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Chicken Changes

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The chicken changes continue here and I know people are curious to know who has and hasn’t made the cut. A month ago I had six hens laying and now I’m down to three laying. Fortunately, these three are all still laying, despite the fact that it is winter. Frodo is up to 15 days laying in a row, so is due to go broody at any time. Kitty has only missed one egg in the last 16 days, although she briefly tried out broodiness yesterday, and Lizzie has settled into a weirdly repetitive pattern of laying for two days then missing a day, but her eggs are large or even jumbo sized with huge yolks. Georgiana still hasn’t started laying yet and probably won’t until late winter or early spring, so I don’t yet know what her capabilities are. On the weekend, two chickens found a lovely new home: Mary and one of the new black Orpington pullets. There are two more I have been trying to sell: the other Orpington and Mr Bingley. Yes.

It has been very difficult trying to decide who to keep and who to sell to get my numbers and costs down. I had to make a document with photos of all my chickens to help me decide. I knew that Mr Bingley was going to have to move on sooner or later since I was determined to make a move on breeding purebred Australorps, but decided to bite the bullet since I had a rising food bill and a nice young cockerel coming along. Well, I thought I did. This is where it got complicated! I had a sudden realisation that PB was not a sweet-natured, slow-maturing cockerel but was turning into a large, huge-footed, easy-to-handle hen. Either that or PB is going to be some sort of hooster, which doesn’t bear thinking about. I swear she tried to tid-bit me one day! While I had wanted her to be a him so I could breed some purebreds in spring (or when ‘he’ matured), it is not so bad because a) it is nice to add a sweet purebred hen to my collection and b) Mr Bingley is probably allowed to stick around for longer. I guess I’ve learnt not to count my cockerels before they crow. My breeding plans are now to acquire some fertile Australorp eggs whenever some become available in order to hatch a cockerel. Option 2 is to buy one if a good one becomes available but I would much rather hatch and raise one myself, especially if I have a few to pick from.

Keeping or selling

Keeping or selling? The harsh process of finding out the value of each chicken to me. In the Keeping section: Frodo is my number one, followed by Kitty then PB (although these two may swap places now that PB is a girl), Georgiana, Lizzie and the Wyandottes. I am curious about Kitty and Georgiana’s usefulness for breeding and would like to know Georgiana’s laying capabilities, otherwise she might be further down the list. In the Selling section we have Mary, the Orpingtons and Mr Bingley. Mr Bingley is of the least financial value to me right now plus in a small flock I really need new genetics to ensure healthy chickens. Obviously, his emotional value to me is higher than this and he is still useful for keeping everyone in line with new chickens around. The bottom line is there’s not much point hatching any more of his eggs as I would have to sell all the offspring (can you imagine me not keeping any?) due to needing genetic diversity in my flock.

Mr Bingley

I don’t know how to say goodbye to my beautiful Mr Bingley, but I know I have to if I want to move forward with breeding purebreds on a small scale. It’s kind of a relief that PB isn’t a boy now, as Mr Bingley might get to stick around for a while longer.

PB

It has become clear that PB is a huge-footed, awkward-bodied pullet. She is going to be a big girl! Now to give her a proper name…

And what of the new Wyandottes? Well, goodness, they are too precious. I feel a bit sorry that Mary lost out to some newbies, as she was a good, healthy hen. She was my only daughter of the late Legolas, but she was a lot more shy than Legolas and didn’t have the outstanding personality that I had hoped for. It was a lot to ask trying to get that personality out of a single offspring, and being the most mixed-breed of my chickens, Mary just had the least pull in light of my future breeding plans. The Wyandottes, however, have personalities that are right on-par with Legolas. They are friendly and so easy to hold, which, combined with their pretty colours, ensured them a spot on the ‘Keeping’ list. With that, I am giving them names: the silver laced girl is Lorelai and the gold laced girl is Sookie (pronounced SOO-kee for the uninitiated).

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The Wyandottes: Lorelai and Sookie.

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There’s a chicken sitting on my hand. Can’t do that with the Australorps!

The Wyandottes and the remaining Orpington have been integrated into the main flock. I know it is dangerous to my selling intentions to have the Orpington in with the others but I couldn’t leave her in a pen all by herself. The integration went even better than I expected. After a few days of being in pens alongside each other I took the two Wyandottes into the run where the coop is, while the others were kept occupied out in the pen with kale to nibble and logs and cable reels that had been moved to reveal fresh digging ground and bugs. The Wyandottes got a bit of time to explore and find where the food and water vessels were while I stayed with them. Then Mr Bingley showed up. He made kind noises towards them and showed them how to scratch around a bit before one of his hens called him back with needy noises. The gold-laced Wyandotte had googly eyes for Mr Bingley.

