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Oh my God.

Oh my God.

“How many eggs do we have?” Steve asked yesterday.

“One.” I said. “From the buttercup.

“You have useless chickens,” he told me.

And now? Stubbs is molting too.

Stubbs’ Nubs

Stubbs’ Nubs

A while ago, I did something not very nice. Shocker, I know.

I was visiting my mom, and our cousin took us to dinner at his new Italian restaurant. He had invited another couple, to return a dinner invitation. Or rather, he asked the guy, who brought along his latest squeeze. The restaurant was so crowded that we had to sit in the bar, wait times for food were averaging about 45 minutes, and the waitstaff had that frenzied, “Oh my God” look in their eyes. The squeeze couldn’t just order off the menu–oh no, she had to ask for veal piccata, only made with chicken. “I hate animal cruelty,” she explained. “It makes me just sick to think about those poor little calves not being able to move.”

She was driving me a little bonkers anyway, so I went for it. “The chickens can’t move either,” I said, conversationally.

“What do you mean?” she asked, blinking her mascara at me.

“They stuff chickens in boxes so small they can’t move and breed them with breasts so big they couldn’t walk anyway even if they had room. Oh, and they shave off their beaks, too. So really, eating veal is just as humane.”

I know, I know. Not very nice. She was obnoxious, and it was STILL not very nice. But this is the kind of selective thinking that drives me crazy. I am the first to admit that my own meatball dish probably came from factory cows, and they’re not treated that much better–at least in the finishing stages. As a country, we spend five billion dollars a year on our pets, yet the way we treat ALL animals destined for our plates is appalling. It takes a lot of work–and a lot of money–to find sources or truly organic and truly free-range meat. And it’s true that we all make compromises of one sort or another in our quests. But to choose factory chickens over veal for reasons of animal cruelty is just, well, it’s just stupid.

And then, you encounter an example of senseless cruelty. Meet Stubbs, the toeless chicken. Someone just lopped them off. She’s a nice little chicken, and Carrie–who gave her to me–assures me that she lays an egg a day. (I haven’t found her nest yet–it’s time for a Stubbs stakeout.) And while she gets around just fine and her toelessness doesn’t seem to bother HER, I confess that it bothers ME.

Can you blame me?
Stubbs' nubs

From rooster to roaster, and back again

From rooster to roaster, and back again

I eat meat; therefore, I think it’s important to be honest about where meat comes from and slaughter a chicken if it’s called for.

Called for it was: I had three extra roosters. My plan for today was to kill and roast them up. But I just couldn’t do it. I had raised the Houdini twins and Madame Bovary (who ended up being Monsieur) from wee baby chickiepoos. They would come running over whenever they saw me, and peck at my hair, thinking it was something toothsome. I would have no problem killing the Welsummers (who, by the way, have now entered a fevered molt now that they are deloused) because I’m not attached. So I sold the three on Craig’s List instead.

And bought a barred rock.

I know WHERE the uncaged hen lays

I know WHERE the uncaged hen lays

I won’t bore you with the details of the stakeout, but it’s pretty exciting: I found two mother lodes–one from the buttercup (seven eggs) and one from Stubbs (only two eggs, so I think she has another stash).

They can free range again.

Kiyoshi Saito meets garage art

Kiyoshi Saito meets garage art

Or rather, Kiyoshi Saito meets crazy chicken lady meets crazy chicken lady’s unemployed boyfriend meets the alley-facing back of our garage.

But that wouldn’t fit in the title area. And it probably wouldn’t make a lot of sense. Not that the name Kiyoshi Saito necessarily makes a lot of sense either, unless you’re a fan of sosaku hanga.

Anyway, I have a Kiyoshi Saito woodblock print of two roosters called Competition for a Charm. I love it. There are other prints of his that I covet fiercely and can’t afford, but I remember this one from my childhood, when it hung in my parents room. It went with me to college and it has been with me in every place since.

And of course, now I have become a crazy chicken lady with a boyfriend that has too much time on his hands. Not, you understand, that I’m complaining. “We need some chicken art on the back of the garage,” he said the other day. “I know what I’ll do!”**

chickenart

**Steve credits his inspiration to Joy Wants Eternity. If anyone should feel so inclined, he would love free tickets.

I know why the uncaged hen doesn’t lay

I know why the uncaged hen doesn’t lay

The welsummers haven’t laid a single egg. Now this could be normal because from everything I’ve read, it can take several weeks for them to get over the trauma of being moved. But again, you don’t know why they’ve been sold at auction. Perhaps they’re just old. “Check their vents,” one Web site urged. “If they are moist, they’re of egg bearing age. If dried and puckered, the hens have probably outlived their usefulness.”

(If the above grosses you out, read no further.)

So I checked their vents. This, for the unititated, basically means running around after chickens who don’t want to be caught, rounding them up and herding them into the coop, and lunging at their feet–at which point you dangle them upside down. The hens don’t like this, but at some point, they give up–and just kind of go stiff, like they’re dead. Which made life much easier.

And which made it much easier to see that they were crawling–CRAWLING–with lice. There were eggs crusted around their vents, creepy crawlies scurrying over their skin. It was gross, and those poor hens must have been miserable.

