Cocka-doodle-living with a roo

About a year ago I moved to a property where not only did my 3 chickens become “legal,” I was able to expand in all sorts of ways. I’m thrilled with my mixed flock of 12, who have finally come together as one happy family.

While I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of my first eggs from the new pullets, I’m far more excited about the fact that my 5 month old rooster just started crowing a couple of weeks ago. I first heard him one morning when I had to leave early for work. I entered the dark coop to retrieve the bucket of scratch. Without warning he puffed up and let out a feeble crow. Perhaps he was embarrassed when I giggled, because he tried again and again until I got out of his house.

Since then his confidence has increased, as has his volume… as has his aggressiveness. The other morning while I was conducting my daily cleaning of the coop, he snuck up behind me and pecked at my eye. He got as close to my eyeball as one could get without poking a hole in it.

I’ve read a lot about dealing with roosters, and one common theme is not making a habit of having unpleasant interactions with them. Hector’s feathered little body is raging with hormones, and just like with kids – positive reinforcement is so much more effective than negative reinforcement or punishment. Based on that, I chose to not respond to his first attack (aside from the reactive OUCH that flew from my mouth when he got me.)

I have added a couple of routines to my daily chicken chores. I pick him up and carry him around for a few minutes. If he struggles to get away I hold him firmly, then I release him when he stops struggling (like a reward for being good!) While I’m holding him I talk softly, and offer a treat from my hand. I am also much more careful to be conscious of his whereabouts. It seems to bother him when I pick up poop, so I just wait until he walks by if I’m cleaning.

I haven’t seen any true mating attempts yet; just a fair amount of bossy interactions with the hens. The six girls that arrived with him in a box from  and the two chicks that Buffie hatched this summer graciously follow his lead. My original three Buff Orpingtons, one year older than him, are not quite ready for his leadership. Quite honestly, they have him scared silly. He quickly retreats anytime they wander in his direction. He lets them have the coveted top roost. It will be interesting to see how that  plays out!

As I’m making friends with Hector, I’m trying to craft the explanation for my young boys as to why he’s “mounting” the girls. We haven’t had any of those talks at our house yet!


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Pullet has injured toe

If there’s one thing I’ve been overly cautious about, it’s sanding anything wood that lands in the coop or run. A foot injury on a chicken is a bad deal – because they walk “bare foot” in dirt, poo, and anything else they can scratch up. Bare toes + walking in icky stuff = bacteria and problems like brumblefoot.

Despite my efforts, one of my pullets turned up with an injured toe this weekend. Peck and Scratch are two pullets hatched by one of my hens this summer. They are just over 3 months old, and they are inseparable. I first noticed blood on Peck’s head. I thought the naughty bigger chickens were pecking at her head from the roost above her. Upon inspection I found no injury. Because they are always together and Scratch was not happy about me inspecting her sister, I quickly noticed blood on one of her toes.

I cleaned her toe up and saw that most of her nail was missing, what was left had an open wound on the top of it. At that time it was still bleeding. I tried pressure for about 30 minutes, corn starch, and a styptic pen. Still bleeding. Finally I doused it in hydrogen peroxide and wrapped it with paper tape. I put her in my “hospital,” which is a currently vacant smaller coop. Poor Peck was beside herself with her sister missing, so I per her in the hospital too.

I kept a close eye on her over the weekend. Unfortunately, the paper tape was quickly removed by two curious beaks. At least it was on long enough to stop the bleeding. I’ve got lots of clean shavings for them to walk around on. I’ve been picking up poop so Scratch doesn’t walk in it. I’ve given her a couple of drops of Nutri drench and now I’m hoping for the best.

 There is something peculiar about this pair. They hatched under my broody hen from fertilized eggs that came from my mother-in-law’s coop. She has several Buff Orpingtons, and a couple of Plymouth Reds. Her rooster is a mixed breed – very colorful fellow. But these girls look a heck of a lot like a Delaware, with white feathers tipped with black only at the tail and neck. I’m not sure what their story is, but they are constantly being chased by my other hens. Perhaps they will like the peacefulness of the hospital and will decide to spend the winter there. I’m praying that the toe heals and we have no other incidents – I don’t think one could imagine life without the other.