Then all the others came around into the run and everyone met each other in a surprisingly non-dramatic way. Well, I suppose Lydia wasn’t there… They just kind of stood around for a while, then the sprightly wee silver-laced Wyandotte took a crack at Frodo, the now 2IC hen. She wasn’t too phased, even when the Wyandotte jumped on her back, and calmly put her in her place. Kitty, 3IC, pecked at the Wyandottes a couple of times and I poked her back to discourage her. After the older chickens started to dissipate without much eventfulness, 13-week-old PB had a crack at the Wyandottes. Her biggest tussle was with the silver-laced girl, which is to be expected, seeing as PB was at the bottom of the pecking order and the silver-laced girl has a dominant nature. Nothing got too heated though and after sitting out in the pen for a while watching the older chickens carry on as usual and knowing that Mr Bingley was there to keep everyone in line, I left them to it. The Orpington joined the flock later in the afternoon after her buddy left. She is almost as big as Georgiana and was more interested in foraging around, so her introduction was even less eventful. She has quite a dominant nature too so it will be interesting to watch what happens in the coming days. The integration was a good distraction, especially for Mr Bingley, from the fact that Mary had disappeared off with her new family.

 

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The black Orpington is pretty much as big as Georgiana (right). She doesn’t stand for any nonsense and looks out for her Wyandotte buddies if they’re getting towered over by the biggies.

As chicken bed time started to approach I kept an eye on the chickens out the window. I knew I would have to assist the newbies with where to go. As the others milled around the coop, filling their bellies and starting the entrance proceedings, the three newbies were out pacing the fence trying to get into their old, adjacent pen. When I went in there the Wyandottes came up to me and just stood there in front of me waiting for me to scoop them up. Aw, bless their little hearts! The only chicken who has done that before was little Half Pie, the peck-injury chick from my first hatch, during his reintegration. I placed the Wyandottes in the coop then went and caught the Orpington, who thought she could find her own way home, thank you very much. The second night the newbies didn’t quite make it into the coop past the big scary chickens again. I found the three of them trying to find a place to settle under the woodshed shelter, managed to scoop up all three at once and put them through the coop door. Once they are in there they’re alright, it’s the getting in there in the right order without offending anyone that’s the tricky part. They’re ‘supposed’ to go in first, before PB, being the lowest in the pecking order. They’ll get it eventually.

Thus, we are back to all the chickens in one pen. I have one Orpington left to sell, before I change my mind, and a Mr Bingley, who will hopefully be sticking around for a while unless a nice home is found for him in the interim. The only thing I’m unsure about is whether Lorelai is actually a girl or a boy. Her curling tail feathers, long legs and slowness to feather up at the back end have me a bit nervous, as I really like her, but I’ll just have to wait and see.

Lorelai

You better be a girl, Lorelai, because I like you!

Homestead Update

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Well, things have been certifiably nuts around here of late. I have been sick and fatigued off and on as I try to figure out what food or foods are causing me issues. That is making it difficult to get things done and it seems time is whizzing by while I’m scrambling to get a grip. On top of that, I am looking to go back to the workforce soon, which is not something I was planning to do just yet. And as a last kick in the pants our only car suddenly became in need of major work, which isn’t worth it, so we have been trying to get our heads and pockets around acquiring a new car. Here are some updates on different things going on at Twiglet Homestead.

The Chickens

The first thing of note is that Lydia is no longer with us. She was my second egg eater. I tried to retrain her and had some success while she was in the big cage, but as soon as I put her back with the main flock, she went feral with her laying and wouldn’t lay in the coop. She laid under the shelter, ate her egg then alerted everyone else, including me, to what was going on. When I ran over some other hens were pecking around in Lydia’s hole, but, fortunately, Lydia appeared to have eaten the whole egg, as she was wont to do, so the others didn’t cotton on. But that was it. No more time and effort trying to win a losing battle with this determined egg eater. No more endangering my other hens with that habit. I could not keep her somewhere all alone. A couple of people offered to re-home her but they were too far away. There was no place for her here. I had to get The Husband to do the deed. I just couldn’t face culling Lydia. I did, however, manage to add one more chicken to our freezer collection… It is sad. Lydia was my good little layer, full of character, loud announcements and cheekiness. I had been through a lot with her: bumblefoot ops, making foam shoes, doing many, many foot dressings, watching her get demoted from top hen spot for being over-dramatic and having her pout at my feet, seeing how nutty her offspring could be (ahem, Mr Collins…). She was the only hen I’ve taken to the vet, where I learned some excellent information. She recovered so well. She was great entertainment. She was my most consistent layer. Unfortunately, she just became consistent with egg eating too. She will be missed.

Lydia

Farewell, Lydia, you crazy, cheeky chicken.

I’d like to say onward and upward, but, with our above issues, the flock is going to see some more changes. I need to cut costs and there are tough decisions going on, especially if I am to hatch some eggs in spring. Who will stay and who will go? It is a harsh decision-making process. We shall have to wait and see.

Chickens at the fence

Don’t look at me like that, chickies, I have tough decisions to make.

