OUCH. Alice edition.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Mother Nature can be a real bitch.

Below is a pic of Alice’s second egg, at right. To the left is Scarlet’s egg (somewhere around her 10th), laid the same day. It is a medium and a half.

These kinds of eggs are fairly common when new hens begin to lay. It takes a while for the egg-making mechanism to become consistent, and very large eggs (or “pullet bullets”) are one of the aberrations that can occur. And, no, it wasn’t a double-yolker this time, just a very, very large single yolk.

In time, the eggs become more consistent in size and shape, which is no consolation whatsoever to Alice, I’m sure. So, because it bears repeating…

OUCH.

Which just leaves Dorothy.

Our first 2.0 egg was waaaay back on September 7th, fully seven weeks ago. You’d think chicks born at the same time, from the same hatching, would lay at roughly the same time, wouldn’t you?

You would be wrong.

Sure, our “bad girl” Australorps all fell into line pretty quickly, and Gidget defied the wisdom that it takes longer for a Silver Laced Wyandotte to mature by laying her first egg five weeks ago, at 22 weeks of age, but…hello? Dorothy? Alice? Any time now would be great.

I had hoped to have 2.1 eggs by the beginning of November, and here I am still waiting on 2.0 frsts. Blue eggs are still just a dream, as Mae and Marilyn’s combs are only now just starting to pink up a bit.

Well, as at yesterday, Heedley’s Hens has welcomed another woman to the flock, trading in her “pullet” badge for one that says “hen”. How do I know?

The tyranny of mathematics. Five eggs in one day equals five layers, around here, anyway. Can I identify them all? Well, I haven’t been paying as close attention to the eggs since they’re trashcan bound, anyway, and I don’t know 2.0’s eggs as well as I will, but I’ll take a stab…

Going by size and colour, I’d say, beginning at twelve o’clock and proceeding clockwise: Scarlet (smallest dark egg and a bit rosy), Delilah (largest dark egg), Jezebel (yellowest dark egg), new layer (smaller buff egg), Gidget (larger buff egg).

But who is the new layer? I would have laid money (oh, if only I could!) the next to lay would be Dorothy, as her comb and wattles have been big and red for some time, but I have to go with Alice. She squatted for me Thursday morning, and she’s been haunting the barn.

I was pleased to see that the new layer laid in The Annex, a nest which has gone unused since Pip died.

It’s always exciting to have a new layer in the flock. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go throw out her egg.

Heedley’s Hens don’t keep score.

Pfffft. Just kidding. Of course, we do.

It’s been a big week for 2.0. Delilah laid her twelfth egg today, in only eighteen days. Not bad, little girl; not bad at all. Furthermore, today’s egg was a small and a bit. That’s a nice size for a beginner. The rest of 2.0 has been lagging way behind, however.

There have been some recent developments. Last Saturday afternoon, Stepdaughter the Younger went to check The Hideaway for eggs. She found Buffy nesting there, atop one of her own eggs…and another, smaller, darker egg, with an Australorp hanging around, yelling at Buffy. Delilah, right?

But…Delilah had already laid that morning. The egg was so similar to Delilah’s that it had to be another Australorp. Come to think of it, I hadn’t been able to figure out why Delilah had been hanging out at The Hideaway, waiting in queue, long after she had laid that morning.

Scarlet. It had to be Scarlet. Scarlet is much larger and more developed than Jezebel. We cornered the Australorp in question and checked for a leg band, the only way I can tell them apart at this point.

No leg band. The little bitch had found a way to strip hers off, which happens. Process of elimination, then! We went looking for the other two Australorps, who were grazing in the old garden, which still has not been leveled. Its meter-tall weeds are a favourite hangout for the girls, as you might imagine.

I saw a purple leg band…Delilah. Well, we knew that. Would the other Australorp’s leg band be green, as expected?

It was…pink. Scarlet. It was Jezebel who had just laid her first egg. You go, girl!

