could get in through all of the netting. 
And it has the added benefit of deterring any predators that might try to climb the fence 
because they could get all tangled up in the netting if they reach the top of the fence.

Squirrels and small songbirds have managed to get through,
but they're welcome visitors in the chicken yard.

Buttercup is happy!

We still keep the girls in their secure run until mid-morning, 
but then we let them out, tell them to have fun and be safe... 
Then they're happy as can be, and so are we!

 In fact, we're finally able to relax a little and start to tend to other things besides chickens...!

At night, the girls take themselves in, and we do the final securing of their little inner sanctum.  

Many of them manage to get up on top of their door to try to roost there for the night...!
It might also be to stay away from mean Aunt Goldie,
who comes over and tries to bully them off of their perch.

They sure are cute...

I love going in at dusk and transferring them all onto my arm,
and then gently placing them on their perch,
so I can close the door and say
"Good Night, Girls!.. and Boy!"
"Sweet Dreams all through the night!"
"See you in the morning light!"

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