Back at the Chicken Shack

The chicken pasture has been a lively place this summer. Since the Littles have moved in to the big coop each day has been full of squabbles, hilarity, and new traditions for the Pleasant Hill flock.

Penfold is still a little devil, I often call her my Captain of Badness. She is frequently found doing everything she shouldn’t – pulling feathers out of the Littles, getting out of the fence, and generally leading the other hen’s astray. I don’t care, I love her anyway – she could probably peck out one of my eyes and I’d still see no wrong in her.

Quigley, Zillah, and Danger – or the Littles as we call them – are still as tight as ever. Danger is the head of their little tribe and Quigley just wants to be everyone’s friend, while Zillah likes to spend time with Andy.

Two of our younger cousins like to come by to see the Littles on the weekends. Danger is Katie’s favorite, and I am absolutely perplexed at how a five year old can catch that chicken faster than I can!

All of the big girls are moulting and they look like a ratty band of box car children. Charlie is 500 times more grouchy than usual – which is really saying something since she is the ‘ take no prisoners ‘ type.

If you even look at her she growls in protest. A few nights back Andy was, apparently, sitting on the roosting spot that she wanted – so she just pecked him in the head and face until he finally gave up and moved away.

Poor Andy. He tries so hard to be a good protector for his little harem of biddy’s. Lately he’s started this new tradition of carving out some ‘personal time’ for himself each day.

So, what exactly does ‘personal time’ look like for a rooster? Well, in Andy’s case, he has his special corner of the hen house under the nesting boxes. He crawls in, makes a nest, faces the corner, and stays crammed in that tiny space for about 15 minutes…probably pretending that the rest of the world does not exist.

As the day draws to a close, everyone heads back the the hen house – ready to squabble and growl over who is going to sleep next to whom on the roost. Andy stands like a bastion on the hill, making sure that everyone gets inside – it’s time to shut the place down for the night.

As the sun sets, the hen house gets quiet. Occasionally you hear one of Penfold or Quigley’s long trills or Charlie growling over someone sleeping too close by….and Stephen and I trek back up to the house ready to call it a day ourselves.

If you’re a chicken, then why does your box say “police”?

In a day and age where Tour d’ Coops are not uncommon events in chicken communities….I have to admit that our coop is strictly functional – built purely for the shelter and safety of our flock.

Our unassuming, functional coop.

Today, My Pet Chickens unveiled – in my opinion – their coolest, most awesome coop yet. Ladies and gentleman, I present to you My Pet Chicken’s The Hobbit Hole.

Totally awesome, and ridiculously cute beyond all imagination. I mean who doesn’t want this in their backyard? If this doesn’t convince you that having chickens can be life changing and fabulous…nothing will!

But – deep in the fathomless pits of nerd-dom….another type of coop exists – and believe me, it may be even more awesome that the Hobbit Hole.

It is a TARDIS.

With its own Dalek. What!

Well, if you didn’t already know that I’m a fan of Doctor Who, you know now.

In theory, I think having a TARDIS coop would be crazy fun; but I know that I would fall victim to a contagious disease that strikes even the most vigilant of chicken keepers. That disease is called Chicken Math.

The 10th Doctor and the TARDIS

Chicken Math is a disease that hinders your ability to properly count the number of chickens that you own or plan to own at any given time. You plan on only having 6 chickens and one day you wake up and you have 10…a year later you have 56 and you are not entirely sure what happened except that you somehow became a chicken hoarder.

If I had a TARDIS coop, I would spend all of my time constantly opening and closing the door hoping that my coop would suddenly be bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. I’d make an excuse that we needed at least one chicken named Ameilia or Martha or Rose….and before you know it, we’d have all three of them, plus Donna, Wilfred, and Sara Jane Smith!

Nope – in Pleasant Hill we’ll just stick to our functional coops and leave the Tour d’ Cooping for everyone else. After all, Stephen and mine’s carpentry skills are not that advanced – but we still enjoy looking at everyone else’s creative cooping!

Don’t forget to remember

As spring moves on to summer our chores seem to be piling up, up, up. And over the course of the last few weeks we have experienced much change in the white house.

For starters, the white house is now white again. After two weeks of painting the old place looks somewhat new…sort of. The baby chickens have graduated up to the big coop. We have been on “nesting box duty.” We’ve adopted a new hive of bees, and said goodbye to a familiar face around the  barnyard.

Penfold, my little American Game, has decided to go broody, and she is going to sit on her nest come hell or high water.

The box is empty. Penfold doesn’t care – she’s sitting there anyway. I stick my hand in with treats trying to tempt her out of the box. Penfold doesn’t care – she’s sitting there anyway. Andy comes in to oust her off the nest and join the others foraging (Penfold’s favorite activity). Still, Penfold doesn’t care – she is sitting there anyway.

Penfold attempting to reclaim the eggs we took from her nest.

So, several times a day Stephen or I tromp across the soggy pasture to take her out of the box and shoo her away to do something, anything else. It’s taken a few weeks, and there have been occasional set backs, but we think Pen is over this spell of motherhood, which is really better for all of us.

The little chickens are slowly integrating into the big flock, and things are going much better than the last time. Zillah has proven herself to be an adventurous and brave soul – venturing forth to eat with the big chickens, taking a shot at finding her place on the hen house roost, and taking up for her much more timid sisters.

