Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘merging flocks

Happy Chickens

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Our newest chickens are now about four and a half months old and have reached a size that has the two remaining hens from the previous batch mixing with them as equals. As a group, they are behaving as the happiest and friendliest of yard pets. Almost too friendly, in fact. They are showing no hesitation about racing up to us when we are walking Delilah, who would not hesitate for one second to grab a mouthful of feathers.

On an afternoon walk after our Thanksgiving feast, Cyndie made me stop to occupy the chickens while she hustled ahead with the dog.

She paused to look back and see me chicken-whispering to thank them for agreeing to wear face masks for my little photoshoot the day before.

They had been very accommodating, lining up politely for their fitting.

This morning, there was a new level of excitement because Rocky found his voice again and was crowing many times in a row after weeks of silence following his initial experiments.

Rocky’s coloring and sheen are launching him far beyond the splendor of his brood of adoring pullets.

We continue to visualize his protective spirit as one that will include us and any people visiting as non-threats. He could be our ultimate test of the power of our chicken-whispering abilities.

For now, we are thoroughly enjoying the present state of bliss caring for our growing chickens. They seem totally happy, which is making us even happier.

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Written by johnwhays

November 28, 2020 at 9:55 am

Kitty Homed

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The result is in. Despite breaking Cyndie’s heart in handing off our little surprise visitor last week, the sweet kitty that peeked in our back door is now happily placed in a new home.

None of our neighbors reported missing a pet and our trusted pet-sitter, Anna, just happened to be looking for a kitty to fulfill the request of a friend. It was a match that fit seamlessly for all parties concerned.

One reply we received from a neighbor gave us pause. She texted, “Is this the first pet you’ve had abandoned on your property?”

We’ve been here eight years now, and this was a first. Her question implies it is something that happens with some regularity in the country. We are happy to have been spared this harsh reality of human behavior thus far.

Our attention is back on fifteen chickens who are busy learning how to deal with the increasingly wintery weather, as well as their own pecking order. We feel lucky to have avoided any real violence from the aggressors, but they do assert their dominance as anticipated. Happily, the young ones are not looking defeated by it in the least. They continue to ever so slowly expand their comfort zone of free-ranging our land.

In this time of the exploding COVID-19 cases, take advantage of the healthy excuse to stay home and hug your pets.

Except for free-ranging chickens. They aren’t so fond of that hugging thing.

Just throw them some scratch or mealworms and they’ll feel truly loved.

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Written by johnwhays

November 1, 2020 at 10:49 am

Peaceful Coexistence

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It is possible that the early arrival of snow cover this October is playing a role in the normalization process of our two groups of chickens. For the most part, they are getting along… separately, together, if that makes any sense. They settle down okay in the coop at night, randomly mixing positions on the two roosts, but during the day, there is no mistaking the obvious distinction of three versus twelve.

Cyndie has cleared a clean path from the coop to the barn and the group of young ones follow on her heels as she heads to fill enough pans of feed to foil the older three who try to lord over that resource.

The hens are coping with the reality of needing to share the coveted space under the overhang of the barn.

The young ones don’t show any need to challenge the hens. Just the opposite. They are quick to retreat at the first approach from any of their elders, but probably just as quick to return in exploration of their ever-expanding horizons.

We are satisfied with the present state of peaceful coexistence and thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to watch things develop before our eyes.

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Written by johnwhays

October 25, 2020 at 10:00 am

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Mixed Seasons

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Delilah doesn’t care that a winter-sized daylong snowstorm blasted into our otherwise reasonable autumnal October weather on Tuesday.

The ground cover is now an interesting mix of snow and leaves. The natural world seems to have lost patience with this thing we call order. What the heck, bring on the snow. We don’t need to wait for the trees to drop all their leaves first.

Delilah loves it. While I trudged with great effort through the deep, wet snow in the woods, she happily raced to sniff one wildlife footprint after another.

I didn’t take Delilah near the chickens during our stroll after I got home from work, so I didn’t see how the birds were coping with their new surroundings, but when Cyndie returned from closing the coop as darkness fell, she reported full merging of young and old on the roosts.

How synchronous! Mixed seasons and mixed flocks of chickens.

Maybe the old birds will share their winter savvy with the young ones.

“If we act like we are stuck and can’t walk anywhere because of the snow, that lady who thinks she’s our mother will shovel a path to the barn.”

She already did.

I’m guessing the young ones have already learned that detail.

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Written by johnwhays

October 22, 2020 at 6:00 am

Divider Removed

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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.

