April 2008 Archives

Roofs and Bravery

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During Chicken Exercise Hour today, I slung the aviary netting over the Chicken Yard. That means I can leave the girls back there for an afternoon without worrying about predation too much (a determined predator would be able to get through the net, but they would probably get terribly tangled in it in the process).

Aviary netting over the chicken yard

Everybody is looking very chickenesque these days. You can see here that Debbie's getting her belly feathers in still, but most of the rest is all feathery. She's about five weeks old now. I love the little earmuffs.

Debbie at five weeks

With a few visits to the yard under their feathers, the girls are much more exploratory than they had been. Today they dust-bathed in a different spot (one of the piles of soil from the fence post digging), and explored around the larger compost bin.

Examining the compost bin

The bin is made from three pallets lashed together with brass wire, and it has a certain population of insect life thanks to about two years of service. This was of great interest to the girls.

Debbie looks inside

For reasons I don't totally understand, they seem to all fixate on one area and try to get right there, rather than spreading themselves along the length of the bin. Maybe they think there's something special there. Maybe they're right.

Everybody wants to be in one spot

It was mostly Debbie, though. I think those little white dots are bug eggs, and she was eating them.

Debbie eating bug eggs

Eventually Carole figured out that she could jump up and reach higher.

Carole jumps up for better access

And then Joan joined her.

Joan and Carole on the slat

They're still getting the hang of perching -- check out Joan's death-grip on the slat she's standing on there -- but they're mostly good at it. Occasionally they will try to stand somewhere and just fall over, at which point they flap their wings and try to pretend they intended to fly down anyway.

Joan up high

A recent addition to the equipment is a lid for the transport box so the girls will not fly out halfway across the yard. This meant that the dogs could come over and look, which Rosie was very interested in doing.

Rosie with the chicks

And finally, I added a bunch more movies, of which this is one:


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This morning, the first real evidence that the girls have started sleeping on their roosts properly. Before this, I've seen them lying, face-down, along the roost, or more comonly curled up together on the shavings. But this image from the webcam shows that they're actually roosting and tucking their heads back to sleep. (They also look a big ragged, because they're fluffing their feathers up for insulation.)


New Homeowners

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The girls are quickly outgrowing their transport box. Today we had an abbreviated Chicken Exercise Hour because it's been chilly with high winds, which is a great way to overchill your chicks. They may look like little chickens but they are still young enough to get too cold.

Chicks in the transport box

The reason for this Chicken Exercise Hour was to try out their new digs, the just-enclosed Chicken Yard. The girls seemed to like it, and to feel very safe there. And because the dogs have usually been banned from Chicken Exercise Hour due to bad behaviour (ie, trying to eat the chicks), they got a real treat because they were allowed to be on the other side of the fence, looking in.

Dogs observing Chickens

These chicks are growing fast. They're definitely starting to look like real chickens. And they're slowly learning how to act like them, with all the scratching, pecking, and hunting of an adult. Joan got a really big spider and it was gone in two gulps.

Chickens looking big

Debbie's head fluff is considerably lighter than her new feathers coming in. Noel's worried that we won't be able to tell her apart from Liza any more, but Liza is a lighter brown.


Carole has lost the most head fluff.

Carole's head fluff

But all four are very happy with their new yard, and spent a bunch of time exploring. They were particularly interested in the compost bin lid leaned up there, probably because it is usually teaming with spiders. They would have stayed out much longer, but we were cold and tired and brought them in.

Chickens in their yard

And of course, we filmed the first few minutes in the new digs.


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While all four chickens have definitely had personalities from day one, lately they've been maturing and getting more interesting. Debbie, for instance, really like flying and perching. When we went out today, she was the first to leave the transport box (I've been letting them make their own way out rather than lifting them). She's also the most interested in hanging out with me.

Debbie on the box edge

She spent a bunch of time perching on the edges of the box before deciding to move on to the grass. It was a good opportunity for me to check out her new feathers.

Debbie on the box edge

Liza is also getting some interesting new feathers.

Liza has head feathers

Carole seems to just be getting fluffier. She's also growing feathers on her head.

Carole on the box edge

Here's more of Liza's head feathers. As you can see, they grow out attached to the chick fluff, so at the end of each new feather is a little tassel of fluff.

Liza's head feathers

Debbie, here, is a little behind on the head feathering. But you can see that the fluff is loosening up and the darker head feathers are coming in. It's made her head kind of marbled.

