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, 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”

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. Continue reading “Happily Ever After”

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. Continue reading “Miss December”

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.

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.

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)