Co-Parenting, Chicken Style

I’ve talked a lot about mother hens here on this blog. Go figure, huh?  We seem to always have baby chicks being hatched.  This spring/summer especially has been a boom of broody hens.  More than I’ve even mentioned, to be honest.

Pavelle, Rapunzel, Ashley, Tweety, Claire, Ashley (again), Eugenie, and Pavelle again.  Ashley got put in Broody Jail twice after her escapades in raising babies last year.   Poor Claire spent 6 weeks being broody because her first set of eggs didn’t hatch (some died, some were duds).

It’s Claire, along with her daughter from last year’s hatch, Eugenie, who are the subject of today’s post.

You see, when Claire lost the first set of eggs, I decided to give her new, because Claire is a proven good mother and I felt sorry for her losing her babies she worked so hard for.  Eugenie had started to go broody the day or two before and I was deciding what to do with her when I gave Claire her new eggs.

For whatever reason, I gave both of them four eggs each, for a total of eight chicks if they all hatched.

Last Wednesday night, the first chick began break out of his shell under Claire.  He was STILL breaking out of it Thursday morning when I returned to the coop to find Eugenie had two fluffy little chicks under her, and Claire had one more pipping.

By Friday morning, we had a total of four chicks, one dead EE (still in eggs) and two duds. ( and one which had been broken by Pavelle the week prior, because she decided she needed to go broody again,too, and needed to use Claire’s nest to do it.)

So… four babies, two mother hens.

I tried to put them in separate areas of the coop, but as has been the theme this year, the mommas’ both rejected my cat carriers in favor of the floor under the nesting boxes – – AND they decided to co-raise their four chicks together.

The first couple of days were rough all the way around. Both hens  were in extreme broody momma mode and in addition to chasing other chickens away from their wee little ones, Claire would lunge at Eugenie and chase her off, too.  Undaunted, Eugenie would com back, but had too much respect for her mother to chase back.

The other hens started laying eggs outside because it was too much drama to try and lay in the coop.

But as the weekend and the early part of this week progressed, mothers and babies fell into a rhythm that worked of all of them.

I’ve been amazed, watching them navigate a very confusing social situation.  Once the initial ‘turf wars’ were over and Claire accepted that Eugenie wasn’t going to give up her rights to her babies, they ironed out a system of rearing.  Co-parenting at it’s finest.

It began in the coop, with one mother sitting on some of the chicks while the other taught one or two to scratch and dig.  Then they would swap.

They babies usually sleep under Claire at night, while Eugenie sleeps in the nest above them.

Claire took the first brave chick outdoors at three days old, while Eugenie mothered the other three in the coop.

When all four babies were in the coop playing and eating, Claire would teach while Eugenie stood guard against threats (or perceived threats) from other hens.

After a few days, Claire got all four of them outside.  Eugenie followed and they took turns showing the babies how to dig in the dirt to find yummies.

When they go outside, one mother (usually Claire) leads them down the ramp and the other (usually Eugenie) follows behind the stragglers, ensuring that no baby is left behind.

The little yellow/cinnamon colored one likes to sit on both her/his mothers’ backs, which I read somewhere is a sign of love and affection.   Of belonging to that hen.   I guess that means the babies really do belong to both of them, no matter who they hatched under.

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Here is the happy, if unorthodox, little family of six.

I’m not sure if I will ever let two hens hatch out at the same exact time again, but I have no regrets about letting Claire and her daughter raise these ones together. It’s working for them, strange as it may seem to us.

Hatchings, Integrations, Broodies and Hard Decisions

If it’s not one thing with these chickens, it’s another.  And this is shaping up to be a busy week for my little flock of 40.

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I’ll start with this little piece of precious fluff.  Because, really, doesn’t that face just make you want to saw “awwwww!”

A few weeks ago, I had two broody hens.  Claire, one of my veteran broody’s from last year, and Tweety, my small Buff Orpington and a new broody.   I gave them each 3 eggs.  Claire, some barred rocks, and Tweety, some Buff Brahma’s.

And then a week after I gave them their eggs, went into the hospital for my surgery and have been limited to light duty.  Somewhere in there, no one candled the eggs to see what was going on.  Today is Hatch Day, and it is nail biting all the way around because I don’t know if any of the eggs (except this one, obviously) will hatch.  None of Claire’s eggs have hatched yet, but yesterday, Tweety was blessed with this sweet little Brahma.

No other eggs have hatched, but neither hen seems ready to give up the nest, so I won’t let myself worry until Saturday morning.

HOWEVER, the addition of a new little baby has brought out a different Worry, one which will have to be dealt with sooner rather than later.

