Polar Opposites

Meet Maddie, our nasty hen. You haven’t heard about her or even seen her since she is not personable at all and has never been featured in my stories. She rarely leaves the coop, choosing instead to stay indoors and rule fiercely over the two old coop-bound Tweedles during the day. She endlessly forces those old girls off the roosts, prevents them from accessing food and water and scares away any other hens who come in to lay.


Maddie, short for Madras, has the distinctive Chantecler cushion comb but the dark plumage of her Pa, Skana. But beware – she is the ultimate Mean Girl.

On those rare occasions when she does venture outdoors, other hens attack her or chase her away. She has a mean streak and is the lowest in the pecking order of our adult birds, besides the Tweedles. No one will roost anywhere near her at night as she will use the cover of darkness to lash out with a surprise peck to the comb. She has no allies and seems to begrudge her keepers for all her woes.

On the up-side, Maddie loves to sunbathe, spreading herself out on the porch in a warming beam or luxuriating in a sun-drenched dust bath. Her pleasure in these moments is so obvious. Continue reading “Polar Opposites”

Miss December

Each year, I make up a calendar with our twelve best chicken pictures from the year. This month, when I flipped to the December page, I was reminded of this adorable face.


Benedict – a character like no other. And yes, that is egg yolk on her face.

It has been almost six months since she died and, in all that time, I haven’t been able to muster the energy to record anything about life in the Queendom. I suppose I feel that she deserves a blog eulogy of her own, considering how amazing she was and how empty I feel now, but I am so sick of writing about the deaths of so many wonderful chickens. I’m pretty sure you are tired of reading all these obits. But here goes:

M's Samsung 584

Benedict never missed an opportunity for a cuddle on the porch. It seems to be a rite of passage for the top hen at the Queendom.

For our 25th Anniversary, we went away to a cute little boathouse B and B on Quadra Island. It was a wonderful trip, filled with kayaking, tidal pools, canoeing, mountain biking and a lovely dinner out. It is fairly common for us to drop everything and leave the Queendom for a couple of days and the chickens simply take care of themselves. But this time, as we drove in the driveway, we were confronted with two large piles of white and grey feathers. The delights of the weekend were stripped away.

As is always the case in June, Bald Eagles nest within a few kilometers of us and they frequently do fly-bys but usually they feast on our neighbours’ penned-in flocks. From the feather trail near the coop, we could tell the story of Benny’s last minutes. Continue reading “Miss December”

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.

The Torture Chamber

For the second time in her short life, Tweedle Dum has gone broody on us.

Within a month of laying her first egg, she got a wild case of Baby Fever and went on to hatch two chicks – Benedict and Florentine. After a certain amount of time, she became aggressive towards her babies and got back into the business of being a regular chicken and laying eggs. And now, only a few months later, she won’t get out of the nesting box again. This time, she has no fertilized eggs beneath her. In fact, she sits on no eggs at all and doesn’t seem to be bothered by that.

Broody Tweedle Dum is not earning her keep

Broody Tweedle Dum is not earning her keep

Her mood has changed. She sits in a trance-like state all day. She growls and barks instead of clucking and chirping. She gets up once every 4 or 5 days to drink, eat, poop and cause havoc in the hen-house and then she returns to her non-existent clutch of eggs for another long stint. She is losing weight. And, most importantly, she has stopped laying eggs.

After about 18 days of this behaviour, I discussed it with a chicken-farming friend. She reminded me that heritage breeds tend to be more broody than other chicken varieties. It is probably caused by long-term in-breeding. Not only does her broodiness stop her from laying eggs, but it also causes her to stop preening, dust-bathing and caring for herself which can lead to mites, infection, malnutrition and other nastiness. Tweedle Dum needs to either successfully hatch a brood or she needs an intervention to break her.

With a foot of snow on the ground and temperatures still dropping, we decided that it is not the right time of year to bring chicks into the Queendom. We could easily acquire fertilized eggs from a number of friends and colleagues, but we don’t have the facilities to keep Tweedle Dum and potential chicks both separate from the flock and warm in these late-winter nights. So an intervention it is.

What more could a girl need?

What more could a girl need?

I pulled the old brooding box out of storage and lined the bottom with thick cardboard. On top of that, I placed a wire mesh false floor which sits about 2 cm above the cardboard.  I filled up the old waterer, the chick feeder, a small dish of scratch and a lid of oyster shells, small gravel and egg shells. The point of a broody pen is to make the hen realize that this is not a good place to raise young. We left the light on 24 hours a day to prevent her from getting cozy. The mesh floor and the lack of bedding cause her to change her mind. She cannot get into a comfortable nesting position. The wire mesh is uncomfortable to stand on but it is more uncomfortable to lie down on. She is away from the other hens so that she cannot hear them and become defensive about her young. Although there is no water-boarding, it is truly a torture chamber.  On the upside, she is tempted to eat and drink. She has room to stretch and preen.

This Betty Ford Clinic is housed in our computer room. It was easy to grab Tweedle Dum out of her nesting box and place her in her temporary housing. I was told that a hen can be ‘broken’ in a day or two if you separate her as soon as she shows signs of broodiness. But Tweedle Dum had been broody for almost three weeks – so we were anticipating having her cooped up for about a week.

She is showing her displeasure and giving me the ol' one eye stare.

She is showing her displeasure and giving me the ol’ one eye stare.

