I Dub Thee Trixie

Over-Easy was your name.

When we brought home seven 4 week-old chicks, OverEasy was the most comfortable with us, climbing up to FM's shoulder

Over-Easy was only 4 weeks old when we brought her home. The little sparrow chick was happiest up high on FM’s shoulder.

On the day that we acquired you, FM won you over easily as you hopped up onto his shoulder to roost and, ever since, that egg-name stuck. At four weeks old, you looked more like a house sparrow than a chicken and we guessed that you had been sneakily laid in some unknowing chicken’s nest. But now, as you near the end of your first year, you have proved yourself to be a chicken, although one of unknown variety.

Here is a sample of a typical daily haul. Each egg can be easily linked back to its hen.  Over-Easy's is the top-most egg.

Here is a sample of a typical daily haul. Each egg can be easily linked back to its hen. Over-Easy’s is the top-most egg.

A restless spirit, you are endlessly searching, looking up, trying to get higher. As everyone else settles into the coop at night, you pace the walls, watching shadows. During the day, you leave the flock and explore the Queendom alone, searching, searching. Neurotic? Intelligent? Anxious? Who knows.

A few weeks back, FM and I saw that our daily egg count was low. After paying closer attention for a few days, we noticed that it was your tiny, perfectly round eggs that were absent from the next boxes. We set out on an egg hunt and look what we found:

What is that behind the tall grass?

What is that behind the tall grass?

11 eggs in a grassy nest. This is about 2 weeks of hidden eggs! Trixie indeed!

11 eggs in a grassy nest. This is more than 2 weeks of hidden eggs! Trixie indeed!

After we discovered your cache, you changed your strategy and began laying in the same next box as broody Sprout. And after we moved Sprout out to the broody pen, you laid eggs in a bunch of other non-conforming places – under the front porch, in the canning pot, beside the barbeque. I spend my afternoons trying to figure out your latest hiding spot – an endless game of hide-and-seek.

I had to use the butterfly net to scoop these three eggs out from under the front door porch.  Apparently, SunnySide likes this impromptu nest too!

I had to use the butterfly net to scoop these three eggs out from under the front door porch. Apparently, SunnySide likes this impromptu nest too!

This canning pot could not have been a comfortable place to lay.

This canning pot could not have been a comfortable place to lay.

And so she laid beside the canning pot, next to the barbeque.

And so she laid beside the canning pot, next to the barbeque.

There seems to be no rhyme or reason for the nesting places you choose so how can we predict your next move?

Get out of my car, Trixie! There will be no egg-laying by the accelerator!

Get out of my car, Trixie! There will be no egg-laying by the accelerator!

And so, I dub thee Trixie and I await your next ‘begawk!’ as a clue to today’s easter egg hunt.

We're on to you, Trixie!

We’re on to you, Trixie!

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Chicken Mathematics

6 +7 -2 +1 -1 -2 = 9 chickens. This math question contains 5 chicken stories.

Quite a lot has happened here in the Queendom since losing Chip in August. Too much for a lazy blogger. Upon losing Chip, we had 6 chickens (2 roosters and 4 laying hens). This is what has happened since then:

1) +7  We were given seven new chicks from Gavin at Holiday Farm, the same breeder who had supplied our first brood of Welsumers and Chanteclers. His pure-bred heritage flocks had intermingled and he no longer had pure breeds so he gave us seven “Heinz 57″ chicks who were somewhere between 3 to 5 weeks old.

There are 7  baby chicks in this pile of feathers. They are about 4 weeks old and a mish-mash of inter-breeds.  Heaven!

There are 7 baby chicks in this pile of feathers. They are approximately 4 weeks old and a mish-mash of inter-breeds. Heaven!

These new chicks spent about a month separated from our flock before we tried integrating them. They had the fenced area around the garden shed where they scratched and pecked and could see the other six birds free-ranging nearby.