Rapunzel tried to attack Tweety’s baby, in a similar fashion to what she did with her own.    She forced her way into Tweety’s nest and began going after the baby, lunging at it even when it was under Tweety.

Both the kids and I removed her and she went back to try again.

The last time, we put her in the Broody Jail, and there she is going to stay until DH comes home this weekend.   After that… well, I can’t have a hen who will attack and harm babies.   If she was just doing this to her pwn babies, we wouldn’t give her eggs.  But attacking other hens’ babies is an entirely different thing.  It means no babies are safe.

And right now, I have Claire and Tweety to worry about… plus Pavelle thinks she wants to go broody again is in a pre-broody stage right now.   And Eugenie (Claire’s little snowball from last summer) is 98% definitely broody now, and will be worse by the time Rapunzel gets out of the Broody Jail this weekend.

(I was planing on putting Eugenie into broody jail tonight, after we integrate the Brooder Bunch, but now that’s not going to happen and it’s all Rapunzel’s fault.)

But Rapunzel will not be released back into the flock.   I’ve made the decision that DH needs to send her to Freezer Camp.   I can’t rehome her, because if anyone else tries to have chicks around her, or gives her eggs (Buff Orpington’s are supposed to be good broody mommas, after all) then she will do the same thing to them.   I couldn’t ethically do that to some innocent person, so Freezer Camp is the only viable option.

The babies in the brooder are 6 weeks old, and mostly feathered out.  The Brahma,whom we have decided might be a hen are calling Rachel, Cutie and Grumpy and the only hold outs, but they have enough feathers to be okay.  They don’t sleep under the brooder lamp anymore anyway, and also, they are all getting HUGE.

What you see in the above pictures represents their last day in the brooder box.   It’s raining, so they didn’t go outside.  But tonight, after everyone is sleeping, the kids and I will sneak them into the coop and put them on roosts.  When they way up Friday morning, they will be a part of the flock.  As you can see,Dots already likes Winnie.  He was very kind to her.

I think it will go well.  All of the nice days, the babies got to be int heir playpen and the rest of the flock got to see them and know they were there.  It will be an adjustment, but it should work out fine. .

 

 

 

Broody/Baby Watch – Pavelle’s Lock Down 

Yesterday was Day 19 for Pavelle and her sweet baby eggs and that means Lock Down.

For those of you who do not know about hatching eggs, a chicken egg takes twenty-one days to hatch. The last three days, Days 19-21, are what people who use incubators call ‘lock down days’ because under no circumstances are you supposed to open the incubator on those days, until the last chick has hatched.  This is because in those last three days, the babies do the most growing in preparation to come out of their shells.

When I let my hens sit on eggs, I make sure not to mess with them during those days, so they can do their own thing.

Yesterday, I went to check for eggs and discovered that Pavelle had a brown egg sticking out from under her.  She frequently steals other hens eggs from neighboring nests.  She had TWO brown eggs, actually… but was also missing one of her her six eggs.   I didn’t see signs of eaten shell, but one of the brown eggs I had retrieved from under her had yolk on it, so I assumed the worst.

I know what happened to it now, and I’ll get to that in a minute.  But first…

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I found this little Easter Egger chick this morning, on Day 20.  It is a bright yellow with brown/black on the top of it’s head, with puffy little EE cheeks.

I found this

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I know I am a cutie 🙂

Pavelle actually had a total of three chicks under her this morning when I left the coop – two of her Pavlov-mix babies and one Easter Egger. There are two EE remaining. Given this is Day 20, and hatch day is technically tomorrow, I won’t worry too much about the other eggs until Wednesday or Thursday.

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I set her up with some food and water, in the nest with her to discourage other hens from trying to sit with her in the nest (because that is another reason she keeps getting other hen eggs. They are trying to ‘share’ the nest with her.)

Hopefully, at least one of the other eggs will hatch. The one is EE#2 and we all know I have been iffy about the contents of that one.

This morning when I removed the broken eggs shells from under her, I discovered the missing Pavelle-egg. It apparently tried to hatch YESTERDAY on Day 19, and died. I found it half-buried in the bedding under Pavelle and the live chicks. 😦

I’m used to having them hatch on Day 20 or 21. Day 19 might be a little too early?

I will report back tomorrow with (hopefully) the last chicks and pics of all of them.  Pavelle is a bite-y momma, so it’s hard to get pics of them right now.

 

A Dreary Weekend Report

We’ve had a lot of rain the last few weeks, both actual rain and a figurative kind where everything seems to pulling down our efforts.  And weeds of all kind have been growing as the result of that rain.

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See?  Weeds!

