Wednesday, April 13, 2011

News from Chicken World

The Flock
Kiddy Pool Brooder

Chicken World Brooder

Today is another 'house and farm' day, not a writing day. However, I've pecked at this post until I got it done.

I'm moving a number of young chickens out of the kiddy pool/surround in the tack room to Chicken World – the coop inside the barn and outside pen complex. The little fools are flying out of their protected space. Once they hit the floor, they are fair game to the dogs and the varmints. I'm moving the flyer's in with the adults.

Crowded chicks, mixed ages even more so, will turn cannibal. The set up that works for 25 itty-bitty babies is WAY too small for them once they get a full set of feathers.

I have 4 week-old chicks with week-old chicks, the big ones need larger quarters, still sheltered but much larger. The little ones need more heat and better protection.

The problem is getting the adult flock to live in peace with the youngsters (without a mother hen to defend them). A mother hen is the Queen of the flock. She will beat the hell out of any creature who threatens her babies. My Barred Rocks are sweet tempered, but there are only 2 hens and the rooster. The others are 3 Comets and a Rhode Island Red – the Red hen is aggressive towards the chicks.

The rooster is the defender of his harem. This year I have Mickey Finn – son of Sony (killed by a fox), son of Sampson (who died of old age). Mickey is a cross between a Barred Rock and a Dominique. He's very good to the girls – most importantly this year – he's very fertile.

Since the turnover in the flock is so fast (I lost over 200 chickens last year) I band the chickens. I found it very frustrating to deal with 20 identical birds; I need a way to tell them apart. Therefore, the girls have blue bands and the roosters get a red band. Individuals have personalities although it can take 6 months or more for those to develop. The numbers help me get clued into behavior.

Smudge, band #2, was the mother hen. She was four last year. She would set some eggs in June and hatch a few chicks. If the duck hatched some, or if I bought a batch, Smudge would take them in as well. At one point last year she had 19 chicks. But she was killed when my own dogs got loose and all but three of that hatch were gone. Those birds are Micky, hens 22 and 23.

Seven was goofy – she would fly up to the loft then jump through the rafters to the other side of the barn for no apparent reason. She made a production out of it – squawking and flapping between jumps, never flying until she got to the tack room loft. Then she would fly down – a mere 3 feet difference between the rafters and the loft roof. Last year she went broody, taking over as the mother hen. She raised 16 babies until she was killed by a fox – that hatch was lost as well.

This year 22 seems to be the largest and darkest feathered of the hens. This means she has some Dominiker blood as those hens are much darker than Rocks. When I looked at the hatched babies – six are very dark, almost black. These are 22's babies, carrying the best of the Dominiker blood lines.

I had another rooster I called Rocky – he seemed to be Rhode Island Red and Dominiker. He was aggressive towards the drakes – who outweighed him by at least 5 pounds. Alas, the weasel got him this January. From the mess I saw – Rocky attacked the weasel first – it ripped his throat out. Then it killed the 2 hens he was defending. They were all in a heap, Rocky on the bottom.

This winter was rough – but with Spring comes the promise of renewal. Hatching chicks descended from my flock is a lot of fun. I hope to see this batch live their lives out in relative peace.


Jean Davis said...

The brief and tragic lives of chickens. Let's hope they all get along and no one goes cannibal. eek!

Sarah, The Webbiegrrl Writer said...

Thanks for the pictures :) You know me, I like reading with pictures *haha*

I'm definitely learning a lot from your explanations of chicken life. I have to wonder if you couldn't set out to write a somewhat humorous, somewhat instructional book (non-fiction) on raising chickens? It might be yet another title to sell, right? Just a thought. Oh and photos sell books so keep the pics safe where you can find them! :)