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You’re a big chicken now…

Bebelina, looking all grown up in yesterday afternoon’s soft light:
A side view of a young brown chicken.  Her body feathers have black penciling on them, and her neck feathers are black with bright golden edges.  Her comb and wattles are a lovely red.

For scale:
To the left, a black chicken whose neck feathers have coppery edging.  Behind her is a solid black chicken.  Next from left to right is Bebelina, and then behind Bebelina is a white chicken whose feathers have black edging.  All the chickens have their heads down, picking through the bounty of eggshells, greenbeans, and hearts of romaine lettuce that were tossed out to them.
From left to right that’s Ayinnanku, Matilda, Bebelina, and Lorena. Look how big the little girls are!

We’re giving them back all their eggshells, plus whatever greens we happen to not eat while at their best, plus general vegetable kitchen waste. They get really excitable about this kind of bounty, picking out the best eggshells to eat and getting into little chickeny squabbles over them. It’s all kinds of adorable.

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I’m so bad at waiting.

Recently I ordered several dog-related items. One is a new crate for Sid; while the Dobes’ puppy crate is tall enough for him it’s not really long enough, so when he’s trying to eat he hunches his back and it gets to be too short for him. I’ve ordered him the next size up which should do him for a while, I hope!

One of the other things I ordered is a cheesey at-home agility kit, which includes a short tunnel, six weave poles, and a jump. My dogs are going to by-dog have fun with that thing if it kills them. I am kind of frothing at the mouth waiting for it to get here so I can start expecting my dogs to enjoy themselves. Part of the reason I wanted it was Sid, because he often has trouble remembering where his entire body is (in his head, he is still a puppy small enough for me to pick up and snuggle), and another part of it is Tink, who could use some physical confidence what with her wonky vision and all. I expect great shenanigans trying to convince Tink to scuttle through even this brief tunnel. She will probably take one look at weave poles and laugh at me.

In cat-related news, we are trying to keep an eye out for Briar Rose to bring her in. She’s the last of the adult breeding females that I need to wrangle and spay and I’d like to find her a home if I can. We’re at five cats, which is quite enough permanent cats thank you, although if the right home came along for Emmaline I would not tell them no. She needs a quieter place than here, with fewer, quieter dogs, but it has to be someone who realizes that she is slow to warm up and will work with her on her terms and at her speed. Generally speaking, people like that are also at capacity for cats, so Emmaline is more than welcome to stay here forever.

Hopefully this weekend weather will cooperate and I can get out and get chicken pics, Ayinnanku and Bebelina have grown HUGE and I keep thinking they will start laying any. day. now. We’ve had a total of 72 eggs from Matilda and Lorena, and are down to a cost of $11 and some change per egg which isn’t bad considering that not long ago we had $50 eggs once the cost of the chicken facilities was figured in.

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Random Chicken Update

Matilda: Top hen. Laying reliably through the winter, we’re getting an egg pretty much every day from her. Very concerned that any food coming to chickens come to her first.

Lorena: Second in command. Laying sort of reliably through the winter, she gives us one egg every 2-3 days. Deeply charming and likes to stand and go “bweek” at you through the enclosure.

Ayinnanku: Social climber. Will probably supersede Lorena and may unseat Matilda some day. Has not yet started laying.

Bebelina: Petite, sweet little chicken who likes you to offer her food from your hand. Not at all interested in social status, just in scratching and pecking for food. Has not yet started laying.

Eggs: to date, Matilda and Lorena have furnished us with 47 eggs. Almost 4 dozen! I updated the egg spreadsheet, it now debits the chickens for the cost of their accommodations and feed, but automatically credits them for each egg we didn’t have to buy because they laid one. This means that we are down to $17.17 per egg as of 1800 on Wednesday, 5 January. Of course, with the cost of commercial cage-free (non-organic) eggs at $0.27 each, it will take approximately 1500 eggs if we never spend another penny on chickens before the cost of our eggs matches that of commercial eggs.

