Posts tagged chicks

Off To Greener Pastures

In a small, backyard flock, there is only room for one rooster. We learned this lesson before with Pingu and Skana. As the old adage proclaims, there can only be one cock on the block. If there are not enough hens to go around, there will be a cock fight.

So, once again, with great sadness, we watched poor two-month old Jockey get kicked out of the nest and directly into the fray as secondary rooster.

Young Jockey learned quickly how to be the lowest in the pecking order.

Young Jockey learned quickly how to be the lowest in the pecking order.

In that role, he was chased, pecked, chased some more, kept away from food caches, forbidden from entering the coop and forced into solitary confinement. Although he could out-crow Skana with his strong set of lungs, he had to do so from far afield. He made himself comfortable each night on the woodpile, knowing that he was not welcome in the coop. Often his fair sister, Ash, would join him on the woodpile since she, too, was having difficulty integrating with the flock.

Jockey in front and Ash behind. At three months old, his crazy coloured plumage was just beginning to show.

Each night, as FM and I headed to bed, our final chicken chore would be to carry these two straggly teenagers into the outdoor coop area so that they would be safe from predators through the night. This was the routine for almost three months.

Throughout this time, Jockey remained the kindest and most gentle roo we have ever had. He flocked with me whenever I was home, chattered to me about his day and complained softly about his exclusion. He eagerly awaited the secret food stashes I hid for him alone.

Jockey ended up being quite a stunning looker. He grew this awesome 80s heavy Metal long hair with a soon-to-be-stunning greenish tail.

Jockey ended up being quite a stunning looker. He grew awesome blonde hackles which remind me of a 80s Heavy Metal frontman’s greasy long blonde hair. He is only 4 months old here and still will develop stunning greenish sickle tail feathers.

As soon as the automatic door opened each morning, he would be the first out of the coop, trying to avoid the inevitable bullying that would come. Each night, he willingly stepped onto our arms and balanced there as we carried him sleepily off his woodpile bed and onto his less-preferred coop roost.

Jockey is a big guy but he is as gentle as can be. He would easily step onto FM's arm whenever he was invited up.

Jockey is a big guy but he is as gentle as can be. He would easily step onto FM’s arm whenever he was invited up.

As if on schedule, at five months old, Jockey became interested in jumping Skana’s harem. In retaliation, Skana’s aggression increased exponentially. Things were going downhill quickly. FM and I discussed all the possibilities.

  1. We could slaughter Jockey. He is a big guy and would provide a couple of tasty meals. BUT he has such a lovely disposition and we have become so attached to him as a sidekick that we searched for a better option.
  2. We could slaughter Skana. He has been more aggressive with us, drawing blood on occasion. BUT the hens eagerly flock with him and he performs his protective roostering duties very well.
  3. We could obtain a whole bunch more hens so that both boys would have their own hens. BUT we don’t have either enough coop space or the time necessary to raise more chickens.
  4. We could give Jockey away. BUT everyone knows that a free rooster is simply going into someone else’s stew pot. No one wants more roosters.

There is no easy way out of this. Or is there?

Last week, FM directed my attention to a listing on our local Hobby Farm Network. Someone was looking for a rooster to protect her 50+ laying hens from a marauding hawk. Not only was this person living quite nearby, she was already a friend of mine from Book Club! A hawk had taken up residence above her hen house and was occasionally feasting on her hens. She decided to see if a rooster could provide some protection to her flock. But the rooster needed to be friendly since her young children love to hang out with the chickens.

This was exactly the job description that Jockey needed. All it took was a single phone call. Knowing that our chickens are healthy, happy and used to being held, she agreed to take Jockey. Two days later, I boxed him up in the car and drove him over to his new home. After being sequestered in a cat crate, watching his harem of hens and letting them watch him, he was slipped into his new coop in the dark of Halloween night. When he awoke, I’m sure that he thought he had died and gone straight to Chicken Heaven!

“Whoa! 72 virgins? All for me? Cock-a-doodle-doo!”

 

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The Up-And-Comers

At barely six months old, Sprout had already decided that motherhood was her calling.

At barely six months old, Sprout decided that motherhood was her calling.

Sprout is a full-on broody hen. No sooner had she begun to lay at five months when she decided to become a mum.  Of course, there is nothing more lovely than a hen raising her own chicks so we encouraged her and gave her three eggs – one of her own, one of Trixie’s and one of the Tweedle’s.

On April 15, two of those three hatched and we finally got to meet Jockey and Ash.

Here, Jockey and Ash are about three months old.

Here, Jockey and Ash are about three months old.

Right on schedule, at two months old, Jockey broke our hearts and began to crow. As we tried unsuccessfully to keep our affection for this unwanted young rooster at bay, we admire his Sprout-like plumage, listen to his infrequent crows and watch as he is excluded from the flock most of the time. He is lovely with his green/purple iridescent feathering and his gentle demeanor. He seeks us out as a refuge when being chased by Skana, enjoys a belly scritch and makes a pleasant coo as he laments about his troubles.

