Clyde and The Girls

Clyde normally ignores the hens, but he does use them to lure me into giving him loves and rubs. I think he’s a little jealous of the attention I pay to the girls. I’ll go back to the coop and he’ll come and stand next to me as if to say, “Scratch me and I’ll let you go inside.” 

He’s been showing some signs of aggression, too. When he really wants to be scratched he will try to nip my clothing to get my attention (a bad habit I thought was cute until he bit my arm!) or hook my leg with his horn. This not only hurts like hell but it can cause me to fall. If that happens and Clyde’s pissed off he could do some serious damage to me before I can get back to my feet. Because if this, I keep Clyde in sight at all times or I shut him and Bonnie in their enclosure while I’m working on something back there. 


Mealworms are Yummy

According to the packaging on my chicken feed it is 18% protein. According to the backyard chicken herders on YouTube hens need at least 17% of their staple feed to be protein, of which their bodies absorb around 14-15%. The rest is passed out in their poop. Too much protein is just wasted since they end up passing it out. 

 I know chickens like to eat bugs, which is a great source of protein for them. Once my girls are allowed out of the coop during the day they will be eating a lot of bugs in the muck pits. (I am expecting them to fling  debris six ways to Sunday once they learn what’s in those piles.) Until then, I’ve been giving them mealworms on Sundays to up their protein intake a little. Mealworms are also high in calcium. 

This past week, I started feeding them small handfuls of mealworms by hand. I thought it would fun. Big mistake! I never knew hens were so forceful when pecking at food. They pinch hard with their beaks, and they don’t care how deep into your hand they go before closing their little mouths. Let me tell you, those beaks can hurt. 

To avoid being part of their snack, I washed out a couple of those small takeout cups that come with salads, hot wings, etc. These allow me to hand feed the girls without risking them drawing blood.

Now, whenever I walk over to the metal can where I keep the chicken scratch and treats I have at least Cinder and Henna — often some of the others — under foot watching my every move. They know where the mealworms are kept and they know I may be getting ready to give them a cup or two. 


Hen Porn

I noticed the girls had soiled their bathtub so I took the opportunity to clean the entire coop and to fluff up their sand. Here are the results. 

I felt a bit creepy watching the girls taking a bath. I think it must have annoyed Chowder because she up and walked away as soon as I started recording.)

P.S. That metallic sound you hear at one point in the video is one of the RI Reds noshing on their feed. The trough has a top bar that rotates to keep them from trying to perch on the feeder. It squeaks when a hen hits it with the top of her head. It also works well to keep them from scattering feed from hell to breakfast. I took the bar off and they had most of the feed on the shelf within 30 minutes. The rotating bar is back to stay. 

Improvements to the Dust Bath

Today, I noticed Marge trying to bath in the corner of the coop where I toss in the kitchen scraps. She was pushing away the leftover Clementine peels and rolling in the small collection of sand against the hen house. I’m thinking: Why are you doing that when you have a dust bath all set up for you at the other end of the coop? I looked over to where I had set up their bath and my dust bath had disappeared! The hens had enjoyed it so much that they managed to scatter all the sand and ashes through the rabbit wire and down the hill.

Ok, I expected them to scatter things; I just hadn’t figured on just how fast they would scatter it. So, I did a little measuring and cut myself some wood to make a low wall to contain the material. To help seal up the gaps, I added a bit of straw along the edges. The bath material will still get scattered around, but this should keep it somewhat contained for a little longer. 

Dust baths serve chickens three major ways. First, the dust helps to keep their feathers clean and free of parasites. Dust keeping them clean sounds like a contradiction. It isn’t. The sand acts as an abrasive, rubbing in their feathers to scrape off anything that may be on their bodies. Think of it like using sand as an abrasive to remove oil and grease from your hands. 

Second, in hot weather fluffing out their feathers as they wash allows air to get to their skin. Chickens don’t sweat; they cool their blood through their comb and waddle. Fluffing their feathers helps radiate heat off their skin to increase their ability to transfer body heat to cool down. I specifically put my coop in the shade of my neighbor’s trees so it stays very cool. Still, weather being what it is, I want the girls to have a way to cool down quickly. Fluffing around in a dust bath is a great way to do that. 

Finally, they clean their beaks as they poke through the material to eat small bits of sand. This sand passes through their digestive system to their gizzard where it helps grind up seeds and grass fibers. I also add a little crushed oyster shell to their feed to give them grit for their gizzards. A small amount of the calcium in the oyster shell also gets into their bloodstream and helps them to form hard shells on their eggs. This is really not a big deal. Most of the calcium in their diet comes from the soy and peas on their feed. Yes, their feed contains dried peas, the same ones you buy at the store to make split pea soup. The peas in chicken feed are smaller — too small to look good in the package at the store — but in all other respects are exactly the same. 

As for what goes into the dust bath, it’s really just two things: All-purpose sand and ashes from a charcoal grill in a 3:1 ratio by volume. The ashes coat their feathers and give them the chicken version of sunscreen.  The sand isn’t the Play Sand people buy for their children’s sandboxes. That’s river sand that’s been washed and filtered to create something that looks pretty and doesn’t give off dust when kids toss it into the air. All-purpose Sand is the stuff you use when you’re making your own 3:2:1 concrete (3 parts gravel, 2 parts sand, 1 part cement). This sand is rough — large grains and small mixed with very fine particles that don’t really qualify as grains at all. It’s a lot cheaper than sandbox sand and far better as a base for a dust bath. 

My dust bath is two sacks of sand to a 5-gallon bucket of ashes. This isn’t exactly 3:1 by volume but it’s pretty close. As you can see from the video, Marge prefers it to the Clementine peels and grit. Cinder and Chowder also find the dust bath an absolute delight.