The above weeds took up residence in my garden plots, and nurtured by all the rain we’ve had, grew and multiplied in such a way that it look me four days to weed them out.   Not four days straight, mind you, because I was doing other things all day long, too.  But for at least 3 hours every day, during the time I didn’t have to be cooking, cleaning, feeding the chickens, or running to various sports functions for the kids.  The Girl had her last track meet on Tuesday and Little Dude had two baseballs games.  So there was a lot going on in the real outside the garden.

So… four days…

It looks nice now, but I’m better I’ll be out there once more before planting because we’re getting MORE rain and that gives everything I evicted time to grow back.

The chickens benefited from the garden efforts because I would occasionally toss them a grouping of plants where the dirt just wouldn’t shake away from the roots.  (I was trying to keep good soil in the garden, after all.)  The offerings yielded leaves and flowers to nibble, big fat worms, and juicy bugs.  All of which were much enjoyed by the ladies and their boyfriends.

Tuesday was Day 14 for Pavelle and her Baby Eggs.   We celebrated by candling them again and pissing Pavelle off to the point where every time I took away an egg, she bit me.  She’s very devoted, I will give her that!

It was dark because we went later at night but here are her eggs:

Again, sorry that they aren’t as good as the first candling.  It was darker.  We did see bigger blobs inside the eggs and signs of movement.  Even that #2 Easter Egger egg I was certain was empty last time looked like *maybe* it had something in it, depending on which way I turned it.   I’m still maybe 80% sure it’s a dud, but I guess we’ll see.

Today is Day 18, and therefore tonight I will be candling for the last time before leaving Pavelle and her sweet baby eggs to their own devices.  Lock Down this weekend!

Also on Tuesday, after two days of fussing with the incubator and trying to get the temps to even out somewhere between 99-100 degrees, we placed Little Dude’s 4-H eggs in to be incubated.

But not before deciding to make an ‘experiment’ of our own, and put half the eggs in the incubator and the other half under Rapunzel, to answer the question, “which does a better job, hen or incubator?”  I’m betting on hen, because Rapunzel is very very dedicated and the humidity in the incubator keeps giving me fits.  Who knew that there was so much that could go wrong with these things?  I’m so used to just putting the eggs under the hen and letting them do the rest!

We’re going to be candling Rapunzel’s eggs and the incubator eggs today, too, because Little Dude is supposed to do it 4 times on this journey and sketch the results.  Hoping to see something, but they’ve only been in four days and I don’t usually candle until Day 7.

Wish us luck, okay?

And now… onto a bit of sad chicken news.

A few weeks ago, I posted that I was keeping my Easter Egger rooster, Luke, and because I couldn’t decide what to do about Felix, we’d try a go at four roosters.   My logic was that since we’d be doing these 4-H eggs, and would possibly have broody hens raising babies, the flock would be big enough to sustain that many roosters without problems.  And with Pavel sitting on 6 eggs and the 4-H project having 12 eggs, that seemed like a possibility.

And then Jolene got sick, and we had to put her down.

And then Maicey got hurt.  And hassled by the younger roosters who didn’t realize she was hurt and were just trying to make their presence known within the flock.

And then I started noticing that some of younger sexlink hens have started looking … abused…

AND THEN… we had a sudden drop off from 22-25 eggs a day to 14-18 eggs a day.

That’s when I came to the conclusion that my flock is NOT big enough to maintain four roosters.  In all harsh reality, until all these eggs hatch and the chicks grow up (so basically middle to end of the summer), we aren’t even ready for three roosters.  Someone had to go, for the physical and mental health of my flock.  The trouble I was running into was WHO and in what manner.

I am a self-admitted rooster addict. I love them.  I love their bright plumage and handsome faces.  I love their bold as brass attitudes and the little nuances of their courtship rituals.  I love the duality of a bird who will rush to defend his hens with harsh cries and sharp beak, wings beating the air like a male ape beats his chest and yet turn around and eat feed from my hand one piece at a time.  The savage and the gentleman all rolled into one beautiful creature.  I love their awkward first crows and every crow that follows… and a happy morning begins with a chorus of multi-voiced “Rr-r-Rr!!!” loudly proclaiming that the sun is up and so are we!

Knowing this, and reading my blog regularly, you know how much I love my roosters.  How could I possibly decide?

I had four roosters:

Double Dots, the Flock Papa who has been here since the very beginning.

Pip, our first born chick and the 2IC.

Felix, Pip’s skittish and flighty son.

Luke, the Easter Egger I fought so hard to get and wanted to be a hen so this wouldn’t be a problem in the first place.