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Enough already

When my 8 week old pullets started sleeping on top of the storage shelf in my coop, I laughed and deemed it ‘cute.’ Somewhere between that moment and 15 weeks, it became silly and annoying. All 7 insisted on sharing the same shelf. As they grew, they had to pile up  to fit on the shelf. I assumed when they got too big to fit, they’d figure out they were chickens and find their way to the roost. Instead they piled up double decker and created a holy mess on the shelf and each other.

Week 16 and counting… time to interfere. It was really the whole mouse in the house thing that got me going. I hauled everything out of the coop and disinfected with Clorox spray (you know, for the mouse germs). It took 20 minutes to get the caked on poo off the shelf (I had been removing loose poo daily, but it was a never-ending cycle!) Why continue the madness once  the shelf was clean?

I knew it would take more than a pile of stuff on the shelf to discourage my eager flock. The young chickens already had demonstrated my “stuff” was no match for their desire to sleep where they wanted. I used an old dust bath tub, an oversized dust pan, and a towel to create a surface that was not flat and unwelcoming for the chicks.

As chicken lovers know – change is a scary thing. This was a colossal diversion from status quo – and did not make for a calm bedtime. Every night for the first week I hung around until the crew decided it was bedtime. I observed the flap and flutter and squak and chaos that took place. I knew I couldn’t carry these frightened youngsters to their roost (I only know this because I tried). I simply wanted to make sure there were no serious injuries as a result of their fight for normalcy.

Finally everyone has settled down. Buffie’s babies (who we’ve named Peck and Scratch) are sharing a nest, and the rest have accepted their position on either the top or second highest roost. Phew!

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Mouse penetrates chicken coop walls

When I was a kid I religiously watched Little House on the Prairie. I remember one episode where several people in Walnut Grove and nearby communities came down with a fever, got very sick, and died. At the climax of that episode, Charles Ingalls found a shed full of bags of corn. To his dismay, the shed was infested with rats. The devilish little creatures were crawling around in the corn – the very same that the infected inhabitants had consumed. The diagnosis was suddenly clear – typhoid fever! “Burn that shed to the ground!” Charles ordered.

What does this have to do with chickens? Well, not much exactly – except for the fact that the remnant memories of that episode were invigorated when I saw a mouse scurry through my chicken coop this morning. As I often do, I was tidying up – moving things from here to there. In the process I disturbed a bag of shavings that had been residing under the nesting box. Evidently I scared the resident mouse out of his hiding spot and it scampered across the floor.

The last time I saw a mouse it was in an unfortunate position within the grips of a trap in the storage space in my basement. I clearly remember the following 5 minutes – I dropped the box I was moving, ran to find my husband, and proceeded to hyperventilate while trying to describe my crisis. What’s the big deal about a little mouse? At that time I wasn’t sure if it was a definite fear for the rodent itself, or a disgust of the germs and poop it was surely depositing on my floors. Based on my reaction today, I think it’s both.

First of all, how the heck did ANYTHING get inside my coop? I’ve got 1/2 inch hardware cloth dug a foot down and wrapped around everything that resembled a way to get in. Second of all, what disease will this rodent infect my precious flock with? And how do I get it out??

After a thorough inspection, it appears it chewed through the foam insulation portion of the door at the bottom. It was a small, tucked away hole that was probably worked on over time, so my routine inspections didn’t catch it. Problem #1 solved – hole is caulked shut. I guess my agenda has been set for tomorrow evening – full removal of all things from the coop. Oh well, a coop needs a good scrubbing before the deep freeze that is just a couple months away. Surely, that little creature will be uncovered and I’m just determined enough to catch him! More to come!

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Young Chicken Farmers earns book awards

As any writer knows, the publishing journey is one frought with anxiety, intensity, frustration, acceptance, and hopefully at some point – excitement. (Actually, many chicken farmers go through the same range of emotions, but for different reasons!) My first book Young Chicken Farmers: Tips for Kids Raising Backyard Chickens was published almost a year ago. I still remember driving home after my first trip to the warehouse to see the finished product. I drove home with my new book tucked under my wing, like I was mothering a baby chick. I was so proud, so excited, so curious of the world would love it!

