Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘free range chickens

Sickle Feathers

with 2 comments

Well, it happened again already. Predators paid another visit in broad daylight, still ghosts to us, but deathly real to the chickens. This time we know that Rocky was right in the middle of it. Once again, chicken feathers were spread far and wide around our property. Rocky’s were close to the coop.

Tail feathers on Wednesday.

Minus tail feathers on Thursday.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Cyndie found the intact bodies of two Light Brahmas. We lost the last Domestique, the two-year-old Golden Laced Wyandotte, and one of the Barnevelders. Another five down, leaving Rocky and three hens as all that remain to keep flies at bay, just at the time we brought horses back onto the property.

We can only hope that Rocky dished out as much abuse as it looks like he endured.

Cyndie picked up Rocky’s sickle feathers. We can only imagine what the fracas must have been like. I was at work and Cyndie never heard a sound. Most likely the horses would have been unsettled by the energy of predators on a killing spree. When Cyndie came out, everything was calm and collected.

I guess we should find solace in the fact our animals don’t appear to fret over the past. Everyone seemed just fine when it was over, albeit short some feathers, in Rocky’s case. Wish I could say the same for us.

.

.

 

Written by johnwhays

April 23, 2021 at 6:00 am

Fifth Nest

leave a comment »

Cyndie finally found it. The location where our hens have been laying eggs beyond our coop. Eighteen eggs, to be exact.

We’d had our suspicions about the general direction for some time, but were mistakenly searching between the trees around the area when all the while they have been sneaking behind some rolled up fencing stored right beside the outside of the shop.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Based on the variety in colors of eggs, we suspect between three and four hens have been taking turns laying there. They aren’t all laying there every time, as we have usually found six eggs per day in the coop nest boxes from the eight hens.

Yesterday, Cyndie spotted the Domestique running from the shop area which clued her in about refining her search location.

The chickens have been taking advantage of the horses being out in the back pasture, returning to their old stomping grounds under the barn overhang to scrounge for goodies. Since the horses tend to make swift sprints back into the paddocks at random intervals, the chickens occasionally find themselves alarmed.

Cyndie captured this image of Rocky standing tall over them as they closed ranks during one such incident yesterday.

When the horses aren’t racing back into the paddocks, they were thoroughly enjoying the comfort and open space available in the back pasture.

It was another glorious day in paradise.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

April 21, 2021 at 6:00 am

Unpleasant Reality

with 6 comments

Today’s post is one I don’t really want to be writing, but it’s the story to be told. The ever-present risk of free ranging our chickens played out yesterday afternoon between the hours of 2 and 4 o’clock. We had stepped back into the house to dry off from hours of being out in the rain or slogging away on tasks in the barn.

An unidentified foe or foes, invisible like the ghost of almost every previous such incident we have experienced, attacked our chickens and left us down four hens. A fifth, the old Buff Orpington, was injured and cowering in one of the corners under the barn overhang.

Two of the Light Brahmas stood around her, appearing to offer both comfort and protection. The wide spread of locations where bursts of feathers revealed shadows of the violence that occurred presented a complicated picture of how this incident must have played out.P4090007e

Near the coop, two or three eruptions of feathers. On the other side of the back pasture fence near the round pen, two more, all looking like feathers of a Domestique and the only New Hampshire hen. Near the barn, another Domestique. In the middle of the large paddock, it looked like Buff’s feathers.

Way over on the far side of the barn and around the hay shed, up onto the pavement of the driveway, one more Domestique.

Cyndie picked up the Buff and placed her in a safe space in the barn. There was some blood from her injury. The hen accepted some water with supplemental iron and enzymes. She survived the night, but when Cyndie checked on her this morning, it was obvious she was in distress. While grasping with the difficult decision to end the Buff’s suffering, Cyndie ended up witnessing the sight of the hen’s final spasm of death.

We are down five hens, leaving eight survivors and Rocky. There is no way of knowing what our new rooster may have achieved during the fracas, but one version is that he saved eight. In fact, it’s possible he kept the Buff from being killed and carried away, which is interesting to contemplate since he was usually busy trying to excommunicate her from the group whenever possible.

