Category Archives: general chicken management

The dark side of backyard chicken keeping

This easily overlooked and not fully realized side of chicken keeping may not apply to those with chickens who have more than 20 or so acres, hence “backyard” chicken keeping.

So – one becomes aware of what is really going on the the meat production industry, the milk and egg production industry. ….and so on.

chicks-20151008-cover_0419There is a garden to be worked, organically, and with some permaculture principles …and then – there are chickens (nvm what happened to all those first roosters, long story) The flock is loved, humanely kept, allowed to truly free range, scratch and peck and mate and some of the hens raise chicks.

Eggs are laid, all is well, delightful. Then the chicks grow up and half of them are roosters …now what?

Same thing the year after that, and the year after that ….meanwhile, the flock is huge, the oldest hens are 4 years old, eggs are less plentiful in comparison, feed costs way up ….and the roosters….

I know, some say: What is the problem…eat them. Kill the old hens and make soup …

There it is: the dark side. …….the killing…or the culling – the eliminating of the ‘extra roosters’ – or ‘non-productive’ hens. But mostly, it is a rooster issue….Unless you live in town and may only keep 3 chickens in your backyard…what are you going to do when they stop laying?

Why dark? some will ask – it is normal to kill and eat …to that I say – normal does not mean much, in some culture child brides are normal. But really – it just means the issue was not completely clear, prior arrangements can fall through, the significance and toll was not fully seen or considered, let alone felt,  the necessity for and impact of “culling” not out in the open light….it was in the dark….

And strangely enough – it is getting harder and harder, not easier, to deal with the necessary “culling”.

Be aware.

It is not the heartache when your favorite hen is ill and she dies, or the lesson in letting go when a predator catches one, another realization about death and impermanence, not the obscene increase in feed costs, especially since it has to be organic feed, not your subsidizing of the eggs with your savings because no one wants to pay what they are worth, not the mites and the work to get rid of them, not the construction of the coups, not the getting up early in the summers to let them out, not the going down in the freezing cold to make sure they still have water, not the suturing up of a rooster who the dogs got ahold of,  not the hand feeding several times a day of a baby chick that could not stand or walk …none of that. What makes chicken keeping so incredibly hard for some of us is  dealing with this one thing:

chicks-2016-01-hairoson_2549It is the culling – the eliminating from the flock…of the roosters.

It is simply too hard on the hens to have that many roosters after them, especially when the hormones first kick in. There is not enough space for them to form their rooster bands and live elsewhere on the property, hence the above statement that this may not apply to those with acreage. The feed store gives them a chance to get adopted, but mostly, they end up at auction.

You got to know them, you know they are not separate from you,  nothing is, and you know you are responsible for them….always and forever. They all have their own temperament and personality …their awareness, fears and trust …programs running them and learning on the other hand…you even had a contract with them before they hatched ….or you can tell yourself: some were meant to be food, go to the feedstore, or that is how it is, we all have to die sometime or any similar such line.

…you are still responsible, there still is a weight on your conscience – even if you won’t allow yourself to feel it.

My advice for any vegetarian who wants to keep chickens: if you don’t have any yet, get rescue hens or a flock from someone who has too many chickens, even if they are a couple of years old.. (getting baby chicks who have been sexed just means their brothers were killed at a day of age)

Be grateful for an egg here and there &  if you need more, either pay someone who is keeping chickens the way you feel is a good way, a good enough way,  and is able to cull the “extra” chickens …or don’t eat eggs any more….just have  chickens around for the delight they are.

So there it is – if you don’t have a lot of land and you are the kind of person who thinks rats are cute, all animals ought to be able to live according to their nature, who has cried because the grass gets mowed or the carrots pulled out to be eaten ….chicks-d11-extrarooster_8012  …. just get rescue hens & forget about  breeding  any chicken ever for any reason – or keeping chickens except rescue hens for their own sake and maybe some compost.

Give a home to a few  ex-battery hens or someone’s surplus hens and enjoy them.

.…you may be of the kind that is already remembering a way of life not dependent on killing any other life.

The consciousness is in all of them, in everything. I am one, there is no other…is true…but that is not even it….look at this chick in the picture

….he will grow up

…he did grow up …

Never mind the “sentimentality”issue …what right do I have to “cull” him?

Interestingly, when I first mentioned about keeping chickens, the first comment I got asked by my teacher was in form of a question: will you be able to kill them?

I had not planned to (having made other arrangements) – and I actually could in certain circumstances, but in the course of “keeping” chickens, the longer I see them, where I am at today, the answer is : NO.

No matter how I look at it: It is taking life for no good reason.

(ps ..that chick was Wildhead, and he did get picked up to be in a flock – others were not so lucky)

 

My sweet Sicilian Buttercup – went home

Once again, life came and went. It never ceases to amaze me and each time it is this: once in forever, a form, in this case – my sweet buttercup –  came to be – alive – and the best we can do is give it what it needs to live the best it can, see it, love it – be kind, take the time while there is time – and be grateful and amazed. There is this very deep feeling, this painful wondering about this –  that it is forever gone….like our forms will be someday, gone. It helps to know it was a life well lived, to know there was love – but still …it came and went ….

chicks-middle-20150714_8581
My sweet little buttercup – you were so tired – thank you with all my heart.

On Tuesday July 14, 2015, just at the change from late afternoon to early evening, one of my sweet buttercups went home. Her name was Middle, she had turned 3 years old in May. She was one of my first 9 original flock hens. I am just writing down some things here, because, memory fades so fast, but words can’t describe too well all the things I went through with her

I am left with a sense of gratitude. I learned with her – about chickens that seek the proximity to a human, about their sweetness, she taught me about being egg bound, about bathing a chicken to get rid of lice, about blow-drying a chicken, about being patient and accepting and about getting ready to help her go when she stopped eating, even though I don’t really know that she suffered,  and about going quietly, in the midst of a thriving flock. I loved that little bird.

I am writing because – just to share the topics I explored, just because – she is no more…her expression of Being – her animated self – is no more. This is to honor her, because she had managed to wiggle herself into my heart space.

Here is some of her story.

She came to me from Sandhill Preservation as part of a straight run of 27 day old mixed Mediterranean breed chicks – my first chickens, 6 of them were Sicilian Buttercups.

chick-day8-onshoulder_7704-cw
This little buttercup was probably a roo, just to show you how they were even as chicks

From the very beginning, the 6 buttercups, (turned out there were 3 girls and 3 boys – as an aside, of the roos, 1 eventually was gotten by a predator, he roosted in a tree, the other 2 went to live in Texas), anyway the buttercups, even as chicks, were already interested in getting close and liked sitting on me, and that never changed for any of them. To me, Buttercups are the sweetest chickens when it comes to humans.

This too could be her or one of her sisters
This too could be her or one of her sisters

It is amazing to have them come to you and hop on your lap or your shoulder and seemingly enjoy being there,  some preening, talking to you – it is just very endearing.

She had a good life, free ranged all day, organic feed, good company. There were some roosters, maybe a little bit of too much attention the first year as a hen, but live was good. She was always one of the favorites and I had to watch it till the very end.

Less than a year old, when we still had the buttercup roosters
Less than a year old, when we still had the buttercup roosters

One day in May 2014, she was not walking right, hanging around in the coop. I checked her on the roost that evening and felt  something hard, an egg inside her….oh dear. I let her be there in hopes maybe she’d pass the egg overnight and that evening read all about egg binding I could find online. Next morning, no egg, I gave her the bath, nothing, then another warm bath and with the liberal use of coconut oil and some doing…the egg got out – she even helped.

 

This was after we got out the stuck egg
This was after we got out the stuck egg

After a few days, she seemed to return to normal, even saw her in a nest box a few times but I don’t know if she ever did lay another egg.

Getting back to normal after being egg bound
Getting back to normal after being egg bound

So a few weeks ago she stayed back at times from running out with the others, but I didn’t think much of it because I always have some thing extra to give. I don’t even recall how I realized she was so so skinny, and now worried about worms, I wormed her and started paying closer attention. I checked out her feathers too, and she had chicken lice…lots of them, but no nits…I dusted her with a mixture of fine dirt, wood ash and diatomacious earth, around the vent and abdomen. I observed her some more and saw she was not dust bathing. I read up all I could on lice and how to get rid of them. I didn’t see any mites, but they are so small and I wander if I missed them.