And then, of course, there has been Gidget Watch 2012. She is the only one of 2.0 to  squat for me, and, although she is easily the smallest of the Silver Laced Wyandottes, she has had brilliant red comb and wattles for some time now. She has been practice nesting and singing the egg song, without actually laying anything for two weeks. In short, she has been torturing me.

It seemed hopeful this morning that today might be the day, as she was hanging around inside the barn, looking agitated. I went to check under Buffy in The Hideaway an hour later, and…there it was. Gidget #1. It has to be, because it’s buff in colour, rather than brown, and Alice and Dorothy aren’t anywhere near ready.

I also had a Delilah egg today, although Jezebel declined to make the hat trick that would have totally made my day:

So that means fully half of 2.0 is now laying, just as the Great Molt begins. And, while we’re keeping score, today was Abby’s fifteenth consecutive egg, and counting. She’s still laying in the morning, and shows no sign of taking a day off laying gorgeous extra larges.

I love that chicken. I do.

Not a girl, not yet a woman. Visual aids.

I’ve been keeping an eye open for opportunities to capture 2.0’s tentative forays into the laying nests, and today I hit pay dirt. They are sixteen weeks old now, and you can see that the Australorps, in particular, have larger, redder combs and wattles. More tellingly, they are beginning to follow me around, and not just for treats. Can squatting be far behind?

The Silver Laced Wyandottes have less in the way of wattles and combs, as you can see, but they have small rose combs, and it’s apples to oranges.

Here they are congregated in and around The Annex, unused since Pip’s death:

And, not half an hour later, all squeezed into The Hideaway:

Who will lay first? My money is on Delilah, but it’s still anybody’s game.

Not a girl, not yet a woman.

Is there anything harder than waiting for that first egg?

It can be excruciating, especially the FIRST first egg. Pullets can lay their first eggs anywhere from 15 weeks of age to 26 weeks, or even longer, depending on the breed, the environment (cold and darkness are deterrents to laying), and the individual.

Our FIRST first egg was laid in the run, and I wasn’t looking for it when I found it. The first few eggs can be challenging to find, not because the pullet intends to hide them, but because she doesn’t have full control of her laying yet, much like a toddler during potty training. It can be pretty funny watching a beginner layer make an hysterical dash for the nesting boxes; one can almost see the thought bubble above their heads that says: “I gotta goooooooo!!!!!”

Our FIRST first egg was laid by Alexia, which gobsmacked me. Light Brahmas are famous for their long, slow maturation. I was expecting one of our Production Reds to be first, and then little Alexia popped one out. Her eggs may be our smallest to this day (barring Trixie’s farts), but she will always be the first.

I’m much more relaxed about our SECOND first egg this year; it’s easier to wait when one is reaping gorgeous eggs every day. I feel quite the jaded old hat with all my months of experience. Still, it’s fun to watch 2.0 tiptoe into womanhood, little knowing what lies ahead.

Or do they?

The FIRST first layer of 1.0 had no model whatsoever, and she freaked. Poor Alexia! A day or two before she laid her first egg she paced and panted and cried and jumped on my lap for comfort, a decidedly un-Alexia thing to do. There was nothing I could do to help her.

The other nine girls of 1.0 had Alexia’s example to follow, and 2.0 has 1.0. It can’t be a coincidence that 2.0 is taking a keen interest in all things nesty, just as they approach point of lay (or “POL” as we chickeneers call it).

Until Sunday, I would enter the barn during the day and find 2.0 all sitting on the barn floor around The Annex, as Pip laid. After she left, they’d enter the nest, one by one, to inspect what she had left behind. The thought bubbles, again, write themselves:

“What is that?”
“No idea, dude.”
“I saw it come out her butt.”
“Shut. UP. That’s disgusting.”
‘Do you think that might happen to us?”
“I’m not doing that. No way.”

