True stories of a small flock of remarkable individuals -- and other critters.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


...continued from the previous post, BROODY LUCY

 Lucy continued to sit faithfully on her eggs and chant, 'budup".    While I'd read that a broody hen hops off the nest once or twice a day to get some food and to stretch her legs, Lucy wasn't able to get up.  The lack of movement weakened her twisted toes, and she just couldn't lift herself.  So a couple of times a day I helped Lucy off the nest.  I'd hold her for a bit until her legs stretched out and she could stand on her own.

She'd gulp down her food and guzzle some water, then she'd expel the most revolting poop, and then hobble about for a little while pecking at grass and enjoying her brief time outdoors. 
This was the moment Hatsy waited for.

 She'd make a beeline for the open door of Lucy's coop.  

She'd step gingerly inside and  utter a few sweet words to the precious eggs.

Then she'd scoot them around a bit with her beak and try to sit on them.  
She tried, but never did master the art of egg-sitting.

  One of the eggs would inevitably pop out from under her.

When Lucy returned to her nest, all it took was a look from Lucy to get Auntie Hatsy off the eggs.

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Although  we knew that only one of those eggs was fertile, I didn't want to cause Lucy any distress by removing the infertile one. I saw no harm in leaving it in the nest...

....until one night while cruising the chicken-websites, I read that a bad egg left in the nest could actually explode.  I grabbed a flashlight and scurried right out to Lucy's coop and removed the festering time bomb. 

She never missed it. I guess chickens can't count.

Lucy sat and sat - chanting  budup - budup - budup - day in and day out. 

Lil'White was only mildly interested in Lucy's business, while Hatsy's curiosity verged on obsession. 

At times Lucy appeared a bit annoyed with her little red friend.


.  .  .  .  .  .coming next:  A HARROWING MORNING

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Broody Lucy

Trish unlatched the door to her henhouse and I followed her inside.  There were two lovely hens sitting in the nesting boxes.  Trish reached under the fluffy Rhode Island Red and pulled out two warm brown eggs.  The hen didn't really seem to notice.  Trish handed me the eggs and I slipped them into my coat pocket and then hurried home.

The eggs were still plenty warm when I presented them to Lucy.
With a calm matter-of-factness, she lifted herself slightly and then gently guided the eggs with her beak to just the right spot underneath her. Then she sat down. 
That was it. No 'thank you', no nothing.  

But that was okay.

The next day I let Lucy stay on the nest rather than booting her out onto the sunny lawn with the girls.   Hatsy and Lil'White sensed that something was up, and they curiously milled about Lucy's coop.

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After seven days you're supposed to be able to see the beginnings of a chick in the egg by shining a flashlight behind it.    

Of course I couldn't wait seven days...  So on the fifth night Sarah and I went out and collected our precious eggs from under Lucy and brought them inside. We had to act swiftly, so as not to let the eggs cool too much.  We sat on the basement steps in total darkness fumbling with flashlights and eggs. 
One egg was definitely not happening.  

But in the other egg was very certainly a web of veins.  I used a pen to draw a mark on the fertile egg so we could tell them apart, then returned them both to Lucy's  little coop.  I tucked the eggs under her wonderful fluff.   Budup   budup   budup   --- what a nice sound out there in the dark warm night.

Thirteen days to go.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lucy: Gotta Have a Baby!

...continued from previous post: SCANNING THE SKIES

Lucy survived Marek's Disease and began to regain the use of her legs, although it took a lot out of her.  She remained very weak, and she slept a lot.  While she was living in the dog crate on the porch, we really enjoyed her company.  She was always up for a good chat on a summer evening.

But  when I put Lucy out with the girls, Lil'White continued to go after her like a crazed assassin.  

Since Lucy couldn't get far on those sad twisted feet, I fashioned her a little pen to keep her safe from vicious predators while she was out in the yard.

That pen turned out to be the best little invention. I made a couple more of them, which I could toss over the gals whenever I had to run inside to take a flaming pot off the stove.

Here Hatsy attempts to peck my eye out from the pen she's sharing with Lucy. 

I don't worry too much about foxes and coyotes because Marky is always in the yard and he diligently patrols the perimeter of his 1.3 acres. 

He loves his job.

He does not love the chickens.
But that's another story.

Lucy really missed living with the girls.   So when I built her little special-needs coop I made sure she had a view of the big coop, even from her nestbox.