On the other hand, in terms of sitting and watching chickens be chickens, and eating eggs knowing that the chickens in question get to peck and scratch and dust bathe and hunt for bugs and things, well, those eggs are way worth it. Also it’s kind of cool to be able to say I just ate a $34 omelet.

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Christmas Roundup!

We did make it down to my parents’ house in Roanoke, all three dogs and Roo in tow. We even made it home, which is even more impressive given the snow that was rolling up the coast. Alas, we cheated and fled ahead of the storm, and then the Manor got maybe an inch. Given how much hit Richmond I am intensely grateful because things could have gone a lot worse!

A good chunk of my haul was books, which explains my horrible neglect of my gentle readers; I have everything from dissections of early Christianity to analysis of the early 19th century Nullification Crisis to fun fiction to read, and I am reading it in advance of classes starting again in three weeks! Meanwhile I am trying a different dose of meds for my chronic pain, hoping to get me more functional, but it’s fighting the record lows here in the Piedmont so I’m still creaking around like a very creaky thing.

The chickens, meanwhile, are back to regular laying, or at least Matilda is. Australorps are supposed to be good winter layers, and she’s certainly doing well on that front. Lorena produces an egg every couple of days, and still nothing from Bebelina and Ayinnanku, who are getting HUGE. Ayinnanku in fact has been asserting herself more, and I think Matilda may find it difficult to hang onto her spot as the Top Hen at this rate. To date we’ve gotten 39 eggs, which means we are down to a mere $20.75/egg after figuring in all costs. Go, little chickens, go!

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It lives!

Sorry for the long hiatus, a combination of the dreaded FINALS WEEK plus chronic pain problems (which I am finally seeing a doc for, but which are probably not anything curable, just manageable) have kept me from having extra time and energy. But here is an omnibus update!

1) Juniper: still the cutest kitten ever. He’s gotten somewhat less laid-back now that he’s been dewormed. His favorite toy is a brown stuffed mouse we found on clearance at PetCo. He beats it up, he carries it around, he growls and prepares to throw down with other cats who so much as look at his stuffymouse. I’m waiting to hear back from his potential new home, but have high hopes he will be moving on to his Forever Home come January when we get him neutered!

2) Noodlehead: She came inside, as I mentioned! And she is having a good ol time hanging out and being warm and safe in the bathroom. She deeply prefers Daniel to me, though, as my bloody finger will attest. Any guys out there who would like a tabby and white girl of uncommon charm to share the couch with?

3) IT SNOWED YESTERDAY. 3″ of the stuff. The county hasn’t bothered to clear the road, so here I am at home. No one is happy about the snow but Zille. The chickens are DEEPLY disapproving and despite the fact that we did MacGyver a roof onto their pen, they are spending most of the time either on their house or under it (when they’re not eating). Matilda is producing about an egg a week, which has brought our egg cost down to $29.02 per egg. I am able to be this precise because I set up a new and shinier egg cost spreadsheet, which debits the chickens for the cost of their feed and the cost of eggs we have had to buy since their production slowed, but credits them for the market value of cage-free eggs for the ones they have laid.

…yes, I am a dork, why do you ask?

4) Christmas shopping is pretty much done, we were able to use the best discount codes so buying the gifts wasn’t so bad, and next week we get to see our friends Kate and Loiosh when they stop by on their own Holiday Odyssey! And then they will come back through on their way home. We are excited. Incidentally, Kate is having a Christmas Sale! You have four days left to order before Christmas if you see something you like!

5) My quest for The Perfect Leash continues. I just ordered a custom multi-function leash with integrated limited-slip collar from Bold Lead Designs. It will work for both Zille and Beowulf, and if it is half as good as I suspect it will be, then I’ll probably order another one that will fit Tink. Is there anything better than a cool new leash? I think not.

6) Daniel will hopefully have his green card soon, yay!

