The Unusual Rooster (or crowing hen)

I heard crowing at dawn.  I stretched and smiled, hearing that beautiful familiar sound.  My eyes shot open and I jumped out of bed.  I searched with sleepy eyes through the window trying to catch sight of who was actually a rooster.  Then…nothing.  No crowing for days.  None of the hens looked like a rooster and I have had six out of seven of them for a year and a half.

Twice now I have pulled my car into the driveway and heard crowing coming from my own backyard.  I throw open the gate and stand there as the hens chirp and ask to be let out of their yard.  Suspicious.  No rooster.

Last week I ran in to see who was crowing and one of the Jersey Giants was pulled up tall just like a rooster.  Ah ha!  But she lays eggs.  Addie came over and we looked at all the chickens.  No spurs, no crazy feathers, no prettier than other chickens chicken.  And they all lay eggs.

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I decided to look into this phenomenon. Addie has a few hen crowers.  The internet is filled with tales of crowing hens.  It seem that without a rooster to rule the roost a hen will become the queen.  She will crow to scare predators or to announce her dissatisfaction, or to let me it’s time to wake up and give them feed.  So this really is the best of both worlds, I get my beloved, familiar farm sound (just not every ten minutes throughout the day) without any of the testosterone jerkiness and she lays eggs.  How lovely.

Chick Days Are Here Again

 

DSC_4911Is there anything sweeter than chick days?  They are little and adorable.  There is bird song in our home all hours of the day.  Gentle, joyous chirping from the closed guest room door.  Their personalities begin to emerge.  Namaste is sweet and content to stay in my hand.  Yoga likes to sit and watch me do yoga.  Buttercup is dead set on escape.  And Bobbi and Chi Chi (Maryjane named them) are frantic.  The unnamed Marans and the owl-like Araucana just follow the crowd.

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The grass is growing higher in their chicken yard and a huge pile of old compost waits for their sing song clucking and digging.  I can see them in my mind, rolling, gossiping, kicking up dirt in their luxurious dust baths.  The sounds of an urban farm are soothing against the traffic.  And inside the warm guest room with its red light glow holds little souls new here and joy in every new feather.

 

The Ducklings Return

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The ducks have returned to Pumpkin Hollow Farm.  They are adorable and fluffy and live behind an impressive fortress.  Ten cats is something to worry about but we have kept the just a few days old ducklings safe.  We can barely get in, however!  Over the plastic storage box Doug molded some fencing then we put up a portable cage around that topped with a screen, and a card table!

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In the box is three inches of straw (they eat pine shavings).  We added a small waterer that they try to swim in.  We learned our lesson with the last ducks and don’t use open bowls of water like we did with the chicks.  They splash and destroy their surrounding areas with water and duck poo.  They are still splashing water but they can’t get a lot out at a time.  They look like rubber duckies trying to swim around the one inch canal.

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They have a small feeder with flock starter in it as well.

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We got four ducklings.  Two Indian Runners like last time.  The Walt Disneyesque, bowling pin effect never fails to delight me. They are also fairly good layers with 200-300 eggs a year.  Joining them are two Khaki Campbells, who are also good layers at 250-325 eggs a year,

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Every week the red light will get a bit higher and at six weeks they can safely stay outdoors.  However, with the warm weather in May, perhaps they can go out a touch earlier with their red lamp in their coop.  We still need to devise a small coop for them to stay in and lay eggs in.  A place to sleep away from predators at night.  We will let them free range in the newly fenced area that consists of our new pumpkin patch, outdoor kitchen, fruit trees, rose bushes, and the cold frame.  We will use one foot high fencing that just pushes into the ground to keep them out of the plants.  This is cheaper than building a duck run and they will have more space.  We will get a child’s swimming pool.  The trees and corn may act as a deterrent for hawks and owls.  And how fun to look out the back porch and see ducks running around!

The Ducks of Pumpkin Hollow Farm

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We’ve been watching Irene for awhile.  She has a zigzag on her chest that makes her look like a superhero and she stands much taller and bigger than the other ducks.  Some women are built that way.  I wasn’t judging.  They follow her everywhere.  She enjoys a good swim in their child sized swimming pool as well as leisurely walks about the farm with her friends in tow.

