Saturday, August 2, 2008

Still Freakin Hot, but Hen's are Happy

Lord, another 100 + degree day in Austin and the hen's are resting in the shade of my red oak tree, near the compost bin. They burrow a spot in the cool dirt and just sit until the sun moves them to a fresh spot.

A couple months back I found a great feed store on North Lamar, Buck Moore Feed and Supply, that sells organic layer crumble produced in Elgin. Nice to buy local and the girls love the stuff.

The eggs are coming more frequently now that they have adjusted to the heat. Had fresh egg migas this morning with Hatch Green Chile sauce--Yum!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Chickens & a Hot Texas Summer--20 days of 100 + Degrees

Howdy and happy 4th of July!

Austin had 20 days in June with a high temperature of 100 degrees or higher and Hazel and Myrtle were not too happy about it. They spent a lot of time under bushes taking dust baths and I spent a lot of time looking up ways to keep them cool on the Internet.

Most of the websites that provide great chicken info are located in the UK or someplace that sees snow each year, which ain't Austin. After considerable research and conversations with local chicken parents I found that all we can do is provide plentiful and readily available cool water. So my babies had dishes of water placed all over the yard and I often filled them with ice as the sun hit its peek cooking temperature around 5:00 p.m.

Egg production has slowed a lot, I'd say they are averaging four a week right now. For a few days it looked like I had a Bantam living in my coop, finding these little baby spotted eggs, which were still delicious.

I learned that the hotter it gets the less likely the girls are to drink. Seems counter intuitive, but they don't like warm water, which is why the cool water is important.

I also took the mister on my hose and wet some of the yard they decimated, so they had cool moist dirt to sit in on the warmest days. Overall, they seem like very happy chickens and the last few days have only hit the mid-90s, so egg production is ticking like clock work.

Photo of Fireworks Over Lake Austin by Trey Ratcliff @

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Over the Memorial Day weekend, my little family found a kennel for Max and we headed out camping. A friend has a HUGE piece of land in the Hill Country along Hondo Creek and invited 70 of her closest friends to camp out with the kids, swim and drink beer by the nightly bon fire that was large enough to see from space.

Hazel and Myrtle needed a babysitter and recruiting one only required the promise of fresh eggs each morning. My neighbor offered to come check on them twice per day and they were apparently happy little chickens, laying their usual two a day, while we were gone.

Upon our return, Hazel and Myrtle we so happy to see us. I sat out in the back yard and they hung at my feet pecking up the scratch I threw out for their afternoon treat.

I picked up Myrtle and put her in my lap for a snuggle, which caused Hazel to pace at my feet looking for a way up. Finally, she jumped up into my lap and let me give her some love.

She has never done this before. They usually do the whole squat and shake thing when I try to hold them, but Hazel obviously missed me.

Later I snagged Hazel and settled in my patio chair. She nuzzled me for five to seven minutes, which is unheard of with these girls; they usually try to fly within a minute of two.

Never underestimate the power of love; even from chickens.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Snuggley Chickens

Ok, maybe Hazel isn't so snuggley, she crouches down, flattens her back and shakes if she thinks I am going to pick her up, but Myrtle likes me.

Myrtle does the whole squish and shake thing, but not as fearfully and when I scoop her into my arms she coos and nuzzles her head against my chest.

I like this. She'll sit on my shoulders, but the previous mother and father told us they chickens have mistaken blinking eyes of moving bugs, so I avoid looking at them as they perch atop my 5' 10" frame.

I love their eggs. I couldn't be more happy when I find two a morning in their nest. I thank them for every single one.

My growing daughter eats a lot of eggs, but has never liked the yolks. I have taken to separating the eggs when I fry them up and this morning she had an egg white "egg in a hole." Hope the whites are good for you too. Seems like such a shame for her not to eat those gorgeous golden yolks, but some egg is better than no egg.

She never used to try anything new, but that has changed as she grew another inch making her more than 4' 6" (she is seven), but recently she had a bite of a ham and Swiss omelet and now she is in LOVE. Yolks are ok in the omelet.

I have begun using eggs for trade. I got to borrow a neighbors amazingly expensive camping gear for a weekend trip in exchange for three eggs. I used eggs as a peace offerings after yelling at my neighbor for letting their dog bark for hours on end one weekend morning. I apologized for yelling, but still made my point about torturing the entire neighborhood by casting their terror of a dog in the yard. I have given eggs as countless gifts, wrapped in a pretty little nest of hay. People LOVE to receive these eggs!

All the leaves have popped out, the grass is lush and green and our chicken sisters are happy and they make us happy!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Chicken Papparazzi--Hazel & Myrtle in Action

I spent some time this week hanging out with the chickens and had my camera handy for spontaneous glamour shots. Myrtle spent a great deal of time taking a dust bath; it was pretty funny. She and Hazel dug a nice spot along the fence and I have never seen a dust bath in action. Myrtle flipped upside down, fluffed her feathers, got covered in dirt and generally had fun.

