Every Day is New

Everyone is healthy, knock on wood, and my little flock has grown to five.  Goldie hasn’t laid an egg in two weeks–normal considering what she just recovered from–and I’m still having to toss Mabelene’s and Henrietta’s eggs since everyone was on antibiotics. (This is practically against my religion.) But only for four more days. . .

The little black ‘orps are joined at the hips–almost literally. Where one goes, the other follows, not even one step behind. What one says, the other echoes. When one is briefly out of sight of the other–and this only happens when evil Henrietta emerges like a black cloud in their sunshiney day, casting shadows of terror and blight in their world–the other chirps her panic until they are reunited and then they trot off, side by side, into their little rainbow pony world.

And even though their devotion to each other remains unchanged, their progress in the flock is changing almost daily. In a few short weeks, they have learned to go up into the coop at night on their own, they’ve discovered how freaking awesome watermelon and corn on the cob is, they’ve learned it is right to be terrified by anything flying overhead, they spend almost all day free-ranging with the big gals in the yard and in the cool dirt recesses of the crawl space beneath my kitchen, and most importantly, they’ve learned how to get out of Henrietta’s way. And so–deep, satisfying sigh–they can now be left with the big girls in the run when I take off to reclaim some semblance of a social life. 

Life at the City Hen is good, and I cherish these uneventful times. And ooh!–just wait until these babies start laying eggs this fall!

  Fluffy hens who love the fan. 


Sleepy Dottie.

Dot in a sea of Gert’s feathers.

Gertie’s large feet.

If You Don’t Have Your Health…

As many of you are devoted pet owners, you know how it feels when your pets are sick. Not good. Helpless. Worried. Distracted. With our dogs and cats, we take them to the vet. They hate it, they stress out a bit, but they’re used to human interaction and going places and coming home. Medicine, maybe a dreaded follow-up visit, and back home and well again. With chickens, it’s very different. This is when we wish the seasoned old traveling farm vet would trundle up our drive in his ratty but well-equipped truck and saunter bow-legged to our door, black bag of medicinal miracles in hand. 

But in this new age of backyard chicken-keeping, accessibility to expert vets is limited. Most small animal veterinarians don’t treat chickens, nor are they equipped to do so. My vet happens to be willing to try (as evidenced when Mabel and Marge were sick), but we all know how that turned out. In addition, the stress of bringing a chicken to the vet’s office, having her handled by multiple people, possibly jabbed with needles and force-fed remedies, blood draws–that all usually doesn’t bode well for an easily-stressed creature. As if treating them wasn’t hard enough, there’s this added caveat: when a chicken exhibits signs of illness, it is usually too late for treatment. As prey animals, they’ve learned to hide any signs of illness, since they’d be singled out by predators as an easy dinner. And so they hide it until they’re in a desperate state. And that’s when we see it. 

So when Goldie wobbled out of the run last Sunday morning in slow motion, tail dropped, stopping often to rest and close her eyes, I did what any worried pet owner would do: freaked out, texted everyone I knew for advice, then scoured the Internet for backyard chicken-healing remedies. Mid-morning, she laid a very unusually light-pinkish egg with a fairly soft shell, waddled out of the coop, and lay down in the shade. Shit on a brick: Goldie is sick.

Here’s another conundrum in the chicken-health world: there are NO recognized, authorized online experts for diagnosing and treating chicken ailments. There are one or two fairly well-informed chicken owners who preach “their” methods, but the rest of the chicken-healing web world is built on community forums filled with advice and recommendations–often varying greatly in content–that must be waded through and dissected carefully for what makes sense to you

In my experience with sick hens, I knew it wasn’t looking good, especially with Goldie’s age (five) working against her. So I gleaned what information I could, blended it with advice from a valued chicken-keeping friend, and searched my cabinets for Mabel’s antibiotics from two years ago. Found them! Expired by six months, but who gives a rat’s ass. We are in panic mode here. Pulverized half a pill, mixed it with water and yogurt, readied the syringe, and psyched myself up to get it in her gullet. Thankfully, she’s easy to catch and rather happy to sit on my lap for a conversation over coffee, so I had her set up in moments. Lightly tapped some of the meds on her beak, and she immediately drank it. (Chickens will eat almost anything you drip on their beak.) and so it went: a few drops of antibiotics followed by a B12-soaked series of chopped-up grapes, more antibiotics, another grape, and before long, all the meds were down the hatch. Off she waddled to sit in the shade with her gal pals. The rest of the day, I went outside every hour or so to give her more vitamin-soaked grapes and peas, a whole raw egg (the yolks are one of the highest concentrations of B12 you can get) which she enjoyed some of, an oatmeal mash infused with oregano (considered to be a natural antibiotic), and anything else I could think of to boost her immune system. Dripped a few drops of oregano oil in her water, added electrolytes, and watched and waited and hoped.