I’ve been blessed with many opportunities to share my story with local newspapers, a couple of magazines, and lots of friends and family. I have found myself entrenched in conversations with people I barely know, sometimes about chickens and kids, sometimes about my publishing journey. This summer I received a precious gift – two Benjamin Franklin awards!

My husband and I took a risk and made an investment in a trip to New York City for the 2013 award gala when I learned I was a finalist in three categories. When we first arrived at the gala, I quickly located a program and searched for the other finalists I was competing against. Each book I reviewed look better than the last – how could my book compete? I was consumed with anxiety, thankful to have my loving hubby at my side.

I was nervous all through dinner but the gala was fabulous. At the end we were awarded with two gold awards – Young reader non-fiction and animals/pets. As I stood in line to have my photo taken with the gold award seals, I felt pride, relief, and excitement all at the same time.

I keep tabs on book reviews – primarily through and Goodreads. I happened along this one in a search for new chicken tips and information.

I’d love to know what YOU think. Next time you visit, Beaver’s Pond Press, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble… drop in a review for Young Chicken Farmers. Or you can respond here as well! To see all the fabulous 2013 Benjamin Franklin winners, click on the link below.


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Faverolle pullet gets vent gleet

It started with a bum full of wet, messy, smelly feathers. Hmmm… time to do some research on diarrhea in chickens. Most sources stated nothing to worry about unless it’s bloody. Phew, break number 1. No blood.

I tried a number of home remedies – epsom salts and warm water delivered via syringe (yes, that was pretty fun), no watery foods (like watermelon), no table scraps (sorry to the entire flock!) I watched Cutie closely for a few days. I was hesitant to separate her, as she is currently the lowest chick in the pecking order. Surely, reintroduction would be challenging for her. I figured maybe her runny bum was due to a nervous tummy. She got better, then worse, then better then worse.

Then she got a much bigger  problem. After hours of viewing pictures of wet, messy chicken butts on the web, I determined my poor little Cutie had vent gleet. Yep – it’s like a yeast infection in chickens. It’s not contagious, but it can go internal and spread into the digestive tract – and that’s not good for anyone.

If only my 8 week flock would roost like chickens should. They bed down on a shelf in the coop. It was sort of cute when they were wee ones, but now they are so big they have to pile up to fit. They scratch away all the bedding I put there for them, so they are basically sitting on a metal shelf. Cutie’s icky poo could not fall to the ground, she basically sat in it all night (after night, after night).

Yikes. Here’s the treatment I used:

  • Butt bath in warm water with epsom salts. I had to gently remove the stuck on poo. A little gross, and a little time consuming. I entertained Cutie while she wandered in a bucket of water for about 15 minutes.
  • Dry those feathers! Yeast thrives on moisture, so moisture we removed! Cutie was an excellent patient. She stood in front of this portable heater fan for 20 minutes. I fluffed her feathers while she pecked at some scratch.
  • I read that Nystatin was a good med, but I could only find Lotrimen (a powder spray for jock itch). I sprayed that on her butt feathers to control future yeast.
  • Dietary supplements including yogurt with active cultures. I opened a capsule of acidopholus and sprinkled it on top of the yogurt.
  • Dietary restrictions – no watery foods (like watermelon) and decreased table scraps.
  • Close supervision!

I’m pleased to say the outcome was good. Once we got some active cultures in her tummy and we had a nice clean, dry butt she was in good shape. Now, fixing my roosting situation is another problem to solve. I tried carrying these crazy chickens to the roost one by one, and one by one they fluttered back to their favorite shelf. A new fence may be needed – we’ll see how things progress!

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Easter Egger has the best personality!

At one of my book events, someone from a local chicken advocacy event brought some of their pet chickens. Most of them spent the afternoon in an oversized dog crate, but a beautiful Silkie spent the entire time in the arms of her owner. I was amazed at the bird’s disposition – just as content as can be. Even when random children would visit and stroke a feather or two.