2) -2 FM came home from work one afternoon to find feathers scattered near the shed. Two of the new chicks were missing – Shadow and Sprout – but only the black and white speckled feathers of Shadow were apparent. Upon closer inspection in the fading light of the day, we found the remains of little Shadow’s body. We can only guess that the Red Shinned Hawk who occasionally passes through had flown into the garden shed and taken Shadow out. Their area was completely covered in netting, except for the top half of the partially opened shed door. It would have been some fancy flying for that hawk to get into the shed and then even more spectacular for it to get out with a chick in its talons.

All that was left of Shadow was this nauseating pile of feathers. The olny upside is that the hawk wasted nothing.

All that was left of Shadow was this nauseating pile of feathers. The only upside is that the hawk wasted nothing.

But where was little Sprout? She wasn’t in the shed with the others but there was no sign of her body or her white feathers anywhere. In complete darkness that evening, I called out and searched for her with a flashlight. I looked in all the possible hiding places around the house, shop and shed. The books all say that a missing chicken has simply been taken by a flying predator. We went to bed that night with heavy hearts, knowing that we had lost 2 chicks in one fell swoop.

3) +1 The next morning, as we were preparing to leave for work, we opened the garden shed door and carefully placed netting over the entire door to prevent further hawk snacking. Just then, little Sprout emerged across the yard from under the house porch. She had spent the night alone, in -5 ºC temperatures, under the porch. I had searched that space the night before but had not seen her. It is still a mystery to us about how she got out of the fenced shed area. Had she had been picked up by the hawk at the same time as Shadow? How had she escaped unscathed? How had the hawk done it? She had no cuts or punctures and was very happy to be back in her flock. Sprout is a lucky girl indeed.

Here are the six survivors, liled together in their garden shed home. Sprout, the lucky one, is the white chick on the far right.

Here are the six survivors, piled together in their garden shed home. Sprout, the lucky one, is the white chick on the far right.

4) -1 Last summer, we had trouble deciding which rooster would be top cock so we kept two of our last brood – Skana and Pingu. But, as those two boys became teenagers, their sex-drive went into over-drive, much to the chagrin of our hens. After observing the violence that too many roosters brings, we dispatched poor Pingu and the entire flock breathed a sigh of relief.

5) -2 As soon as our newest chick brood reached two months old, a funny sound came out of the garden shed early one morning. It sounded like air being slowly released from a pinched balloon. Little Radar and Big Cleo had begun crowing in response to Skana. It was a heart-breaking day for us since we had just got rid of Pingu. FM and I knew that there was no place for any more roosters in our flock. We decided to fatten them up and allow them to reach sexual maturity before they too would become our next chicken dinners. It was hard to keep our affection for them at bay over those months. Especially with Radar since he had such a gregarious chicken-ality with a Little-Big-Man swagger. At the ripe age of four months old, Cleo and Radar were lovingly killed.

Cleo - originally named Cleopatra, for her extensive eye liner, turned out to be a Roo, much to everyone's dismay.

Cleo – originally named Cleopatra, for her extensive use of eye liner – turned out to be a Roo, much to everyone’s dismay (especially his).

Radar was full of personality and had an awesome, long pointy tail that gave him his name. Bold and confident, he took charge of the flock from day one.

Radar was full of personality and had an awesome, long pointy tail that gave him his name. Bold and confident, he took charge of the flock from day one.

It feels like so many chickens have come and gone here at the Queendom. So far, during our 20 months of chicken keeping, twenty chickens have been part of our flock. Seven of those 20 have been roosters and 13 have been hens. Six roosters have been slaughtered, 3 hens have died of illness and 2 were killed by predators. I simply hope that our flock will hold fast at 9 for a good long time.

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Two Many Roosters

Or This Queendom Ain’t Big Enough For the Both of Us

The correct ratio of roosters to hens is 1:10 or so, but we have kept two roosters and four hens. As usual we are determined to learn from experience rather than rely on what literature tells us. I prefer Skana with his charcoal plumage, his dark Australorp eyes and his patient demeanour when I scoop him. These attributes allow me to ignore his ‘scream-a-doodle-doo’ crow.

Skana is beautiful, with his charcoal black feathers and rilliant red comb. He lacks a true tail and his crow is like a blood-curdling scream.

Skana is beautiful, with his charcoal black feathers and brilliant red comb. He lacks a true tail and his crow is like a blood-curdling scream.

