Like a walk through the country side living on a small farm is full of daily surprises, sometimes wonderful and amazing, and other times puzzling and sad. I hope you will walk with me as I live out my dream of living on this tiny farm. You will come to know the dogs, cats, Shetland sheep and chickens that make up this farm and what goes into keeping them happy and healthy. Come and join the journey with me.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Chicken Stories







I've blogged about sheep. I've blogged about dogs. I've blogged about cats. And flowers. Even trucks. So today I thought I might write about some of the other residents of the little farm. Chickens are today's hot topic.

I have lots of chicken stories..... and have had lots of chickens. How I became a 'chicken farmer' is a fun story in itself, so I think I'll start there. Many, many years ago about the second summer after I had moved into the place, I had a friend from out of state visiting. She loved collies (and ended up taking another home with her--in addition to the one she brought-- after visiting breeders in the area---but wait thats another story!) and caves. She also brought her mother and a guinea pig. We toured every cave in the this part of the state---and there are lots of caves in Missouri...lots. Again I digress. One morning when I was still in the house fixing breakfast or something, she had went on out to let the dogs run. She was soon back in the house, cupping a tiny little ball of yellow fuzz. It was a teeny little chick that couldn't have been over a day old. Technically it was her chick, but since she lived in the city and had a looong way to travel home, I took over its care. Where in the heck did it come from? To this day, I don't know. It was under the lilac bush in front of the house. There were some chickens on a farm way across the road. Did she escape from the mail carrier? How did she survive all the cats? Installed in a bird cage with a little oatmeal, and some water, the chick was quite perky and content. So Henrietta joined the 'family'. I had one collie and several cats at the time, and she would tootle around with them. She also spent quite a bit of her early chick hood in the house. Yep. She wasn't cute very long, and she soon became this enormous white teenager chicken. Something had to be done, she needed a pen to keep her safe and let her do chicken things. So I built a pen. (Which served well and long as first a chicken pen and then later as a rabbit haven). So Henrietta moved in. She looked lonely. More chickens were gotten from a friend of my Dad's. Three feisty little half banties (Red, Specks & Florence). Henrietta towered over them, so they never tried to fight her. She was still a 'people chicken' though and liked hanging out with me and the dog. Gentle giant. She got sick once---and I called a vet nearly in tears and bought her horse supplement at his suggestion. She got well. However eventually she passed on to the Great Coop in the Sky. I think she was a White Rock. Being a chicken farmer, I've continued to have chickens---many assorted breeds over the years. None have equaled Henrietta's friendliness or her special chicken personality. But that's how it goes with 'only-ies'...

