Clouds darkened in the late morning of August 10, 2020, as a thunderstorm warning was broadcast by radio stations. That’s common during Iowa summers, so we weren’t overly concerned. A half-hour later, a roaring wind engulfed Cedar Rapids. It was a derecho bearing winds up to 140 miles an hour.
We watched our young trees bend before the tempest. Then came the terrible part.
First, our black oaks tumbled down. Then, the black cherries and hackberries tumbled down before the wind. Our massive black walnut stood until a ferocious blast tore its branches and leaves off.
The derecho lasted longer than most – over 40 minutes – and left as quickly as it had arrived. The damage was mindboggling. We soon learned that Cedar Rapids lost 65% of its trees. A quick count showed that 47 of our 53 mature trees were either on the ground or stripped of leaves and branches. We lost privacy and shade and gained a view.
For several days the chickens were truly “free-ranging.”
We worried about our 20 chickens. The storm came so quickly that we couldn’t lure them into the coop. The wind destroyed the chicken run’s fence. The birds were fine and, with the fence down, began their first neighborhood tour. Even before the rain stopped!
We couldn’t erect a temporary fence for several days, so the chickens were truly free-ranging. They roamed around, and we often didn’t even know where they were.
But, every once in a while, a hen returned to the coop to lay her egg in the nest.
Each sundown all the chicks came home for the night. All 20!
With power off and vast damage over a large area, we were fearful about food. Our freezer warmed and the wind damaged many of our garden crops. Would grocery stores reopen????. Could we even get through on the tree chocked roads??? We didn’t know. But it was soon obvious that our hens were nonplussed by the storm and kept giving us fresh eggs.
The chickens kept on laying eggs.
Assuming a chicken flock survives an immediate disaster – flood, fire, or storm – they’ll continue laying nutritious eggs when other food may not be available. They are valuable disaster companions.
Well, you don’t. These powerful storms develop quickly from what seems like a “normal” thunderstorm. Even the weather service can be caught off guard as happened Monday, August 10, 2020, as a series of storms developed over Nebraska and swept East rapidly.
Gustavus Hinrichs, a Danish immigrant, and professor at the University of Iowa, recognized these storms differ from hurricanes because the winds move quickly in a straight line. Hence, derecho.
This link has satellite imagery of the formation of the derecho with Eastern Iowa being the epicenter. Over 20 counties have qualified for disaster aid.
Winding Pathways sustained damage especially the trees. And, we are working each day in the community to help recover. In the future, create.
For now, we invite readers to support local organizations in communities damaged by natural forces like fires, storms, and droughts.
We are OK. The chickens were truly “free-ranging” for ten days before we got temporary fencing back up. They keep eating our food scraps, foraging for insects, and laying eggs so all is well.
And, we will update as we can.
Go to our posts on preparedness and we will post updates of what we learned to add to preparedness. Remembering that different emergencies require different responses and different preparedness techniques.
Even healthy-looking chickens can die suddenly.
Our chickens aren’t really pets. We don’t give them names and every once in a while, we sell or give away a few. Even so, we get attached to our hens as we recognize their individual personalities and enjoy their antics.
Maybe it’s silly but we feel sad when one dies. That happened recently when we went into our coop to find one of our Buff Brahmas moping. She was huddled in a corner crouched down into the sawdust litter. The next morning, she was dead.
We carefully examined her and learned she was well fleshed and had no obvious signs of either disease or injury. We’ll never know what caused her untimely death but over the years we’ve developed a procedure we use when a chicken dies. Here’s what we do:
- Carefully remove the dead bird and dispose of its body. We usually either bury it or gently carry it down in the woods and let nature recycle it. Often a raccoon makes a meal of her the first night. Most municipal waste disposal companies will allow putting an animal carcass in the trash if it’s bagged in three layers of plastic.
- Watch the flock for any sign of disease. If more than one bird dies in a short time, we suspect a disease. We would quickly change out litter, sanitize feeders and waterers and consider taking a bird to the vet. But actually, we can’t remember ever having a disease take a second bird.
We’re careful to protect our flock from disease and practice bio sanitation. Isolation is the best way to keep disease at bay, so we rarely introduce an outside bird to the flock. Because we don’t want to introduce disease, we change clothes and wash up after visiting another flock and before going to our chickens.
