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When a hen sits on eggs, refuses to move, makes noises you’ve never heard before and pecks you very hard when you try to get her to move, that hen is broody. There are several ways to handle a broody hen. If you don’t want her to be broody, you can dip and hold the chicken for about 60 seconds in icy water to lower the chicken’s body temperature, which rises when the hen is broody. Lowering the hen’s body temperature will force the hen out of being broody. The second way to handle it is to force her off the eggs so you can remove them each day. The hen will stop being broody on her own, but it will take anywhere from a few days to a month or longer, depending on the weather. The third way to handle a broody hen is to give her eggs to sit on and hatch.

When one of our hens becomes broody, we mark eggs with an ‘x’ using a permanent marker and place them under her. We check them each day so we can remove any unmarked eggs, but otherwise leave the hen and the eggs alone. Soon, we find chicks with our hen. We put water and chick feed in an adjacent laying box, so the hen will stay on the eggs for as long as possible. Typically, eggs will hatch on different days because they were laid on different days or the chicks were at different stages of development. The longer we can keep her and the chicks happy; the longer she will remain on the nest of unhatched eggs.

This year, we had three chicks hatch. We lost one to predation when it went out of the fenced area. The other two are now almost old enough to lay their first eggs.

The chicks are still growing and will soon be the size of their momma.

The chicks are still growing and will soon be the size of their momma.

Taking care of a broody hen is fairly easy. Just be mindful of getting pecked when checking the eggs.

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Like my small farmers, our chicken coop is unheated.  Tonight is expected to be around 2 degrees.  Burr!  Not so for chickens.  They are designed for the cold.  After all, they lived in the wild long before humans made them farm critters.  Birds all over the world survive the cold.  Think about the arctic terns and penguins.  Granted, they aren’t chickens on my farmlet in rural Virginia, but they are also birds.

Have you ever gone out in the middle of a near zero degree night and put your hand between two chickens in a coop?  I have, and they were toasty warm.  Their feathers overlap each other to provide excellent insulation.  I was amazed the first (and only) time I did this.  So, now, tonight, when it’s expected to be so cold, I’m not worried about our eleven chickens.  They’ll be fine.

I hope all of you stay warm on this frigid, January night.  Sleep well, chickens.  Sleep well, friends.

Frozen Chicken Coop

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We added two hens to our flock. One was Rhode Island Red; the other, Brahma. They came from my best friend’s son. They started with about fifteen or so Over time, foxes and dogs whittled away at their numbers until only these two remained. They came to our property in a cat carrier that was put into the shop overnight. The next morning, I took the carrier down to the garden where we put our portable chicken coop for the winter. A smaller, even more portable coop was on the upper tier while the larger coop was on the lower. I put the two new chickens in the smaller one which already had food and water for them. All the while, the birds in the established flock were watching my every move, or rather they were watching the new hens. Then I went over to let the flock out into the garden. This allowed them to meet the new hens without actually having contact. The rooster was the first to react to the sounds of the newcomers. One moment, he was busy drinking. The next, he was looking in the direction of the little coop. When he heard them a second time, he left the attached run and went to find them. He got part way, and the chickens stopped talking. He came back to feed. He heard them again and quickly went to find them. He jumped onto the upper tier and cocked his head, listening intently. Then he strutted around to the fencing of the small coop. He moved his head this way and that to get a good look at them. A couple of the hens joined him. He started talking with the new hens. I watched all this while doing my job. Once they were fed, watered, and eggs collected, I walked out of the garden and closed the gate.

When I was about twenty feet away, I turned to watch them. The rooster and hens were still looking at the newcomers. They were communicating in chicken-speak. Then the rooster attempted his mating dance. He started to the side of one of the new hens. Lowered his wingtips, stretched out his neck, and tried to do a semicircle around in front of her only to discover that the coop was in the way. I smiled and chuckled. He tried to dance for her many times in quick succession. Each time, the fence between got in the way. Undeterred, he tried again.

The flock hens came to investigate, too. One by one, they came up to introduce themselves. The new hens reacted to each one with many sounds. One red hen left the garden to inspect the yard for anything new. This was her normal routine. Other hens, one by one followed her. Several remained with the newcomers. I left them to become acquainted.

At lunchtime, I went back out just to have a look. The rooster was still attempting to dance for them. Three hens were there as well. The new hens gave most of their attention to the rooster. I left them alone.

At sundown, the wind started kicking up. I was worried about the two hens in the small coop. They did not have the protection from the weather that the flock had. I let them out of the small coop and herded them to the large one. They reluctantly entered the run where they inspected the food and water. They cleaned their beaks on the ground. They started looking for a place to roost for the night. The red one jumped up on the chain that holds waterer and feeder. It swung back and forth. She used her wings and tail to try to stabilize herself. She fell off with an indignant flapping of wings and clucking. She tried a second time and almost got stabilized. I used the stick to help her off. The white one stepped through the chicken door into the coop. She stood in the doorway, half in, half out. The red one pushed her way past. The rooster and flock talked with her as she did. I gently nudged the white one in and closed the chicken door behind her. It was going to be a cold night. I wanted them safe and warm.

