Meet the Flock Roundup – May & June, 2017

Meet Veronica the Easter Egger, a prolific layer of green eggs. Veronica's in her 5th year and was the only Easter Egger of her generation to lay continuously through this past winter. Such a hard worker! And very pretty to boot!



Spring Non-Chickens



Chickens are not the only birds we feed here at the ranch.  We’ve got a collection of birdfeeders by our house to feed all of the feathered denizens of the woods around us as well as those who just stop by for a snack.  We serve sunflower seeds and suet and add sugar water and jelly to our summer menu.  Our arrangement with the birds is that we provide food for them and they provide entertainment for us.  Win-win, right?  Regularly glancing out the window to see who has stopped by for a snack is just part of life. 

When our kids were young, they learned all of the birds’ names—and not just the last names (e.g. Cardinal, Grosbeak) but also the first names (e.g. Carl and Carla Cardinal, Gary and Mary Grosbeak).  Of course, there were many cardinals and grosbeaks, but the males were all Carl and Gary and the females were all Carla and Mary—this system only presented a problem when multiples birds of the same species would show up at the feeder at the same time and then we could just say that Carl and Carla were entertaining guests.

Watching the birds at the feeder happens the year round, but it is especially fun in the spring as we wait for the first appearance of our migrators and the occasional glimpse of the birds that briefly stop by as they migrate through.  With the Fourth of July behind us, we’re moving out of the spring season—nests are built, eggs are hatched, and fledglings are getting ready to leave the nest.  On to summer!  Here are a handful of springtime bird pictures that I’ve taken over the last several years. 

Rose Breasted Grosbeaks are usually the first spring arrival at our feeders.  They winter in Central America and Northern South America and are ready to chow down on some sunflower seeds when they show up.


The Afton 4th of July Parade

My thoughts while doing the Afton 4th of July Parade: “Beautiful day!  The rain they predicted never materialized.  It’s maybe eighty degrees – a little warm in the sun, but perfect in the shade.  Blue sky with just a few little fluffy clouds and just enough breeze to keep the streamers on the float fluttering.  Perfect spot in the staging area in the shade of some towering cottonwoods.  My spot is in the last third of the parade, behind the string of classic Corvettes and in front of 'Tony Jurgens for House of Representatives' and Pinky’s Sewer Service.  My support crew folks show up en masse, Kathy arrives in the truck with the buckets o’ candy and the Silke hens, we get them transferred to the float and we’re underway.  There are a few folks lining the street right outside the marina, but when we turn the corner onto Main Street, we are engulfed by the throng—solid masses of people lining the street and actually spilling over the curb onto the street in several places.  The crew is busily handing out candy to eager youngsters—it’s obvious that the $85 worth of candy is not going to get us through the route!  This is the epitome of festive!  The noise:  music, shouting kids, sirens, hot rod engines!  My boombox is belting out the chicken-themed hits, but nobody can hear it in the midst of the general cacophony!  Everybody loves us!  Kids smile and point at the little hens.  When the parade halts on occasion, moms bring their toddlers close so they can see the chickens close-up.  I get lots of 'Hi Randy!'  and 'Way to go, Randy'—I don’t know any of the people shouting my name, but 'Randy’s Chicken Blog' is displayed prominently right on the float!  We drive Main Street, turn at the coulee, drive Main Street again, and then it’s all over.  But what a memorable day!"

The thoughts of Emily and Courtney the Silkie hens while doing the Afton 4th of July Parade:  “Aaaaaaaaarrrrgh!  Squaaaaaaaaaak!  What is going on???!!!  The crate we’re in shakes around.  We seem to be moving!  Who are all these people?  Why do they keep pressing their faces up to the crate?  It is so noisy and scary!  When we get back to the coop nobody will believe our horror stories!  We will never forget this day!"

But they did just fine.  Once they got settled in, they handled it just like seasoned professional chickens!  I’m ever so grateful to these little hens for helping out with the parade.  I couldn’t have done it without them!  And I’m also grateful for the support and assistance of my seasoned professional crew:  Katie, Eric, Madeline, Josh, & Kathy!  Thanks guys!  You were very brave in facing the hordes of candy-crazed youngsters!  You too were vital to the success of this endeavor!

Without further commentary, here are a few pictures from the day.


Afton: A Town! A Parade! A Chicken Float!


Welcome to Afton, Minnesota, USA—my hometown!  Afton is a diminutive and bucolic town located on the pristine and federally protected St. Croix River and is one of Minnesota’s oldest towns.  Back in territorial days, when there were no ferries or bridges crossing the river, there was (and still is) a large sandbar, the Catfish Bar, which allowed for an easy and shallow crossing.  Afton formed at this crossing point. 

But Do Elephants Tell Chicken Jokes?


Elephant jokes first showed up on the scene sometime in the late 1950’s or early 1960’s.  Over the years their popularity has waxed and waned, but they have been and no doubt will continue to be discovered by subsequent generations of delighted kids.  The main elements of an elephant joke are (1) an elephant and (2) an absurd situation.  That’s all it takes—they are not, after all, anywhere near the pinnacle of sophisticated humor.


