Posts tagged chicken farming

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.

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Maddie, short for Madras Curry, 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. Another positive is that she is easy to scoop and will usually sit calmly on my lap for long periods, perhaps realising that she is safe from pestering while up in my arms. But she has turned on me, once pecking me right on the white of my eye, causing it to bleed which required weeks of antibiotic drops. She has gone broody only a couple of times and successfully hatched two chicks, Thompson and Thompson whom we couldn’t tell apart for months.

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Maddie with her only two chicks, Thompson and Thompson.

We kept one of the Thompsons – renamed Olive – but Maddie and Olive seem to have both blocked their previous relationship out of their little bird brains and have no memory of or connection to each other at all.

Meet Zorro, a hen so filled with character that she is impossible to ignore. If you have ever visited the Queendom, Zorro would have been right there to greet you and perhaps let you hold her.

Zorro is highly aware of everything going on in her Queendom. With her sleek, little black body and her crumpled Z comb, she is a beauty. She is posing for the camera in this one.

By far, she is FM’s favourite and Zorro turns up the charm whenever FM takes five on the porch. She has Stryper, our rooster, wrapped around her little toe, so much so that he will crow endlessly if she is not in sight and will go to great lengths to ensure she gets the finest grubs around. Zorro goes broody every six weeks, no matter what the season, and she is a regular customer prisoner in the dreaded ‘broody breaker’ but forgives us once released and shows us both love and affection all the same.

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Zorro imprisoned, once again, in the Broody Breaker. This dog crate is outfitted with a wire mesh floor and, within 2 or 3 days inside, hens shake off their ‘baby fever’ since this is no safe place to raise chicks.

In June, we usually let her sit on eggs and she has hatched out three broods so far. She is a committed and patient mama and has lasting, although domineering, relationships with all her grown girls.

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Zorro with mostly full-grown Monkey, enjoying a little porch-love together.

What strikes me today is that these two hens hatched out four and a half years ago on the exact same day by two different mums. Zorro and Zelda came from Sprout while Maddie and Vindaloo came from Tweedle Dum. Looking at the polar opposite ways that these two hens handle life on the Queendom, it is surprising to think that they share so much in common, including the same paternal genes.

But perhaps the difference in chickenality lies in the sort of Mum they each had. Sprout gave Zorro and all her young chicks far more freedom to roam and learn on their own when they were very small. Eventually, Sprout did kick them out of the nest but she continued to be nearby and aware of their needs, even being close to them in later years. Meanwhile Tweedle Dum kept her chicks very close, not even allowing us to get near enough for a photo, and, when she kicked them out from under her wing, she had nothing at all to do with them. They were essentially dead to her.

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Vindaloo (L) and Madras (R) under Tweedle Dum on top of the nest boxes. This is the only photo I managed to get of them as chicks since TD was so overly-protective.

Another factor contributing to Maddie’s meanness could be that we removed Maddie’s brother, Vindaloo, a few months later, leaving Maddie completely alone to navigate the world. Zorro, on the other hand, always had her sister Zelda with her and the two of them gained confidence just by having each other around.

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Young Zorro and Zelda kept each other company and safe from danger even after Sprout had kicked them out. Maddie, on the other hand, had no one after Vindaloo was removed.

You never know what kind of mama a hen is going to be and that demeanor may even vary from brood to brood. But with hindsight, I think it is wise to put more eggs under a hen (like 5 or 6) so that the young chicks will always have a sibling to rely on through those difficult teenage years. Maddie may have been a team player in our flock if we had given her a few team members from the get-go. But since we didn’t, we can only give her a sunbeam and some space on the porch to enjoy her one pleasure.

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A dust bath can last as long as an hour if Maddie is left alone. It is a delight to watch her indulge.

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Happily Ever After

Last summer, Zorro brought us two adorable chicks, Flipper and Pilot.

