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.



Good Timing

Mabelene’s timing is getting better! Today’s egg was actually IN the nesting box–along with Henrietta’s. A good day.

The girls really are coming into their own; so nice to see!



Rolling in Eggs

Well, I’ll be egg-bound. Not only have one of my babies started laying, they BOTH laid eggs this morning!

There are those occasionally raucous days of incessant squawking and overly hormonal bickering between the hens that tries one’s patience. Today was one of them. Hens in and out of the nesting boxes. Hens outside squawking and hollering because someone else is in the nesting box. Hens standing on my back porch steps yelling inside–really, literally, THROUGH the door, clearly directed at me–for God-knows-what. I go outside, flush them off the steps. Go back inside. Wonder why I ever decided to get four hens. Four LOUD hens. (Yes, the babies have found their voices.) a few minutes later, Goldie is out in the backyard BOK-BOK-BOKing at the top of her voice. I go back outside, grab the broom (anyone with chickens knows this is just about the only backyard implement you need on those unbearable days), chase her back into the coop with Marge and close the door. Now everyone is mad because they’re all closed-up. Go back inside and consider converting away from vegetarianism.

And then, a few moments later, silence. Blessed silence. I head back outside an hour later to release the Krakons from their cages. First, the babies–after a cursory look into the still-empty nesting box (even though Mabelene has been laying in there for over an hour). After they scuttle out, I let the big gals out of their run, and just as I walk back over to the back door, a gift on the ground: a perfect green egg, still wet from exiting Mabelene’s little fluffed-up body. The answer to yesterday’s question of who left the mystery eggs under the porch! Our little crippled-toe, emaciated-looking hen Mabelene! So I did what any mother would do: grabbed my camera and snatched up a shot (see below). So the divine Miss M is laying! Delightful. She just needs to work on her timing. And placement.

Not even an hour later, Marge is huddled up inside the nesting box. There is the unmistakable sound of an egg dropping to the box floor. Score! And before she can even waddle back into the yard to join Goldie on a bug hunt, Henrietta disappears into the box. Hm. Is she copying Marge, or even Mabelene? Jealous of Mabelene’s recent beautifully deposited green orb of deliciousness? I go about my business of drinking coffee and reading the Sunday paper. After Henrietta takes her leave, I head out to grab Marge’s egg from the box and–wonder of wonders–there’s a green egg right beside it! Henrietta, you sneaky little devil.

As I write this, Goldie is now taking her turn. When she drops hers and waddles outside to announce it to the world, it will be, finally, officially, a FOUR-egg day at the City Hen. My life is complete; haa.



Precious Greenies

I would have them on a train, I would have them on a plane. I would keep them from a mouse, I would find them under my house. And under the house is where I found two perfect green eggs.

Mabelene? Who’d-a-thunk she would start dropping eggs before Henrietta? At least, I’m assuming it’s Mabelene, since she’s been the one spending the most time in the coop lately. But wait–Henrietta was huddled up in the coop several days ago, as well. So now I’m thoroughly confused. Regardless of which little hen it dropped out of, consider me an incredibly proud mother hen whose chest feathers are simply a-swollen with pride.

Now the problem: the choice of laying location. Under the house. I only stumbled upon the first egg since I was sweeping under the back stairs and noticed something pastel-green out of the corner of my eye. An egg! After a squat-and-peer session under the back porch (carefully avoiding possible chicken bombs in the grass near my hands) I spotted egg number two. Out of my reach. Of course. Grabbed a rake and attempted to roll it out from under there, retrieving several other surprise items I never knew had found their way under the house: plastic planters, an empty yogurt cup, and HEY! My missing Croc! Last time I saw the other one, it was floating down the road during Tropical Storm Debbie.

I digress. The egg! My metal rake crushed it before I could get my greedy little hands on the perfect green orb. Dang it! Well, since only the chicken gods (or Henrietta or Mabelene) know when the egg was laid, I probably couldn’t have eaten it anyway. As is the case with the other one I snatched up.

Mean mom that I am, I had to close off the underside of the house with some temporary lattice panels. Sorry, babies! Once you start laying your precious greenies in the proper location (or at least somewhere I can reach), I’ll move the lattice away.

The babies should really know where to lay. There has been a marble “decoy” egg in their nesting box for over a month now. Goldie and Marge are constantly laying in their nesting boxes, and Henrietta and Mabelene take great care to observe the process and check in on the laying hen several times an hour, even sitting on the egg after the big gal makes her way outside. (The hen equivalent of playing house with Barbie and Ken.) So I’m hoping it’s just a matter of time. As are all things chicken-related, yes?