Isaac Asimov, in his book, Isaac Asimov's Treasury of Humor, suggested that elephant jokes would remain forever "favorites of youngsters and of unsophisticated adults."  He did not mention young or unsophisticated chickens, yet Snowball the Silkie Rooster has the hens in my coop, especially Angitou the Golden Polish Hen, falling off the roost with laughter.  Is there any possibility Snowball will stop telling elephant jokes?  Probably not.  I think he’s got a million of them, and he keeps getting so much positive feedback with all those “Braaaak ak ak aks!”  



Chickens of the Woods Are Not Really Chickens


This happens a lot:  You're about to try some unusual food for the first time and the self-anointed expert slides up and knowingly announces "Oh - it tastes just like chicken."  Well this post is about one of those foods that tastes just like chicken. Hopefully, the Hipster Hens won’t find out. The food up for discussion in this case is the incredibly delicious sulphur shelf mushroom.  We’ve had a little rain and they’re popping up out in the woods like, well…like mushrooms—much to my gustatory delight. 

If you’ve never foraged for mushrooms before, this would be a good one for you to start with.  Unlike other mushrooms that hide under the leaf litter on the floor of the woods, these guys grow on stumps and trees.  And unlike other mushrooms that are camouflaged by their color, these little fungus dudes, with their orange and yellow coloring, can’t be missed.  It’s almost like they’re jumping up and down, waving their little mushroom arms, and yelling, “Here I am!  Here I am!  I want to be sautéed right now!”  Also, because it is so hard confuse this mushroom with another mushroom that might be less edible or even poisonous, mycologists include it in the list of the “foolproof four” that beginners can safely forage.  Exactly which four mushrooms are included in that list of four seems to differ depending on which mycologist you’re talking to, but everybody includes sulphur shelf mushrooms among the four on their list.  (The term “foolproof four” which so many mycologists bandy about was coined, as far as I can tell, by Clyde Christensen in his 1943 book Common Edible Mushrooms.  His list: morels, puffballs, sulphur shelf mushrooms, and shaggy manes.)  

Getting Your Ducks in a Row for Raising Baby Chicks: Eight Questions and Answers


The expression "taking them under your wing” is one of about a million idiomatic phrases that originated with poultry keeping.  I’m sure you know what it means and I’m willing to bet that you’ve used the phrase yourself more than once.  But just in case you’ve never heard the expression, it means to nurture and protect those who are inexperienced, young, or in need of protection—just as mother hen nurtures and protects her baby chicks and gathers them under her protective wing.  When you adopt baby chicks, you’re taking these small, helpless, peeping balls of fluff under your wing.  It’s a big responsibility, and if you’ve never done it before, you should make sure you understand the list of basics before you undertake this big venture.  If you have done it before, it’s good to pull out that list and review it just to make sure you have all your ducks in a row (I’m mixing metaphors here, but it does present an interesting mental image!).  Raising baby chicks is not hard, after all, but there are a few things you have to consider and a few things you need to do right. 

I'll be publishing this post on June 5, and shortly after I post it, my wife, Kathy, and I will get in the car and set off on our quest for baby chicks.  If you’re reading it the day I post it, you can imagine us somewhere on I-35 headed south from Minnesota to Webster City, Iowa to pick up chicks at the Murray McMurray Hatchery.  Or maybe we’re on the way home and I’m holding a box of peeping fluff balls on my lap.  You can be sure that getting these babies was not a spontaneous decision.  What follows is a list of the questions I've asked myself and the answers I've come up with before getting these babies. I think these questions and answers will be useful to you if you're considering getting chicks for the first time, or if you're adding to your existing flock. There’s lots of useful information on the web about caring for baby chicks, and every time I’ve gotten chicks I’ve taken the time beforehand to sample from the collective knowledge of all those people who have raised chicks and written about it.  I’m including a lot of links to all those folks in this post.  It takes a village, don’t you know, to raise a chick. 

1 - Do I want chickens?  This is the obvious first thing you consider. If you’ve thought about owning chickens, you probably already realize that becoming a chicken owner will put you at the forefront of the local/sustainable food movement.  You’ll be producing food right in your own backyard!  If you already produce food in your backyard with a garden, chickens are a natural complement to that garden—the chickens will happily devour any leftover vegetable scraps and weeds you give them and all that composted chicken manure will make for some very happy garden plants!  Also, any chickens you keep will, without a doubt, be better treated and happier than the majority of the hens laying the eggs you find at the grocery store.  So, does it make you happy to imagine a small flock of hens clucking contentedly in your backyard?  If you immediately answer “yes” to that question, you’ve jumped the first hurdle!  That was the easy one!  Of course if you already have chickens the question becomes, “Do I want more, chickens?”  The answer to that question is always “yes”, naturally.