Around the Coop and Beyond

Fall is here.  The calendar tells me this.  And if I didn’t have a calendar, I could just step out the door.  The maple trees have peaked.  Their leaves are a solid red and yellow and are falling continuously like colorful snow.  And while the leaves are falling in the woods, the feathers are falling unabated in the coop as the fall molt I talked about in Tuesday’s post continues.
One of the projects I work on this time of year is my on-going battle with buckthorn, an invasive alien plant.  Buckthorn was first brought here from Europe in the mid-1800’s for use as a hedge plant.  Buckthorn makes a great hedge because of its long thorns, its ability to form an impenetrable barrier and its ability to grow prolifically almost anywhere.  It has become a terrible scourge because of its long thorns, its ability to form an impenetrable barrier and its ability to grow practically anywhere.  Once it becomes established, it outcompetes practically everything so no other plants grow and eventually you have a forest of buckthorn.  And it’s so thick and prickly that nothing can get through it—it isn’t even suitable for wildlife habitat.  You know the thick enchanted forest that grew around the castle in Sleeping Beauty?  I think that probably was buckthorn.

Here on the ranch, I’ve managed to keep buckthorn completely under control on part of the property.  There are other parts where it’s partially controlled—all the remaining plants are small, far apart, and periodically rooted out.  Then there are about three acres of wasteland—oak forest above with an under-story of solid buckthorn hell.  I’m in my second year of full retirement and during the last two falls I have laid siege to the wasteland.  It is a battle.  This is essentially a three-acre hedge—the buckthorn plants are spaced, for the most part, less than a foot apart.  And the big ones have grown way beyond hedge size—some are 25-30 feet high.  These are literally buckthorn trees!  There’s no way these monsters can be pulled by hand, but my trusty John Deere handles them.  So with tractor, brush cutter, chainsaw, and the sparing use of herbicide, I’m making progress.  And it’s not unpleasant work.  Eradicating invasive plants has the aura of important and meaningful work.  And it’s the sort of work where I can clearly see the progress I’ve made.  Plus it’s just pleasant to be in the woods this time of year.  Today there was a flock of hundreds if not thousands of migrating robins poking through the underbrush to keep me company while I worked.

It's hard to see the trees for the forest, but this is all buckthorn
My trusty John Deere sits in a cleared area of the buckthorn thicket -
This 25 ft. tall beauty is on the way to the brush pile

Another project that’s underway is the building of a new hen pen.  The chickens in the two coops take turns, every other day, going into the half-acre chicken run.  On the days that they’re not in the big chicken run, the 15 chickens in the big coop spend their outdoor time in the 450 square foot hen pen.  When the 9 chickens in the small coop aren’t in the big chicken run, the outdoor space they have to hang out in is the 16 square foot “chicken patio”.  That space was fine when it was just Snowball, Emily, and Angitou.  But then Courtney came along, and then her four surrogate Legbar babies grew to adulthood, and then Willow the buff Orpington was having interpersonal issues in the big coop and got moved to the small coop, and suddenly the outdoor space that was OK for three small chickens is embarrassingly inadequate for nine birds.  So I’ve finally got started on building them their own outdoor hen pen.  It’s going in along the side of the pole barn, and since it’s at the base of a steep hill, the first thing I had to do was excavate some dirt to make a level space.  Next I need to put up a retaining wall and haul in some class five gravel.  Only then can the fence go up.  The leaves are falling.  Will this project be done before the snow falls?  Stay tuned.

Some of the hens explore the trench that I've excavated along the side of the pole barn for the new hen pen.  They don't have a clue what I'm up to, but they certainly enjoy all that fresh dirt to scratch in!  The trench is filling with falling leaves.  Hopefully some progress will be made before it fills with falling snow.
On to the chicken news:  They are all healthy now, thank goodness!  But there have been a couple of weird traumas this past week.  On Wednesday, when I was cleaning the coop I noticed that some of the bedding under the roost was bloody.  Then when I looked carefully at the roost itself, I noticed a fair amount of blood smeared on the rungs of the roost—a disturbing situation to say the least.  With all the molting that's going on, I expected that the blood would be from bleeding pin feathers.  Pin feathers have a copious blood supply bringing nutrients to the forming feathers and they can become injured quite easily.  I gave the chickens a once over and didn't see damaged pin feathers or any other sort of injury.  They all seemed fine.   It took until bedtime for me to figure out that the blood was coming from a deep cut on the toe of Carmen Maranda the cuckoo Marans hen, and that it was still oozing blood.  On closer examination I saw that not only was there a deep cut on top of the back toe on her left foot, but that the toenail was completely cut off.  I decided to wait until morning before taking any action.  And in the morning a good solid scab had formed and it looked like it was on a positive track to healing.  And so far there’s no sign of infection.  Since chickens spend their lives scratching in the dirt, they’ve evolved a pretty robust immune system, and as Carmen demonstrated in this situation, often an injury or abrasion such as this doesn’t need any outside interference, but will do just fine if left alone.  The question that remains is how she got cut in the first place.  Some random piece of glass or other sharp object buried in the run?  It’s a half-acre run, but I’ll keep my eyes open.

Carmen Maranda the cuckoo Marans hen:  Wounded, but walking
The other bizarre chicken run situation happened yesterday.  The run is enclosed with a four-foot high wire fence topped by an additional four feet of netting.  On my way to the coop for my post-lunch check-in with the chickens (aka “the chick-in”) I saw the alarming sight of a chicken hanging from the fence.  It was Nicky the Cream Legbar pullet.  Somehow she must have flown right at the fence and gotten herself tangled up in the netting.  The netting had sagged a little under her weight, so she was being supported somewhat by the netting “pocket” that her body had formed—but mostly she was hanging by her leg.  I quickly grabbed her and the netting and set her free.  She is fine.  The netting, unfortunately, needed some splicing.  No chicken has ever done this before.  Was this a learning experience for Nicky?  Time will tell. 

Nicky the Cream Legbar pullet:  Sadder but Wiser??


  1. As much as I dislike buckthorn, it is very satisfying to clean it out. I like to refer to it as waging jihad on buckthorn. Hard on the chainsaw and brush cutter blades though. The Stihl dealership on University in St. Paul does a nice job of sharpening. Rick Meierotto has made some things out of buckthorn wood. Its an unusual orangish color.

    1. I've never thought of the possibility of making anything out of buckthorn. Mine all just goes onto the brush pile and eventually gets burned. I can only hope that somehow society at large decides that items made from buckthorn are the pinnacle of decorative art and should be highly prized - then maybe people will pay me to haul it away.