Later that evening, another dose. Next morning, PRAYED (and I don’t pray a lot) for her to come out of the coop, and when she did–albeit slowly–rejoiced to all that are holy. More research on the Internet, more B12, more treats, and off to the feed store I went in search of Tylan, an antibiotic known to have good success rates in chickens. It’s a powder you simply mix in their water. And it ain’t cheap. Let’s just say you could’ve replaced your entire flock tenfold with what this stuff costs. But Goldie is my matriarch, my ambassador for chickens, the mother figure who teaches all the babies what’s up with the chicken world and how to live in it. And I adore her. So the Tylan made its way into her little body via yogurt-cranberry juice-water-filled syringe, and she was again rewarded with green grapes after her dosing. Same routine as the day before: constant checking, more treats in an effort to keep her eating and hydrated, and more worried hours. She seemed to go through the motions of grazing with Henrietta and Mabelene every few hours, but would stop often and lay down, close her eyes, sleep in the most random places–mostly under the house where it is cool. The girls would just take their cues from her and stop and drop along with her, sleep when she did, and get up and graze when she felt like getting up.

By Tuesday, I noticed a slight improvement. A bit more pep in her step, less napping, more inclined to eat and drink on her own. Hallelujah! She was definitely feeling better. And so I kept up my regimen, and she continued to get better. By Wednesday, I stopped praying and started to make a list of what I owed God for this immense favor. 

Thursday morning saw me taking up my new morning habit of wide-eyed staring out the window, coffee cup in hand, waiting for the girls to descend the coop ramp and emerge into the run. “Thump!” The sound of someone jumping off the roost onto the coop floor. Henrietta emerged. Sixty seconds later, another thump and there was Goldie (whew, again I could breathe.) But oddly, no Mabelene. THIS was strange. Not only is she normally the first one out, she’s normally out before daylight. A minute later, here she comes down the ramp, eyes half-closed, taking careful slow-mo steps, tail drooping. She looked like the hunchback of Chicken Dame. Shit on another brick: Mabelene’s sick. Back to the meds, the B12, and another chat with God. 

By evening, after a tenuous session of syringe-feeding a chicken who is NEVER held (and who let me know in no uncertain terms that she did NOT want to make it a habit), she was sipping on a raw egg yolk and retired to bed before dark. Thus began my second vigil of the week, another round of cancelled appointments for the next day, and a sleepless night. Next morning, out waddled the crew. Except Mabelene. I knew she was dead. I started planning her funeral and choosing her music. I considered how it would be to open the coop and face her cold dead little feathered body on the roost, frozen in place like a perfect little sculpture. But wait–was that a thump? I saw a small cloud of pine shavings floof out of the coop entrance. Mabelene is alive! Still a bit off kilter, but with a gleam in her eye that had taken a 24-hour hiatus. After the air re-entered my lungs and my body unfroze, I flew outside to greet my flock. Whew.

And so Mabelene has bounced back along with Goldie. Henrietta seems to have been immune to whatever virus affected her sisters. I’m certain the virus–or whatever it was–came by way of the new babies from their farm. So everyone just wrapped up their 5- to 7-day round of antibiotics, just in case, and I am ecstatic to have seen my gals waddle out of the coop again each morning like it’s just another day in the life. 

Time to exhale, and to resume the daily business of integrating the flock… Stay tuned for a progress report in my next blog post.

Goldie and Mabelene–wonders of wonders.