The 3 buttercups
The 3 buttercups

Basically, lice in free range chickens are just a matter of time till they appear, however, giving opportunity to dust bathe, chickens take care of them. If dust bathing is not possible, either no opportunity or the chicken is unable to do it because she is ill, then they start proliferating. (btw, those are chicken feather lice, they don’t go to humans, we have our own …)

I had also read a lot on chickens wasting away, none of which was good news, so I stopped the antibiotics I had started and given her for 3 days.

There was no abdominal swelling of any kind. Not other symptoms.

A lot of old timers – would just cull a hen like that.

Here she was still able to get on to the roost
Here she was still able to get on to the roost

Seeing how she stayed with the flock, but was hiding under plants or a wagon and moved slowly and not dust bathing …I decided to give her a bath to get rid of the lice, just so she didn’t have to feel them on her. Of course, I read up all about that too, the chicken lice treatment options, and yes, this does work:

  • 2 cups of liquid dawn dish soap,
  • 2 cups of salt,
  • 2 cups of white vinegar in
  • 5 gallons of warm water for 5 minutes, do the elbow test for right temperature. – dead lice will be floating in the water
  • rinse in 2 buckets,i found 1 rinse was not enough.
  • then blow dry…this is actually when most of the lice – all dead – came out.

I didn’t want to use the toxic stuff on her, and the water can be reused, but I have to say the blow drying took over an hour…and with her being so skinny, I had to get her all dry, not just sort of dry enough. She smelled good, well, like dawn …and she was clean. This would not work for a whole flock only because: the blow drying takes too much time. Luckily, healthy chickens who dust bathe take care of themselves.

She is there somewhere :)
She is there somewhere 🙂

I gave her special foods 3 times a day….of which she mostly picked and dropped, not ate much, but nonetheless she was actually eating something. Here are her favorites: watermelon,tomatoes (the inside), grapes, cucumber, grubs, chicken carcass with a bit of meat on it, some fermented grain, yogurt. Strangely enough, hard boiled egg yolk and scrambled eggs, an all time favorite, were not something she was interested in during the last 4 days. While she pecked and ate little, it was enough  to poop. Once I saw her expel something, while she was pecking with the flock…some stuff that look like part of what I have seen described as latch egg or coagulegg (it was eaten by some hen so fast, I could not examine it). Never have seen when worms might look like if they got expelled after treatment, if they don’t get absorbed.

Every day she spent some time on my lap, though she was unable to fly up any more.

During those days, my prayer and invocation was for her to not be in pain and for that to happen which would be the best possible outcome, even if it included me culling her. And yes, I read up on all the chicken killing methods and weighed the pros and cons and then decided on what seemed like the best for her.

I kept at least one other buddy with her
I kept at least one other buddy with her

Anyway, the day after the bath, Sunday, she stayed in the little hospital coop except for a short time in the afternoon. I had a heat lamp for warmth at night, a fan during the day when it was hot. She ate little and I was going through all the options to help her pass. During the last few days while in the hospitable coop, I did have at least one of her sisters spending the night in there too.

But the next day,  Monday, things looked better! I was surprised at the interest she had in the food. She did really have the best food choices of her life in the last few days. She wanted to even go out with the flock, she ate more and in the afternoon, spent a while outside the hospital coop inside the coop run…and even tried to dust bathe, which for her just meant sitting in the dirt tub and looking around, there were the 2 mamas and chicks and a couple of younger hens.

In the evening on Monday I let the flock in and told her – that is your flock, this is where you live. I wondered if this was the …”I am getting out one more time thing”  before she left, like I has seen our dog do,  …or was she getting better? She even tried to get on a roost, but then decided to stay under it, half way under the heat lamp. She didn’t have the strength.

The answer came Tuesday…she was slow to move and, while still interested in food, pecked little and ate little. Yet in the afternoon, she had walked to the edge of the little coop (which has wire on the side she went) to either be closer to the fan or to the flock …so I fed them all some fermented grain to make her feel included.

She remained surrounded by the energy and sounds of a thriving flock, just protected from eager roosters
She remained surrounded by the energy and sounds of a thriving flock, just protected from eager roosters

Even if it is all some chicken program and habit, I still wanted her to get the sense she was still part of the flock.

She still ate in the morning, but nothing that evening

I had decided: if or when she stopped eating, I’d help her by taking her out, using a slightly modified version of the method posted at the end of this blog. I had some cloth to gently wrap her in, had decided on a location and had a scalpel.

By Tuesday evening, she had gone to her spot under the nest box. She looked at the cucumber I offered, but made no attempt at pecking at the juicy flesh. I gently picked her up one more time and she sat on my lap for a while. It just felt that she was going to leave.  I told her I loved her …and asked her: is it time? You look tired.  After a while I put her back in her spot. I got my camera and took some photos, but after a couple of shots, the card was full. So I told her again I loved her, and that I would help her this evening, unless she wanted to go before then.

she was tired
she was tired

 

chicks-middle-20150714_8583.

When I came back, she was gone. Looked like she sat down where she had been standing and leaned to the side, her beak was closed, one eye was closed, the other one had the eyelid half over it. She had been so tired…and went to rest finally.

All throughout I prayed for her and did some readings. She heard the 4 lines and at least part of the Clear Light Prayer.

I was glad she didn’t have to feel any lice crawling on her during the last few days, she had the best food of her live, she was able to stay with her flock, but I wonder if I should have taken her before.

I remembered my aunt, who at 81 year old died at home of colon cancer, which had metastasized. She had gone through several chemo treatments and was sent home as there was nothing more that could be done. She didn’t really want to die, however, she was simply getting weaker and weaker, till she could not even hold the phone any more. She was catholic and always said: I don’t want to be in pain, and Mother Mary is gonna take of of that, that I won’t be in pain. If prayers to the unseen guides had anything to do with it, sweet little buttercup was not in pain.

And now she is free.

I took some feathers, and told her I was gonna have to take a look inside. She looked clean internally, skinny, and btw, not a single louse on her either. There was no abdominal fluid, no mass of egg yolks….but there was a yellow coagulated mass of something almost the size of a small egg, just more irregularly shaped in the oviduct. Maybe she was the one who had layed the occasional wind egg in recent weeks? Something did go wrong in the reproductive organs after all.

I buried her and planted a blueberry bush next to her.

The mayor issue I had is this: to cull her or not? In the natural world, no chicken would be able to survive this long this slow and weak without being eaten. But in the natural world, chickens are not laying eggs all year or have their broodiness bred out of them. In the natural world, she would not have been hearing the music she heard as a chick, or the prayers, she would not have been a teacher of mine – about life and death, dignity, egg binding & lice treatment in chickens, and the fact that no matter how many times it goes well, very young chicks need to be protected from other flock members – her included…and about the fact that no matter how similar it seems, no living creature is ever 100% the same. Modern physics now say that all of creation really is like a computer simulation – all in the mind of the supreme being. Well then, I did my best to do what was best for her, on the path to learn to be compassionate and non attached.

The way she went, I feel grateful, hoping that she just went like my aunt in Germany – just taking her last breath as the life force leaves completely. She ate and pooped till the day she died, I hope she was not in pain and she was with her flock, always home, and now home for good.

Thank you Middle, sweet buttercup & travel well.

If there is some way to take you with me, I am
I there is some way to take you with me, I am
I buried her next to a blueberry bush I planted the same day. She is under the logs, which are there to discourage digging.
I buried her next to a blueberry bush I planted the same day. She is under the logs, which are there to discourage digging.

The flock likes to hang out where she is buried.

I would have culled her on my lap, cutting the jugular with a scalpel. She would have fainted quickly. I don’t think I would have pulled her neck, just have her wrapped in a cloth and hold her. It was not necessary…her final gift.

Natural – Truth in Advertising

Once I starting keeping chickens, I took a closer look at the kind of eggs that were sold in the stores. The ones we were buying were labelled “organic” – but what the heck did that mean for the chickens?

Looking at the egg cartons in stores, you’ll find terms like farm fresh, nutritious, omega 3 enhanced, natural, happy chickens, organic, free range, cage free, pastured, humane, animal welfare approved, pretty family farm pictures, – no one ever says anything like industrial, conventional, cage hens, may contain salmonella, egg yolk contains soy, fed GMO corn, product contains antibiotics, inferior eggs, may contain traces of pesticides.

