Large and in Charge: Beaker Lays Her First, Frighteningly Gigantic Egg

Beaker, the brave, the fave, the ancient-in-chicken-terms chicken finally got around to laying her first egg… and, oh man, was it ever a doozy:

20130205. Beaker laid her first egg, and it is HUGE! And bright green.

On the left is a Little Red egg. In the right, Beaker’s first, giant egg.

20130205. Rainbow of eggs.

Large and in charge, indeed. She laid another yesterday, and it was much more normally sized and a darker green. We shall see what they end up looking like in the long-run.

20130205. Five different chickens, five different eggs.

Left to right: Boo, Little Red, Beaker, Edgar, and Dino Puppy.

Now to find out what’s in it. Multiple yolks? An alien, like those creepy swimming pool pods in Cocoon (I have nightmares about those pods)? Here’s one possibility, brought to my attention by my fantastic friend, Alina, up in Seattle. I would like to do a similar video, but I fear that my Chicago accent wouldn’t be nearly as charming as this fellow’s Australian accent… and there’s probably not anything THIS exciting in Beaker’s first egg.

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No, Not You… The Bow-Legged One

Advance warning: this entry is all about SEX. Chicken sex, to be exact. And by “chicken sex,” I really mean, “egg laying.”

Cue record scratching/music coming to a screeching halt. What do my scrambled eggs have to do with chicken sex, you may be wondering? And by “wondering,” I mean, “totally freaking out and rocking in the fetal position in the corner of your kitchen, as far from the cast iron skillet as you can get.”

Let’s back up. One thing we’ve learned in this first year of chicken rearing is that there are a few misconceptions regarding the magic of the chicken egg. People ask us all the time if you need a rooster to get eggs. This usually sparks an interesting, sometimes uncomfortable conversation likening egg laying in chickens to egg laying in humans, which is essentially what we females of child bearing age do every month. Chickens are just overachievers about the whole business (or, more specifically, our unfertilized eggs are worthless and we humans have never been bred to pop out a fresh egg daily).

In fact, if you want edible eggs (i.e. eggs that do not contain little baby chickies, waiting to be hatched), then you really DON’T want a rooster anywhere near your girls – just like we ladies should probably stay away from dudes if we absolutely don’t want a chubby, bald, eating, pooping mini-me of our own.

So when chickens start laying eggs, they are essentially saying that they are ready for sex. Really. What’s even creepier about it, though, is that their demeanor changes, too. About a week before Dino Puppy started laying, I went to pet her, and she did this weird hunkering down move, where she got low to the ground, centered herself, and spread her wings out a bit.

What was going on? To put it not delicately at all, Dino Puppy was ready to be mounted by some lucky rooster. And she apparently thought my hand was a rooster. See? I felt like a total creep. I just wanted to pet my sweet girl! Little did I know, my sweet girl was suddenly a grown-ass woman.

This all brings me to Beaker, our oldest chicken and the only one of the five not yet laying eggs. She’s also the only one of our day-old chicks to survive triple degree temperatures last summer.

20120329. Beaker.

Baby Beaker.

The other day we were chilling in the yard together (like we do). When I went to pet her – are you ready for this? because I don’t think I am – she did the weird chicken sex pose. My little girl’s all grown up!

20120822. Me and Beaker. Beaker and me.

Big girl Beaker.

Just you wait: the next time I go out there, she’ll be singing this song, word for word. Stay tuned – we’re hoping she lays blue eggs!

BREAKING NEWS: Little Red = 1, Beaker = 0

Ever since we got our first tiny pink egg on the shortest day of the year, we assumed it came from Beaker. Beaker the brave. Beaker the fave. Beaker the chick who lived. And, most notably, Beaker the GRANDMA.

Seriously, the girl was born March 19. She’s ANCIENT in chicken terms.

20130111. The chickens get some winter rye. Winter rye = chicken crack.

Because of her age, we assumed Beaker was the layer, and we hadn’t caught the pink egg layer in the act, as it were. Whoever it was, she was getting her business done FAST. So imagine my surprise when yesterday I come out, do the mental headcount of the girls in the run, and see that both Dino Puppy and Little Red are missing from the run.

You see where this is going, right? I open the nesting box and find both girls settled quite happily in their respective boxes. Twenty minutes later, I find a little pink egg right where our Little Red was nestled.