Baby Steps

Babies are doing well! Eating like little feathered champs, learning that my hands are often the vessels for delicious treats, and adjusting to life near much larger hens–one of whom wouldn’t mind taking a bite out of them every chance she gets. I’m talking about Henrietta here.  She charges at them, corners them, pecks them, and basically terrorizes them. Perfectly normal behavior for a dominant hen. And since Henrietta is pretty much on the bottom of the pecking order with the other big gals, I suppose she’s due her turn. Thank God the babies know to get the hell out of her way. It took one major pecking session and the loss of two feathers. Ouch. So for now, they remain in the safety of their cage when the big gals are in their run, and then when the big gals are out free-ranging in the yard, the babies get to roam the big run. They leap, they jump, they mock-fight, they nap, they dig and scratch, and they eat everything they find. Happy hens.  

Mabelene is afraid of them and jumps about six feet every time they fluff their feathers, Goldie is indifferent to them, and Henrietta wants to take a bite out of them. All normal for this stage of the game.

Baby steps. 


Ever watchful of the evil Henrietta, Dot (left) and Gertie remain on alert, even behind the safety of the enclosure.

More Chickens!

Shameful, the length of time between my postings of late. If you’re not following The City Hen on Facebook, you may have missed a few things. Not your fault–I know Facebook is not a friend to all. But there are some amusing postings we at The City Hen make every now and then. 

But to our loyal WordPress subscribers, let me break the awesome news: there are two new additions to The City Hen flock! Fresh off the boat from a sad little farm in Pinellas Park (of which I would have exited with peeling tires, had my friend Megan not given me the gentle “We must save them” look), two 8-week-old Australorp hens have found their way home. 

For those of you not too familiar with chicken breeds, the Australorp is a beautiful, docile black-feathered hen of substantial size and prize-winning ebony feathers who typically tops the list in desired backyard chicken breeds. Knowing they had ANYTHING to do with my now 5-year-old Goldie’s Orpington lineage was enough for me. And who doesn’t want beautiful black hens on their back lawn? We are equal-opportunity, after all. (Was that wrong?)

And so, Dottie (named after my deceased Gram Dorothy) and Gert (a name I simply loved and then found out was my friend Rachel’s gram’s name–which totally sealed the deal) found their way home yesterday, enduring the exhausting and stressful life change as best as their little bodies would allow. (By the way, all hens should be named after grandmas, don’t you think?)

Thank God (and Dad) for my spacious new run! This new hen integration will be a thousand times easier than the last time! (Reference my agonizing 2013 blog posts.) The big ole dog crate generously donated by Emma & Skip–my much-missed friends from the barn–is a life-saver, allowing me to house Dot and Gert in the safety of their own run inside the big girls’ run. And after a day of anxious reception by the big girls to these new much-peeping interlopers, it actually seems like my new flock will actually be open to integration in several short weeks. 

Now that Gert and Dot have had their thorough DE dust baths and immune-boosting probiotics, they are ready to assimilate into the life of the much-loved backyard City Hen–aka, lottery winners. 

So expect some upcoming news and silly stories, and always the random observations we make about our feathered friends. The city hens never disappoint. 


Already roosting–and joined at the hip.


So sleepy after the challenging move. 

The New Digs

The three city hens on Mississippi Ave are back to share some stories after a much-too-long hiatus from the blog! We sometimes forget that our readers stay awake all hours, checking the blog in eager anticipation for any new news. (Riiiight….) But I really must apologize for my lack of writing!

Like I’ve said in previous posts, no news is usually good news. Goldie, Mabelene, and Henrietta are still strutting around the backyard, raising a beak-emitted ruckus when they don’t get turned out early enough in the morning (hello, Saturday attempt at sleeping in), and enlightening us humans with very their busy antics.

The Fall molt is winding down. All girls temporarily lost a good deal of their feathery fluffs starting in October, and have since rebounded with even more downy fluff-covered bodies than before. I was a tad worried about Goldie since molts are tough on hens’ health–and Goldie is no spring chicken (ha–had to say it) at five years old. I watched her like a mother hen (full of ’em this morning, aren’t I?) and incorporated extra protein and other nutrition-rich goodies into her diet. She made it through, and almost on the 3-month dot, laid her first egg last week.

