Bzzzz January 12th, 2015

The story I’m about to tell may make you think differently about me. I feel differently about myself.

It started this past spring. To fill out my coop I ordered six female chicks from My Pet Chicken—two Appenzeller Spitzhaubens and four Polish chicks.

If you’ve never ordered chicks before, you may be surprised to learn that you can order a wide variety of chick breeds online and have them delivered right to your local post office for pickup. Aside from breed and quantity, you have two options in ordering. You can order straight run chicks, which means you take your chances with sex and will probably get a mix of male and female chicks. You can also pay a little bit extra and order sexed chicks, so that you get females.

Anyway, I digress, but this is important background, as you’ll see.

The chicks arrived and thrived. It wasn’t long, however, before I began to suspect that one of the chicks was never going to grow up to be an egg-laying hen. That was an unplanned rooster.

littleman3 sm

Little Man

Roosterly behavior begins quite early. Male chicks no bigger than a grapefruit will begin challenging other chicks with shoves and chest thumps. By the time they reach the size of a small cabbage, they are trumpeting their magnificence to the world, beginning with hoarse, strangled sounding vocalizations. Their general attitude of arrogance and entitlement grows until they begin trying to figure out the whole barnyard sex thing.

I generally wait to see how chickens look and act before naming them because I think the name should describe the chicken. So, for example, my pretty, round white Wyandotte is named Pearl. The creamy, caramel and chocolate Polish hen is named Twix. (You know, the candy bar?) The two Appenzeller Spitzhaubens seem to be tethered together as they cruise around the yard. They are Thelma and Louise.

And the rooster? Well, I named him Little Man because he reminds me of some diminutive men I have known who over-compensate for what they lack in stature with outsized attitudes.

When it comes to roosters, I like to think I have an open mind. I’ll give a rooster a chance to prove himself and pull his weight around the coop. My husband, on the other hand, has decided that all roosters are little sadists just waiting to rape, pillage and eventually come after me with their spurs when I am not looking. He began talking about the final solution.

“Give it some time,” I told him. T. Boone Chickens and Johnny Cash were were roosters and two of the finest chickens I have ever met—not overly rough with the hens and standing tall and alert to the sky while the hens were head-down pecking and scratching on walkabout.

On the other hand, Ricky Ricardo was a particularly wicked rooster. Good riddance to that bad boy.

What is it about nasty roosters that they tend to pick on one hen, in particular? Ricky Ricardo had it out for Tina Turner and Little Man hated Dorothy with a passion.

Poor Dorothy could never rest and could hardly eat. Little Man was always chasing her, mounting her, pecking at her and generally making her life miserable. She had lost a considerable number of feathers from his attacks. She had become nervous and twitchy.

Dorothy 3sm


I felt so sad for Dorothy. She is not a particularly pretty hen. She has a kind of undistinguished brown and white coat and the kind of facial feathers that resemble a fake Halloween beard. But Dorothy has spunk, I tell you. She is always the first hen to see when I am walking toward the coop with leftover pizza in my hands. Dorothy lives for pizza. She is also the hen who would most like to see the world. Chickens never stray far from their coop when on walkabout, but Dorothy always walks up the hilly driveway as far as she dares to go. I often imagine she is thinking, “I wonder what’s over that mountain. I will go there someday and see for myself!”

Sadly, I eventually came around to Harry’s way of thinking. Little Man had no place in our coop.

Now, getting rid of a rooster is a problem. You can’t hope they’ll run away from home because they never leave the yard. And you can’t give away a rooster. I have seen many ads on Craig’s List for free roosters and no one seems to be taking those ads down. People will go to some lengths to re-home a rooster. I once saw a huge roadside sign that said “FREE ROOSTER!” (Aside: I shared the photo on Twitter and one quick-witted follower fired back, “Who is Rooster and why is he incarcerated?”)

I decided to consult with my very experienced and skilled chicken-keeping neighbor V. V is a no nonsense person. She is not overly sentimental about what needs to be done with bad roosters and has become skilled at the task. If I needed to get rid of Little Man, I could do it myself or she would help. She described to me the method she researched and found most effective—a broom handle over the back of the neck and a quick snatch of the head backward.

I did what I normally do in these types of uncomfortable situations. I procrastinated. I kept thinking that the situation would resolve itself. Maybe one of the people I had asked would miraculously decide to take Little Man into their coop. Maybe Little Man would get religion and become a kinder, gentler Little Man. Maybe the Circle of Life would claim him early through disease, injury or stalking predator.

Hope did not prove to be an effective strategy. Day after day Little Man continued to torment Dorothy.

Finally, one afternoon Little Man pushed Dorothy—and me—just a little too far. I decided that was his final day.

I took the first step. I went into the house and had a glass of wine. Liquid courage.

I took some deep breaths. I put on my Little Man killing gloves and marched out into the yard with my broom. I could almost hear doomsday music playing in my head. I cornered that little tyrant in the coop. He was vocalizing and fighting like, well, I was trying to kill him.

I wasted no time. I took mean Little Man outside. “Okay, you. I’ve had enough of you!” I flattened nasty Little Man on the ground. “You do NOT, repeat do NOT mess with my hens.” (I was really working up a head of steam now.) I put the broom handle over horrid Little Man’s head. “This will teach you a lesson!” I yanked his despicable Little Man head back with a forceful jerk. He went completely limp.