So, people, the moral of the story: Beaker the brave, the fave, the OLDEST of all, and the one who will never be destined for the stew pot since she’s also the chick who lived is also our one remaining non-egg-laying deadbeat.

20130111. My Littlest Red.

My Littlest Red, thanks for giving us your darling, tasty pink eggies! I will never accuse you of being a deadbeat again.

In other, non-chicken-related news, Birdie is still adorable…

20130105. Snow day snuggles with Birdie. Again.

Albeit a tad on the destructive side.

20130111. Birdie's toys looking a little worse for wear.

“Walking ‘Round in Women’s Underwear,” Happy Solstice, and the Latest of the Duh Vignettes

Ever since I was a little kid, whenever it really starts looking seasonal out, the following song goes through my head. As a kid it was just funny – walking ’round in women’s underwear? how silly! – but I love it now that I’m older because, essentially, it’s about proudly and unabashedly cross-dressing (with your co-workers, even!) to a favorite Christmas tune. What’s not to love, am I right?

What I’m trying to say, I guess, is that we woke up to a winter wonderland this morning (and I also happen to be walking ’round in women’s underwear, but that’s a different story).

20121221. Snow banks and chicken wagons.

Snow banks and chicken wagons – the wind was brutal last night and today, and I had to refresh the frozen chicken waterer four times today.

20121221. I have a remarkably steady hand. The chickens' first snow.

Notice there are no chickens out yet. Smart girls stayed inside and cozy for quite a while this morning.

20121221. With all the wind, I blocked off one side of the coop's ventilation with a towel.

This is our first cold weather with the chickens, and I was really glad I covered one side of their ventilated roof with a towel. It has been SO windy, the entire coop would have been snowed under!

I also keep hearing that chickens are supposed to slow down or stop producing as daylight hours wane. We assumed we wouldn’t see an egg until the spring thaw, our girls were so… REMEDIAL about the whole thing. Our first chicken laid her first egg one month ago today; Boo followed soon after, then Edgar waited until two days ago. Beaker apparently felt like a total loser for not having laid anything yet, so, on the shortest day of the year, she defied all wisdom and gave me her first little pink egg. I am pretty sure this is proof-positive that our chickens are weirdos. Lovely, endearing weirdos.

20121221. Beaker's little pink egg.

12/21/12 – the world didn’t end, and Beaker’s egg laying began.

20121221. Shortest day of the year, and Beaker decides to lay her first egg.

Go, Beaker, go! They finally braved the cold to scratch around in the straw.

Finally, the latest in the ‘Duh Vignettes’ series relates to selling eggs. We bought a bunch of blank cardboard egg six-packs so we can start selling to friends on a small scale. Since they are blank, I want to spruce the cartons up a bit, and I was lamenting to Chris how ridiculously expensive it is to have your own stamp made via the place I bought the cartons from (really? $45 for my own stamp? that’s cray).

Cue “duh” moment: I Google “custom stamp making,” and come across the following Pinterest board in, like, one of the first links: http://pinterest.com/arteveryday/make-your-own-stamps/. HELLO! I took two block printing classes last year. I have block printing supplies, including corkboard. Block printing is basically creating a giant stamp, for goodness sakes!

Hell, WE TALKED ABOUT MAKING STAMPS IN THE DANG CLASS. What is wrong with me?! So tonight I plan on drawing out a nice little stamp of a chicken silhouette in a space helmet for the tops of our cartons (and maybe a few others). Lovely, right?

20121221. Oh, right. This is what cold feels like.

So finally, on this last day of work, this first day of winter, and this first blast of cold weather and beautiful snow, I think I’m in the Christmas spirit. Who’s with me?

The Worst

We are on our last day of what has been one of the roughest vacations I’ve had in a while. Don’t get me wrong – vacation itself was fantastic. We headed to hot, smoky Boulder, Colorado, where we got to spend quality time with my two nephews (who just turned three years old and eight weeks old respectively) and brother and sister-in-law. However, less than 24 hours after the wheels left the tarmac in Indiana, we lost three of our four chickens to the extreme heat plaguing Indiana.

Lying in bed Friday night, crying, I kept thinking how much I just wanted to be home. So powerless… Well, and thinking about all the what ifs, what we could have done differently, kicking myself over and over again for not doing more/not knowing to do more/not realizing it would only get down to 90 degrees that first night we were away, getting upset that our one vacation all summer had to be during such insane temperatures, etc. A bigger thank you than I can ever express goes out to our friends for their grace under pressure, kindness, and efforts to keep our last wee babe, Beaker, alive and kicking through it all. Seriously, I am horrified that they went through this, as well, and am so thankful that Beaker pulled through without a scratch, due largely to their multiple times a day visits after the initial awfulness.