Mabelene is the chicken wonder. As the smallest, thinnest, gangliest hen of the flock, I expected her molt to be nothing less than death-defying. And she surprised us all by continuing to lay beautiful green eggs throughout the entire molt! It’s been three months and she still hasn’t grown her neck feathers back fully yet. It is my lifelong goal to fatten this little hen up to ensure her long-term health.

Henrietta is the unobtrusive middle child. She molted fast and well, but the eggs still elude her. Come on, Henrietta. Start laying! Perhaps the peer pressure will get to her soon, with Goldie and Mabelene dropping one in the nesting box every other day.

The biggest news since my last blog post is in the girls’ living quarters. After much planning and angst about becoming one of those redneck building hoarders whose yard becomes overrun with outbuildings, I bit the bullet and convinced my dad to help build a bigger run on the other side of my garage. It accomplished three major goals: give the girls more space (to alleviate the guilt factor when I travel), get them out of the sun (the former location welcomed all of Florida’s delightful oven-baking afternoon sun eight months out of the year), and restrict the amount of steaming chicken bombs from the garage and patio (never fun to step in).

And after a long few weekends of digging the new foundation, moving walls and re-predator-proofing every inch of the mesh, and a four-person team to move the coop, the girls are now in their new home. And it is wonderful.

Now that we have more space, it begs the question: should we get a few more hens? 🙂




I Need More Chickens

This is the battle cry that is launched from most chicken lovers/owners at least once a year. Especially around springtime when feed stores are overflowing with fluffy little orbs of feathery hatchling-ness ripe for the picking. More hens! More eggs! It really is a sickness.

But for “the pet that gives back,” it’s a slightly more justified request than for, say, more shoes. Chickens do best in flocks. They feed off each other socially, they get a sense of peace and calm by meandering about the yard together, gossiping about the day’s events like little ladies strolling through the garden with their hands clasped behind their backs, they take dust baths together, and they roost together at night. They teach each other which bugs are good and which to keep clear of the beak, and they alert each other when there is danger–like yesterday morning when Goldie bok-bok’d to the young’ins about the presence of a black snake in the grass. For chickens–as for most prey animals–there is safety and happiness and peace in numbers.

And okay, in case you see right through my scientific justification, I just want more fluffy feathered fatties meandering around my backyard in the dew-covered grass in the dappled morning sunshine. Just a couple, mind you. Three was my original “perfect number” until I realized that when you lose one and are down to just two, the whole pecking order is out of whack. With two, one is alone while the other is working on delivering an egg–a process that usually takes a couple of hours. With two, one is forever at the bottom of the pecking order, always on the run from Ms. Domineering Head Hen. (We all root for the underdog and we would like for her to have a friend to soften her status in the flock. It’s always less-stressful when there’s someone else to share your misery with, right?) And so, two hens is simply not fair. Three hens is better, definitely. But then what happens if one dies? Two. Again. Not good. And, most importantly, wouldn’t it be even more glorious to have four or five fluffy hens race across the lawn toward me when I come outside instead of two or three?

And so, while thoughts of more-more-more enter my head each spring and I tamp them down quicker than a hen swallowing a worm, I realize another series of dilemmas:

1. The run isn’t big enough. Based on my research at the time, it seemed big enough. But when I go on a trip–which happens more often lately–it’s simply unfair to expect the girls to thrive in such a small enclosure. No room for dust baths or to stretch their wings, or to get away from the dominant hen without retreating into the coop.
2. We built their enclosure in a spot that requires that the girls cross over my patio in order to get to the grassy yard. This results in much pooping on the patio and a special backyard shoes policy, since we all want to avoid stepping in chicken shit with our beloved Toms. Wouldn’t it be nice to go sit on your patio and avoid peeling out on a fresh pat of poo?
3. I live in a flood zone. Not only do we get tons of rain in our Florida summers, but it tends to gather–and sit, sometimes for days–in between my back door and the chicken coop. Not only is it not fun to walk through stagnant water to reach your hens, it’s even less fun walking through poop-infused stagnant water to reach your hens.
4. Sun. Although we do get cool seasons in Florida, the dominant season is Just Plain Hot. For about seven months of the year. The current coop location gets sun from around 2 pm until dusk–the exact part of the Florida day that is the hottest. This results in a temporary patchwork installation of old umbrellas affixed to the roof of the run for the summer. (There is a roof on the run, but with the angle of the afternoon sun, it doesn’t provide any shade at that time.)