Yesterday, Sylvia, who has a profound permanent limp (if she turns out to be a boy I shall call her Tiny Tim) decided to envelop herself in the thicket of lilacs and have a bit of a nap.  Head tucked backwards into her feathers she slept peacefully beneath the leafy arc.  Irene was beside herself.  All three ducks quacking and looking for their friend.  They went under the porch, then came back out.  They called far and away and close by.  Beneath the table, in the pool, in the coop, around the tree they paraded and called.  Finally, sleepy Sylvia awoke and ran out of the lilacs to meet her friends who quickly ran towards her, all of them quacking at once.

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That was when I noticed it.  Irene has a real raspy voice, like an old time jazz singer that has been smoking too long.  And the tell tail sign (literally) was the curly tail.  At just about four months, we did not see it before this week.  Suddenly her sweet feminine tail feathers curled into a tight ringlet.  Irene is a boy.

I do hope that Irene, I mean Ira,  will behave himself with the females.  I would rather him make sweet little ducklings than Duck a L’Orange!

A Bathtub of Fluff (mid-summer chicks)

We saw the sign on the door of Big R (our local farm store) as we walked in, “Chicks arrive July 31st!”  We have never taken home chicks mid-summer but it made rather good sense.  Just a day or so earlier Doug was talking to someone who told him that if we get chicks in the summer they start laying in mid-winter when many of the girls have slowed production.  After losing three chickens last week and the others on strike, we figured we better get some more chickies.

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I think it is absolutely fabulous that places like Denver and Colorado Springs allow chickens.  The fact that they only allow eight and four birds respectively is baffling to me, however.  What would one do with four birds?  Should one die, or go broody, or the others stop laying for winter, or whatever the situation may be, it would be hard to keep enough eggs coming in!  Plus I seem to have a chicken addiction.  Not an addiction to eating them, but rather to watching their antics and having them around.  So Saturday our numbers jumped to twenty five and secured our permanent place in the country.

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We went in to the enclosure to pick out our new chicks and cooed and chased down the cutest and fluffiest ones then would give them a kiss before putting them in the travel box.  Both of us, completely smitten by the little birds.  The burly salesmen eyed us as if we might be from the city…or Mars.

The house has more charm with chirping in the air.  The little fluff balls running about the bathtub are adorable and in the middle of winter our teenagers and ducks, plus these ten layers will provide, not only priceless entertainment, but numerous meals with farm fresh eggs.

A Rooster In The Kitchen

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I never in my lifetime thought this would happen.  What happened to the nice vegan girl from the city?  I was so cute in my PETA t-shirt and my veggie chicken.  Having animals humanely raised has been one of the highest priorities in my life and in my small neck of the woods (I mean prairie) there is a flock of chickens, ducks, and goats living the high life.  But there was trouble in the coop.

When Nancy shot her rooster in To Love Or Shoot A Rooster I asked her if she ate it.  She looked at me strangely and said no.

“How come people don’t eat roosters?” I asked Elizabeth…and Nancy…and Monte.

“They’re tough.  Have to stew them.”

“Ohh,” I would reply, pretending like I understood.  I was vegetarian for a VERY long time before last fall so I am still new at cooking up chicken.  But I have read a fair amount of French and Italian cookbooks so I know how to stew.

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Remember when I told you that Ethel had her head cut open but didn’t know how?  I figured that she got caught on something.  She is forever roaming the driveway and front yard.  Then Peep looked like a brain surgery victim.  Finally I noticed that Laverne no longer would go near the coop.  Her head was so mutilated she looked like a burn patient.  I started to panic.  The chicks and ducklings go out to the coop this week and whoever is causing havoc in the coop will surely take them out.  I had to figure out who it was.

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Sandy and I sat in the back yard two weeks ago nursing our glasses of wine, talking about everything at once, when we heard commotion.  Shirley was hollering and Henry was trying to get her in…ahem…position.  “She’s down for you, you Dummy!”  Sandy yelled at him.  Even though Shirley had squatted, Henry was pecking her in the head.

This created a moral dilemma for me.  I have been avidly designing a farm with an environment that if you are here, you are safe.  Henry was screwing this up for me.  When he ripped Ethel’s comb clear off her head I mentioned it to Lisa.  She said that he was a really mean rooster and that was indeed not normal.  But he’s so nice to me!  I cried.  Henry has been very nice to me and everyone that comes around.  He won’t sit on your lap or anything, but he isn’t one of those roosters that chases you down, talons bared.  And he is so damn good looking.  Such a shame.  I called John.