I’ll start by saying there was NO WAY ON EARTH it was going to be Double Dots on the chopping block.   It ought to be, given him being the oldest, and father/grandfather to all of my Gen 2-ers.  He’s too good a rooster, too well behaved, too well liked by his ladies, to just get rid of without a LOT of thought.

Someday, it will be his turn, if health and/or predators don’t get him.   But that day was not this weekend.

Even still… this leaves Pip, Felix and Luke to consider.

Well… Pip and Luke to consider, because Felix?   I have known for a while that I wouldn’t be keeping Felix. He’s too skittish and flightly and around me.  Not mean, but not accessible.  I began to worry that if we kept him, with age and hormones, would he be the one to someday turn on me in the barnyard?   Could I trust him not to hurt me or Little Dude?   Also, I can’t pick him up, which makes checking him for injuries and caring for him harder.

But Pip?  And Luke?

I agonized and agonized over the whole thing for days, weeks even since the rain made it impossible butcher roosters.

I made lists on paper and in my head of both their pros and cons.  Who was the “nicer” personality wise. Who worked best with Dots and other hens.  They both brought something different to the table, each valuable in their own way.   I asked Mom, Dad, DH, the Girl and Little Dude for input and preference. I agonized some more.

Yesterday, DH said he wasn’t going to take care of the roosters until today.  Last night, he decided to do it then, so he could hunt turkey this morning.

While he butchered Felix, I agonized over Pip and Luke some more, and almost started crying.  DH came back inside the coop and I told him “I can’t do this.  You decide.”

So he walked into the coop and grabbed Pip off the roost.

I couldn’t even watch, and writing it right now is the hardest thing ever.   My little Pip Chick is gone.  I know I’d be feeling the same way about Dots, or even Luke given how much I’ve been invested in the little non-Sith, and I’m trying to remind myself that we needed to do this for the hens.   Because we did, because they are being stressed too much, that’s not fair to them.

But Pip is gone and I want to cry.

Farewell, Baby Boy.  Gramma will always love you.

And good-bye, Felix/Felicia, the little cinnamon colored chick who managed to live despite his hatch-momma’s crazy child-rearing methods.

Broody Girls

It’s spring, and after a long and snowy winter, in which the hens spent more time in the coop than outdoors.  The weather is warming up, the grass is growing.  Flowers, weeds and bugs are everywhere.  Life is good if you’re a chicken.

A couple of weeks ago, several of my hens started exhibiting signs of being broody.   Hanging out in the nests longer, or later in the day.  Puffed up feathers and growling or yelling while they are in the nest.  Growling and yelling at other hens when they are off the nest.

This kind of thing happens every spring.  Hens thinking that maybe they want to go brood on some eggs and raise some babies.  Its a natural, hormonal instinct for chickens, albeit one that the hatcheries have tried to breed out of their birds because egg/meat production is more profitable than hens sitting on eggs.   But if you’re a back yard chicken owner, homesteader, or farmer who wants a self-sustaining flock, a broody hen might be what you’re looking for.

My first year as a chicken owner, I’ll be honest, I didn’t really know if I wanted broody hens.  Most the websites and blogs who talk about broodies talk about how to broody break them, because most people want eggs.   And I had Abby, who went broody less than two months after laying her first egg.   I broke her the first time, but decided when she did it again a month later, that it wasn’t worth trying to break her again, and just gave her eggs.

Watching Abby raise her chick – the rooster now known on this blog as Pip – was all it took.  I was bitten hard by the bug, and now wait with anticipation for the sign of broodies I can give eggs to.  There is something of wonder about watching a mother hen raise her Littles, seeing them explore the world at her side.  Learn and grow, and become a part of the flock.

I also like seeing the way genetics plays out in the 2nd Gen chicks.  I have a small group of ‘barnyard mix’ hens and two mix roosters who are all very unique in their looks and personalities.

So… anyway… I had five hens who started to act like they might go broody.  Penelope, Claire, Julia, Rapunzel and Pavelle.

Penelope an Julia really didn’t do anything.  They did that last year, too.  Walked around bucky for a week or so and then just stopped.   I don’t expect this year to be different.

Claire is STILL puffing up while she’s on a nest and sometimes while she is off it.  Given that she actually DID go broody last spring, I’m watching her closely.  She might.  And she was a good momma, so I would have no qualms about giving her eggs.