Ok, enough bad news already! One good thing is that the hens are still laying, some of them just a tad less frequently as the daylight hours decrease. They’ve laid 5-7 eggs in the last week. Some people’s hens are off the lay for winter so I’m totally stoked to still have some eggs! Lizzie has become almost as a good a layer as Lydia and her eggs are bigger. Kitty is a good, sensible layer, Mary has become a sensible layer too and Frodo is an awesome layer when she’s not being broody. Also, PB is doing well. He is 13 weeks old now and hasn’t succumbed to Mareks as yet, so things are looking good. The thing is, although he is big, I’m really not sure about his maleness once again. If he is a boy he has an extremely pale and small comb and wattles for his age. I have been watching him a lot and I really don’t know what to think right now! Maybe in another week I’ll know. Georgiana is PB’s buddy but PB sometimes gets to hang out with the others too. The new girls are doing well and getting handled while they’re easier to catch in their temp ‘quarantine’ pen, which has now been moved right next to the main pen so everyone can get to know each other before the great integration. The little silver-laced Wyandotte is my favourite, with a chilled out, friendly nature and lively foraging abilities. At first I was a little worried about how she would cope being the smallest, but she is a goer! She is actually the dominant one. It is funny to watch the wee thing dominate a big Orpington, however, I’m now concerned that she may be a boy. Blagh. Not another mind-battle! My suspicions are due to curly tail feathers, slow-developing rear-end feathers and upright posture. If she is a he I can swap her for another pullet but that would be a shame and it would mean more quarantine. Since Wyandottes are a new breed for me I will just have to wait and see.

Getting to know each other

“Stop digging, the human’s looking!” “No, human, we are definitely not digging a tunnel to the other side… La la la…”

New girls looking

Hello, other chickens!

 

The Garden

Much of the vege garden has been put to bed for the winter. I have been putting used chicken bedding on top of the empty beds to help suppress the weeds, protect the soil and add some organic matter for next season’s crops. There are still some crops slowly chugging along. Growth has slowed down a lot as the cold finally hit and the wet weather has continued to give little time for the soil to dry out. Just when things get sunny, the rain bounds back in again with complete disregard for my gardening needs.

Vege garden 1

The parts of the vege garden not containing crops have had used chicken bedding (wood shavings and poop) tipped on top. I will see how this works out.

Vege garden 2

There is actually still some green stuff in there! The kale is getting rather stripped as I keep feeding it to the chickens – they love it. We still have kale in the freezer from the season before when I whizzed and froze HEAPS. I put kale flakes in my scrambled eggs and we chuck it in mince dishes, rice, curries and fritters, among other things.

So, what’s still growing? There are a few carrots left. There is beetroot, which I have grown for the first time. I’ve never been a beetroot fan but in the last couple of years I’ve tasted some nice dishes with fresh beetroot in them. There are leeks. Huge leeks. A leek can go a long way so we’ve been putting them into all sorts of things: fritters, patties, various meat dishes, soup… There are still spring onions and lettuces. There is still a swathe of parsley. And there are the brassicas: bok choy, cabbages, cauliflower and broccoli. Annoying critters are still eating some holes in them so we obviously haven’t had enough cold weather yet. The first few frosts took down my capsicums though. And guess what? I bought my seed garlic early this year! I got some Printanor, the main good culinary variety grown here and some elephant garlic, which I haven’t grown before. It is bigger and milder than normal garlic and is actually a different species. I need to figure out when to plant them. After last season’s rust disaster I’ve been thinking an earlier planting might give them more time to get growing well, but I can’t plant them if the ground is too soggy.

I have been slowly picking away at the weeding around the garden but haven’t had much time for more exciting things like planting. The Plum Tree Garden has been weeded and is looking tidy, if a little plant-bare. The Maple Garden has a downright terrible population of weeds. It looks pretty good at a glance, thanks to the ridiculously well-growing native sedges and other plants in there, but a closer look reveals swathes of weeds lurking underneath and swamping the ground covers in there. I have started picking away at it, even though I’d rather walk past with a hand shielding my eyes saying, “La, la, la…”

Plum Tree Garden

The Plum Tree garden looks tidy, because I’ve just finished weeding it. It just needs more plants. And we need to finish chopping down the unproductive yellow-fleshed plum tree on the right. And plant the almond tree. After we dig out the blackcurrant planter box which has become rooted into the soil. Oops!

Wood Projects

We bought a ‘new’ dining table a little while back and need to sell our old drop-leaf table. The top of it was really looking worse for wear so I have been resurfacing it, just casually, as if I’ve actually done anything like that before. It may not be perfect, but it’s been a good learning experience and it looks heaps better than it did before, which will hopefully be reflected in a better price when I sell it. I have a lot of other projects to do around the house but it’s one day at a time at the moment. I will post about some smaller projects later. Meanwhile, an exciting trailer load has appeared in our yard. The Parents’-in-law found a bunch of wood framing instead of the usual pallets, and I have great visions of using them for a chicken pen, perhaps even a chicken tractor…

Dining table

The old dining table has been getting some attention.

Crafts

I am working on The Little Fulla’s green knitted jersey at the moment. Progress is very slow due to lack of time sitting still. And the fact that I chose a cabled pattern, so knitting it requires concentration and peering at a chart. Concentration is not one of my strong points at this current point in time. Let’s just say there have been more than a few re-done rows. Meanwhile, the great knitting and crocheting women of The Husband’s family have been yarning up a storm with all sorts of lovely projects popping out.

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The Little Fulla’s snail-paced jersey. The colour in this photo really isn’t right but it shows the cabling pattern well. I may or may not be about to undo a row that I did slightly wrong…

Let’s hope the madness dies down soon. Tomorrow we go car hunting…

The Changing of the Guards

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My flock has been on the move in the last two weeks, with goings as well as comings. Things are getting all-over-the-place. After the culling of Jane, I was left with an egg-eating Lydia to deal with. I spent quite some time trying various things to change her habit because I didn’t want to cull her, being one of my favourites and very useful up until the egg eating began. My efforts began with keeping a close watch on her, putting fake eggs in the nestboxes and putting dish liquid- or mustard-filled eggs in the nestboxes, to little avail.