FM prefers Pingu with his iridescent green and purple plumage, gorgeous rooster tail and rare crowing but he is elusive and expertly avoids the daily scoop.

The sunlight brought out irridescent green and purple in Pingu's feathers. His tail was superb!

The sunlight brings out irridescent green and purple in Pingu’s feathers. His tail is superb!

Both boys get along with each other, having been raised together, but Skana is definitely the top cock. He roosts with the girls, grazes with the girls and has his pick of the girls. Pingu hangs out at the edge of the flock and occasionally tries to get in on the action but is quickly put in his place.

As a result, Pingu has taken a keen interest in the new chicks and has set his mind on establishing his own harem. Like a pedophile, he spends the days lurking around their fenced area, crowing and strutting for them. Eventually when we opened the fencing to allow the chicks a wider range, he was on them in a mating frenzy. The flying feathers and screeches of these two month old babies stressed all of us out as they were pursued beyond their enclosure and had trouble finding their way back.

It also puts strain on Skana. Upon hearing the panicked calls of the chicks, Skana runs from his flock to the chicks to Pingu, trying desperately to assess the danger and to discipline Pingu. As Pingu’s confidence grows, he has started edging in on Skana’s hens but does so in a sneaky and violent fashion.

Pingu is looking a little sneaky here. No doubt he is lurking near the baby chicks, waiting to terrify him with his manliness.

Pingu is looking a little sneaky here. No doubt he is lurking near the baby chicks, waiting to terrify him with his manliness.

The hens are able to keep their eye on Skana’s macho moves and scoot out of reach when they choose to but they constantly blind-sided by Pingu’s ungentlemanly pounce. Let’s just say that everyone has lost a lot of feathers and every egg had been fertilized at least twice. Two of our hens, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, have gone into a hard moult and I truly believe that it is partially due to the stress of being constantly pursued.

And I haven’t even mentioned the crowing. The quiet Pingu has now found his voice and uses it as an answer to each of Skana’s calls. Oh… the endless crowing — it stresses out all 15 of us!

This looks so quaint and picturesque but, in reality, wine glasses within a kilometer radius were shattering!

Skana’s morning crowing session – This looks so quaint and picturesque but, in reality, wine glasses within a kilometer radius were shattering!

And so, the fate of Pingu was decided at the young age of 5 months old. We killed him and processed him just as we had done with his two brothers a few months earlier. Pingu wasn’t a malicious guy at all. He was the right rooster in the wrong place. He was just a guy trying to make his mark and I’m sure he was well-intentioned. His downfall was his gender.

As a three month old cockerel, Pingu was a shy beauty with lovely green/black feathers.

Here, as a three month old cockerel, Pingu was a shy beauty with lovely green/black feathers.

Sadly his sister, SunnySide will be the only one who mourns his passing.

Once again, Skana has been selected as top cock. Here he stands on the rooftop to celebrate. SunnySide is mildly impressed.

Once again, Skana has been selected as top cock. Here he stands on the rooftop to celebrate. SunnySide is mildly impressed.

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Taking A Break

Imagine the reaction you would get if you simply didn’t show up at work for 4 months. Well, that is what both Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum have done.

In late September, these two sisters stopped laying eggs, lost many feathers and refused to leave the indoor coop.

These two posed for this picture. Usually they are hunkered down with feet hidden and heads pulled in close.

These two posed for this picture since usually they are hunkered down with feet hidden and heads pulled in close. Tweedle Dum is on the left and Tweedle Dee is on the right. (and, just so you know, the filth on the coop wall is not poop but dried Gorilla Glue from the old shower insert)

Now it is the end of January and there seems to be no end in sight. They continue to lose feathers from different parts of their bodies and they stay roosted all day and all night. Dum laid one egg at the beginning of December but then stopped laying again. The only time either of them leave the coop is if FM and I forcibly scoop them and bring them outdoors. But as soon as they spy an opportunity, they run back indoors.

Tweedle Dum is reluctantly joining FM for a  post-run coffee on the porch. She is getting antsy here, ready to get back inside.