Rapunzel went HARD. Rapunzel is a Buff Orpington and Orpingtons are known to be goody broodies.  Rapunzel spent the least time ‘going through the motions’ and after a couple of “well, maybe” days, she hopped in a nest and committed to sitting on ceramic eggs.   She is very dedicated to them, and I’m going to let her stick with the ceramic eggs because I have special plan for her.  Little Dude is going to be doing an Embryology project for 4-H, which means we will be hatching eggs in an incubator and documenting every step of the way.   I have eggs coming from My Pet Chicken, because Little Dude wanted Barred Rocks.  So we have 4 Barred Rock eggs and 6 “assorted” eggs, which could be any breeds, coming later this week.  I’ve decided that I will be giving Rapunzel the chicks that hatch from those eggs.  Hopefully, she will accept them as her own.  Otherwise, I will have to put them in the brooder and raise them separate of the rest of the flock.

In the meantime, Pavelle is sitting on six eggs.  Three are hers, and three came from Padme, the little Easter Egger hen.  They are the smallest eggs I have, even though Pavelle is very impressive when she is puffed up and screaming at you, she is still a small hen.  Any of the babies she raised will be bigger than her at 6 weeks of age.

If anyone else goes broody in the between time – I’m looking at you, Claire – I will probably share the wealth, rather than give more eggs.  Claire, for example, could take on some of the 4-H babies, so Rapunzel, who is a new mother, doesn’t have to raise a potential ten babies on her own.  But that is a big IF that has a lot of variables.  IF Claire or anyone else goes broody in the next 3-4 weeks.  IF the incubation is successful and all the eggs hatch.  I’ve never used an incubator before and I’m borrowing one from DH’s aunt for the project.  So many variables.

In the last picture, you can see that Pavelle and ‘Punzel are in a prime location. Pavelle will steal eggs from the nests around her, and I constantly have to check underneath her for extras. Which is funny because one time, she had three extras and they were sticking out because she is so small they don’t all fit!

 


Pavelle

Rapunzel

How Did I Miss This?

Aka, the post in which I admit I’m not as observant as I’d like. 

A few posts ago, back in March, I posted that I had a possible broody hen.  Our little Maicey spent more than a week debating whether or not to commit to sitting on eggs, but in the end, did not.  

One of my constant readers, however, noted in the video I posted that Maicey was limping.  

I confirmed, yes she was, but I couldn’t find an injury and after a couple days of pretending to go broody, the limp had stopped.  

Flash forward to this week.  A couple of things have been happening. 

1) Both Felix and Luke has been ‘feeling their oats’ as we say.  That is, they are hormonal young cockerels trying to steal a couple hens away from big papa Dots or big brother Pip.  

2) Luke has become fixated on Maicey, much like Pip did Riley last year.  

3) There has been a noticeable change in Maicey’s behavior.  She’s not a shy hen normally, but is now skittish, running away from all the roosters, even Dots, hiding in corners, and squeaking like a scared rabbit whenever they approach.  This is not like her at all.

I thought over-mating, and have been debating that I can’t keep all four, and which two should be the ones to leave.  

I decided to put Maicey in the dog crate I use for medical separation or broody breaking, to give her a break from the elbows and hoping that, in her absence, Luke would find someone else to fixate on.  

Later on, yesterday, I took outside for supervised exercise, and just sat watching her and watching the others.  She sat on my lap for a while.  Luke came over and made a play for her attention and I told him to go away. 

He did, and she eventually got down off my lap in her own and went to forage.  

I watched her for a long time.  And then, I noticed her limping again.  She hasn’t done it for a while, but when Dots approached and tried to wing dance for her, she squeaked and ran, well limped away.  

So I go over, pick her up, and purely by chance, my hand brushed the underside of her fluff, down by the start of her legs.  

There was something hard and dried on.  I parted the fluff, and see – much to my horror- a huge gash in her side, just above her leg.  

I’ll post a picture in a minute, but let me warn you, it’s NOT pretty.  

I have been asking myself HOW did I miss that??? Never mind how it happened – we think a rooster spur injury, and are planning for Dots and Pip to get mani-pedis soon – but literally HOW DID I NOT SEE this big an injury on a chicken I handle every day?  How?  I can’t even – I don’t have words to describe the guilt I feel over missing it. 

I immediately took her into the house, plopped her in a sink of warm water and try to clean up around it so I can see.  

There is caked on dirt and other stuff, and something that looks like an advanced stage fungal infection.  All likely.  

It smells gross, it looks grosser.  

She stood rather still and took most of my efforts at cleaning rather well.  Maicey is good girl.  I kept telling her how sorry I was and how good she was being.  She really was.  Anyone else would have pecked me, scratched or tried to get away.  

I kept up until I hit a point where the deepest dirt was.  When I touched her there, she cried they squeaky rabbit cry, and tried to get out of the sink. 

A little cleaner, but that is where it hurts her the most. 😓

 My poor Maicey Grace!!! 