For now, let’s just enjoy the fact that I’m finally seeing green eggs on my homestead once again. Even if i have to work to get them… This fact, combined with the wonderful little Mabel-like sounds that are coming out of the babies’ beaks now, reminds me of the days I had a certain very special hen named Mabel ruling the roost. Bittersweet happiness for sure.


Okay, so I might have cheated by placing it in the nesting box near the decoy egg (wishful thinking, maybe…), but it sure does look good in the nesting box!

Are We There Yet?

Little things are happening. Good things. First of all, Henrietta now allows me to pet her. How did she learn this? Could it be by watching me pet Goldie and Marguerite? Every time I come outside the big girls run to me like I have a handful of spaghetti. (Sometimes I do.) Regardless of whether or not there is a treat in my outstretched hand, there is always an outstretched hand. And sometimes, all they receive is a nice pet on their beautiful feathers. Each and every time this occurs, I make sure it is in view of the baby hens. I know they learn much of what they know from other chickens.

And just the other day, when Henrietta walked toward me, my outstretched hand was acknowledged with a quick drop and squat–wings spread–and I took the opportunity to pet her. It was delightful. Perhaps Mabelene will get the point next. Although she is still just about as skittish as a hockey puck on slick ice. (Quite suitable for a hen that runs like a speed skater.)

Other notable milestone: All four girls spent some daylight hours in the big run while I was gone the other day. We had had downpours of rain, and the babies took refuge in the big girls coop, with the big girls below in the outdoor run. I had to go out for an appointment, and I knew there was no way I was going to get those babies to come out the coop and into their own little coop. (Anyone who has chickens knows that if they don’t want to go out in the rain, there’s no way to make them unless you can grab them and move them yourself.) So, knowing that I had enough escape routes and upper-level perches built into the structure–and the babies are comfortable now enough to leave them and get away from the big girls if they need to–I left them. (Of course, not before texting my neighbor to ask if they could stop over a few times and let me know if they detected any blood-curling carnage going on.)

I am thrilled to report that all went well. When I got up in the morning to let everyone out for the day, the babies were running around in the run with the big hens. Granted, they were standing in a corner with their necks raised like giraffes on alert and eyes as big as saucers, but they were holding their own. And the big girls seemed to have no desire to kick their asses. I even noticed Henrietta do her squat-and-drop submissive pose when Marguerite got a little close. Marguerite took stock of the situation and simply walked away.

So, I believe we are almost entirely integrated. I still don’t have enough confidence to leave them together all day-I worry that the babies will never get anything to eat that way, so will hold on to their little coop for now. Plus, having an extra domicile could be beneficial in the future, should I need to separate anyone for any reason.

For now, reporting from the land of backyard chicken-dom, all is well. Over and out. 🙂


Henlette Steps

There are those mothers–new moms, usually–who make a practice of boring their friends and acquaintances to tears (or wine) while new mom brags on and on about little Johnny’s first poo, his latest excursion across the kitchen floor, the color and texture of his most recent deposit on the burp rag. “Aww, isn’t that cute?!” Sigh.

I hope that my blog posts are not reflective of these legendary motherhood-induced rants and raves that succeed only in blowing the bored pupils out of my friends’ and families’ eyes. Like a new mom, I am proud of my babies’ accomplishments–even if it’s a hen’s first egg or the semi-integration of my flock after three long months of plan-adjusting. And this blog is my way of tracking these momentous occasions–for the history books of backyard chicken-keeping, of course, and for the really cool blog subscribers who’ve chosen to read my blurbs. But I never want to risk boring you.

So, to ramp up the edgy factor in tonight’s blog, let’s start with a little drama with a few facts from my weekend. First, my pool drained completely into my already drenched backyard (after two days of almost record-setting rain in St. Pete), one of my kitties announced that she had a raging UTI on Saturday morning when all vets except the $800/hour emergency clinic were closed, and my air conditioner went on the fritz on this, the second official day of summer. In Florida. When it’s 93 degrees with 89% humidity. How’s that for drama?

As far as chicken drama, there hasn’t been any, I’m thrilled to report! The daily hunt for bugs in the grass, the animated response to a new wedge of watermelon on a hot day, maybe the appearance of a curious hawk on the telephone wire above. All those are little bits and pieces of City Hen drama. And honestly, that’s all I want.

