Bzzzz February 5th, 2011

Small flock chickens are never boring.  If you’ve never kept them, then you probably haven’t spent evenings like I have, sipping wine and watching Chicken TV, as well call it—the antics of the chickens as they hunt for bugs, flap their wings and take dirt baths behind the lilac bush. Recently, the chicken drama here has ranged from slapstick to tragedy, with a good deal of mystery in-between.

The kernels of discontent and upset in the coop began way back this past summer when Edith went broody and hatched a little grey chick we called “Baby,” since we have zero chicken sexing skills. After Edith and Baby’s maternity leave in a separate coop and reintegration into the flock, chickens did what chickens will do and tried to peck at Baby to ensure she/he knew she/he was at the bottom of the pecking order.

Baby and Edith were inseparable--and of great interest to the other hens.

Baby and Edith were inseparable–and of great interest to the other hens.

Despite her diminutive size, Edith was Baby’s fierce protectress. She and Baby cruised around the run as if tethered side-by-side. When any of the other chickens approached the pair, Edith would puff out her chest and challenge the offender. Not even the enormous rooster T. Boone Chickens would cross Edith in her heightened state of maternal fierceness. At night, Edith would tuck Ricky under her to keep him warm. When he grew too large to sit on comfortably, they sat side-by-side with Edith’s wing covering him.

All of this we/them drama did not make for a quiet and happy coop. The chickens seemed out of sorts. They had difficulty settling down at night. In the mornings I would find them churning around in a state of agitation. Egg production dropped to near zero.

Baby grew at an amazing rate. His/her fuzz was replaced by feathers and brown markings. He/she grew speckled feathers along the head and shoulders. Baby looked like a chicken assembled from spare parts.

Baby grew at an amazing rate.

Edith and Baby gradually started expanding the distance between them as they meandered among the rest of the flock and Baby began the process of negotiating his/her place amongst the chickens.

It was during this adolescent phrase that I started having growing suspicions that Baby was a rooster. There would be no eggs from this chicken.

Unlike other chickens I had integrated into the flock, Baby would aggressively challenge hens twice his size. Even though he would get a good solid warning peck and would retreat, Baby would advance again. And again.

Things were heating up. There was definite discord in the coop. There were no eggs for days and days.

We re-named Baby Ricky Ricardo. Then Ricky figured out he was a rooster and had an idea about what roosters are supposed to do. This is where it gets bad.

In the coop he would try to mount the hens and there would be pecking and noise. When the chickens were on walkabout and he tried to mount a hen they would run away. Ricky would give chase. There was a lot of running around because Ricky didn’t give up. He just kept chasing.

Ricky Ricardo looked as if he were assembled from spare parts.

The yard was littered with feathers. The hens were exhausted. Ricky was frustrated. My dozy little flock had turned into a churning mass is discord.

Frankly, I was surprised that T. Boone Chickens, the only other rooster, didn’t put a stop to all of Ricky’s shenanigans.  He would just watch curiously when a hen ran by with Ricky in pursuit. His laissez faire attitude may be due to the fact that T. Boone cannot run and can only walk with a limp due to an eagle attack a couple of years ago that nearly killed him.

Then one Sunday the chickens were on their afternoon walkabout while my husband and I raked leaves and worked on tidying the winter-ravaged garden. Suddenly, Tina Turner ran by squawking, with Ricky Ricardo in hot pursuit. She ran this way. She ran that way. Ricky was like a marathon sprinter. He wasn’t giving up.

Exhausted, Tina finally wedged herself between the house and a trellis. The position was awkward and Ricky wasn’t able to mount her, so he began pecking at her and pulling out her feathers. Tina was making frantic, distraught sounds.

Harry held Ricky off with the handle of the broom while I extracted Tina from behind the trellis. I was moving to put her into the coop out of harm’s way when she suddenly panicked and broke free, running to the woods. Ricky darted past my husband with the rake and took off in hot pursuit.

Tina again sought refuge, this time under a shrub in the woods. Ricky commenced pecking at her and pulling out her feathers. I think he intended to kill her.

I pick up Tina to put her into the coop. She was so panicked that she started squawking. Ricky then came after me with Tina in my arms.

