Meet the Flock - September & October 2017

Marissa the Cream Legbar sez “Braaaaak! Don’t take that shot! If you hold the camera that close I’ll look RIDICULOUS!”

Here’s a nice shot of Paulette and Marissa the Cream Legbar hens from about a year ago – they were just starting to lay eggs!

Paulette could be the world’s most molty chicken in this shot! She only has two tail feathers left, but she’s really, really proud of them!

Chickens from Outer Space?

I’ve always been interested in ancient sites and have been fortunate to be able to visit a few of them over the course of my life.  Not unsurprisingly, I often meet others who share my interest in timeworn architecture and ancient civilizations when I visit these sites.  I also bump into another whole subset at these old places—those searching for sites imbued with “secret, ancient power”.  Visit Stonehenge, Delphi in Greece, or Machu Picchu and you’ll run into them, alone and in groups, in shorts and hiking boots or robes and beads, seeking healing, omens, visions, or doorways into other dimensions. 

Betty the Transgender Chicken – What Happened Next

If you’re a regular follower of the blog, you know the story of Betty the transgender chicken, and you may be wondering what happened after I had to remove Betty from the coop for a second time.  If you’ve just stumbled across this post you’re probably wondering what in the world I’m talking about.  In a sentence, Betty is a hen who spontaneously transformed into a rooster and was rejected by the flock.  Yes, really.  Hens changing into roosters is a real thing.  For the whole scoop, go back and read the original post, which is here.  A thumbnail recap follows here, and will segue into the Betty update:

Sexing Chickens: The Art, Science, and History of Hen vs. Rooster

A farmer wanted to be able to tell which of his baby chicks were boys and which were girls so he enlisted the aid of a scientist.  “Well!”  said the scientist, “It’s really quite easy!  You simply scatter some crickets in the coop.  The boy chicks will only eat boy crickets and the girl chicks will only eat girl crickets.”

“That’s great!”  said the farmer. “But how do you tell the boy crickets from the girl crickets?”

“Why are you asking me about crickets?” the scientist retorted.  “I’m a chicken expert!”

And for the bulk of history after the domestication of chickens, sexing baby chicks wasn’t too far from that mark.  The bad news is that baby chicks are pretty much small, cute, fluffy, and indistinguishable, with their boy and girl parts mostly inside their bodies and out of sight.  The good news is that for a long time, it really didn’t matter a whole lot.

Six Things to Do When Introducing New Chickens to Your Flock

Remember your first day at your new job?  You walked in carrying your little file box containing not much more than your coffee cup and your potted plant and found your way to your new office.  Everybody’s stared at you and you didn’t know any of them.  You didn’t know where the break room or the bathroom was—you didn’t know where anything was, and you weren’t sure what you were supposed to do next. 

Now, imagine that all your new co-workers had beaks and were crowding around to maliciously peck at you and you’ll be pretty close to what it must be like to be that new chicken you’re introducing to your flock.  Which is why you can’t just open the coop door, toss in a few new chickens and hope for the best.  It will be a stressful time for you and your flock, but with a little planning and strategy you can make it a little less stressful.  

The Life and Times of Betty the Transgender Chicken

It was a melancholy day in June when I went to the coop to commiserate with the flock.  I had just buried Arlene, my favorite Barred Rock hen and I was in need of some solace.  Instead of solace I found pandemonium.  A bunch of hens were after Betty the Easter Egger and it was not a simple situation of grouchy old hens visiting random pecks on a lower ranking hen that gets too close.  They had become a vigilante mob, and this was an all-out attack.  I had seen this kind of mob violence before – it seems to happen when a hen becomes sick or debilitated.  The hens of a nearly similar rank will often take advantage to eliminate her completely from the pecking order.  I’d been noticing that Betty had been experiencing some leg weakness – it was getting hard for her to jump onto the roost.  I was clueless as to what the cause was, but apparently the other hens decided that Betty’s time had come.  Betty ran around the coop trying to escape the pecks of the other hens to no avail – they chased after her aiming hard pecks at her head and comb.

Emile the rooster showed up on the scene, as he always does when there’s a kerfuffle.  He takes his job of maintaining peace and tranquility in his flock very seriously.  Betty actually tried to crawl underneath Emile to escape the pecks of the other hens, which would have been comical had it not been so pathetic.  Emile is a bantam roo, so there’s not a lot of space between Emile and the floor.  I sighed, entered the coop, snatched up Betty and looked her over.  She was bleeding in a couple of places on her comb from well-aimed pecks but otherwise she seemed to have escaped unscathed. 

A Chicken Feeder, A Waterer, and Other Odds and Ends

A Feeder

I've had a lot of problems with feed billing. I'm not talking about getting annoying notices in the mail from the feed store that my payment is overdue. "Billing" is a kind of confusing term poultry people have given to a behavior chickens engage in - they use their beaks to scoop a lot of chicken feed out of the feeder and onto the floor. I reached a point where I would have chicken feed an inch deep on the floor around the feeder whenever I would clean the coop. I kept telling the Hipster Hens that chicken feed is NOT chicken litter. It costs a lot more than pine shavings, and it's makes me really grouchy when I have to shovel all that feed mixed with litter and poop onto the compost pile. I turned to the internet for help and found lots of advice - some of it not so good. For instance, starving your hens to alter their behavior seems both cruel and sort of dumb. Chickens are chickens and will act like chickens. Scratching at and billing their food, is just what chickens do. I did find a number of recommendations for commercial and homemade feeders that would make billing food out of the feeder difficult - which seems like a good logical approach.

The one that made the most sense was a recommendation by Jason at "Locally Laid". He waxed ecstatic about a plastic gravity feeder made by Kuhl Corp and sold by Stromberg's Poultry Supply. (It's worth mentioning that neither Jason nor I have any sort of relationship with either company.) Without any further deliberation, I ordered one and installed it in my coop. It has been a miracle. The amount of feed the chickens manage to bill onto the floor is a fraction of what it used to be with my old feeder. The secret is the extra-deep feed pan and the inward curve at the edge of the pan. The chickens still noodle around in the feed with their beaks, but the feed stays in the feeder. I'm saving so much at the feed store that maybe I should go out and buy the large screen TV for the coop that all the Hipster Hens have been asking for!
Kuhl feeder.  Inset - feed pan with curved edge.