Daily Drama 100 – Enough Hens Already

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Daily Drama 100 – Enough Hens Already

Hens come and go around here. This year they just keep on coming. Chickens are easy to keep until a raccoon heartlessly crashes the party. That’s when most people change their mind, and the surviving hens end up here. Determined urban farmers reinforce the henhouse and have another go at it. The second test is the rat invasion. You can’t really keep them out, and you can’t get rid of them once they grow addicted to the chicken feed. Some people learn to deal with the rats, and the rest give up and bring their hens to me. Buoyed by their successful rat abatement program, a few will add a couple more hens to the flock. The original hens pick on the incoming hens, and the new hens end up with me.

A ripe chicken fruit tree: L to R Dumb-pling, Pearly Mae, Cheeken, Bella (Norman in the distance)

There are a few other ways I end up with hens. They get dumped, maybe at a feed store. Someone eventually catches them and brings them to me. People move and can’t take their flock. Maybe the new landlord (or the USDA if you leave the state) doesn’t allow chickens. Then there are the folks at the local farm co-op who offer up old unproductive hens “for the soup pot.” I can’t sit back and let a sweet old hen go that way.

Princess Blur, perched on the edge of the bathtub for the night

I lost two old hens this year: an eight and a nine year old. That’s the way they should go, after years of easy living here at the Funny Farm. Princess Blur has been here the longest. She lives indoors and is only half chicken, the other half is spoiled brat. Somehow this summer I have ten hens outdoors, and five are new this year. That means five are “old school” and understand the daily routine. They should be teaching the new ones, but two have lost the buddies they came in with and are still grieving, and of course, they are very old, too. Another is Pearly Mae. Pearly doesn’t believe in all of that “pecking order” nonsense, nor has she formed any friendships. She won’t eat chicken food. She’s no help at all. Somehow the new ones have all learned about the Garden Party in the afternoons with only Judy and Brown Chicken to teach them.

Mama raccoon with her three bitty ones are outside the aviary, looking in.

How do I keep the raccoons out when so many others fail? Over the years I have learned that constant diligence, a bit of luck, and a secure run and barn are my only defense. In the suburbs like this, a little coop and a yard to run around in during the day put a bullseye on a flock. I see raccoons day and night around here, and those cute little henhouses Wayfair sells are no match for raccoons. The rats love them, too. My aviary (run) is enormous- about 40′ x 50′ (18.5 square meters)- fully fenced with a wire roof and secured bottom perimeter. My “coop” is a more solidly fenced corner with a stout translucent roof. I don’t have to open and close a coop door for them. They straggle in at their own pace and settle on a roost faraway from Pearly Mae. It isn’t fool-proof, and I have to constantly check every square inch of it, but I rarely find raccoons in there.

Half-Stache (rear) and Larry (front). All feral cats are thugs.

Rats are another huge problem here. Rats need water and cover. All of Seattle is a haven for rats, with water everywhere and blackberry thickets everywhere else. I happen to live in a wetland, so I am doomed to rats. A dozen years ago I hired professional exterminators and they do a fantastic job everywhere except in the aviary. I hired two unadoptable feral strays from the Alley Cat Project for the enclosed area. They aren’t allowed out of the fenced area, but they are professionals and seem happy to have the job. They annoy the chickens and today I had to rescue a dragonfly from them, but my aviary is guaranteed rat-free.

Frieda has been here the longest. She arrived in 2016 with her two sisters. Angel came in 2018 with her friend. She’s my oldest, about nine years old and running strong. Judy and Brown Chicken walked over here from a neighbor’s house in 2020. Pearly Mae showed up a few weeks later. Cheeken and Cajun came in together in early spring. Their friend Dumb-pling followed shortly because she needed surgery for a prolapse. Dumb-pling is still learning about “gates.” Mad Maureen and Bella have been here almost a month and very quickly learned the routine. You would never guess them to be newcomers. In fact, I rarely have trouble introducing new hens. I have a large but separate pen (my “bully pen”) for anybody who needs a break from the flock, and I let the new hens decide when they are ready to mingle with the old-timers. The only hen who refuses to participate in flock activities is Pearly Mae. She was raised alone, and like Princess, doesn’t believe she is a chicken.

Traffic jam at the nest boxes: L to R Brown Chicken, Judy, and Cajun

You would never guess that half are geriatric hens if you saw the eggs! The young ones lay, of course, but some of the old ones still produce a random egg. They take care of kitchen scraps and the half-eaten apples the sheep leave around under the apple tree. Mostly, they are fun pets, and good comic relief. Even Pearly Mae makes me laugh!

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