P4090001eHe shows no evidence of having any of his feathers ruffled. The attacker(s) left behind the fully intact body of the New Hampshire, which means the only missing bodies are the three Domestiques. It is hard to imagine it was a lone fox carrying these three off from such a wide span of distances. Much more understandable if we envision two or three coyotes.

We know coyotes exist in the area, but in all our years here, I have yet to see even one roaming on our land. Even when predators pay us a visit in broad daylight, they remain unseen ghosts for me.

We are granted the privilege of living with whichever chickens they allow us to keep. We still have one hen of the Domestique breed left. While the surviving chickens were wandering around later in the day, I noticed that Domestique trailing far behind the rest of the group.

Poor thing probably wonders where her mates had gone. I was thinking she probably shouldn’t stray far from Rocky’s side. Her breed appears to be a favored one for the local marauders.

.

.

Popular Nest

with 4 comments

We have four nest boxes in the coop for the hens to lay their eggs. History has revealed the box closest to the chicken door is the most popular.

I suppose when ya gotta lay, the first box might be a welcome necessity.

Cyndie is suspecting we’ve got a rogue who has chosen a spot other than the coop, based on the daily total of eggs collected falling a little short of expectations. She reports a pattern of suspicious chicken “call-outs” that frequently occur post egg-laying now emanating from a location other than the coop.

A cursory survey yesterday afternoon didn’t provide any evidence supporting her theory, but the fact this situation has occurred twice before feed our belief it is not only possible, but likely.

I told her she should let Delilah search using her incredible scent-detecting nose, but then we both felt a hesitancy over offering any encouragement to our intrepid tracker for predatory behavior toward our chickens or the eggs.

If it turned out to be just one hen choosing a remote location, that wouldn’t be such a big deal. Since the egg counts have seemed to be down by more than one a day this week, we are a little concerned that allowing this behavior to go unchecked might inspire more hens to participate in laying eggs in a nest of their own making.

Maybe it is unlucky we’ve seen such little evidence of predator pressure on this latest brood of birds and it has nurtured a complacency about their level of risk. Sure, they are domestic chickens, but they need to realize they are living in the midst of actual roaming wildlife.

A lone hen sitting on a nest in the woods of the neighbor’s property behind our shop garage (where Cyndie senses the familiar clucking outbursts have been coming from) will be no match for the fox that has been caught on the trail cam crossing onto our land from nearby.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

April 7, 2021 at 6:00 am

Another Stray

leave a comment »

We received a little more than a dusting of snow overnight, but not quite an inch. It’s annoying, actually, in a region where it’s not certain whether the paltry amount will melt or add to possible future accumulations. Does it deserve the effort of plowing? Should I clear the valley on the roof where ice dams often result?

There are more times than I like to admit when I have wished I had cleaned up a previous snow event that I originally chose to ignore.

Cyndie was pondering sweeping the fresh snow cover away near the barn for the benefit of our royal residents, the chickens. Heaven forbid they be forced to deal with the elements like feral chickens.

Based on their initial egg-laying performances, they are behaving more like wild birds than the domesticated coop-homed free-rangers they are. We are witnessing the successful initial use of the nest boxes in the coop at a rate of about 70%. The other times, eggs appear to show up in any and all locations where the brood happens to find themselves.

There was a single frozen egg discovered this morning next to the wall of the barn. Oops.

It’s hard to tell right now exactly which birds are laying among the thirteen. Based on the number of eggs in a day, likely 4 or maybe 5 are starting to produce. We are starting to get a routine of three eggs a day.

It’s a good thing our primary focus is not on gaining eggs, but on having happy, healthy chickens roaming our grounds. Eggs are just a wonderful added benefit that we try not to neglect.

.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

January 31, 2021 at 11:11 am

Clear Evidence

leave a comment »

As autumn dries out the growth across our landscape, all sorts of sights that were once buried in greenery are becoming revealed.

It is clear that our Wyandotte didn’t entirely kick her habit of finding places other than the nest boxes for laying her eggs this year.

Cyndie found these after several obviously old eggs began to appear in unlikely open spaces in the nearby vicinity. It seems as though some critters of the night had discovered the stash and were working on moving them to hiding places of their own choosing.

