Give them a dirt bath.
Friday evening, we attended a bonfire in celebration of a friend/columnist’s daughter’s graduation. It started at 9 p.m., and I had no idea how time flew until the teens headed to bed around 1 a.m. I immediately said, “Oh! We have to go!”
We made it from the kitchen table to the front porch chairs before we got caught up in another interesting discussion.
When we finally did leave, it was 4 a.m.
Frank, who falls asleep quickly and knows it takes me about an hour, let me sleep in until 10 a.m. this morning, when the phone rang — my weekly Saturday morning phone call from my mother. About 10 years ago, because my life was so crazy and I often forgot to call her on a regular basis, Mother suggested she call every week at the same time.
It is now a routine part of our lives.
The topic of this week’s phone call, (and much of the party discussion) concerned four laying hens. My new hens. My hens who didn’t get fed this morning until 11 a.m. because I was up all night talking about them and sipping home made wine.
My friend Sue, who hosted the party, is The Farm Queen, Ms. Organic Herself, a woman who (I am sure) has not a single additive or preservative in her entire body. She has several beautiful chickens.
It’s Sue’s fault I have laying hens.
And once we finished celebrating her daughter’s accomplishment and settled down to chat I said, “Sue, I have chicken questions.”
She explained. Hens lay every 28 hours, not 24. They have to have food, PLUS oyster shells (calcium) to make the egg shells hard, PLUS grit which is basically rocks in some part of their throat that helps them chew because they have no teeth. But — that’s not all.
Sue’s also get Olive Oil, to make their feathers shiny. They get garlic every three days to keep away mites, fleas, and other nasties. They get brewer’s yeast for the same reason.
She gives them raw meat (organic) and milk and cream (organic). The layer feed she gives them she makes herself, and it’s 100% natural, not like the 17% natural mix you get at the feed store.
Sue has the most beautiful, glossy, spoiled hens there are. That’s what I pictured when I pictured hens. And then, we went and purchased mine, from a farm overstocked with mixed multitudes of chickens, guineas, ducks — all free range and rather fending for themselves.
We brought them home at night, captured from their roost. When I got a good look at them the next morning, I realized, these were not like Sue’s hens.
They were not beautiful, they were not clucking and cute. They were not pets.
First off, they stunk. I can handle bird poop, feeding schedules, food formulas, egg gathering, care taking.
But I don’t do stink.
At the party, I asked Sue if I could give them a bath. She told me to put out a pan of dirt.
See, if you want chickens to bathe — you give them dirt, not water.
Through this first week, I have seen improvement in my hens. Not being a farm girl, I am not about to judge their former living environment. However, I do think being catered to is much better for them than fending for themselves.
They no longer act like they’re starving, and have already gotten accustomed to my voice and the shaking of their feed can.
Within three days, they established their little “pecking order.” They are now a rather cohesive club, not a bunch of snippy singles.
My favorite, the Barred Rock, is low girl on the totem pole. I’ve named her “Peppa,” as she’s salt and pepper speckled.
Her eggs have a dark brown shell.
In the first week, our four hens produced 12 eggs in all, two of which I dropped.Â (I need a little more practice reaching through the access hole in their pen to grab the eggs.)
I had provided one roost and one nest for them to share (as Sue’s do) but after a day of watching them establishing their pecking order, I broke down and provided a second roost and a second nest bucket so Peppa wouldn’t have to fight so hard for her space.
I put in a second feed container so she wouldn’t have to fight the other three so hard for food.
She must realize I favor her, because she is no longer intimidated by my presence as the others are.
Every morning this week, I have tried to feed them on a schedule, gather eggs on a schedule, uncover and cover them on a schedule.
Today, I blew it. I couldn’t help it, I was up until 5 a.m. for the first time in nearly two years.
Frank went out an uncovered them for me this morning, but didn’t know my feed formula….
So when I fed them, I was four hours late.
They didn’t seem to mind — and had two eggs waiting for me.
I’ll make it up to them tomorrow.
I’m setting up a dirt bath.
Thin crust, thick crust, lots of toppings, cheese only - everyone has their own preferences when it comes to pizza. But no matter how you