Thursday, February 21, 2008


At the beginning of February, the Punkster laid six eggs over twelve days. The Poles usually lay every other day, not every day like the breeds cultivated for good laying. Every other day suits my small household but none does not. Despite oyster shell, jumbo meal worms, treats from the kitchen, and the usual chicken kibble, she is taking a vacation from egg-laying and DartMouth hasn't even started. The new girls are still too young, so I'm not worried about them.

Today I threw around some scratch feed to keep them busy and explained the problem. Then I leaned close to the chicken wire and warned them in a low voice, "Chicken soup."

Empty threat but they won't know.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

the night after the crawling under the house incident

A few minutes ago, the Amazons were swearing at full volume, then yelling, “Quiet! Stop it!” equally loudly. The cockatiels were whistling, dogs barking. And one banty chicken was going wraaaak—ha-ha-ha.

All except the dogs and myself are in the mud room. Years ago I swore I’d never keep a chicken in the house. But extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary solutions. It’s risky putting an outdoor chicken in a room with parrots but they have no contact, not even from my touching one cage then another without washing my hands. That’s the best I can do right now. And Edsel is really, really cute with her big eyes. I’ve been picking her up so many times to move her from place to place that she’s getting used to being handled.

The circumstances are actually very ordinary. The Polish hens are picking intensely and viciously on Edsel because she is so tiny. They do the ordinary “get outta my way and off my perch” pecking at placid Muffin but she is large enough to sort things out.

Later in the evening I’ll try again to put Edsel in the coop and see if they can stand it. But I think I need two banty Moderns, because Edsel needs back-up.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Going to earth

Thinking all problems temporarily solved, I discovered that Keeper had crawled under the part of the house beneath the mud room and was making desperate clattering and scraping sounds. This projection is bordered on one side by wood lattice screwed into the siding, on the other by a wood wall and entry stairs, and on the side where she crawled in by two very heavy, large, long wooden planters. Filled with dirt and plants, of course. I heaved one away from the house near the corner where Keeper had crawled in, and peered underneath.

Airedales are terriers; terriers are earth dogs. They are at their absolute happiest when digging after small animals. Even a 60-lb Airedale can crawl through a very small space, just as a mouse can crawl through a space the size of a nickel. Or is it a dime?

I called to Keeper and she came over to me, putting one foot on the brick wall on which the planter had rested. That was as far as she got. Her head bumped the overhead rafters.
There was nothing for it but to heave both planters off the brick wall and lie down full length to see if I could fit some of myself through the opening but it wasn’t even large enough for my head.

Sign of intelligence: having no desire to get stuck under the house, I stopped there. Instead I got a full view of the amazing junk a previous owner had left there: long planks of wood, empty soda cans, a thin metal strip, bits of asphalt roofing, a nearly full gallon jug of concrete bonding adhesive. I pulled out what I could reach while Keeper tugged and ripped at a plastic tube of drain pipe firmly stuck in concrete. (Drain pipe is rippled like an accordion and about six inches in diameter.) Occasionally she left the pipe and scrabbled through the other bits of debris. I saw a spot of blood on one hind leg and worried that she’d get hurt on something sharp and nasty in there.

So I took a look at the front side and discovered I could remove the lattice with a Phillips screwdriver. (BTW, the house is yellow but used to be blue. There are nice little blue lines where the lattice used to be.)

Now it is time to congratulate me. I don’t like crawling among bugs, I don’t like getting cobwebs in my hair, I don’t like crawling full-length on damp dirt and heaven knows what other crap. And I’m a middle-aged writer who shouldn’t have to be doing these things.

I did these things. I pulled myself in, grabbed Keeper’s collar, and forced her to come out. When we got inside, I tore off my yucky clothes, shook the scary things from my hair, and dragged Keeper upstairs to be washed in my shower. No treats for her! I just threw her in and hosed her down.

Results of a day of chicken-chasing, pen-building, and spelunking with the dog: two scraped shins, cracked fingers, a cut on my forehead. Not so bad.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Transformation of the Chicken Slum

The chicken slum is now an art installation after Monday night’s work. Think Watts Towers built by a disorganized poet. It is constructed of a variety of found materials. All I need now are some colorful tiles to spiff it up.

