The Pharaoh’s Bird


“Move over, Ra. There’s a new sun deity in town.”

Today’s long-overdue profile in silliness is of Nutmeg, our sweet, soft-spoken Golden Laced Wyandotte. Pumpkin’s best buddy and a huge fan of DH, Nutmeg is the type of personality you’d want in any group: friendly,  laid back but not a pushover,  not afraid to speak her mind but does so diplomatically,  and funny. As I write this she is ordering Jenny and Sally around as they all select dust bathing spots, putting herself at the top of the hierarchy (for today, anyway). Before that, she went back inside the barn to fetch Pumpkin, who was nervous about coming out because a hawk had flown through the neighborhood 15 minutes earlier. “Come out into the sunshine! You’re not alone, you’re with me!” said Nutmeg, and the two zipped out of the barn together and joined the rest of us in the sun. Confident and considerate, she’s a cool chick to have around.


Hard-working girl.

Nutmeg also has one of the sweetest chicken voices I’ve heard, a soft “doot-doot-doot” that varies in inflection depending on whether she’s asking for a treat (“doot-doot-doOOT?”), telling me her feet are cold and could I please warm them for her (won’t transliterate that one, and yes, I have warmed my chickens’ feet when they are cold; doesn’t everyone?), or telling me she needs to lay her egg. As a chick, she was the quietest of our flock and this has remained the case. It’s an interesting contrast with our other brash ladies who have no qualms about saying things loudly and proudly.


A beautiful chicken like that? She deserves more than one balloon!

Finally, in addition to having all the aforementioned lovely personal qualities,  Nutmeg is drop-dead gorgeous. Her black and gold feathers grace the banner at the top of this blog, but that photo does not do them justice. When the sunlight hits her, the gold lights up like flame and the black reflects iridescent green. Since her comb lies close to her head, she has somewhat of a falconish look to her and resembles Egyptian tomb paintings of beautiful birds from the afterlife. Any pharaoh who met her on the other side would have truly been blessed. Lucky me, I get to go out to the barn and hug her each day. We love you, sweet little golden Nutmeg. You can have as many balloons as you like.




Alice Featherlegs Explains It All

Why, yes! I’d be happy to explain that to you!

As promised, today’s Profile in Silliness is of Alice Featherlegs, one of our two Salmon Faverolles. Named after another character in Esther Averill’s Cat Club books because Faverolles do indeed have feathers on their legs, Alice has always had a lot to say. As a chick she would perch on the edge of the brooder and peep away, looking at me very

After all that explaining, it's time for a snooze.

After all that explaining, it’s time for a snooze.

earnestly. Now she follows me around as I do my chores, clucking and chirbling; sometimes she’ll come sailing across the yard to tell me something. If it’s especially important, she’ll ask to be picked up or will hop up onto my lap before telling me. Sometimes she’ll preen me in the midst of the discussion. She will definitely be my co-author on the first human-chicken translation dictionary and will be in charge of my look for the jacket photo. Alice has also taken it upon herself to be in charge of DS, thereby assuming the mantle of Messenger, a hen from our first flock who adopted DS when he was 5 months old and loyally protected him until she died at the age of 3 1/2. Once when the girls were still chicks, DS and I were hanging out with them when DS decided to run upstairs to get something.  As soon as he left the room she started distress peeping and didn’t take her eyes off the door until he returned. When he did, she hopped over to him and

. . . I hope that’s clear? You took good notes, right?

greeted him effusively. Since then, whenever we are all out together she will stick close to DS, talking the whole time and generally keeping an eye on his activities. She also knows that he is an excellent worm finder and that if she shadows him, she gets first pick of the tastiness. Babysitting has its privileges. Sweet as Alice is, she can be a tough one when she needs to be. Several times now she has gone broody, i.e., has gone into the hormonal state where she wants to sit on and hatch a clutch of eggs. Faverolles are known for going broody easily, and Alice has done so about three times in the past 6 months. All of the hens make pteranodon noises when they’re laying, but when Alice has decided that she is parking herself on a nest for the duration the growls and screeches hit

When I’m not busy explaining, I’m busy being cute and fluffy.

quetzalcoatlus levels. Some day, hopefully, we’ll have a chance to let her hatch some chicks; she will be the ultimate Tiger Mom (though not in a self-esteem crushing way, of course). And I am sure she will happily tell those chicks all about the world, ensuring that we have another generation of expert chicken explainers.

