Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Earl's Secret

Mistaken Identity

Earl was a replacement (see previous post about the loss of my original flock). He was smaller than the others from the start and was suspected to be the flocks only up and coming rooster. He enjoyed free ranging with the others and had a constant struggle growing tail feathers, which for a rooster, would be rather embarrassing if chickens can get embarrassed.

Days turned into weeks and weeks into months and soon the flock was kindly delivering an egg here and there but there was one egg that frequented the box that was, well, very small. I don't know who owned it and honestly, unless you watch your flock minute by minute every day there is no sure way to tell. Earl was diligent, though, because he bocked and clucked and wiggled his way into the nest box every day and could often been seen leading the other hens there. This happens to be a role roosters, if it pleases them, will fulfill in proper rooster flock management. But then something strange happened. We began getting more eggs than chickenly possible per day. Hmm...

The suspicion set in pretty good early on. We recorded how many eggs we got every day, knowing that a hen would skip a day now and then but in general you'd get an egg every day from a hen. But weeks went by, two one day and three the next and then a string of days with three eggs but we were only supposed to have two. There was only one possible answer... Earl...well...was Pearl. This would certainly explain the lack of tail feathers but the waters were muddied by the crowing, the large comb and the odd waddle. However, it makes sense that Earl would be Pearl if you remember the considerable amount of time he... I mean she...spent in the nesting box. It did seem odd to me that Earl would seem completely at home in the nest and he wouldn't even budge for the hens. Earl's secret was soon exposed, Earl was a girl.

Now worries! Name change by adding a P did the trick.

Earl...sorry, Pearl, is a good chicken whether roo or hen but honestly, it all makes sense now. It's ok Pearl, you make a better hen than a roo!

Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Rise of Gwen

It was an uncertain time in the coop.  With Rosamond struck down in the prime of her glory by The Owl, the flock was without a leader.  All of the other birds were wary of the situation and it seemed at first that they entered a period of confusion in their mourning.  However, one should never underestimate the ambition of a chicken.  The mechanisms of social order were already on the move before the memory of Rosamond even began to fade.

The remaining hens, post Owl-attack, numbers two; Cora and Gwen.  Cora, the larger of the two, is quiet and docile.  Her comb is larger than Gwen’s and she seems generally indifferent to most things except for sprouts and bugs.  Nothing gets Cora moving faster than a bug.  Gwen, on the other hand, is slightly smaller and definitely feistier.  Her comb is close to her head and it gives her the look of being angry all the time.  Maybe she is.  

After a day or mourning, the antics had already begun.  Something was up as both Gwen and Cora looked at one another suspiciously.  Earl was unaware of any problems and worked hard to get attention from the hens as he had recently grew a new tail feather... his only tail feather.
Not long after Rosamond's untimely death, the stink eyes began.
Earl, of course, with the typical black cloud over him.
At first there were just a lot of angry looks and stink-eyes cast hither and dither but soon it was clear, the battle for the top peep was dawning. Who had the first dibs on the food? Who was allowed to use the best watering thingamobob? Who got to use the nesting box in the morning first? These questions and many more needed answered. The logical choice is, of course, to consult Chicken Law.
Chicken Law, once passed from chicken to chicken, was only recently enshrined in written form.

Chicken Law, Lead Chicken, Section 4 titled "How to determine lead head hen", paragraph six, provision II, sub paragraph 3 states, "In the event of the loss the flock's head hen, all other hens must wait a period of time consisting of the time between the loss of the head hen and the rising of the next day's sun before deciding on who the next head hen will be, unless the death happens at night, which in such case all hens must wait a period of time that is equal to the setting of one day's sun and the rising of another. This is unless the weather forbids the rising of the next days sun or forbids the flock from exiting the coop, which in such cases a special provision is established that all birds must play nice and share everything equally until such a day allows its sun to rise at which time the head hen can be decided."

Sub paragraph 4 goes on to say, "To decide who will be the head hen, all bets are off, all forms of fighting are permitted and though death is frowned upon it is acceptable.  Wing beating, head pecking and chasing are all valid forms of deciding who is head hen. If by the end of the day a single hen has all other chickens bowing down to her and serving her every whim, that chicken is proclaimed head hen. Coronation ceremonies are not required but highly encouraged." So Gwen attacked Cora.

All is fair in love and war.