“That’s it,” I thought looking down at my gloved hands. “I have killed with my own hands. Premeditated.”

I put down the broom, with Little Man at my feet. I stood up to meditate on what my fury had wrought…and Little Man jumped up and raced into the woods! He wasn’t dead!

Now I not only had a mean rooster, I had a mad mean rooster.

Time to call in the Special Forces. I called my neighbor V. Very calmly she offered to help.

“But I don’t believe in wasting perfectly good chickens. I can bring him home for dinner.”

She didn’t mean as a guest.

She was here within five minutes. I explained the ridiculous results of how I had tried to do the deed.

“That sounds like the first time I butchered a turkey in my basement.”

(Note to self: Do not mess with V.)

By this time Little Man had made it back to his torture Dorothy location.

V headed toward the coop. I noticed she wasn’t wearing gloves, so I offered mine. She took them, but I got the feeling that she was humoring me.

In no time flat V had snatched up that rooster, held him by his feet, slapped him on the ground, put the broom over his neck and sent him to rooster heaven (or hell). The end.

To reinforce her point about waste, I noticed that V had brought her own garbage bag to put Little Man in. Really, she could have just carried him home by his feet. But I suppose the spectacle of her walking down the road swinging a dead rooster by the feet was too much even for V.

So there it is. The story of how I tried to kill Little Man and failed—and then called in a trained professional for the job.

It’s not how I saw myself behaving when I began keeping pet chickens several years ago. I am still sentimental about them. I give them special treats to keep them happy and extra special treats on holidays. I give them names and mourn when a good hen passes. We bury hens that get sick and die.  I have been known to cry over a chicken.

But now I know when to say “enough is enough.” I know when to protect the good chickens from a bad chicken. And now I know how to do it.

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Posted In: Chickens, Nature and Wildlife

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Bzzzz August 8th, 2013

One of the many joys of gardening is that you get to experiment, explore and take risks. Often the cost is no more than a couple of dollars—the price of a package of seeds. This is the frugal side of gardening. (I can also show you the exceptionally non-frugal side of gardening, but that, my friends, is a story for another blog post.) One of this year’s experiments in my garden was the cup and saucer vine (Cobea scandens).

cup and saucer vine Cobea scandens 2

The flowers on the cup and saucer vine begin as pale green lanterns and open to ivory or deep purple flowers.

I don’t recall if this is one of the seed packages I purchased or if it was included in a freebie package from Botanical Interests, one of my favorite seed companies. It seems like something I would order because the description promised this vine would 1) be a quick growing, 2) grow up to 25 feet in a single season 3) have flowers that open pale green and mature to ivory or deep purple and 4) have a sweet scent.

Apparently the only thing this vine doesn’t do is grow hundred dollar bills on every other vine.

cup and saucer vine Cobea scandens

Before the flowers open they resemble small, green lanterns.

I like the idea of a quick-growing, decorative vine as part of creating summer shade over the chicken run. The chickens have a covered porch that allows them to get out of the rain or to shelter from the blazing sun. But in the summer some dappled shade over the rest of the run would improve the comfort factor in the rest of the run as well as shade their water cooler.

So how did the cup and saucer vine perform?

I’m thinking of starting my own rating system. For now, let’s base the rating system on stars. I’ll fancy up the idea later.

What should my personal rating system include? An overall rating, certainly. Beauty? Yes, I do think beauty is important. Pest/disease resistance in my garden? Yes indeed, that seems like a good idea too. I am over having powdery mildew on lilacs and Japanese beetles on pole beans. Toxicity/safety? This might not be important to some gardeners, but it is important to me if I’m going to grow it over the chicken coop. I found a handy list of toxic/non-toxic plants assembled by the California Poison Control System. The cup and saucer vine is, apparently, non-toxic—at least to humans. I didn’t find it listed as toxic to chickens anywhere else on the Internet. And in my bold experiment here it is, apparently, non-toxic since the chickens have kept the lower parts of the vines pecked clean of leaves and flowers.

What else? Scent? Usefulness? Edibility? Okay, we’ll go with that for now.

Chicken coop with cup and saucer vine

The cup and saucer vine covers the left side of the outdoor run. The vine on the right climbing over the coop roof is a sweet autumn clematis, which will be covered in tiny white flowers in the fall.

So, here is my rating for the cup and saucer plant on a four-star (for now) rating system.

***    Beauty – The flowers certainly are beautiful, although they are somewhat subtle. This is not a vine that will draw your eye from a distance as some clematis do, for example.

**** Pest/disease resistance – No complaints here. The Japanese beetles are completely uninterested. The vine doesn’t show any signs of disease or other problems this year.

**** Safety/non-toxicity – Courtesy of the California Poison Control System and my own bold experiment.

**      Scent – The flowers do have a mildly sweet scent, but you need to stick your nose right into it to smell it.

**** Usefulness – This is a work horse-type vine because it grows so quickly, providing a nice screen where needed in the summer heat.

*        Edibility – You can’t eat it (I don’t think). Well, you can’t have everything.

**** Overall – A grand four-star rating.

The bigger question might be, would I grow the cup and saucer vine again? Yes! And I would also recommend it to other gardeners. It’s an easy, robust and pleasing vine. All for the cost of a package of seeds.


Posted In: Chickens, Flowers, Gardening

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