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Chickens love egg.

It’s a little creepy, to be honest. Anyway, I hope you are having a lovely Thanksgiving if you’re in the US, gentle readers! And if you are not, I hope you’re having a lovely Thursday. Either way, I invite you to enjoy this slightly creepy video of Matilda and Lorena and an eggshell. We save the shells off their eggs when we eat them and give them back to the chickens to replenish their calcium supplies. As an Egg Cost Update, on Tuesday we got our twelfth egg from the girls (it was one of Matilda’s) which means we are down to a cost of $66 per egg. We have saved $3.24 on eggs to date, going by the current cost of cage-free non-organic eggs. A tiny blow against factory farming, but there you go.

The players in this video are Matilda, an Australorp who is the Top Hen and who gets first pick of treats, and Lorena, a silver-laced Wyandotte who is forever hopeful that the Top Hen will share the treats.

Me: *smoochy noises*
Me: *smoochy noises* *waves the eggshell temptingly*
Lorena: It is an eggshell! OMG! I am dubious of the strange featherless scary thing, but EGG!
Matilda: There is an egg?
Me: *tosses the eggshell to the ground*
Matilda: AN EGG! OH RAPTURE AN EGG! *runs toward the featherless scary biped to get the eggshell* *begins pecking at it*
Lorena: What do you have there? Do you want to shaaaare the egg? *approaching from behind Matilda*
Matilda: It is my eggshell! I do not want to share the egg!
Matilda: I WILL NOT SHARE THE EGG! *runs off, Lorena in hot pursuit*


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Baby chickens!

Who wants a couple baby chicken pictures? No one? All right then, I’ll just take these and– what’s that? My gentle readers do want baby chicken pictures? Happily, I have uploaded a couple! The babies got a little time to explore the run with me running interference, but are now safely behind a separate fence where the big chickens cannot persecute them. We’ll see how it goes. I may end up dragging the ex-pen out there to make them a bigger area in the run as they grow.

Ayinnanku and Bebelina.  Ayinnanku is in back, a small black chicken with coppery feathers on her neck.  Bebelina is in front, a tiny brown chicken whose feathers sport delicate black patterning, and with gold feathers on her neck.
That’s Ayinnanku in back and Bebelina in front. They are tiny at the moment; Ayinnanku is about a third of the size of the adult girls and Bebelina is maybe a quarter of their size. And no, the chicken water does not normally look like that.

Here’s a better one of Bebelina, to show off her gorgeous feathers. I took this one after they were moved into their pen-within-a-pen.
Bebelina, a Welsummer, viewed from above.  You can see the delicate black penciling on her coppery brown body feathers, and her gold head and neck.  There's a scattering of green leaves behind her and in front of her is a waterer on a piece of 2x4.
That’s baby spinach on the ground behind her.

Ayinnanku is much flightier than Bebelina and did not wish to pose for pictures in the baby pen. She’ll come around, I’m sure. Since they haven’t grown their combs yet the girls look a little like teeny misshapen hawks, which is adorable. I am tempted to go out there with a leather glove and see if I can convince Bebelina to perch on it, just for fun.

Oh and here’s one of eggs nine and ten that we got Sunday, one from each of the adult hens so you can see the difference! These eggs took us down to a cost of $80/egg, which is very exciting!
A hand and wrist, clad in a shabby faux-shearling coat.  The hand cradles two eggs, side by side.  The egg on the left is skinny, the egg on the right is fat and round.  Both eggs are a warm pale brown.
The one on the left is from Matilda, the one on the right is from Lorena. Matilda, the Australorp, reliably lays a daily egg. Lorena is a more irregular donor of eggs, which is expected as the days get shorter. Australorps are known for being good layers even in the winter, so we may continue to see eggs from Matilda on a daily basis until she gets old. Lorena will probably pick up more in the spring, round about the time the little girls are getting old enough to lay. We will likely see a dozen eggs every three days this summer, which I suspect is more eggs than we’re going to eat even given my deep love of custards. So if I see you and I hand you a half-dozen oddly colored and shaped eggs, well, please try to understand.