I didn’t order any silkies with my flock expansion project, but I did select a handful of “bottom of the pecking order” breeds. They are all known for being calm and friendly.

I am totally surprised by the cuddle factor being displayed by my 2 Easter Eggers. While I had hoped all of my feathered friends would turn out to be nice and huggable, I was really only expecting pretty eggs from my Easter Eggers.  They come immediately when I call, “here chick, chick!” They stay put as I reach out to pick them up, and they don’t flutter and squeak and try to get away, like some of their coop-mates.

You know you’ve got a gem she let’s a 3-year old give her hugs and kisses! The one pictured is named Serene.

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Merging two flocks

Aren’t chickens entertaining? I’d rather pull up a chair and watch my chickens through the window than watch this season’s most talked about reality tv show. I’ve got  my own little reality show going on in my backyard – which chicken will end up at the top of the pecking order?

I’m working on bringing three different families together – my adult Buff Orpingtons, my mama Buff Orpington and her 2 baby chicks, and my seven 5-weekers that I ordered from

You may have heard, and often have from me, that Buff Orpingtons are sweet, and friendly, and pretty laid back. Well, when you throw a broody hen and then baby chicks into the mix, things do tend to get shaken up. You may recall the tension first began when my 2 non-broody hens started treating my broody hen like a newcomer when she’d wander off the nest once a day. Chickee and Goosey pinned Buffie up against the chicken wire and pecked at her until I intervened. Once the chicks hatched, roles reversed and Buffie (or mama as I call her now) was the attacker – she is highly protective of her babies!

Our new chicken house was ready and waiting for some chickens to occupy it, so I decided to move Buffie and her babies and the seven mail order chicks in together. I separated them with some fencing so they could get to know each other without actual contact. I figured that since she was a mama – she’d mother the whole brood of chicks.

I couldn’t have been more wrong about that. My Light Brown Leghorn escaped the protection of the fencing one day into the general coop area. It only took about 30 seconds for Buffie to have her pinned. Luckily I can move pretty fast too, and I stepped in and made the rescue. Despite the fact that they were only 2 weeks older than her chicks, Buffie saw them as a threat. She charged the fence, pecked them if they walked too closely to the fence, and made all kinds of strange growling sounds when she looked in their direction.

I raised the fencing around the mail-order chicks and kept a close eye on everyone for a couple of weeks.

All of this was going on while I still had the other 2 adult hens and our partidge in the old coop. I knew I had to make sure they could see each other too – so I had Buffie sharing space with the mail-order chicks inside the coop, and then at least for a couple of hours each day I had her sharing space through a fence on the outside of the coop.

That’s a lot of sharing of space for a mama with little babies. More to come on how the merging of the flocks is going!

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Building the chicken run

When was the last time things didn’t go as planned for you?  For me it was just 3 weeks ago. I had a great chicken plan – or so I thought. My timeline:

  • Chicken coop gets delivered – end of May
  • Baby chicks arrive – middle of June
  • Baby chicks need to move out of brooder – middle of July

Sounds good, right? Well, my husband, and chief construction officer, injured his back at work. Walking, sitting, standing and lying down posed challenges for the first couple of weeks, while he’s improving every day – we don’t expect full mobility to return for 2-4 months.

I needed a plan B. My brain doesn’t exactly have a talent for building so I was in a bit of a pickle. Fortunately for me and my little chicken family – my in laws had some spare time on their hands, and a special talent for building chicken runs.

We made the project a family affair – the kids pitched in by picking up nails, running tools from one person to the next, pounding nails in to hold the hardware cloth, and keeping the builders company! We dug the 1/2 inch hardware cloth in about 12 inches, and then left some curled away from the run to really confuse any diggers.

My favorite feature is the door. We built it so you’d have to step over to get in. That saves me from worrying about chickens sneaking between my legs when I go in to deliver treats and remove the poo.