My inquires on Facebook yielded the possibility that this is a spur related injury.  

I’m treating with Scarlex Oil spray, vitamin B (orally) and if she continues to have pain, I can add penicillin and baby aspirin.  

She is going to be in the dog crate for a couple of days, but I will also be taking her out for supervised exercise, so I can ensure her safety.  

And yes, the boys with spurs are getting mani-pedis soon.  

I’ve also begun checking the other hens for injuries, now that I know where to look.  So far, this is just her.  

My poor Maicey after her bath/torture.

I’m still upset over not seeing this.  How do you just not see that big an injury on an animal you see and hold every day?  Maicey is one of the favs.  My lap hen who likes to sit in my lap and get petted.  How did it go undetected this long, especially when I checked her over back in March?  

I’ll keep everyone updated on her status, and how it heals.  

And also the Boys and their mani-pedis.  

Jolene

This is Jolene.

  She is a two year old Rhode Island Red hen, and also Little Dude’s favorite hen in all the coop.  She was the first of the Rhodies to let him pick her up and respond to his affections.  

She’s sick.   

I’m not sure how evident it is from the pictures, but her abdomen is swollen like an over full balloon.  I’ve spent the last week treating her – or trying to treat her – for being egg bound.  Warm baths in epson salts, a soft next, dark room away from her flock in the comfort of our porch.  Liquid calcium drench.

I even stuck my finger up her vent looking for an egg.  I didn’t find one, though.  

She stopped eating when I separated her from the flock, so after two days of nothing happening, I put back with her flock.  She eats, forages, but walking at a slower pace. The swelling has not gone away.  Her walking is getting slower and more difficult.  She can’t jump up on to the roosts at night now.  

She hasn’t passed an egg or yolks.  I haven’t seen her poop in days.  

I’ve looked up the symptoms and everything I’ve read says this is not good.   

In the meantime, she’s slowly suffering, and we’re suffering right along with her as we’re watching her do it.   

Little Dude has not wanted to lose ‘his chicken.’  He wanted me to ‘wait and see.’  He’s asked me in that tentative way that proves he is thinking things through “are you sure she just won’t get better with time?”  

Last night, I told him he needed to say good-bye, because this afternoon, Dad and I were going to do the right thing and cull her.  I don’t want to wait it out until she either dies or her abdomen bursts from the pressure of whatever is making her swell.  

I don’t want to come down one morning to let them out, or in the afternoon to collect eggs and find that she keeled over and the rest of the flock decided to cannibalize her. Because chickens are opportunistic little onmivores.  

So we hugged and snuggled her and said our good-byes last night.  Told her what a good girl she was and how sorry we were.  Told her that Becky and Ava, Madison and Dottie and poor little Riley were waiting for her on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge, in a pasture of fresh grass and fat juicy bugs.  That there was a patch of dirt, warm from the sun, waiting for her to stretch out in.  

She laid her head on my shoulder and closed her eyes, as if to let me know that she understood.  I hope she does.  

Today is going to be a rough day.  

My Boys 

Okay, so… last week, my hens decided it would be fun to do their dirt bathing in the ashes left over from the burn pile.   They came out of it covered in soot.  All the white hens were gray, all the  Sexlinks and RiRs were various shades “muddy” or “moldy.”  (I don’t know how to describe it.  They look bad.)  And even though it has rained the last few days, they still look filthy.  If I didn’t have so many of them, I’d be tempted to give baths.

But since the girls are unfit for pictures, we will have to make due with pictures of my boys.

Currently, there are four of them.

My handsome Double Dots, as you all know. He’s a golden sexlink, also called a Golden Comet.   I’ve talked about him before.  A lot.  Dots is the father of Pip….

… who was our first-hatch chick, and the oldest of the “2nd generation” flock.

They have an odd sort of relationship.   Pip has a lot of respect for his papa, which is probably good because he grew up alone, with no same-aged hatch mates to back him up when he stepped out of line. Dots and the Aunties (the others hens) put him in his place a lot from the age of 9-weeks to 1 year.

Now the Aunties kind of like and he and Dots work together to protect the flock.  They don’t fight, that I’ve seen anyway.  Dots does chase Pip, if he catches him mating or whatever, but it’s usually only a few feet and then he stops.   They tolerate each other on the roosts at night.

And they BOTH take Felix to task.

Felix (who used to be Felicia, but clearly is NOT a hen) is gen 3 for this rooster dynasty, as I believe he is Pip’s son, born of one of the Buff Orpingtons.  I only guess Buff Orp for the mama because he really isn’t red like the RiR-cross chicks.

image Let’s look at Dani (the red rooster show here), in comparison. This is a younger picture, but he was a deep deep red by the time he went to freezer camp.

