Poultry Home Companions

Jane Goodall watches chimps and observes interesting interactions and behaviors.  I watch my chickens and observe the same and I would like to think that I am just as legitimate.  I honestly believe that chicken interaction is every bit as fascinating as that of any other social animal group. 
One thing I’ve noticed with my flock is that two chickens occasionally form a bonded pair.  They hang around together, act in each other’s interest in their interactions with other members of the flock, and roost together every night – it is the chicken version of BFF’s.
One of my chicken pairs is Maran and Carmen Maranda the Cuckoo Marans.  They were part of a small group of chicks I brought home from Murray McMurray Hatchery in the spring of 2014.  They were the only two Marans in the group and they bonded.  Somehow they seemed to be tuned into the fact that there was another chickens that looked just like they did.  In the late summer of that year they were introduced to the larger flock.  There was the usual kerfuffle as the pecking order became re-established and each hen defended her place in the order of things.  During that process Carmen and Maran had each other’s backs.  If, for example, Jennifer would come up and start pecking at Maran, Carmen would be in Jennifer’s face.  By joining forces they moved about half way up the pecking order and that’s where things are at today.  At night, most of the hens roost on the big roost.  But Carmen and Maran roost by themselves on a smaller roost off to the side.  BFF’s for sure!
Carmen Maranda and Maran the Cuckoo Marans

Coop Update

Happy birthday to the chicks on their one-month birthday!  Here are Mama Courtney, Bonnie (in back), Marissa, Nicky,  & Paulette (L to R).
Here's a picture of Nicky the Teenage Chicky.  See how she's starting to get the crazy Legbar hairdo already! She's also already getting the salmon colored breast feathers that will be her adult color.
Meanwhile, over in the big coop, every nest box in the coop is empty except for this one which both Veronica the Easter Egger & Buffy the Buff Orpington seem to feel is the only one that will work for them. Never said chickens were bright. On the other hand they're a lot like us.

Fine Poultry Art & The Chicks Go Out

I recently had a birthday, and my amazing wife, Kathy, presented me with an equally amazing birthday present – a portrait of four of my chickens by the Wisconsin artist Susan Martin.  I’ve been using an image of Susan’s painting “Three Wise Roosters” on my egg cartons because I love its rusticity and whimsy, so I was overjoyed to see the images of Snowball the Silkie rooster, Emily and Courtney the Silkie hens, and Angitou the Polish hen put to canvas. 

Snowball and His Hens - by Susan Martin
This group of chickens, by the way, are my “decorative” chickens and share a coop separate from the rest of the flock.  Courtney and her Legbar chicks share a small coop next door to this coop and my plan is for them to all eventually live together.  The first step in incorporating the babies with this group of chickens happened a week ago when I replaced the solid pop door separating the two coops with a hardware cloth panel, so everybody could see each other.
The Legbar Babies Viewing the World Through a Hardware Cloth Window
Yesterday, I opened the door entirely so I could see how everybody would interact.  I sprinkled a handful of dried mealworms at the door entrance and in no time at all, Courtney and the kids were at the door and then through the door, happily pecking up mealworms. 

Courtney calls to her babies through the pop door & out they come, pell-mell, tumble bumble!

Emily and Angitou were in the coop when Courtney walked in with her chicks and both hens acted very cautiously.  Emily was a little taken aback by this intrusion of strangers, and quietly backed into a corner.  Angitou stood stock still and actually backed up when one of the chicks ran over to check her out.  Courtney apparently was concerned about this interaction, however, and ran at Angitou aggressively, chased her around a couple of times until Angitou escaped out the door and into the run.    

After an hour in the big coop, I put Courtney and babies back into their coop.  They’re in the big coop again today, though, and I’m hoping I can leave them there all day without any major battles.
The chicks are 23 days old today!  Here, Marissa says, "See how cool and grown up I am!  I can perch!"