Debbie's head feathers

Here's another look at Carole's head and neck. She's getting a nice caramely colour (well, buff, I suppose). There are still a lot of points where you can see her bare skin under the new feathers. But she's not looking quite as mangy as a week ago.

Carole's head feathers

Everybody's body feathers are mostly filled in. On Debbie here you can see the last bits of fluff at the end of feathers around her shoulders. She's also a little bald around the legs, but I couldn't get her to hold a pose for the camera.

Debbie's body feathers

Check out Carole's awesome tail.

Carole's tail

Another feature of today's exercise was peck-the-human. For some reason they were all very interested in pecking at me for about a minute. They're definitely aware of me and will come running to hide under me if something startles them, and Debbie flew up into my hand to take a ride for a few minutes.

Peck the human

Much More Chicken

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These chickens are growing very quickly. They're lots bigger than when they came home. Five or six times the size? I should have weighed them that first day. But being bigger means they can stay outside for longer, and do more exploring.

Chickens in the grass

Here's Debbie sitting on my knee. Look at all those feathers all over her back! But they still have chick puff on their heads.

Debbie looming

After a nice long playtime outside with the compost heap, they came in and immediately ran to the feeder.

Chicken feeding time

And because it's easy to forget how tiny they once were, I give you in contrast, this photo of Liza and Debbie at the feeder the day after we brought them home:

When they were tiny peeps

A Chicken Likes Her Options

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Yesterday while cleaning the chicken habitat, I rearranged the stick so that it is next to the new roost. They seem to like having the option of roosting on the stick or the roost.

Here they are, sleeping on their assorted roosts. They're mostly sleeping on the ground, lying down like chicken carnage, but every now and then they all climb up and settle down together on the roost.

Napping chickens

And yes, I do realize how lame it is that I am watching my chickens through a webcam.

Chickens in the Compost

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Chicken Exercise Hour today took place in the compost area, soon to be the Chicken Yard. In addition to showing them their future home, I was trying to introduce the girls to the wonder of digging through compost for bugs and stuff. They seemed to finally get it. (Some new videos of them pecking around here and here.)

Here's Liza, perched on the compost bin, while Joan looks in from below.

Liza and Joan on the compost bin

Debbie, Joan, and Carole were more interested in the ground around the bin than in being in the bin itself.

Debbie, Joan, and Carole peck at the bin

But with a small amount of persuasion, they were all happy to check out the finished compost and look for interesting things to eat.

Chicks in the bin

Whenever anything weird happened to startle them, they would all freeze in this position.

Chicks on the lookout

But mostly, lots and lots of pecking around.

Chicks a-pecking

And the roost? I think they like it.

The chicks like the roost

Goldie in the Dirt

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There is nothing a dog likes more than to lie on a nice fresh pile of dirt.

Goldie in the dirt pile

It's soft, cool, and oh, so comfortable.

Falling asleep

Spying on the Chickens

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Today I installed a wooden roost in the chicken habitat, so the girls can sit up high without teetering on the stick that they are rapidly outgrowing.

The installation process kind of freaked them out, in much the same way that a large razor blade coming through your house walls might freak you out.

Huddled together, freaked out

I was just starting to feel bad and think I should have waited until they were out playing with Noel one day, when they started to drop off to sleep. I guess they were not that freaked out.

Were scared, now tired

I still find it really funny how they just sort of face-plant when they fall asleep.

Joan face-down in the shavings

The other thing I've been doing lately is spying on them with Chicken Cam. I looked today to see if they were enjoying the new roost, and they definitely seem to be using it. Now so much Joan (I'm guessing it's a bit too warm up there for a black chicken to feel really comfortable), but the others have been hanging out on the roost.

Three chicks on a roost

I think this is a little grooming festival (Joan is right under the roost here).

Grooming on the roost

There's a lot of this: three girls up, one girl walking around below.

Just sitting on the roost

But they're still babies, so when they want to go to sleep, for the most part they climb down and make a big chicken pile in the corner.


Mangy Chickens

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Another day, another Chicken Exercise Hour. The girls are growing their big-girl feathers and are at the kind of mangy stage, though I've heard it gets worse.

Joan is looking pretty good, still.

Joan on the hand

I'm teaching them to hop into my hand when I put it in front of them, for a ride and for looking at things from up high, which almost all of them are really into (Carole is the hold-out; she shrieks when I pick her up).

Here's Liza, looking down at the others. Note the chicken-ears.

Liza has chicken ears

They all really like to be under me, no matter where I am.