I found the whole thing confusing myself even for over a year after getting my own eggs from the garden-chicks, so really, they got us wrapped…and to this day I get emotionally fooled when I read “All Natural” on food. That is the biggest lie of all – you won’t believe the things “natural” foodstuffs can contain – and get THIS: you do NOT even have the right to KNOW what is in it. Let that sink in for a bit. It is just that “natural” STILL sounds like something so good,  like nature made it, not dabbled with, left whole and wholesome – and in the United States, that could not be further from the truth.

One of my early home-made bread experiments

Just the other day I was in a store looking for rye bread .oh, there is was – clear and in big letters – RYE BREAD – and STILL I have to remind myself consciously that the claim is false. When I moved to the USA in the mid-eighties, I looked for bread, decent bread to buy. Coming from Germany, I was used to all kinds of freshly baked breads – real bakeries were within walking distance everywhere I lived growing up. I remember 3 main varieties: Brötchen – rolls – the likes of which I have never seen in the USA, made of wheat four, double baked rye bread – made with rye flour (it didn’t need to say pure, 100% – is was RYE bread), and mixed bread – made with a mixture of rye and wheat flour. I was looking for rye bread …and I didn’t pay much attention to the ingredients list and ended up with the “rye” bread that had those seeds in it …oh dear. That was about 25 years ago – and to this day, when I pick up packages which are labelled “Rye Bread” – the main ingredient is WHEAT.  There simply is not the same standard in food labeling here as I grew up with.

I will write a different post on what the various – and confusing, misleading, and clever terms you see on egg cartons actually mean for your eggs and the chickens.

In the meantime, just in case you are curious to find out more about just HOW WELL you are being manipulated, this here is a very powerful and eye opening  video made about The Secrets of Food Marketing, Published on May 12, 2014. Below it is a response to one of the comments that made a point of saying that they did not present a solution – I say: you really need to be willing to look at and admit that what is happening may be problematic – the only way to address a problem is to admit there is one.
We all have a choice to then do what is consistent with what we believe in, is important to us or hold dear.

I don’t mind if she is an actress, as long as what she says is true (if you do some research you will see that it’s not a lie !)

Compassion in World Farming : Hi Jake thanks for your reply. Please note that this video was never actually intended to offer the solution to factory farming – we simply wanted to grab people’s attention to encourage them to think about how they eat, and ways in which they can help stop suffering.
Compassion in World Farming’s aim is to end factory farming for the betterment of animal welfare, people’s health and the planet, and exposing the industry in ways such as this are vital to this work. Our work has changed laws which has led to the improvement of conditions for farm animals and better quality food for humans. We campaign for better conditions, and also work with the food industry to improve animal welfare within supply chains: www.compassioninfoodbusiness.com
We have a programme of Good Farm Animal Welfare Awards which are currently set to benefit 287 million animals.

Research has actually shown that intensive farming is incredibly wasteful and cannot be sustained. 87% of the calories that factory farmed animals consume are wasted (for every 100 calories of animal feed, made of soya and other cereals that humans can eat, rather than grass which we cannot, 13 calories of meat/dairy are produced).

Feeding the planet should not come at the expense of animal welfare, human health or the environment – all of which you can read more about on our website: www.ciwf.org. The truth is that we won’t be able to continue our current farming methods if we want to feed the planet. For a start, we need to reduce our consumption of animal products, and increase the standard of those products. I think you might find our research materials interesting, including our Manifesto for a Caring Food Policy, which starts by discussing problems of hunger and obesity and the disproportionate allocation of food across the world: http://www.ciwf.org.uk/media/5804168/Down_to_earth_manifesto_for_a_caring_food_policy.pdf. There is a wide range of research here which goes into further detail on our solutions-based approach to ending factory farming for animals, people and the planet: http://www.ciwf.org.uk/research/food/

“You got to examine your life – and you got to do it now, before you die” – E.J. Gold

Employment benefits for chickens?

Hello. Since not all who come across this webpage are homesteaders or urban chicken keepers, I’d like to start with a question or 2: Have you EVER really seen a chicken lay an egg? Have you ever seen a woman give birth? ok …

IF you had ever seen a chicken give birth …ehh…lay an egg – you would KNOW it generally is HARD WORK, takes sometimes a very long time, sometimes tears something, there is a lot of panting and pushing, sometimes makes the hen let out a yelp, sometimes there is blood – and – doing it almost every day, week after week – is demanding on their bodies. And sometimes an egg gets stuck and unless remedied in time – the hen dies.

Before getting chickens myself, I had not realized that in egg production the word “labor” really does apply. Then I got chickens of my own and saw it with my own eyes. Those girls really do work very hard indeed. I just always thought – birds lay eggs, so it is natural, meaning easy, right?…except for the “overbred” part, as “normal” chickens only lay between 10 and 20 eggs per year, rather than 250- 320 per year.

I decided to “keep” our own chickens mainly for animal welfare reasons, no longer being able or willing to support the conditions millions of hens are forced to live under in the commercial chicken keeping industry. In addition, the eggs of those slave laborers, bless them all, are nutritionally inferior and the environmental impact of those operations are sometimes downright destructive. (links to follow when those posts have been written)

So recently, fertilized eggs in hand, I  am looking at getting more chickens a bit as if offering an employment. For as yet not developed eggs, I say something like this:

“Chicken spirits, we would like some eggs for our nutrition. In exchange for your product and labor, I am offering a chance for a life on earth as a chicken in our garden. This includes benefits such as bathing, sun bathing, scratching and pecking in the grasses and soil for worms and bugs. I offer a predator-safe place to sleep at night, daily free range on pasture  with greens  and organic soy free food, deep shade during the summer.Other benefits include: being seen, hearing the 4 lines, songs, love, preening and cuddling if desired and management of any overly interested and persistent roosters :).

This will last for  however long you can do any work…..at which point you may or may not be serving for someone as nutrition. This will depend on your general demeanor as well as your willingness to also reliably hatch chicks and on the circumstances of those you serve.

There will be no fake free range in overcrowded conditions, no de-beaking at birth and your hatched baby brothers will get a chance to experience life rather than being chopped up or suffocated at birth.

On this earth, we all have to face death one way or another and it is part of the deal for you too. Yours will likely be via cone and with prayers and gratitude. Some of you roosters will be going to the feedstore – with prayers for a good life. If that is not acceptable – please don’t come here to this location to incarnate and work.

That is the best I can do.

And below is a question for you, dear reader, and put I this photo together for you ….

If you are not vegan, you probably still eat eggs, no?

Where would you rather have YOUR eggs come from? If you care about animal welfare – please consider supporting your local farmers and chicken keepers who allow chickens a life where they can express their chicken-ness. Think globally, grow spiritually –  buy locally and resourced. Is it more expensive – yes, and considering, if you pay taxes, some of which go to the industry, you even pay more indirectly. And don’t be fooled by the marketing terms on the egg cartons.

I vote for better employment conditions everywhere.

Of course – pet chickens are kept for other reasons, but these chickens come here for a certain type of work.

🙂 I think our chickens have a pretty darn good job with great employment benefits.

 

 

 

 

Let’s get some chickens

My “Box”, which was big enough as a brooder for 25 chickens for 1 week. It has served as rooster holder, hospital, de-brooding container, and favorite nest box since then.

You mentioned you wanted some chickens. I think that is great – you’ll love them – and even though it might look like that there is a lot to consider, it is pretty easy – and fun. But then, I love chickens – all birds – and doing something you love makes everything easier.

A little clarity and intention put in ahead of time will really pay off later.

You’ll need a safe coop, and outside run, feed and chickens – I admire those cute coops for the suburban chicken keeper – who have something like 3-5 chickens …, but that just wasn’t gonna work for the number of chickens I was planning on…so we have a very rustic coop make with 1x2x, 2x2x, 4 posts, plywood and hardware-cloth.

I believe in providing chickens an as natural environment as possible. To keep them healthy and resilient, providing good nutrition and enough space are crucial – as are genetics and gentle up-bringing. Flapping your arms or wearing wavy clothes or walking fast – will set of their flight response – and if you ‘d like those amazing interactions – walk like in chicken tai-chi and don’t wear red colored shirts when you got them used to seeing you in black and green. If you are good at building things – that can come in real handy when keeping more than just 2 or 3 hens ….:)

Treats Please?