Felix started out as a cinnamon colored chick, looked butter scotchy as a teen, and while his reds are coming out (Pip’s mother was RiR), he doesn’t have the same depth or shade of red as Dani.

And since we’ve established that Pip+Australorp gives me the Dalmies (Pongo and Perdie),that really only leaves my two Buff Orpingtons as potential mommas.

Felix has yet to find a place in the flock that suits him.  Both Dots and Pip chase him if goes after the ladies and tries to mate. Part of that is because Dots naturally assumes all the ladies are his, and part because the ladies don’t want to mate with Felix.  He chases, pulls neck feathers and is awkward. The girls run, squawk, and scream until Dots or Pip (or both) go after him.  In other words, he’s where Pip was last summer.  Poor boy.

Some of the bolder hens peck at him, especially at bed time, and I have cleaned and fixed up minor comb injuries as the result of their pecking.

Sadly, he kind of brings it on himself and I don’t know what to tell the poor kid.  Not that he’d 1) listen or 2) understand me, him being a chicken and all.  So he’s just going to muddle his way through this on his own.

At least until his fate is decided.

A friend of mine named him Felicia, and I think she would prefer I keep him around so she can see him the next time she visits.  I have talked to her about it and she has been trying to find a place for him somewhere near her (in Indiana)but let’s face it.  With the threat of avian flu, it’s not likely too many people will want a rooster from an unknown flock out of state.  Even a mostly tame one.

However, I’m included to keep him and see how it goes.  If he can find a balance with his papa and grandpapa (Pip and Dots respectively), and my hens don’t start getting over mated, then by all means… he could stay.  We’re talking about adding more babies later this spring anyway.  (More on that later.)

But there is this little (not so little) guy to consider.

Luke, formerly Leia. Who started crowing not to long ago and hasn’t stopped since.

I mentioned previously that Luke and his sister, Padme, where scared of going outside.   Padme has gotten over it.  She is finally starting to realize that she is a hen and should be outside doing Hen Things.

Luke?  He’s not too sure about this concept of outside hen things.  He will stay inside, sit on the roost and crow for her (or someone else) to join him.  He has a loud, bold as brass little “Ooo-oo-Oooo!” (Because it’s not quite an Rrr-r-Rrr yet.)  and sometime she does come back.   Sometimes he gives up and goes outside to find her.

What’s interesting to me is that Dots allows Luke to do his Ooo-oo-Ooo.

Last spring when little Black Jack was learning to crow (at 9 weeks, not 20 like Luke), Dots assumed it was a threat to his dominance and went on the offensive. I had to rehome little Jack just to keep him safe and ensure a peaceful integration.

But Luke,having been hatched by Abby, raised as a winter baby (like Pip), is not a stranger. He and Dots both crow for me every morning when I go to let them outside.  He crows for me (or, for his sister, or for whomever…) when he is in the coop… and sometimes when he is outside.  He crows more than Pip does.  And definitely more than Felix does.

I wonder if my scaredy little EE isn’t going to turn out to be more dominant of the 3 younger roosters?

Or if Dots just hasn’t noticed because he has been more focused on keeping Felix and Pip in their places?

I am hoping that things stay peaceful.   Again, we are talking about adding more chicks this year… Little Dude wants to hatch Barred Rocks for 4-H.  So if things stay peaceful, and the hens aren’t getting overmated… well, I’d like to keep all four of them as see how it goes

This past Fall, we sent Dani, plus Abby’s four young rooster (my Boys of Summer) to the Freezer Camp. I kept for a long while, hoping that someone would buy or otherwise take the Sumtaler’s off my hands.  But in the meantime, Dots and Pip got very spoiled by having a lot of ‘extra eyes’ watching over the girls.  There were roosters with hens everywhere.  So Dots could spend time with his favorite ladies and forget that he ‘had to chase Pip’ and yet, there was back up in case of unforeseen danger.

I have noticed since their departure from the flock, that Dots and Pip seemed to have their “hands” full with the ladies.  Both of them in the coop while most the hens were outside. Who’s looking after the ladies?

So I think that one or two more roosters won’t hurt, provided they all get along and don’t hurt the hens.  Currently, Felix spends a lot of time outside with the hens.  He is trying to impress them.  A couple of them will squat for him to mate with now.  Most of them still find him annoying.  But again, they thought the same things about Pip last year.

So we’re going to try it.  See how things go, and decide from there if the dynamics need to change or the flock needs thinning.

