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.

The Hens of Pumpkin Hollow

20180214_152811They, too, wait for spring when fresh greenery pushes through to be pecked at and enjoyed by the hens of Pumpkin Hollow Farm.  I love chickens.  And the thing we missed most when we were away from a farm was having chickens.  They make a farm a home anywhere you can keep them.  Their colorful feathers, changing in the sun, their strut through high weeds and the way they tilt their head to look at you with one eye.  They are hilarious in demeanor and each one is as different as my cats.

Yogi and Hindi are Jersey Giants and we refer to them as the Jersey girls.  They tend to stick together.  Their large black feathers sparkle emerald in the sunlight.  They lay large brown eggs.  They were late bloomers but seem to be catching up with others.

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Eloise was supposed to be a Marans but she lacks speckles and I think she is actually an Australorpe.  She lays small tan eggs wherever she pleases; outside the coop door, near the chicken food-as if the egg popping out surprises her.  She wants to be pet but then changes her mind.  She sleeps by herself and is a little…um…special.  But she is very sweet.

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Buttercup is the tiny queen here.  A clean, white egg can be found each day.  Her breed is Buttercup which is what led to her name.  She looks like a miniature leopard with a rose shaped crown.  She wants nothing to do with us.  Unless we have a bit of cracked corn.

Owlette is an Auracana.  This lovely breed looks like an owl and lays blue-green eggs.  I would like a few more of these ladies.  They are sassy and good layers.

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We have fallen for Salmon Favorelles.  These girls are beautiful in their French finest and petticoats.  They lay pink eggs regularly and are very friendly.  Bubba is especially sweet.  Our granddaughter named our chickens.  Bubba and Chichi are cute names indeed.

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We feed organic layer feed and organic scratch.  They eat scraps from the kitchen as well.  They have a large fenced in area that was likely a dog run in the past with seven foot fencing.  They live in an adobe house with trumpet vine that climbs prettily up the side in the summer.  We are all ready for a little color and for winter to pass!  They are able to wander the yard on the days the puppy goes to the shop with me.  I don’t trust his puppyness quite yet.  Chickens are very easy to keep.  They require little more than a straw strewn shed or chicken coop, fresh water, scratch, oyster shells, scraps, and feed.  They love dirt baths and bugs and sunlight.  They put themselves to bed in the evening at last light.  All you have to do is open the door in the morning and close the door at night.

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We are vegan but we do eat the eggs from our own chickens.  Our chickens lead a very nice life with pets, treats, and lots of wandering adventures.  They will live here their entire life and so in that way they are lucky.  No factory farms, cages, enclosed barns, or slaughter for them.

So now as spring approaches we have the question to answer; do we “adopt” five more chicks even though the hatcheries are horrific and provide five chickens with a beautiful future or do we wait and see if we are sent five chickens that need rescuing?  There are many moral decisions to be made on a small hobby farm.  We do know that chickens make this mini-farm a happier place to live.  A farm without chickens is not quite a home.

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.

 

Chicken Mama

I simply cannot wait to hold those babies in my hand.  Those little balls of fluff.

As we were losing our rented farm and needing to find someone to live with, we had to give away everything.  I stood outside and watched those chickens be placed head first into crates.  My chickens.  Laverne, Luisa, Ginger, and twenty-two of their named sisters…the ducks too.  I kind of lost myself there for awhile and as Doug helped them pack up my chickens, I stood screaming.  Screaming.  Losing my animals was worse than losing my antiques.  Worse than losing my three cords of wood, my newly planted garden, my homesteading school, my dreams.  Our chickens made us farmers when we first started out.  Our little house in town where our children would spend hours in the coop kissing and cuddling each chick.  Chickens took us to the next level.  In four weeks we will have chickens again.

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Doug and Maryjane drove to the feed store to order chicks and picked out two Salmon Faverolles who lay pinkish eggs, have slippered feet, and who are docile and good layers.  They are also very pretty.  We do love pretty chickens.

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Two Marans joined their order, those beautiful dark chocolate eggs and pretty feathers.  This is a picture of me holding one of our Marans.  It was used in an article that was written about our family in the Huffington Post.

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Four Jersey Giants, our favorite.  One of our Giants, Shirley used to sit in the lawn chair and read magazines with me.  They were among our friendliest chickens.

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My friend is raising Javas.  They have pink eggs, are a little conceited, but they are pretty enough to warrant it.  We are getting four of them.

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To complete our order, after much begging from me and Maryjane, Doug chose two blue Runner ducks.  My heart is full.

