Making Memories and Sexing Chickens

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My oldest son wrote about us in class today. So stinkin’ cute!

It’s little things like this make me glad we moved out here. He loves those chickens. He loves to chase them and catch them and hug them and squeeze them and call them George…er Lacey, DeeDee, Buffy, and the rest. (We can’t tell the Rhode Island Reds apart!)

He loves those girls!

He loves those girls!

They definitely have their own personalities. One is always the last to leave the coop in the morning. She lingers in the doorway, checking things out. Another hen won’t let me push her around. When I try to herd her in a certain direction, she does that chest-bumping move against my hand or foot.  She even pecked at me once.

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They were so little then!

Several of them think I’m a pirate and they are my parrots. If I stand still, one or two will fly up to my shoulder. They stay there while I walk around and take the occasional selfie.

I acted like I was going to eat her, so she turned around and pooped on me. Well played, Lacey.

I pretended I was going to eat her, so she turned around and pooped on me. Well played, Lacey.

They are fun to watch in the morning. I open the door and they dash into the yard. They fluff up their feathers and fight. If one finds a cicada, she picks it up and runs. Several chase her until she chokes it down. It’s hilarious. So I throw them in the chicken run whenever I find them.

Lacey loves corn.

Lacey loves corn.

Besides cicadas, tomatoes are their favorite breakfast. They also love the corn we left on the stalk too long, tolerate bell peppers, but don’t touch hot peppers. I snuck some in for entertainment value. No takers.

Recently, I noticed one chicken has a more-pronounced comb and wattle than the others. It hasn’t crowed but might be a rooster!

Rooster or butch hen?

Rooster or butch hen?

Are there any chicken farmers out there that can tell? Should I perform a crazy, chicken-sexing, voodoo experiment to find out? Supposedly, if I attach a needle to the end of a string and hold it over the bird, the direction of the circle should tell the sex. If it goes clockwise it’s male; counterclockwise for female. Or is that only with chicks?

I can just imagine trying this. I’ll have to catch it first!

They routinely make me look foolish. Last week, I tried to herd them into their house before it got dark, and they didn’t want to go. They dodged me, ran around me, mocked me with their little chicken laughs. So I lost my temper and chased them. Cussing. I realized how ridiculous it must have looked, but no one was around. Half of them got chased in, the other half had to be caught individually and tossed in the door. By the last one, I was feeling pretty smug. I probably looked like Rocky when he caught his chicken.

I hope you seriously didn’t watch that whole video. It’s the most obnoxious one I could find!

Check out my post on September 16th about my upcoming children’s book.

Copperheads and Showdowns

My husband found the first copperhead snake when he mowed our new property. It was huge. He freaked out a little, since it was right by his feet.  Our neighbors drove by at the right time and still laugh about him dancing around in the ditch.

He went after it with the push mower, but it got away. He now calls that mower The Snake Charmer.

Isn't it gorgeous! My hubs wants to make boots out of 'em.

Isn’t it gorgeous! My hubs wants to make boots out of ’em.

Since then, there have been more sightings. Mostly young ones.

Better be careful gathering eggs in the future!

Better be careful gathering eggs in the future!

The first one was hiding under a door removed during chicken house renovations. Mr. Rains picked it up, saw the snake, and slowly lowered it. Then he came to get me.

“Get the flat-bottom shovel,” I suggested.

He found it and gingerly moved the door. He struck with the shovel while the snake was still coiled. He hopped around and struck again. I guess he figured a moving target would be harder to hit. (Why don’t I record these things on video?)

DISCLAIMER: Normally, I don’t condone killing a wild animal that isn’t trying to kill me. But I’ve ruined my kids in the “beware of dangerous creatures” department. All wildlife is fascinating to me, and I’ve taught this to my boys. We have captured and released scorpions, spiders, snakes, lizards, turtles, and insects of every kind. I’ve accidentally eradicated a healthy fear of dangerous animals. Shame on me.

So anytime I find copperheads, black widows, or brown recluse spiders, they’re toast. (Once, we watched a tarantula hawk wasp drag an enormous spider to its burrow. We got too close several times and got chased away. It was awesome.)

They paralyze the spider with a sting and lay eggs in it. The babies hatch and eat the spider! What a way to go.

