Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘raising backyard chickens

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

Yard Birds

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********** (Yesterday, an otherwise wonderful Sunday morning, I failed in my battle with learning the new “block” system of editing a WordPress post. I lost my temper, threw my computer, and went outside without publishing a post, where I would be able to work on projects I could control.

Try as I might to format the text and images to achieve my intention, the results consistently foiled me. After repeated unintended results which looked ridiculously wrong, from which I could not find the “undo” option that would at least return to the previous look, I boiled over.

Without going back and striving to accomplish my goal, I am, for now, resigning myself to living with whatever result this new editor mode produces, whether I like it, or not.

The following is the text and images I wanted to post yesterday morning, not as I intended it to look, but as the WordPress software allows me to present.)

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The pullets and Rocky are still confined to a fenced courtyard attached to the coop, but the big girls –a buff orpington, an australorpe, and a wyandotte– wander the property freely.

Saturday, while Cyndie was cleaning up the pine needle aftermath left from our removal of another dead pine tree, the three hens showed up to get in on the action.

 

Never one to pass up an opportunity to offer food to her loved ones, Cyndie had a treat ready to serve.

The girls rarely pass up the offerings of anything edible.

I think it shows in their not-so-svelte silhouettes.

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Written by johnwhays

October 5, 2020 at 6:00 am

Rocky Crowing

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I haven’t heard it in person yet but by Cyndie’s description, our little cockerel is working on his crowing. Yesterday, while I was at work, she texted to report “Rocky the Roo crowed three times”! At that point, I had yet to receive the sound file she included, so I simply relied on her words.

While reviewing my messages last night, in search of another of her fabulous photos to include here, I saw the recording had loaded. I don’t have the up-to-date know-how that would allow me to add the actual sound bite to this post, but I expect I will be able to share a recording eventually. Certainly, as Rocky gains mastery and consistency, I plan to capture some video of his skills, but for now, you’ll have to settle for my description.

His little learning crow was cuuu-uute! In fact, it was tri-syllables that phonetically sounded like: Err-a-errrrr.

Now, just combine that sound with the vision in this image and you get a fine taste of the idyllic life we are enjoying lately at our little paradise.

Yep, that’s Delilah lying in a “socially distanced” position away from the chicken coop.

This all serves as a welcome cleanser of my brain after having witnessed a few too many minutes of the Presidential debate last night that was far from anything resembling presidential.

Err-a-errrrr!

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Written by johnwhays

September 30, 2020 at 6:00 am

Magnificent Days

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We are enjoying magnificent weather this week for the month of September, although in the back of my mind the very summery temperatures echo too well some of the anticipated ramifications of the warming planet.

No floods or fires in our region at the moment. Just high heat (80°F!) and evolving colors in the tree leaves.

Wandering down the backyard hill toward the opening to the labyrinth, the leaves are still primarily green. Beyond that, there are brilliant splashes of gold, orange, and red showing up with surprising speed.

Our growing season seems to be ever-lengthening, but the end of this summer’s agricultural period is undoubtedly near. The declining hours of daylight aren’t being altered by the changing climate and plants don’t grow so well in the dark.

On the bright side, I think my lawn mowing might be done for the year.

Yesterday morning at work I received a sweet text from Cyndie letting me know that she heard “Rocky the Roo'” making progress on learning how to crow. She said his call had a definite sing-song inflection that was recognizable as the vague hint toward the ultimate “cock-a-doodle-doo.”

I wonder if the magnificent weather days will be just as mesmerizing with non-stop echos of rooster crowing reverberating across our valley. We didn’t check with any of our neighbors about how they might feel about the prospect. At the same time, none of them have ever asked us if their gunshots, barking dogs, hollering for missing cats, or high RPM farm machinery soundtracks have been any problem for us.

I think it a feature, not a bug, of living in the country.

Where pretty much every day is magnificent, no matter what the sounds.

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Accidental Gamble

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Yesterday, Cyndie shared a story that required an admission she didn’t want to make. Before I expose the drastic oversight, let me just express how challenging it can be to take care of vulnerable chickens day in and day out. They are completely at our mercy to tend to their needs and watch over them.

Our methods are not foolproof, but as I drove past the barn yesterday when I got home from work, I saw our three hens calmly puttering about and looking healthy as ever. It was a reassuring postscript to the tale Cyndie had woven over the phone a little earlier during my commute.

As she described it, the first hint that something was amiss occurred as she approached the coop in the morning. There was no sound from the hens who would normally be making a ruckus to be let out by the time Cyndie normally arrives. Moving past the coop with Delilah, she headed to the barn to secure the dog and prepare servings of chicken food before coming back to open the doors.

That’s when she noticed some movement in the trees. She didn’t believe her eyes at first, and ran through several possibilities in her mind.

Those were some big birds.

Are they chickens? Could they be from a neighboring property?

No. Those were our three hens. How did they get out of the coop already!?

Cyndie worried that some critter might have compromised the door. She fretted for the health and safety of the pullets housed in the other half of the coop.

Upon arriving to find the locking bar was safely placed on the ledge above the hatch where she normally stores it during the day, she came to the ultimate conclusion that the chicken door on the back side of the coop had been left open all night long. When Cyndie had closed the front door to secure the pullets on Monday night, she had forgotten to close the little sliding door on the backside.

To our great relief, no marauding predators took advantage of her having forgotten one essential step in securing the coop for the night.

I’m pretty sure that’s a gamble she won’t accidentally take again for quite some time.

The process of closing the coop will involve some double-checks from now on, I suspect. Not unlike the step we long ago added, where we open the side hatch every night to confirm no uninvited critters are hiding inside when we close things up.

You might call that one the “possum rule.”

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Written by johnwhays

September 23, 2020 at 6:00 am

Gender Reveal

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We are two months into our third year of buying chicks online and having them shipped through the mail. This year is the first time we have had reason to question the gender of one of the birds. Each day the evidence mounts, pointing to a probability that one of our two New Hampshire chicks is a cockerel instead of a pullet.

Do you see any signs of a difference between these two?

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The second one’s face is a little out of focus, but you can still get a general sense of the difference in the wattle and comb and detect the wider chest of the young dude on the left.

Cyndie thinks she heard an early practice crow last week that sounded like a “honk” before our rooster suspicions began to really gel. It was such an uncharacteristic weird sound, she had no idea who made it until we started looking into the possibility we might have a rooster. Cyndie then found some recordings online that matched what she’d heard near our coop.

Looking back, a behavior Cyndie witnessed one night when she got to the coop before they were all inside can be seen in a whole new light. When a Light Brahma and a Dominique straggled behind outside after all the others were in, the big New Hampshire suddenly ran down the ramp and grabbed the Brahma by the back of the neck, pushed her head into the ground, and held it there for a bit.

Then the New Hampshire let go and walked back up the ramp and inside. The other two followed soon after. Cyndie was shocked by the scene and I remember her describing it as seeming like the New Hampshire went out and ordered the other two to come inside. We thought it was just one of the hens being “bossy.”

Based on what we are coming to terms with now, that behavior would be totally in line with the way a rooster would treat the hens.

So, I guess we’ve finally had the question answered for us as to whether we should get a rooster to protect the hens, or not.

All that’s left now is to see if we can guide this cockerel toward behaving kindly with humans and ferociously toward predators when the rooster hormones fully kick in next year.

Cock-a-doodle-doooo!

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Written by johnwhays

September 17, 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