Archive for the ‘Backyard Chickens’ Category

Re-thinking the sex-linked chicken thing.

Tuesday, August 7th, 2018

In April… who knew?

As every backyard chicken farmer knows, baby chickens can be seriously deceitful.  They are cute and fluffy and exude that friendly, cuddly quality.  You give them lots of attention dreaming of the eventual returns for your efforts.  Eggs.  Lots and lots of eggs.

In that regard, we have been primed since childhood:


Higgledy Piggledy,
My black hen,
She lays eggs
For gentlemen;
Sometimes nine,
And sometimes ten,
Higgledy Piggledy,
My fat hen.

But, a week or two ago, our black hen began cock-a-doodle-doing and making seriously un-hen-like moves on the other ladies of the coop. Apparently our feathered beauty was a rooster in disguise!  Now that wouldn’t be very unusual in a ‘normal’ situation in which Mrs. Broody Hen sits on a clutch of eggs and they hatch without any gender announcements.  No pink or blue swaddling clothes to distinguish the girl chicks from the boys.  It’s hard to tell with down and feathers.

Two Roosters

Our latest batch of chickens, however, have been hatchery bred-and were purchased in a batch called “sex-linked.” That means, in my limited understanding, that they were cross-bred chickens whose color at hatching is differentiated by sex, thus making it easier to distinguish females from males.  So, we ordered sex-linked hens and were assured that in 90% of the cases, hens were what we’d get.

That’s nine times out of ten, right?  So, when one of our five sex-linked female chicks turned out to be a beautiful black rooster, we tried to be philosophical about the odds not being in our favor. But, yesterday when the white “hen” began making moves on the other girls in our flock, we were instantly on alert.  Two roosters??   Who knew our order for five sex-linked females would include two sex-linked males instead?

Farmer Nyel says two roosters in a flock of eight is one too many guys.  When I asked him why he thought so, his answer was, “Who would be in charge?”  Say what???   I’m still thinking about that response.  Such a guy thing!

And, it probably means another trip to the poultry auction in Chehalis…

The First Time Ever

Sunday, July 29th, 2018

Nyel and Sydney at the Olympic Club

Yesterday, we went to the poultry auction in Chehalis.  With us were neighbors Carol and Tucker and one very loud, very handsome, very mean banty rooster.  And did I say loud?  He was in a box just behind the back seat where Carol and I were sitting, and he protested pretty much constantly for the two-and-a-half-hour drive.

I don’t think any of us were too sympathetic.  We’ve all had issues with that bird from the get-go.  He had just ‘showed up’ at Tucker and Carol’s and proved to be a faithful and loud 5:30 a.m. crower.  Very loud.  And we all thought we were doing a good thing when Farmer Nyel and Tucker “rescued” him and introduced him to our flock.  I think we all thought (or at least hoped) that his owner would come looking for him.  No such luck.

Rescue Rooster at the Auction

So, when we heard about the poultry auction in Chehalis we decided to make a day of it.  None of us had ever been to a poultry auction which was eye-opening in itself.  Scores of hens and roosters, guinea fowl and turkeys, were in cages – individually and in family groups – waiting for the 11 a.m. starting time.  Farmer Nyel filled out the paperwork for Rescue Boy and we turned him over to one of the auction assistants.  We were assured that we’d receive a check in the mail within nine days.  Or we could stay and get paid on the spot.  As interesting as it all was, we left just as things began.

We headed for Centralia.  Nyel and I wanted to introduce Tucker and Carol to the historic (and still in use) 1912 train station and the old Olympic Club right across the street – now a McMenamin’s.  We had lunch there and then spent an hour or so exploring the street fair – an annual antiques and junk event – that we had just happened upon.  Another first and maybe the day’s highlight for the two men.

Tucker and Carol at the Olympic Club

Shortly after we got home, I looked out the east window and there was Ms. Russian Orloff right up on the porch, perhaps looking for Rescue Guy.  (It was the last place I’d seen them together – just a day or so ago.)  But before I could feel any fowl sympathy, here came our new black hen-turned-rooster running right for that lady hen.  Slam bam, he had his way with her was on his way without even a thank you, mam!  That was one event yesterday that probably wasn’t for the first time.