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Pilot and Flipper, around two months old

Perhaps you even recall an earlier post featuring Flipper and ‘her’ near-miss with a hawk. It turns out that both of these young chicks were male and both started to crow around five months old. With equal surprise and disappointment, FM and I had to accept that we now had two young roos strutting around the Queendom. Stryper, our alpha roo, was displeased with these new additions and demonstrated it with cacaphonic crowing all day, every day. He was never aggressive with his young sons but endlessly sang about it.

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Stryper is a gentle, handsome fellow whose only defense is to crow. He had no time or patience for these young sons.

There are very few choices when it comes to unwanted roosters. Until fairly recently, a Hobby Farm Network facebook page allowed folks to advertise their unwanted livestock online, allowing other farmers to purchase or take animals off your hands. That is how Stryper came to us – our rooster was killed and we needed another one Pronto. That very day, we picked up Stryper (for free), from a local family who no longer wanted to listen to his song, all via the facebook farm network and it was one of the best moves ever for our little flock.

But, facebook has cracked down and no longer allows the sale or trade of animals so we didn’t have any options for re-homing our young boys. This means our choices (and every other hobby farmers’) were limited to making soup. Pilot, who had became more and more aggressive with us and with the hens, sadly resulted in a delicious noodle soup.

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Yum!

But Flipper had bonded with us both and had a gentle demeanor. We needed to find a new home for him.

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Flipper, with his dark eyes, soft beard and delight for cuddling, needed a home of his own

Luckily, one of FM’s co-workers was looking for a young rooster to watch over her young flock. In the dark of night, we pulled Flipper off the roost, put him into a box and into her car. By morning, he was in a coop on Denman Island with his new family. Of course, a family is not made overnight and nothing went smoothly for him right away. Flipper hid away in the coop for days, stopped crowing and simply tolerated the hen-pecking that came at him. It seems he had imprinted so much on humans that he had trouble fitting in with the flock.

It took almost a month before our young roo figured out how to protect, care for and earn the respect of the flock. But all that happened this week. I just received pictures of him with his girls, making food calls and strutting around his new digs.

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Here he is, roostering!

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My new chicks dig my red hot plumage so I took a new name.    Call me Ember.

I wish him all the best.

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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.

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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:

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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. The piles of feathers showed where a first and a second attack happened. She was so close to making it inside the coop door and she must have put up a good fight but the eagle won. We found no blood or body parts so we assume that the eagle flew off with her body intact. I imagine that she was flown to the eagles’ nest for the young eaglets to practice hunting and killing. I hope she didn’t suffer for too long.

Another day – another cuddle

Benedict has been the subject of many posts during her six and a half years – Tweedle Dum is a Mum!!, Double Wing Tuck, Desperately Seeking Florentine, and DIY Vet – A Broken Toe, to name a few. She was a slave to scratch grain and loved human food more than anything else. We couldn’t ever enjoy lunch on the porch due to her crazy antics of stealing sandwiches. In her last year, this older lady spent more time inside the coop but she always listened for our cars or the front door and would hustle out to visit.

And another. She was a Handsome Hen – mostly Chantecler but with unusual grey speckles.

It’s funny that she became so fond of human contact since she didn’t like it at all in her younger days. She was a restless young pullet and the only way I could hold her was if I walked around the yard with her in my arms. Eventually, she calmed and over the years she sought us out simply for affection. We had a game I called “Beak” that she taught me. She liked to put her beak on top of my nose, then I would put my nose on top of her beak. It sounds ridiculous but she never tired of it.

And one more.

Lots has gone on this summer here, including our first try at raising meat birds as well as the addition of 10 chicks. There has been much joy and happiness which has helped to distract us from the hole she left in our hearts.