Though She Be But Little, She Is Fierce

20150314_113729_LLS-1The essence of true power is the ability to wield it without uttering a squawk. Jenny Linsky, our second Barred Rock hen, pretty much has all of us — human and chicken alike — wrapped around her wing feathers. Being a grande dame (along with Sally) she asserts herself quietly, but make no mistake: Jenny does not take any BS. None. So don’t try it. I love that she is a combination of assertiveness and sweetness. She’s kind of my role model.

Jenny is named for a shy little black cat who likes red scarves, from a wonderful series of children’s books by Esther Averill. She is still little and mostly black, and would probably wear a red scarf if given the opportunity, but now that she is grown she is anything but shy. As a chick she was the cuddliest; she would run to my hands when I put them in the brooder and ask to be scooped up. Once scooped, she would nestle into my lap and fall asleep as I rubbed her

Shh, sleepy Jenny.

Shh, sleepy Jenny.

teeny, downy head, or would climb up my sleeve onto my shoulder and tuck herself under my hair, as if it were a Mama Hen’s wing. When I would bundle the gang into a cardboard box to bring them out to the yard to play, she would insist on riding on my shoulder like a little queen. Of course I had to indulge Her Majesty.

As everyone grew and the dominance hierarchy sorted itself out, it became clear that Jenny was to be our top hen (although if you ask Sally, she’ll tell you that that’s not the case). Meanwhile, our alumnus rooster Chancellor became seriously smitten with her; the two bonded closely at about eight weeks old and kept that bond until he graduated from our property back in March. (And no, “graduate” is not a euphemism — he now lives on another farm.) They foraged together, relaxed together, and snoozed together.

Behind (or in front of) every great rooster is a hen ready to make pteranodon noises at him.

Behind (or in front of) every great rooster is a hen ready to make pteranodon noises at him.

Even when they hit maturity and Chancellor began to assert his roosterly right to herd the hens around, he didn’t dare herd Jenny. I watched him try, once. They were standing on top of our coop, and Chancellor had just succeeded in getting everyone else to fly up to the rafters by doing his stomping dance at them. He turned to Jenny and stomped. She raised her head and neck feathers, uttered a pteranodon-like screech, and jumped at him with her claws bared. “Sorry, ma’am! OK, ma’am! I’m going to hide over here now, ma’am!” said Chancellor sheepishly as he retreated to the opposite end of the coop. From that point on, Jenny was exempt from rooster herding and allowed to come and go as Her Majesty pleased.

It also soon became clear that raised head and neck feathers were Jenny’s Godfather-esque way of letting everyone know when She Is Displeased. She generally does not need to escalate to pteranodon noises, though when necessary she is an expert practitioner of the art of Haranguing. If someone is taking too long to lay her egg in the favorite nest box, we can hear it from the house. If the human help has put everyone back in the coop for the night sooner than she would like, we can hear it from the house. I think she may have been the inspiration for the saxophone part in this adorable song. Generally, however, it doesn’t reach that level of vitriol. It doesn’t need to.

Move over, Heidi Klum. I own fierce!

Move over, Heidi Klum. I own fierce!

Life for Jenny, however, is not all kicking tail fluff and taking names. She is a self-possessed, busy little hen who catches bugs like a boss, thoroughly enjoys her hour-long dust bath, and loves to be curious. Knowing that I was writing her profile today, she hopped onto my lap to check out my phone as I typed, and still being a cuddle bug insisted on some head scratches before she returned to scarfing tiny grasshoppers. She sweeps majestically around the yard, her retinue keeping a respectful distance. When I grow up, I want to be Jenny Linsky.

