Thursday, 3 May 2012

Meet the Chickens!

The last time I posted spring was in the air, but not yet arrived.  The end of March, the end of winter, the end of the quiet part of small farm life!  I may learn to love winter by virtue of the lowered activity level required to keep the farm going!  Although I will never really enjoy going out in sub-zero temperatures to staple plastic around the chicken coop!

All the same, spring has arrived, and with it a myriad of tasks and a flurry of activity which have all worked together to whittle my writing time down to almost nothing.  It also allows me more time outside, which inspires my writing but ironically leaves me with less time to write. With so much going on, and more than a month unreported, I will have to summarize what’s been going on, and leave more to your imagination than I normally would.  Although, once I get writing I tend to keep going, so that is not a promise!

The first order of business, since my last post was about the impending arrival of 6 fluffy little chicks, is to introduce you to the new brood!  They are a fun little bunch that we have all come to enjoy, but hope to be moving out to the coop with the “big girls” very soon.

Before they arrived we had decided to choose names for them that were reminiscent of “old fashioned hens,” at least in our minds.  The idea came from a cat named Prudence that appeared on an episode of the Waltons.  “What a perfect name for a chicken!” I thought.  And so we began to come up with a list of names.  A few of us had a name that we particularly wanted, and those three chicks quickly became associated with the one who named it.  Really, all the chicks are Kathleen’s – she’s our resident bird lady – but of course we each have favourites.  It is a great deal of fun to watch them and to see how their little poultry-personalities are being defined.  If we’re not sure which is which by their feathering, we can often tell just by how the bird is behaving!  But as they are growing into their permanent “big girl” feathers, it is becoming increasingly easy to tell who’s who in the brooder.

First, the older two we purchased “ready to lay.”  These two have feet that are more yellow than our older two chickens.  And their combs are considerably smaller.  They were distinctive immediately, both in looks and personality.  The first we named Prudence (of course – after Mrs. Brimmer’s cat).  Prudence (on the left in this picture) showed herself to be the high-strung of the two, strutting around at her full height and periodically letting out the sound we had typically used as a chicken sound but had heretofore not actually heard a chicken make.  Ba-KAWK! 

The second, and quickly our favourite, of the new chickens we named Mabel.  Mabel is the quiet, submissive chicken.  She generally waddles around making a very soft, throaty clucking sound – the kind of chicken sound I have come to love when I go visit the girls in the barn.  She is also the one who was the brunt of the new “pecking order” competition.  Even though Prudence is more dominant, it was Mabel that our current hen mother, Smilie Fry, decided to pick, or peck, on.  With Smilie pecking at Mabel we noticed French Fry would join in.  This trend was a little worrisome, so Smilie Fry spent a few nights in the dog crate (in the coop) to separate her so that we knew Mabel would be safe.  Once it warmed up enough to let them into the outside part of their coop, they had enough to do and have left each other alone.  Now they are four laying hens that seem to get along.  Soon we’ll be letting them out of the coop for the day, and that will help things further, especially once the younger pullets join them.

Now for the chicks:

Amelia – I’m not sure how this one was chosen for the name, but it was a name Kathleen wanted to use, so Amelia is considered hers, even though they are really all hers.  Amelia has often shown “mother hen” tendencies, but is not very aggressive, which is good for everybody.  She was one of the first to develop “big girl” feathers, learn to roost & fly, and otherwise grow up.  She now has darker red around her neck with white feathers on her back and wings.

Annabelle – Annabelle quickly became everyone’s favourite!  She loves to nestle in and would settle right into the palm of your hand for a snooze when she was small enough to do so.  She has always been the lightest in colour, and remains so now with her golden feathers from head to toe.  And she still loves to roost so if you pick her up be prepared to hold her on your finger for a good long while!

Clara Cluck – This is my girl.  I chose the name remembering an old Mickey Mouse record I had as a girl.  Mickey would introduce each act on the record and I recall his mousy voice announcing this world renowned singer, “Claraaaaaaaa Cluck!”  After which the chicken would do a lovely “pawk-pawk-pawk” to whatever tune she was singing.  I loved that record…  But I digress.  Clara is the most beautiful bird, in my opinion.  She was the yellowest chick and now has the darker red head & neck, barred with white.  Her body and wings are white barred with the dark red.  Gorgeous!  She is a very curious bird, usually the first to come see what’s up when you visit the brooder, and often the first to fly up for a chance to come out and play.  And once she's on your hand, she is very likely to climb up your arm to your shoulder, around your back...

Frou Frou – This is the name Victoria chose.  I don’t know why.  But when one of the new chicks began to peck at my rings – and continue to peck at them every time I reached into the brooder – we decided she would be Frou Frou.  She has always been the darkest chick and now sports the darkest over-all colouring, not quite as dark as Amelia’s & Clara’s necks, but with no white she is the darkest over all.  And yes, she still loves to peck at my rings!

Omelet – Another name that doesn’t quite fit the theme, this was Emily’s choice.  With a name like Omelet, we chose the chick who was the first to find the feeder and who seemed to eat voraciously right from the start.  She has always been the smallest of the chicks, her head was yellow like Clara’s but her back was brown.  As a young pullet she is now mostly brownish red with stripes of white feathers across her wings.  She is a very friendly bird, and while Clara is quicker to jump at opportunities, Omelet always wants to come out and play.

Henrietta – Henrietta was typically untypical.  She had no distinguishing features and so we often identified her by eliminating the others.  A little darker than Annabelle, lighter than Frou Frou, without the striping of Omelet…  Still, we loved her as we do all the chicks.  Sadly, she introduced us to the tragedy that is part of life on a farm.  When moving the growing chicks to a new location in the house, and cleaning out the brooder in the process, it happened that the dog was able to sneak in and terrorize the poor little birds.  Thinking these would be fun to play with, he got Henrietta in his grasp and while he was gentle enough to not puncture her skin, she did not survive the pressure of his playful jaws.  It was a pretty traumatic few minutes as Matthew got the dog out of the house, I sat with Henrietta to see if I could do anything to save her, and Kathleen ran up and down the hallway trying desperately to find something, some way to help.  Emily sat beside me, and eventually the three of us sat where Henrietta lay, knowing there was nothing we could do.  We found a shoebox and buried Henrietta just inside the forest behind the barn, not far from the coop.

And these are our chickens.  The 5 young ones are just over 6 weeks old now.  They are too big to still be in the house, but we can’t put them in the coop until the nights are a little warmer, which, by the forecast, looks like it should be soon.  I read that the optimum time to introduce new young pullets to a flock is at 2 months of age, so that should be about right.  As the weather allows the older birds to forage on the grounds during the day, that will also help keep them occupied and busy so as to prevent too much pecking in the coop.  The plan is to put them in the coop in the brooder (which is actually a large dog crate), under the heat lamp if necessary, so the birds can all get used to each other before they are allowed free in the coop.  Once they are, it could take some talent letting the older four out to “free range” while not letting the younger 5 out until they have sufficiently learned where they need to return to roost.

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