For the 2020 Queendom Calendar, she will, once again be featured, this time as Miss April. I look forward to flipping open that page and remembering her at her best.wp-15770591581654405914489582063741.jpg

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Another Close Call

With bald eagles and sharp-shinned hawks making regular passes over the Queendom these days, our rooster, Stryper, has a heavy workload. He tirelessly leads, follows and gathers the girls together, ever watching the sky and assessing the level of danger. At the end of the day, when he finally roosts for the night, he is the first to sleep, exhausted by his task.

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Stryper is the most attentive rooster we have had. He chatters away all day and the girls love what he is dishing out.

Some of our older girls ignore his constant pestering and choose to wander in the other direction. They are probably content that the new young beauties hold his attention so fixedly. But everything has a cost.

Today, FM found a pile of gray feathers in a shed bay, behind the snowblower. He had noticed that the flock was hunkered down, out of view, under the front porch when he arrived home so he went back to see who was there and who was missing. We currently have six gray hens and it turns out that beautiful Ash was missing.

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What a beauty Ash is. She looks like a Robin Red-Breast with her rusty highlights.

Ash is an experienced hen – probably five years old – who growls at the slightest danger and continues growling long afterwards to remind the others to be careful. She also loves a snuggle and spends time each day with her sickly mum, Sprout.

With headlamps on, FM and I headed over to the pile of feathers and began searching.

Feathers everywhere – even a thick pile under this wire shelf. She was found under the right hand shelf. Afterwards I collected them all and could easily have stuffed a pillow.

Expecting to find a lifeless body, I was elated to find her bright eyes looking at me. She was flattened down under the gardening shelf, between a bag of grass seed and another of peat moss. She was totally invisible. In fact, FM had just searched this same area ten minutes earlier with no luck. She seems relieved to have been found and easily came into my arms but was still on high alert to danger.

We carried her back into the house and checked her over for injuries. Most of the feathers on her back are broken off at the base and she has a scratch which cut through the thin skin between her wings. One of her claws is broken, deeply split and bleeding. She is missing most of the feathers on her belly and on her left leg.

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She just looks fluffy from this angle but you can see that the outer feathers from her leg are all gone. Those downy under-feathers are covering up her bare-naked patches.

But, she is alert, has all her internal organs intact and hungrily devoured some pear and hemp seeds. She must have put up the fight of her life before finding safety under the garden shelf. She is now back in with coop, probably telling horror stories of her getaway to the young chicks.

After losing precious Speedy to a bald eagle last month and after finding Gandalf hunkered down in a similar hiding spot six weeks ago, we are keenly aware that losing hens to birds of prey can happen any day. I’m just glad that today wasn’t that day.

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Ash and her only chick, Ace, about 2 years ago. Ace was never kicked out of the nest and now, a few years later, they still hang out together.

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Not Safe With Me

As soon as I laid eyes on her, I knew her name – Trooper.

Trooper came to my attention via a hobby farm facebook group that I follow. Someone had spotted a lone chicken in the A&W parking lot in town, took her photo and posted it on facebook. The person who posted the photo left the chicken there and commented that the hen had been around that area for a couple of weeks. Presumably abandoned, this little red hen had somehow survived a brutal three-day pre-winter storm and had been living on french fries that staff and customers had left for her. The day after the facebook post, the custodian at my school (a fellow crazy chicken lady) came in to work saying that her daughter had gone over to the A&W, found the lost hen sitting between two cars, easily scooped her up and brought her home. Trooper was ragged, ravenously hungry and very, very tired.

Due to ridiculous city limit rules against chicken keeping, Juanita could not keep Trooper but she kept her long enough to bring this friendly, little hen back into good health. During her week-long stay at Spa Juanita, Trooper experienced the luxuries of sitting by the fireside, snacking on scratch and cheese and being endlessly cuddled. It quickly became apparent that she was very used to being handled by people. As she recovered from her survivalist adventure, she grew more chatty and curious.

From the parking lot to the palace, Trooper enjoys every luxury at Spa Juanita.

From the parking lot to the palace, Trooper makes an easy transition to luxury at Spa Juanita.