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Written by johnwhays

October 19, 2020 at 6:00 am

Partial Freedom

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Written by johnwhays

October 10, 2020 at 9:42 am

Looking Ahead

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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.

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Written by johnwhays

October 8, 2020 at 6:00 am

Merger Discussions

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After a stressful Monday at the day-job yesterday, I was more than eager for a little chicken therapy when I got home. Cyndie and I climbed into the net-fenced courtyard for a leisurely visit with Rocky and his 11 pullets.

While enjoying the chaos, Cyndie and I talked over some ideas of how we might proceed with the merging of our young ones with the three hens.

This is our first chance to go through this experience. Interestingly, neither of us recall any details of the two previous times we have gone through the process of simply moving our same-aged broods from confinement to free-ranging.

Now we are at a point of doing that again, but with the added complication of simultaneously merging them with existing hens.

While we chatted and lingered with the birds, they began to mellow out. There was a bit of preening at first, and then a lot of settling down for a little afternoon rest.

That’s when I noticed two of the adult hens had settled down at the same time, just outside the fence. The main reason I noticed is that the New Hampshire pullet had wandered over to be right next to them, yet inside the fence.

It appears that the weeks of perching together in the coop every night, separated by that same netting, have achieved our goal of getting them comfortable with each other.

Soon, other pullets joined the New Hampshire until there was a group with one of each of six breeds snuggled together in the late afternoon sun for a little downtime.

I think this bodes well for our coming merger where we remove the divider in the coop and teach the youngsters the fine art of free-ranging the grounds during the day and returning to roost securely at night.

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Written by johnwhays

October 6, 2020 at 6:00 am

Even Higher

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Always pushing the envelope, those chickens. On Monday, when Cyndie went down to close the coop for the night, she found one of the Light Brahmas had figured out a way to get even higher than the 2×4 ledge above the window. Somehow, she got on top of the netted fencing that we installed to separate the adult hens from the chicks.

She wedged herself up against the quarter-inch hardware cloth that serves as the coop ceiling and was positioned such that she looked down upon the three adult hens roosting beneath her.

The tenacity of chickens to violate every installation put in place to contain them reminds me a little of our horses. Every time I installed something I didn’t think they would mess with, the horses would prove me wrong.

When Cyndie spotted that trapeze artist, she was on a phone call, so she left the bird up there until she could get me to assist with addressing the situation.

With darkness fully upon us, we donned headlamps and barged in on the sanctity of nighttime roosting. After rudely relocating the Brahma, Cyndie asked for twist-ties to stitch that area of fencing tightly to the hardware cloth ceiling to prevent subsequent attempts.

When I shut the coop last night, there was no sign that any of them had tried to mess with that solution. Three pullets were up on the cross-beam framing the window and the rest were spread across the two roost branches spanning the coop.

Maybe they were all tired of working to establish a pecking order. When I had visited them earlier yesterday afternoon, that’s all they appeared to be doing. Skirmish after skirmish between an ever-changing combination of pairs played out with shoving, chasing, posturing, glaring, beak-to-beak staring, and occasionally a rare attempt to peck.

There were no “She started it!” statements possible because all of them were guilty.

I saw it with my own eyes.

I’m thinking maybe the balmy gusting south wind had them riled up a bit. As if they need an excuse.

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Written by johnwhays

September 16, 2020 at 6:00 am

Maturing Wonderfully

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The chicks have grown into pullets as they enter their seventh week and have completely mastered a routine of roosting in the coop overnight and romping in the fenced front yard all day long.

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Over the weekend, I found myself drawn to wander down to visit them on two separate occasions to just lay outside the fence and hang out. They have already devoured all the greenery that previously existed inside the fence so I’ve become a source of treats, dropping blades of fresh green grass inside for them.

When they pick up a blade, it often sets off a frenzy of thievery as nearby chicks move in with attempts to steal it away for their own.

By supplying these snacks I appear to be cementing my reputation as a friend-not-foe because they already come running excitedly when I announce my arrival with my best falsetto-voiced chicken greetings.

They are doing so well thus far we are wishing we could just skip ahead to merging with the adults and letting them free-range right now. Luckily, the adults made a few threatening gestures yesterday along the fence line to help me see the value of waiting until they are much closer in size.

It is good to see they are growing in familiarity with the antics of the twelve new chicks. That’s the whole point of the netting, giving them a chance to see, smell, and hear each other, but with a barrier for protection from aggression.

What’s not to love? I think they will get along famously when the time comes. The four new breeds are just so adorable!

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Written by johnwhays

August 31, 2020 at 6:00 am