Here's the mini-coop from the back.  Lots of doors so I could reach Lucy in case she needed me.

Lucy settled into her new digs okay.  
Hatsy liked to come over for visits, and sometimes she had a sleepover at Lucy's.

Now and then Lucy came back to our house for a little visit.

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Last summer, sometime in May, Lucy went broody.

She wanted a baby.

It was a hormonal thing.
It was unmistakable and it was fascinating.

She sat in the nestbox all day, except when I lifted her out and shut the door so she couldn't get back in.    She  was  all puffed up like a speckled balloon.  And she started chanting,  "budup     budup     budup     budup ..."    nonstop--  all day, all night. 

If we had a rooster, Lucy would have had a clutch of fertile eggs to sit on. But we had no rooster.   


Observing Lucy in her broodiness reminded me of how I felt when I was about 30 and suddenly really really really wanted to start a family.

So I called up my friend Trish, whose hens happen to have a lovely little rooster.

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  next blog entry:   BROODY LUCY

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Scanning the Skies

...continued from previous post: Meet The Girls: Lil'White

Lil' White was dillydallying in the nesting box all morning, and Lucy and Hatsy seemed restless so I let them out of the coop for a moment to look for bits of corn and scratch in the snow.   As they stepped out into the world, they turned their tiny heads in unison and stopped dead in their tracks.  

I looked up, thinking there was a helicopter or something..
It was a  BALD EAGLE.  First one I've ever seen outside a zoo.
Would never imagine a bald eagle over Upton, MA.

Once the eagle was out of sight,  pecking resumed.

.  .  .  .  .  .  click here for next blog entry:   Lucy -- Gotta Have a Baby!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Meet the Girls: LIL' WHITE

...continued from previous post: Meet the Girls: HATSY

(spoken with a southern accent.)

She was an excruciatingly adorable chick.


She's named Lil' White because when her little tiny white wing feathers emerged we thought she was going to be a White Plymouth Rock.    I hadn't placed an order for one of these, but my order got all mixed up with my friend Trish's, so we really weren't sure who got what.

As Lil' White grew, so grew her cuteness.

Have you ever seen tailfeathers as cute as these?

In time, we realized she was not a White Rock--  she was a Buff Orpington.  Which was great because that's one of the breeds I had ordered.  I wanted three chickens, three different breeds.  Ones that would look nice wandering around the backyard... you know, lawn ornaments. 

Once we realized Lil' White wasn't a White Rock, her name had already stuck.  So that's why our yellow chicken is named Lil' White.  

Docile, seeming almost affectionate, is how the chicken catalogs describe Buff Orpingtons.  I ordered a Buff Orpington for this reason.  I also ordered a Buff Orpington because I wanted to say Buff Orpington on a daily basis.  Buff Orpington Buff Orpington Buff Orpington.

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Being unbearably adorable did have its drawbacks.

Lil'White was Sarah's favorite.  

She was also the favorite of every kid who came to visit.

Cuddled and adored, she had to put up with a heck of a lot of attention.

Lil' White grew up to become a beautiful bird.

Sometimes I wonder if her ravishing beauty has gone to her head.

Her golden plumage is a lovely complement to the phlox and the lilac.

Even rusty garden tools and peeling paint look good with Lil'White around

So who knew this sweet graceful chicken would one day flip out and try to kill Lucy....?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Meet the Girls: HATSY

....continued from previous post:  Change o' Peking order  

Why is it that grandma-names suit chickens so well? 
We never did figure out what breed Hatsy is.  When my friend and I ordered chicks, we were sent a baker's dozen.. I think Hatsy was the extra chick -- some kind of hybrid. 

She outgrew her cuteness very quickly. She started to look like a little hawk.  I was afraid she might be a boy.


...but she wasn't---

Hatsy started laying eggs a whole month before the other girls.
Eggs came flyin' out of her like crazy.  She didn't miss a day, for months and months.

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Hatsy was the flock's undisputed leader from the beginning.   
We call her our Little Dynamo.   
No grass grows under Hatsy's feet.

She's an excellent gardener.

She's a treasure hunter.

Can you find Hatsy in this picture?