Of course, I did what anyone would do, I screamed like a little girl. “EEEEEEEEEE!”

Harry, figuring what the problem was, started yelling from across the lawn something like, “No, stop! STOP! STOP!”

I ran. Tina got loose. Ricky followed her again. This time though Tina headed deep into the woods and eluded me, Ricky and Harry with the rake.

At the end of the day Ricky nonchalantly wandered back into the chicken coop with the other chickens while Tina Turner was still hiding in fear. She spent the night outside. Thankfully, she was well-hidden and survived until morning.

The next day during walkabout, Tina retreated deep into the woods to avoid Ricky’s attentions. When it was time to go home to roost at sunset she started timidly approaching the coop, only to have Ricky chase her away.

Here is where I faced a difficult and perhaps life and death decision. This was not the first instance of overly-aggressive behavior on Ricky’s part. Do I let the chickens work it out, risking Tina Turner to injury or perhaps death? Do I allow Ricky Ricardo to terrorize a docile hen because he is just following his roosterly instincts? If I intervene, what do I do about Ricky? Would anyone want a mean rooster?

There is more to this story…to come.

Posted In: Chickens, Gardening

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Bzzzz October 25th, 2010

I love my life. But there does seem to be quite a lot of it.

Between my job (not inherited that castle in Spain yet), keeping us well fed, tending the garden, the animals and ensuring the house doesn’t fill with dog hair like an enormous house-shaped pillow…well, the days are full. But I know you’re yearning for news about all the beasties here, so I present to you the Chicken Chronicles: The Reader’s Digest Version.

By the way, before I get too far along, this post is dedicated to my friend Gail, at Clay and Limestone. Not only did she offer the phrase Chicken Chronicles in comments about how she enjoys my chickens’ antics, she also manages to do all that life, garden, job stuff and blog too. My hat’s off to you, Gail!

First, Polish hen Edith went broody this summer. For those of you who are not chicken mammas and pappas, that means she decided motherhood was all she needed to fulfill her destiny in life. She took to her nest box and refused to budge. Well, I have a fairly laissez-faire policy when it comes to nature, so I figured, let’s see where this takes us.

Frankly, as laissez-faire can be, the whole thing was messy. Long story short, all the other hens added to Edith’s clutch so that she ended up trying to sit on about 15 eggs—an impossible task for a little Polish hen. To complicate matters, Tina Turner, a beautiful buff Polish hen, was swayed by Edith’s efforts and decided to hatch a batch of her own. She was easily dissuaded for a more carefree life among the motherless hens.

Back to Edith…After about three weeks it was clear that nothing was going to happen on the baby making front, so I took matters into my own hands. Actually, I took Edith into my own hands and took her off the eggs to get rid of them.

Voila! There was a chick under her!

Now, I will dip into the details just a bit here, even though this is the Reader’s Digest version. Edith is not the birth mother. T. Boone Chickens, our enormous rooster, does not do the wild thing with the Polish hens. I don’t know if it’s because he prefers the more full-figured hens or if the Polish girls are just too fast for him, but I’ve never seen him do the deed with one of the mop-headed girls. I suspect that the new chicken is from Dorthy or Meredith, our Easter egg chickens.

So…to get back to the story. Edith and her baby were separated so that the other chickens didn’t commit infanticide, as chickens will do. After a suitable and appropriate maternity leave Edith and her young were re-integrated back into the flock. It was an endearing sight to see her alerting the baby to bugs, tomato morsels and blueberry treats. At night she would sit with the baby under her. After the baby grew too large to sit on, she would put her wing protectively over the baby as they sat side-by-side.

Baby and Edith, his adoptive mum

The baby is now about 13 weeks old.

So far we’re calling the baby “Baby.” Clever, no?

The reason is that the baby will eventually be named Ricky or Lucy, names picked out by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. But one of the names has not yet stuck because I still don’t know if Baby is a Lucy or a Ricky. We should know in another month or so. But I will tell you this. Baby has really, really big feet like T. Boone Chickens. And Baby looks like a cross between Dorothy and Meredith, the Easter egg chickens. We will never know who the birth mother is without DNA testing.

Oh, and Baby loves Edith, his adopted and devoted mum. She is his true mum.

Posted In: Chickens

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