Heedley’s Hens get bloody.

Time to don your deerstalkers, chickeneers, because I have a mystery. I returned from my mid-day errands today, and went to collect eggs, as is my wont. As I walked down the coop hallway, I saw this:

photo 1

Ummm. what? It’s quite a large puddle of blood, about three inches across. It goes without saying, gentle reader, that I flew into controlled panic mode. Did this blood belong to one of my chickens?

A few inches away was fairly clear evidence that a chicken had been at least near the puddle of blood:

photo 2

Hard to argue with that. This did nothing to reassure me, as one might imagine. I found a normal, clean Maisie egg in The Not The Tennis Racket Nest. I saw a small drop of blood leading into the coop (or out of it?!). Inspection of the nesting boxes revealed more fresh blood…

photo 3

…and an egg. Was the layer the bleeder? It would make sense. The egg was definitely Coraline’s (a good time to know your eggs on sight!); was Coraline wounded? There was no blood on the egg, which would seem to rule out laying trauma.

Still in controlled panic mode, I saw this small drop (about one inch) on the way out:

photo 4

Did the feather belong to the bleeder? There are so many feathers blowing around the barn, I couldn’t be sure.

I ran outside, sounding my call to arms: looklooklooklooklook!!! Yes, they’d be pissed when they ran over and found no treats. Hard cheese, old girls.

And run to me they did. I had a particular eye out for Coraline, but I was counting and checking as they arrived:

Two blonds, two reds, one white (where’s Alexia…oh, there she is). Two 2.1s. Three barreds. I checked out Abby and Maisie carefully, and Coraline seemed fine, too. Two laced. Two blacks…wait. One’s missing. That’s Jezebel. because she’s rid herself of her legband, the minx. There’s Scarlet. Where’s Delilah?!

Delilah came out from deep inside the wood, the last to arrive, with no limp or perceptible injury. Well…that’s everyone, then. The nice things about Light Brahmas is that it’s very easy to check for blood; neither Alexia nor Tallulah showed signs of a broken blood feather, which can make your coop look like an abattoir in no time flat.

I’m stumped. No one’s mortally wounded, of that I’m reasonably sure. I’ll go over them carefully at roost time, and see if anyone needs a night in the hospital. I hope everyone’s okay, because I’m pretty drained from losing Gidget…

UPDATE 5pm: Mystery solved!! Tricia the Great led me to the culprit…Coraline’s outer right toenail. It was definitely broken, although there was a short stub of nail remaining. It was covered with a coat of dried blood. I believe it clotted so quickly in large part because I use sand as my coop litter; a quick dip in fine sand is a marvelous coagulant.

No further action required, although I will be keeping my eye on it.


And then there were very nearly sixteen.

Those of you who keep tabs on the Heedley Hens Facebook Page will know that we experienced a frightening predator attack first thing Sunday morning, by the number one killer of chickens: dogs.

I was just getting out of bed when I caught a fleeting glimpse of big, black dog in the corner of my eye. It took about half a second before I realised Billie was with me in the bedroom, and there were two dogs tearing up our driveway to get at the flock, which The Man had already released from the run.

It’s interesting to note how one reacts in moments of emergency; I ran downstairs yelling “Get outside. GET OUTSIDE!!” The Man, of course, had no idea what I was talking about, and couldn’t even hear me until I’d made it to the kitchen.

“Two dogs outside!!” We both tore out the back door and up the driveway. There were white feathers scattered all along the driveway, and I feared the worst. This pic doesn’t do it justice:

The Man, about 100 feet ahead of me, yelled at the two leashless, unattended dogs, as they were cornering some of the hens in the run. From my vantage point, I saw him chase them off our property, westward, but there was something white in the lead dog’s mouth.

This wasn’t my first time at the rodeo; I knew what came next…counting. One normally follows the trail of feathers to find lost/injured birds, but what if your flock has been molting?!

I called to the flock, and most of 2.0 came from Fox Woods. I found the last of them nesting in the barn. I ran around to the run to find a few 1.0s, and more inside the coop, with 2.1. A quick tally told me I was missing two: Hermione and Alexia.

By this time, The Stepdaughters had emerged from the house, worried, but they had welcome news: they’d seen Hermione head for the pine tree by the furnace. She wasn’t there anymore, but we found her hiding by the house. She was difficult to capture, but I needed to check her over; there had been a flurry of red feathers outside the run.

She was terrified, but physically fine, That is, until I turned her over and saw her feet. Bumblefoot surgery required. OY!

This left only Alexia. I was sure she had been taken, but The Man swore the dog had only a few feathers in its mouth. It wasn’t until three hours later that she returned, calling loudly for her flock. I was so relieved to see her; truly, I had given her up for lost.

She buried herself in Fox Woods. It would take serious temptation to get her out of there so I could look her over. I pulled out the big guns; I made the flock scrambled eggs. Wouldn’t you?! Poor things!! Nom noms all around!!

She did, indeed, come out for eggs, and, once she was done, I scooped her up gently and brought her into the house, to look her over. There was a smear of blood on her chest, but I could find no wounds. What I did find was a little blood on her feet; it seemed she had injured some blood feathers in the scuffle. This is an additional vulnerability of feather-footed breeds, I have found.

I soaked her feet in warm water mixed with a Betadyne cleanser, just in case the dogs had had their mouths on them. She endured the treatment graciously, while I sorted through her feathers, looking for further injury. She returned to the flock and even laid for me yesterday. I call that rather above and beyond.

We haven’t identified the dogs’ owners yet, but we’ve been somewhat occupied with Sandy, who left us mercifully unscathed. Many of our good friends have not been so fortunate, and we wish dry streets to HeedleyWendy in NYC and power to misterproperty.