Zillah & Quigley


Quigley and Danger are doing pretty good through this whole process, though they are much more cautious. Flannery, our head hen, has been quite kind to the little girls….offering them a safe place to perch next to her on her self made throne. Most of the others ignore the little girls, unless food is involved. The current flock shake down is that Charlie hates Zillah, and Penfold despises Quigley….and somehow Danger has managed to fly under the radar.

One troublesome thing that has arisen over the last week has been Mini’s behavior. We’ve been surprised at the amount of aggression that he’s shown towards the little girls, and it has had both Stephen and I concerned. Over the last few months we have observed that Mini’s behavior has often left the hens stressed out and grumpy. We’ve questioned our decisions with our flock management, and have been seriously considering what the best options for the overall flock dynamic might be.

Last night as the chickens went to bed Mini kept repeatedly pecking Zillah in the head. Tonight, Stephen witnessed the same thing and in our minds a firm decision was made. With a heavy heart, we’ve said goodbye.

Mini is gone.

Stephen wrote this to me tonight. I want to share it, because it reflects the reality and pain that comes along with being a chicken keeper.

It was horrible. Mini deserved a much better death than he got. It took me a long time, it was awful. If we ever have to kill another chicken, then we are taking it to the processing plant. I can’t stand to see them suffer like that and know it is my fault. I hope this fixes many of the problems with the flock, so that Mini didn’t die for nothing.

It may be weird to apply Mill’s ethics of the greater good to flock life, but it is part of the cruelty we face as their keepers. We are part of that flock whether we think so or not, and we are responsible for their lives and well being.

I still love Mini, and maybe his end deserved its own entry; but I felt that his story was so entwined with the changes and upheavals of the flock that it should be told together. He was Penfold’s closest friend, he was Zillah’s biggest fear, he was Andy’s nemesis. He was a good chicken, but a mean rooster.

Afternoon fun

With the weekends jam packed, we spend most afternoons working on various things around the farm. New plants, new chickens, new bees, new paint (which still needs to go on the old house)…..the list of chores is never ending, but we still find time to have a little bit of fun.

Little chickens are growing up!
Zillah, Quigley, and Dangerfield
Quigley likes to hop up for a snuggle
Lots of lettuce ready for the picking
Gotta smoke those bees
Bee suites are for protection
Bees need more gear than chickens!

Where do we go from here? a chicken saga – part 2

It has been several weeks since the chicken smack down of the century. In some ways we have made enormous and unbelievable gains….and in other ways we are still so far from my ideal resolution.

The day after the big fight we let everyone out into the pasture as usual – really just hoping that the extra space would give the boys a chance to cool down and gain some perspective…..Stephen and I being part of the “gaining perspective” crowd ourselves. Things seemed to go ok –  Mini kept his distance for the most part, but Andy was still determined to not loose his new found place in the world. And honestly, I couldn’t blame him.

As the day wore on and grew darker, we waited for all of the chickens to go up to roost. We grabbed our flashlights, walked through the pasture, and opened the coop door. The site that met our eyes made our hearts sink. There were only six chickens on the roost, Mini was no where to be found.

Exile is hard on anyone, but especially hard on a former leader. As we combed the barn and pasture with no success, I eventually saw a little bit of white on the ground next to the fence in a pile of leaves. It was Mini – just laying there. He hadn’t even bothered to go back to the coop for the night, he had simply given up.

We took Mini back to the house, gave him some food, and set him up in the dog crate for the night, hoping he’d have a little more spark by morning.

Spark….looking back these days I rather think I had wished for gracious humility instead of spark.

As the weeks progressed, Mini returned back to the coop, and Stephen and I found ourselves spending more and more of our free time doing what we called “chicken therapy.” Andy eventually allowed Mini back into the flock, but he still threw his weight around, literally all 11 pounds of it. Despite the occasional knockabout, things had become more peaceful than even our hopes anticipated.

But, that brings us back to gracious humility…and the wrong rooster’s lack of it.

Andy has really been quite a surprise to us, and in some ways he always has been. He’s done a remarkable job at taking care of the hens and he’s never shown the least amount of aggression towards us – even when we pick him up, which he doesn’t like very much. He’s proved to be both calm and fair minded, sometimes a rare trait in a head rooster.



Mini, on the other hand, is  back to his old self….which means he’s back to biting and flogging, and we are the lucky recipients. It hurts and I don’t like it. I had hoped, perhaps dumbly, that this particular aspect of his personality had changed, but I’m not sure you can break what is inherently part of his genetic makeup.

So, here we are. We have two roosters….and where do we go from here?

I’d like to think that I don’t have an answer to this question, but if I’m being honest I probably do. I’m hurt and disappointed, I want things to be different. I want Mini to feel the same about me as I do about him; but he’s a chicken and he’s not supposed to, and he feels about me exactly the way he should. And that doesn’t make either of us right or wrong….and that is what makes the situation so hard.

So, here we are. We have two roosters….and that’s how it’s going to be for awhile, but probably not how it’s going to be forever. And, just like it took Mini awhile to get his confidence back, it’s going to take me awhile to get used to the fact that it’s not going to be both Mini and Andy forever.