A week before Gwen and Cora quietly chatted between one another about how awful Rosmand was behaving that when Rosamond was removed as a variable, so too was the civility between Gwen and Cora.  In the world of chickens, however, when life can be fleeting, one can understand how every chicken, no matter how much or how little ambition she may have, has to seize the moment. On the other hand, Cora didn’t care much.  She was surprised by the sudden act of incivility but her ambition didn’t demand she been queen of the coop, her ambition lay with the cracked corn sealed in the container she sits upon every day, trying hard to open it. Some hens need dominance and to rule over all, others just want cracked corn and some bugs.

Gwen, Queen of the Coop...for now.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Snow (or how to keep a chicken in the coop for several days)

The sun was out, the chooks were happy as could be and it was warm.  Gloriously warm!  Sure, there was something afoot, but the chooks neither cared nor could be bothered with the "goings on" about the grounds.  The wind was up but that's ok because when it does that it blows seeds and bugs into the run and lets face it, that's awesome in the chook world.

The chooks are under a year old, though-- still unaware and unlearned in terms of how Colorado can sometimes work in strange and surprising ways.  The wind was up, but it suddenly went up more... a lot more.

The chooks went tumbling like tumbling weed.
Great gusts of wind come barreling out of the mountains on some days, especially in the Fall and Winter!  Sometimes the clouds over the mountains look wispy and feathery, the tell-tale signs that a storm is bearing down on Colorado and has arrived in the mountains already.  On the front range, though, storms such as these are preceded by... great wind!  It warms us into the 70s and it is often very sunny.  Those who knows about this place call it, "The Warm Before the Storm."  The chooks were blissfully unaware but wary of the suddenly intense wind.  They went flying through the air, desperate to make it to their coop as they went tumbling across the yard like a tumble weed.  In times such as these, the chooks are disoriented and therefore docile-- enough that I could pick them up and place them gently in the safety of their coop.

As night fell, so did the temperatures and the wind (the two are tied together-- google "upslopde" and "downslope").  As the winds calmed they changed directions, too.  Quietly and gently, the storm that ranged like a maniac in the day crept in like a thief of the night.  Snow had come.

When the sun finally returned, the chooks were greeted by a landscape they'd never seen.  They were curious yet cautious, excited yet apprehensive.  The coop's design had worked well enough to keep the run under the coop clean and dry of snow but it was open enough to show a wintry landscape and the chooks were made wary of the odd cold and colorless stuff.

What the boooooock?
I went out to see the flock and let them out for the day.  They didn't move.  They didn't know what the heck was going on and what this white stuff was but Rosamond and the other girls weren't going to go out into it.  So they made Earl go.  Earl will do anything.  Earl did not enjoy his experience.

Earl had the look of a very shocked chicken betrayed by his girls
(which is odd because it happens a lot to him).  
Earl hopped out of the coop, looked around frantically, and hopped back into the coop.  I give him credit for trying.

The flock spent the day inside the coop.  They also spent the next day in the coop as well.  Whenever it snows they stay in the coop, sometimes not leaving it for days.  This past week was snowy and intensely cold and they simply were not going to leave the coop.  It was so much nicer and warmer inside and that white stuff stayed out.

The chooks stayed warm in their coop (note: no actual fire exists inside the coop,
 except for the passion the flock has for staying warm and full of feed!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

In Loving Memory | Rosamond

She was an ornery character.  She was an "easter egger" but the only thing Easter about her was her rather Pontius Pilate demeanor and attitude.  She was, of course, the dominant, pardon me...creature on the grounds.  I believe if she were a military figure from history she'd be a cross between Ivan the Terrible and Napoleon.  She even kept our rooster, the Earl of Parker, in a constant state of humility and sometimes even pinned to the ground.  No one messes with Rosamond...or rather, messed with Rosamond.

Rosamond being terrible.

Rosamond being Napoleonic.

It was late on Thanksgiving Day, we had company that included some adorable children and they went out to see the chickens.  I messed up when I let the door to the coop go shut.  We left and I never opened the door again.  Nature wasted no time at all claiming the fine for screwing up like this so badly.

I returned to the coop some time later to see to the chooks and make sure they were safe when I found a darkened heap on the cold ground.  I've been through this before and know the feeling too well.  The chill of death drifted over me along with the icy wind out of the North.  There before me, on the ground motionless, was the body of Rosamond.  As any chook keeper would do, I quickly scanned around the run for the rest of the flock to find Cora huddled in a small spot between a container and the coop. She was safe!  I stood up, not immediately seeing the rest when the broad wingbeat of an owl filled the darkening sky and away it went-- Rosamond's murderer.  I picked Cora up, and she neither made a noise nor a struggle as I placed her, as if she were a stuffed animal, safely into the coop.