About those birds and bees…

Monday, July 23rd, 2018

Strutting His Stuff

There’s a lot of getting-right-down-to-it behavior among our chickens these days.  Apparently, the roosters (who seemed to know what to do from the get-go) have finally convinced the hens to comply with their desires.  Each of the two roosters has a favorite lady.  It’s the Russian Orloff for the little banty rooster and the Americauna for the young black cockerel.  But, when the urge strikes, any of the seven girls seem to be fair game.

They are sexing all over the place!  (“Sexing” is how a seven-year-old I used to know described her newly found knowledge of the birds and bees.  Great term!)  It’s the Garden of Eden out in our yard.  If any of these hens goes broody this winter, we are likely to have quite a crop of hatchlings.

Speaking of which – I am continually surprised at the lack of basic knowledge concerning the chicken and egg order of things.  The most common question seems to be, “But don’t you need a rooster to have eggs?”  Obviously, those folks missed out on Reproduction 101 when they were in school.  And they definitely weren’t farm kids.

Last Year

Sexing in our garden, though, has not been confined to the poultry residents.  As evidenced by the nests hither and thither – swallows under the eaves and over the lintels; hummingbirds among the lilacs; robins in the trees out in the lane – there’s been a lot of family planning going on around here.  Nyel says it’s my basic nesting instinct that objects to the removal any of the nests once they are occupied by eggs.  For my part, I’m not sure why “the mess” seems so unwelcome considering some of our own unsightly corners…  It’s a yearly “discussion” around here.  (And, lest you jump to unwarranted conclusions, Farmer Nyel is not the only cleaner-upper in the household.)

As for the bees’ part of that old birds and bees expression– our ceanothus (California lilac) has been abuzz for months.  There is no shortage of bee activity here.  Someone recently told me that there are at least five different varieties of bumble bee that have been working the gardens of the Peninsula this summer.  Yay!  And, along those lines, the little corner of my garden that I planted with “butterfly friendly” flowers a few years ago is doing its job too!

Yep, it’s a regular Garden of Eden here in Oysterville!

You never know when it comes to chickens…

Monday, July 16th, 2018

And now there are two!

Saturday was a big day for the denizens of our chicken coop.  First was the cock-a-doodle-doing of not one but two roosters!  Say what??

For some time, Farmer Nyel has been suspicious of one of our April hatchlings.  “That chicken’s comb is getting bigger that the two other girls’… I think ‘she’ might be a rooster.”

Sure enough.  Saturday morning that black teenaged chicken found his voice. All morning long, he practiced crowing while hiding in the rhododendrons at the west end of the garden.  Every time he crowed, the black and white “rescue rooster” (who stood his ground near the oldest ladies of the flock) answered.  We wondered if there would be a confrontation.

So far… detente in the coop!

But we soon had another problem – a pit bull in the yard!  No collar.  No trailing leash.  No apparent owner.  Chasing chickens everywhere.  The chickens quickly found ways to belly under the fence and were gone.  The roosters went silent – no hint as to where any of the nine might be.  The canny dog hung around in the yard (but mostly out of sight) all day – waiting for those chickens to come home.  Nyel did what he could to scare off the dog and collect the chickens.  No dice.

By dusk, the dog had disappeared and when Nyel went out with scratch and called his flock, all but two came dutifully from wherever they’d been hiding.  Two of the three oldest girls did not make it home.  We were pretty sure what had happened.

But… Sunday morning, there they were, waiting outside their gate for Farmer Nyel.  All chickens accounted for!  All chickens locked inside the coop and run for the rest of the weekend.  No more sign of the pit bull.  If the chickens know where he came from or who he belongs to, they have yet to share their information.  Nor are they telling where they hid out until the danger had passed.  As always… you never know when it comes to chickens.