Throwback Thursday: You Had Me at Meow

232Usually, when one leaves the garage door open at night, unpleasant things end up inside: raccoons in search of trash, mice, the odd snake, etc. One day two years ago, however, something beyond wonderful came in: a large tuxedo cat. DH realized that he had left the door open all night when he left for work, so without giving it much thought he closed it and was on his way. Later that morning DS and I were on our way out; DS was at that point just big enough to walk into the garage and to the car under his own steam, so he was carefully going down the steps when we heard a cheery “Meow!” DS almost fell over and I almost tripped on him. From behind a box emerged a friendly whiskered face, who repeated his greeting: “Meow!” “Cat!” said a delighted DS. “Hello, who are you?” I asked as the stranger approached, purring. He gave DS a gentle head bunt (one of the ways cats greet someone affectionately) and rubbed against my legs as I reached down to pet him. “You must be our neighbor’s cat,” I said over the motorboat sound. Our neighbor of many years has a tuxedo cat who is free to go in and out of the house as he pleases, so I figured he had come into our garage to escape the cold when he saw the opportunity. We talked to and petted the cat for a few minutes, and then I loaded DS into the car. The cat wanted to hop in, too. “Sorry, buddy,” I said, and lifted him out and brought him outside. He was still purring.

That night, we were just finishing up dinner when we heard “Meow!” at the front door. “Cat!” squealed DS. DH opened the door and in sauntered our friend, purring. We fussed over him and petted him, and DH offered him a little dish of milk (of which he took two or three polite sips). He strolled around the kitchen and front hall, rubbing against the corners, the stairs, and us. Still assuming that he belonged to our neighbor, we wondered if perhaps his owner was away and he was locked out. We called the neighbor. “No,” he said, “My cat is right here with me.” Hmmm. “Perhaps he belongs to the other neighbors,” I said. Our other neighbors have many animals, including a number of cats who are outside most of the time. It was DS’s bedtime so we politely said goodbye to our friend and gently put him back outside. He was still purring.

Your porch looks good on me.

Your porch looks good on me.

The next morning, there was another “Meow!” at breakfast: our friend had climbed up some of our porch furniture and was peeking in through the kitchen window. “Cat!” shouted DS and we went to open the door to say hello again. More rubbing, more purrs, more delight, plus meowing from DS. We got him back outside when it was time to leave for school, but that afternoon he was back again. A snowstorm was just getting under way and he came to our back windows, pawing and asking to come in. We didn’t know what to do. If he belonged to the neighbors we couldn’t really make him disappear for the night, and if he were a stray we couldn’t have him come in to a house with a small child when we didn’t know his vaccination status (or whether he had fleas or ticks). Reluctantly we kept him outside. Late that night, as the storm blew hard and the inches of snow mounted up, I saw him come sprinting up the front walk and tuck himself under the porch. I was dying to open the door and call him in.

A chair that's just my colors! How considerate!

A tuxedo chair! How considerate!

The next few days brought more morning visits. The cat also began to hang out on the porch, enjoying the sun, and would come greet me whenever I returned, always purring. We still assumed he belonged to the neighbors, and began to refer to him as “Mr. [X’s] Cat.” At school dropoff DS told his teacher about our visitor. She asked him what the cat’s name was, and he told her, “Mr. [X’s] Cat.” X is a name that sounds sort of like the word “cookies,” especially when pronounced by a toddler. DS’s teacher didn’t quite catch what he said, and replied, “His name is Mr. Cookies? What a great name for a cat!” When I told DH about it later, he agreed. Thus our friend became Mr. Cookies.


Off for a stroll again, are we?

Cookies was more or less a regular around the house at this point. He would accompany us on our walks in the woods or for playtime by the stream or large vernal pools, and was basically content to just hang out wherever we were. DH broke down and brought him some cat food, which DS happily fed him by the zealous dishful. So, what to do? Cookies was determined to be our cat, and for DS’s safety’s sake we needed to get him checked and vaccinated. We also wanted to be as certain as we could that he didn’t belong to anyone, so I put some notes in the neighbors’ mailboxes asking whether anyone was missing a cat. One afternoon, my phone rang: it was one of the neighbors whom I had not yet met, explaining that he was a stray that she and her family had been caring for for six years, but that they couldn’t bring him into their home because of her husband’s allergies. She worried about him being outside in the elements, with the coyotes, etc., and was thrilled that he might have a chance at a home. It looked like everything was becoming official.