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In four weeks I will be a chicken mama again.  I know I keep saying it, but it sure is good to be back.

The Littlest Farmgirl Strikes Again (and choosing backyard chickens)

How does a nearly four year old remember life on a farm so vividly two years ago?

“We need to get goats,” she says casually.

“We can’t have goats here,” I replied, “but guess what we are getting?”

“A cow?”

“Uh, no.”

“How will we get milk?” she exclaims!

“We are getting sheep though.” she continues.

“Uh, we can’t have sheep here.”

She sighed as if mustering patience for me.  “But I love sheep!” she exclaims again.

“We are getting chickens!” I said brightly.

She told me all about chickens and how we get their eggs and take care of the chicks and feed them.  The sunny opening of the soon-to-be shed beckons and I can nearly see the ladies pecking the ground in the sunlight, rolling in the dirt, and having their lively conversations.  Today we go to the feed store and reserve our chicks.  Two of our favorite breeds were our originals, Golden Buffs and Jersey Giants.  Neither breed is very interested in flying the coop and they are dang near cuddly.  They are also great layers.

Trying to appease the child I said, “Well, I think we can have ducks…”

“Oh good!  We’ll get a little swimming pool for them again..” Maryjane told me how we will care for them and did some quacking for good measure.  My goodness, what a memory.

Once a Farmgirl, always a Farmgirl.

The Quick Switch

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There they went galloping down the neighbor’s driveway when it dawned on me how they were getting out.  We set up boards to block the larger sections of chicken wire.  Apparently a five inch square is all they need to get out.  Smug, we grinned at the baby goats, blew them a kiss, and went back to our work in the house.

I looked out and saw them playing in the fairgrounds among moving trucks and horses!  The entire back fence is made up of those five inch chicken wire squares!  We knew we were in trouble.  After Jill read my post yesterday, she expected my call.  She had been considering keeping the little monsters herself but thought they would be perfect for us.  She said to bring them on over.  She only lives a few miles from us and we can go visit them if we would like.  They ran around her farm gleefully, kicking up their heels, and reacquainting themselves with their long lost siblings.  They did not even give us a second look as we left.  I cried.  They played.  Goats.  Already breaking my heart.  I doubt alpacas can fit through chicken wire.  Hmmm.

Jill had asked on the phone though for a favor in return.  Coyotes had wiped out eighteen of her chickens in a mere two eves.  Only one remained.  A docile Jersey Giant like our Laverne.  We said we would take her.  The coyotes, for some reason, gather chicken buffets from all around us, but have never ventured into our yard.  (Let me go find some wood to knock on real quick….)  Perhaps because we keep them locked up snug starting at dusk?  A loving guard greyhound?  Too much racket in the fairgrounds?  Whatever the reason, we seem to have a little chicken shield around our place.

Laverne used to be a pair.  Laverne and Shirley were a few of our first chickens but an accident involving a maniac four year old and his dog ended the life of Shirley.  So, Doug deemed the new girl Shirley, as she is smaller than Laverne, and he just likes having Laverne and Shirley in the back yard.  Now, how to get her in without anyone noticing?

We have failed at this before.  The first time we introduced too soon in the daylight…not good.  The second time we introduced ten chicks in a dog carrier over the course of three days.  That worked fairly well, but the bully big girls were still pretty snotty.  We had to think of a way to introduce a full grown chicken into the coop of fifteen residents without anyone being the wiser.

We have been told to introduce them overnight.  Simply sneak the new girl in come the middle of the night and everyone wakes up with complete amnesia.  Jill recommended that we rearrange their surroundings as well so they think they are in a new place all together.  I still had a nervous feeling that we would wake to full blown chicken fighting come dawn.  We had switched the dog kennel that was still in the coop with the one Shirley was in when we came home.  We gave her food and water but left her door closed.  After our movie ended late, we snuck out quietly into the coop, careful not to rouse the girls, as any time of day or night seems to be a good time to eat for them.  We moved their food over there, their water over here, this moved there, and that over here, and opened Shirley’s cage door, said a prayer, and went to bed!

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This morning I shot out of bed at dawn when I heard Henry announcing his waking up.  I went to the coop.  No one even noticed the petite brunette eating side by side or dust bathing.  She and Laverne have already become buddies and we now have another chicken instead of two goats.  We’ll try again on the next homestead (with extensive, sturdy, possibly electric fencing!).  I guess chickens are more our pace on this rurban farm….for now.