Right now I have 17 chickens total...geriatric chickens at that. The youngest of the bunch are 4 and I think the oldest are going on 6 this year. Most of the flock are Americaunas or Easter Egg layers or whatever people want to call them at the moment. They lay green eggs, the chickens come in assorted colors and have 'ear muffs' and beards. I have one large gorgeous rooster with the main flock--he is a light silvery grey with red, white and black mixed tail/wing feathers. Amongst the colorful white, grey, and brown Americaunas are a few Dominique's, a Rhode Island Red, a Buff Orpington and some black mixed Americaunas x black sex-linked hens. Most of the girls still lay, and they keep busy cleaning up around the sheep lot. In the summertime, I'm able to let the chickens out to free range over several acres (Depending upon how the gates are with the sheep on pasture). If its a fairly mild winter w/out allot of snow, they usually get to continue to range until February or just before lambing. Once lambing begins they are confined to their large pen and will remain so until usually sometime in May, when the lambs are older and the grass has gotten a good start. This is always a black day in chicken land. Some of the chickens fly out but as long as the majority stay in I'm happy. When this bunch of chickens were younger they were about the wildest, air-headedest bunch I've ever had. Many evenings I spent roaming around, finding those chickens that had decided to roost wherever they stopped--or chickens that simply wanted to stay out late. One time we had a major snowstorm while I was at work. There was around 6-8 inches when I got home. When I went to put the chickens up, most of them were huddled in the horse barn (now called the sheep shed). As I walked in they all flew out--into the snow and the night. I spent the next hour retrieving chickens from under the chicken house, out of trees, in the middle of snow banks. I was a wet sloppy mess, but I got every last one of them. They did not get out of their house for the next two days! Thankfully as they have grown older they have gotten a modicum of chicken sense and now sedately go to roost by 7:00 p.m. every evening.
Now this is the main flock, however there is still Eddie and Sue to explain. They are the ones pictured above. Sue is the skeptical looking grey hen in the top photo. Her mate is Eddie, the red rooster in the bottom photo. They are both Americaunas. Eddie is over six years old. I helped him hatched along with several of his nest mates. The hen wasn't very good at the job, so the eggs/chicks were getting squished as they hatched. I pulled them all out and rigged up an impromptu chicken hatching emergency room. In one box was a heat lamp overhead and hot water bottle underneath for the still hatching eggs. In the next box was the chick ICU---another heat lamp and soft fluffy blankets. Surprisingly it worked and all that hatched survived--even the few that I had to help out of their eggs. (I know, not recommended, but they were going to die anyway.) If I remember there were about seven of them. These became house chicks for awhile, and then graduated to a large long cage, set up very inconveniently in the breezeway. They thought I was mom and would watch for me all the time. In the meantime the old hen was still waiting, waiting for her baby chicks. She was a good old hen, just a bit too heavy for the defenseless hatching eggs. I took pity on her and went by the local hatchery and bought some day old chicks to scooch under her one night. She was so proud the next morning and turned out to be a wonderful mom to her adopted babies...all while I was raising her hatch.
When they were old enough I mixed the groups together, then there was one day when about 4 or 5 simply disappeared. I imagine it was a fox, or coyote but never found a trace. I ended up keeping them tightly penned for a long time so the rest survived. Of the survivors there were two gorgeous red roosters--one was light golden red (Erin) and Eddie was dark red. They fought all the time. Somewhere along the line, something happened to Eddie. Maybe it was caused by an infection from one of the many fights he and his brother had... I don't know. But one day Eddie was sick, so I moved him into a cage so I could care for him. Eddie, need I mention was big pet. Through his terrible illness, Eddie continued to eat and he continued to be alert. I don't know how he did this, but my rule is if they seem to be alert and willing to fight to live AND they are eating, I will help them as much as I can. So to not go into graphic details, in a very short few days, Eddie lost his legs and then started to improve. He was now a legless rooster. A very alert and bright eyed legless rooster. I kept him separate from the others in a long rabbit cage padded with hay. I would lift him out to let him eat grass from time to time. Of course I worried about him being lonely. Then one day probably a year later, one of the hens was limping badly and being picked on. I set up another Chicken ICU unit and lanced her foot and treated it for several weeks. From research I did at the time it was probably 'bumblefoot'. After the foot healed, and the infection was gone, I got really tired of running two different chicken hospitals, so I had the bright idea to put Eddie and the hen (who didn't have a name at that time) together. There was a battle... lots of head pecking and feather yanking... Eddie can be pretty tall when he stands up straight on his stubs, but the hen was angry and stubborn. She'd been picked on a long time by the others and it was almost like she 'wasn't gonna take it any more'! The scuffle didn't last long, and they soon settled in together. They have been a content couple ever since. They've been together close to three years now. They live in a long cattle panel (with smaller gauge wire attached to the outside) pen, that was originally made to haul sheep in the truck. They are let out in the fenced yard during the day. Eddie comes out of the cage and putters around in the dirt, but doesn't go far. Sue roams about the yard and garden and occasionally into the breezeway (--I don't take this well, and run her out with much yelling). Sue doesn't think much of me, and likes to torment me by freezing and blending into the surroundings, while I stomp around the yard looking for her, so I can put them up for the evening. Eddie has to go in first or she refuses to go in and can run pretty fast for a chicken with a limp. They are quite the couple....
I think someday, after these chickens all pass on to the Big Chicken Coop, I may try and get a smaller flock of some kind of rare breed. The sheep take up much of my time now, so I don't hatch any chicks out anymore, but it wouldn't seem right around here without a few chickens scratching in the dirt and contentedly singing and clucking.

1 comment:

Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

Whew -- you could write a chicken story book! Rick and I have separate chicken memories, but none made since we've been married. We've talked about it but never acted on it. Oh well, more time for the sheepies....