Thank you for bringing me  inside . . .

Thank you for bringing me inside . . . snore…

Happily, Cookies passed his checkup with flying colors, and we brought him inside. After strolling around and sniffing, he discovered a couch, curled up and passed out. He slept nearly around the clock for the next few days — probably the first sleep he had had in years where he didn’t have to keep an eye and ear alert to potential danger. I stroked him in his sleep and watched his paws twitch as he dreamed.

Since then, Cookies has become our family’s protector, my best buddy, and a kind adoptive brother to Linus. He cracks us up every day. He introduced us to neighbors whom we might not have met otherwise and who are extremely cool. But most of all, he is sincere in his love and in his own happiness. We’re grateful he wouldn’t take no for an answer — that’s what I call negotiating. And the purring is endless.

I love you too, Cookies. Thanks for being the best cat.

I love you too, Cookies. Thanks for being the best cat.

Meet Sally, Coopminster Abbey’s Dowager Duchess

You're profiling me today? How delightful!

You’re profiling me today? How delightful!

No grand estate is complete without a grande dame to run it. Fortunately, we happen to have two: our Barred Rocks, Jenny Linsky and Sally. Today’s Profile in Silliness introduces Sally. She’s bold, she’s gorgeous, and she’s very particular about the way the servants (humans) get things done around the coop. She is also very particular about how her ladies in waiting — Pumpkin, Nutmeg, and Alice — comport themselves. Hers is an iron beak in a velvet, um, sock? Actually, there’s no velvet; Sally expects obedience, end of story.

Sally is Sally because, as DS explained, “she’s beautiful.” When she received her name she was still a little ball of fuzz, but DS knew that from under the down a beautiful hen would emerge. Even as a chick she had comments to offer on housekeeping, treats, and whether sufficient time had been allotted for lounging around and dust bathing. As I cleaned the brooder she would follow my hand and look up into my eyes, peeping authoritatively. When she

The wee lass

The wee lass

graduated to the coop and matured, she still had many things to say about how I did my chores. The other hens and Chancellor the rooster would be out cruising around the barn, but she stayed in the coop until I finished, lest I steal the silver or something. Her running commentary consisted of gentle but confident clucks: “My dear, you do know you’re supposed to clean under the roosts first? And did you not get my hint about the amount of shavings in the nest boxes?” She now trusts me with her valuables enough not to oversee cleaning every day, but she will follow up with spot checks from time to time.

Sally is also a stickler for proper appearances. She keeps herself impeccably groomed and expects the same from her staff. As a chick she would hop onto my shoulder and preen my hair; now, if a strand or two has worked its way free from my baseball cap or I just generally look messy because hey, I’m cleaning the chicken coop, not hitting Fashion Week, she fusses over me, softly clucking, “Darling, you know that here at the Abbey we have rules about dress. That cap is simply unbecoming. And could you at least brush your hair before coming out here?” Then she will gently preen whatever strands of hair she can reach, or push my cap’s bill around until it sits at a suitable angle. One time she even pulled it off; I must have really looked like a wreck that day.

Imperious as she is, Sally is nonetheless a very sweet hen, and probably DS’s favorite. When we briefly discussed a possible chicken visit to his preschool, he instantly nominated Sally as the Abbey’s representative, again because “she’s beautiful!” I love to scoop her up and stroke her gorgeous feathers, whose black parts reflect purplish green

(Sally, on the far right.) My dear, must you take photos right now? It's tea time!

(Sally, on the far right.) My dear, must you take photos right now? It’s tea time!

in the sunlight. The feathers under her tail are especially fluffy, giving her a round, storybook hen appearance. When she rests her head on my shoulder as I bring her back to the coop in the evening, I know that I have served my mistress well that day. Cheers to Sally, the Dowager Duchess!