After getting Edsel home Monday morning, I shut her and Muffin back in the hutch and wasn’t even late for work, thanks to a fast sprint across the Park ‘N Ride lot just in time to catch the bus. I spent most of Monday afternoon until past dark shoring up the pen, cutting and nailing up scraps of fencing, using a beaded ribbon belt to weave together the two ceiling pieces where she had flown through a gap. To close the gap above the door, I put up the piece of nylon netting that was used in the back of my car to hold grocery bags. On another side, I nailed up a large sheet of plastic that had covered a new mattress. And so on to block every opening that had existed above flight height for the Poles but not for a banty Modern.

You never know what will come in handy. As a friend in college used to say and the late spouse used to do: never throw anything away. Sadly, I’ve had to throw away too much when moving during the past few years. Other things, such as my reciprocating saw and a 6-ft stepladder, mysteriously disappeared. I try, with limited success, not to think about it.

Thinking all problems temporarily solved, I discovered that Keeper had crawled under the part of the house beneath the mud room and was making desperate clattering and scraping sounds. (to be continued)

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Chicken chase

When chasing an errant chicken, you learn a lot about the neighbors. You don’t meet them all because no one who does not have to be outside at 7:15 on a freezing morning is going to be standing around to greet you.

I began by wasting natural resources driving out my street and down the next one over to the yard where Edsel—also known as “that f**$#@! fowl"-- had spent the night. I had seen her silhouette in the tree but by the time I got to the house, she had disappeared.

I discovered that the dog belonging to that house is huge. That is, the size of the poop is huge and it was all over the yard like land mines. These people should clean up more often. They did have lots of useful junk, including spare wood, bricks I could use to line the fence around the chicken pen to keep vermin out, and a shed that would make a great hen house if they'd just get all the junk out of it. Unfortunately, there were huge piles of debris at the back of the yard that Edsel, once I spotted her, ran up, down, and around while I stumbled after her, trying to catch her in the fishing net I had brought.

Finally she flew to the top of the fence and sat there, impervious to the pebbles I threw at her. I showed admirable self-restraint by not heaving a boulder. Because this yard was several feet lower than mine, the wood fence sat on top of a brick retaining wall that was about hip height. Fortunately there was a reinforcing pole that I used to haul myself up the few extra inches I needed before getting a foot on the wall, not an easy thing to do in clumsy rubber work boots.

When I stood there clinging to the pole, she gave a squawk and flew toward my yard. I jumped down, hoping I wouldn’t sprain anything, dashed to my car, dog poop and all, and drove back to my house. Did I mention that I was dressed for work except for the yard boots?

Since my neighbor on the west side was out scraping ice off his windshield, I explained that I needed to take a look in his back yard in case the chicken had gone there. No chicken but an unused dog kennel about 6x8x6 that could make a really nice chicken run. Maybe they want to get rid of it....

Then the neighbor and I had a little talk about the raccoon I reported on earlier. He said, “We sort of took care of it,” in that low-voiced manner people have when they're describing something not quite legal. I feared he was implying that they had set out poison.

I ran back to my yard and there was Edsel looking bewildered on a short deciduous tree. Pure luck. I bagged her in the net and put her in the hutch with Muffin, who is always easy to catch. Edsel complained about the whole thing. As if she had any right!

Next: Lockdown

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The escapist

This evening Edlyn’s name changed to Edsel, after the best-known failed car. There are more expensive failures among cars but Edsel is the one that first comes to mind. Here’s what happened.

Yesterday the new chicks spent the day in the hutch, which still stands in the enclosure as it did before I got the roomier coop. The Poles had the run of the enclosure. After dark, I put the new ones on the perch in the coop. There was some grumbling, like people who have to make room in the bed after getting comfortable, but everybody settled down.