I quickly went around the run (it's enormous) and I found Earl and Gwen huddled together.  They pressed themselves against the wire of the run as if they were trying to become one.  Clearly frightened out of their minds (the owl had been perched just above them), they weakly peeped and moved uneasily in their place. Plucking them up again like stuffed animals, I got them to the coop.  Once inside, the remaining three were confused and scared.  I could do nothing more for them but at least they were alive.

With my remaining chooks safe, I stood there in the silence of the waning twilight.  Night was falls quickly and it was only me, the breeze in the trees and my beloved Rosamond.  I turned around, examined her, and discovered that though the owl had clear intentions of taking her, she was too heavy (she was roughly 7 lbs or more), the attack snapped her neck.  As one who appreciates the complexity and even humor behind irony in this World, it was all too well fitting that Rosamond, even in her death, ruled the situation and denied the owl the satisfaction of having its dinner.

I am sentimental, though I know she's just a chicken.  I won't waste where waste is obvious but I will appreciate the things in life that make it worth living and Rosamond was one of those things.  I gently and with care picked her up, said a little prayer of remembrance and appreciation and carried her body away.  I walked it out into the open field.  Rosamond loved to free range and though she enjoyed an enormous run with the rest of the flock, you could always tell she longed to run and be the crazy chicken she was in the broad open sky.  Most chickens fear wide open spaces.  Rosamond very much enjoyed them.  You might even say it lead to her downfall.  While the rest of the flock sought a safe place in which to hide, Rosamond went on to enjoy the openness of the run.

Rosamond's typical pose after bestowing the world with the most perfect egg.
In the end, Nature neither creates nor destroys energy.  Rosamond is still with us all, but she was sustenance for some lowly creature of the night and even now as I write this memorial, her very proteins bind with that animal's.  It very well is flying or prowling this very moment unaware of the spirit and energy it inherited of one of the greatest chickens.  Rosamond the Terribly Great.

Lady Cora pays her respect, if not love, of Rosamond.

Monday, August 1, 2011

O' Mon Dieu! L'Oeuf!

I had to work this Saturday and so got up before my birds did (this is not recommended). Before I sped away in the civic to go to work, I checked the birds had food and water as the days would be another hot one. When I returned later in the day, I was greeted with warm birds that looked thoroughly put out by the fact that they aren't free from the bondage of the coop. They're dramatic that way. I threw open the door and they darted out of the coop as if it were on fire, Rosamond leading the way (more on her later). They spent the day foraging and chasing grasshoppers and were really enjoying themselves but soon night was falling again. Before I put them to bed, I looked into the run to gather their water dish and feeder that they trashed (chickens act out like children if cooped up for too long). To my surprise, looking down into the run, was this small brown and speckled egg. It was nestled among some stones and I figured it would be for sure broken, but no, it was a small and near perfect first egg. The maker of it is unknown but I suspect Rosamond.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Earl of Parker, Lord of the Manor

Earl's guide to managing one's ladies.

Step one: choose your leading lady.

Step two: make her feel special by bringing her greens and bugs.

Step three: let some of the other hens near.

Step three: observe the jealousy well up in your chosen lady.

Step four: allow leading lady to exact punishment on other hens.

Step five: enjoy some chicken feed and indulge in some bugs for a job well done.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Replacements

It's been several weeks now since the loss of Sybil, Helen and Edith. They were such fantastic birds and I really grew to enjoy they with the passing of each day. Naturally, the loss of my flock was enough to give me pause about whether or not I would continue to keep a flock. I was leaning towards calling it quits, when, a very kind and generous person offered me three The fact that they were free was really nice, but it was the fact that someone reached out in such a way that made the difference. I had no issues paying for the birds, but it was the idea that someone was making such a kind offer that made me give in. I was about to have my flock back!

The three chickens I got first were two buff orpingtons (yes, I have a thing for orpingtons) and what is basically a mutt, a cross between something and something else. LOL I was told it should lay as a Easter egger. I had these birds for a week before I got the second two, another orp hen and a orp rooster. Yep...I got me a roo! I got him mostly because people keep telling me how they defend and protect the flock really well, so I caved.

As for the names... The first two orps are Cora and Isobel. The EE is Rosamond. The newest orp hen is Violet and the roo is The Early of Parker !oD in case you're wondering, the names were inspired by the characters that make up the series, Downton Abbey, a British series that I love (mostly because I'm a serious anglophile!). Orpingtons are, after all, British bred.

Pictures to come, but for now, even while the new flock is in lock down to establish them in the coop, I'm back in the flock business.