Category Archives: The Chicken Wars

Blue the Hen

Nobody liked Blue.

Her comb was too red.

Her waddles were too waddly.

Her eyes were too yellow.

She was just too…something.

The bullying started when she was a pullet.

At first, poor Blue thought the other hens were just playing with her. A little rough-housing never hurt a hen, right?

Then, she saw a few of her ‘sisters’ sharpening their beaks using rocks, wood and even the tin side of their feed bucket.

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She went to the head rooster, Pecky Greenleg, but he just ruffled her feathers and told her she was imagining things.

But, she wasn’t.

Every morning, the others would wake her up with a sharp jab to the neck.

While she was getting a drink of water, they would pull at her tail feathers.

While she bent her head to eat, they would pick at her comb.

Then one day…things got much, much worse.

A gang of 10 hens attacked her as soon as she walked toward the food.

There was no where she could run, hide or escape.

She was trapped until “the keeper” came out to collect eggs.

Her wound was so wretched that she got the treatment. A blue spray that was supposedly meant to heal and soothe drenched her head.

She was in pain and, to add insult to injury, she felt ridiculous.

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The Keeper tried to put her back in with the others.

But Blue did everything she could to avoid that fate.

The Keeper won’t make that mistake again.

Now, she has her own little cage. She sleeps in it at night and gets to roam around freely all day.

Her head wound is healing and she even has a few feathers growing back.

Sometimes, she runs around and around the big pen and laughs at the others.

And sometimes, she rests in the herbs or forages in the garden.

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She’s getting used to the Keeper.

In fact, one day she decided to leave the Keeper a present in the herb spiral.

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Little nest for Blue
Surrounded by all the herbs
Cozy place to lay

Instinct

The sound of the mower droned on.

Grass clippings whirled through the air.

White-feathered birds scuttled around the pen squawking.

Pecky crowed.

“Head count!”

Only 15?

Pecky crowed.

I counted again, then a third time but no more hens appeared.

I opened the hatch slowly and stepped in. I was careful to don my garden boots this time to avoid the inevitable toe pecking.

Pecky’s ladies twittered around my legs, hoping for scraps.

Pecky stood apart from the rest. A stoic, sad look in his eyes.

Something was wrong.

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I started counting again, knowing I’d have to lift the little blue houses to do a thorough check.

Then I found her.

A sad, little bundle of bedraggled muddy feathers. She was huddled under one of the blue totes we are using as temporary hen houses. A few of the meaner hens were plucking feathers out of her tail.

Her head was bare and raw…no feathers remained.

We’d noticed some scabbing on her head the day before and had treated it with Blu-Kote. It seemed to help a little bit, but not enough to stop the bullying.

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I pulled her out of the pen and let her roam around, alone and free from the aggression that filled every corner of the pen.

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Why is this happening? What possible reason could these normally sweet docile hens have to turn on each other?

The victim could be sick.

Chickens are vicious. Like other animals, they can sense weakness among the flock…and weakness they cannot abide.

Or, maybe they are bored and picking on the poor dear for sport. Maybe they are molting and cranky and taking it out on each other.

But, perhaps the most logical and likely reason for this brutality is nutrition.

The pullets have become hens and all are laying eggs…rather thin-shelled eggs.

We still have them on the chick starter feed so it is time to switch them to layer feed, which is higher in protein. We may even need to throw some feather fixer feed in with it.

Chickens are a selfish lot. They aren’t caring or nurturing creatures. There are no kind old hens willing to tend to the sick until they recover from whatever malady afflicts them.

No, chickens are not tender-hearted or compassionate.

While we may view this brutality as unkind, a, possibly evil, instinct tells them to eradicate the weak.

For them, it’s survival of the fittest.

