Small update from Chickentown, where things are calmer, quieter, and a little less chicken-y:
- We are down to 21 chickens: 1 Buff Orpington Rooster, 18 Buff Orpington Hens, 1 Easter Egger Rooster, and 1 Light Brahma mix Speedy (whose gender is still yet unknown; that lil guy/gal is tough to figure out!).
- 18 roosters went to a local processor last Wednesday. By Friday, they were in our freezer. At $2.65/bird, it was completely worth it. Without a plucker, we just couldn’t do it easily in the frigid temperatures. Lesson learned: always process chickens before snow fall! (And, get a plucker!)
- Our beloved rooster, Hot Cocoa (so named because then-toddler Asher thought that’s what his crow sounded like – “Hot Cocoooooooa!”), had to be culled on 1/25/11. He arrived with our first ever batch of chickens as a day-old chick on April 1, 2009. He was the first cockerel to crow and was the biggest, so when we took our 12 cockerels to our friends to be processed that July, he got a stay of execution. He has done a remarkable job of protecting the hens, showing them food, keeping the hen fights to a minimum, and keeping those eggs fertilized so we could have farm-grown babies. He was a big, beautiful bird, with a wide chest, tall stance, and perfect coloring. However, over the past couple of weeks, he had become overly docile, and let the hens pick at his already frost-bitten comb (this is a problem with this breed – their combs are huge and prone to frost bite in the coldest weather). His comb and head got completely bloody, and he didn’t do a thing to stop the picking. He just sat there and let them pick at him, getting weaker and weaker. We’re not sure what happened, or if he was sick, but finally he just went out of the coop and sat in the snow. He wouldn’t move, and let me pick him up and move him (a first). Sadly, we had to put him out of his misery. Also sadly, we couldn’t eat him (such a big bird, such a waste!) because you never eat a bird whose cause of sickness/death is unknown.
- As the time came to take the roosters to the processor, I had to choose which rooster(s) would be our replacement(s). Initially, we planned on keeping Hot Cocoa, as he did a great job and could show the new rooster what to do. But when it became clear that he wasn’t going to be around anymore, we chose one of his first two sons (born in June) to be his replacement. (The other wandered off at dusk and got himself killed a few months back.) We have named our new Buff rooster Junior, short for Hot Cocoa Junior, because he looks just like his dad. He’s the cockerel/rooster who matured the earliest and has been breeding the hens for a while. He is big enough that the hens respect him and don’t run him off (like they do the littler cockerels). He was already sleeping in the big coop with the hens and was accepted into their flock, so he made sense.
- Since we have 18 hens and I want more babies, we needed another rooster to ensure fertilization of all the eggs. Since we’ve had so much trouble with the large single combs getting frost bite, I chose one of our Easter Egger roosters (pictured above) with a pea comb. The comb is small and close to the head, and this guy has weathered the cold with no trouble at all. He is smaller than I’d like from a meat bird, so his sons might not grow as big, but I’m hoping the Buff lineage will contribute to the boys sizing up a little faster. I chose this guy because his coloring is great for a free range bird who wants to blend in and avoid getting attacked by aerial predators. He is appropriately named Mr. Hawk, because he looks a lot like a hawk. (The “Mr.” part was added so we don’t yell “Hawk!” and get confused by whether or not we’re concerned about predators or a naughty rooster. Also, we’re hoping he’s a gentleman.) He is sharing a coop with Speedy.
- Speaking of Speedy…(s)he is doing well since surviving a nasty hawk attack on January 3. She is still a little lopsided and awkward in her walking style, and she holds her neck to the side, and we think she’s blind in one eye, but she’s otherwise fine. (I’m choosing this pronoun because I really hope she’s a pullet! I want her to lay eggs and make more cute Speedy babies.) She’s as cuddly as ever and will let us hold her. She’s shacking up with Mr. Hawk, and I guess this arrangement will make her gender clear, as they will either fight for dominance (or rather, she’ll hide in a corner, because she won’t fight back, ever) or he’ll mate her. Eventually, we will move these two in with the bigger flock. For now, Speedy needs to be separate from all the hens, because they are nasty and will pick on her. She just hides in a corner and won’t fight back, so until she learns to stand up for herself and find her place in the pecking order, she just lets herself get picked on and bloody. (I tried to put her in with them once, unsuccessfully.) She and Mr. Hawk get along fine, as she had been living with Mr. Hawk and the other 18 roosters (who largely left her alone) already.
- We have a light on in the coop to extend daylight hours, and we are getting 8-9 eggs a day from our 18 hens. Probably 3 – 4 of the hens are young enough to not lay yet, and the rest are just not laying. 8-9 eggs is better than no eggs, which is what were getting for months and months.
- Can’t wait to see what our little mixed breed chicks will look like in the spring!
Coming soon: turkeys!! We are buying a dozen hatching eggs from a local-ish Bourbon Red turkey breeder, and we’re hoping a broody chicken hen will hatch some out for us in the spring. We intend to butcher turkeys every fall and keep a breeding pair year-round. Turkeys can be a bit trickier to raise as babies, so I’m hoping it goes well for us.