For the first day, there was no change at all. She continued to growl at us and tried to assume her nesting stance in the darkest corner of the box. But the next day, she was standing more, eating more and occasionally chatted with us as we used the computer. By day 3, she had come completely out of her broody trance and was far more alert. She would watch us and chat away in an accusing tone, letting us know how displeased she was with us.

In the afternoon of the third day, with guilt weighing heavily on me, I decided to try re-integrating her with the other hens. There was enough daylight left for her to re-acquaint herself with the girls outdoors and, if she went directly back to the nesting box, I could separate her  again. With no issue at all, she joined the flock, began re-establishing the pecking order and chattering away in her typical bossy way.

Welcome back, Tweedle Dum.  You owe us about a dozen eggs, so get busy! Hopefully you’ll be broody again in April because I think a flock of 8 or 9 would be ideal!

A Teeny Egg

What a joy to come home and find a teeny egg in one of the nesting boxes today.

The teeny egg on the right is from one of our chicks. The long brown egg on the left is Chip's.

The teeny egg on the right is the first egg from one of our chicks. The long brown egg on the left is Chip’s.

Florentine and Benedict hatched in mid-October which makes them four and a half months old now. Since then, we have been watching them for signs of typical hen or rooster behaviour. Until now they have kept their cards close to their feathered chests and kept us guessing and betting.

And although we got proof today that one of them is a hen, we still don’t know who is which!

They are hard to tell apart. Ben, on the right, is bigger and whiter. Flo, on the right, has a tall tail and is far more curious.

They are hard to tell apart. Ben, on the left, is bigger and whiter. Flo, on the right, has a tall tail and is far more curious.

Although this egg is teeny, as the hen develops and gets used to the process, she will lay more normal-sized eggs. Perhaps her eggs will eventually be as big as Chip’s – since Chip is the bio-mother to one of them. But the pale pink colour is typical of a Chantecler, which would come from her father, Roo.

Although this egg is teeny, as she develops and gets used to the process, this hen will lay more normal sized eggs.

It gets lost in the egg carton!

Teeny eggs like this give new meaning to a 3 egg omelette!

Teeny eggs like this give new meaning to a 3 egg omelette!

Poor Roo is Dead

Poor Roo is dead

Poor Rooster Roo is dead

Gather ’round his stew pot now and cry.

He wasn’t very old

But he had NO heart of gold

That’s why such a fella had to die.

Roo - between crows

Roo – between crows

Yes, it is true. We put Roo out of our misery last Sunday. FM and I have spent about three months discussing his antics, observing his behaviour and trying to reason with him before we finally decided that he was unmanageable. We read endless articles and blogs about mean roosters and we both found solace in one that claimed “Life is too short to keep a nasty rooster”.

Roo was a heritage breed Chantecler, hatched at a local farm which specialized in a few heritage varieties. Looking back, we think that this flock had been so inbred over the years that negative characteristics were amplified. Funnily enough, we haven’t seen any bad temperament among his three sisters – although Croque Madame’s death could have been a result of heredity.

I explained his neurotic symptoms in a previous post but now those descriptions of his aggression seem tame. On any given Saturday, we would head outside early with a long list of chores but, soon enough, FM and I would both be back inside the house, trying to escape his endless crowing. And his attacks became truly dangerous. He would fly at us, claws first, over and over again for no apparent reason. I became quite a master at catching him mid-air and then holding him on my lap as a time-out. This would calm him down and he would usually drift off to sleep in my arms but the lesson never stuck. Mere minutes after being released, he would be back at it again. FM became highly attuned to the sound of Roo’s feet racing towards him as he mounted an attack from behind.

I was especially upset to hear that he even attacked Ginny when she was doing us the favour of collecting eggs and refilling water while we were away last weekend for Thanksgiving. This was a sign that his aggressive behaviour was universal, not just against us, his captors.

We were considering catching Roo and taking him to the local butcher for processing. I didn’t think that I could take part or be witness to his death. But then I read an article by Erica at Northwest Edible Life (an amazing blog, BTW) that changed my tune. This is the meat of her article:

[They are] Your chickens, your adoption, your decision, your responsibility to see it through to the end. You do not get to embrace the idea of a more intimate relationship with your food chain and then make that food chain – the food chain you specifically set up – someone else’s problem when shit gets real.

I suddenly realised that, by being a chicken farmer and reaping the rewards of our hens, we had to take real responsibility for our chickens when it was time for them to be dispatched.

And so, while awash in tears, I caught and held Roo, helped FM place a milk-jug cone over his head and held him tightly upside-down as FM slit his jugular. It wasn’t pretty and we definitely have room for improvement in our slaughtering technique (thanks youtube!), but we did it. Although I participated in all of it, FM did the work – slitting, chopping and gutting – while I blubbered away.

And, since you asked, Yes, we will eat him. Why wouldn’t we? He was fed the best feed around, got plenty of outdoor time and breathed fresh air. And despite his nasty disposition, he was loved. Would you like to come over for a fabulous Coq Au Vin on Saturday?

Poor Roo is dead

Poor Rooster Roo is dead

We can still hear his crowing loud and clear

The chickies in the coop

Will miss that clumsy goof

But his attacks will no longer bring us fear.

Roo in the foreground

Roo in the foreground

Roo – a hideous molt!

Roo - ever curious and helpful!

Roo – ever curious and helpful!

Here he is, mid-crow, as Chip and I have our morning chat over coffee.

Here he is, mid-crow, interrupting my morning chat with Chip over coffee. (Yes I do have a Chip on my shoulder!)