I got my chicks (25 in May and another 25 in September) from a preservation hatchery and they were non sexed, meaning, they didn’t magically get rid of the males for me. My chicks are not vaccinated and I exposed them to the local dirt from the day after I got them to build up they immunity against the local coccidia.  They get organic feed, first chick starter, then after 18 weeks, layer feed, kitchen scraps and free range stuff.  Now that we have babies again, who can get kidney damage from eating the high calcium layer feed, they all get chick starter with the layers having access to egg shells and crushed oyster shell.

Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself before you get chickens. This only because – it just works out better later on. If you really just want 3 or 4 hens…it is real easy.

Do you care about the animal welfare side of keeping chickens?

The answer to that will play a role in where you get your chickens from and what kinds of breeds are acceptable to you. Remember, if you want egg layers, that means the breed does not have enough meat on them to make the males useful and so they usually are gotten rid of at birth. I did not want to do that, but that is the only option many folks have who live in the city where roosters are not allowed. Feed-stores have the most commonly used breeds from the commercial hatcheries.

What do you want your chickens for? 

Some of my first eggs

Do you want eggs? meat?  eggs and meat? health? pets? Entertainment and therapy are a side effect of any chickens you share your life with 🙂 The delight they can bring is priceless. Depending on your answer as to what you want chickens for, the chicken breed you want is different. (Egg color was not important to me, even though it would be nice if some eggs were green or blue….)

(One word ahead of time – I will not discuss the meat chickens, which are bred to weight the equivalent of about 250 lbs in a 2 year old human. No matter what kind of a free range life you are giving them, I consider it fundamentally animal abuse and can’t help you there, so you’re on your own on that one.)

If you want chickens for meat only and can deal with getting some eggs, choose a dual purpose breed. You will need to kill them and dress them – I found that I am not willing to do the killing part except should it be necessary at some point to relieve suffering …. and regret having gotten dual purpose birds (egg layers with a decent weight – but they eat more – and unless you want them for meat also, it is a waste as it does make a difference in your feed cost). If you have dogs and can stomach the killing, the roosters will make good food.

Egg laying breeds are usually considered “light” chickens. The animal welfare standard is no more than 280 eggs per laying cycle…which to me means – all year except during molting, that is almost an egg a day when they are laying. I am ok with 4-6 eggs per week from a hen, which is less – because: I have seen how they labor – and don’t want slave labor. Laying an egg IS hard on them – and they do deserve to be treated as best you can.

So, how many eggs do you want each day? – get twice as many chickens – if you have extra eggs in the spring and early summer, sell them at work or give them to friends.

Keep in mind that during molting, when they are broody or raising chicks they lay no eggs. Molting (change of feathers) happens usually in the fall after maturity, in other words, my chickens from May and September 2012 molted in  fall 2013 – with very little egg production from the flock – except from the ones that got hatched in 2013. Laying also goes way down in winters, and to some degree, during heat spells.

So, if you reliably aim for say 5 eggs a day – you will need about 8-10 hens…but in the spring, there will be days and even weeks you will get 8-10 eggs a day.

Do you want a rooster?

If you are agriculturally zoned, having a rooster is fun – they protect their flock, are beautiful, mine are all non-aggressive – and – they will want to mate, and you might have baby chicks one day. Mating however can be hard on the hens if there are only 3 or 4 around because – since they lay eggs almost all year long and hence mating goes on any time they are laying, their backs can loose all the feathers from being mounted. Better to have a 1:10 ratio – and don’t get a huge rooster and small hens  = hard on the girls. Do it the opposite: smallish rooster with larger hens.

I LOVE my roosters – I had 32 the first year :)but we  won’t even go into that. Rooster to rooster aggression in the breeds I have was largely a space issue, but mostly non-existent. I have 4 roosters now and  – I can’t really keep any more….only because it is hard on the hens and – they eat more because they are bigger – it adds up. The only reason to keep more than 1 or 2 roosters is if you want to actually breed purebred chickens.

What do I do with the chicks that hatch each year that turn out to be roosters? They will go to the feed-store at some point. (I have spend hundreds of dollars re-homing some of my first flock (32 roos in all) – and that just is not an option, not that all did find a home.  It helps if you have specialty purebred breeds if you want them to find a home…rather than a home with being dinner at some point.

SPACE

Ideally, you will have 4 sq feet per bird in the coop and 10 sq feet in the run, if that is all they have. My coop was made for 25 bird, now I have 33 in it – and it really would be too small if they had to stay in there all day…but they range all day unless I keep them in the run for some special reason. Part of the run has a simple roof on it (DIY  with 1x2s and plastic  for the rainy season).

For someone who only wants 2 or 3 birds, they have these cute little coops you can get. I needed a coop for 25 layers to start with, but ultimately about 40….so those cute coops really never were an option …

If you have racoons, weasels, rodents, foxes, dogs – and you still want to sleep well at night after getting chickens MAKE YOUR COOP PREDATOR PROOF – using 1/4 inch hardware cloth and yes, if there are spaces you can put your thumb through …a rodent can get in. A bird net covered run is also very good for peace of mind as well as the life of chickens. My birds free range during the day … and I never lost one yet – only the ones that were roosting outside at night – NOT inside the coop – several were gotten – always in the early morning, Blacky was one of them …I still miss him ….

Blacky

COOP FLOOR: I LOVE deep litter flooring, would use 2 rows of cement cinder blocks in ground under the walls and put the wood on that. Mine didn’t have that and I had to install a digger guard all around the coop and a foot deep – 18 inches deep would be better.

Good VENTILATION is a must if you want to not have frostbite on the combs in the winter….and also helps in the summer.

If I had to do it over, I would have a bigger coop with inside walls (framed chicken wire works) and removable doors which would allow me to subdivide into 3 parts easily, each with a pop door to the outside.

Could be you want to keep an extra rooster, breed specific hens, or give mamas and chicks a safe place.

You will need some sort of box for a hospital. A dog crate will do.

Weather considerations: For warm/hot climates I recommend to choose heat tolerant chickens. They love to hang out in deep shade during the hot part of the day, when it is best to leave them alone. The really benefit from several sources of cool water near their favorite hang out places.

Cold: unless the coop is not well ventilated, they should be ok in warmer climates like California. Ventilation is so important because if the air gets too humid (breath) and it is freezing in the coop and the humidity settles on the combs…they will freeze …dry air is ok.

For the run outside, chicken wire works well to create subdivisions or to create protected garden areas. In a panic, they will fly over it, but otherwise, they respect the fencing.

The deep litter (all the leaves and chicken poop) gets used in the garden.

Again,  a little clarity and intention put in ahead of time will really pay off later.

I am planning to get more chickens next year from the hatchery, Sandhill preservation. …but then, maybe I’ll just let them hatch some more ….

Considering: Islandic chickens (very very hardy, good foragers and breed in need of conservation – I already have the coop for them) and Egyptian Fayoumis: good foragers, great mothers IF they go broody, naturally immune to Marek’s, good layers and the roosters are very very good watchers.

Why would I probably  not get more buttercups for now, while I still have the bigger Buff catakanas: Because they are so so sweet …and smallish – and ALL the roosters seem to like them best …it is too hard on them unless you only have other similarly sized breeds and only 1 or 2 roosters…Like having only buttercups and Fayoumis would have worked.

I love the blue Andalusians – they are fun – especially if the markings are good and you will let them have babies. They are a rare breed, but I like  the Fayoumis better – very alert and agile but more laid back in a way. And I find I am ok with smaller chickens …:) There are only 2 Fayoumis in the flock now …and I would like to breed immunity to Marek’s into my flock, and they are immune. Ultimately I would like to create a local breed, heat tolerant egg-layers who forage well, are immune to Marek’s, generally healthy with a friendly, laid back temperament while good watchers for predators.

So anyway, that is the plan for next year …I will need to finish another coop addition before then however 🙂

The joy and relaxation chickens provide – is – priceless 🙂

Mama with her” babies” – as well as her older “adopted” son …:)

 

 

 

 

Fighting roosters in the homestead flock

A little experience and some more tips and insights on multiple rooster management in the flock.