No News is Good News… Sometimes

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

Cocky Bantam

No news is good news, or so they say.  But I’m not sure that’s true with chickens.  We haven’t heard a peep out of them since we’ve been away.  But then, chickens aren’t known for staying in touch.

We’re fairly confident that chicken-sitters Carol and Tucker would alert us if there were any serious coop concerns but still…   it’s that feisty little bantam rooster I worry about.  I hope he isn’t giving Carol any grief.  But I’m not totally confident that he has behaved.  After all, twice he chased me right out of the garden and up onto the porch.  I think if I’d been slower about slamming the door he’d have followed me right into the house.

Nyel didn’t see either incident and he has a tendency to laugh when I talk about it, but he did tell Carol that if the rooster gave her any grief to not hesitate to get rid of him.  Knowing Carol, she wouldn’t think of it, but I do hope she had Tucker step in if it was necessary.  No matter how beautiful (and how little) that rooster is, when his tail is spread and his wings are flapping and he’s flying toward you at knee level, it’s terrifying.  Truly.

T.J. Potter

We’ll know more tonight.  We are on the last leg of our homeward journey, stopping in Portland to have an early supper with Maggie and then… I have a fantasy that we could go down to the old OR&N dock and hop aboard the T.J. Potter.  It would be nice to just float on down the river toward the beach without worrying about traffic or road conditions or any of the rest of those driving concerns.

In reality, though, we’ll probably head home on the Washington side of the Columbia and enjoy the river view from a twenty-first century perspective. Maybe we’ll talk about a stewed chicken dinner… just in case,

Feeling Like A Marked Woman

Thursday, June 7th, 2018

Mr. Banty and His Lady Friend

We let the seven oldest chickens out into the garden yesterday.  My suggestion.  I was definitely feeling like the day should be shared – it was sunny, warm, beautiful!  But inviting that little banty rooster along?  Big Mistake! Whatever was I thinking?

It’s not that I don’t clearly remember being attacked by the full-sized rooster we had several years ago.  But I have always blamed myself for that.  Little had I realized that crowing back at him would prove to be a serious challenge to his alpha status.  He lost no time in rushing me, wings and tail feathers spread, talons and spurs aimed at my shins.  He had suddenly grown enormous.  And lethal.

I gave that cocky fellow wide berth after that, but even when I was taking food and water to the coop, he would charge me.  Farmer Nyel – who, I hasten to say – saw more than one of these forays, seemed sympathetic and even took over most of the coop duties so I would not be placed in harm’s way.  BUT… when that rooster began attacking Nyel, it was suddenly a different story.  The third time that cocky guy drew blood, he was history.

Those were thoughts close to the surface as I went out to work in the flower beds yesterday.  Mr. Banty Rooster and the three oldest (and biggest) Ladies-of-the-Flock were over by the east fence – probably fifty or seventy-five feet away.  They looked so cute, I raised my camera to take a few pictures and… would you believe it?  Here came Banty!  (And, believe me, there had been NO crowing on my part!)

Banty Bigfoot

He was actually stalking me.  He’d come forward a few feet, then he’d stop and turn his head sideways, one beady little eye looking at me.  A heartbeat or so and then he’d come forward a few feet more.  Stop.  Look.  Assess.  His girls were still back by the east fence, not the least bit interested.  (And, Nyel was mowing nearby – also not the least bit interested.)  On he came as I kept snapping.  And then… the attack!  YIKES!  He may be small but he’s mighty.  I actually ran into the house.

Later, when the chickens were occupied in another part of the yard, I returned to my flower bed.  All was well for about ten minutes and then… here they came!  The girls like to garden with me but I wasn’t taking any chances.  I headed for the nearest door and damned if that little fowl fellow didn’t attack me again as I was on the run!

When I complained to Farmer Nyel, he didn’t exactly laugh.  But I can’t say he was very sympathetic.  He has agreed, however, that the chickens will stay cooped up until further notice.  Until he, himself, is attacked two or three times, I thought to myself, but I wisely said nothing.  The stew pot is at the ready…

Does size really matter in the coop?