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Hatsy's nonstop egg-laying did take its toll.      
It happened one summer evening -- the girls had been grazing in the garden, the sun was going down, Lil'White had already headed home to the coop.  I looked out the window and saw Hatsy and Lucy standing in the middle of the lawn.  Chickens can't see in the dark, and any chicken in her right mind heads for bed as soon as the sun sets.  I stepped outside to see what was up with these girls.

Hatsy was just standing there, asleep.  

Lucy was fine - she was keeping her friend company.   Hatsy barely opened her eyes when I scooped her up, and she let me carry her to the coop without the usual struggle.  Lucy followed us to the henhouse. I put Hatsy in, secured the coop, and left them for the night knowing that there must be something wrong but having no idea what it was.

In the nesting box the next day was the reason for Hatsy's odd behavior.
She had laid a pterodactyl egg.  It was the biggest egg I'd ever seen.

She had several similar sleeping episodes over the following weeks, and each time she produced a monstrous egg.   Then she started laying soft eggs... then eggs with no shells... and then she started laying these hideous things that looked like chewed-up chewing gum.

It was clear that Hatsy's internal egg-machine had blown a gasket.
Eventually, Hatsy stopped laying anything at all.  I felt relieved for her, because she seemed to have had a lot of discomfort,  maybe even pain, for several months.  

But the end of egg-laying was not the end of her troubles. 

 Winter came to New England, and in the middle of a cold snap Hatsy molted.    The floor of the henhouse looked as if a chicken had exploded.  Hatsy lost her tail feathers, most of her wing feathers, and a whole lot of down.  She looked like a half-plucked oven-stuffer-roaster.  

I rigged up a heat lamp in the coop for her, and she spent most of her time huddled under it,  so close to the hot red bulb that I thought I might as well come out and baste her.   

One day while Hatsy stood shivering outside in the coop,  I watched Lucy hobble over and smoosh her voluptuous black-and-white plumage against her skinny little friend. She was keeping her warm. 
The two stood there.  

I almost cried.  

Friday, February 12, 2010

Change o' Pecking Order

...continued from last entry: LUCY LIMPS--part two


Lil' White had been at the bottom of the pecking order from early on, and had graciously accepted her position, not wanting to ruffle any feathers. All three girls knew their rank, and this understanding kept peace in their bucolic back yard.  But with Lucy away, Lil' White was having second thoughts about her own status. 

I carried Lucy outside every day for some quality time with her flock, and the three girls had been getting along just fine in the Chicken Tractor I'd built for them (a chicken tractor is a portable coop that keeps them safe while they dine on fresh grass and bugs in different areas of the yard).

In the wild, a sick chicken like Lucy wouldn't last long.  A predator would find her and take care of things pretty quickly.  Lil' White sensed that Lucy might cause all three of them to be in danger, and her instincts told her to take command of the situation.

After a week or so of Lucy's daily visits, Lil' White attacked Lucy, pecking her on the head repeatedly.  Lucy bowed her head and submitted, having no choice but to do so. 
I watched the attack, and was horrified.  I  removed Lucy from the tractor before much blood was shed. The next day I tried to integrate her again, but Lil' White went at her swiftly and purposefully.  I removed Lucy and placed her outside  where Little White couldn't reach her,  but Lucy's head remained low.  Clearly, she knew what had transpired. 


All along, Hatsy remained Lucy's loyal friend. While she didn't seem to know how to prevent Lil' White's attacks, she did not join in.   Sometimes she inserted herself between Lucy and Lil' White, but Lil' White would just work around her. 
So I just set Lucy on the grass by herself with some garden fencing to keep her safe.  At times I'd put Hatsy in with her.. It was apparent that when Lucy was with her friend Hatsy,  her spirits and energy rose.  Lucy attempted to stand up on her gnarled feet,  and in time she began to take steps.


 Lucy's preferred mode of transportation:   Sarah's Easter basket.


At night, Lucy slept on the screened porch in an old dog crate.  All through these weeks of illness, Lucy laid eggs, beautiful as ever, and as regularly as the other girls.  But I chose to throw her eggs away because I couldn't really be sure what disease she had, and that old rhyme resounded in my head: "when in doubt, throw it out". 

Lucy was getting stronger and the color was coming back to her face and comb, but she still hobbled and limped.  It was apparent that her feet had been damaged by the Marek's Disease, and they did not improve.   

Little White didn't change her mind about Lucy. Whenever she got the chance, she launched a vicious attack. 

Since this was looking to be a permanent situation, I designed yet another coop.