One morning The Husband found a hen eating an egg in the coop. He showed me a photo of who it was. It was Mary. I just about died. When I went to see what the story was, Mary arched her neck and screeched at me like a dragon as soon as I lifted the nestbox lid. That was not what I was expecting! From what I can guess, she accidentally broke an egg while she was climbing around in the nestboxes turning broody. Fortunately, she only ate a little of the egg and hasn’t repeated that clumsy accident or formed an egg-eating habit. Phew. But that was it for Lydia being in the flock. The danger was too great. I promptly caught her and put her in the Bachelor Pen, aka the Fattening Pen, with Mr Collins, who had only just moved there himself.

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Lydia. If she wasn’t so smart my efforts to change her egg-eating habit might have worked.

Lydia laid an egg in there and didn’t eat it, I think because I turned up soon afterwards, but that is the only time she hasn’t eaten one since. I had to remove her from there as she was bullying Mr Collins. They were a bad combination: oh, the pair of them! A feral-minded little cockeral and his dramatic mother. As a last ditch attempt to avoid culling her I sought advice from my Facebook poultry group. Answers I could try were a roll-away nestbox and curtains to darken the nestboxes. Despite trying various things and settings for Lydia, she remains too smart for her own good. She will not use ‘that thing’, she will lay anywhere where there is bedding or just ground and then eat her egg before loudly singing the egg song, announcing the presence of NOTHING. I will see her nesting but when I come back to check I am either too soon or too late. I am currently seeing if anyone is keen to re-home Lydia to avoid the alternative option. Either way, she puts me another hen down. Mr Bingley has been most disturbed at the removal of Lydia, his 2IC, on top of missing broody hens, which is making things a bit stressful on the flock.

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Mr Bingley knows he is pretty.

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Mr Collins. Don’t let his prettiness fool you, he was the nuttiest, screechiest, most flighty chicken I’ve had.

Meanwhile, Mr Collins had to be culled earlier than anticipated to make way for some new arrivals. I forgot to mention that Frodo was in the broody breaker too. I had chickens here and there all over the place. My attempts to make one of the other hens broody only resulted in semi-broody episodes, then Frodo went broody hard-out as I was making new plans to buy in pullets rather than fertile eggs or chicks, which were in scarce demand at this time of year and would take too long before they could be companions for PB. With Jane gone and Lydia probably soon to be gone I had to get more females. And soon. With Lydia out of the flock I was able to remove the fake eggs, but not before Mary turned into a formidable, screechy semi-broody, followed by a full-on broody. Boy, that hen’s got a screech on her. She rivals Mr Collins’ screechiness. Her bark is worse than her bite though.

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Broody Frodo. No surprises here. I wasn’t prepared to let her hatch eggs so soon again and considering I want her to hatch some in late winter/spring. However, Frodo did lay for 18 days straight, which is the longest she’s laid before going broody and a brilliant amount of eggs for her! I’ve never known how good she is at laying because she always goes broody.

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This is normal Mary. Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of screechy dragon-lady Mary! She is half Plymouth Rock so I wasn’t expecting her to go broody as much as the others.

Anyway, back to poor Mr Collins. He was a beautiful young thing, but so nutso, so feral. His behaviour was influencing PB too much, so I made the decision to remove Mr Collins. His pen was right next to the main pen, so he could still have some contact with the others. PB is going to be a bit lonesome for a little bit, although he still hangs out with Georgiana sometimes. The good thing is he’s now acting like part of the flock, albeit lagging a safe distance behind, instead of hiding in the bushes in Mr Collins’ scared little boys club. PB hasn’t crowed yet, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time… He’s still a nice boy and although he needs work out in the open, thanks to Mr Collins’ freaked-out ways, he sits very nicely in my arms and eats food off my hand while he’s having snuggles. And he’s not going to be lonesome for long…

Hot on the heels of Mr Collins’ departure and some pen cleaning and moving in the horrible rainy weather, The Little Fulla and I went on a little trip to a magical place. And now I would like to introduce you to two new members of my feather family. They are a new breed for me. They are beautiful. They are oh-so friendly that the Australorps are going to have some competition in my heart! They are a silver-laced Wyandotte and a gold-laced Wyandotte. The gold-laced girl is about 13-14 weeks old. The silver-laced girl is a few weeks younger but is a very lively forager who keeps up just fine.

I am seriously gushing over these girls! I’ve been admiring laced Wyandotte colours for a little while. The breeder also had blue-laced and buff-laced Wyandottes. The adults looked stunning and there were a lot of pullets to choose from. If they had cost a little less I seriously would have gotten more. I was only planning to get one, but then, Lydia… According to chicken maths, if I lose one hen, I can replace her with two. And thus, we end up at my next chicken trip, the next day…

Now, I would like to introduce you to the other two new members of my feather family: two 13-14-week-old black Orpingtons. They are so beautiful too! They are elegant, gentle and soft. So floofy! They remind me of dear Sam, the blue Orpington who was one of my originals. She had major health issues but she was such a sweet hen. Sam and Frodo’s relationship was as Sam and Frodo as you could get. I am getting myself into so much trouble. Too many beautiful chickens! So much for focusing on one breed. They do make me happy though and give me something to focus on in the midst of health issues. I’m currently in the midst of a food intolerance investigation, but that’s a story for another time when I’ve narrowed down my excluded suspects. I’m doing a lot better at the moment.