Sunday, June 3rd, 2018

In the last week, our flock of backyard chickens (for the time being, confined to quarters) has tripled in number.  From three very fat hens, we have gone to eight ladies of varying sizes and ages plus one very small and cocky Banty rooster.  We have no idea how old he is – mature, for sure, but he is still perfecting his cock-a-doodle-do so we think he is yet young.

However, from the moment he entered the coop, he knew what was required of him and he has been trying his utmost to comply.  The ladies are having none of it.  All of the hens – even those that are still just a few months old – are larger than the Banty.  The three-year-old Russian Orloff and Americauna are more than three times his size.  Watching him try to make his moves with them is comical.

He has figured out that there is no way he can manage unless he approaches the situation from above.  He stands on the ramp into the coop and waits, poised to pounce.  As a hen passes by beneath him, he takes flight but… alas!  She has tidily stepped out of his way by the time he lands – not on her, but on the packed earth of the run.  He has yet to learn that ‘timing is everything.’  And those ladies are quick-footed!

Between attempts, Banty has taken to sitting on top of the little isolation coop – originally built within the bigger compound for use by a broody hen and used more recently as a halfway house for introducing new members to the flock.  It’s from his perch there that he practices sounding authoritarian (and large) hoping, no doubt, for triumph in his next amorous endeavor.

As far as we know, his success rate has been zero.  Farmer Nyel, though, has confidence in young Banty.  “He’ll figure it out,” he says with assurance. (An attitude that is undoubtedly a guy thing…)

Rooster Rescue on School Street

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

Tucker came over yesterday in late morning to talk to Nyel about “a chicken problem.”  Next thing I knew, it was lunchtime and Nyel was nowhere to be found.  I thought he might be trying to solve whatever the difficulty was, so I walked over that way and sure enough – there were Tucker and Carol on one side of the street and Nyel and a small Bantam rooster on the other.

Only the rooster was moving.  The others were still as statues – Carol and Tucker watching and Nyel waiting patiently for the rooster to follow the trail of scratch into the cardboard box.  The rooster would circle the area and come oh-so-close… but he was definitely smarter than the average banty.  It had been close to an hour.  “Nyel is the most patient person I’ve ever seen,” Carol whispered to me.  I thought they all were.

“Would a net help?” I called over to Nyel.  With his affirmative answer, Tucker headed over to Dave and Lina’s to see if they had one amongst their hunting and fishing gear.  I headed home.  We have an antique net hanging on our kitchen wall.  Gwen Newton gave it to Nyel years ago.  It was her father’s which probably makes it over 100 years old.

Tucker came up empty-handed so Nyel tried Mr. Newton’s net.  Got him in one!  But only for a minute.  That little banty hopped and spread his wings and broke through that ancient netting in a flash.  Then he beat feet toward the schoolhouse and Carol and I headed him off.  Nyel brought the box.  Tucker disappeared and came back from their place with a roll of wire (a tomato cage?)  Quick as a wink he popped it over the rooster and just as quickly that little banty flew straight up (two and a half or three feet?) and out.  Wow!  That was one determined bird.

But Tucker and Nyel were equal to the challenge.  Tucker overtook the bird, plopped the wire on him again and Nyel got him in the box I-don’t-know-how.  It was quicker than the eye could see.  That little feathered fury is now in the isolation run down at our chicken coop and the hens – several of them three times his size – are milling around outside the wire fencing, full of curiosity but wary.  It’s their first experience with a rooster and Farmer Nyel thinks they’d better get acquainted by degrees.

This is my first introduction to a real-for-sure banty rooster, as well.  I now understand why the sobriquet came to mean “someone of small size but aggressive and spirited.”  Oh, and did I say he’s found his crowing mechanism and is as noisy as he is aggressive – day and night?  My suspicion is that he may be headed for the stewpot if he can’t settle down. So…IF ANYONE IS MISSING A BEAUTIFUL BUT FIESTY BANTY ROOSTER, PLEASE LET US KNOW.