So here are some paparazzi shots of the girls:

Up close and personal with Hazel; Myrtle doing a dust bath turnover.

Drying off after a thunderstorm cloud burst; Hazel after a bug!

Hazel in contrast; Happy egg, yummy breakfast!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Max and the Chickens--Who's Your Buddy?

Our dog Max is beginning to get used to the chickens living in his backyard. He tends to follow them around, trying to sniff their bottoms. I haven't told him yet that Hazel and Myrtle are not puppies.

They just stand on alert whenever he is near and they get a bit disturbed that they can't tend to the bugs beneath their feet when Max is hovering.
My only concern is that Max is a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever and I fear that he may remember that he is a birding dog and take a bite.

Mostly he just wants to play, and the chickens have no interest. Bugs; it's all they want.

Hazel has found her way under all the rudimentary blockades we have created to keep them inside our fence and also out from under the deck. Today, Hazel once again squeezed under the deck and for a few minutes of quiet, with only one chicken in sight, I thought the neighborhood hawk has swooped in for lunch.

Then I heard some leaves rustling under my feet, so I grabbed the cantaloupe seeds left over from lunch and lured her out in the sunshine. We need fencing to keep her out of there, but we also need it along one section of our perimeter fence, as they squeezed out between some feeble wire we placed along the uneven sections. Both girls were walking just outside our yard, nibbling on bugs--what else?

They laid two eggs today (up to eleven total); this morning one was sitting in the nest as they left the coop. Our first overnight egg. The photo shows the two from today and the decoy egg marked with nail polish. If that thing gets accidently cracked, the neighbors will kill us, if it doesn't wipe out everyone in a two miles radius first.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Eight Eggs and Counting...

We have happy chickens. Hazel and Myrtle are busy birds, pecking all over the yard for bugs, grubs, snakes and toads. They have laid pretty consistently since the day we got them, layone two the first day (yes, Myrtle was getting busy in the photo from the previous post), one the next two days, two the next and one yeaterday. Already there is an egg in the coop this morning.

The last few days have climbed into the mid 70s and we did some finalizing of their feed, coop area and watering arrangement. My daughter and I got busy painting the coop door (I added the grass at the bottom) and we got their coop up on cinder blocks thanks to my brut-like husband.

We went to Callahan's feed store Monday and their chicken expert helped us pick out a pellet mash, advising that scratch should only be given occasionally. We got a fine watering vessle (not pictured) that I keep inside their coop door. This encourages them to visit often and hey, while they are in there, they just might decide to lay an egg.
My daughter went to a birthday party Sunday and she decided to put Myrtle's fresh-laid egg inside a gift box where she had assembled a nest of hay. She wrapped it, colored a mandala for a card and wrote, "I hope you have an egg-celent birthday!" Stella didn't really know what to think of that gift, but she smiled after learning that the egg was freshly laid that morning. Compared to the mountains of pink and purple fluff, paint-your-own mirrors, piggy banks and boxes, the simple brown egg was a very nice gift and R loved giving it to her.

My husband has been bonding with the girls and I saw him pick one of them up for the first time yesterday. He wins their affection by flipping over rocks, letting them pillage the hundreds of rolly polly's underneath.

I've been watchful of the skies lately, as I saw a hawk circling the air space above our house. I think Max the dog will do nicely to discourage a swoop and steal, but I can't help but worry a little. We live just blocks off IH-35, but still have plenty of critters and chicken predators. I saw a photo of a Barred Owl that is living inthe neighborhood, so I make sure they are shut up tight in their coop at night.
Today is much cooler, temperatures in the 40s this morning, so the girls should be happy and happy to lay some more eggs.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Our First Egg!

Wow! We have our first egg! Yesterday Laura and Casey delivered the hens before they headed off to work. We put them in their new pen area (Private space away from the dog) and they foraged and picked through the leaves under the ligustrum shrubs along the house.

Around 6:00 p.m. They brought over the coop, hay, scratch and a heat light, which was important because it got down to 28 degrees over night.

Hazel and Myrtle snuggled in right away and we covered their coop and turned on the heat light. This morning R was up at 6:45 to go look for eggs and feed them, but there was no egg to be seen. The girls were excited to go look for snails, even before the sun was over the horizon.

This morning I spent WAY too much time researching how to feed these crazy birds. I am without a doubt completely confused and overwhelmed, but the girls are happy in the sunshine and loved the scraps of greens, nuts and cantaloupe I brought them.

When R was a little sad that there was no egg this morning, it occurred to me that we might need a decoy egg, especially since they are in a new environment, so we put a brown egg from the fridge in the nest and I took R to school.