The newbies are currently in a temp pen together, where they will be ‘quarantined’ for about two weeks. This means I can observe them and treat anything if it comes up before they meet any of the others, while they get used to eating new food, grass and other goodies they find on the ground. So far, they have been very pleasant towards each other, which is a nice change from some of my dramatic Australorps. Names are yet to come. I can’t wait to introduce them to PB. He’ll just have to wait a wee bit longer.

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The Fellowship is Broken

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Yesterday dawned wet and gloomy. It seemed like Elrond was crowing a lot. As I fed The Little Fulla his breakfast, I looked out the window and felt angry at Elrond. He was reminding me that it was the first morning without Sam. It was a terribly wet and gloomy day and I had obviously hit the second stage of grief: anger.

I knew Sammy was going to blow at some point, although I didn’t want to admit it. She has been on a rollercoaster struggle with so many things. Every time she got something and I treated it and she bounced back I thought, well, maybe that was that. But this time when I treated her for lice and gave her a nice warm bath to clean her poopy butt she didn’t bounce back. She looked pretty, but it didn’t fix her. I knew it was coming, and despite ‘deciding’ not to take her to the vet, I continued to um and ah about it. When she went off her food and water I conceded that I should take her to the vet. But I had to take the car to the mechanic. The muffler had hit the road after a weld broke and The Husband had temporarily strapped it up so I could get the car in to be fixed. It took the main chunk of the day, and after I got home and got my tired child to sleep, I found poor Sam. At first I wasn’t actually sure if she was gone, as she was sitting, eyes mostly open, looking pretty good except that her comb had gone purplish. I had to prod her to make sure. She was still slightly warm so I guess it hadn’t happened too long ago. Dear Sammy was the best-looking dead chicken I’ve ever seen.

I hit the first stage of grief: denial. I knew it was going to happen sooner or later so I was fully expecting it. So I was fine. I just needed to clean everything up and carry on. She’s not the first dead chicken I’ve had and won’t be the last so I just had to deal with it. She was always troubled with things anyway and I had more chicks coming along so I was fine. And now I would have more time on my hands because I didn’t have to keep treating her and looking after her.

That stage of grief didn’t last very long. Now the world feels more empty and the third stage of grief started plaguing me: bargaining. If only I didn’t have to take the car to the mechanic I could have taken her to the vet. If only I had put aside my feelings about her ‘uselessness’ from a livestock perspective, acted on the love that I felt for her and taken her to the vet sooner they might have been able to do something. This is a horrible stage of grief. I did what any self-respecting woman would do and used my ‘spare time’ to get busy cleaning. At least some of the housework is getting done now.

I sat down to start writing out my thoughts. Even though it’s hard, I know it will help. Dammit, the fourth stage of grief, depression, burst out of nowhere. I can blab on about viewing my chickens more as livestock and trying to tough it out but I really miss that jolly chicken. Although she had a lot of issues she was so sweet. She was a gentle leader and the way she acted with Frodo and her chicks was just endearing. She let them eat from the food vessels at the same time as her, sometimes even feeding them, and one of the last sweet memories I have of her with the flock is her sitting beside Frodo with one of Frodo’s chicks on her back. Sam and Frodo were like Sam and Frodo. Sam loved Frodo. But now The Fellowship of The Egg is broken.

Despite all my sad and questioning thoughts, I really don’t think much could be done for Sam. I was already trying to piece together the puzzle that was Sam before she left me. A lot of her problems showed up at various times during her moult, which itself took way longer than it should have. Long beak and toenails that needed trimming. Coccidiosis. Scaly leg mite. Lice. Slight respiratory infection. Several rounds of diarrhea and poopy butt. I don’t think I can even remember everything that’s bothered her. I treated her for all these things and she would bounce back, except at the end. Her respiratory infection seemed to be clearing: she wasn’t sneezing anymore, the colloidal silver was clearing up her nose and she didn’t have facial swelling. She still had diarrhea, but other than that, her body was looking good. No crop issues, clear vent. It was only in the last couple of weeks that I looked back on her egg-laying history.

Last spring was Sam’s first season laying. She frequently had thin-shelled eggs and various other egg weirdnesses. She had access to good laying pellets, oyster grit and whatever she could forage, just the same as the others, and their eggs were good so I don’t think it could be a calcium or vitamin deficiency. At first I thought it was just something to do with her first season, except it wasn’t just at the start of her laying. Then I started to wonder if there was something not quite right with her inside that made her not a very good layer. Something in her reproductive tract? Trouble metabolising nutrients? Cancer? An illness from her chickhood that had affected her?  I kind of set these thoughts aside because she seemed otherwise fine at the time and what were the chances of having one out of three chickens with something internally wrong like that? Then she was on-again, off-again broody with Frodo and then moulting in the ridiculously long moult, so I kind of forgot about her egg issues. Until the last couple of weeks when she was up and down despite pretty much being done with her moult. I guess I’ll never know for sure, as I was too chicken (terrible place for a pun) to do a necropsy, but whatever the case, her body was obviously just not very good at dealing with things.