Sometimes, when I enter the barn, I’ll hear Alexia protesting in The Baby Box, a sound not unlike the screech of a hawk, because one of the Silver Laced Wyandottes is perched on the lip of the box, observing her laying process from eight inches above her. How rude!

Today, however, was the final straw.

Nest trends come and go at Heedley’s Hens, as you know. We are in a Hideaway phase, currently, where everyone who’s anyone lays in The Hideaway. Out of (now) nine laying hens, six lay there. This causes several screaming matches a day, and the arguments are to be expected. Today’s logjam, however, was completely unexpected.

Loud complaining brought me into the barn to find Buffy, perched on the tractor’s basket screaming in the direction of The Hideaway. I turned to find not Haley, as per usual, not Coraline, not even Trixie, but the three bad girls of 2.0, Scarlet, Jezebel and Dalila, all jammed in The Hideaway, checking it out.

Off with you, harlots! Let the Buffster lay her egg in peace! Poor Buffy.

That said, this is all a very good sign that 2.0 is thinking about thinking about laying. They’re sixteen weeks old now, almost as big as the 1.0 girls, and their wattles and combs are getting bigger and redder. They’re nowhere near squatting for me just yet, but the day is coming when they will become my willing slaves. Heh, heh, heh.

And, although no egg will ever be as exciting as the First first egg (except possibly, the FIRST first green egg), I know the SECOND first egg will be cause for great rejoicing.

Stay tuned…

The kids are all right.

I love watching my little flock get ready for bed; I find it fascinating.

It’s very clear that 2.0 will not enter the coop until 1.0 has entered, fed, and roosted, and 2.1 won’t enter until 2.0 has had their turn. I will often find 2.1 foraging by the front of the barn at twilight, all by themselves, the only time of day they stray from the protection of Junk Jungle. They actually feel more confident when the rest of the flock is in the coop.

I wish all this cool chicken behaviour didn’t happen at dusk, though, because it makes for damned poor picture taking, and movie taking is impossible. There just isn’t enough light to capture the shenanigans, and that’s a shame.

I love having my girls up at face level, to have a proper talk with them, give them a good massage, and say goodnight. I can look them over and be sure everyone looks healthy, and that their crops are full.

This holds only for 1.0, of course, but I’m operating under the assumption the others will come around once they start wanting the chicken butt handshake.

As for the new roost, it was a huge success. The sawhorse definitely was required; I’ll figure that bit out later. What wasn’t expected: on a night when coop temperature was still in the high 80s after a brutally-hot day, 2.0 would cram themselves on top of each other when they’d an eight-foot roost to spread out comfortably.

Silly chickens.

Also unexpected, little 2.1 decided it was time for them to move on up:

How cute is that little face?! I’m telling you, the little beards drive me crazy. They are just so cute.

So, 2.0 and 2.1 are finally sharing a roost. Well, yes. And no:

There’s five feet of unoccupied roost between them, which is just fine. The little girls will become braver once the size differential diminishes.

Don’t blink. Don’t even blink.

(Today’s post heading is for all you Doctor Who fans out there. You know who you are…)

Time to check in with 2.0! There have big, big changes for the girls this past week; to sum up, they now have complete freedom, with all the joys and perils conferred therewith.

They assemble with 1.0 in the run first thing to be let out for a day’s pasture; they find their own grub (as it were), which includes, but is certainly not limited to, the feed I put out for them; they are responsible for their own health and safety during the day; they congregate with 1.0 outside the run for evening grazing; they make their way into the coop at the appointed hour; they arrange themselves on the sawhorses for the night, with the exception of the one who always has to try the 1.0 roost just one more time to see if she can get away with it. (She can’t.)

In short, they are big girls. Short of egg laying, they are in the routine they will keep for the rest of their lives here. It’s a wonderful feeling to see them living free and independent, but I also get nervous when they graze in an open area. They’re not full sized just yet. “Where’s ma kids at?” has significantly more urgency than “Where’s ma chickens at?”, as does the “One, two three; one, two three” once I’ve found them.