After a few daily reports about Trooper’s progress at Spa Juanita, I succumbed to the gentle pressure to add Trooper to our small flock. I was initially resistant to take her on as I know too well the issues with introducing an outsider into a flock. But, in the end, I figured that being the lowest on the pecking order in our charmed flock was far better than living in an A&W parking lot, watching customers eat your deep-fried kindred.

On Tuesday, we scheduled the pass-off. Juanita brought Trooper to the school in a dog-sized cage and I finally got to meet her. I, of course, fell in love at once.

For me, it was love at first scoop. For her, ... only time will tell.

For me, it was love at first scoop. For her, … only time will tell.

I drove her home and placed her cage on the front porch so that she could have a look around and our flock could check her out. Waffles, our rooster, was instantly enamored with the addition of a red-head to his harem and danced around her cage over and over.

Waffles poses with his newest love and then continues his song and dance.

Waffles poses with his newest love and then continues his song and dance.

Benedict predictably did her bossy, top-hen routine of flaring up, leaping at her and doing some territorial pecking.

Benedict, in full flare, letting Trooper know who is the alpha-hen around here. Trooper, with chin held high, is willing to stand up and challenge Ben's authority.

Benedict, in full flare, lets Trooper know who is the alpha-hen around here. Trooper, with chin held high, is willing to stand up and challenge Ben’s authority.

When the flock had put themselves to bed, I brought Trooper, cage and all, into the computer room for the night. Once alone inside, Trooper became very vocal so FM and I brought her into the kitchen and let her explore for a little while.

Here, Trooper and FM are having a get-to-know-you chat in the living room. Honestly, it is a rare occasion for our chickens to get invited into the house.

Here, Trooper and FM are having a get-to-know-you chat in the living room. (Honestly, it is a rare occasion for our chickens to get invited into the house)

On Wednesday, Trooper’s cage was set up on the porch again, allowing everyone to sniff, chat and look at the new lady. Late that night, after all the hens had tucked in for the night, we took Trooper out of her cage and into the coop. We placed her on the roost right beside Waffles. The word on the street is that if a chicken wakes up inside a coop, she will understand that this is home and will be able to orient herself in her new area. No one seemed to notice her arrival and, as we left, she was looking through the darkness, trying to get her bearings.

On Thursday, I checked on her before leaving for work. She was still inside the indoor coop although the exterior door opening onto our five acres was open. She had flown to a high roost and was squawking away with the others. I made sure she knew where the food and water was and then I left. At some point on Thursday, Trooper was confident enough to leave the coop and free-range with the others.

But her lucky days ended later that day when a predator came through. Although I am certain that Waffles would have sounded his alarm, Trooper didn’t know where to hide or perhaps the other hens didn’t allow her under the porch. She must have made a mad run for cover but didn’t find any. When I arrived home after work, the first thing I saw was her rusty-red feathers strewn over the driveway and her lifeless body on the shop doorstep. I cannot believe that she was killed on her first real day with us.

The devastation I feel for this little hen is enormous. I truly thought that we were offering her a better life here at the Queendom. It seems inconceivable that she was able to survive alone in the city for a fortnight but was immediately killed upon joining our flock. Sheesh. I suppose that the first day or two in a new place are really the most dangerous for livestock. My one wish is that I had waited until the weekend before letting her out. Perhaps then we would have spotted the predator in action (although we still could have been too late to save her).

Before this, it had been over two years since we lost a chicken to a predator. We regularly see bald eagles, sharp-shinned hawk and owls at the Queendom and over the past three months we saw three raccoon, a mink and evidence of bear but they have all thankfully left us alone – until now. Sadly her body was completely intact – just her neck was eaten. The jury is out on what animal took her life.

Aw, dear Trooper, we tried our best.

Aw, dear Trooper, we tried our best.

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A New Sheriff

We hatched Skana, our black beauty, just over two years ago.