John was raised straight back woods.  His joke is that they had running water when he was a kid, you had to run to the creek to get it!  If there is indeed a crisis or apocalypse, John’s gonna be alright.  I am going over there in such a scenario.  I tentatively called him and squeaked, “Do you know how to process a chicken?”  He laughed.  Of course he does, he and his son processed thirty chickens last fall.

“You didn’t name him, did you?” John asked.

“Who, Henry?  No…”

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“But what if it wasn’t him hurting the hens?” my last deranged attempt at reprieve.  Doug just looked at me.  He loaded Henry up in a dog crate and took him to John.  A few hours later John brought me an empty dog kennel and a bag with a plucked chicken in it.  “Oh no!” I cried, as if I forgot what he was asked to do.

I channeled my grandmothers and homesteading foremothers and stuck Henry…I mean the rooster…in the pot.  I filled it with water and half a bottle of wine.  Half an onion, several cloves of garlic, bunches of rosemary, sage, and thyme and set him to cook.  The house filled with the lovely aroma of chicken broth and herbs.  Five hours later I turned the heat off and an hour later went to strip the meat off.  It was stingy and some places tough.  He didn’t look like a regular hen.  I put the meat in a little cream soup and served it over biscuits.

We each took a bite, thankful for the first meat we raised organically and cooked ourselves.  It was slimy, stringy, it was disgusting.  We went and got pizza.

So, that is why you don’t eat a rooster.  Let’s hope the new chicks and ducklings are all female!  All of the hens have returned home and are happily and safely wandering around the coop.

 

Romanticizing the Rooster

He is a symbol.  The voice is symbolic to me. He is the ambassador to the farm.

Growing  up in the city, as children our own only knowledge of him was in pre-school songs and storybooks. In movies set on a farm.  In fine art depicting rural and culinary arts.  He is inextricably linked to farm life.

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Bad boys come with an image, even if they aren’t all bad.

Doug told me in no uncertain terms early on in this journey, “No roosters, they will wake me up!”  You can have hens in many cities, but no roosters.  Rumor #1 They are too loud. (And Chihuahuas aren’t?)  His voice sooths me.  I hear him in the morning from the chicken coop singing to the ladies.  More of a wah-wah-wah-wa-waaaahhhh.  Doo wop style.  His song becomes part of the back ground.  The neighbors from inside their houses can barely hear him.  He is greeting the day.  A prayer of sorts.

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Rumor #2 They are aggressive and will attack you, talons flying, Bruce Lee style.  Roosters are the protector of the flock.  The bodyguard.  Sometimes they get mixed up and think you want to eat Henrietta.  My rooster is quite docile.  I can’t go up to him and snuggle him but he has not turned on us at all.  He knows we are giving him food.  If a rooster does becomes vicious, then he becomes sustenance.  But, should he behave himself (which is often the case) he will warn the flock about predators, shoo the girls under bushes to protect them from hawks.  He will throw himself in the way of a coyote so that the girls have time to escape.  This is a chivalrous dude and a there is a real place for him in a back yard flock.  SAM_0807

Rumor #3 (Okay, not rumor) Roosters are a tad frisky, but as long as you keep an eye on the ladies for cuts or anything, you might just end up with baby chicks come spring.  Teenaged boys are a bit frisky too, but we don’t ban them!

There are more pros to having roosters than cons in my humble opinion.  He is symbolism to me.  He is the ambassador to the farm, the beautiful early morning operatic voice welcoming the day, the dawn, reminding me where I am.  On a farm.  I have arrived.  Rooster in tow.

The Case of the Missing Eggs

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Doug came in from measuring the space around the porch.  “I am not sure about closing off under the porch.  That is the chickens’ safe place from predators.”

“We must!” I replied, “Do you want eggs, or what?!  Besides, Bumble keeps the predators away.”

Later that day- “Two eggs!”  Doug brought in two beautiful eggs recognized as our original Golden Buff’s eggs belonging to Peep and Daffodil. (Mahalia never did start laying- read highly embarrassing and hilarious post about it here.)  Later an Araucana egg came in.  The day before was one Golden Buff and one Orpington egg.  All in all, about three eggs a day is what we are averaging for fifteen hens.  With organic feed, these ladies are averaging sixteen-plus dollars a dozen for eggs.  Mama not happy.