The next morning, I went down with food and water. As soon as the chicken door was opened, the rooster made his appearance. He was followed by many hens. They ate and drank and talked with each other. The rooster did his mating dance. The red hen left the garden for the yard. New chickens and old flock were now one.

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I know I’ve been away for a while.  I apologize for neglecting this blog and everyone who follows it.  As you know, life tends to happen between plans.  Let me update you on the garden and greenhouse.

We have moved the chicken coop completely into the garden.  We close them in at night and let them out into the garden in the morning.  They love the extra space they have and love to walk with me whenever I enter the garden to give them food or water.  The rooster does his mating dance for the hens regularly.  Sometimes they mate with him.  Sometimes they don’t.  All of the brassica plants that I had in the garden have been eaten, of course.  They started with the leaves and quickly moved onto the stems.  Well, so much for early broccoli or cabbage, at least in the garden.

The greenhouse is another matter.  The brassica plants there are doing well.  We also have parsnips, carrots, and peas.  The peas are small and may not do much.  We’ll see soon enough.  The plants in pots on the work bench are overwintering nicely, too.  I have mugwort, evening primrose, garlic, onions, strawberries, brassicas, and sage.  They’ll be good and strong and ready for transplanting in the Spring.  I also have heather and rosemary in pots.  The heather can be transplanted into the garden in the Spring.  The rosemary will have to stay in the pot so I can carry it in and out of the greenhouse.

Trying to water the greenhouse in the winter can be a bit of a challenge.  If the hose is frozen, I have to use the one gallon waterer.  It takes a lot of time to water that way, but it’s doable.

I hope all your gardening endeavors are going well.

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I awoke this morning to snow falling outside.  So, after getting ready for the day, I took my camera and my dog for a walk.  There was just a light dusting of snow with more falling.  The air was brisk but the wind took the mist of my breath away before it could form.  The snow stuck to the grassy and dirt areas but not to the sidewalk.  Walking was easy, not slick at all, which is important to me since I tend to fall often and well.  This year hasn’t been too bad when it comes to falling.  Some years are really bad for falling.  One year, and I forget which one, I fell so many times that my family talked about special shoes or other things to keep me from falling.  I was sure once or twice that had broken my ankle or something, and since I don’t feel pain, I could have without realizing.  Well, not really, without feeling pain, I would feel the bone give, break.  I’ve dislocated my knee before and felt the bones move.  It’s an odd feeling.  I knew it should hurt, but it didn’t hurt at all.  Not feeling pain is scary.  I’ve gotten hurt before without realizing it.  Burns, cuts, scraps, bruises, happened without notice.  My family rightfully worries about me.  I do as well.

I walked toward my greenhouse and noticed that the dirt area near the new garage.  I took a photo of the grass and the dirt area before taking a photo of the snow on top of my greenhouse.  The plants inside drooped with the night’s cold, but once the sun comes out, whenever it comes out, they’ll perk back up again.  Most of the plants in there are hardy down to fifteen degrees.  Some are hardy as long as frost doesn’t touch them, or so it seems.  I’ve had such a hard time with rosemary overwintering outside up here on this mountain.  I have one in my greenhouse for its second winter.  So far, it’s doing very well.  It had flowers on it just a few days ago.  Beside the rosemary, sits a heather plant.  It also has flowers on it.  Maybe the heat of the greenhouse confused them.  I hope the flowers don’t make them more vulnerable to the cold.

I walked past the greenhouse without opening the door.  The chicken coop was the next thing I wanted to check on.  The chickens were all inside the coop, which kept them out of the cold and weather.  The coop is not heated so they aren’t exactly warm, but they aren’t freezing.  I worry about some of them.  They were injured by a raccoon who removed many feathers from their tails and necks.  The black one looks especially scrawny.  I hope the others are helping her stay warm.

Trees all around my home offer their protection from the wind, but because of the size of the open area, their protection is limited.  Still, they wave good morning to me as Thor walked toward them and  into the woods.  I take photos of him and the trees and the path to the woods.  He’s on his way to the creek.  He loves to play in the water, and he loves to drink the water.  It amazes me that he doesn’t feel the biting cold of the water on days like this.  Maybe he just doesn’t care that the water’s so cold.  Maybe all he sees is,….WATER!

I turn around to go back inside.  Over my home, I see the smoke coming out of the woodstove.  I love going into a toasty warm house after being out in the cold.  On top of the woodstove, there’s a tea kettle that will be nice and hot by now, so I’ll make hot chocolate once I go inside.  Too bad I don’t have marshmallows.  I love to watch them melt on top of the chocolate and stick to the inside of the mug and wrapping my hands around the cup.  I take photos of the smoke rising from the chimney in front of the trees and disappearing into the wind.

