Henny Penny

Henny Penny

During twenty years of having laying hens on the farm, only twice have I encountered the issue of an overgrown top beak. When my late husband Larry kept pigeons (Pensom rollers – show birds), it was not unusual for the upper portions of their beaks to grow long and lap over the edge of their lower beaks, but this might have been due to the fact that they were not allowed outside to forage and peck around in the gravel. The chickens here, however, are outside almost daily. That’s why I was a bit surprised to notice this hen one day last week.

Chickens kept in a coop or pen with at least a partial concrete floor, or that have some exposure to graveled areas, have ready abrasives to help keep the fingernail-type material of their beaks in trim. As they hunt and peck for seeds, bugs, worms and greens, the frequent scrapings of their rigid mouth material against the surrounding rocks seems to prevent the problem of overgrowth. Exactly how the hen got into this condition, I don’t know. Perhaps she’s a delicate eater. Regardless, with a top beak that long, she would soon be having a problem being able to eat at all, and a little careful pruning was in order.

After doing chores at the barn, I picked up the troubled bird and brought her down the hill to the house. She graciously posed for photos before the procedure, and sat fairly still in my lap as I used nail clippers to remove most of the excess material from her upper beak. Not having a metal nail file to hand, the coarse side of an emery board was employed for the final shaping and smoothing, and then a few “after” pictures were taken for comparison. Bless her heart, this little hen didn’t even doodle on me. What a gal!

Since the Ordeal, I have read that some folks put a cement block or a piece of sandstone in their chicken pens to provide the birds with a tool to prevent this problem. The enclosed pen outside my coop has an older concrete floor with several rough areas, so you’d think that would suffice. Who knows? If not for that, I might be trimming beaks right and left. While it would be a small price to pay for all the nice fresh eggs they provide and the bugs they eat, I’m putting a landscape block or something like it onto my shopping list for the next time I’m in town.  Just in case!

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How’s Pickins?

How’s Pickins?

Growing up in the suburbs, I was fascinated with the flocks of laying hens kept by my aunties who lived in the country.  Going out to the chicken house with a basket or bowl for the eggs was a privilege that never lost its charm.  Even now that I’ve had my own birds for many years, it’s still a bit of a treasure hunt to gather the fresh eggs each day.  But even beyond that benefit, there’s just something wonderful about having a flock of my own.

Presently, I have nine hens, one rooster, seven guineas, and one lone pigeon.  (The pigeon is another story altogether!) This particular group of chickens were gifted to me when my friend Dave D. was moving out-of-state and wanted them to have a good home. The barnyard birds love to patrol the lawn, hunting and pecking for tempting tidbits of bugs and greens.  It keeps them happy and healthy and cuts back on the feed bill to allow them this pleasure.  It also provides me with a sense of peace and well-being to see them out there, meandering about, scratching the surface with their feet now and then in search of something tasty.

In the spirit of tradition, the rooster is called “Rojo”, (that’s pronounced ro-ho), which is Spanish for “red”.  My Uncle R. had a rooster by that name.  Why the hens belonged to Aunt K and the rooster was said to be Uncle’s property, I haven’t yet figured out, but it may have had something to do with the original Rojo’s demeanor.  As in, he couldn’t have gotten much meaner.  (The rooster, not my uncle).  As kids, we were afraid of Rojo.  On our way out the back door, we’d grab either a broom, a bucket of water, or a poor unsuspecting cat, and if the ol’ buzzard–er, rooster–was nearby, one of us would deploy whatever item of self-defense we’d picked up by hurling it at him, whereupon we’d take off running before he could peck our feet or legs, both of which were usually bare all summer.  Sometimes this worked better than others.  I would swear that bird hid, barely beyond the corner of the house, just waiting for us to exit.  He never bothered Uncle, though.  Maybe he knew he couldn’t peck through the tough leather cowboy boots and blue jeans, and didn’t waste his efforts in the attempt.

By contrast, however, my own Rojo is neither vicious nor vindictive.  He will come a-runnin’ if one of his hens utters any kind of distress call, and he’s not what you might call a snuggler, but he’s gentle enough as roosters go.  I like to watch him navigate the yard with his “girls”.  I’ve fed them long enough that when I go outside, they all hurry to gather ’round me, just to see if I’ve brought them anything special from the house, which sorta makes me feel guilty when I don’t.  Which reminds me . . . I gotta go shred some cabbage.  It’s a small price to pay for peace of mind!

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Wordless Wednesday #6

Wordless Wednesday #6

Which Came First?

Which Came First?

Among the many simple things for which I am truly grateful, farm fresh eggs rank pretty high on the list.  The yolks stand up higher, the whites hold together more firmly, and they really do taste better than the store-bought variety.

It seems like there’s a resurgence in the concept, too.  Yesterday in the farm and home store I saw cute little pre-fab coops with wire pens on the sides, in three different designs.  These were, of course, displayed strategically next to the heat lamps, feeders, water founts, and–best of all–the baby chicks!  A guy was standing there, gazing longingly at the different breeds, and remembering aloud to me the fresh eggs he’d gotten for breakfast at Granny’s when he was a kid.  He admitted he lives “in town”, but was determined to find out if the city ordinances would allow him to keep one of those little coops with a few hens in his back yard.  I wished him well, and was again reminded of just how happy I am to live in the country.

When I was growing up,  we lived “in town” too.  But every summer, we were blessed to get to spend some time with our Country Cousins on both sides of the family.  At my dad’s brother’s place, Aunt Evelyn would let me go out to the chicken house with a bucket in the mornings to collect the eggs.  It was a bit like a treasure hunt.  Sometimes the hens would still be on their nests, but I’d gently slide my hand under their downy feathers and carefully retrieve the still-warm eggs from underneath them.  It doesn’t seem like I got pecked much, or if so, it wasn’t traumatic enough to recall.

The hens I have now were a gift from a couple who were moving to Arizona.  He was retiring from his job and wanted his little flock to have a good home.  Seven of the hens and the rooster are Buff Orpingtons, and two more hens are a shiny black, rather on the small side, with bright, dark eyes.  They’re all fairly calm and good-natured birds, and have been supplying me with about six or seven eggs a day.  They get grain and water and occasional scraps in their coop in the corner of the big barn, and have a wire-enclosed pen attached to the building for time in the sun.  On fair days I often open the pen door to allow them forage time in the yard.  Along with the seven guineas (tick eaters!) with whom they share their home, they all crowd around the outer door when they see me approaching, and race outside into the barnyard for their share of greens and bugs.  By sunset they’ve generally found their way back in to roost for the night.  I make a head-count to be sure everyone’s safely inside before I shut and latch the door to keep varmints at bay.

And you might think this is silly, but I thank them for giving me such nice eggs.  Somehow it just seems like the polite thing to do.

Got a chicken story to share?  Leave a comment!