My next task is to figure out how to make a sturdy, critter proof screen for the coop itself. Right now I have an old screen-door screen tacked into place. It’s hard for me to get in and I worry about dogs or some other critter busting through. I’d like to be able to leave the big double doors open all day without worry – now I can only leave it open when we are out. There’s always a task on my chicken list, but I’m so thankful for a loving, helpful family! 

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Buffie’s babies hatched!

Well, as you may recall, they aren’t really Buffie’s babies. We hijacked 6 fertile eggs from grandma’s house when Buffie went broody on us. I thought it was important for my kids to know that chicks don’t really come from the cardboard box they arrive in when we order from a hatchery.

We were forced to be patient with the precious little eggs under Buffie. She was a diligent mama, only hopping off the nest for a short trip outside each day. Unfortunately, Goosey and Chickee treated her like a NEW chicken since she hadn’t been around much. I did break up one fight when Goosey had Buffie pinned up against the chicken wire in my extended yard for them. We didn’t see Buffie outside too much after that.

To my 3 and 7 year old, waiting was like seeing all the Christmas presents under the tree but not being able to open them. They did peek in on her a few times each day. Every time the nesting box lid rose, she puffed herself up as big as she could get. She let out a low growl that was surely unique to a hen protecting her un-hatched.

One Friday night when I went to make sure everyone was safely tucked in the coop, I saw a tiny fluffy chick with her head popped out of Buffie’s breast feathers. I think I was as excited as the first time my hens laid an egg. I barely slept that night. How many more would I find the next morning?

As it turned out, there was just the one in the morning. I did a quick inspection of the other eggs underneath her. I noticed one of them was partially open. Yippee!

I did my best to leave her alone. I figured she’d do what her instincts taught her – and help her chicks get out of their eggs. When I checked back several hours later, I was mortified to find that chick still in the egg. The shell was completely removed on the top half, but it looked like the chick couldn’t break through the membrane. It wasn’t breathing and Buffie had pushed it aside.

Perhaps she needed more help than I thought… with another egg cracked open I decided to keep a closer eye on things. Unfortunately, nothing happened almost all day. By the time I went to bed, Buffie had one baby cheeping and bouncing happily around her, while the other was making incredibly slow progress. Torn about what to do, I decided to pick away just a bit of the shell to help the chick get out. I was careful to move slowly so I wouldn’t draw blood. With the egg partially open, I headed to bed. Another resltless night.

I checked on the chicks at 5 the next morning. I was pleased and disturbed at the same time. I found the second chick out of it’s shell, still wet, lying on it’s back under Buffie. I tried to prop it upright, but it had no strength at all. I immediately thought of Sweetie, the chick that almost didn’t make it from my mail order flock.

Once the chick was dry and fluffy, I kept a close eye on her. I dipped her beak in water every hour or so. Buffie still had 3 eggs under her, so she wasn’t moving around to care for the first two. Around 10am I started the sugar water/egg yolk solution because the chick wasn’t perking up. Within 12 hours she was keeping up with the first.

It had been almost 72 hours since the first chick hatched. Two eggs showed no sign of cracking, another was just getting started. That one progressed even more slowly than the previous. After another full day of sitting and pecking, trying to get her chick out – Buffie gave up and was off the nest tending to her two babies.

YIKES! I could see that chick breathing… and trying to get out. What was I to do? I knew it would last long with no mama to keep it warm. So I got a hot water bottle and some soft towels and tried to simulate mama sitting on her. It hung on for several hours. I administered some sugar water/ egg yolk solution, and it accepted it every time. I was hoping to give it enough strength to get out of it’s shell. The top half of the shell was gone, but yet the chick could not get out.

I’m sad to say that after a 12 hour fight, the chick gave up and stopped breathing. My 3-year old took it the hardest. He couldn’t understand why we couldn’t help that one. All I could say is, “I don’t know.”

With that sadness behind us, we are enjoying the fascinating activity in the coop. Buffie is a GREAT mama, I love all the new sounds she makes to call her chicks. They still nestle into her feathers at night and follow her closely during the day.

Our next project is merging our flocks together! That will take some time.

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