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New residents, and an honored guest.

Another trip down to Blackthorn Kennel yesterday for Christine’s excellent company and our final two chickens! Very exciting. We also on the spur of the moment agreed to bring Musket home with us for a week. Musket is Zille’s younger half-brother, a fine hairy sable beastie who was in need of a vacation at the Manor to give his ginormous brain something to do. In fact, Daniel summed up the worky dog thing pretty well when he said “You know that light Zille gets in her eyes when she sees a ball? He has that all the time.” We’ve had one incident of minor bloodshed when Musket thought he might play a chasey game with Braxton Bragg, who beat him upside the head repeatedly. Everyone survived unscathed, the blood shed belongs to the dog who pretended not to notice but now runs the other way when he sees Brax.

The chickens are about six weeks old, so not laying age for another 3 months or so. One is a Welsummer, a Dutch breed, and she has been christened Bebelina. Welsummers lay fat dark-brown eggs. The other is an Ameraucana, a hybrid of some breed crossed with the Araucana, which is a rumpless chicken that lays greeny-blue eggs and is indigenous to Chile. She has been dubbed Ayinnanku, which is a Mapuche name meaning “favorite eagle.” The Mapuche are the indigenous people of Chile who were conquered and displaced by the Spanish, who called them the Araucana, from whence the breed of chicken gets its name. Look at that, history and poultry all in one tidy bundle! But yes, I did name my chicken “favorite eagle.” I am, after all, the same woman who named her Doberman “Tinkerbelle.”

Pictures of all this excitement will no doubt follow when it’s light outside, but for now you will have to imagine the fine hairy sable dog and the charming chickens. Bebelina is brown with yellowy neck feathers, Ayinnanku is mostly black with coppery neck feathers and spiffy ear tufts. Fingers crossed that Lorena and Matilda are gracious about sharing their digs. There still might be bantams in spring, but this is it for full-size hens.

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Chickens: really enchanting.

After not quite a week with us, Matilda and Lorena have gotten the idea that the monkeyslaves bring food. When we visit their pen they no longer automatically hide behind their house, but instead approach us with hopeful and beseeching “bweeeeee? bweeeeeeeek?” noises. Today they ALMOST ate a brussels sprout from my hand. They wanted it but the monkeypaw was too much and so there was much chickeny muttering about the injustice of it all. Of course then when I put it down for them, they kicked leaves over it. Chickens.

The delivery of their crumbles was also the occasion for hopeful bweeking, and then for satisfied quiet mutterings. They like scratching for the crumbles, but when they run out of scratchable food they will go for the ones in the feeder. Theoretically the crumbles are a Complete Chicken Diet full of everything a hen needs to lay eggs, but screw that says I. So far they have enjoyed apples, cauliflower, parsnips, carrots, potatoes, and brussels sprouts, all in appropriate amounts. Matilda particularly liked the parsnips, whereas Lorena is a potato fiend.

Whereas Lorena was initially braver, Matilda is really coming out of her shell (HA! …get it?) and is now the more hopeful when she thinks the monkeys might have food. It’s really soothing to sit and watch them; this weekend I will try to get some video for you of chickens being chickens and doing chickeny things and making chickeny noises! Also this weekend we will be adding a Welsummer hen and possibly an Ameraucana as well. Welsummers are reliable layers of very dark brown eggs; Ameraucanas can lay greeny-blue ones. Matilda lays the skinny pale brown eggs we get now, Lorena has been verified as the producer of the rounder pale brown eggs.

Each egg is a minor miracle. We give Lorena and Matilda food and water and leaves to scratch through and perches to sit on and a warm cozy house, and in return they produce eggs, perfect and smooth. Also since we have five of them as of today, we are down to a mere $160 per egg. Woo!