After years of working, dreaming and hoping... my tremendously talented love of my life Husband and I bought the house where I grew up here in a beautiful corner of the Rockies. The feeling that I have come home in more ways than I can count here has been punctuated with a garden in the back yard that called for hens to keep it company. We converted a large dog kennel, and double decker super-sized doghouse to a Henhouse and coop. 8 hens from a farm store four hours away in Bozeman Montana turned out to be 6 hens and two ROOs! A fox tragedy, and a bit of gifting left us with a Columbian Wyandotte hen "Flora" and roo "Hansel", and a Black Jersey Giant "Miss Mona Lisa Vito". Happy Hen farm (well, ranch - this IS Wyoming...) was born. Now we have 7 Black Jersey Giant peep-peeps snoozing in a brooder here in my office - ready to join the gang when the snow finally recedes. The future? Once I'm a pro, and can be trusted with them, I want to start a flock of Javas to contribute stability to their status in what miniscule way I can.
On Feather Picking:
HAVING WAGED A FIVE MONTH CAMPAIGN AGAINST IT, I HAVE LARNED A THING OR TWO ABOUT ANTI-PICKING...
Here are the recommended remedies I found, from Backyard Poultry PHDs, one or two Wizened Farmers, a guy with a brown bag on a crosstown bus who thinks he worked as a cashier once for a feed store in New Zealand, and an out of work Voodoo Princess... accompanied with the results I found to said remedies:
Slathering: The act of attempting to make the feathers less palatable to pickers, and a bit of an embarrassment to the "pickee".
-Cayenne pepper - they thought they were doing TexMex for the week
-Vicks Vaporub - still picked what couldn't be slathered, but everyone breathed well for the week
-Non-toxic white paint (on Rooster's red neck - idea that it would not draw attention to the bald spot) No dice, but Hansel is now reading up on prerequisites for becoming a rodeo clown - nice that he has a hobby.
-Pine Tar - yes... just keep laughing - discovered emergency alternative for home waxing.
-Rooster Booster Pick-no-More - works like a CHAMP as long as you apply it every two or three minutes - use gloves or suffer the curios pitying stares and calls to local drug enforcement teams from the grocery store when you reach for the bag of macaroni with purple hands, your eyes still red because you rubbed them not knowing that Rooster Booster contains ingredients also used to launch the space shuttle.
Psychology: The act of interviewing each hen to sort out what she's missing in her life that would prompt her to pluck and eat the outer layer of her compatriots, making educated interpretations and offering alternatives.
-Freud and Nietchi both threw in the towel, forever haunted with the answers they couldn't find through the minds of hens. Their personal journals filled with sketches of the one-eyed chicken look, and complex nest box choice behaviors destined to be scrutinized by scholars for a century.
-Hang a cabbage - Evidently hens are into boxing - my bunch seem to be more the mixed martial arts sorts, so only offer pitying slow head shaking that I would think they might fall for it
-Light Therapy - change red heat light to white one - perhaps alleviating seasonal affective disorder: made the target feathers more visible.
-leave the henhouse door open so they could feel free go out earlier in the day: insomniac husband offers to alleviate the problem with acute flock removal around 4:45 a.m.; heating bill rivals national debt.
-Create bigger windows -as any group of women, they couldn't agree on the fabric for the window treatments, and (I'm so sorry).. feathers flew.
-Separate flock members with expensive, elaborate maze of material requiring 4 days to construct, a black thumbnail and a tetanus shot: everyone missed each other so badly they leaned against the new fence so the others could pick feathers through the wire - those left out paced in front of new wire, which performed
beautifully as an automatic feather plucker. (must remember this if all of this comes to the soup pot)
Nutrition: The act of obtaining degrees in neuromicrobiochemistry, endocrinology and master chef status at the Culinary Institutes of France, New York and Madagascar so approaches to affecting feather picking behaviors are educated and adept.
-Spent child's college tuition on forage cakes from McMurray Hatchery, calming b vitamin complexes, mineral supplements, avia charge, and a sort of gourd fruit only growing in an obscure corner of the jungle in Peru, requiring fire-walking and a virgin sacrifice to obtain: Rooster asking for a name change from Hansel to "The Great Featherless Frank - as he is now resigned to his condition and wants a flashier application to rodeo clown school... The eggs now give us gas.
-Provide a flat of fresly sprouted wheat-grass: dug up grass to use soil beneath for a dust bath - adding minerals and nutrients to the feathers being picked... glad they're getting some roughage
-Create tableside flambe of proteins, complex carbohydrates, iron, calcium, nitrates, vitamins, using a recipe of cat food, bread crusts, scrambled egg, hard boiled egg, tuna tartare, something in a baggie in the back of my fridge, a buffalo porterhouse (medium rare) and a glass of '93 Chateau beuf special reserve... has to be carried out at the end of a long stick. Does the trick for an hour... hens on their backs rubbing their bellies in bliss... then realize they haven't had dessert - decide on feather a-la-mode.
Educated Conclusion to end feather picking:
A. Pre-pluck all chickens, and knit them sweaters.
B. Fire up the soup pot.
WHILE CLEANING A NEW SPACE FOR MY HENS
I just cleaned out our cute little storage shed, and while going through a few college boxes, I found a quilt that my Grandmother made for me when I was 6. It turned my heart over.
She was the kind of dame who would knit a pair of mittens while at the theater watching a movie. Every Christmas one of the banks in her lifelong small Minnesota town put up "Joyce's Mitten Tree". Every single child in town was remembered. They could go through the season to try to find their pair on the tree, and on Christmas eve, each child could go pick their mittens off of it. Knit? Yes, of course she could knit... but OH the quilts she made! There was something about them that instantly made them security blankets. Opening that box and seeing the familiar corner of my beloved little quilt brought her back for a moment with her wonderful hooting laugh, her deft hands kneading bread dough seemingly on their own, and her careful instructions about how to make a marzipan christmas city without once touching the candy.
I grew up in the Rockies - a long way from her. No little girl loved horses, the mountains or purple more than I did, but as one of many of her grandchildren, it was an assumption of mine that I was just one of the gang, a funny blonde tomboy who loved to fish with her on our rare visits to her lake house in Northern Minnesota... a description that, with a hair color and gender description edit, would fit any my cousins as far as I could tell. Visits to her home, Sugar Hill, were truly a moveable feast defined by perpetual activity and lucky membership in a clan of admirable relatives... with Joyce at the helm, and nobody in my recollection demanding to stand out. We were each an oatmeal bowl, or a pair of raspberry picking hands, or one of a group contributing unmeasured walleye to the basket for dinner. Each given equal appreciation. It was wonderful.
As I pulled the warn little quilt out and opened it, a warm realization began to slowly seep in that made me smile. The little quilt was purple... 6 purple old fashioned bandanas to be exact. Somehow, even while happily lost in that gaggle of cousins, she saw me and was able to tell me that she knew me through her own warm, practical art. Bandanas... she understood the western character that defines me even now - and purple. My name is hand appliqued on the front with the feminine blue that makes up the back of the quilt. What a language. Truly, thumbing that quilt would have made me miss her, but for a moment she was right there with me again, hooting about some story about a neighbor or duck feather pillows, or the news at the bait shop where she had just gotten a deal on minnows. That is the kind of gift I would love to learn how to make for those I love ... those whom I would like to show somehow that I see them, and I get them.