I am feeling a bit better today. One of the hardest parts is trying to explain to people why I’ve lost another chicken. There are so, so, SO many things that chickens are susceptible to. Pests and diseases of one kind or fifty are always present in the environment and we can only do our best to minimise them, treat them and raise chickens who are strong enough to cope with them. If only we could keep chickens in a safety bubble. I have had a crash course in a lot of chicken troubles, which doesn’t really seem fair, but at least it’s helping me learn to be a better chicken keeper. With Strider, I take full responsibility. I wasn’t vigilant enough at the time and now that I have absorbed (well, hopefully) copious amounts of chicken knowledge into my brain, I realise it could have been any number of things that got to her, and even though I was away on holiday when she went down, I failed to act on her lethargic behaviour before we went away. With Gimli, I take partial responsibility. She and Legolas had coccidiosis when I got them, evident by their bloody poops that I found that day. I don’t know how far into it they were or what impact it had had already, but my hesitance to diagnose and quickly treat a disease I didn’t know enough about wasn’t good. Legolas sailed through it no worries but it got to Gimli. And then we have Sam, the problem child. I feel ok about this one. I looked after Sam as well as I could through all the things she had trouble with. Whatever was ultimately wrong with her, I don’t think she was ever going to be very productive or easy-care, hence my almost-final decision not to take her to the vet towards the end. But I loved her personality and my feelings for her started to take over my pragmatic approach in the end. Even though I have become intent on raising chickens that are strong, productive and good representatives of their breed, I will miss that big, blue poofy chicken. I will miss her elegant face. I will miss her fluffy butt. I will miss her sweet nature. And I will miss her ridiculously loud egg-laying announcements. Goodbye Sammy.

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The Feather Babies are Unleashed

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The days are whizzing by here. The feather babies all appear to be doing well so far and Frodo has been far from idle. After all her eight chicks had hatched and were able to move, she moved them from the nesting box beside the coop door to a better spot near the back of the coop, near the food. Excellent. Then on the morning of Day 4/5 (Day 5 for the first chick) I found her out, beside the coop ramp,  with her babies in various stages of exit on or off the ramp. Ok, I was a bit shocked that they were out and about so soon. Well, I wasn’t expecting Frodo to be out and about so soon. It’s weird not seeing her broody and as soon as June hit, winter arrived with the first frosts of the year, although with sunny days to follow. I suppose it’s better for the chickens than the stormy, wet weather we had up until then.

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Day 2/3: “It’s moving day, children!”

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Day 2/3: The chicks are moving about in the coop and finding their food and water containers. The Smoky Chick is in the middle.

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Day 4/5: “Come along children, it’s time to come out into the wilds.”

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We had a few frosty, cold mornings, but now it has warmed up again.

Chilly mornings and all, Frodo was determined to show her babies the great outdoors. She showed them how to scratch on the ground and find things to eat. Then she started dropping them layer pellets from the feeder that was too high for them to reach. Oh oh, I wasn’t prepared for that! Layer pellets are too high in calcium for them and don’t have enough protein. Never mind their dedicated food and water stations inside the coop… I herded Frodo back into the coop and put the chicks back in then cleaned and refilled the outside feeder with chick crumbs and put it on the ground. Chick crumbs are everyone’s main food now, although I have put a dish of layer pellets in the pen for the others if they want it, until Frodo finds her way out there with the chicks.

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Er, eat from your proper feeder while I sort out the outdoor one…

Frodo is showing her babies as much of the great outdoors as she can. No coddling here, just foraging, eating and drinking from the adult vessels, preening and resting under her wherever she sees fit. I guess that’s life in the real world with their mum. It really is boom or bust for these babies. And hey, tough, healthy chickens are what I want.

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Frodo plonks down anywhere in the run to keep the babies warm when they need it.

Evening was approaching when I discovered that Frodo had set up shop under the coop. Why? The chicks couldn’t get up the ramp. To cut a long story short, most of them still can’t, and since Frodo is determined to have them out in ‘the wilds’, early evenings I can be found scrambling around the chicken run, small child strapped to me in the carrier, trying to get Frodo and all eight chicks into the coop. Frodo gives up when they don’t follow her up the ramp, not helped by her usually jumping up from the side, and will just plonk down on the hay anywhere in the run, and the chicks will wriggle under her. If I can get two or three chicks into the coop she will stay in there and I can eventually catch all the others and put them in. I am trying to teach them to go up the ramp but it is a slow process and I can only scramble around for so long, fidgety, hungry child in tow, back getting sore, poop getting on my pants and darkness approaching before I resort to catching them one by one and depositing them at the top of the ramp. The Husband hasn’t been home early enough to help. I need to sort out a better way to get them in the coop. There’s just one problem: The Little Fulla is sick. He hardly ever gets sick and only at crucial chicken times! Right, that’s it. I’m going to set up a border patrol at the gate and if you fail the health screening… You shall not pass!

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The chicks remind me of little penguins. The one in front is similar to Pie, so I am calling it Half Pie for now.

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Little Spot. There are a few with similar colours but Little Spot is the biggest and lightest coloured chick at the moment.

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Little Spot.

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Half Pie.

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What’s more pleasant than chicks on a sunny day?