Once inside, the cats meow for attention or food, usually it’s neither, but they’re cats so who knows.  Salem, the black cat, fuzzes around my ankles.  Callie runs up the hall rather than take the risk that she might actually get petted, which she might actually like and that would scare her more than anything else.  Puff lies near the woodstove purring contentedly.  Warmth and her person and safety and more.

Life is good.Pristine Snow

Snowy trees in the backyard.  I've taken several photos of these same trees during this snow event.  You can compare this on to the ones in previous posts.

Snowy trees in the backyard. I’ve taken several photos of these same trees during this snow event. You can compare this on to the ones in previous posts.

My greenhouse is covered in snow.  Bet the plants inside are happy.

My greenhouse is covered in snow. Bet the plants inside are happy.

My dog, Thor, enjoying the snow.

My dog, Thor, enjoying the snow.

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I awoke this morning to the rooster’s crow.  The door between run and fenced area was closed.  The chickens wanted the door open.  My dog, Thor, wanted out, too.  Once I was dressed, I grabbed my camera before heading out the door with Thor on his leash.  He bounded out ahead of me with his leash trailing after him.  My camera was still in its case which was hanging off my shoulder.  A deep breath confirmed the biting cold.  My two sweaters did little to cut the cold, but I continued to walk anyway.  The sky was blue with shades of gray clouds.  The colors of sunrise would arrive soon.  My breath came out in a cloud.  Thor met the chicken that stayed out last night.  “Silly girl,” I said, “you really should’ve gone in last night.”  She clucked her response as she followed me down to the coop.  I opened the door on the side of the run, and she ran inside where food and water awaited her.  The problem is that the rooster is there, too.  She flew out of the fenced area each day in order to escape the attentions of the rooster.   He really needs more hens to keep him happy and busy, and to keep the hens happy, too.  With the chicken safely inside, I open the door between run and fenced area.  The rooster is the first through the door.  He immediately jumped up onto the camper top that is on blocks.  It has provided them with extra cover for many years.  Once up there, the rooster crowed to announce that it is his domain.  The chickens ran from run to under the camper.  They clucked their delight.  Once done crowing, the rooster jumped down and promptly started chasing hens, who ran from him leading him on a merry chase.  I walked away before he successfully mated with any of them.  I did notice that he was not interested in one of the reds, making me wonder if she was still laying eggs.  I made a mental note to check her vent later.  Pink and moist is good; yellow and dry is not good.

Thor and I headed toward the iron gate that stands at the wood’s threshold.  The gate was a graduation gift from my best friends.  Leaves covered the path long ago.  Thor was happy to lead the way.  I knew he was headed to the creek.  I had to keep the leash fairly short so he wouldn’t get wrapped around trees or go somewhere that I can’t follow.  He learned long ago to go backward, retracing his footsteps when he gets partially wrapped around a tree.  He’s a smart dog.  Further down the path, he started huffing with each breath telling me that he smelled some animal or strange dog.  He found the spot he wanted and peed to leave his mark.  He kept breathing deep and huffing, following the path of the unknown critter.  Bear, coyote, fox, and many others animals share our home.   Thor wondered back and forth, nose to the ground, huffing and tracing the scent.  He followed the scent to the creek where he jumped into the water without hesitation.  He wondered the creek huffing and following the scent.  I watched him with a grin on my face.  I took my camera out and started taking photos.  Sunrise colors through the trees.  The glistening water flow over rocks.  Thor drinking water.  Very cold, rolled up rhododendron leaves.  The neighbors cattle at the fence where our properties meet.  Frost on leaves.  For some I use the flash; for others, I don’t.  The difference has always amazed me.  I prefer natural light, but there are times when the flash is the only way to get the perfect photo.  Some of my favorite macro photos were taken in the dark using the flash.  I put the camera away.

Thor and I walked out of the woods and toward the driveway.  Frost crunched under foot as we went from woods to field.  The sun rose through the far trees, but no warmth reached me.  Thor didn’t care though.  He was busy sniffing the ground.  My hands were too cold to hold the camera still, and so I left it in the camera even though there were so many good photos available.  Life happened that way sometimes.  Instead of walking all the way to the driveway, I decided to head up to the goat barn instead.  Thor happily lead the way.  On the other side of the field, I could see the smoke start to rise out of the stack which told me that my son had just put wood into the stove.  I smiled with the thought of a warm woodstove to stand beside once I go inside.  Thor headed up to the house, as I followed behind.  The cats joined us, meowing their desire to go inside, too.

I opened the door.  Thor and the cats entered first.  I walked in and smelled the woodstove.  My son hugged me good morning.  Coffee perked.  Breakfast waited.  Life is very good.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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