They paralyze the spider with a sting and lay eggs in it. The babies hatch and eat the spider alive! What a way to go.

We brought the boys out to show them what a copperhead looks like and said to STAY AWAY from them at all costs. They listen to us so well. (<—MAJOR sarcasm)

Mr. Rains laid the snake in the feed trough, and in the morning it was gone. Coyotes? Foxes? Wild pigs? Somebody had a dangerous meal!

Then my husband left town for work. For a long time. That’s when exciting things happen around here.

One evening around sunset, I went to put the hens away for the night. Standing two feet from the coop door, a copperhead slithered between the toes of my boots and the henhouse. I stood still, watching in fascination as it curled up behind a loose board. (We left it loose to later install an electric line.)

Crap, I thought. I have to kill it.

I sprinted to the house to arm up. I put on my holster with revolver and earplugs. (I’ll NEVER forget earplugs again after my post-snake-shooting day-and-a-half spell of near deafness.) Grabbed my impossibly-dull machete and impossibly-dim flashlight. And sprinted back.

I pulled the board away to reveal the 4-inch gap. The snake was coiled beneath a 2×4 that held the wall and the cement foundation. A couple of chickens were sleeping on top of that 2×4. They huddle up for security in the corner against the door. They’re still too young to roost.

Crime scene diagram

Crime scene diagram

I stood there for a while pondering how to kill it. Jabbing with the machete would just annoy it. Buckshot could hit a bird. And it would probably finish off their hearing after the last snake shooting. I was roused from my thoughts when I noticed the snake’s head poking out a few inches from the gap, staring. The little creep had been watching me with its beady little black eyes for some time. Crap.

I quickly aimed my gun where the buckshot would stay below the 2×4.

BANG!

When I opened my eyes, the chickens were gone. The snake’s head had been nearly severed. I drug it from its hiding place with the machete.

Creep minus head

Creep stew

My girls!

All of my birds were fine, huddled in the far corner. Well, I can’t say fine about their ears. Occasionally, I give them hearing tests. Standing very still, I make quiet chirping noises to see if they react. They always pass. Chicken ears must be very resilient.

Funeral services were held the following day.

A few days later, it happened again.

At dusk, I walked into the coop and almost stepped on a copperhead. I sprinted to the house, grabbed my weapons, and sprinted back.

Flashlight in mouth, revolver in my right hand, machete in my left. I crept slowly into the henhouse. Sweeping the dim beam of light across the hay-covered floor.

Remembering the rat snake had slithered from the ceiling, I snapped my beam of light overhead. Phew. No snake. Of course it wouldn’t be in the rafters, but I was jumpy! I flipped around backwards, realizing it could be against the wall behind me. Phew. Nothing.

I need tactical training for this crap! 

The protective gear would be a nice touch.

Freeze, creeps!

I peered under the brooder box. Nothing. In the corner, something looked long, but I decided it was just a dark piece of straw. Kept searching. I looked back to the corner. That was not straw! It had backed itself into the corner, watching me. Ready to strike.

I walked backwards, watching it, and shooed my chickens out the door to save their poor ears. (My earplugs were already in. All I could hear was my heartbeat and breathing.) One hen wouldn’t budge and stayed on my boot. I shook her off and faced the snake. Maybe 5 feet between us, we stared each other down. (Insert wild west showdown music.)

Showdown Girls

That’s totally what I was wearing.

BANG!

Hay exploded and I ran for the door. I had no idea if I had hit it or had sent it after me in retaliation. I crept back in, sweeping the flashlight beam across the hay.

DIRECT HIT!

Isn't it beautiful!

Isn’t it beautiful!

Now for removal.

Like I’ve said, these tubes of evil refuse to die after you kill them. I picked it up with my machete, trying to balance it on the blade as it continued to inch forward. *shudder*

He got deposited in a painting tray and covered with a large plastic container. In the morning, we had a funeral.

I’ve been accused of being brave, but it’s just a tough-gal act to psych out the snakes. Now I get creeped out when my toes are under the couch while closing the curtains. And the boys’ wooden snake has me doing double takes.

It gets me every time! Especially in the house.

It gets me every time!

The hubby misses all the fun.