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Bottoms up!

There was another eventful chick occurrence yesterday (Day 6/7). Four chicks escaped from the run into the back paddock. They were sticking close together and next to Frodo on the other side of the wire. I promptly got them back in the run, hoping they hadn’t been out for too long, and found and fixed their escape point, only visible when I got down to a chick’s eye view from inside the run. Oops. Child-proofing for a human child is hard enough, but tiny feather child-proofing is not something that comes easily.

What about the other feather children? Sam’s runs cleared up (phew!), whether it was related to worms (maybe she didn’t get a proper dose from the water last time), chowing down on too many grass seeds from the hay or something else, I’m not entirely sure. She didn’t like being isolated but it’s better to be safe than sorry, and it was good to be able to observe her. She does have signs of scaly leg mite, which I have treated her for, as well as Legolas. What I really need to do though is clean and treat the whole coop, then all the chickens before they go back in there. Yikes. Legolas is the only one who will let me get hold of her with my bare hands. She is such a sweetie. “Did you ever know that you’re my hero?”… I tried to catch Elrond with the net the other day to treat him and it freaked him and Legolas right out. I think he was having flashbacks to when we partially stole his voice. A full coop and chicken treatment will have to be done on the weekend when The Husband can help.

When I let Sam out of the big cage she got to discover some new things. First, a new pen, complete with a very excited Elrond. Elrond was so pleased. He made purring noises and tried to feed and dance for Sam. Sam was like, “What is this?!” She gave him the cold shoulder and used Legolas as a buffer. She is looking a lot better as her feathers keep growing but she still hasn’t quite finished her moult. Orpingtons have so many feathers. Then Sam found Frodo in the run, complete with babies popping out from under her. The look on her face was priceless: surprise mixed with delight. “What has it got in its pocketses?” Sam has been mostly sticking close to her best buddy Frodo since then and helping her teach the babies about life. She will find things for them to eat and drop them on the ground as well as showing them how to scratch around; her specialty. What a good aunty! I think she is also enjoying the excuse to be close to the feeder.

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Sam is freed from isolation. “Um, Legolas, why is Elrond dancing at me?”

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“Legolas, I’m just going to stay over here with you. I think I can safely promise you never to dance with Mr Elrond.”

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Sam (left) reunites with Frodo and meets the babies for the first time. “What has it got in its pocketses?”

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Sam and Frodo are best buddies.

And so it is pretty much happy families for the feather children at the moment. I will wait until the chicks are bigger until I give them proper names.

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Happy family: Elrond, Frodo and her babies, Legolas and Sam.

Hatching Day Approaches

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Yes, another post about chickens. Believe it or not, I am still knitting. Very slowly. The Little Fulla may have his jersey finished before winter is over… And the garden is growing weeds rather well at the moment. But for now, it is all about the babies. The feather babies. It is getting so close to hatching time for Frodo! I wonder if she is as excited as I am. I wonder if she knows her sitting time is almost over. I didn’t get as much preparation done on the weekend as I wanted to, because we were out a lot with a birthday lunch and church and when we were at home, with time to spare, the weather was not cooperative. We did get some things done though.

Hay:

We picked up the hay for spreading in the run.

Ramp:

The Husband made a new, wider ramp for the coop. The old one was narrower than the pop hole, meaning there were little gaps on either side of the hole that little chicks could have dropped off. We’ll see how they go with the ramp.

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The new wide ramp. Spot the chickens. Classic Sam is in the coop, standing beside Frodo and Elrond is hiding under the coop.

Sweeping:

Didn’t I do that already? Yes, but I had to re-sweep the concrete in front of the woodshed since the chickens, and mostly I, made a mess of it again. I got a bit distracted poking around under there where the rain couldn’t get me, after discovering that the concrete goes further into the run than I thought it did. It may even go right under the run with just a big layer of dirt on top but I stopped shoveling at the gate line because my curiosity was an unnecessary tangent and I needed to tidy up my mess.

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The concrete has been swept. Again. I have to stop poking around that dirt line to see how far the concrete goes…

The new pen:

I put some stakes in for the chicken wire and removed some of the branches in the pen, in the rain, but we didn’t get time to do the chicken wire. Fortunately, The Husband finished work early today and we got a bit of the chicken wiring done before The Little Fulla got awkward.

Food stations:

I cleared the wood shavings out of two of the nesting boxes to set up food and water stations for the chicks and Frodo in them. I cut a cardboard insert to fit inside each nesting box to make things easier to keep clean. One will contain the little water bell and one the small feeder. I cleaned and disinfected the water bell and feeder.

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Two of the middle nesting boxes have been cleared and lined with cardboard for food and water stations. Except Sam or Legolas has untidied things already.

Things left to do:

  • Hay: Spread it in run.
  • Food stations: Fill water bell and feeder and place in nesting boxes.
  • Chicken pen: Finish setting up chicken wire and remove rest of the hungus mountain of branches and rubbish.

