Monday, September 24, 2012

Bird Watching

Mickey Finn & Harem Grasshopper Hunting
I watched the Head Rooster, Mickey Finn, take his six hens to the far side of the pasture, grasshopper hunting. They stayed in a cluster, with him on watch, while the hens chased anything that moved. Mickey kept his head up, ready to give a warning chuckle alerting the hens to danger.
I know there are hawks and foxes around - so it's good to see this rooster performing his traditional job. Micky is two years old, he was raised by a hen, who watched over her chicks much the same way. His mother protected him from ducks, cats, the other hens and his sire.
I'm not sure how much a chicken can learn - they aren't at all smart. "Dumb cluck" is one of the many chicken sayings I learned as a kid.
I do know that chicks raised by hens are better at parenting than purchased chicks, or chicks raised alone. Roosters raised by hens are more protective of their girls. They tend to court the hens with gifts of food, dance for them and generally fuss over them more.
All last week, while I mowed the pasture, Mickey and his hens hunted in the freshly cut grass. Spike sort of circled the flock, looking for a stray hen. Mickey ran him off several times. Spike always circled back, he seemed jealous of the way the hens stayed close to Mickey Finn.
Today I was amused to see that Spike learned by watching Mickey. I saw him escort two hens to the other side of the pasture. He kept his head up, on guard, while the hens hunted. This was his first time as protector. The three of them spent at least an hour at it.
The other rooster, Mojo is - well - more caveman in his approach. He chases the hens down, mates in a hurry and runs off. I've never seen him feed a hen, dance for one or take one out hunting.
This morning, Mojo stayed in the yard, trying to run down hens. They all tried to get away. Some of them raised such a fuss that Mickey ran across the pasture to run Mojo away from the hen.
There are eighteen young hens, I suspect Mickey'll end up with about half of them. Spike may well end up with the rest. Hens don't like to be treated roughly, so I'll wager Mojo doesn't have a harem of his own. He'll continue to run down the ones who stray too far from their chosen protector. 
This is a good example of 'natural selection in action' because Mickey and Spike were raised by hens, second and third generation, respectively. Their behavior is more likely to net them the prize: a harem of hens and offspring.
In fact, Spike IS Mickey Finn's offspring - the result of three generations of chicken breeding on this farm. I have 4 more of Mickey's offspring, two pullets and two baby roosters, to carry on the tradition next year. 
Survival of the fittest?
I guess. It appears that I'm raising the next generation of chickens adapted to surviving the harsh conditions of Jordan's Croft.
Pretty neat, eh?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

From the Front Porch

I spent a couple hours today on the porch, watching the hummingbirds at the feeders and the sparrows drink from the fountain. Temps are in the 70 F range, there's a breeze through the wind chimes. The horses were snoozing in the grass, but they wandered off.
I got some good photos of the hummingbird. They are strange creatures. They are bolder than other birds, noisy and appear intelligent and opinionated. I've had them buzz me to let me know they were hungry and the feeders were dry. It's quite scary to have something with a long sharp beak buzzing around your face and darting at your glasses.
Stranger yet is when there are several, darting and squeaking.
I don't know when they migrate, but I will miss the silly things when they go.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Rain, Fall and Updates

We're having a light rainfall today. This is the tail end of summer, just a few days before the seasons change. The chickens are loose in the yard, the horses in their stalls and the geese complaining idly in their newly mown pen.
The next major project for the fall is to finish mowing the weeds down in the pasture. I'm halfway there! I got my big Cub Cadet back from the repair shop last Tuesday and have been running it a bit every day. It took two days just to get the lawn mowed - the grass was really high.
I usually mow the pasture in quarters. One section a week, keeps the weeds down but lets the grass grow. But since the lawn mower was down for a month, I had to do half this week.
I'm pleased to report success with the fertilizer and seed project. What I do is clean stalls, putting the manure into the spreader, then sprinkle grass seed and wood ashes (if I've got some) on top. Spreading the manure takes care of clean up, fertilizer and seeding in one motion.
If you've ever heard the saying 'give a kid a hammer and the world turns into a nail' then you've got the fertilizer idea. EVERYTHING turns into fertilizer: the shavings, wood ashes, the hay, the grain, the straw and the chicken bedding. The result is fewer weeds and more grass.
The parts of the pasture that were three feet tall weeds are now only a foot or two tall and there's grass between the weeds. As long as the weeds are down, the hens will graze, dig piles of horse manure for bugs and eat grasshoppers.
On the subject of chickens, I've been thinking of complying an e-book entitled '#Chicken Fail' to chronicle my lousy attempts at chicken keeping. The only thing holding me back was a limited amount of success this year.
I say limited because I still have the majority of the chickens I bought this spring. Three pairs of geese, the ones I kept are doing very well. I just sold 2 pairs to a friend of mine. She lost the first pair I sold her to a raccoon.
Let me start from the beginning.
This spring I bought large numbers of to add to my poultry flocks. I bought 12 Golden Comets, a hybrid laying hen, 6 Buff Orpingtons, a dozen goslings, 6 males, 6 females, and 24 assorted Muscovy ducklings.
Most of my laying flock of 8 hens was already 2 years old. This is not good. Chickens can live for several years, but usually don't. I swear the silly things are born looking for a way to die. They seem to succeed more often than not.
I also had 4 roosters, 2 Buff Brahmas (Dad named them Mo and Jo) and 2 Dominiques, born here, Mickey Finn, and Spike. Mo drowned last week in the water trough, chickens don't swim.
The hens don't have names, because there are too many of them. But each has a numbered band so I can tell them apart. My oldest hen is #25, a Rhode Island Red I bought at the flea market after I lost my flock of Barred Rocks and Dominiques to a predator, possibly a raccoon.
In 2011, Mickey Finn was the spare rooster. Hatched here to a Barred Rock hen and a Dominique rooster, he and 2 sister hens survived the carnage because they were babies born late in the year so were kept in the tack room.
Now he's the head rooster, and his 2 sisters are #23 and #24. This bunch produced 2 roosters and a pullet who were raised by one of the sisters. I never got close enough to figure out which one. She was 'attack on sight' likely due to the rats.
About two weeks ago, a duck hatched 2 more chicks. I think they're a rooster and a pullet. A week later, she hatched a dozen ducklings. Of those, 6 vanished in one night. I suspect rats. I took the rest from her, and am raising them in a kiddie pool with the chickens and a couple of rat-wounded ducklings.
The sides of the pool curve over, so the rats can't climb the sides. As long as I can keep them inside that, they'll be okay.
Somehow, I'm going to have to get rid of the rats. Poison comes to mind, of course, but the last time I put down poison I nearly killed one of my barn cats. So poison isn't on my list of alternatives at the moment.
I'm pondering how to run a War On Rats. Snap traps might work for a few of them. I've thought of putting the dogs out in the barn for a few nights. It might be best to simply put the geese back into Chicken World. They are more than a match for a rat.
That's all for now.
Stay tuned.