Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Chicken management

Remember the saying about the cat being away and the mice getting into trouble? Well, Kim's away and the chickens are running wild.

The chickens were always going to be Kim's thing - I had my hands full with the vegetable and perennial gardens. And a good thing, too, because those birds could not want for a better mama than Kim.

But even the best chicken mamas need a break from time to time, so Kim is spending the week at a blues guitar camp in Port Townsend, Washington. Which is lovely, and I am so happy for her. But it's about those chickens. . .

The current count is 51. Many of those are young cockerels destined for someone's freezer in a few weeks. But for now, I am responsible for all 51 of those birds. In Coop #1 there are eight Old Girls (aka the year-old Buff Orpington hens), Hector and Alice, plus five Red Rock Cross pullets and eight BO and Australorp teenage pullets. In Coop #2 there are 15 BO and A teenage cockerels, plus 13 BO and A babies, the last batch hatched in May.

Needless to say, this takes some management. So first thing every morning I refresh all five feeders and waterers, usher the teenage boys out of the coop and into the wild (they roam free every day, which we think is why we haven't had any rooster-type squabbles so far), usher the babies into the medium-sized chicken yard, usher the teenage girls into the small chicken yard, and usher all the big girls and Hector into the biggest chicken yard. Then I usher myself back into the kitchen for a very large cup of coffee.

Early in the afternoon I collect all the eggs and let the grown-ups and the Red Rocks out to free range. At that point I feel sorry for the teenage pullets and the babies, who are chirping and squawking at their gates wanting to roam, so I go into the garden to pick them some nice greens which they gobble up in no time flat. Today I cut up a mango for them, which the babies devoured but the teenagers turned their beaks up at.

When Kim is home she lets everyone run wild, including the babies. This is easy: you just open all the doors and stand back. What's not so easy is getting everyone back in the right enclosure at the end of the day. Kim is a Master Chicken Wrangler. I am not. So while she's away everyone has to play by my rules, which means no freedom for the pullets (who are impossible to separate from the cockerels when it's time to go to bed) and the babies (who are impossible to get anywhere near bed).

The chickens who do get to free range are running wild - they are roaming all over the property, scratching in my perennial beds, making a mess of my careful mulching. Today I found a bunch underneath the hydrangea, pecking at my hostas. I don't remember them being so rambunctious when Kim was here. I think this is the chicken version of the Substitute Teacher Syndrome.

Then about 5:00 or so I do my best to get everyone in the right enclosure of the chicken yard. If you're having a bad day and need a good laugh, just show up and watch. Kim thoughtfully provided me with two tools: a big bin of scratch (the babies are clueless about scratch, but everyone else will come running on the double when I shake the container and yell "Here chickie chickie chickie), and a long, skinny twig known as the Boop Boop Stick. Please don't ask me how it got its name, because I don't know. All I know is I'm supposed to use the thing to poke little chickies in the butt to usher them along in the right direction. Oh, and I'm supposed to say "Boop, boop" as I do that. Apparently that's part of Kim's Master Chicken Wrangler magic.

Then about 7:30 it's bedtime, so I go out again, use the Boop Boop Stick to get everyone in the right rooms of the two chicken coops, refresh all five feeders and waterers again, close the doors and turn out the lights.

Kim comes home on Sunday. I can't wait.


Flartus said...

I'm smiling as I picture you awkwardly wielding the Boop Boop Stick. (LOVE the name!!) And I think it's hilarious that even baby chickens fight their bedtime. Makes me wonder if the teenage boys are in the woods buillding something haphazard, smoking herbs and telling dirty stories about chicks.

Hee hee...

jeanives said...

Fifty-one!!!!! Are you crazy????

Miriam said...

Jean, it's NOT ME!!! It's Kim!!! We may think she's crazy, but honestly, when she's here it all runs like a smoothly oiled machine. And like I said, it's temporary. Want any chickens for your freezer?