This morning when I let them out, I saw DartMouth was picking on the little Modern Game. Although there is nothing that she does not peck at—I’d name her Jaws but she’s a pecker, not a biter—I played it cautiously and put the Poles inside the hutch. Well, they complained all day long about being stuck in there while the other two ran around in their enclosure.

I went off to do some errands and got home an hour before dark. No little bitty banty in sight or hearing. Not in the yard. Not in the areas of the neighbors’ yards that I could see by climbing up the play platform (a fort for kids).

I let the remaining three be together so that they’d go inside the coop and squabble loudly and perhaps lure the banty home. I heard her in the neighbor’s yard on the east side of my place and ran over. The six-foot wood fence continues all down the side of my property, creating total privacy between the two places, so it was not until I got there that I saw the part of the yard close to my house looked like it had experienced a combination of mud avalanche and dynamite. I managed to get to what looked like a gate into their yard. Couldn’t see or reach a latch. Piled up two cement landscaping bricks (oops, forgot to put them back), climbed up, still couldn’t find a latch. These people didn’t want anyone escaping out or in.

Ran around to the other side where it was easier to get around on the mud but couldn’t see the chicken, though I could hear her. Ran back around to what appeared to be the front door. It was a decorative door and had steps leading up but there was a ladder across two walls of cement landscape brick. Why? You can’t paint in this cold, wet weather. I ran up on tip-toe, banged on the door. Movement and talk inside but no one came to the door. I’m thinking these are strange people. Banged on the door again and finally a man opened it. I hurriedly explained the chicken problem and asked if there was a way to get to the part of the yard where the chicken was. No, he would go out and see and I should run back around to where I had just been.

By which time Edlyn was walking along the fence top between the back of his property and the yard of the one behind him. She had a choice between the names Edsel and Dumbsh**.

The fences meet in a four-way intersection bordering four yards. All I could do was follow cautiously. She crossed over to the fence backing my yard, so I charged back and—no hen in sight. I waited, heard a rustling, and there she was at least 30 feet up in a fir tree.

This was one of those moments when you consider shooting the chicken with something to get it down. At least that way you can sleep peacefully, knowing the chicken has met her maker and not having to worry if some predator has taken her there instead.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

More exotic chickens

Bringing in two new pullets caused more excitement than the Polish girls have experienced since their first jumbo meal worms. They ran back and forth, caterwauling and bok-bok-boking. The new girls are an Americauna and a Modern Game fowl (photos below). For those who don’t know, an Americauna is an Araucana crossed with a good laying breed to produce a hen that will lay green eggs on a more consistent basis than the purebred Araucana. The Modern is the mini version of the English Game Fowl that was used for fighting and is now strictly ornamental—or should be. With their long legs and necks and sleek heads, the banties hardly look like chickens.

Naturally I had set out to buy just one hen but couldn’t resist the Modern, who looks smaller than an Amazon parrot. Both birds are four months old and come with a no rooster guarantee. If a pullet turns out to be a rooster, Bruce the chicken guy will exchange it as long as it’s OK with you that the rooster ends up on somebody’s dinner table. I really REALLY wanted to get one of the banty roosters but this isn’t the time.

And on this farm he had some piglets, grown-up pigs, and turkeys. The turkey cocks strutted around, displaying their wings and tails and puffing out their chests for the turkey hens. Best of all, Bruce had two Airedales--one adult male getting shoulder-deep in mud and one female puppy who hovered at the edge of the mud field. The puppy was three or four months old and absolutely friendly as most puppies are. She had excellent coloring, very black coat and deep rust-colored markings. As she followed me a few feet up the driveway, I wanted to scoop her up and take her home, too, because she was chicken-proofed like the adult dog with no interest in chasing chickens.

On the way home I stopped at the feed store for supplies, looking like one of the guys in my muddy boots and dried mud up my jeans to the hem of my parka (Airedales love to jump up on people). Then I went to the grocery store where I looked a bit out of place among all the well-washed people. At least I checked my boots before going in to make sure I wouldn’t be tracking chicken poo around.


Muffin the Americauna and Edlyn, an old English name for a Modern English Game banty.


She will peck at anything, even my black garden boots.

Polish Punkster