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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Chicken Ranch Update

The chickens are now about five months old, and a lot has happened since we first got that box of baby chicks at our local post office.  I thought I would update everyone on what the chickens are up to......

Chicken Body Count

First a few vital statistics.  I got a grab-bag of chicks to see what would be best for our homestead, and already natural selection has weeded some of them out.  Let's do the numbers, shall we?

1.  We ordered 25 chicks, specifically hens rather than roosters.  The company, Ideal Poultry, has to include a couple of rooster chicks into a large group like that to help keep the chicks warm.  Apparently the roosters are good for something besides fertilizing eggs.  So we expected at least 2 roosters.

2.  One chick did not survive the trip, so we actually started with 24 chicks.

3.  One chick died on day 2 or 3; we could tell right away that it wasn't acting vigorous like the others.  It would just stand alone under the heat lamp, or lie around.  Also, it seemed to be collecting a lot of waste around its rear end.  Now we have 23.

4.  Shortly after transitioning to the outside pen, we lost two chickens.  It happened on a day that I opened the roost before sunrise.  I suspect that a predator may have been around in the waning gloom and may have grabbed them.  More likely is that they got outside of the pen and couldn't get back in, and something got them.  Our neighbor's dog did start to hang around our house for a while, so he may have been the culprit.  Now we have 21.

5.  One morning we found a chicken dead in the roost.  It had blood at its neck.  All the other chickens seemed subdued.  We interrogated all of them separately, buy they all denied seeing anything.  Now we are at 20.

6.  We had one of the chickens, a rooster, get fowl pox.  Here is a video of that rooster in happier times, showing how it can crow like a rooster:

Yes, chicken pox for chickens.  We had started to notice little black lesions on the comb of this rooster.  Over time, more lesions formed on its pox.  One day, while I was near the pen, I suddenly saw this rooster start flopping around.  The other rooster, the black one, immediately set upon it and viciously pecked at its neck.  The poor little rooster looked dead.  I ran in and chased off the black rooster.  I grabbed a shovel and removed the ailing rooster from the rest of the chickens.  I put it in the compost pile, thinking it was dead.  Instead it jumped up and ran off.  It ran for a while, then stopped and keeled over.  Its mouth was gaping open, and it was gasping for breath.  Even worse was its comb.  Usually the comb is a bright red, but as I watched it, it turned to a dusky purple shade.  To me, that indicated hypoxia, or lack of oxygen.  I have seen patients turn that color, and it is because they are starving for oxygen.

There are two types of fowl pox, I have learned.  One consists of lesions on the skin of a chicken, and they are not so bad.  They might cause the chicken to lose part of its comb or claw, but that is all right.  The other kind of fowl pox is far worse.  It affects the lining of the chicken's airway, causing swelling and making it hard for the chicken to breathe.  It is also highly contagious.  It is referred to as a diphtheria type of fowl pox.

I suspected this poor little rooster had the diphtheria type.  There is no cure for it at that point, and I could tell the animal was in extremis.  I don't like to see animals suffering.

The children were all up in arms about my plan.  Some objected to killing the chicken, while a more vocal group were pressing for me to use a shotgun on the poor little bird.  I used one of the large caliber pellet guns.

Now we have 19.

"Dad, the Rooster is Killing the Hens!"

Roosters live a simple life.  They eat, they sleep, and they have two response to anything that moves inside the pen: if it is a hen, they try to mate with it.  If it is not, they try to kill it.

They will even attack hens if they are behaving abnormally.  I already mentioned how the one rooster attacked the dying one.  When the hens have gotten out of the pen, we have had to chase them back inside.  This often results in a hen cornered against the fence, at which time they will flap their wings and 'walk' up the side of the fence.  Usually they run back and forth, clucking like mad before they do this, and it drives the roosters crazy.  On one occasion a hen tried to go under the fence.  She got her head stuck in the fencing, and the rooster on the other side proceeded to peck at her head viciously.  After I shooed him away, I freed the hen and tossed her over the fence.

At this point we were retrieving at least five hens from outside the pen each day.  I did a quick search on YouTube on how to clip the wings of the chickens, and then went out and did it to the flock.  Problem solved - almost.  We still get some over the fence; I suspect they are climbing in the trees and escape that way.

About roosters killing hens:  One day the children told us that the rooster was attacking the hens.  They would squawk and run away, but occasionally the rooster would catch them and sit on them.  We explained to the children that this was the rooster mating with the hens, and that soon we should be getting fertilized eggs.  Nowadays, the hens don't seem to object to this kind of behavior.  We are still waiting for some fertilized eggs, though.


We started getting eggs.  First it was just one small white egg per day.  Then we got a few brown eggs.  Now we collect about 5 or 6 eggs per day.  The children tell me that they can tell when a hen is laying an egg.  The hen will go into the coop, enter one of my ridiculous looking hatching boxes, and then start squawking a lot.  Kaboom!  An egg will appear.  Since I am off this week, I had the opportunity to hear this noise myself.  I swore it sounded like a chicken yelling, "where is my epidural?  I want my epidural!!!!!"  That might be just my imagination....

Carolyn would send me picture of the eggs via her iPhone.  Here is one of the white eggs:

Not much to look at, but for us it is a joy to see these smelly little creatures producing something other that droppings.  Here it is in the frying pan.  It was a double-yolk egg:

 For those of you in my generation, remember this:

Any questions?

Getting More Chicks

Now we have a decision to make about the future of our egg-laying flock.  We would love to raise our own chickens, but we still want to collect eggs.  We also want to have only brown eggs, and so we would like to phase out the white egg-laying hens.  On top of that, we have to do something with the roosters.  Yes, roosters.  Right after I euthanized the one rooster, another one, this one is white, started crowing.  So now we have a white and a black rooster.  I suspect there is at least one more rooster who has not matured.

What I see is the need to determine which chickens lay brown eggs.  Next we have to determine if any of our eggs are fertilized.  That is pretty easy to do with the flashlight app on an iPhone; we use that to 'candle' the eggs.  The other issue is to determine which hens are better brooders.  This can only be done by watching them, and today I think I found a good candidate.

I had just collected an egg from the hatching box when I noticed a chicken outside of it clucking like mad.  As I watched, it hopped into the box and started walking around in a circle inside of it.  I eventually stopped and sat down, sitting on top of one of the plastic Easter eggs we had left in the box.  A friend told us that hens like to lay where there are other eggs, they don't seem to recognize the plastic ones as fake eggs.  Anyway, as I watched, this hen pulled the fake egg under her with her beak.  I set the egg I had back into the box, and she proceeded to pull that one under her as well.   

 I think I found our brooding hen.

I shall write more in the future.  Here is another video of our chickens wandering around me while I film them:

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