Some of you may remember Cutie-Pie and Lucky, 2 of many  hen-hatched “roolings”  in 2013. Of all the little roos from that summer, I still have 4, 3 of whom are destined to go to the feed-store like their brothers,  as soon as the weather gets better. After some observation, a coincidence and some sentimental input, I decided a while back to keep Lucky, one of the mixed breed roos (Andalusian dad and Buff Catalana mom), and he has been with the main flock at night, and spends most of his days in a special hangout.

Lucky and Cutie-Pie

All 4 remaining cockerels had been doing fine with the hens, pullets and my 3 remaining roos from 2012 in a flock of 39 total. However, the youngens became very very interested in the girls, and so I separated out the ones I was not going to keep.

If you have multiple roosters – it is highly advisable to have the option of separating them if needed. That need can arise suddenly.

Moving a group of roosters out to separate quarters – prompts them to establish a new pecking order and territorial claims – or so it has been my observation.

It is good to keep in mind that  “fighting” means –  establishing pecking order. In healthy roos, once one of them starts running and is able to keep a distance, the fighting stops. Any rooster that turns out to have the habit to pursue and pursue even after the other roo has given up – is built in such a way that his genes will not be allowed to continue in my domestic flock.

Once you separate out roosters from the flock – they WILL  re-establish pecking order if you put them back together.

Last evening, Cutie-pie, a beautiful spunky Blue Andalusian, so far content in his enclosure, really wanted to join the flock in the main coop, and I decided to give him a try with the rest of the flock today – and if all went well, I would let him join the main coop in the evening. One time he had gotten out by accident and was fine, with Lucky being daytime separated for hen protection.

So this morning I let Cutie-Pie join the flock and found out: He and Lucky are very evenly matched young roos who had some things to work out. I wish I had a camera when they first started “fighting” because it was an amazing dance performance – without getting tough or too serious, – they got under each other, over and sometimes went front to front. Cutie-Pie, the Andalusian,  eventually did (sort of) start running, and Lucky even gracefully stopped chasing, but when they came close to each other again, they’d start over. Cutie Pie hadn’t really conceded. So here is another point to remember:

When 2 cocks, or, as we politely say in the United States – roos 🙂 are evenly matched, they tend to –  keep on fighting….

Lucky is bigger, and at this point is second only to the main ruler of the flock, but Cutie-Pie is high in spirit. I was not gonna wait till the end – when and whatever it might have been – because I already knew that I was keeping Lucky in the long run.

So Lucky went into his daytime pen, Cutie-Pie was given a chance to roam and be out another day with the flock, but, as you can see in the image, they were still holding each others attention. So in his generous pen with run Cutie-Pie went too. I threw them all some grains and they were all happy picking and scratching. Eventually they would get used to each other and would work it out …but….not without some comb and wattle damage.

I do know from past experience that roos go through phases and, at least with my roos (and I had 32 last year)  – this too would pass, but again, I know they will go soon anyway.

Just a quick word on the natural chicken keeping and roosters: In true nature, the males don’t get killed at birth  and they also are not locked up separatly from a main flock. however, they do have a pecking order, they DO have a way to get out of the way (space) and, maybe most importantly – for MOST of the time during a year, the hens are not laying eggs, so there is not much reason to fight. Have you ever seen a rooster chase a molting or non fertile hen? At least mine don’t. So  apart from aggressive breeds and individual roosters, we have the inherently UN-natural situation of females who lay eggs most of the year – something to fight about ….

None of my roosters are aggressive to people – and I find what I wrote last year on the topic on how to deal with roosters, is still true.

Do roos calm down – oh ya, my 3 main roos are nothing like last year. They surely seem to go through adolescent hormone spikes and have a lot of energy then :).

How much does it cost to ship a chicken?

He went to a home in Texas

Last year I ran into trouble because a neighbor complained about the crowing with several visits from animal control – even though we life in a fully agriculturally zoned area. Since I am renting,  it was suggested to get rid of all but 2 roosters. I could not bring myself to get those roosters killed and tried to find homes for them – not an easy thing as became obvious. I was successful with several of them. Much was learned in all of that, not the least about the actual cost of shipping roosters via airmail  – here is a blog-post about it – it is on the blog site I had before this website – here is the  link -> How much does it cost to ship chickens?

How to deal with roosters

How to deal with roosters

This is a bit lengthy and originated from a conversation over the internet. (I first wrote it for the blogspot blog, but since the surveillance revelation, I am moving stuff to a website). This article does contain examples for certain behaviors of some of my roosters. If you plan to raise roosters – you might find it helpful. (at the time of this transfer, we are another 4 months out – and still no problems with roosters.)

When dealing with roosters, a lot has been written about rooster to rooster aggression and rooster to human aggression. This post is more focused on  the rooster to human relationship. I wanted my roosters friendly towards me at all times – at the very least, I did not want to look over my shoulder walking in chickenland.
Given my current experience, if you have enough space and females, and tolerant neighbors, you can keep a LOT of roosters without much if any trouble.

Rooster behavior varies with breed/genetics, age, season, absence or presence of females, food supply, living space and conditions, time of day,  flock dynamic and how they are treated.

I tip ahead of time: figure 1 rooster per 7-12 hens – if you have several more roosters, you might want to consider a rooster pen with a separate pop door to a rooster area – no later that 3 1/2 months. Some roos mature early, some only a few months later. It is not that the roosters are a problem with you or each other – it is difficult on the hens to have so many on them, especially as the pullets don’t mature all on the same day and the few that mature early have to bear them all. If you raise dual purpose chickens and have straight runs – separate the roos out at 2 months – or earlier if you can tell.

I think roosters are killed for space, noise and because they do not lay eggs and cost money to feed and not all of them are needed to raise chicks or for flock protection, so they can be food. They need not be killed for aggression, but that takes a certain way to raise them.

Jumping ahead:

There are 2 ways to see ourselves with roosters that I find acceptable to me and work with because it means never to fight with them or hurt them:

Both ways do require flock/rooster awareness and observation.

1 – we are humans and not chickens, let alone  roosters that need to fight and they learn to see us as a benign presence. We don’t need to fight them because we don’t antagonize them or treat them as roosters competitors – but give them the respect and space that a rooster needs – and walking in “chicken Tai-Chi”.
2 – we need to be like top roosters to them – but – we don’t have to accomplish that by fighting them…but at the first sign of them trying to assert dominance, we are either steady, ie just stay put – or ward them off with a step or two towards them. Some folks use a stick as an extended arm. We keep them at a distance and don’t try to make them pets. Also, isolation can be tried. They tend to be much more demure upon re-rentering a flock after a day or 2 in a cage or crate. Picking them up and releasing them when calm is another way to getting them used to us not being a threat.

Since I also wanted friendly roosters who also come to me for treats …. this was going to be a balance game.

In  9 months I raised 32 roos of 6 different breeds (Sicilian buttercups, Egyptian Fayoumi, Blue Andalusian, Buff Catalana and Buff Minorca, Golden Polish) and 21 hens in a pretty small area – …and here are some things regarding behavior I have learned so far (no experience yet with broody hens, I hear they get pretty feisty and their peck hurts a lot).

General things to remember about chickens and roosters – based on observation and experience and because it has worked very well. All my roosters turned out friendly and all come for treats.