Tweedle Dum joins FM for our post-run coffee on the porch. She is getting antsy here, chatting away and getting ready to head back inside.

On weekends, we make a point of bringing them each outside to sit on our laps on the porch. Neither of these girls minds being handled and will sit quite contentedly and snooze – especially if the sun is shining.

Dee sat with me for a good long snooze in the sun. She watched the chicks and kept a close eye on our rooster, Skana, who was keen to jump her bones.

Tweedle Dee sat with me for a good long tme in the sun. She watched the chicks and kept a close eye on our rooster, Skana, who was dancing and singing for her, keen to jump her bones .

These two are from our original brood and are now a mature 22 months old. I read that chickens will go through their first hard moult during their second winter but I had no idea that it would last so long.

Look at those long claws! Since she hasn't been scratching for bugs and digging in the yard, her claws have grown longer than 1.5 cm!

Look at those long claws! Since she hasn’t been scratching for bugs and digging in the yard, her claws have grown longer than 1.5 cm!

This week, while reading Annie Pott’s Chicken, I learned that a natural moult can take five months. I also learned that denying food and water to a moulting chicken can shorten the moult and get them laying again. That is what is done in factory chicken farms but that kind of treatment has no place in the Queendom.

Even young Benny (15 months) is going through a moult, but hers isn't the full deal. She stopped laying for a couple of weeks but has already restarted. Egg production is down a bit, since it is dark 16 hours a day.

Even young Benny (15 months) is going through a moult, but hers isn’t the full deal. She stopped laying for a couple of weeks but has already restarted. Egg production is down a bit, since it is dark 16 hours a day.

My loyal followers will also note that I have taken about five months off from writing this blog. But, in my own good time, I have returned and so will the Tweedles. All of our employment contracts will be reinstated whenever we see fit to return to work. And nobody will mind if our productivity tapers down as well.  It’s all part of living in Chicken Heaven.

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Lessons A Chicken Taught Me

The unthinkable has happened. Chip, our favourite hen, died last weekend.

A typical scene when you arrive at the Queendom - a chicken scritch in action!

A typical scene when you arrive at the Queendom – a chicken scritch in action!

At the tender age of 17 months, she simply faded until her light snuffed out. Despite her initial recovery from our amateur crop surgery, she continued to have digestive issues. Our guess is that something was seriously wrong in her gizzard or intestines which continuously caused a back-up of fluid and food in her crop. Whatever the reason, she is gone now and we are both full of heart-ache.

The last photo I took of her in the Chicken ICU dog crate. She had lost colour in her comb, was disheveled from not preening and would look at us through one winking eye.

The last photo I took of her in the Chicken ICU dog crate. She had lost colour in her comb, was disheveled from not preening and would look at us through one winking eye.

She was just a chicken but …

She was one of our original six. We brought her home in a box, knowing only what we had read in books about chicken farming. She was the bright light of that brood, constantly surprising us with her ingenuity, memory and curiosity. She taught us everything we now know about raising chickens, and most of that is not written in books.

Here is what Chip taught us during her short but favored life:

Named Chip - short for Chipmunk.

Named Chip – short for Chipmunk. And look at that adorable tail!

Chickens are smart – When Chip was a chick, she figured out different ways to climb out of the brooding box so that she could roost up high. She would hop from a roosting stick onto the top of the chick waterer and then onto the top edge of the brooder. No matter how we configured the objects, she would figure a way out.

You can't keep a good girl down. She was like Houdini in that brooder box!

You can’t keep a good girl down. She was like Houdini in that brooder box!

Chickens learn from each other – Once settled inside the finished coop, Chip would slide down the roost supports on her feet, rather than fly down or hop from rung to rung. Soon enough all the other chicks were copying her and now, with two new generations of chicks, everyone gets off the roost in Chip-style. It looks as fun as going down a fireman’s pole. All the others looked to her for ideas and direction.

A communal Chicken Melt on the sunny porch.

A communal Chicken Melt on the sunny porch.

