Rooster Psychology . . . by Nathan, 13

gIf have read older posts, you may remember our first rooster Tricky Chickie.  He was very mean in life, but he was very sweet (-tasting) in death.  He was always cocky and fierce to everyone, and we weren’t prepared for that when we raised him.  (That picture was taken over a year ago when all the chickens escaped and we had to herd them back in.  Tricky was not so willing!)

We also had another rooster, Morgan.  He was never mean to anyone, and we did not have to teach him how to behave.

Now that both of them are gone, a friend gave us an an Ameraucana rooster.  He’s still adjusting to his new coop, and so far everything has gone well between him and us, but he had a rough start with the hens.

He’s the smallest chicken in the coop (except for the bantams), and when we first put him in, they started picking those petty little chicken fights.  However, that was really no surprise; chickens do that all the time.

He's not very socialized. Here he is, cowering behind the food bin. He is such a chicken!

Who are you?

He’s beautiful on the outside, but only time will tell if he’s beautiful inside.  He is still young, and we naturally do not want to go through with him what we went through with Tricky.  No, he has not attacked anyone yet, but we still don’t trust him because of past experiences with roosters, and because we can sense that he is aggressive within.  Sometimes when I walk near him, he seems to be thinking, “You know, I just can’t stand that human… it sure would be fun to attack him… but he’s a little bigger than the roosters I’m accustomed to fighting with.”

Caleb and I are officially the “alpha males,” so we named him “Beta.”  The day may soon come when he flogs one of us—unless we prevent it before he lets loose.  Caleb and I intend to teach him that turning aggressive will never pay!

Here are some of the methods and techniques we are using, based on some ideas that we’ve read about.

  • Every time we go into the chicken coop, we crow.  We can’t crow very well yet, but we’re getting better and better at it.  If Beta starts to crow, we will out-drown him with a defiant crow of our own.  (Actually, he has not crowed yet, surprisingly.)
  • If he ever attacks us, we shall not run nor show any signs of fear.  We will stand our ground!
  • We will not allow him to mate in our presence.  An alpha rooster would never put up with that from the beta rooster.
  • We’ll handle the hens frequently.  For example, we’ll pick them up and pet them just to prove a point.
  • He won’t be allowed to access the food until we are out of the coop.  We’re at the top of the pecking order!

If all these plans work, Beta should remember his place and not challenge us . . . or else!

Hopefully, with our broody hens and friendly-to-be rooster, we’ll be able to hatch some chicks in the spring!

Nothing to Crow About

This morning when Caleb did chicken chores, he discovered Morgan, our best rooster ever, lying dead on the coop floor.  No apparent predator invasion and no blood, so it remains a mystery.

He was a great rooster—always gentle and not once showing any sign of aggression toward anyone (unlike his predecessor).

He was also gorgeous—a brown leghorn with some of those pretty iridescent feathers.  Here he is one year ago as a scrawny youngster, before he grew into his roosterly glory.

He didn’t have the most impressive crow we’ve ever heard, but it had greatly improved over the past year and will nonetheless be very much missed.

Pastured Hens

I like seeing chickens that are free to roam, eating greenery and scratching and pecking to their hearts’ content, but I also like my flower beds.  And my neighbors.

Still, last year when the garden was pretty much done, we ranged our birds and enjoyed watching all their antics.  Our one neighbor is especially fond of watching the chickens too, and as we both have very large, open back yards, she assured me that she wouldn’t mind one bit if they strayed over onto her property.

That went well for several weeks until the chickens, tired of the garden remains and the vast back yards, ranged ever closer to our houses and eventually up onto our neighbor’s deck.  If you’re aware of what chickens do and do frequently, you know why that’s a big uh oh.  Even though our neighbor didn’t mind the chickens coming around, we thought she might start minding pretty soon if that continued.

So, back to the coop went the chickens.  Back to the already-scratched-up, dusty run with not a speck of greenery to peck at.