0 – chickens are amazing and can open your heart – AND – always remember, they are chickens and will act according to their programming and depending on genetics, season, temperament, hormones and circumstances …there can be surprises….never take it personally.
1 – beaks and feet – as weather gets warm, I like to wear just tank tops and sandals …but …when in the chicken world…that does not work for my skin because their little feet are no longer soft baby feet. Even them innocently flying on my bare shoulders I have gotten scratched bloody and still have the scars from that. Also, I wear a cap when I spend time with them at all, especially if I sit or crouch …because them landing on my head …hurts like hell since they got bigger than the little peeps they were. -> be aware of their feet on your skin. Chickens have a lot of sharpness in their beaks ..your eyes are NOT safe around them …be aware. Gums are not as critical, but it DOES hurt when they go for your teeth.
2 – bending down, sitting or being in a crouched position appears to be an invitation to fly on you …no matter what the intention.
3 – better to not show bare skin on lower legs unless you can say you know all your roosters so well that they would NEVER try to hit you ….I don’t think I can ever be that sure …..mating season is just starting and who knows what will happen this year and with this combination of birds.
4 – talking to the rooster now: no matter how friendly things get, you are a chicken – and/or rooster and hormones can make you act weird and a little out of control. I shall never forget that. (see stories below). Talking to some pullets:  If you are hungry and looking for treats – your peck can draw blood (they have not yet with me …but I have no doubt they could) Seeing teeth seems to be a MAJOR invitation to try to go for them with results in my lips or gums experiencing some searing pain ….that I have experienced.
5 – treats will go a LOOOONG way to friendly relations (which is what I want) with hens and roos. To a point. And treats do not have to be hand-fed. You can throw them.
6 – I am unwilling to have to look over my shoulder when entering any area that is inhabited by chickens.
If there is a problem, you (chicken) have about 2 – 3 weeks to change before I make arrangements for you to be someone’s dinner, and I tell you so. I give you time because I know hormones seem to spike and you have seem trouble with your behavior.
Me, I will do whatever I know so the behavior that is unacceptable stops….I won’t antagonize you and give you more space, might pick you up or chase you back a few steps.
If we can’t live together and if I can’t find a home – I will arrange for you a death that is as humane as possible. (cone, bleeding out without cutting windpipe in our case)
7 – I want my roos to come for treats – and I want them to respect me at all times. – so i offered treats from day 1, I always move in what I now call “Chicken tai-chi” Chickens see twice as fast compared to us. Even walking normally is fast to them. Slow down!!!!!!!!.
8 – When I see you (roo of any age) doing that “shoulder- wing thing”, I know it is not a dance for me – I might give you more space, stay put or sometimes I will back away, but I will never get angry. I know giving you treats in your face at that time works for some of you, but not all of you all the time. So if you don’t stop …I will move towards you if you start following me with intent to chase or worse after I give you some space …and might point my finger at you, say eh-eh-eh e – in a low growly voice…and might keep going towards you until you back off. If needed, you will be chased.
9 – to the roos: if you come AT me as if you owned the place a second time …I stand my ground, be tall and point my arm and finger in your direction. I am prepared with my bamboo stick and, wearing proper footwear, step towards you …and if you actually jump me a second time ….I will start chasing you …one step at a time but across the field if needed. If I need to, I will touch your fluffy butt …and I know you will jump each time and back of because you don’t like that.
I use a stick as my extended arm.
10 – to the roos: I will never feed you treats before I have thrown some to the hens. (unless of course there are only roos around)
11 – if I catch you treating others in a way not acceptable, I will pick you up from them and put you in a holding place – that help you cool you down.
12 – I do break up some fights or mounting of hens when it is happening right where I am. At times I just pick them off and carry them elsewhere. If I am worried about really damage to another chicken, I separate them. But no matter what, they will work things out.
13 – It seems that whoever is lowest on pecking order ….is looking for someone lower if they can…. you don’t want that to be you.
Generally: roosters are better to keep a little distance with. It is good for them to know who is in charge (you) – at the same time, when you throw treats, they can offer them to the hens and finally eat some too. Pick them up from the roost periodically and set them back down.
I think Big Boy (the sweetest rooster I will ever know in this life) is really different – but then …he too is only 9 months old and he was SOOOO friendly from day 1. I am not sure what the deal is with him.
Regarding Gully, the feisty Egyptian Fayoumi:
Gully, an Egyptian Fayoumi,  was originally with the orchard roos at 4 months when I separated my first straight run (17 roos was just too much for the 9 pullets) but kept traveling around to the mixed flock field. I never had a problems with him and thought he was the best. He was a curious smart little guy, greeting me when I came into the garden. He eventually self integrated into that mixed flock and I let him, even though they did not need any more males there. One day ..i think he was almost 6 months, I walked into the mixed flock field and I felt a thud against my leg from behind. I didn’t even know what it was, but when I looked around, there he was, Gully looking at me ……( a little shocked & disappointed was I) …but then nothing else happened for a couple of days but then I say he was following me kind of with his chest out …I used treats and that worked but he was still following me …. then he did that thing again where he hit my lower legs …well, that is when I started turning around earlier and stepped towards him, I never had to use the stick on him, …only chased him halfway across the field a couple of times and that was it. After that, he behaved like a charm the rest of the time here. But mating season had not yet started and it was too cold to sit about in the field or do weeding.
i remembered 1 thing that i don’t know how it plays into how he is is acting. At the end of september 2012, the folks here got 2 young aussies that were not very socialized. i was helping them to handle the dogs.  the property at the time was not fenced and the only “dog” yard were they could run was next to the chicken-gardenfield.
gully had figured out how he could squeeze through the fence opening in the fence that separates the chicken and the general/dog area (i had used some old horse fencing prior to getting chickens not realizing that some of the chickens would be small enough to be able to get though it …and in fact wanted to go through it.) anyway ..that fence didn’t keep gully from making his rounds.
sometime in october, one of the dogs almost got him (only by the wingtip, and no physical injury, but it was still scary) when he was in the dog yard.
so a couple of weeks later when i took the other dog there. i made sure gully was not in the dog yard. he was on the other side of the fence….before i let the dog  loose i noticed gully had gone through the fence and was charging the dog …who was as surprised as me…i did not let them fight but left with the dog. i seemed like gully would have won ….meaning the dog was stopped from advancing and might have retreated.
gully didn’t do his jumping on my leg until after that. i don’t know if or how it played a role in setting something up in a confrontational way though. even when i stand my ground with other roos if i need to, i try to never let it come to a real confrontation.  anyway, just a little piece of info.
Orchard roos adolescent behavior:
several of them, maybe all – did that wing thing with me, it is not a dance, it is trying to see who is higher in the pecking order – and is is a sign saying: hey, you are too close …I live here. If you can – give them space, back up a little and go around to where you were headed. If I had to change the water, I stand my ground and wing them right back, if needed, using my arms, make myself look big and confident, these days not waiting till it gets worse. .. If they actually follow me and come at me, which only happened twice,  I will pretend to chase them off if need be. One of them I had to chase and do the “touch your butt with the stick thing” with because he was coming at me. He jumped a few times. He was some punk, but it worked. What also works is picking them up and holding them till calm. The problem is: I’d have had to chase them for that and that sort of was beside the point then. The picking up and holding them and putting them back down works best off and onto the roost.
Misbehaving roos: 

Roosters misbehaving with the pullets or each other: I pick them up and carry them off, break up any fights happening right in front of me. Several of them spend a day in what used to be the brooder box. I would also isolate them for a day and then let them back with the flock. Usually their behavior is much better, though you can’t really keep them from working out the pecking order. This is when it helps to just not be there for a while …and also provide enough food that fighting over food need not to be the case.

The Buff Catalana roo territorial phase:

The buff catalanas, bigger than any of my other roos, where hitting adolescence at 4 months recently. Soon after, the main dude with all the roos, started going after me trying to prevent me from going into their area to feed them. He only tried that twice because I chased him right back which only took a couple of steps towards him a couple of times at which point he kept his distance…and I had to work with treats to even have him come close again – that took about 2 weeks, but he never gave me any problem again.

One of them, (I have 3 there) in the mixed flock, tried to chase me out of the coop one evening about 2 weeks ago …well, I didn’t go for that and chased him out instead …no more problems since then. Again, it does not take more than a couple of steps. They all come for treats, but generally, I do not mind them staying a bit away, be respectful of me without being fearful and they are always the last to get treats, but they do get them and come for them. They are more cautious of the other roo in their group than me.
Roosters are males and they are gonna do what roosters do.

Another thing I do is to go into the coop and touch them while roosting, mostly because most of them some day I need to pick up and put into a crate to get brought to they place of culling and I don’t want them to get all freaked out. I have only recently started to pick the chickens up (other than when they were babies) just in case I need to treat them for some medical thing some day.