Flartus, you are too funny! Now I know what those boys are doing when I go out to check on them and can't spy a single one!

Toni aka irishlas said...

I'm tired just reading this!

Fifty one... oh, my, word! Guess it's a good thing the sub teacher has the boop boop stick!

Hope Kim is having a good time at blues camp and your lavender jelly looks wonderful!

Negerigeletschtempoit said...

I cannot stop laughing!! The whole scene is priceless. And the "Boop-boop" stick, with the "boop-boop" magic words is just out of this world!

Poor hostas, poor garden, poor mulching. It will all be gone, by the time Kim comes back!

Poor you, Miriam! I can imagine the struggle, and laugh again!

When we had chickens, we had one chicken house and one large pen. They could go in and out of the house, at their will. In the morning, we would open the pen and let them roam around and eat the bugs. At around five, they would start going back to the pen by themselves. By late evening, they were all in, and I only had to close the gate.

And, instead of a "Boop Boop" stick we had (and still have) a "Butt Hook" . A stick with a wire hook on the end, used just in case someone was being bad, and needed to be caught. Gordon came up with that name.

Oh, I love reading what you write!

Joleen said...

Yikes! That sounds like craziness!

~Kim at Golden Pines~ said...

Somehow I picture Kim returning and all the chickens running to her, letting her know all the things that happened while she was gone!

Mary Francess on the cello said...


You are taking this "chicken wrangling" with devotion and sincerity and I bet the little ones are learning quite a bit from their substitute teacher. This will not be easily evident at the outset but, rest assured, that your own special form of leadership will have some effect. Do not belittle yourself!

By the way: I made ginger snaps from the recipe you shared with us recently. is a winner. My son took home a good handful of snaps in his care package the other day!

Thanks for the continually entertaining entries about your life on the farm.

Love, Mary

Paula said...

I just don't know what to say. I definitely think Kim has the better end of the deal here. Blues guitar camp- how cool is that?

Well, good luck with them all at least until you can hand the boop boop stick back to its rightful owner!

Anonymous said...

Okay, I defninitely sympathize and could use some of Kim's magic around here. I can't imagine doing 51--the 14 we had are now down to 10, and the Melrose Place-like drama still keeps us hopping! Our challenge these days is integrating all the different age groups with their different pecking orders...How do you manage all the teenagers mixed in with the big and small ones in the same coops and runs? Share your secrets!

Miriam said...

Not being the resident expert, I am cautious about giving advice to anyone! But the secret to integrating the different age groups seems to be to allow them lots and lots and lots of space in which to get to know each other and sort out the pecking order. I have no idea how you would do it in a very confined area. We did integrate our two Buff Orpington flocks early on, before anyone was free ranging, but that happened after they had been sharing a chicken yard (separated by a fence) and a chicken coop (in different enclosures, but in full sight and sound of each other) for quite some time.

A Brit in Tennessee said...

Lol...or not ?
I s'pect this is why I have no chickens, how do you stop yourself from running in circles ?
Sorry, I can only imagine all the work it takes to keep them in line, I would be hitting the Bayley's Irish Cream in my coffee each morning just to get me started.
You get 'full marks' for effort and dedication, I;m sure they'll be a head count when Kim returns Sunday :)

ablank stud said...

Love your progress thus far an would like to get some laying birds to put into our new cordwood chicken coop or maybe eggs to put in our incubator but your email address is linked to Outlook so is not possible to get a email address an I see no other contact thoughts on this ?we are at

ablank stud said...

having rough time posting here and communicating but working through it . I cannot send you email since your blog site email link ,is linked to outlook and you have no email address posted.Love your success so far an can relate to the chicken battle ,our orphington teenagers always being mean to babies .We would be interested in getting some laying birds to install in our new cordwood chicken coop or maybe some eggs we could try in our incubator.
We can be contacted at
We are also looking for a pair of wiener pigs if you are aware of any locally in cowichan valley

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