Chickens seek affection – I am a determined ‘scooper’, meaning that I scoop every chicken up into my arms each day, in an effort to get them used to being handled. One day, as we were sipping coffee on the porch, Chip hopped up onto my extended legs to roost. It was the first time that contact between us had been initiated by one of them. Soon enough, she would hop up and walk to my lap where she would contentedly snooze or chat with me. It became a daily routine that we both looked forward to and enjoyed. In the last weeks of her life when she was too weak to hop up, she would come and stand near my chair and wait for the daily scoop. Only since she has passed away have other chickens initiated the hop up, emulating Chip. I sure hope it continues.

During one of her first hop-ups.

Captured on film during one of her first hop-ups.

Chickens are brave – During the record-breaking snowfall of last winter, it was Chip who dared to leave the coop, walk through the pantaloon-deep snow (which she had never experienced before) in her bare feet in order to have a visit on the porch.

Lured by scratch and a chance to sit on my lap, Chip was the first to brave the snow.

Lured by scratch and a chance to sit on my lap, Chip was the first to brave the snow.

Chickens wield their power gently – Chip was at the top of our flock’s pecking order. She always got her way whether it was first dibs on fresh compost, top rung on the roost or keeping new chicks in line. Being neither large or aggressive, she managed her flock with simply a look or a curt ‘bwack’. We never witnessed her pecking or flapping at anyone else.

Chip going to check out the latest additions to our flock.

Chip going to check out the latest additions to our flock and to let them know who’s in charge.

Chickens are trusting – When Chip’s crop first became an issue of concern, we read that massaging it would help contents pass through. For weeks, she would tolerate our palpations even though I’m sure it was uncomfortable, if not painful. Even during the worst of it, when we tried to forcibly vomit her, she never lost her trust in us and continued to be as animated and affectionate as ever.

Completely trusting and unafraid, Chip would follow us anywhere.

Completely trusting and unafraid, Chip would follow us anywhere.

Chickens communicate – Chip knew that there was a communication barrier between us and came up with creative ways to let us know her thoughts. I tried to give her antibiotics by hiding them in her favourite foods – grapes, melon, cherries, tomatoes or strawberries. She was always able to sniff them out. She would give me a look before gently sharpening her beak on my pant leg to let me know “No way am I going to eat that” and “How dare I ruin tasty strawberries in that way?”.

She is smiling on the inside!

She is smiling on the inside!

Chickens forgive – During those last weeks of Chip’s life, we pulled out all the stops and tried every remedy. Since she was losing weight and unable to get enough food down, we resorted to giving her liquid food, antibiotics and de-wormer by gavage. Even after the traumatic event of having a tube stuffed down her throat, she would snuggle down to rest and snooze in our laps.

Typical weekend morning - bathrobe, coffee, porch and Chip

Typical weekend morning – bathrobe, coffee, porch and Chip

Chickens leave an indelible mark – When this chicken-keeping hobby began, I never thought that I would consider our chickens to be anything other than egg-laying livestock. But Chip taught us otherwise. She enlightened us to their intelligence and their companionship. She showed us that they can be as faithful as any pet. We were so lucky to have had Chip in our first brood since she loved us unconditionally and taught us to reciprocate. She taught me so well that I almost feel unable to continue without her.

But I will. I know now that I will keep chickens for as long as I am able, if only to search for that experience again.

It is hard to get anything productive done around the Queendom when your lap is busy with a chicken.

It is hard to get anything productive done around the Queendom when your lap is busy with a chicken.

Curious about everything and willing to try anything

Curious about everything and willing to try anything – even FM’s homebrew.

Thank you, Chip

Thank you, Chip!

 

 

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Searching For Neo

Who Will Be The Chosen One?