Look who’s back!

Thursday, May 17th, 2018

Looking Out Our East Door

It wasn’t quite dark last night when I walked past our east door and saw on the lawn… one small black chicken!  Our runaway had returned!  I stood very still so as not to frighten her but I needn’t have worried.  Up the three steps and onto the porch she came, staring intently at me as if to say, “Don’t go away!  I’m back!”

I, however, was terrified that she’d get skittish when I opened the door, so I called Farmer Nyel and turned the situation over to him.  I needn’t have worried.   He opened the door, spoke in encouraging tones to naughty Miss Runaway, and was able to pick her up without incident.  She looked a bit rumpled, but steadfastly refused to tell us where she had been or what she had been doing.  How she knew to come to the once-upon-a-time front door is beyond us but, clearly, she wanted to come in.

Nyel soon had her settled back in the ICU next door to her sister who ran back and forth along the adjoining chicken wire, cheeping excitedly.  Ms. Runaway, however, paid no attention.  Clearly, she was famished and immediately (and for some time) gave full attention to her food dish.  When she’d eaten her fill, she settled down for a nap without so much as a “glad to be home.”   Her sister. on the other hand, was still chirping and cheeping and trying to find out all about where the heck she’d been and why she looked like she had a few wild experiences.

Farmer Nyel Checks Her Out

It was the perfect ending to a rather peculiar day.  I had been scheduled to give a history talk/tour of the Oysterville Church and its erstwhile Parsonage to a group of Community Historians.  Of the fourteen people on the signup sheet, only six showed up.  Just as well – half way through the tour, one of the women whispered to me, “Your sweater is on inside out.”

Sure enough – the label was at the center of the front neckline like a shiny brooch and there was another label sticking straight out of a side seam at about waist level.  Oh brother!  I, of course, responded with a loud, “You’re kidding!  Inside out?”    “I was trying to be discreet,” my informant said kindly.  Oh well.  Might as well admit to knowing what everyone by then had noted.  If I could have made a fashion statement out of it, I would have.

I’d like to make a cause-and-effect claim.  Something like: if your young chicken goes missing for four days, put your sweater on inside out and she’ll come home again.  As I have often said, you never can tell with chickens.  (Or with old ladies, apparently.)

Missing and Presumed…

Sunday, May 13th, 2018

“Don’t beat yourself up about it,” said Farmer Nyel.  “It wasn’t your fault.”

Maybe not.  But, anyway, I feel terrible.  The littlest black hen – the one with the injured shoulder – escaped yesterday afternoon and, try as we might, we haven’t yet found her.  It was my idea to take the chickens outside yesterday for a bit of sun.  Their older sisters had enjoyed a “field trip” to the garden a few weeks ago and I thought these two smallest girls were ready to meet the great outdoors.  Little did I think it might be “meet their maker” instead!

We knew we couldn’t put them together in the little chicken wire enclosure Nyel had fashioned.  They have been separated in their individual ICU areas for a few days now – hopefully recovering from the literal henpecking that they have recently gone through.  Nyel determined that the little black chicken would be the first one for the sunbathing expedition and set her up securely (he thought) with available water and a grassy area to explore.

In an hour or so, he went to check on her.  Gone!  No way of knowing how she got out – under? over? through?  He checked and “chick-chick-chicked” everywhere.  Not that we thought calling her would do any good.  She’s too young to have been offered scratch which is the usual reward for coming to the familiar call.  So… no little black chicken appeared.

The girls confined down at the coop (because of the septic system project) squawked and clucked thinking, no doubt, that they were missing out on a treat.  I went down to explain to them, and hoping that maybe, just maybe, the little one had gone down that way.  You know… birds of a feather and that flocking thing.  No such luck.

This morning Nyel has called again.  And looked everywhere.  “She’s gone,” he said.  He’s philosophical.  Farmers have to be, I guess.  But… I feel terrible.