One other very important but non-chick-related thing we got done was the Elrond tasks. We caught the rooster. Yuss! I purchased a long-handled fishing net not too long ago, which is my new chicken catching device. It worked with Sam and we caught Elrond with it too, after herding him into the run with less space to escape. At one point he got out of the hole in the net, kindly (infuriatingly) provided by a stupid rat or mouse while it was innocently stored in the garage. I will have to try and fix it somehow. Anyway, we got Elrond on the next go and I held him while The Husband did the tasks. I had showed The Husband a YouTube video beforehand of how to clip wings so he knew what we needed to do. The Husband also fitted the crow control collar around his neck. Once I was holding him, Elrond was surprisingly quiet. Towards the end I was just about to remark how good he was when The Husband got a little peck. I guess Elrond didn’t like having something put around his neck. He really was rather good though, easier to hold than Sam.

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The chicken catcher, complete with stupid rodent hole. Don’t worry, I’ve repaid the rodents with my bait station. Ha!

The wing clipping was really easy, it was just cutting the right wing feathers in the right place with a pair of scissors. The crow control collar, which is just a blue nylon strap with velcro for fastening, was fitted around his neck, with his long hackle feathers placed over top of the collar. He sure has a lot of feathers. You can’t even see the collar on him. I just need to keep an eye on him to make sure it stays fitted correctly. After releasing him I watched him for a while to make sure he was ok. He went backwards a few times and then the rain started up again and Elrond spent quite a while hiding under the coop trying to peck the weird thing off his neck.

When I checked Elrond later he was walking around like normal. The next morning he crowed for the first time with his collar on. The collar definitely makes his crow quieter, which is important since the new pen will have him closer to the house of one of our neighbours. It makes his crow sound more hoarse. If we didn’t have neighbours so close I would leave him to have his full, majestic crow, but I want to be courteous. And he has been particularly noisy lately without Frodo’s company. Or anyone’s sometimes. He crowed less in general today and Sam and Legolas seemed to be with him more. Maybe it subdued his nuttiness a little! Otherwise he seemed normal. I wonder how he’ll act when Frodo starts moving around again but with wee babies in tow…

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Elrond, post-Elrond tasks. You can’t even tell that his wings have been clipped and he is wearing a crow control collar.

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Elrond, Legolas and Sam eating sunflower seed treats.

Frodo Sits

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Frodo has been faithfully sitting on her nest of eggs for 14 days. She is doing very well. One morning I didn’t get to push Frodo off the nest at the usual time for her personal time (eating and so forth) as The Little Fulla only slept for 45 minutes. He had pooped. And had the hiccups. Nevertheless, when I went out early afternoon there was a big scratched up area by the feeders and some giant smelly poop. Aha! Frodo had gotten of the nest herself! Since then she has been getting herself up at some point during the day, which is great news for me.

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Frodo sits.

I have been enjoying watching broody, nesting Frodo. When she comes off the nest she is a loud flurry of blue feathers. After letting the whole world know she is out and about she starts to scratch around furiously in the dirt. By this time, the other feather children have arrived to see what the commotion is about and look at Frodo cautiously as she flails around and fluffs her feathers out. Lonely-in-love Elrond usually makes a pass at her, to which he is noisily denied. Frodo will venture out behind the garage now, or even into the orchard a little bit, but not for long. She eats some pellets, drinks some water, does her giant poop and returns back to her nest.

Sam misses Frodo. They are great buddies. I often find her standing in the coop next to Frodo. Since the weather has been very wet lately (finally), Sam and Legolas have been spending a lot of time chilling out in the coop with Frodo. They are also hiding from Elrond. He has been chasing them both. Poor dude. While the ladies are hanging out in the coop he will lollop around the orchard by himself, no doubt mourning his ‘lost’ love, Frodo. It is nice that the hens are keeping each other company, but this means more poop. And more poop in the coop means more scoopy scoop. Sorry. Observation shows that the presence of even one small child increases the incidence of silly rhymes and songs.

The latest development is that Elrond has decided that he’s had enough of being stuck in the orchard on his lonesome and has been escaping. Only into our yard thank goodness, as far as I’m aware, but he could go anywhere really as his attachment to the pen wanes with the absence of Frodo. Chasing the rooster back into the pen is no fun. I put up somewhat of a barricade to stop him jumping over the pallet that he’s been using as an exit point, but clipping his wings has just shot right up my priority list. We need to catch him this weekend. Oh goody.

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Elrond, dude, WHAT are you doing by my Herb Garden?

Preparations are underway for the arrival of the babies but there is still a lot to do. I have been setting up a new pen for all the feather children to move to; nice fresh ground for them and a break for the orchard pen. I have swept the concrete pad in front of the woodshed, blocked any holes I could find around the run where the coop is, bought some hay to lay in the run as a mulch layer and bought a rat bait station, which seems to be working well, keeping the rats and mice away from the chickens and their food in the garage. This weekend we have to pick up the hay and I need The Husband to help me do some chicken wiring around the pen, remove the piles of branches in there and cut up a piece of wood to attach to the coop ramp to make it wider. I also need to get chick starter food (I was waiting for stock to come in but will get it somewhere else), jig up a food and water station in one or two of the nesting boxes and probably other things that I haven’t written down yet. I have the mind of a goldfish right now. I must write things down.

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The new pen in progress. We need to set up chicken wire along the top of the short brown garden edging and across the gates. And remove the mother of all pruning mountains.

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Where did this concrete come from, Mumma?

And so here we are, one week to go before Frodo hopefully brings some babies into the world. It is exciting and scary! It is going to be an interesting week…

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