A poor little hen
Bullied by cranky ladies
Head raw, red and blue

Very Confused Hen

We have a hen who’s broody
We call her Broods-a-lot
She thinks it is her duty
To sit in the “Egg Spot”

She lays her egg and warms it
She thinks she has a chick
The other girls don’t get it
They think her head is thick

For no hen who has brain cells
Can think their eggs have more
Than yolks and whites inside their shells
Without a rooster to do more

The other hens aren’t happy
They lay their eggs there too
They have to get real snappy
To make her get a clue

The boys both think it’s silly
To hear her sqwauck and puff
But soon I think we’ll really
Have all had quite enough

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Broody McBroods-a-lot

 

Newbies

Today, we introduced the Leghorns to the Red Stars.

You would think the Red Stars would have remembered how they had been treated when they were newbies.

You would think they’d have more sympathy.

You would think…

It soon became obvious that integrating these two flocks would not be an option.

The big ones squawked.

The little ones huddled.

Pecky Greenleg glared.

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The newbies…were not welcome.

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It’s sad…knowing that there is no possibility of amicable relations.

Even though I was 99% sure that we wouldn’t have a successful integration, that 1% was still there…secretly hoping we could make it work.

But with a swish of a wing and a flick of a tail feather…those hopes and dreams were swept away.

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Holding my breath, I wait
Willing them to show love
Sighing out loud, I cringe
No peace, no snow-white dove

Glum Girls

The little girls have been quiet since we sold 10 of their flock to a friend.

They seem a little sad.

They’ve been cuddling as if consoling each other.

They are no longer pecking the hand that feeds them and they don’t get too excited when I reach in to pick Pecky Greenleg, Yellow or Little Yellow up.

They are being…good.

At first I was worried.

Then I did some research and found something interesting.

Chickens can suffer from depression.

I laughed when I read the first article.

I shook my head when I read the second.

By the fifth, I was convinced. When a flock is split, especially a flock that has “grown up” together, the chickens are sad.

They do, eventually, get over it.

They move on with their short lives.

They start bickering with each other again.

But right now, they are glum.

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Maybe I’ll get them some dried worms to cheer them up.

Sad little chicks
Mad little chicks
No longer bad little chicks

Sweet little chicks
Neat little chicks
Here is a treat little chicks

Big Bird(s)

The leghorns have transitioned from cute and fuzzy to awkward and moody.

They are quickly outgrowing their temporary home and it will soon be time to split them up.

Cute and fuzzy

Cute and fuzzy

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Awkward and moody

I’m replacing their bedding every other day and refilling their feed twice a day.

Their water constantly needs to be refilled, not because they drink it all, but because they like to soak their bedding in it.

I’m not even sure how they get that much straw in their water. I suspect that they are doing it on purpose.

“Let’s see how often we can get her to fill our water.”

“Yeah, and let’s kick all of our food out of this dish just to mess with her.”

“Quick, peck her hands while she’s cleaning our home!”

They are growing even more aggressive than the Red Stars or Rhode Island Reds ever were.

Except dear Pecky Greenleg.  She’s still just as sweet as the day we brought her home.

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Dear Pecky Greenleg

First cute and fuzzy
Now awkward and so moody
Grow from small to big

Here Chick, Chick, Chick

Chickens.

They are adorable when they’re little and fuzzy with their teeny tiny peeps and tweets.

So docile.

So cute.

So…innocent.

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Then, they grow into beautiful birds.

Their feathers are sleek and shiny and their combs are bright red. They no longer peep and cheep. They cluck and strut.

Beady eyes.

Mean glares.

Calculating minds.

Ok, not really calculating, but they are really mean.

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But…they are also useful.

They give us eggs for a healthy breakfast and meat for our freezer.

They create compost for the gardens and get rid of those pesky garden pests.

And…their antics make great blog posts.

Within the next month, we’ll be getting our new flock. This year, we won’t try to integrate them. Even if our Stars are still laying, we’ll most likely butcher them. The infighting was too stressful for both me and the birds.

The Red Stars we got last season have been great layers. Even in this cold weather we are getting, on average, 6 eggs a day from 7 birds. The Reds were good too, but there is something about the Stars that I like.