Skana was a beauty - deep black and silver gray with some bronze in his saddle feathers. Although he was a Heinz 57 chicken, he may have had some Australorp in his genes

Skana was a beauty – deep black and silver-gray with some bronze in his saddle feathers. Although he was a Heinz 57 chicken, he may have had some Australorp in his genes

As a chick, he won our affections over his three brood brothers and attained the seat of honour and privilege within our small flock. He continued to hold his throne despite the efforts of four subsequent male offspring. We admired his rise up to alpha-chicken and appreciated how calm he was. Skana was bliss compared to our first roo, Roo – gentle with the hens, tolerant of us, excellent as an early-warning system. No hen was lost, hurt or killed during his reign.

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Doing what he does best.

But, it seems to me that roosters wear out after a time. Skana had an awful crow (“scream-a-doodle-doo” like nails on a chalkboard) and, as time went on, he crowed more and more often. But more than the crowing, the true issue was the aggression. In recent months, my arms were regularly ripped up and scratched by his beak just from offering him scratch or other treats.  He had begun to chase after me too. So, with some pained consideration and discussions, we decided to fire him and get a new sheriff.

Waffles and Pancake came as a twin brother package, donated by FM’s co-worker. She had three young roos and three young hens and, from the treading marks on the hens, there was some nasty competition going on as they all reached sexual maturity. She gave us the two beautiful Lavender Orpington boys who we integrated into our flock of 11 hens.

Quickly dubbed "The Matrix Twins", Pancake and Waffles are Lavendar Orpingtons whose thick silver feathers shine an iridescent purple.

Quickly dubbed “The Matrix Twins”, Pancake and Waffles are Lavender Orpingtons whose thick silver feathers shine an iridescent purple.

Within a day or two, we could see that Pancake was going to be a problem. He was both extremely noisy and quite aggressive towards us. Waffles seemed to be the slower and dimmer of the pair, bamfoozled by the endless beauties that strutted by him at every turn. We gave them more time to settle in, thinking that Pancake was simply stressed out by the new surroundings. In the end, Waffles made the cut and Pancake ended up in the freezer.

Waffles has settled in nicely with our flock. He is remarkably quiet, crowing only a couple of times each morning and very occasionally otherwise. His crow is unusual, kind of like an old jalopy horn. He doesn’t mind being scooped up and can easily be removed from any situation. He will even contentedly sit on my lap and snooze.

But there are concerns with Waffles and we don’t know what is wrong. He seems to be bent to the left, as if he is perpetually looking over his shoulder.

Waffles' bent body makes him run and walk in semi-circle and often bumps into things like porch posts and furniture.

Waffles’ bent body makes him run and walk in semi-circle and he often bumps into things like porch posts and furniture.

sigh.

We can straighten his neck and stretch his neck longer but his body always curves back to his quadimodo posture. His left wing hangs down, almost untucked, and when he flaps, it does not fully unfurl. His head is often down, almost touching the ground, even though he is neither eating nor sleeping.

Sleeping on the job, Waffles is fighting some unknown illness. This head-sown, sleepy position is fairly typical.

Sleeping on the job, Waffles is fighting some unknown illness. This head-down, sleepy position is fairly typical.

He is ‘listless’, sleepy and often falls asleep standing up. Sometimes when I scoop him up, he burps or releases air in a strange way.

But despite these issues, he keeps an eye out for danger (sort of), makes the appropriate roostery sounds and gives all the girls a good chase now and then. We have real concerns for his health since we quite like this new sheriff and we don’t want him to wear out too soon.

Waffles may be the new alpha-chicken but he has no idea how to deal with the marauding band of ducks who are always on his tail. (Look carefully - there is a young buck beside the stump)

Waffles may be the new alpha-chicken but he has no idea how to deal with the marauding band of ducks who are always on his tail. (Look carefully – there is a young buck beside the stump)

 

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