Now I had dusted them before they went into the coop in the first place, but obviously it didn’t work. So I dusted them again with diatomaceous earth (which, by the way, totally kills any chicken poo smell in the coop and I’ve started adding to their feed as a dewormer), and went down to Del’s to get a permethrin spray. I would like to be all natural and everything, but sometimes you just need to use chemicals. Came back, cleaned out the coop, sprayed it down. Caught ALL the chickens, sprayed them down too (though no one else seemed to have lice). This was Sunday; yesterday, they were clean and clear.

So what I think is that they just had a bad infestation and stopped producing–and that’s why they went at auction. Could be wrong, but it’s a working theory that allows me to the luxury of thinking that one day they will produce.

Oh, and I battened down the hatches of the run yesterday. The buttercup and Stubbs both gave me an egg. So there’s a clutch of eggs somewhere out there in the yard ….

Are we boys or girls?

Are we boys or girls?

Chicken experts weigh in! At 9 weeks, I’m thinking all these guys are roosters; Carrie thinks there’s still a good possibility they might be hens.

The mysterious egg

The mysterious egg

Sunday morning, I reached into the coop and pulled out an egg. It wasn’t white, so it must have been laid by a Welsummer. Even though it was more of an ecru color than the terracotta Welsummers are supposed to produce, I rejoiced. “Look!” I crowed to Steve. “Another hen is laying!” And then I scrambled it up with an Old Faithful egg and two eggs from the grocery store, and we feasted at least partially on our own eggs.

About an hour later, our neighbor Adam from two houses up knocked on the door. “One of your chickens is in my backyard,” he said.

“Great,” Steve said. “Let me grab a wine cooler and a plastic lawn chair. There’s no better entertainment than watching Zia trying to catch her chickens.”

“Very funny,” I said, and we all trooped into the alley. There was a brown and white chicken standing confused right in the middle. She clucked. So did I.

“That’s not my chicken.”

“Well whose is it?” asked Adam.

“Oh my God,” I said remembering the chicken-trading conversation I had had with Carrie the day before. “Maybe it IS my chicken. Does she have no toes?”

At the point, I was next to the chicken. Sure enough, it was Stubbs, the chicken with no toes who lays an egg a day that Carrie no longer wanted. And sitting right next to her–also in the middle of the alley–was an egg so fresh that it steamed. She had obviously laid it right then and there. It looked identical to the one I had pulled out of the coop–but that would have meant laying two eggs in 12 hours. Which I don’t think is possible.

I managed to catch her despite the snide comments from the boys. Put her back by the coop, where she has been ever since. The question is about the first egg. Was it a Welsummer egg? Did Stubbs manage to squeeze out two in 24 hours? Sadly, that was the last egg I’ve gotten from anyone. Now that all the kids are official free-rangers, I have this suspicion that they’ve found a better place to lay than the coop. A place that I will never, ever find.

I want eggs!

“It’s been a long, hard day free ranging.”

“It’s been a long, hard day free ranging.”

Chicks!

Don't forget me!

Steve has been complaining that I don’t post any of his pictures, to which I say, “Get your own blog.” However, to be fair, I will say that he was right and I was wrong about the height of the roost. Okay, Steve, does that make you feel better?

Henopause

Henopause

Which is what I am hoping is NOT the reason that the four Welsummers I bought aren’t laying yet. It’s been two weeks; supposedly, this should be enough time for the little stewpots to get over the trauma of moving. And really, there is NOTHING traumatic about their existence. Trust me. They have a nice comfy place to sleep, lots of yummy organic mash and daily treats, fresh water, and a carefree existence. A very carefree existence: Geoff and I like the idea of everyone free-ranging. I mean really free ranging, not just hanging out in their 150 square foot run.

freerange-006

(In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that today is the first time I’ve just opened the gate; the Houdini twins–two of the chickiepoo crosses–have been squeezing out the gate for eons.)

But have the Stewpots given me a single egg? Nope. Nothing. Nada. The only eggs we’re getting are from the buttercup, who is coming to be known as Old Faithful. She lays eggs more often than what I’ve read about buttercups. I think she’s just so happy not to have a rooster coming after her all the time that she’s laying eggs doubletime in gratitude

So the question is whether they’re going through henopause. It’s either that, or they’re molting. Such is the risk of getting chickens at auctions: Who knows why they were given up?

Like clockwork

Like clockwork

Another egg from the buttercup this evening.

So … what should I name her? Please don’t suggest Buttercup …

Winner! Best chicken-related Craig’s List ad.

Winner! Best chicken-related Craig’s List ad.

roosters one or both hen needs divorce
I have 2 roosters, this is their second year now, they are not aggressive, more tame, used to dogs and horses. They are vocal as roosters should be. The hen is frigid and tired of rooster noodles. I need sleep, the hen needs her feathers back. They are her sons and they dont care. Help please.

