Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Who flew the coop

Last week we managed to get a cover of sorts over our chicken run, which when combined with closing the hen gate, blocks the chickens into the run. And by "cover" I mean we took plastic garden fencing and screen door material and stapled it from the run fence to the trees inside the run, which leaves a large hole in the center of the run uncovered but it is too far from the fences for Gretchen to fly over, and the hens don't go over the fence, just through it using the hen gate. Because the run is roughly circular this was not an easy task to do and to say that it looks "DIY" would be putting it nicely. It's a hot mess. But at least it was doing the job. Until Easter. 

As Easter is the holiday for chicks and ducks and all things cute and fluffy, Mom decided that the ladies deserved to be out in the yard, free ranging it until the evening when we were expecting a guest for dinner and we wanted to put the dogs outside for the occasion. (Scout is not known for his manners as he is still young and exuberant and would happily eat a roast of lamb if you let him.) This is not a problem for Axel (because he was raised around chickens and can behave himself properly) or Molly (because she is twelve pounds and Gretchen the rooster is her size or larger so she won't take them on by herself.) Scout is another matter. He is young and while he was raised around the chickens they are the only animals on the Unfarm that he can't behave himself around. They run and flap and make noise, after all. What dog could resist chasing them? Certainly not Scout. 

Dinner approached and our guest was due to arrive within the hour so Mom and I decided it was time to round up the chickens and put them back in the run. Penny, Lucy, and Gretchen went calmly into the run but this was not the case with Bridget and Georgia. These two are affectionately (and sometimes with a tinge of exasperation) called Dumb and Dumber. For the life of them they could not figure out how to get back into the run, despite the fact that they do it daily, and our efforts to coax them in the right direction only served to convince them that we were about to pop them into the stew pot and so they had better avoid us at all costs. Chickens are harder to catch than they look and while we were chasing them around the yard they were cackling the whole time, screaming for help in their little chicken voices. 

This was too much to bear for Gretchen, who decided he needed to come to the aid of his mistresses so he found a way out of the run, flying to the top of the coop and from there to the run fence and over. At this point, with three chickens now on the loose, we gave up and kept the dogs in the house during dinner, plying them with trachea (yuck) and rawhide treats to get them to behave properly, which they did for the most part. The chickens went into the coop for the night and we blocked up the hen door so that the next morning all five chickens would be blocked into the run again. Problem solved. 

The next day, however, we looked out into the yard to discover Lucy and Gretchen wandering around the garden, side by side while the other three remained stranded in the run. Penny looked relieved to be anywhere that Gretchen was not but Bridget and Georgia simply ran back and forth in the run trying to figure out where the hole was that allowed this escape. Lucy, being the smart little cookie that she is, had watched Gretchen escape the day before and now followed suit, vaulting off of the coop to reach the run fence and the yard beyond, and wherever Lucy goes Gretchen follows as she is his favorite hen. So now we are back to square one, with deck construction looming in the near future and no way to keep the ladies confined. We have a new run planned, in an area of the yard not filled with giant trees so it will be easier to cover but that's likely not coming until the summer. Who knows? Maybe we'll just have to diaper all the chickens and bring everyone inside during the construction - wouldn't that be an adventure?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wild weather and a mason bee update

What do you get when you combine high winds with wet soil, large trees, and old fencing? You guessed it: a mess. During the high winds a week or so back there were trees and fences down everywhere and the Unfarm was not immune - we lost power for 19 hours and three sections of fence came down but it could have been worse considering we have over ten mature trees on our property, mostly redwoods and firs. House smashers, is what they are. Fortunately our house is intact and none of the animals were harmed in the wind. It started up fairly early in the morning and the chickens were not yet out of the coop so we just kept them inside until it was over, lest we have chickens hurled about the yard, and not of their own accord. 

When we finally did get our power back on it was time to clean up the mess left behind which means we have been working on the fences for the past week. You need to dig out the old post before you can even begin to work on putting the panels back up. There was a period of time when Dad was using two bags of cement per post hole in a misguided effort to prevent the post from falling down. What resulted was a post that rotted off at ground level, leaving behind a heavy cement "mushroom" that then has to be hauled out of the hole somehow. And because I am too impatient to dig the whole thing out I employed the following technique: dig out the hole enough to jam the 4x4 post under the lip of the mushroom and then jump up and down on the 4x4 until the mushroom wiggles itself loose. It may not be the best technique, but it works for me. 

The chickens, meanwhile, were locked in the coop all day for two days straight while we worked on the fences until we could find a way to cover their run so they could be let out of the coop without the worry that they would simply fly over the top of the run and go gallivanting about the neighborhood when a bobcat is on the loose. (See previous post for more on this, if you so choose.)

At any rate, we eventually got the run covered sufficiently to keep them safe inside it and we have almost finished with all of the fencing - we have one last post to replace before it falls down on its own when we are most unprepared to deal with it, in all likelihood. 

And now, for the bees, there is some good news to report. A few of the bees have found their way back to the tubes and have taken up occupancy. I noticed some activity around the house during the week and when I checked one evening with a flashlight I saw five little faces staring back at me from within the tubes so perhaps this year won't be a total loss after all. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Mason Bee Mystery... and Bobcats

We raise mason bees. Or at least we used to. Mason bees are an easy way to get your feet wet with bees without all the expensive gear or the risk of getting stung. This year we watched all of our little mason bees hatch out of their cocoons and bask in the sun on their top of the line mason bee house with reusable plastic trays (which we switched to after the squirrels discovered our more basic mason bee houses filled with cardboard tubes where the bees live and lay their eggs - the squirrels started eating all the baby bees and pollen out of the tubes like they were pixie sticks.) After basking for a few hours the bees flew off in search of pollen and mud (which they use to plug up the holes they lay their eggs in.) We waited calmly for them to come back and start filling up their tubes. And we waited. And waited. And waited. It has been several weeks now with no sign of our bees. Usually we will see them coming and going from the house and the tubes will begin to plug up with mud but not this year. I don't know if they all flew off in search of greener pastures, so to speak, or if they were killed off by the pesticides the neighbors used on their homes this spring. At any rate, we have no bees and no clue as to why. For now, it remains a mystery. We were concerned that we would have to expand our operation this year and add a second house but now we will be lucky to have any bees at all next year. 

In other news, a bobcat has been spotted in our neighborhood. This has us concerned, as you would expect, for the safety of our chickens and ducks which currently roam freely throughout our backyard. A six foot wooden fence probably isn't much of a deterrent when there is an easy meal on the other side of it. We are trying now to find a way to cover the chicken run so that the chickens stay confined inside of it. I am as yet unsure what we will do to protect Minna and Maggie because they need access to their pool during the day. The makeshift catio under the deck will not work for long because in a couple of weeks we will no longer have a deck. It needs to be redone from the ground up but that is a headache for another day. In the meantime, let us hope that the bobcat stays occupied with rats and other small creatures further down the street and leaves our yard alone.