It’s a good thing we aren’t trying to subsist exclusively on the production of our layers. As always, I like having the chickens for their ability to control flies and ticks. Free-range eggs are a byproduct. Indeed, a precious bonus, but not a requirement we demand of them.

Still, it’s sad to find the bounty we’ve been missing out on that has gone to waste.

Silly chicken.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

November 10, 2020 at 7:00 am

Sick Chicken

with 8 comments

We’ve got a sick bird. One of the adult hens, our Australorp. She was losing feathers and then slowly started to lag behind the others in every way. Eventually, we noticed the color was gone from her comb and wattle. Cyndie decided to isolate the hen and made a space in one of the stalls in the barn.

She turned on the heat lamp for the poor girl since there were no other hens around her for warmth.

Since we are enjoying a period of summery warm high temperatures during the daytime this week, Cyndie has been moving the hen outside during the day, either in the brooder or our broody breaker cage, keeping the hen isolated in hopes of protecting the others in case the ailment is contagious.

The primary treatment has been hydration, which the hen has been eager to receive. After a couple of days, the color of her wattle and comb started to improve. Yesterday, the hen appeared to be regaining some appetite. We are hopeful that whatever was ailing her will resolve itself without requiring any additional interventions.

During my commute home from work yesterday afternoon, Cyndie and I were chatting on the phone. She was outside with the chickens at the time and decided to let the Australorp free-range and mingle again. Cyndie offered the birds some treats out of the palm of her hand. She reported the Australorp had wandered off by herself to scratch in the dirt a short distance away.

While we were talking and Cyndie was providing a narration of the antics playing out, she excitedly described an apparent “emergency response drill” that suddenly occurred.

She had been feeding treats with all the chickens around, creating an understandable competition for best access. One of them made a sound and in a blink, the birds all vanished into the trees. Cyndie didn’t notice anything that might have triggered the need to hide.

Then Rocky came out to take advantage of unfettered access to the treats she had been offering.

Cyndie reported it gave the distinct impression the cockerel had triggered the call for everyone to take cover so he could eliminate the competition and have a moment to himself at the treat trough. If that was truly the case, he has my admiration.

Last night, when Cyndie went out to secure the chicken coop for the evening, the Australorp was waiting on the driveway. Guess she wasn’t ready to rejoin the others yet. Cyndie took her back to the barn for another night.

Seems we might need to put some effort into merging her back into the flock when the time is right.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

November 6, 2020 at 7:00 am

Divider Removed

leave a comment »

Over the weekend we took the big step of removing the modifications we put into the coop to subdivide space for the pullets and Rocky. The twelve young ones and three old hens have been sharing the coop for weeks and more recently, have had unrestricted contact while ranging free for multiple days. The two groups didn’t magically become the best of friends, but they appear to be mostly tolerating each other.

We felt like the two groups were doing well enough together that taking the next step of opening the coop was in reach. I’m not sure the chickens all agree.

The first night, we removed the lower barriers but left the net fencing above. All of them showed signs of hesitation over the remodeling as they stepped up to get their first view. They had the whole floor open, so several pullets popped up on the “wrong” side of the net where the three adult hens have been roosting.

There was a bit of bickering as the hens made their opinions known and we decided to assist the young ones in finding their way back around the netting.

In order to avoid that confusion a second night, I removed the last of the barriers and opened the coop completely. There is still a fair amount of squawking and pecking that occurs, but now they all have full range of movement to get away from the aggressors.

Eventually, they settle down and survive the nights unscathed. In the morning, after the doors open, the young ones tend to stay together and the only time the two groups mix is when the hens decide to move in to flaunt their seniority.

We are letting them figure it out for themselves, with only occasional interventions when we lose patience with their shenanigans. I get the impression they will never really become the best of friends, but at a minimum, they will accept there are other chickens sharing their stomping grounds.

This is the first time we have had white chickens and I have noticed from afar that they lack the ability to blend in with their surroundings as well as all the others. I have no idea if that puts them at a higher risk, but if it does, seems like that makes all of them equally imperiled.