I also had the very serious thought that maybe chickens were a bad idea. They aren’t, of course, but I wondered if I was cut out for this whole “death of my babies” thing. We are learning some tough lessons about raising animals that are not pets but are certainly not “just” livestock, either. I’m heartbroken over it and can’t think about the three who died yet without an aching in my stomach and tightness in my chest.

It’s been a rough week, and my head has been far, far away from contented vacation mode. Yesterday, we picked up three new chickens from one of the most amazing houses I’ve seen in a while. The chicken lady of Avon, only about 30 minutes away, had probably 100 different birds everywhere in her yard (chickens of all shapes, sizes, ages, and colors; turkeys; guinea fowls; a goat; and a “mean dog” locked away – apparently, he bites), which had no fence and was right on a busy street. She explained that her chickens are smart enough to not run in the street (or they die, I guess). We are not naming this batch, although I’m already way too attached to the littlest one. She is too young – I’m guessing five or six weeks old – but she’s so scrappy. We were in the yard, and she came charging up to us. I scooped her up, and that was it – MINE. We will likely go back this weekend to pick up another Rhode Island Red to keep her company.

Of course, we’ve created new issues for ourselves now, having four chickens of different ages (and, more importantly, sizes). Beaker is HUGE compared to the new ones, so Chris added a 1/2″ wire barrier within the coop itself to keep the new girls safe at night until they get bigger. We are also keeping them separated during the day unless we are out there with them.

And the million dollar question, as near-100 degree temperatures continue: how are we mitigating heat now? We aren’t messing around would be the short answer.

  • Wet towels on the roof of the attached run, then clipped to the side of the run when the sun starts peeking over the edge in the afternoon.
  • Letting the girls free range as much as possible during the day (tricky right now since Beaker is picking on the new girls).
  • Wetting down the dirt underneath both our big backyard bushes; the chickens love dust bathing in the dirt, laying in it, and pecking at bugs that come to the surface.
  • Ice water mini bird baths for drinking (and standing in).
  • Frozen blueberries mixed with yogurt, frozen grapes, and cold cantaloupe slices.
  • Plenty of shade (again, tricky since we don’t have much in the way of cover in our yard. We’ve parked the coop in the far back corner, where it is protected by a couple hulking invasive bushes from our yard and the neighbor’s yard. I’ve never loved those ugly bushes so much).

It’s My Party, and I’ll Cry if I Want to

I have a problem with song lyrics. I’m not sure if everyone is like this, but I get lyrics to songs stuck in my head for, literally, weeks at a time. I will sing a song in my head almost all day, every day. I remember lyrics for an absurdly long time, too – I can sing all of “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-a-Lot and probably MC Hammer’s entire repertoire from the “2 Legit 2 Quit” era, not to mention every line of every Jawbreaker song ever written. For the last three days, this has been the primary stuck-in-head song (the video is fantastic, too) – “Fake Patois,” Das Racist:

Anyway, this is just to say that, for the last several years, I have gotten the song referenced in the subject line of this post stuck in my head ALL DAY LONG on my birthday. My birthday was yesterday and, true to form, the song was back in my head. This year I fought it, though, and was able at least to rotate between Cracker’s “Happy, Happy Birthday to Me,” and the dreaded “It’s My Party.” I claim that as a small victory.

But! More importantly, I had a birthday! Presents received: a SodaStream fizzy water maker (AMAZING), Fiskars watering can, hot pink snap watch, fancy IPA from Northern California, a new nightgown, Fiskars dirt scooper, a new bike light and bike pump (with attached pressure gauge, oh yeah!), a new necklace and earrings, a book from the early 1900s about Billy Whiskers the billy goat, a bird mobile, and… wait for it… a cheese making kit. Imma make cheese!!!

20120519. Awesome birthday present (from me).

This is my new, very professional, very grown-up watch.

20120519. Awesome birthday present.

I am incredibly excited about making cheese – although this will likely only serve to fuel my desire to get a couple of milk goats.

20120519. Awesome birthday present.

Speaking of goats, look at this beautiful book. It includes an inscription from the last person who gave it as a gift on the front page, dated 1921.