You CAN have roosters in Seattle

You CAN have roosters in Seattle

All these people were telling me that you can’t keep roosters in Seattle. I kept insisting you can because there’s nothing in Seattle Municipal Code for the keeping of animals (including domestic fowl) that prohibits it. It says you can’t have a farm animal if you have fewer than 10,000 square feet, and that you can’t have a miniature goat if it’s not neutered or dehorned — but at no point does it say you can’t keep roosters.

After the guy at McClendon’s who helped me get chicken wire and fence posts informed me that it’s against the law to keep roosters in Seattle, I broke down and called the city clerk’s office. The answer? Yes, you can keep roosters–but be aware that your neighbors may hate your guts and there are noise ordinances they can complain about.

Which is a good thing. Because I am positive at least five of mine are boys–and probably more like seven.

Out of nine.

Headed off to the chicken auction in enumclaw today to get some layers. Adios!

“So, can we eat them yet?”

“So, can we eat them yet?”

It’s not so much that Steve wanted to eat them as much as he wanted to get them out of the house. So we hooked up a light and put them in the coop yesterday. And that means it’s official: We are now empty nesters

Here they are, all snug last night.
abouttime

Here’s the coop, which I painted today.
abouttime

And here they are, cavorting around the lower section of the coop. These are some HAPPY little chickies.
abouttime

abouttime

abouttime

abouttime

abouttime

Blue Chicken Genetics

Blue Chicken Genetics

Or, why I am becoming a crazy chicken lady.

Blue chicken genetics is fascinating. You may remember that I purchased four blue birchen marans chicks a few weeks ago, and also got four free crosses. Blue birchen marans are pretty rare, and it’s hard finding good pictures of them online. Just to describe what they are, here’s a quick rundown.

Marans (always with the “s,” even if there’s only one of them) is the breed of chicken. It’s a French breed that lays chocolate brown eggs. (This is fascinating in and of itself because the brown color isn’t in the shell as with most eggs; instead, it’s a pigment that the chicken overlays on the egg in the oviduct. Basically, it’s spray painted on. I have absolutely no idea what the genetic, survival of the fittest purpose of this extra step is.)

Birchen is a pattern of either gold or silver on the head that shows up as this kind of netted effect from the crown through the neck on the hens. Google birchen hens to see what it looks like.

And then there’s the blue. Blue in chickens is more of a gray with a blue tinge. It’s a lovely color. The blue gene is a recessive dominant, which basically means this: If a chicken has one blue gene, any black coloring is lightened to this blue color. If a chicken has two blue genes, any black coloring is lightened to white. Two-gened chickens are referred to as splash because they are predominantly white with some blue splashes.

Okay, this is where I get really obsessive. I have found a chicken calculator online.

Yes. A chicken calculator. You plug in the phenotype (or actual genes if you know them) of the parents, and get a punnet square of the resultant offspring. Then you can continue with the line.

I was really curious about the crosses I got, and what they would look like.

This is their father, a splash marans (well, a picture of what the father looks like–not the actual father:
splashcockerel

And this is what their mother looks like, a silver laced wyandotte bantam:
slwybtyp

According to the chicken calculator, all the offspring should be unicolor. Which bummed me out because I was hoping for some lacing, which I think is beautiful. But, keep in mind that there are lots of genes that can achieve the same effect–and these genes don’t necessarily all show up in the phenotypes you’re describing.

And lookee here. This little percher appears to have blue lacing.
stuff-011

Welcome to the South Seattle Home for Wayward Hens

Welcome to the South Seattle Home for Wayward Hens

Still a couple of tweaks needed here and there (mainly the chicken door to the outside area that will have electric netting) and I have yet to give the place a good coat of paint. But for the most part, the Home for Wayward Hens is done and ready for occupancy.

Of course, I strongly suspect I have something like seven roosters. But anyway.

I know some might scoff at this chicken coop, given the gorgeous plans that abound online. So I feel compelled to add that this coop–not including our labor obviously–cost a total of $47 to build: $32 for the chicken wire and and additional $15 for a piece of board that Steve needed for right below the roof. The rest of the material was scrap. I believe the hip word is “reclaimed.” The frame is all from the old decking Steve replaced a couple years ago. The roof is made from metal panels he got free from a job. And the, what do you call them, little piling things at the base? Those we scavenged from the alley.

So here we go. Remember how Steve (who you note has lost his customary title of Mr. Demo) replaced all the doors and trim in the house? This is the old door from the kitchen along with its trim. That’s where the wainscot came from too.
Front

The “egg door” here is from the old and decrepit built in from the kitchen that we replaced a month or two ago. Again, the trim is from inside the house, while the boards are sections of old fencing.Side

More fencing.
back

You know how you pass a construction site and there are all these huge panels blocking off access to the site and advertising the building it is about to become? That’s what the doors to the actual hen house are made of–Avenue One at First and Clay, which is the first job he worked on when we moved to Seattle. inside

And here’s inside the hen house. Six nesting boxes, made of the shelving from that cabinet at the end of the kitchen we ripped out. The actual roost is a little high, but that’s easily fixed.
nesting

And of course, the chickens need a way to get up into the house:
ladder

So there we have it.

Now, the only question is what color to paint it. I know I should continue with the whole reclaimed thing and just use the putty colored exterior paint we have in the garage. But it’s so boring …..