At the end of the day, I look for happiness in the little things: when my flock is safely ensconced in their chambers for the evening, all bellies are full, feathers are preened, the neighborhood hawks have flown to other yards for observatory duties, and four sets of precious clawed feet are wrapped around the highest coop perches my dad could build. And then there’s this: tonight–for the first time–two young hens walked into the big gals’ domicile and climbed right up into the coop before Goldie and Marge waddled in. Two minutes later, Henrietta and Mabelene were PERCHED on the ROOST in the big gals’ coop! (Stop me if I sound like I’m talking about little Johnny’s latest upchuck.) What a moment. My mother hen breast inflated with pride, and I couldn’t help thinking all was right with the world, even if it was only until the big gals came upstairs a few minutes later and chased ’em down for the night.

Progress, my good readers, progress! It doeth continue.


Babies in the big coop.

Time: It Really Works

Over the last few weeks, I’ve allowed Mother Nature to get a bit more involved in the Hen Integration Project. Yes, there is a new coop for the babies (which the big gals seem to enjoy more than the young’uns, judging by the many eggs they’ve laid in there), and I’m thrilled that I have a place to safely secure Mabelene and Henrietta when I need to leave the premises for a brief excursion. But I have also kept in mind the fact that I DO still want the flock to be together; I wish to be a one-coop domicile. Forcing the two sub-flocks to be separated will not accomplish my goal.

And so, each night, as dusk falls and the foursome begins to waddle toward the coops for their roosts, I let the babies choose where they want to go for the night. At first I was sure they would head into their safe little coop that I painstakingly built after weeks of gut-churning stress and paranoia. But no: they head right to the big gals’ house and fly up above the nesting boxes to settle down for the night. Why fight nature? And because I have noticed less of an intent to maim or kill from the big girls, I started to wonder: could it really be happening? Three months after bringing the babies home with visions of hen tea parties and chicken chat circles in the dappled-sun grass (no–maybe card games–and Marge would be at the head of the table smoking a Marlboro Light out of the corner of her beak while doling out cards to the rest of the flock), it may actually finally be happening? The answer is: I think so. Maybe. Hopefully.

This morning when I ventured outside to let them all out, I was delighted to see all four hens standing in the closed-up run at the same time. The babies must have flown down from their roost earlier than I’d expected–and stayed down there! With the big gals up and out at the same time, the babies normally will hop back up to their perch and hang out until I show up to open the door. Not today! Yes, they were standing in a semi-panicked huddle on high alert in the corner, but they WERE standing in the same general area as Marge and Goldie. No carnage, no attempted murder, no freaking out.

Yay for progress. Yay for time. Yay for Mom Nature.


They are growing up. Mabelene is the spitting image of her namesake.

Tropical Hens

Well, the hens have entered another Florida hurricane season. It’s the time we take inventory of water, batteries, alcoholic beverages, and chicken evacuation vessels.

Tropical storm Andrea was a good “training storm” for us. We knew it would be fairly mild. (And it was.) But when my creature-sitting neighbor eMailed me and asked about chicken evacuation plans during my [hopefully upcoming August] summer vacation, I had to stop for a moment and think. How could I possibly ask a woman in a Hyundai to transport five cats and four chickens to a safe zone during an evacuation? The answer is: um, I don’t have an answer for that one yet. I’m fairly certain they would go to my horse’s farm in North Tampa, if there’s room and our lovely barn hosts don’t mind.

For this particular storm, evacuation was not in the plans. Staying alert for flying puffs of feathery balls of chickens in 45-mph wind gusts took priority. So the gals stayed in their pens for most of the day. They handled the storm rather well, ducking into their coops when the sideways-downpours got intense, and coming down to stand in their runs (we’re they glaring at me? I couldn’t be sure) when the lighter storm bands blew through.

After a day of on-and-off downpours, wind gusts, random power outages, and overturned yard and garden accoutrements, the sun came out, and so did the hens. There were still a few random 30-mph gusts, but the girls seemed well aware of the need for vigilance and stayed near the garage and their favorite crawl space of the house. No chicken tumbleweeds, no projectile balls of feathers across the yard. And I’m happy to report that the new coop withstood the storm well, thanks to its strategic placement near the fence line. Little bit of water in the coop through the mesh window–there may be a chicken coop awning in their future–but everybody survived unscathed.

Mabelene observes her coop for any damage from the storm.