The best present, though, was hanging out with the boyfriend and doing awesome stuff, like dinner at Traders Point Creamery, Indiana’s only organic creamery (which also happens to be down the road from our house), putting money down on a new car for Chris, and wandering the Broad Ripple Art Fair. This afternoon, I cleaned up the coop a bit, watered the garden, and began noticing how insanely well our newest plants are growing. Seriously – we already have baby green beans, squash, strawberries, and cayenne peppers. How is that possible?

20120519. Green bean babies.

Baby green beans!

20120519. Insane snap peas.

Snap peas as far as the eye can see.

20120519. Insane fennel bulbs, waiting to be eaten.

Fennel bulbs – this will be my first experience cooking fennel bulbs.

20120519. Squash fuzzies.

Furry squash foliage and baby yellow squash.

This afternoon, I made some more fennel simple syrup in preparation for our (much belated) housewarming party, as well as a pizza from the sourdough no-knead dough I made last weekend. Is anyone familiar with sourdough or dough you can leave in the fridge for a week or so before baking? The parts exposed to the air seem to get… bluish around the edges over time. It hasn’t made us sick or anything. I just wonder what might be happening with all those molecules.

20120519. Fennel simple syrup.

Fennel simple syrup – delicious.

By the time I got around to harvesting peas and fennel, the chicks realized that they couldn’t get in to hang out with me in the garden.
20120519. The point at which the chickens realized I was INSIDE and they were OUTSIDE.

So I went to hang out with them in the brush pile (AKA their new favorite spot).

20120519. The girls are panting, not holding a very deep conversation with each other.

Someday, I will insert little conversation bubbles above each of their heads in this shot. For now, it’s just a boring picture of hot, panting chickens.

It got up to 85 degrees today, and the chickens were HOT. I’m planning to test out a frozen blueberry/yogurt concoction shortly. Yes, they are pampered and coddled and totally spoiled. No, I don’t mind. I don’t think they do, either.

20120519. Beaker panting.

Beaker panting.

An Outdoor Adventure

The chicks had their first trip outside today, and, dare I say, they loved it. Okay, there was some panting and flailing about and general chicken sensory overload going on, and I did get pooped on (for the first time!). But after some minor freaking out and refusing to actually step into the grass in their outdoor run, the chicks got right to business plucking at the grass, strawberry flowers, and other weeds that have taken over our backyard.

Tomorrow, the girls will be five weeks old. I thought it was time to do a bit of a comparison since they’ve changed so much since they arrived.

Henrietta:
Henrietta at 2 days old and 5 weeks old.

Yolko:
Yolko at 2 days old and 5 weeks old.

Ono:
Ono at 2 days old and 5 weeks old.

Beaker:
Beaker at 2 days old and 5 weeks old.

Introductions: Beaker, the Brave (and the Fave)

In our second installment of the official introductions of each of the four winged ladies living in our garage, here are some items of great importance about Beaker, the Easter Egger:

1. Beaker is the heart breaker of the bunch – from day one, she didn’t mind hanging out in people’s cupped palms (taking the opportunity to bat her beady little eyes at you… lovingly, I’m sure).

20120321. Me with Beaker.

Our very first day with Beaker.

2. Although Beaker should eventually be the smallest of the bunch, so far she is noticeably bigger.

20120322. More sleep and Henrietta and Yolko's grown-up feathers starting to come in.

3. She’s also the bravest and most inquisitive, which is quite endearing. She’s always the first to jump on top of a feeder…

20120321. Don't sh*t where you eat, my friend. Beaker the Easter Egger standing in her food.

Or a new roost…

20120325. New flooring in the brooder = exciting Sunday for the chicks.

Or an outstretched hand.

20120322. Beaker.

4. With her charcoal-lined eyes and puffy cheeks, she’s not too tough on the eyes, either.

20120324. Beaker with big girl feathers coming in.

5. She’s got super fancy big girl wings coming in, which she is not afraid of showing off.

20120328. They like my hand, as long as it has food in it.

6. She’s a bit of a camera whore, to be honest.

20120328. Beaker, the camera whore.

Really, she was just trying to peck at miniscule fuzzies on my sweater.

7. And she often appears to be the calm in the eye of the storm.

20120328. Big day - cleaning out the brooder.

(The storm being the rest of those crazy birds, of course).

In summation, Beaker, you’re pretty much my fave – but don’t tell the others!