Chickens underfoot

And everybody is getting very excited about their wings. There was a lot of short-hop flying going on, and general luffing of the wings.

Debbie shows us her wings

Noel was very popular, because he can make a perfect mother-chicken sound.

Hop on pop

This form of hop-on-pop is much less painful than when the dogs do it.

Noel covered in chickens

Mostly, they are busy exploring. In between looking really, really mangy.

Carole looking like she is diseased

And a little awkward.

Debbie feels gawky

They especially still want mommy, even if they are not sure who mommy really is.

All the chicks trying to get into Noel's lap

Dust Bathing

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Chickens bathe by rolling in the dust. I made a little movie of their dust bath this afternoon, and here it is:

And here they are hopping around:

I added music this time, in part to cover up a conversation Noel and I were having about a squirrel at the bird feeder. Also because it was cute.

It seems like every day when I go look at the chickies, they have all kinds of new feathers. Today Joan started showing her bars (from which they got the name Barred Rock).

Joan's bars showing up

Also starting to form are the combs. All chickens have combs, not just roosters. But roosters have big combs, and that's one of the signs that you may have a boy in the group (they're sold as pullets, but chicken sexing is an art rather than a science, and there's a 10 percent chance that a bird may actually be male).

This is Debbie, showing me her pretty comb. (You can tell because her wing feathers are tipped with white, and also you can just see the black dots on the back of her head. I'm getting good at this.)

Debbie's comb

For some reason, Debbie felt the need to sort of drape herself over the retaining block like this.

Debbie draped on the wall

Lately the chicks have been doing a lot more dust bathing and general wallowing in their bedding. I had to put their water jar up on a stand to keep it free of kicked-up bedding from their more enthusiastic moments. I wonder if growing feathers makes them feel all itchy.

Most of today's exercise hour was spent in an extensive, all-chick dust bath right next to me. As you can see, they kicked quite a lot of dirt up over my foot and leg.

Joan, Debbie, and Liza kicking up dirt

The photos I took of the dust bath are almost disturbing. Without motion, the chicks appear sprawled out dead with their heads at unnatural angles. And, of course, they are all very gray because they were covered in dust.

Chicks in dust bathing poses

Carole dug herself a nice little wallow to bathe in, and was often joined by one of the others. The chicks really do spend a lot of their time right next to each other.

Joan and Carole in a shared dust bath

And every now and then, they would just sort of pause, roll over, and lie there as if this was the most wonderful thing in the world. Chickens definitely like dirt.

Liza lolling in the dirt


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The sunbeam is slowly moving away from Simon. Too bad, because he's looking really suave right there.

Simon in the sunbeam

Feathery Dirtballs

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We're trying to get out for a little excursion every day now, although today it was a trifle windy for all of us (you can hear the wind whipping around on the videos I'm uploading -- there will be several new videos on our YouTube site when they all finish uploading there are now several new videos on our YouTube page).

Liza and Carole's butts

In the last few days we've gotten quite a lot of new feathers. In addition to larger wing feathers and those cute little tails everybody is growing, the girls are putting on new feathers on their shoulders.

Liza's shoulder feathers

There was still a lot of scampering under my legs, but the girls are learning to be adventurous, too.

Running for the leg

Today we started out in the rain basin and then moved up the steps to the upper orchard. It was late afternoon and the sun is still pretty horizontal at this time of year, so the footprints showed up nicely.

Chicken footprints in the orchard

The girls ended their foray by rustling around in a hebe for a long time, then they hung out writhing and digging under the strawberries. They got filthy.

Chickens huddled up under the strawberries

And I do mean filthy. Carole showed it the best because of her light feathers, but they were pretty much all this gritty with soil.

Filthy Carole

After an eventful exercise hour, the girls were put back in the transport box and went back to the habitat, where they immediately stuffed themselves with food.

Lots of dirty chicks

Another Chickens' Day Out

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Today the girls went adventuring in the upper part of the orchard, and they found a nice big sage plant to hide in, where they spent the rest of their exercise time.

Here you see Carole (in front), Liza (in the back with browner wings), and Debbie (in the back with whiter wings). Now that they are starting to get real feathers, they are much more recognizable.

Chickens in the sage

I would have made movies of them playing in there, but mostly what I got to see was a quivering shrub. But at least they seemed to be having a good time.

Liza in the sage

So this evening I put the camera in their habitat and filmed them: stunned at the invasion of this weird camera thing, eating, practising their roosting. I'm uploading the movies to my YouTube page right now.

Making movies of chickens at rest