“Locally Laid – How We Built A Plucky, Industry-Changing Egg Farm—From Scratch”—A Book by Lucie B. Amundsen

“Locally Laid – How We Built A Plucky, Industry-Changing Egg Farm—From Scratch”
Lucie B. Amundsen
March 1, 2016

Lucie Amundsen and her husband Jason are out for out for a romantic dinner date at a local Mexican restaurant on a warm summer evening:  ‘”I want to talk to you about something,” he said, clearing his throat. “Commercial egg farming.”
“If this were a sitcom, a record needle would scratch across vinyl and someone would cue the laugh track.  But this was just my life.  I blinked and kept shoveling salsa into my mouth between gulps of beer….Poultry wasn’t exactly the foreplay talk I was hoping for, so instead I just enjoyed the rhythm and cadence of his voice.  I heard something about pastured hens foraging on fresh grasses producing healthier, delicious eggs with less fat and cholesterol, something about the local food movement and its ability to remake America’s food system.”
My fellow Minnesotan, Lucie B. Amundsen, is a wonderful writer.  Her book is an autobiographical account of how the Amundsens created a unique, commercially viable egg farm.  She writes warmly, humorously, and honestly as she tells what is really a very personal story about her family and herself.  And in the process, she explains how modern farming practices have gone off the rails and how people like the Amundsens have rolled up their sleeves and gotten to work in an attempt to set things right.  I have nothing but high praise for this book.

The Chicks Are 16 Days Old

Ah, they grow up so fast!  Everybody has cute little wing feathers, and Paulette, precocious chick that she is, already has sprouted tail feathers.

Courtney contentedly poses with a couple of her kids
Paulette is proud of her new tail feathers
One postscript on my March 21 post about the chick nursery:  I'd suggested that paper towels were a good thing to use on the floor of the brooder coop.  They really do work well for all the reasons I talked about in that post.  But, I’ve never had a broody hen in the coop with the babies before.  New advice: If you’re planning on using a hen, forget the paper towels.  Courtney is constantly scratching the floor in an attempt to unearth treats for her babies.   There are no treats down there, Courtney--nothing but a wooden floor!  When the weather gets warmer she can take the kids outside and scratch in the dirt and then she'll be a whole lot more successful in finding buried treasure.  In the coop the only product of her efforts have been huge paper towel tumbleweeds!  When she was just sitting on golf balls the floor stayed pristine.  After a single day with chicks, the coop floor was down to bare wood with lots of piles of crumpled up paper towels.  The morning of her second day with the chicks I found that one of the paper towel wads had wound up in the chick water font and had wicked out all the water.  So not only was there no water to drink, there was also a big pile of soggy towels!  That’s when I got rid of all of the paper towels and put down pine shavings.  The pine shavings have been absolutely fine.

Finally, I have been focusing all my recent blogs on Courtney and the chicks.  There has been a certain amount of grumbling among the other hens that I’m playing favorites and that they’ve been forgotten about.  So to set things right, here’s a sketch my wife Kathy made this week in the hen yard when everybody was out enjoying the spring weather.  There you go, hens--now you can stop complaining!
The Hens

The Chicks - Latest Update

I am sorry to report that one of the babies looked lethargic on the evening of April 1, and by the next morning when I went to the coop I found that she had died during the night.  I am completely mystified as to the cause.  One thing you need to watch for in baby chicks is pasty butt - a condition that occurs in baby chicks where poop sticks to the down around their vent and can build up to the point where it forms an impermeable plug - it can be fatal and is easily avoided simply by washing the poop off their down.  This chick did not suffer from that and as a matter of fact showed no outward appearance of any problem.  Baby chicks can simply mysteriously die, and that's where I am at with this one.  I've been worried that this baby died of something potentially infectious, but time has passed and the others continue to be happy and healthy, so I would like to think that I am out of the woods for an infectious disease.

Meanwhile the chicks have been christened.  I would like to introduce Bonnie, Marissa, Nicky, and Paulette!  They are a week and a day old now - notice how they're already getting little wing feathers!
Courtney & Babies - 8 days old