I’m sure, at some point, I will become blasé about the rapid growth of chicks, but that day has not yet come. 2.0 is ten weeks old now; such a complete transformation in such a brief period of time. Mother Nature is amazing.

So, here is a photo timeline of 2.0, to commemorate and celebrate their transition into womanhood, their henmitzvah, if you will.

First, the good girls, the Silver Laced Wyandottes, in week one…

…week two…

…week five…

…week seven…

…and today, in week eleven:

Above is Gidget, the friendliest, whitest, and smallest of our three Silver Laced Wyandottes.

Just one question: are my Silver Laced Wyandottes every going to, you know…LACE??!! Their feathers are supposed to look like this:

See the lacing?! SEE IT??!! White feathers with black edging?! What the hell, people?! Where’s ma damn lacing at??!!

Ahem. Which is to say, I would appreciate any encouragement owners of Silver Laced Wyandootes might be able and willing to offer.

On to the bad girls, the Australorps, in week one…

…week two…

…week five…

…week seven…

…and, today, in week eleven:

These girls are cool. They are completely black: feathers, legs, eyes, beaks, even Scarlet’s comb is black (see above). The iridescence is beginning to show in their feathers and I am loving it. They, more than the good girls, are beginning to overcome their fear of me. Scarlet leads the charge; she was the first to take a treat out of my hand yesterday, ripping off bits of hosta leaf I was holding for her. Victory is sweet.

So, am I wrong? Is it not amazing what Mother Nature can accomplish in fewer than three months?  She had some help, I’ll grant you (thengyaverramush), but…still. You gotta give her props. And now the countdown to their first eggs begins…

(And, Aoxa, if you see any roos here, I don’t want to know. I’m tapped out.)

Big girl bed. The saga continues.

Remember how 2.0 roosted with 1.0 on the real roosts that first night of their freedom, and I was all “it won’t last and here are the reasons why?” Seems I forgot one.

1.0 got righteously pissed.

The very next night, every time a 2.0 flew up onto the roosts, a 1.0 would peck at her until she disembarked. They were not kidding around. No babies allowed. That left the little ladder, of course, all ready for them to roost on amicably and without friction. Just as I had planned.

Riiiiight.

Here’s the things with ladder roosts: each roost is at a different height. So? I hear you say. So…the chicken on the highest roost wins. She is the head chicken. She is the HBIC. Highest roost = status.

Ruh roh. Didn’t think that one through, but when I did, I remembered that this was the reason I opted for even roosts last year, when the coop was first constructed. There it was, bed time, sun setting, and 2.0 was wrestling for the top spot. I couldn’t leave them like that (well, I could, but I’d rather avoid competitiveness in the flock whenever possible).

Ever adaptive (not by nature as my mother will tell you; the chickens have made me so), I looked around for a roost of sufficient length and an appropriate, uniform height. I glanced inside the third pony stall, the one that had been used as the rat killing booth. Carelessly stacked on top were The Man’s two wooden sawhorses.

(Insert angelic musical chord here)

I wrestled them out of the stall (and I do mean “wrestled”; one of them was somehow tied to the stall with rope), through the inner coop door and into the midst of nineteen hysterical chickens. It was…perfect.

(Another angelic musical chord, if you’d be so kind)

Every time a 2.0 jumped up onto the real roosts, I’d scoop her up (screaming, of course…the bird, not me) and deposit her onto a sawhorse. They got it immediately, and soon all six were happily ensconced on their own roosts. 1.0 was happy; 2.0 was happy; I was happy. 2.1 was screaming to be let out of the crate, but that’s a given these days.

The sawhorses are easily shifted aside for morning clean up, and they will do quite nicely until something new can be constructed as a permanent roost for 2.0 and 2.1. As you might surmise, it will not be a ladder roost as (ha!) planned. At this point, I am cooking up something devilishly clever…

Every night since, we’ve had an orderly bedtime; 2.0 waits for 1.0 to be in the coop and up on the roosts (hey, even rats learn), and they organise themselves up on the sawhorses.