Around 10:00 a.m. I went out to check on them (for the fourth time this morning) and Hazel came out of the coop with a grin (can chickens grin?). I peeked inside the nest and low and behold, an EGG!

I ran around the backside of the coop, opened the hatch and felt the eggs to see which egg was warm. I pulled out the most perfect, oval, brown egg. I am SO excited.

I thought for sure they would wait a few days because of the stress of moving. Now Myrtle is happily sitting on the decoy; perhaps she'll leave us a present as well.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Kismet: The Story of Hazel & Myrtle

About mid December my husband said randomly, "Hey, wouldn't it be cool to have chickens?" My seven year-old daughter, “R,” and I agreed. We fantasized about the delicious fresh eggs and that was the end of the discussion. Fast forward to the first week of January. R and I went to the local organic Boggy Creek Farm for some fresh winter greens, sweet potatoes and turnips. We were also looking for fresh eggs, but we arrived way too late in the morning to get our hands on those.

We spent about an hour at the farm with Ruby wandering the grounds, digging in the dirt and talking to their coop full of beautiful and charismatic hens. I spent time chatting with Larry the farmer and then we headed home to cook lunch.

That evening, the family was sitting around our patio table (yes, in January, Texans can still enjoy dining outside), when the subject of chickens came up again. We discussed it more fully and decided that it could be a fun project. We discussed the pros and cons of one, two or three chickens, where the coop could go and who would be in charge of cleaning up the poop.

Usually these discussions end with the same feeling you have after shopping in a great catalog. You circle all the items you want, go back through and covet the really special and more affordable options, and then you drop the catalog into the recycle bin, never to be thought of again.

The next morning, R and I were playing in the backyard when she stuck out her arm with a long pointed finger and said, "Oh! My God! Mom, look at that!" I turned to look through our fence into the neighbor’s yard and saw two red hens pecking along the ground in search of bugs. Well, this is NOT a normal sight in our neighborhood. I have lived four blocks off I-35 for 17 years and I've seen lots of things in our yards, but never chickens.

My daughter ran from house to neighbor’s house asking if they knew who had lost their girls. We had no luck, so I scooped them up one by one (I had never touched a chicken and was a little afraid of getting pecked to death, but I didn't want them hit by a car either) and put them in our backyard. So, I posted a note on our neighborhood yahoo group, but the only responses I got were folks that wanted to help clean up their coop in exchange for eggs in we ended up keeping them.

We played with them and watched them eat up bugs in our yard for hours when a neighbor, who saw my e-mail posting, said she knew the owners a block over. I knocked on their door and a 25ish year-old man with a long black beard answered the door. Country/Folk music blared outside as the door opened and I asked in a loud voice, "Do you have some chickens?" He said, "Yes." And I replied, "You don't right now; they're at my house."

He came over and saw they were safe and having fun with R and her playmate. He offered to let the girls play with them until sunset and then he'd come retrieve them.

Over the course of the day, before we knew where their home was, we names them with what only seemed fitting, the names a grandmother would have (maybe my mom's grandmother), so we decided on Hazel and Myrtle.

Casey came to the house shortly after dark, just after we figured out that they were looking for a coop to settle down in. The made the cutest little noises that I mistook for home sickness and R and I each picked up a bird and nestled them at the same time into a wine crate R had lovingly filled with hay. They loved it and snuggled in until Casey arrived (The photo to the right above the links is from that evening).

He carried off his hens with a thank you and the promise of eggs. We visited the chickens for a week or two at his house and even visited the feed store near the airport to see about getting some birds of our own. We bought a "How to make a Coop" book and that was the end of that. Again, the catalog was put in the recycle bin and we only occasionally thought about getting hens. It was one of those, "maybe someday" things at this point.

We really did want to get some, but I am no carpenter and frankly, neither is my husband. We certainly could build one, but who has the time?

Well, last Friday there was a knock at our door and I saw Casey's tall head through the window in the door. He came bearing six fresh brown eggs. We chatted a bit and I thanked him gratefully for the eggs, when he mentioned that he was headed out of state and wanted to see if we were interested in adopting the birds.

It seems their hen mother Laura found a new place to live, but the owners were not to happy about chickens in the yard. I was so surprised and delighted, but I had to check in with my hubby about this when he returned home from work.

He was thrilled with the idea and we had fried eggs for breakfast Saturday morning before we called and said yes.

Today, Laura and Casey brought the hens over to hang out and this evening they will bring us the coop and supplies. We built a fence using a gate and wire fencing a neighbor had in his yard and my daughter hung up a welcome sign on their area of the yard. They have pecked around there all day happily and I threw out some fruit and greens I had ready for the compost.

They seem happy and the dog seems anxious to get into their yard, but as of right now we have some happy chickens and I am a happy chicken mom.