…and we’re back!

Yes, I know it’s been ages since I’ve updated my blog.  After school started back up I found myself with far less time to do all the fun things I’d been doing over the summer, like knitting, blogging, and gardening.  Things are settling into place now that I’ve been back to work for 8 weeks, so I thought I’d welcome the weekend with an end to the hiatus on the blogging.

A few weeks ago, we had a tragedy with the chickens.  Alex went out to open up the coop (which is new- made with a 3′ deep x 8′ wide x 8′ tall plastic shed and panels from a previous finch aviary) one morning to let the girls into the run, and Lilly just sat on the perch instead of hopping down right away like usual.  Alex picked her up and put her down on the coop floor, and she just kind of flopped over.  He said she appeared weak for some reason, so he came in and told me that she was sick.  In the time it took me to get shoes and a coat on, we lost her.  From our research since her death we have determined that sometimes animals who have traditionally been used for livestock are genetically programmed to just kind of shut down prematurely.  Lilly had been completely fine the night before she died when we closed the girls up for the night, and the only sign of any issue was that she had not laid any eggs for 5 days prior.  However, since she always took several days between eggs, this did not send up any red flags for us.  It is incredible how upset I got over the loss of a chicken, but she was my favorite and is definitely missed.

After losing Lilly, we knew we needed to bring in another hen to help Evie cope with the loss of her “sister.”  Ruth and Ilse  are tightly bonded to each other, which left Evie on her own.  We took a drive out to Culpepper to Buc-a-Buc Farm and decided we needed to get 2 hens, since everything we’ve read (and heard about Joanna’s experience with Helen) has said that adding a single hen to a flock can be extremely challenging.  We chose a Delaware hen and a Buff Orpington hen, both of whom were said to be about 18 months old.  We wanted fully grown hens so that there would be less of an opportunity for Ruth to bully them.  We named the Delaware hen Netty and the Orpington Honey.  As it turned out, adding them to our flock was easy as pie.  We brought them home late one afternoon, put Ruth in the Eglu by herself, and left the new girls in their travel puppy carrier within the run where Evie and Ilse were kept for the rest of the evening.  By nightfall our eggers went into the coop and the newbies were frantically pacing to go in as well, so we let them out of the carrier and they went inside the coop with the others right away.  There were no problems at all, and they ingratiated themselves immediately.  The following morning, we let Ruth out into the yard and left the other 4 in the run.  She met the new girls through the wire of the run, and showed no aggression at all.  After a few minutes of this, we decided to put her in the run to see how it would go, and we were amazed to watch Netty assert herself quickly and mildly over Ruth.  Netty usurped Ruth as head hen, and is a much more benevolent matriarch.  Ruth liked to chase the younger girls around needlessly, while Netty gives a quick peck on the head of whomever is out of line and leaves it at that.  Apart from the loss of Lilly, the situation couldn’t be better.

Except that Ruth is the only one laying.  Evie was so out of sorts with the changes in her life that she stopped laying, Ilse has been molting so she hasn’t laid in over a month, and the new girls have not yet started laying since they’re still adjusting.  Our egg cartons are pathetically empty.  We have constructed a new “nest bucket” stand for when they are all laying, so no one has to squabble over who gets to lay first.  I designed it from things we had lying around, and I think it turned out pretty well!  No eggs laid in it yet, though.

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