Jockey is a negative image of his mom's colouring

Jockey got his name from sitting up on Sprout’s shoulders when he was a chick. He is a negative image of his mum’s colouring.

Jockey sports the 'librarian bun' tail just like Skana did but J's is full of iridescent green and purple. It will be spectacular.

So far, Jockey sports the ‘librarian bun’ tail just like Skana did but J’s is full of iridescent green and purple. It will be spectacular.

Ash is a beauty. She has her father’s dark eyes and his silver-grey colouring. Some of her chest feathers are rimmed with rusty gold, just like Trixie. She also seeks us out as a safe refuge and doesn’t mind being held. She is trying hard to find her place in the flock but pretty close to the bottom of the pecking order. She will be laying within the next six weeks!

Ash looks a lot like an oversized Robin with her golden chest feathers.

Ash looks a lot like an over-sized Robin with her golden chest feathers.

Many of her silver feathers are rimmed with dark grey and have a rusty coloured shaft. She is a beauty!

Many of her silver feathers are rimmed with dark grey and have a rusty coloured shaft. She is gorgeous!

Although Sprout was a patient and attentive mum, keeping these two under her wing for more than six weeks, she is broody again and sitting on another clutch of eggs. Both Jockey and Ash often sit near her, cooing at her and vying for her attention but she has moved on and is only concerned with the next brood. It seems these two were kicked out of the nest too early and are unable to hold their own in the coop. At this point, they sleep outdoors on the woodpile and each night FM and I have to carry them into the outdoor coop for safety. It’s tough love in the chicken world.

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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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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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A Rose Among Thorns

After waiting and watching for three months, we have discovered that little, blonde Sunnyside is the only hen from our latest clutch of six eggs. Five of those eggs hatched, four of them are dark grey or black males and she is the lone blondie and the only female.

Her lot in life so far has not been an easy one. For starters, she had trouble hatching out of her pretty blue eggshell. Two days after the first chick had hatched, her egg finally had pips around the center but progress was very slow. After the recent issues with the school incubator, we took action.

Here, FM is helping Sunnyside out of her shell. The membrane had adhered to her fluff.

Here, FM is helping Sunnyside out of her shell. The membrane had adhered to her fluff.

Her leg is stretching out.

Her legs are stretching out but she was completely spent with the effort.

After releasing her from her confines, we tucked her under Tweedle Mum and hoped for the best. All has worked out just fine.

After releasing her from her confines, we tucked her under Tweedle Mum and hoped for the best.

She was so tiny even after she had fluffed up!

She was so tiny even after she had fluffed up!

All worked out just fine!

All worked out just fine!

The first family photo

The first family photo (around 3 weeks old)

Around the two month mark, her four brothers began showing signs of Rooster-ness. Their first attempts at crowing was the gender giveaway. Little Sunnyside never joined in with her own party horn and we knew then that she was a hen and therefore a keeper.

She is not a pure breed but a mix of all sorts.

As with our whole new brood, she is a mix of a whole variety of breeds.

Our guess is that she is mostly Ameraucana because her blue eggshell, her ear tufts and her prominent tail. Hopefully she will go on to lay blue eggs of her own. She is cute, tiny and timid but is managing to hold her own among her aggressive, domineering brothers. Tweedle Mum has now kicked all of them out of the nest and out from under her wings. As a result, little Sunnyside spends a lot of time alone since she has not yet been accepted in to flock with the adult hens and she avoids the aggressive hassles from the boys. She is very curious but I haven’t managed to ‘scoop’ her yet. She is as fast as lightning and a talented flyer!

I have already nicknames her "The Lorax" because of her fabulous winged mustache!

I have already nicknamed her “The Lorax” because of her fabulous winged mustache!

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The Incubator Death Trap

OR “Why I will never hatch chicks in a classroom again”

The science curriculum includes a large life sciences component so it is a fun idea to bring some kind of animal into the classroom to give children first hand experiences. In the past, I have had butterflies, tadpoles and hamsters in my classrooms and even chicks once, about 20 years ago. This year, my teaching partner suggested hatching some chicken eggs in an incubator. Being a chicken fanatic, I was keen on the idea although I recognized that my recent chicken farmer experience would not necessarily transfer to knowledge on incubation.  Until now, I have left all the responsibilities of incubation up to Tweedle Mum.

We borrowed the big foam incubator and egg-turning device from the school district resource centre and a student’s parent brought in 22 eggs from a local farm. We read the page of instructions and did exactly what it said.

Loaned incubator from the school district resource center - circa 1970.

Loaned incubator ‘death trap’ from the school district resource center – circa 1970.

For twenty-one days, we tried to monitor the temperature (100° C) and the humidity (65%) but this was not easily done. Firstly the incubator temp control is clunky and very imprecise.

This pin spins freely and it is difficult to tell if you have actually changed the temperature.

This pin spins freely and it is difficult to tell if you have actually changed the temperature.

