"Meet the Flock" Roundup - July & August, 2016

Meet Snowball the Silkie Rooster. This personable little roo has an amazingly long back story for one so young and fluffy. In 2013 I picked three baby chicks out of a batch of straight run fluffy-footed chicks at a local feed store. “Straight run” means that the chicks had not been sexed, so their gender was unknown. “Fluffy-footed” means just that –these chicks would turn into chickens that would have feathers all the way down their legs and on their feet. In my inexperience, I was hoping for three Silkie hens. I’m glad I was not playing the lottery that day, since all three chicks became roosters. Two of them were not even Silkies – early on I figured out that Emile and Paul were roosters (like when they started crowing!), and that they were both bantam Cochins. Snowball was the only Silkie. Sexing baby chicks is difficult – it requires the ability to see minor variations in the baby chicks’ cloacae. It’s so difficult to sex chicks that it is considered as much art as science, and is only done by professionals. Baby Silkies display such minor cloacal differences that it’s pretty much impossible to sex them at all. So you have to wait until they’re approaching maturity before you have any idea if they’re hens or roosters. And Snowball was a late bloomer. We were well into the fall when Snowball got up one day, looked around, and crowed. Unfortunately, since Paul and Emile had declared their roosterhood weeks before Snowball got around to it, crowing was exactly the wrong thing for him to do. Every day from that point on, Snowball’s life became an exercise in escaping the wrath of the other two roosters. Even the hens became hostile to him and soon everybody was picking on him. In due course, he was afraid to leave the roost – even to eat or drink. I started putting him by the water font so he would drink under my protection and I would hold him on my lap and feed him out of my hand. That kept him alive, but his was a pretty pathetic existence. Eventually I built a small 4x4 coop just for him, complete with a sign proclaiming, “SNOWBALL’S SWINGIN’ BACHELOR PAD”. He lived there by himself for about a year. Then, in 2014 I built a second coop which became Snowball’s new home and since then I’ve gradually introduced more chickens to that coop. Today, Coop 2 is home to two Silkie hens, a golden Polish hen, a buff Orpington, and the four teenage Cream Legbars. And Snowball is lord of the manor!

Meet Betty the Easter Egger! Easter Eggers are not a true breed. Rather, they are a cross of a variety of different breeds with Auracanas, a South American breed that lays blue eggs. Auracanas lay blue eggs by adding biliverdin, a hemoglobin byproduct, to their eggshells. Easter Eggers can lay eggs that range from blue to olive green. This sweet hen used to be a regular layer of pretty light-green eggs, but has not laid an egg since last fall. At age three, she’s only middle-aged, but I suspect that Betty may have opted for early retirement!

Meet Bonnie the Cream Legbar pullet! Bonnie is one of the baby chicks I got at the end of March and is unique because she doesn’t have a tail. Poultry people refer to this condition as “rumplessness” and in addition to no tail feathers, rumpless chickens are also lacking a tailbone. There are breeds of rumpless chickens, but Legbars are not one of those breeds, so I don’t know what’s going on with Bonnie. At first I was chalking it up to the Auracana (a rumpless South American breed) genetics in Cream Legbars, but after doing some more reading I now realize that when R.C. Punnett developed the Cream Legbar in the 1930's he didn't use Auracanas per se - the blue egg and the crest genes came from a "yellow-brown colored, crested Chilean hen"—no mention of the hen not having a tail. I’ve exchanged emails with the breeder that Bonnie came from and she is surprised – this has never occurred in her chickens before. I suppose that this must be a spontaneous mutation, which makes Bonnie very special. I expect once she’s a little older she’ll develop super powers.

Here's another picture of Bonnie enjoying a little leaf tidbit in the chicken run.

Meet Buffy the Buff Orpington hen. Buffy is in her fourth year, but maintains her girlish figure and turns out a continuous stream of those lovely brown eggs. She does stop laying eggs on occasion and goes broody. She actually is the only non-Silkie hen in my flock that has bouts of broodiness. I'm hatching a plan (no pun intended, of course!) to put her broodiness to good purpose by using her as the broody hen for next year’s batch of chicks.

Meet Carmen Maranda the cuckoo Marans and Mary the golden Campine. This is not a fabulous picture of either hen, but it’s a great juxtaposition of the largest and smallest hens in the big coop. Carmen, as mild mannered as she is large, lays beautiful chocolate brown eggs and Mary, high-energy and aloof, lays petite white eggs.

Meet Charlie Barred Rock. Charlie is in her fourth year, and just between us, is kind of bossy and verbose. She never stops talking! How can any hen have so much to say? Charlie is the largest of the Barred Rocks and she is without a doubt the alpha hen in the flock, so maybe all that talk is just her reminding the other hens how cool she is.

Meet Courtney the white Silkie hen. If you’ve followed this blog for any time you may feel Courtney needs no introduction, since you no doubt followed the story of Courtney raising the batch of Cream Legbar chicks as their surrogate mom. But Courtney actually has a secret past! Courtney started life in an amazing local bookstore that is not only filled with tons of children’s books, but also a variety of animals for the kids to interact with. Courtney was known as Iggy Peck back then—a perfect name for a chicken living in a bookstore! While Courtney is the smallest chicken in my flock, she makes up for her size with her assertiveness, and apparently that part of her personality manifested itself in her previous life as well. She not only made life miserable for the other chicken in the store, a poor hen-pecked little rooster named Neal, but one fateful day she also pecked a toddler. It was a soft peck and the toddler was not harmed, but Courtney lost her job selling books that day. So then she came to live here at the ranch. The bookstore folks report that since “Iggy Peck” left, Neal has blossomed into a happy, outgoing rooster that loves the attention that all of the kids bestow on him. And Courtney has become a Hipster Hen and a mom! So this is a story with happy ending for everybody!

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