Aaaaand we’re back!

After too long a hiatus for no darn good reason except Winter, Three Feet of Snow, No School Ever, People and Animals Getting Sick, and Other Sundry Things, Coopminster Abbey is back! There’s a lot to catch up on, including chicken romance drama, cat music, and much more. Stay tuned! Meanwhile, here’s the crew’s take on How We Spent Our Winter Confinement.

Pumpkin spent the winter practicing her disgruntled look.

Pumpkin spent the winter practicing her disgruntled look.

Chancellor practiced his best hip-hop-style chilling with the ladies.

Chancellor practiced his best hip-hop-style chilling with the ladies.

Jenny and Sally tried this concept called "sharing" and decided they didn't like it.

Jenny and Sally tried this concept called “sharing” and decided they didn’t like it.


Alice learned how to take selfies.


Linus prepared for space flight.

Cookies learned to sing.

Cookies learned to sing.

Dramatis Phasianidae* — The Chickens Who Came In a Box

*(Phylogenic family name for chickens, partridges, pheasants and other game birds. Bust it out next time you play Scrabble!)

On a hot July morning, a small, aerated package arrived here at the Abbey. Mysterious peepings and rustlings emanated from within. Who would send such a parcel? Well, actually, an online hatchery did because we asked them to; it was my birthday present, our new flock of six chickies! This is the Abbey’s second flock (stories of the first will be forthcoming) and we were beyond excited to welcome them: a Silver Wyandotte, a Golden Wyandotte, two Salmon Faverolles, and two Barred Plymouth Rocks. They were beyond teeny when they arrived.



Like babies of other species, chicks eat, sleep, and wiggle, with an emphasis on the first two activities. Sometimes they fall asleep while eating or wiggling. (This tendency freaked us out when we first observed it — is the chick dying? Does it have a neurological problem? — but once we understood it we found it insanely cute.) And also like babies of other species, their personalities were observable from the start.

Left to right: Sally (tail only), Chancellor, Nutmeg, Jenny, Alice and Pumpkin

Left to right: Sally (tail only), Chancellor, Nutmeg, Jenny, Alice and Pumpkin

Chancellor is large and in charge. Nutmeg is a little shy. Pumpkin is a drama queen. Alice Featherlegs wants to be a house chicken. Jenny Linsky is my sweet snugglegirl. Sally is very busy and loves to groom others; she has made herself my personal stylist (which should tell you how lacking in style I am that even a chicken thinks I need help). Stories of their chickhood and day-to-day adventures are also forthcoming, but for now here are photos so you can put names to the faces.

Dramatis Felidae — The Cats Who Came In From the Cold

Don't hate me because I'm adorable.

Mr. Cookies: Don’t hate me because I’m adorable.

Mr. Cookies (Yes, that is Mr. Cookies to you) decided we needed a cat two years ago and wouldn’t take no for an answer. He is Cat-in-Chief; spiritual adviser; babysitter to our younger cat, DH, and DS; official greeter; party host; Chief Purring Officer; and Principal Dog Smacker, among his various titles and positions. You would be hard pressed to find a more awesome cat than Mr. Cookies.

Sure beats under the porch!

Linus: Sure beats hiding under the porch!

Linus joined us a few months ago after hiding under our porch for a year. We fed him, talked to him, and tried to convince him to come into the house, but to no avail. Eventually our powers of persuasion (and the thought of another winter like last year’s, probably) convinced him to come inside. Outside he was shy and retiring. Inside, he is talkative, playful, and super silly. He keeps Cookies young (and drives him crazy sometimes). We’re so glad he’s learning to be a house cat.


Here at Coopminster Abbey, we take animal antics seriously. We (the royal we, that is) are fortunate to share our life with various critters who not only keep us in stitches, but who prove time and again that humans vastly overesteem our intelligence and place in the universe. We thought we would share their stories and hope they make you smile. (Under all that fluff, Alice here is in fact smiling.) Hope to see you around the Abbey!

I am serious. And don't call me Shirley.

I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.