In my books, four roosters is four too many. But that is what we ended up with after Tweedle Mum recently hatched five chicks. After losing sweet Peeps to a dog mauling last winter, we learned the hard way that the lack of a rooster can endanger the lives of free-ranging hens. So we intend to keep one of these Roos and probably eat the rest. (Life on the Queendom is not for the faint of heart)

When you suddenly have four boys all coming to maturity at once, you have to carefully analyze their ‘chicken-alities’ and groom one to be your man. Here are the candidates:

Meriadoc – As a chick, Meriadoc was very social and didn’t mind being scooped up. He would nestle down in your hand and peep contentedly. Now, he is our biggest rooster and avoids both of us, analysing our every move. He has become very cautious around us but in a sly way. I’m sure that he is scheming to launch onto my forehead at any given moment. He is covered in black feathers which shine an iridescent green or purple in the sunlight and recently he has developed white streaks in his cape feathers. He is quite taken with Chip, the queen of our coop, but he is very rough on her, chasing her to exhaustion and plucking out beakfuls of feathers. He crows occasionally but only if someone else starts it. He will make a hearty meal.

Named after one of the famous hobbits, Meriadoc sport feathered legs and feet. Initially we were able to hold him and he had great potential socially.

Named after one of the famous hobbits, Meriadoc sports feathered legs and feet

Sly and scheming, Meri's dark chicken-ality outweighs his beautiful plumage.

Sly and scheming, but kind of pretty

Pingu – This is our smallest rooster and our most timid. He was the first to crow but has not crowed for the past three weeks, leaving that job to the others. Being the smallest (perhaps a bantam), he also seems to be the lowest rooster in the pecking order. I haven’t seen anyone pick on him but he is submissive to all the others. He has taken a shine to little Sunnyside and is her constant companion, much to her dismay. He has a beautiful, droopy green-feathered tail and prominent ear tufts. He is easy-going, quiet and enjoys sleeping alone on the outdoor roost, avoiding the chaos inside. He might be a keeper if we decide to keep two.

Pingu is named after a British clay-mation character from the 1990s. As a chick, he looked just like a little penguin.

Pingu is named after a British clay-mation character from the 1990s

The only one with a true rooster tail, Pingu also sports ear tufts which restrict his peripheral vision.

Pingu is the only one with a true rooster tail

Devilled – This little guy has been standoff-ish since the beginning. He was the first to hatch and was always a step ahead of the other chicks. Now as a rooster, he is Satanic. He crows constantly, starting at 5:14 am and about 483 other times during the day. He is completely black with two long tail feathers that stick up like an antenna. He has a small patch of orange on his chest – a sprinkle of paprika on his devilled egg. He is the horniest rooster I have ever met and is on the hunt for some hen-action at all times. Anytime that one of the two Tweedle sisters is near, he does his little mating dance, which they manage to deflect. At that point, he begins a 5 acre chase around the Queendom, making the girls flee in panic. Moments after he mates with one of them, he is after her again. It never ends. But really it is his constant crowing that has put him on the chopping block.

Devilled refers to a delicious egg dish that we hoped he would provide. But Devilled is a rooster who has proved to be very satanic in his ways. His crowing begins at 5:38 each morning and goes on and on and on and on all day.

Devilled refers to a delicious egg dish that we hoped he would provide. (sigh)

Probably crowing here

Probably crowing here

Skana – Skana has been social with us since day one. He is always curious about our clothes, our trips across the yard, our food and anything else human. He enjoyed a scritch when he was a chick and still enjoys it now. He is the only one of the brood to hop up on our chairs or laps for a visit. He can often been seen wandering off to new places in the yard in  search of good eats or simply sightseeing. He is friendly with all the other chickens and is the only new chick who has been allowed to flock near the adult hens. His downsides are twofold. 1) He isn’t a great protector since he is often wandering off on his own rather than watching out for the girls 2) His crow sounds like a bagpipe as it deflates at the end of a tune but luckily he does not crow often.  He is very interested in Chip but only once a day. He has silver and charcoal grey coloured feathers, a fluffy bunny tail and vibrant red wattles and comb. His eyebrows are wild and unruly above his huge black eyes. He is The Chosen One.

Named after the Orca whale of Vancouver Aquarium, Skana is a bright-eyed social fellow who is curious and liked by everyone.

With his white eye-markings, Skana is named after the female Orca whale of Vancouver Aquarium

Sleek, silver and sweet

Sleek, silver and sweet

Now that The Choosing Ceremony is done, chicken dinner will be served at about 7:30 pm. Anyone interested in some moist, tender, free-range chicken is welcome to join us.

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