Then my husband thought of a way to give them access to fresh pasture—a way that did not require sending the kids outside to chase the chickens away from too-close-to-the-neighbor’s-house ten times a day.  And this is how we’ve pastured our chickens ever since.

He took the dog kennel we had used for our younger birds before they were integrated into the flock and made a system of rotating it around the existing run.

He cut openings in the fence and built little latch-lock doors into it so we can simply open whichever door the kennel is aligned with and then close it when we move the kennel to the next spot.

You can see the kennel was just moved.  We let the chickens peck down the grass and weeds quite a bit, but not enough to dig up the roots.  By the time we rotate around to that area next time, more grass and weeds will have grown, so they always have a fresh supply.

It’s a win-win.  Chickens are happy.  Neighbors are happy.  Eggs taste great.  Flower beds are intact.  Perfect!

Linked to Simple Lives Thursday, Fall Farm Friend Friday and Homestead Barn Hop.

From Hoop House to Freezer Camp

Last Saturday was a busy day, as Nathan, Caleb and I, along with many others, butchered around 150 broiler chickens.  Our friends, who are much farther along in their pastured poultry regimen than we are (ours may forever be in the planning stages, especially now), did all the labor involved with growing the birds, and all we had to do was pay a very reasonable cost and be available on butchering day.  Who could resist a deal like that?

Many thanks to the Spragues for this opportunity!  While the work itself was not “fun,” working together was.

And for all you Joel Salatin wanna-be’s, I’m posting some pictures of their fantastic set-up.  (click on pictures to enlarge)

Sunday Dinner(s)

Portable hoop house (bucket has hose leading to waterer seen in previous photo)

Young men manning the killing cones, with the splattered legs to prove it, and loving every minute

Mighty little men heft headless birds to the next station---the hose-'em-down-real-good-and-scrub-off-all-the-poo station

Then, after a dunk in hot water (BIG pot on propane burner) and a ride in the plucker, the birds moved on to the pick-out-any- remaining-feathers station, then waited in the chill tank for . . .

The many-busy-hands evisceration station. Plump broiler on the left; comparatively scrawny extra roo from our backyard flock on the right.

I’ll spare you the gory details of this station; but lest you think this was all drudgery, know that we had many amusements to distract us from the disgusting occupy our time, including chicken jokes, various renditions of the chicken dance, and arguments over whether the word is “crop” or “craw.”  (It’s actually both, I learned.)

Are we all having fun yet???

Quality control staff doing a thorough rinse and making sure we didn't miss anything (because sometimes we did--yikes!)

One of the three QC stations

Waste water drains to the yard (sink strainer catches any goo)---isn't this a smart arrangement?

Weigh them, bag them, label them, throw them in the freezer, and that’s it.  Then it was time to clean up and wash up and have a big buffet in the back yard with the rest of everyone’s families joining in.

We got home and stuffed all our birds in the freezer except one—and had a delicious Sunday chicken dinner, complete with sweet corn from friends and homegrown green beans and garlic with butter.  Mmm mm mm.

Thanks again, Spragues!

Linked to . . .

Busy Spring Days

We’ve had an abundance of spring rain this year, and even though we had a short break in the weather this week, the ground remains quite spongy.  We were at least able to get the mowing done, and what a blessing it is to have boys old enough to do the job, and even with enough manpower to heft the lawn tractor out of the mud when it got stuck.

Our garden area is still too mucky to till, but now that we have all our raised beds moved to this house, I want to get some things planted in there, and soon.  I’m already behind.

I’m glad to see that nearly all of my transplants from the old house have survived not only the move, but also our free-ranging chickens from last fall.  As much as I love to see a bird roam and scratch, it did make me nervous for my plants.  But all seem to be thriving, and it’s comforting to have a bit of the old house moved over here in the form of flowers and foliage.

And the lilacs the former owners planted look very promising.  I can’t wait for those blooms and scents.