I’ve noticed that 2.0, while they do stay together as a group of six, tends to subdivide by breed, and roosting time is no exception.

Above, Dorothy wants to get up, and the Australorps are all, pfffft. I don’t think so.

But they do intermingle in the end.

As for 2.1, they are sick and tired of being the babies. They’ve been roosting on that little stick for a few weeks now, and, while I’ve not been paying attention, it has become woefully inadequate. Not only are they lacking space in that corner for their rapidly growing bodies, but if that thin, dry stick doesn’t splinter under their growing weight, it will be a minor miracle.

Here are some pics of them from last night, showing how difficult it is for them to get comfy.

Me thinks a bigger roost, further from the wall of the crate, is in order, stat.

So, the integration is proceeding very smoothly, but there’s a catch, which should surprise no one. The Man doesn’t exactly know that 2.0 is using his sawhorses as roosts. I know what you’re thinking: he does now! Nope. He reads this blog very seldom, if at all, and goes into the coop even less frequently.

So…shhhhhh.

My nineteenth nervous breakdown.

These chicks are going to kill me, I swear.

I took Billie out mid-morning today for a pee-pee, and I looked up, as I do, toward the run to check on 2.0. Twice already this morning, I had found Jezebel outside the MacGyver Terrace, and had just the best time getting her back in. There was no obvious point of exit; I assumed she’d gone over. There’s not much I can do about that except scrap the whole idea.

As I looked up, I noticed something strange. The thing that was strange is that there was one chick. ONE.

Surely, they must be hiding behind something inside the run, right? Or, possibly, they managed to overturn the board that blocks the pop door, and were inside the coop. Right? RIGHT??!!

Not in the run. Not in the coop. Ruh roh.

I looked outside the run, outside the terrace, around the back of the barn, but there was only…Dorothy. Ironically, she was the only one home. There’s no place like it.

My mind raced. Had they been captured by predators, all five of them? Without any trace of feathers or disturbance?

It seems completely unlikely now, of course, hindsight being 20/20, but at the time, my stomach sank and my heart raced. The Man was going to be pissed. Well, not pissed, exactly, but he would get all thin lipped and exhale heavily with resignation. This transgression might even merit an eyeroll.

I was imagining what would happen to poor Dorothy, alone of her generation, when I walked around to the front of the barn to find…the missing five. Just chillin’. Eating grass. Milling around the found crate. Drinking out of 1.0’s water dish. Like it was nothing.

Wait. What?!

They were all…what up, mom? I tried to corral them back into the front doors of the barn, the closest path to safety, but I had Billie on the leash and five slippery chicks, eager to retain their freedom, scattered at my attempt.

Sigh. With Billie back in the house, I was able to corral them, not through the barn (they flatly refused to go through the doors), but around the side of the barn and back through the terrace into the run. With the door closed. Dorothy was hysterical with relief.

Clearly, The MacGyver Terrace was deeply, irrevocably flawed, and needed serious rethinking. Here is The New and Improved MacGyver Terrace:

Now with more jungle!

That corner of the barn is a repository for junk: old furniture, expired appliances, outgrown children’s toys. It’s the Corner of Shame, which is why I’ve never shown it in pics before. It could have been cleared out in early spring, but, having missed that window of opportunity, a jungle grew up to conceal it, rendering the junk both invisible, and unreachable.

So, The New and Improved MacGyver Terrace now encompasses Junk Jungle: fascinating for chicks; frustrating for aerial predators. It’s win/win…until I need to get them out of there some day soon.

After running errands, I still have six chicks, so, either Terrace security is much improved, or the Jungle is sufficiently engaging so as to encourage compliance. Either way works for me.

Because…I don’t think my heart can take that again.