Posts tagged rooster

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.

Skana

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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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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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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That’s One Unruly Cock

Two months have passed since I posted the video of our rooster’s first cute attempts at crowing. During those two months, we have had our share of listening to him crow and we no longer think it is cute or funny or anything like that. In fact, very little about him is endearing in any way at all.

Ever aware of our movements and actions, this beady-eyed little demon may have his days numbered.

Ever aware of our movements and actions, this beady-eyed little demon may have his days numbered.

Last month while the hydro company was clearing the branches with a power saw near the hydro wires on our street, Roo crowed incessantly for nine hours, three days in a row. He crowed even after his crow cracked and he began to lose his voice. He crowed so much that he would drop off into an exhausted sleep in between crowing sessions.

Soon after that, we discovered that he crows in response to the whirr of power tools. If you use the power drill once, he will crow about 7 times in response. If he hears the chainsaw, the circular saw, the tractor or any other machinery, he crows. Unfortunately, these are the sounds of the Queendom (and our entire neighbourhood) – especially on weekends. We now gladly don our hearing protection whenever we undertake a project!

If we thought that the crowing was a bother, then we were in for a surprise when the attacks began. A few weekends ago, FM had the planer out and spent a couple of hours preparing boards for the next great project. Roo, of course, crowed in response to the noise and came closer and closer to watch. Soon enough, Roo was hurling himself, claws first, at FM over and over. His head would lower in a downward dog position, his wings would drop to the ground and his white cape would flare out just before he would launch. FM deflected the attacks with the planed board but had to keep one eye on Roo for the rest of the day.

This initial series of attacks has now become a regular occurrence. Roo has decided that FM is a constant threat and moves to attack him often when FM goes near the shop door. One morning, while retrieving his bike to begin his commute to work, FM found Roo stalking him and once again had to deflect the attack with the bicycle. Although I am not yet on Roo’s enemy list, he has attacked me twice, but both were related to food distribution so I discount them.

I have done some reading about rooster behaviour. One theory says that there is an alpha-rooster in every flock and regular battles occur in order to establish the alpha. Roo’s behaviour shows that he sees FM as a rival and is initiating pecking order battles with him. Advice points to keeping Roo lower on the scale through a few behaviour modifications to establish the alpha:

  • don’t let Roo mate with the hens in your presence, since a lower rooster would not have this privilege in a flock. We now have a water spray bottle at hand whenever we are outside with them
  • respond to his attacks with assertiveness. FM now chases Roo all over the yard when he shows aggression
  • isolate him from his hens. We have done this once or twice in the new chicken run but that means that the hens don’t have access to their nesting boxes and we don’t want them to choose new places to lay

FM is chasing Roo around to let him know who is the Queendom’s alpha cock on the block

In order to get any projects done, we have taken to locking Roo up in the chicken run with the hens but that doesn’t prevent the sound of crowing from boring into our heads and making us crave a little stewed chicken for dinner. ‘Cock on the Chopping Block’ may be the title of a future instalment.

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