I was certain that sixteen lovely ladies, most of them in their new sexy teens, ought to be laying regularly.  They must be laying under the porch.

Granted, Laverne looks like a half plucked, half sized version of herself, Ethel just seems pissed off, and the Italian girls are so tiny, I can’t imagine what they will lay.

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Still, Doug and I agreed that we would lock them in the coop for an entire day to see who is laying and how many eggs we are truly getting.  Yesterday we both kept looking out at the coop, saddened by not seeing the familiar bobbing of chickens around the yard, feeling a smidge guilty at locking them up (in their hundred square foot coop…spoiled much?), and wondering if any laying was going on.  We figured Henry was having a good time anyway.

Last night, we went out and brought in one Marans egg and one Arauncana egg.  Are you kidding me?  Maybe it is too chilly out there; they’re freezing their feathery bloomers off, don’t want to have kids in this!  So, tonight we will turn on their red light and see if that helps.  Enough chicken vacation.

The Most Sincere Chicken Egg

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We live in a little house on a busy street.  We have two lots so it lives big, but we have neighbors, traffic, and street lights.  There are no chickens allowed in the front yard.  They have a large area in the back yard where they have taken over the swing, the lawn chairs, the outdoor dining area, and the fire pit.  They have a large, comfy coop, dogs to play with, laundry to pull off the line, and the back porch to play on and under.  It’s freakin’ Disneyland for chickens back there.  They seem happy enough and we don’t see them attempting to get out all that often.

Wading through the pumpkin patch yesterday to find the perfect pumpkin to roast, I gingerly sifted through the large spiky leaves, and tall grass.  As I lifted a limb of the choke cherry near a large pumpkin leaf, there lay eighteen beautiful eggs.  I stood there a bit dumbfounded.  ‘Could it be a duck?’ I thought.  Far fetched I am sure.  Farm fetched more like it.  Could it be Leo’s chickens across the street?  Robin eggs?  As my mind raced wildly for an explanation I came to the more realistic conclusion that one of the chickens has been out hoeing around the front yard.  I know who it is.  Sophia.  She is as naughty as she is lovely.  I have seen her running around the side yard a few times but thought I had just caught her.  Apparently she loves pumpkin patches as much as I do!

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Doug said, “That’s not the Great Pumpkin!  That’s the Great Chicken Egg!”

(Perhaps a little early for Halloween references, but we feel that It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! is a year round classic that should be quoted at will.  I do hope you will indulge your inner child and watch it!)

To Love (or shoot) a Rooster

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From the beginning, when the little bundles of fluff arrived home, they received kisses and hugs.  It makes them tame chickens.  When we figured out that Louisa was now Henry Higgins, he got doubled the kisses.  I have heard the horror stories of roosters.  I wanted a nice rooster.  He now runs from me yelling, “Noooo, mooommm!  No kisses!”  But, at least so far, he hasn’t shown a lick of aggression and doesn’t want to attack us.  Which, considering his size and the talons on that dude, I’m glad!  I am afraid though, that Henry has become quite the perv as of late.  He prefers the younger sect, as the older girls give him a good glare and tell him what he can do with himself.  The younger girls don’t stand a chance against his charms.  He is a good looking guy.  But, he is the abusive boyfriend none of them ever wanted.  There are no abuse hotlines for chickens.  They seem to be living with it.  (And perhaps we will have baby chicks running about next Spring!)

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Not all of us are so lucky.  My friend got a rooster that was a scary son of a gun.  He would charge them, talons blazing, ready to take them down just because they were outdoors.  She’d had enough.  With her gun on the counter at the ready, she stalked him waiting for him to shed the company of the others and come out alone.  He never saw it coming.  While cradling her cell phone on her shoulder while talking to her mother, she took aim and fired.  Her mother (who lives in a city in California and probably not used to gunfire by telephone) exclaimed, “What was that?!  Was that a gun shot??”  I can imagine my friend blowing off the end of the gun, one shot.  “I just killed my rooster,”  she replied calmly.

I can see how if Henry came running at us every time we tried to use the back yard ready to maim us, that I would be about ready for my first chicken dinner in 25 plus years.  But, luckily, so far, he is a sweet, (though with a one track mind) adolescent boy.