And so last week I mustered up the courage to ask my dad about moving the beloved coop that he painstakingly built from the ground up to the other side of my garage. Issues resolved: shade in the afternoons, no more need for the hens to cross the patio or for me to walk through floodwaters to reach the coop, and room to expand the run! MORE CHICKENS! God bless him, he listened calmly (as he does to most of my earth-shattering ideas) and agreed this will be the first project on his honey-do list this fall. Score!

In the meantime, a friend who is currently attempting to hatch some eggs under her broody hen has offered to donate a couple of her hatchlings to me if all goes well. The timing isn’t perfect, but I wouldn’t turn them down. There’s always my little “baby coop” to use for the newbies while they integrate with the existing flock during daytime turnout this summer. This was the process I used when introducing Mabelene and Henrietta to Goldie and Marguerite last spring.

And if all goes well, by fall, I should have a whole new chicken situation going on. And much more fodder for City Hen blog posts! Stay tuned…

Mabelene reacts to the news.

Practical Egg Jokes

There’s almost nothing more rewarding than enjoying the beautiful Florida spring evenings outside in a lazy Adirondack chair with a glass of wine and the curious (and sometimes demanding) gazes from your trio of fat, happy hens. I was happy to enjoy that scene tonight. And it reminded me of my lax blogging activities of late. (Apologies to all who flatter me enough to read my ramblings.)

I am happy to report that Henrietta, Mabelene, and Goldie are doing well! Their winter molts are done and egg production finally kicked back into full gear about two weeks ago. Thank God! It seemed to take forever to get eggs again! So long, in fact, that my brother-in-law Don played a little joke on me one night after I arrived at their house eggless once again for a family gathering. (My excuses and explanations about Mother Nature and molting had fallen on deaf ears for weeks.)

While performing my evening pre-bedtime check of the girls one evening, I was astounded to open their coop door and see a dozen brilliant white eggs dotting the landscape of the coop floor! Holy eggs-raining-down-from-Heaven, batman! It took my sluggish and shocked brain about fifteen seconds to deduct that these eggs (all of which were white–a color that never graces my nesting boxes) were not my hens’ eggs at all! It was a great joke–though perhaps an effective gesture, since Goldie started laying a few weeks later!

Another day in the life of backyard chicken-keeping. 🙂

Marge in Charge: Now in Hen Heaven (2010-2013)

It is with a heavy heart that I write this post. Marguerite died Friday during the night.

I found her Saturday morning, nestled in the nesting box, eyes closed. She seemed peaceful. She had just about finished her molt and I figured she was spending more time in the nesting box lately because she was gearing up to lay eggs again. But no; there was obviously something else wrong. I took her to the vet Friday afternoon after noticing her level of lethargy increase, her appetite dwindle, and her general level of interest in all things outside pretty much fizzle to zero. Three days was obviously too long to wait.

I read in all of my chicken-keeping books that if a chicken displays signs of illness, it is usually too late. They hide it so well. You attribute their “issues” to egg-laying, weather changes, molting, whatever. And by the time you start asking yourself, “Did they eat the fertilizer in my potted plants that I just planted last Saturday?” or, “Did I miss signs of worms in her?” she’s almost already gone. So you fill your potted plants with big rocks and crushed oyster shells to deter digging in the soil, and you put de-worming meds in their water for three days, and finally after all efforts are exhausted, you take her to the vet for x-rays because you’re SURE she’s egg-bound. And they can’t find anything. Except signs of weight loss or dehydration or “her crop was really full.” So you take her home after what she most assuredly feels was a bout of torture, and you sleep like hell because you’re worried about her, and you check on her in the morning and she’s as still as a ghost… Because she is a ghost.

And then you deal. What else can you do? Except think it’s maybe your fault because WHAT ARE YOU DOING WRONG TO MAKE TWO OF YOUR BELOVED HENS DIE WITHIN SIX MONTHS OF EACH OTHER??? Mabel and Marguerite were only three years old. It’s not fair. It’s not FAIR.

Okay, so I am angry. And sad and frustrated. And anyone who doesn’t think it hurts just as much to lose a little hen as it does to lose another beloved pet doesn’t know us chicken owners very well. Listen up: It downright sucks.