And now, because I can… here’s Luke making funny faces at the camera:

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Broody Suite

Spring is beginning to look like a reality here in northern Pennsylvana. The snow from our mid-March blowout is starting to melt, the grass is turning green, there were robins in the front yard… and the chickens had gone from 5-9 eggs a day (January/Feb) to 18-22 eggs a day. My average for the month is 17.something per day. I have few who stagger, so it’s highly possible every one is laying.

The next thing you know *cough*it’s already happened*cough* someone will go broody.

I have this vision in my head of the ultimate chicken coop. Sadly, I have a limited space to work with in the barn. My own allotted chicken space and that’s it. Unless I convince DH to build a second coop, we’re pretty much working with that same space. But I’m constantly trying work in changes and tweaks that might result in something closer to the ideal of my imagination.

We’ve been remodeling the house, and last spring, we did the kitchen, tearing out all the old cabinetry that has been there for close to 40 years.

This full sized until had an old dual oven in the empty spaces.  Today, I gotto looking at it and realized that it would make a good ‘maternity suite.’  Kind of like last year’s ideas to put them under the laying beds, or the cat carrier idea (which worked, although it was cramped due to height constraints.)

But this?  Could be ideal because could remove the doors, hang curtains for privacy and it was was wide inside to put both a decent sized nest AND a feeder/waterer.

After getting permission from Dad (whose cabinet it is) and asking DH to cut it down, this is what we came up with:

And… as luck seems to have it, I might actually have a broody hen.

 

 

This is Maicey. She is My Girl’s favorite hen out of all the others. Maicey has never gone broody before, but it sure looks like it.  I’m going to give her a couple of days to see is she sticks with it and give her some of the barnyard mix. I’ve saved out one of Abby’s and Hershey’s (I was there when they laid them luckily) and hopefully some of Pavelle’s.   I don’t buy specialty eggs (from breeders or hatchery) for new broodies. Too much of a chance they will be like Ashley, or mean to the babies.

If she stays broody, Maicey will be the first to try out the new broody accommodations.

The Scaredy Babies

Abby’s little ‘egger babies’ (as I have affectionately called her Easter Egger chicks since they hatched in November) are babies no longer.  Sort of.

They are approaching 17 weeks now and, of all our chicks, are a bit antisocial and – dare I say it – scaredy cats.  Scaredy birds even.

What are they afraid of?  I’m not really sure.   The first and most logical answer is Double Dots and The Big Hens.  Because when they were little chicks, Momma taught them that The Big Hens were to be respected at a safe distance.  And Dots, while not necessarily mean, is big.  And BIG = Scary in little eyes.

Yeah, that makes sense.

But there is also the niggling memory of the two other Easter Egger babies.  The ones who vanished on the day Abby took her four little ones on their first outing into the Run.  She had been missing the outdoors and it was a nice, not cold, not rainy or snowy day and she went out, expecting her Littles to follow her.  I had taken a picture of them contemplating the door, but thought they wouldn’t go because they were afraid.  You could hear it in their voices.  Later, at lock up, I made the discovery that two of the babies were not there with Abby.  And the next day, I made an even worse discovery – blood droplets on the ramp of the run.  They had gone out.  And there had been Trouble.

No bodies.  No other signs of struggle.  But Abigail, the ever constant helicopter momma, kept her two remaining chicks close to her side and safe inside the coop for the rest of the winter.  Unlike Pip, her first winter baby, these two rarely saw the light of day unless it came through the coop window.  And then it got snowy and no one went out anyway.

Regardless, it’s almost spring now, and things are turning green, and Abby is off doing Hen Things and no longer mothering chicks.  So no one has told the Easter Eggers that it’s safe to go outside now.  Oh sure, they see everyone else rushing outside when I open the door to the run.  But do they follow?

Nope.

In fact, the only time these two go outdoors is when I pick their little butts up and carry them outside.  And when I do, they only stay outside if too many Big Hens are blocking their route back into the coop.  Because, it turns out that despite being almost as big as the rest of the flock now, they are still terrified of the Big Hens.

I have no real feelf or whether they are hens or roos.  I suspect hens, as there is a decided lack of saddle feathers, so I have been calling them Leia (the dark one) and Padme (the lighter one).  Because Little Dude wanted Star Wars names and I didn’t want to name them Darth Maul and Darth Vader.

However, more recently, my friendly little Leia has started to concern.  In rare video footage of them – gasp – outside, you can see Leia showing more of a rooster-like stance.

 

As the caption suggests, I can’t really tell.  Leia has roo-like qualities in this picture.  At 17 weeks, still no signs of saddle feathers, but she’s still taller and more upright than little Padme?  Could I have a little Luke or Chewbacca on my hands?