Grit Blogs > Living Small In New Mexico

Meet the Chickens

Virginia HawthornIn my last posting, I mentioned that Hurricane Norbert had bypassed us last month. Well, I spoke too soon about the relative rarity of Pacific-side hurricanes bringing moisture to our part of the country. The last remains of Hurricane Odile came sweeping our way in late September, bringing heavy rains throughout the Southwest and then proceeding onward through parts of Texas, Oklahoma, and into the Midwest. Usually our local weather reporters are dancing and singing every time there is the slightest chance of rain, so it was a rare event to hear them apologizing for predicting more rain day after day. Rivers overflowed, streets and highways washed out, and crops in the southeastern part of New Mexico are rotting in the fields because it is too muddy to get harvesting equipment and crews out to them.

We had about a week of lovely drying-out weather after Odile finally traveled onward, but now Hurricane Simon, yet another Pacific storm, is lashing his tail and flooding things again. Our Monsoon Season officially ended on September 30, but evidently hurricanes pay no attention to the rules. It has been raining off and on since yesterday afternoon and thunder is rumbling and black clouds are gathering again as I write this post. Irrigation boots are the local fashion statement, and some folks joke about switching to rice as a cash crop.

And More Mud! 

Mud, Mud, Mud 

Muddy Shoes

Wet weather aside, it’s time to start introducing our farm animals, beginning with the chickens, our first and most numerous “livestock” so far. In the early spring of 2013, we acquired 24 Buff Orpington chicks, which rapidly outgrew their box in the sunroom, then their temporary home in the barn – a stock tank equipped with a warming lamp, clean straw, and everything a growing chick could want. We lost only one chick when she was just 3 days old; the rest grew up strong and healthy. Meanwhile, we completed their A-Frame coop, which was placed in the front pasture area of the farm where the hoop houses are scheduled to be built. Eventually. But for the time being, we installed a temporary solar-powered electric fence to keep the Buffies in and other critters out, and after a few months, our first beautiful brown egg appeared. Since the brood included only two roosters, we soon had a rather surprising number of eggs every day.

Our Buffies

A few Buffies in the morning sunshine.

Our little flock flourished, and soon the two roosters, Dagwood and Herb, became fierce rivals. Dagwood emerged as the dominant male; in fact, he grew to be a real menace to Herb, whose love life, as you may imagine, was a real disaster with the town bully in charge. To make Herb’s life even more miserable, every evening Dagwood refused to let the poor guy go into the coop to get a bit of rest. Big D would stand at the door, urging “his” girls to hustle their bustles and get settled on their perches for the night, but when Herb tried to go in, Dagwood would chase him out again. Around and around the coop they would go. Sometimes Herb would make a dash in the door, Dagwood right behind, and in a moment both would burst out again to resume the race. This would go on for quite some time, until Dagwood evidently tired of the game, the coop would go quiet, and Herb would tiptoe in, probably settling somewhere as far from Dagwood as possible. Only then could one of us manage to stop laughing long enough to shut and latch the door.

Dagwood aka Big D 


Handsome Herb 


But Herb wasn’t the only one to endure Dagwood’s bad temper. For us, his well-meaning owners, the bringers of food and water, the openers of the coop in the morning and the lockers of same for the night to protect the flock from intruders, daily WE faced the wrath of that big rooster. Such ingratitude! Given the nature of most males who are competing for female companionship, we could, to a degree, understand Big D’s behavior toward his rival, but we had to enter the chicken yard armed with bamboo sticks to keep from being attacked by a flying rooster with a wicked pair of spurs and a strong beak. He was especially enraged if we foolishly forgot we were wearing something red. It didn’t take us long to learn that one should never turn his or her back on Dagwood, and when possible, we went into the pen in pairs, one to do chicken chores, the other to stand guard. At long last, enough was enough:

Dagwood Made Wonderful Broth!

Dagwood made delicious broth!

So now Herb was the new leader, by default. He was really the handsomer of the two, and had a much better crow – Dagwood’s had been somewhat croaky and unmelodious, but Herb made you understand why it is spelled out as Cock-a-Doodle-Doo! He sang it gloriously, and loudly, and frequently. Herb also grew much larger, and unfortunately much meaner, even though he now had no rival, and his attacks were even worse than Dagwood’s. Herb charged silently, slamming into his human victim in the middle of the back or legs with no warning. Now we definitely went in pairs! Perhaps this was Herb’s revenge for our cruel laughter when Dagwood chased him around the old coop. However, by now we knew better than to let this torture continue for long – we traded him off to a neighbor who wanted new blood for his flock, although Herb tended to give an entirely different meaning to the term “new blood”! However, our neighbor is a frequent visitor to the farm and was quite familiar with Herb’s wicked ways, and took him anyway.

Lucky us – as part of the trade we got Clarence, the funniest little white bantam you ever saw. He is just a delight. He struts – well, he waddles around in his fluffy little pantaloons like he is king of all he surveys. Which he is, of course, in his quiet, gentle way. The Buffies are all bigger than he is, but that doesn’t bother him a bit, or the girls either, evidently. Confidence must be his middle name, and all is peaceful again in the henhouse. Clarence keeps a fussy eye on everyone, and welcomes the morning with a modest crow that is not as fancy as Herb’s, but we love him dearly and would not give him up for anything. Clarence is a Model Rooster.

Our Clarence


Meanwhile, in the middle of all this activity last spring we acquired some more chicks: four Hamburgs and six Ameraucanas, all female. They have now grown up to join the flock in their newly completed permanent henhouse, and are just starting to produce eggs. The Hamburgs regularly lay small white eggs and the Ameraucanas lay colorful bluish-green eggs, so we have a lovely mix and our customers are delighted with the novelty of Easter eggs every day, or green eggs and ham for Saturday breakfast.

Our Ladies Lay Colorful Eggs

A Beautiful Spangled Hamburg 

A pretty little Hamburg.

An Ameracauna Lady - Either Fluffy or Muffy 

Muffy (or is it Fluff?), one of our identical twin Ameraucanas.

Also last spring, one of the Buffies went broody, so we saved up about a dozen eggs for her. She managed to hatch only four chicks, two of which survived – a male and a female. This was a bit disappointing, but our Mama turned out to be a wonderful mother. She watched over her two babies, fed them choice morsels, and showed them around their chicken world, keeping them warm and happy and healthy.

Once the twins were fairly grown, we traded off the little rooster to avoid too much in-breeding. Given the behavior of his father and uncle, someone must now have a mighty aggressive boy. Unfortunately, his sister has some aggression problems of her own. We noticed that she was busily whisking every bit of straw from all the nests and scattering it on the floor of the coop. Renewing the nests did no good – she just got up there and tossed everything out again. And again! To make matters worse, someone started destroying eggs, leaving egg mess and scattered shells. Given her unusual behavior, suspicion soon fell on our nest destroyer, now named Princess Sophie. So Sophie was put into solitary confinement in the old A-frame coop. The egg destruction stopped for a few days. Sophie was allowed back into the flock and the scrambled egg syndrome started again. Back to solitary. To make absolutely certain we weren’t mistaken about her murderous behavior, a decoy egg was placed in the A-frame coop and Sophie smashed it flat. Guilty As Charged! Buffie egg production in general has been declining, so we’re going to assess the egg-laying habits of a couple of other ladies before we get out the butchering equipment to do some flock thinning and freezer filling.

The New Chicken Palace - Finally, Their Permanent Home

The new Chicken Palace with the A-Frame Jail at the right.

Enough for now – we have ducks, turkeys, two pet geese, three dogs and a cat to introduce in the future, plus the great Hoop House Project coming along. Until next time,