The only creatures who are happy with this sudden change of circumstances are the babies: Henrietta and Mabelene. They have moved up one notch in the pecking order. They are garnishing the devoted attention of the elusive Goldie (who was joined at the wing to Marge after Mabel’s death). And they are finally–finally–roosting on the main coop roosting bars. While Goldie sleeps in the nesting box. Ironic, isn’t it?


The City Hen is on Facebook!

Well, I’ll be henpecked–The City Hen is now on Facebook! Where you’re guaranteed to get a bit more action from the flock. And as is the trend with Facebook posts, I promise to offer the most groundbreaking, captivating, scintillating insights into the flock’s posh St. Petersburg lifestyle. (And maybe just a bit of the mundane…)

One might say we’ve finally molted into today’s social media mainstream. Won’t you join us there?


Coonie! Coonie! Coonie! Alert!

If you ever want to test your mettle as a chicken owner, see what happens when a full-grown raccoon saunters into your backyard while your hens are out grazing. This mother hen? She passed the test.

It all started on another rainy St. Pete day. Gone all day working at a client site, home at dinner time–just early enough to let the hens out for some rain-soaked grazing time in the lush (er–unmowed) backyard grasses. Inside making a delicious pan of garlic smashed redskin potatoes and sautéed asparagus dinner, glass of Chardonnay while I chop away on the cutting board and peer outside with pride at my feathered little harem fluffing it up outside the window, when WHAT to my wandering eyes should see, but a big ole’ coonie comin’ around the corner! Panic! Alert! Sound the chicken alarm! Wait–I don’t have a chicken alarm, I realize, spoonful of potatoes in my mouth, eyes frozen wide in horror, hands on the window pane in clenched, useless emptiness. Wake up out of my heavenly potato-induced reverie, unclench spoon-inhabited mouth and barely hear spoon clatter on counter, and RUN to back door with “no-way-will-you-get-MY-chickens!” jaw set, fling open the back door, trip down the stairs, and run to the garage for the broom.

Meantime, the coonie sees me, takes a detour around the back of the garage, and jets to the side yard in a mad rush. All the while, my four spectacular huntresses stand at raised-giraffe-alert neck and line up in a ready-to-rush-him formation (they probably think it’s a harmless neighbor cat–“Arghh, we’ve seen ‘er kind before!”). I could see Henrietta getting a curious set to her beak (yes, you learn to see things like this)–it was almost a sort of “I can take him” expression–and right before she gathered up her wings to hightail it around the corner after the coon (much like old Gram-mama hiking up her britches for an open-the-can-o-whoopass on the trespassing neighbor’s dog), I reached them and, broom waving wildly over my head, hissed like I’ve never hissed before, driving my now-frenzied flock in a crazy zigzag gallop back to the safety of the run. I don’t think Henrietta or Mabelene have ever seen me like that. The sounds that erupted from my gaping maw were unlike any they’ve ever heard. (Sometimes the unknown works to your advantage.) All four hens flitted and fluttered in a weaving pattern across the lawn and back to the coop, whereupon I slammed the door shut and stood proudly (and a bit out of breath), hand on hip.

By now, the girls were so freaked out (it’s not often that you see a wild bra-less woman with garlic-smashed potatoes on her chin chasing you with a broom) that they hopped around in aimless little circles in their fenced-in run, jumping up on their roosts and talking all about their close call in animated squawks and chirps and clicks. “My gosh, did you SEE her?” “Was that our human caretaker?” “Heavens to Mergatroid, I’ve never been witness to such a spectacle!”

But. They are safe. And as long as I’m in charge and not sleeping at the wheel, they will continue to be so.

Ahh. Perhaps another glass of wine is in order.

Postscript: For the record, I love raccoons. I cherish any sort of wildlife–especially those unfortunate creatures who have managed to carve out a meager lifestyle along with us greedy land-stealing humans. So I wish no harm to raccoons. (Ask anyone who knows me.) But I also have protective priorities, and my pets are at the top of that list. I think the coonie won’t be back for awhile. If the aforementioned image of me with broom held high isn’t tragically seared into its little brain forevermore, I would be surprised.