My current head roo of the flock also tried to “wing” me once, a while back – a couple of steps towards him was all he needed. Of course,, houdini as he is, iI plucked him off the roost a bunch of times to carry him to the rooster only roost, until one day I just let him stay…he has been behaving perfectly.
Secret is – always stay calm, and don’t wait for it to get worse. Either modfy your behavior to give them more space, or stand your ground, and  chase them a couple of steps or touch their butt with your little stick. I have never had to yell, really run-chase or actually hit a rooster – and I don’t ever want to. I do not want to have an actual fight, and remember, do not take it personally when your sweet roo suddenly remembers his protective duties and starts coming after you marching into “his” territory. He is just wanting to protect his flock.
Their claws really hurt bare skin, even if they just want to sit on you. Their beaks can cause pain in no time just from pecking curiosity.
Just as an example on what hormones can do:

one almost 3 months old roo was chasing a hen relentlessly one evening ….finally stopped when he was roosting. Then, the next day …whenever his feet hit the ground he hysterically ran around …he literally could not stop until went hiding under something all out of breath and freaked out, then it started all over. I finally put him in the coop on a roost …this went on for 3 days ….i even did one of those online vet things…(waste of money) to see if he had some kind of disease.

I had to hand feed him and give him water in a syringe for 3 days. Then, after 3 days, he would still run around as soon as his feet touched the ground but could make himself stop when there were other chickens pecking around….he still spent a lot of time on the roost. It took a few more days till he was all back to normal ….no problem since.
Incidentally, that night before he had this problem there also was a thunderstorm. So it might have added to his “flighty” behavior.
Anyway – I hope this helped. It has worked well for me. Even the golden polish are sweet, but unfortunately they can’t stop chasing the buttercups, especially one of them seems to be popular with EVERYONE. In any case, I am just gonna spoil them till they have to go – it is only a few more days.
More on rooster management
Since I found that isolating them seems to also help (tried that with the polish and way back once with who is now the top roos with the flock), if I were in your situation with him having jumped on me and he misbehaved towards me again and I didn’t want to get into chasing or more confrontation to ward him off, I might pick Gully up from the roost or a pullet he is topping and carry him to a box or little coop to put him by himself, give him food and water there and keep him overnight and then let him out to join the others late morning…as I call them all over to throw out food.
Also – I generally don’t let them hop on me uninvited. – and my flock – the pullets mostly though) sees a sitting position (I hand-feed treats that way) or extended/lifted arm as an invitation to fly on it or me.
As best as I can tell, there are 2 ways to see ourselves with roosters that I accept and work with because it means never to fight with them or hurt them.
Both ways do require flock/rooster awareness and observation.
1 – we are humans and not roosters and they learn to see us as a benign presence, we don’t need to fight them because we don’t antagonize them and treat them as roosters competitors – giving them the respect and space that a rooster needs – and walking in “chicken Tai-Chi”
2 – we need to be like top roosters to them – but – we don’t have to accomplish that by fighting them…but at the first sign of them trying to assert dominance, we are either steady, ie just stay put – or ward them off with a step or two towards them. Some folks use a stick as an extended arm. We keep them at a distance and don’t try to make them pets. Also, isolation can be tried. They tend to be much more demure upon re-rentering a flock after a day or 2 in a cage or crate. Picking them up and releasing them when calm is another way to getting them used to us not being a threat.
Since I also wanted friendly roosters who also come to me for treats …. this was going to be a balance game.
If the methods do not work and there is a rooster that becomes more and more aggressive – he needs to find another home, one way or another….Somehow I would take that to mean that whatever I do or did, was not working fior this particular rooster. I would not want to breed him with those characteristics – unless I had huge acreage where he was  truly needed  him to protect his flock.
Before I ever go any chickens, got my first impression on how to deal with roosters from reading Harvey Ussery’s book: The Small Scale Poultry Flock. Best single book on chicken keeping I can imagine, though I have much to learn on culling if I really wanted to breed chickens. (I don’t want to kill those beautiful birds, so …).
What I took from him in regards to rooster management was
1 – You are not a chicken. You are not a rooster. You have other options. You do not need to fight.
2 – Respect the birds and the space they live in and work with it – and with them, not against them.
3 – treats go a long way for amicable relations with your roosters. It confuses them ..no rooster would do that to another rooster that would threaten him.
4 – Don’t have pet roosters
5 – Be aware of what your birds are doing.
This looked like this in my situation:

My orchard roos were hanging out in the back by the orchard (as opposed to the front of the coop garden field area. When I had to pass by the area to another part of the garden, I noticed a couple of them would start approaching and doing that “wing thing” – I would just give them a little more space and be on my way and all was well.

When I came in with the bag of kitchen scraps – they might start the same way, but then, hearing my chicky ckicky and seeing me emptying the bag …they soon forgot about their territoriality and came closer looking for titbits.
The water station was in the middle of their space and I would have to enter it (because I usually didn’t think of filling up the water before I let them out..:) i’d say my “it’s okaaayyy chicky”… so when they came close to me doing “the wing thing”, I would stay put or do my chickchikchik …and throw them or hand-feed them some choice treats and all was well. I just never had a problem and over time …they didn’t seem to mind my doing what I had to do there.
Maybe it was because they got used to it – maybe it really is a challenge for them when their hormones spike?? Maybe I saw be as a on threat?

On the coop side this meant: I get the eggs after the hens leave and the roosters are not around.

I wait to dump new leaves onto the coop floor when they are out in the field because big bags, especially the black ones, FREAKS THEM OUT, even if I walk very slowly, they are afraid. Once I showed up with a big black bag at the coop door and most of the buffs where still there …they totally freaked and would not come near me for a day. So since the kitchen scraps usually show up in white bags…i now use white if I can or make sure they are elsewhere if I have a big black bag with leaves. This is what I mean by respect their space. I make some adjustment and all is well.

 

So the respect, giving them space & treats worked well in general.

But then there was Gully who hit my lower leg one day when I was walking into the garden field not paying any attention to them. Mind you, I had just gone onto the field not paying attention to them at all, just going where I wanted to go. One of the orchard roos made his territory in a walkway area that I needed to traverse to get to the buff roos, and later a couple of those buff cockerels who had thought they established their ruler-ship around their roost box/coop daring me and were not just doing the wing thing but were daring me a little more and the golden polish who started winging me.

I think eventually respect and treats might have worked, but I sort of might have inadvertently antagonized him with the dog incident. I did some more reading and a lot of folks said: make sure you are to top rooster …hm. Those folks also were all recommending to leave space between you and any roosters and not have them be anything like pets. So I chased him back a couple of times, that worked.
Of the other methods I chose to  – get a stick as the arm extension to pat their fluffy butt and don’t be a pushover….chase them If needed.
Again, doing that, there is no need to fight them ….and – always be vigilant.
So that is what I did without being angry, aggressive and very controlled just to make it clear that some behavior would not be tolerated.
That worked.Afterwards I will call the flock over and trow some treats.

PICKING THEM UP – without hurting them. I also got into the habit of picking them up off hens that complained if I was right there. One of them, who got himself into the coop over and over from the rooster side  – I picked him up and carried him back to his own roost area until one day I just just let him be with the flock …and he NEVER gave me any problem since he is with the hens and he is the head roo now. While I can’t prove anything …it seems to help with the respect thing from their side.
I also continued (and never stopped) to call the flock over and give the best treats when approaching and entering their space. It worked really well and I did not have problems.
The flock absolutely loves it when I come with a spade and start digging around in their field …in fact, they sometimes hop on the shovels (2 pullets) – they are loving the insects/worms
Keep in mind that my cockerels are now 5 – 9 months old and do not yet have spurs to speak of and mating season was yet to come.
Well, mating season is here and they are a lot more active with the pullets, but I still don’t have any problems with them. I still had 5 roos with 21 pullets, the 2 Golden Polish and 12 bachelors.

The bachelor roosters are not giving me a problem. The 2 golden polish are also not a problem …they approach me only to see if I have treats for them….but in the past, when one of them would “wing” me …I just stepped towards him till he walked away and after a few moments called him with the “chikchik” sound gave him some treats or threw them in the direction I wanted him to go.

My philosophy is to do the best for them ….even if that means they are doing the rooster thing and are not like pets. Remember, Gully went against a dog that had come into “his” area ….. and I thought: he’d give his life to defend the flock. At the same time, I did have to assert myself by catching him in his approach and not letting him jump on me. It is a fine balance because you don’t want to antagonize them and set up a rooster/rooster type situation between you and them.
I’m sure there is more to learn as they get older – or rather, there would be – because I have to get rid of them in the next couple of weeks – all but maybe 1 or 2. But that is another story.
All I can say is: the more land you have the better and if you own it,  you have a say in what happens, and just because you are zoned fully agricultural does not mean the neighbors won’t call animal control for rooster noise…even though there was not a neighbor problem before.Some were meant to be culled by someone who eats them, but in the end, that is not the reason they will be killed.