Remember to always wash carefully after handling chickens, eggs, feed, or even visiting the coop.
Given nutritious food, protection from dampness and drafts, and practicing biosecurity makes it likely that a backyard flock will stay disease-free, but occasionally a chicken dies. Yup, it’s always sad and it’s part of keeping a flock.
As autumn progresses in the upper Midwest, birds appear and disappear, group and spread out. Pileated woodpeckers have returned to the suet feeders. Chickens help grind up the garden residue and eat the bugs. White-throated sparrows sing a different tune on their way south. Juncos suddenly appear. Bluebirds sit on branches surveying the yards. Hawks send everyone scurrying. Vultures wing one more time overhead before catching the north winds and head to warmer climes.
Watch these robins enjoying a sunny day bath.
Songbirds appreciate high quality seed to sustain them in winter.
Some birds homestead at Winding Pathways.
Bluebirds hang out on branches.
Chickens grind up garden residue.
Turkeys and squirrels would make short work of seed, leaving none for the small birds.
Winter is tough on birds so keep your feeders full.
Fledgling eagle resting in the back yard.
A robin surveys the area
Mealworms in the Snow Mama and Chicks in the Snow
Hens are not dumb clucks!
We were surprised to look out the window on Veteran’s Day morning to see nearly six inches of snow outside. The predicted snow skiff turned into a dump, and we soon fired up the snowblower and put the shovels to use. This much snow in early November is unusual.
Just before we started shoveling, our chickens demonstrated their amazing ability to learn and remember. Every morning we open the pop hole door, and the hens zoom outside with enthusiasm to discover tasty bugs and weed seeds to eat. When we opened the door after the snow, our older hens peered out the door, turned around, and decided the cracked corn we scattered inside the coop was a fine breakfast. They’d remembered snow from last year and knew walking in it yielded cold toes and legs.
Most of our hens are newbies, hatched in mid-July. They’d never seen snow, and when we opened the pop hole door they roared outside, stood perplexed, walked around for a few minutes, and then came right back inside. And, the rooster sang his call from inside. No doubt their toes were cold.
Chickens are often considered witless animals lacking even a shred of intelligence. We know otherwise. Remembering snow proved that our old hens had learned what it was last winter and remembered their cold toe experience over the eight long months since the last frozen white stuff melted. Chickens are no dumb clucks.
We were delighted when our Lavender Orpington hen started acting strangely. She fluffed up her feathers, spent most of her time in a nest box, and gave us a stern warning call if we came too close. She was broody.
A broody hen simply wants to be a mother. Her ambition is to keep a clutch of eggs warm for 21 days and then raise a bunch of bouncy babies to chicken adolescence. We don’t have a rooster so all of our hen’s eggs are infertile and won’t hatch. Broody doesn’t know this, but we found a way to have her happily raise a brood of chicks.
After about two weeks of incubation, we bought a dozen chicks from a local farm store and slipped them under her after dark. Motherhood commenced.
Watching a mother hen is interesting but listening is truly fascinating. While on eggs she sat almost trancelike, but the peeping awakened her. She began clucking in a tone that must have both comforted the downy chicks and instructed them to get into the warmth and security of her feathers.
The next morning she used a different clucking tone to introduce the babes to the big world. They followed her out of the nest and scampered around the coop. We don’t speak “chicken” but she clucked again and it must have meant, “come over here and eat.” She put her beak in a feeder filled with chick starter. The bravest babies picked a few crumbs of feed off her beak and soon all were eating and dipping their beaks into a nearby waterer for a cool drink.
Mother hens are attentive and have a vocabulary of many “words” or at least different sounding clucks. When the babes got too far from her she’d cluck in a certain way bringing them scampering back to safety near or under Mom. If she scratched up a delicious tidbit she’d utter a different sounding cluck and the babies would rush over and enjoy a food new to them. She taught them safety and the fine art of foraging.
Lavender Orpington wants to be a mother!
A mama hen will sit contently on golf balls until new chicks arrive.
Babies gather round Mama Hen at night.
See these YouTube videos and photos of our most recent broody and foraging for treats.
Tucking in for the Night
Under Mama’s Watchful Eye
Babies Eating Corn
At the Gate Waiting for Treats
Feasting on Corn