Also, our classroom has many large waist-to-ceiling windows which have a greenhouse effect on every sunny day in the spring. By the time the students are dismissed, the room temperature is easily approaching 28° C. This high temp has some effect on the incubator temperature, which would sometimes exceed its incubation limit by a degree or two despite our attempts to turn down its thermostat. So in anticipation of the long holiday weekend, which was forecast to be hot and sunny, I turned the incubator thermostat down a bit and closed all the classroom blinds. When I arrived back three days later after a cool and rainy weekend, the incubator temp was around 97° C. I was pretty sure then that we had just killed 22 baby chicks.

The students waited and watched as the twenty-first day of incubation came and went. No chicks hatched. On the morning of the twenty-second day there was finally one egg with a pip. By the end of that school day, that chick had emerged and a few others had pips and cracks. The 23rd day had more action with six chicks hatched and a bunch more in various stages of pipping but things were not going perfectly.

One little guy had emerged but his bottom was still connected to his shell with a gummy egg-white string. As he tried to stand up and move around the incubator, the egg-shell restricted him and he dragged it everywhere. Other chicks stepped on him and he seemed very weak. By the end of the school day, his innards had been pulled out of his bottom. You could see his intestines, gizzard and other parts lying on the incubator floor while he still gasped for breath for a short while before he died.

Another chick successfully hatched but was unable to get dry even after a few hours. Her thin down covering stayed wet and sticky and, when I touched her, she was cool. That is when I noticed that the incubator temperature was only 97° C again. I tried cranking up the thermostat again, knowing that her life depended on the accuracy of that dial.

The weekend had arrived so we moved the successful hatches into a classroom brooding box with a heat lamp, chick feed and water and I took the rest of the eggs and the cold chick home in the incubator. The incubator was installed in our computer room and it was temporarily renamed the Sick Bay.

The first order of business was to get the cold chick warm. I placed her on a hot water bottle and wrapped that in a heating pad. When I checked on her a little while later, she was dead.

My remaining hopes were with the 4 eggs with cracks. I could hear them peeping to each other and I could see their cute little beaks with an egg tooth poking out of each cracked shell. One of those was so close to breaking out, pushing the shell apart around a middle seam over and over, and I had trouble tearing myself away to prepare dinner.

All the literature about emerging chicks insists that you shouldn’t offer any assistance at all, no matter how tempting it is. A mother hen simply sits and keeps those chicks warm throughout the process but does not help a chick break out. So there was nothing to do but let nature take its course. Survival of the fittest and all that.

When I came back to see her progress, I could see that she had stopped chirping and moving. The trauma of a low temperature and being moved from school to home had taken its toll and killed her. FM and I peeled back a bit of the egg-shell to find that the two membranes beneath were thick and difficult to break through even for us. It broke my heart to see that a fully developed chick had died because of the environmental conditions that I was controlling. There were 3 more eggs with pips and occasional peeps but as the evening rolled on, two more gave up the fight and we found that they had died as well. I removed the eleven eggs with no pip marks, knowing that they were surely dead after 24 days of incubation.

How many of these dud eggs have fully developed chicks in them? My bet is that they died sometime after 18 days due to the cold temperature inthe incubator.

How many of these dud eggs have fully developed chicks in them? My bet is that they died sometime after 18 days due to the cold temperature in the incubator.

With only one more pipped egg left, FM and I were no longer going to stand by and watch another fully developed chick die. He cracked the last chick’s shell and found that the shell had affixed itself to the dry, crusty coating of the chick’s down. The membranes were so thick – probably do to incorrect incubator humidity – and it was improbable that this chick would have emerged on its own. Even after we removed the shell covering his head, the bottom half of his shell still remained attached to his bottom  – the same problem that another chick had had in the classroom. Without hesitating, I got some scissors and cut the sticky egg-white thread to separate him from his shell.

With bits of cracked shell still attached to him, we named him “Shelled In” (Shelden), let him rest in the incubator and went to bed.

For two days, we were treated to the peeps and chirps of little Shelled In. We kept him in the incubator but held him, showed him how to peck food and drink water and tried to mimic his chirp to keep him company.

Fluffed up Shelled In

Fluffed up “Shelled In”

"Shelled In" was a successful hatch only because we intervened. Poor humidity and temperature control would have killed him.

“Shelled In” was a successful hatch only because we intervened. Poor humidity and temperature control would have killed him.

On Monday morning, I brought Shelled In into the classroom and placed him in the brooding box with the 6 successful hatches. He was the loudest of them all, still traumatized from the car ride and he seemed to stare at the other chicks in disbelief. When I left, he was leaning against a blonde chick and snoozing contentedly.

When I look back on this ordeal of losing 16 / 22 chicks and compare it to the joy of watching Tweedle Mum hatch 5 / 6 chicks, it is apparent that nature does it best. I am quite sure that the incubator became a death trap because of our poor monitoring of temperature and humidity. It breaks my heart to see so much death over the course of two days and to think that any of those chicks could have been full of personality and affection, like Chip. But it is also pretty sad to think that a delicious Angel Food Cake could have been made with those 11 unpipped eggs.

Our eleven unhatched eggs would have been better used this way.

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