They will be killed because of noise complaints even in a fully agriculturally zoned area, NOT because any of them were aggressive.

I was able to re-home a total of  8 of my roosters to far – and time is running out for the rest of them. The re-homed roos adjusted very quickly and well to they new surroundings. One of my re-homed roos was the sweetness of my flock – he was always different – my buttercup Big Boy.
If you are thinking of re-homing roosters via shipping roosters – here is a blog on what it does cost etc.

Disappeared hen was broody with hidden nest

For those who remember about the missing buff a few weeks ago:

Today, July 22, I was checking the greenhouse making sure all the chicks were back inside the run after foraging  before closing up for the middle of the day and -> I found a nest with 5 eggs in it. Hard to see …

Not a new nest, the eggs at least did not look freshly laid – and I knew – that buff that went missing a few weeks ago – that was her, she was broody with a mind of her own after all. If I had not seen a splash foraging about in that area and was making sure she was no longer there – it would have been a long time before I found them.

It is a bittersweet end to a little story: I had noticed a buff missing one afternoon, no matter how many times I counted, one was simply not there. I vaguely remembered one of them clucking like a broody briefly one afternoon, only there was no additional broody on a nest. I didn’t think much more of it at the time. Then, a day or 2 later, when a buff went missing and I mentioned it on facebook, a few folks said: she is off on a nest somewhere. I looked around “everywhere” reasonable, nothing, but I was hopeful. And then, a few days later, I found her – taken and eaten the same way as the roosters. Only that there was all that fresh looking soaked grain in her crop – as if she’d just eaten a little while ago, within 24 hours. Anyway, I was confused as to what really happened and worried that the predator was taking them not just in the very early morning, but in the day now, while they forage and that he’d come back for his prey.

And then today I found the nest in the greenhouse. So the “guys” who said she was gonna show up with babies were sorta right. That would have been a very nice surprise after 3 weeks her showing up with the babies. I never checked the greenhouse because at the time, the greenhouse was not open to the chickens and I did not know one of them had figured out a way in and out … (easy once she figured it out).

It is more sad in a way, that she was taken while assembling her clutch. On the other hand, she was doing what her instinct told her, and as in nature, there are predators out there. She musta been out early one morning. She was being her best chicken self – gone now.

So the lessons: when a hen disappears and there is no body and no feathers, it really is possible that she is just hiding being broody on a nest.

As for me, I am just a tad less worried for them during the day …. that is good, though not enough to relax my routine.

And finding the clutch puts an end to wondering what happened …. sweet girl.

Blacky

Beautiful Blacky – actually gorgeous Black “Blue” Andalusian: “Big Blacky” no longer needs a home – he has gone home.

This morning (it is July 11, 2013) as I walked down the driveway I found myself thinking – I don’t think Blacky is crowing, maybe he is done already for the morning? The others were, but then I was not 100% sure. I didn’t think anything more of it because ever since his close call the other day I made sure both gates from the orchard to the rooster run are closed. But then, when he wasn’t greeting me at the gate that separates the rooster run from the main run – like he does every morning – and when he was nowhere to be seen – I went looking and the rooster run was empty – no feathers anywhere. Blacky isn’t like that – even if for some reason he was in a tree – he’d come around when he sees me – as each and every time.

nothing

I went looking – and found some of his feathers – that wouldn’t be so bad – but there was blood. I searched more – and found his head, then his body. Whatever got him was hungry …his comb half gone, his wattles, the neck-meat, one entire breast, thigh and part of the leg …

Strangely enough, while looking for him I found Brother-cat – who had been missing and thought quite ill, or dead. He was close to his body actually, but looked too ill to be the culprit. He is at the vet now and – ending up staying there with fluid in his lungs …

I do not know how it was that Blacky was out there – unless the doors are open, he does not go, and lately they have been closed except when i let them into the orchard a few days ago …but i think whatever is prowling gets into the run and then he manages to get out …but this time he must have decided to run rather than fly into a tree, who knows.

I loved it when you were up there – and you did too 🙂

 

I had plans for him for breeding next year  – since he seemed so good the time he accidentally ended up with some of the girls in the orchard. Some of the hens were not opposed to him. He got along with his daytime rooster buddies. He always had a buddy or 2, or 5 or 9, depending when….and it worked out well. When Mama Fayoumi and her 5 chicks went into the orchard – he was just fine with that, not bothering her or the chicks. That was so nice to see after suspicions of being rough on the buffs last year.

He did so well with the females

 

Blacky with some buffs in April 2013

I remember yesterday morning – all the (3) roosters got treats, he did too and i gave them food and fresh water. In the afternoon, while the girls get to free range – they got to go into the compost run and see the rest of the flock (through the chicken wire door that is) and peck around  and I always throw some extra grains – which they then all peck together – albeit on different sides of the run.

Blacky – you were a joy to me – thank you great spirit or whoever for letting him be in my live. My human is crying – and my soul takes it as a reminder: be kind to everything you meet, take the time, learn to be more compassionate while you have this body and this world to work with. All that is – only is like that one this one time. I will miss your plaintive voice Blacky – I know what your were telling me …next year …but then you left ….

Go ahead -wake us up

Blacky – I loved you – and admired you, your beauty, posture and feathers so many times. And you were never mean. I remember hand-feeding you in the coop for 3 days when your hormones spiked and you could not stop running when your feet hit the ground. You learned to trust me then, you who were the biggest of the chicks and often off by yourself….and I learned about flighty and the transient nature of hormone spikes in roosters – or maybe the thunder spooked you too, on top of that. I miss you going on the roof of the greenhouse – and your crowing. – I don’t know if you have a separate spirit or if you went back to the void as your life stopped flowing  through your body. I am making good use of it, for the dogs, the sick cat, myself and you are resting in the field, able to nourish it too. You were VERY healthy, in case you didn’t know. I miss you, and as those of you guys before – your leaving is a reminder of the impermanence of this world, the shortness of this life, and a reminder to make good use of it. I gave you the best rooster-life i could. In the end, you got spared being transported in a dog crate and taken and “harvested”. Maybe it is better to go down fighting, or, more likely in your case, running. I don’t know, but it is nature’s way.

Blacky loved going on the roof of the old greenhouse structure.

 

With his old buddies

 

He still matured after this
One glorious morning – Blacky on the “roof”
Just a few days ago, July 8 – the 3 bachelor roos got to go into the compost run, this other flock in the front.
Blacky at 12 weeks, out into the garden field
Blacky and my mom, visiting from German in October 2012
As a baby
Blacky on his roosting spot as seen through the coop – you liked it there well enough, even though you’d have rather gone in – it’s just that it was too much for the girls, bare-backed as some are …. but you talked to them on the other side 🙂

Just one more thing – I had a chick in my first run of 27 who had pasty butt – I probably saw it after 12 hours, and/but she pooped a lot after treatment. She was not well however and ate slowly …and I might have make matters worse the way I tried to dropper feed her. Today, I’d do it like I just did with cutie-pie and her food problem and general weakness.

Blacky and Sweet Angel in the dish – if you do still exist somewhere, maybe you can run and fly together. It is a nice dream anyway.

Anyway, this little fayoumi was getting weaker, and far from attacking her, one of the chicks was always with her – and Blacky was one of them. He stayed with her quite a long time. Blacky and Sweet Angel – if you do still exist somewhere, maybe you can run and fly together. It is a nice dream anyway.

Many people will not understand, they’ll call it sentimental or attachment…and besides, he is gone now, dead, not suffering anymore.  After all, it was “just” a bird, running on automatic programs. Ya, most of it all was just an instinctual program – and yet, the same intelligence, the spirit that runs through all creation, ran through him – and I met him – spirit expressed as him and uniquely him for all times and so I met, through him, the divine dimension of the Universe manifested as what came to be known as “Blacky”. And so I honor him with this page – on the day he went back.

The human in me misses him – and my soul recognizes and walks a step closer towards compassion. Thank you Big Blacky.

The next day: I always knew I didn’t want to send you to slaughter, but I can’t believe how much I miss you there and hearing you …. and how regrettable it is you won’t be there next spring for your own flock. Yet another lesson for me, a reminder: we only always have the moment – NOW.