Our herdshare raw milk is just fabulous this time of year, so I’ve decided to convert some of that richness to butter.  I whipped up a batch of lovely golden butter this week—golden, like butter is if the cows have access to pasture and eat real grass like they’re  supposed to.  I love it.

Our chicks are growing well, although at nearly 4 weeks of age they’ve lost a large degree of cuteness, would you agree?

And lastly, we finished up the week with culling several hens from our flock—our two Leghorns, which were our original layers from a few years ago and two beautiful Buff Orpingtons.  Though the latter were still good producers, they were also two of our best egg-eaters, and that just defeats the purpose of having them.  We had only butchered roosters up until now, and what a fascinating anatomy lesson hens contain, with all the developing eggs.

Well, I must sign off and get some work done.  We have another very busy spring week coming up.

7 Peeps

Like I said before, Ann does not make it easy to count chicks.  With her hovering over them and pecking at any intruders, not to mention the balls of fluff all blending together beneath her, it’s difficult to distinguish individuals.

However, Caleb said he counted two unhatched eggs.  So that means 6 chicks, right?  2 + 6 = 8

Not quite.

I told the boys to go check the eggs again this afternoon, and if they were not pipped we’d have to remove them.  If they were going to hatch, they would have at least pipped by now.

No pips, so they took the eggs back to the woods to discard them.  First, they cracked them to see what was going on.  (The scientist in us is compelled to do this.)  One egg housed a chick that had failed to completely develop, and the other egg looked like, well, a regular egg.  “Hmm, what’s going on?” they wondered.

Now, we had candled all the eggs several times and KNEW the chicks were developing.  Turns out that Ann laid an egg sometime in the last couple of days, so we actually have seven healthy little chicks, not six.

Hatch Update

2nd born chick along with another pipped egg

Ann has been doing very well in her new nest box, and we now have 3 chicks hatched—one black one and another golden/red one that looks much like the first chick.  Another black one is hatching right now, and the others have pipped.  It’s an exciting day!

We did snap a picture, but Ann is making it clear that she does NOT like us bothering her right now.  She has not been one to peck at us in the past, but motherhood has changed all that, and she’s determined to protect her young.

One Chick and Counting . . .

Yesterday was supposed to be hatch day, but sometimes chicks don’t follow the schedule, and there was no activity among the eggs.  This morning there was one pip (which is when the chick begins to peck a hole in the shell).  Six hours later he (hopefully she) was out, still damp from his moist, tight quarters.  And three or four hours after that, and he’s the cutest little fluffball you ever saw.

Seeing him positioned precariously close to the edge of the nest box (you can’t tell from the picture, but it’s an elevated nest box) made us nervous, and we knew tonight was the night we had to move Ann, the eggs and our little red fluffball to separate quarters.

I had read that it’s a good idea to try to move the entire nest box contents at once if possible (yes, hen and all), so as not to upset the hen too much.  So David found a sturdy box lid, and Nathan and Caleb helped him line it with wood chips and hay.  They transferred the eggs, the chick and finally Ann onto that, let her settle in for a minute, then carried the whole unit to the chicken tractor and slid it into the nest box there.

Ann was a bit ruffled during the transit, then she hopped off the nest as soon as it was in place, only to hop back on once she heard her little one peeping for his warm mommy.  Good job, Ann!  It seemed like she was settled in okay after that.  Thanks to the good ideas of the folks at BackyardChickens.com, I think we have a successful transfer.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering why Ann has no feathers on her underside, it’s because she plucked them out a month ago when she got serious about wanting to set some eggs.  Pulling feathers allows her skin to contact the eggs directly, which imparts the perfect temperature and humidity to the developing chicks.  Pretty ingenious, isn’t it?  I continue to be in awe of new life in any species, and witnessing it in your own back yard is extra special.

One more chick is making good progress on his shell, and several others have pipped, so we hope to have more cute pictures in the morning.  Stay tuned.