A Tentative Accord

All is relatively quiet on the farm (except, of course, when Goldie lays an egg and decides to announce it to the whole world). The baby henlettes are looking more and more like real chickens, I am able to sleep in on the weekends (unless the neighborhood dogs are up before me), and there seems to be a mutual peace amongst the backyard grazers. In fact, just today, I noticed Goldie and Henrietta pecking away at a patch of grass only two feet apart.

The babies have even shown the big gals a few new tricks. For instance, how the crawl space of the house is such a desirable place to while away these hot pre-summer afternoons. I now find the whole flock lounging under there together when I venture outside. (For the record, I’m not sure if the big girls have the babies trapped against their will or not, but I’m willing to take the “glass is half-full” approach here.)

The big girls also seem to enjoy the new coop, making a beeline for it when I open up everyone’s doors for turnout in the mornings. They peck away in there for bugs and treats the little ones have missed during their evening meals. Surprisingly, I found Goldie puffed up in the new coop’s nesting box today, and wa-la, an hour later, a perfect brown egg appeared. This may just be the ticket to training the babies where to deposit their eggs when the time comes.

For now, there is a very enjoyable routine developing at the City Hen headquarters. Welcome to June.

Goldie trying out the new coop’s nesting boxes.

The Mabelettes are growing up.

If You Can’t Join ’em…

The integration efforts have ceased. Big girls want nothing to do with the young ‘uns. Out in the backyard, harmony is everywhere. You can practically see songbirds circling around my little flock’s collective wattles, singing happily about feathered friends and hen love. Put the four girls in a pen, however, and things are not happy at all. Marguerite and Goldie seem much more relaxed with the babies, but the babies have long memories and have not forgotten the sharp beaks and hefty weight of their not-so-long-ago attackers. Who can blame them? Instinct is strong in these creatures, and it’s what has kept them alive.

In less than three months, Mabelene and Henrietta will start laying eggs. They can’t be constantly moved around to temporary shelters and continue to shack up like wandering nomads above the big gals’ nesting boxes (which requires me to rise before dawn to ensure they haven’t jumped down early in the morning and met up with sharp beaks of big hens). They need safe sleeping quarters and adequate roaming space for those days I’m not home (or, God-forbid, head out for an impromptu weekend away).

So after returning from my vacation (all the while fretting about the babies stuck in their small but tall parrot-like enclosure–even though my creature sitters let them out to roam for at least 30 minutes a day), I researched some online coops. The day I returned home, I ordered one. Two-day shipping, 45-minute assembly. Works for me. There were mixed reviews online about the size and sturdiness of the coop, but I could see the layout was right and, hell, I’m handy enough (thanks to Dad’s years of brown bag clearance tools and crafty household crafty lessons) to shore it up.

Seven hours of sweating in 92-degree Florida sun (with occasional dips in the pool and the brilliant-but-redneck assembly of beach umbrellas above my work area), four diet cokes with lime, and two jugs of water later, I stood back to admire my hard work and ingenuity! The new coop/run was built! I reinforced it with hardware cloth along the underside, knocked out the cheap plexiglass window and replaced it with wire mesh, installed new hasps on the doors, and opened up the roof for ventilation (since the coop manufacturer doesn’t seem to believe that hens need to breathe or be protected from hungry predators), and tricked the little gals in with romaine and veggie burgers, shutting the door behind them.

Of course, I thought to myself, they’ll LOVE it! Their own place! Fresh water, romaine, treats all over the place, a safe coop to spend the night–a double-level condo! How could they NOT love it?

They panicked. Paced back and forth like caged lions, scraping their beaks against the mesh walls and uttering heart-wrenching little peeps of shock. At that stage of the day, and coming off weeks of worry and stress and sleepless pre-vacation nights and a fresh $289 charge on my credit card from, I gave them a stern look (which of course they understood) and said, “Girls, get used to it” and went into the house and shut the door. And poured a glass of Chardonnay bigger than most people see in a lifetime.

Two days later, I am coming off my hangover and they are actually seeming to acclimate to their new quarters. I actually slept in until 8:30 today! Good thing chickens have little brains, because I was pretty worried about getting them to go back in there with the whole romaine-bait trick. They fell for it again last night, and I’ll find out in an hour if they fall for it again.

The highly professional artistic rendering.




Finally. The done deal. This fall, when my parents come down to Florida again, I may see if Dad can help me raise it up to give them more head space and maybe another perch or two.