Time will tell.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

October 19, 2020 at 6:00 am

Partial Freedom

with 2 comments

When the time arrived to open the fence for our young pullets and Rocky, allowing them their first taste of free-ranging, we had already changed our mind about how we would do it. Soon after, we also altered our thinking toward making the transition in shorter stages.

Originally, based on reading the experiences of others, our plan was to keep the three adults inside in the morning for longer than normal while we let out the youngsters. We actually did the opposite. For our own convenience, it just worked better to proceed normally in the morning, letting the big girls out as usual and opening the coop door so the young ones could have time inside their fenced run.

After our breakfast and walking Delilah, we could put her back in the house and give the chickens our undivided attention. We opened the fence and with very little excitement, Rocky slowly led his brood a few steps outside the fence where they immediately busied themselves pecking at the green grass blades.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Two of the big hens were in the vicinity and took in the activity with only brief interest. Then they wandered off through the trees. The Buff Orpington was in a nest box laying an egg at the time.

After the pullets made their way to the far side of the outer edge of their fenced courtyard, Cyndie decided to show them the way back to the entrance. Once back inside their familiar stomping grounds, we decided to secure them for the day while we tended to other pursuits.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

In the afternoon, I was walking through the tall grass in the paddocks with Delilah when she suddenly scared up a stray cat that had been hiding a short distance away from the coop. Was that intruder eyeing our birds? Hmmm.

During the morning session, I was multitasking with some day-job remote communications while being physically present for the chickens.

Late in the day, we opened the fence again and gave the chickens our full attention for their second session out. There was only one confrontation in which one of the adults doled out some aggression to establish her dominance over a brazen Light Brahma that dared to stride up with a bit too much confidence.

When opportunity arose that the young ones all found their way back inside their protective fencing again, we took advantage to close them in.

We will transition them to full freedom over a period of days, increasing their autonomy a little each day.

Based on what we’ve witnessed thus far, it doesn’t appear that Rocky the Roo will be much of a protector if predators show up this soon in the process of orienting the new brood to the great outdoors. We will exercise moderate caution for however long we are able to muster the extra attention to the detail.

Ultimately, we acknowledge the risks of free-ranging birds in our environs. It’s a natural contest of the cycle of life.

Meanwhile, we are enjoying them to the fullest. Chickens are wonderfully fun to have around.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

October 10, 2020 at 9:42 am

Looking Ahead

with 2 comments

We have decided to try releasing the eleven pullets and Rocky to free-range our property tomorrow morning. Our plan will be to let them out of the coop before we release the three hens. Then we’ll open the fence around the courtyard that has been their run since we moved them from the brooder two months ago.

After they all figure out their freedom, we will open the back hatch to then let the hens out. We kinda hope the hens will take their usual immediate jaunt to the barn overhang to get fresh food and water and wait to investigate the roaming young ones later. I’m not counting on it, though.

Based on previous experience, I expect the pullets will be so thrilled over access to green grass blades again, they won’t wander far in the early minutes of their newly-granted freedom.

You can see in the accompanying image that they do quite a number on anything growing inside the confines of their fenced area. That was all luscious green grass when we put up the fence two months earlier.

Now it’s a vast wasteland. There isn’t a crawling critter that would dare enter that space.

On Monday, I watched one of the barnevelders try to chase down an Asian beetle that showed up inside the fence. Merciless.

The beetles become overwhelming pests this time of year after the soybean fields get cut. They are incredibly successful at breaching any and all seams around our doors and windows intended to keep bugs out. We can’t vacuum them up fast enough. I wish the geniuses who devised using these insects to control aphids would have also figured out something to occupy the spotted orang half-rounds after the crops are harvested.

I saw or heard at some point that in this phase of the beetle’s life they are on a quest to find water. Nothing is frozen solid yet, so why do they instantly all want to get into the house? We’ve got a perfectly good landscape pond beside the deck. Drink from there. Geez.

Maybe the chickens lose interest after tasting just one beetle and that’s why so many survive to reach our dwelling. Otherwise, I expect our feathered pest controlling omnivores would neutralize the threat of beetles as well as they do all the flies and ticks in the vicinity.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

October 8, 2020 at 6:00 am