Maybe they aren’t so mean or maybe I’m still holding a grudge against the Reds for starting the Chicken Wars.

We’ll do a little research, but right now the plan is to get 15 new Red Stars.

We’ll keep them separate from the current flock, but once they start laying eggs…the 7 remaining hens will go from coop to freezer.

Here little chick, chick
So fluffy, fuzzy and cute
Time to get growing

The Aftermath

The day after we culled our 6 older hens we found 6 eggs.

The next day we found 6.

On the third and fourth day we found 6.

With all 13 hens, we’d only been getting 5-6 a day so I guess we picked the right birds to butcher.

I had expected to see a decrease in egg production–at least for a few days. The trauma of  losing 6 hens, I thought, would affect the remaining 7 ladies.

They aren’t feeling too depressed.

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There has been no sign of pecking or fighting since “that day”. They are quieter, calmer and less stressed.

They appear to be almost…relieved.

Relieved that the bullies are gone.

Relieved that the war is truly over.

Relieved that the enemy…has been vanquished.

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Now, winter is upon us.
Snow will fall tonight.
Will the hens keep laying?
Are there eggs in sight?

Time will give the answer.
Time will let us know.
Are chickens over winter
Worth trudging through the snow?

Time Lapse

A look back in time to the start
Of a season so close to my heart
We gardened and grew
We lost quite a few
Made memories that never will part

2015 Garden Stats
Major Losses
All squash, except pumpkins
All peppers, except jalapenos
Two autumn olives
Two chickens

Prevalent Pests
Squash bugs
Deer
Japanese beetles
Did I mention squash bugs?

Big Wins
Tomatoes
Blackberries
Aronia
Strawberries
Rose bush growth
Swale growth
Vineyard growth
Fedge growth

Pleasant surprises
Volunteer tomatoes
Volunteer aronia
Volunteer dill
Volunteer lovage
Possible re-growth of goji berries
Berries on one autumn olive

It’s hard to believe that the picture below was once our kitchen garden. So much of what we planted, and what volunteered, grew in this space. We had squash take over and tomatoes pop up everywhere. But, we also had some major losses to pests and mammals.

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Beginning

Middle

Middle

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End

In the beginning, the chickens were so small, so adorable. Then the wars started. We lost two to unknown predators and they’ve been turning on each other ever since.

Yes, they are still excellent layers, but now we know their hearts and we are cautious and planning to send some to the freezer this fall.

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Beginning

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Middle

End

End(s)

Watermelon seed pack: 10 cents
Squash seed pack: 15 cents
Finding out your son planted squash next to the tomatoes: Priceless

Mystery squash pre-take over.

Mystery squash pre-take over.

Invasion!

Invasion!

When Ray started digging, it was an experiment to see if we could put a pond in the back pasture. Then the rain came.

Before the rain

Before the rain

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After the monsoon

It’s fun to look back on the progress and growth of our 2015 garden and a little sad to see it coming to an end for the year. We’ll have cabbage and broccoli yet this fall, but not near the lush beauty of the summer garden.

Quickly the season
Passes with the heat and rain
Let’s plan for next year

Bloggy McBlogs-alot

Blog post number 603.

In just under 3 years, I’ve written 603 posts on gardening, homesteading, cooking, chickens, bug hunters, mice, writing, homeschooling and a pinch of everything in life.

I’m still learning.

Learning how to write a blog post that will appeal to multiple audiences.

Learning how to take the criticism–both constructive (which really helps me get better) and destructive (which really doesn’t help me. At all.).

Learning how to grow as a writer…as a homesteader…as a human.

I’m having fun.

I’m feeling a sense of accomplishment…a sense of pride at my stick-to-it attitude.

I’m writing!

I had traveled so far away from my original dream. The dream I’ve had since I was a kid. The dream to write.

But, my journey through life has given me fodder for the stories I share.

I’ve wandered back to writing.

I’ve walked back to my dream.

I’m telling my story one post at a time.

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