Stay safe, people.

Cluckology 101

Second of a series.

People getting chicks for the first time wonder: “How many nesting boxes will they need when they begin to lay?” An excellent question. And a futile one.

“They” say: 4 or 5 hens to a nesting box. Chickens don’t lay all day, after all. They share.


Hens are very particular about where they lay. If “their” nest is occupado, they won’t just move on to another, identical nesting box. They will stand there and scream bloody murder at the hen who occupies “their” nest until she a) lays and moves on (this can take hours),  b) is so intimidated she submits and relinquishes the nest, or c) is physically pushed out by the waiting hen. The last one can go back and forth, again for hours.

I heard an unholy racket coming from the coop this morning, unusual, because so few of the hens actually lay in the coop. Do a search for “Hermione” on this blog, and you’ll see just how creative a hen can be. My girls have, by and large, made their own nesting boxes.

The only hens who still lay in the coop with any regularity are the Light Brahmas, and they all wanted to lay at the same time this morning, in the same spot. The laws of time and space being what they are, a cacophony ensued.

Thanks to Heedley’s Hens Facebook Page, I can redirect you to the video clip there.

And now, for your listening enjoyment, I give you “Hey you, get offa my nest”. In D flat.

Toner low.

You know how Tallulah is our hippy-dippy, one-of-a-kind, designer egg girl? With the bi-coloured that changes ends?

This is how Tallulah’s eggs have always looked, from Day One:

Remember, this is not a trick of light and shadow. They actually are light buff at one end and chocolate brown at the other. They have always been that way. Until today:

Sure, it’s a little darker at the bottom, but…what the hell??!!

I know it’s Tallulah’s. I saw her in the nesting box and I saw her come out. It couldn’t be anyone else’s.

I think she’s low on ink.

With apologies to Gertrude Stein. Brahma edition.

It’s not always easy to put together one of these posts, given how spotty the girls’ laying is these winter months. Getting two girls of the same breed to lay on the same day is one thing; getting a post for the breeds where I still have three is yet another.

Yesterday, however, was a good Light Brahma day. I knew when I had Alexia in the coop nesting box and Tallulah in The Baby Box that I might have a Brahma hat trick. Pip brought one in just before nightfall, to bring you With apologies to Gertrude Stein. Brahma edition:

At left, is Alexia’s egg, virtually identical to Pip’s egg, center, in colour, sheen and shape. The only difference is that Alexia lays our smallest eggs, and Pip some of our largest.

Here’s the thing though: Pip took a break from laying and Alexia didn’t. So, Alexia’s eggs have been slowly catching up in size (she’s gone from “PeeWee” to “Small”!), while Pip’s lay vacay means hers are down a size or two. Might Alexia catch up someday?

It seems unlikely. Pip is our largest hen, and Alexia, for all that she is a Brahma, is quite petite. Breeds have traits, yes, but there is huge variation by individual.

And then…there’s Tallulah’s egg. Pointy where her sisters’ are round, chalky where her sisters’ are shiny, bi-coloured from dusty rose to chocolate brown where her sisters’ are a solid buff.

I don’t even know what to say. Different drummer.

Which leaves only one the Rock edition of With apologies to Gertrude Stein left to go. I wouldn’t hold your breath, though; Abby hasn’t laid in many a week…

Racial profiling.

My great experiment has now begun in earnest.

Days are now officially longer: on December 22, we had precisely nine hours of daylight; today, we will have nine hours and twenty-five minutes. This is an accelerating change; if you look at the cycle from solstice to solstice as a sine curve, you’ll see that change is the slowest on either side of the solstices, gradually speeding up as it approaches and passes the equinoxes, then slowing again as the next solstice nears. Help is on the way.

I knew it would be a while before I could determine if the slowing of egg production was due to shorter days, or to colder temps. And now, I can say with some confidence…it depends.

This week’s big news: Hermione is back!!! And Haley, of course, never even slowed. A true “production” girl, our Haley is. Hermione was the first to stop laying, and now seems to be back in business. So, Production Reds respond to light, is my tentative conclusion, subject to revision.

My Light Brahmas eggs are now MIA. Alexia is still laying her tiny little eggs every other day, but the two big girls have dropped out. So…Light Brahmas respond more to temperature?

My Plymouth Barred Rocks have ploughed right through both shorter days and colder temps.They may not be laying as frequently, but they’re laying. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these chickens from the swift completion of their appointed eggs.

The Buff Orpingtons? Are all over the freaking place. I have no clue. That’s where the theory falls apart.

They gave me four eggs yesterday, and three so far today; numbers are definitely down. But, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, it’s cold out there! The girls spend all day looking for a ray of sunshine and hopping from foot to foot.

I’m impressed they’re laying for me at all.

Et tu, Tallulah?

I haven’t mentioned this because I didn’t want to jinx it, but I think Tallulah might have closed up shop, too. I haven’t had an egg from her in days, possibly a week.

It figures, doesn’t it, that as soon as she finds Her Own Private Nesting Box, and it seems like it’s going to stick, so I put in six inches of wood shavings to make it comfy, and then…she stops laying.

I blame Hermione. Her influence is spreading.

I had a small leap of hope this morning, because Tallulah didn’t go crazy for the cracked corn along with the other girls. She followed me back into the barn, crying. Aha!! Maybe today’s the day!

And then, looking out the kitchen window half an hour later, I saw that the grazing flock was down one Light Brahma, and I thought “yesssss…”.

And then Tallulah came out from behind the car. Sigh.