Back at the Chicken Shack

The chicken pasture has been a lively place this summer. Since the Littles have moved in to the big coop each day has been full of squabbles, hilarity, and new traditions for the Pleasant Hill flock.

Penfold is still a little devil, I often call her my Captain of Badness. She is frequently found doing everything she shouldn’t – pulling feathers out of the Littles, getting out of the fence, and generally leading the other hen’s astray. I don’t care, I love her anyway – she could probably peck out one of my eyes and I’d still see no wrong in her.

Quigley, Zillah, and Danger – or the Littles as we call them – are still as tight as ever. Danger is the head of their little tribe and Quigley just wants to be everyone’s friend, while Zillah likes to spend time with Andy.

Two of our younger cousins like to come by to see the Littles on the weekends. Danger is Katie’s favorite, and I am absolutely perplexed at how a five year old can catch that chicken faster than I can!

All of the big girls are moulting and they look like a ratty band of box car children. Charlie is 500 times more grouchy than usual – which is really saying something since she is the ‘ take no prisoners ‘ type.

If you even look at her she growls in protest. A few nights back Andy was, apparently, sitting on the roosting spot that she wanted – so she just pecked him in the head and face until he finally gave up and moved away.

Poor Andy. He tries so hard to be a good protector for his little harem of biddy’s. Lately he’s started this new tradition of carving out some ‘personal time’ for himself each day.

So, what exactly does ‘personal time’ look like for a rooster? Well, in Andy’s case, he has his special corner of the hen house under the nesting boxes. He crawls in, makes a nest, faces the corner, and stays crammed in that tiny space for about 15 minutes…probably pretending that the rest of the world does not exist.

As the day draws to a close, everyone heads back the the hen house – ready to squabble and growl over who is going to sleep next to whom on the roost. Andy stands like a bastion on the hill, making sure that everyone gets inside – it’s time to shut the place down for the night.

As the sun sets, the hen house gets quiet. Occasionally you hear one of Penfold or Quigley’s long trills or Charlie growling over someone sleeping too close by….and Stephen and I trek back up to the house ready to call it a day ourselves.

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Where do we go from here? a chicken saga – part 2

It has been several weeks since the chicken smack down of the century. In some ways we have made enormous and unbelievable gains….and in other ways we are still so far from my ideal resolution.

The day after the big fight we let everyone out into the pasture as usual – really just hoping that the extra space would give the boys a chance to cool down and gain some perspective…..Stephen and I being part of the “gaining perspective” crowd ourselves. Things seemed to go ok –  Mini kept his distance for the most part, but Andy was still determined to not loose his new found place in the world. And honestly, I couldn’t blame him.

As the day wore on and grew darker, we waited for all of the chickens to go up to roost. We grabbed our flashlights, walked through the pasture, and opened the coop door. The site that met our eyes made our hearts sink. There were only six chickens on the roost, Mini was no where to be found.

Exile is hard on anyone, but especially hard on a former leader. As we combed the barn and pasture with no success, I eventually saw a little bit of white on the ground next to the fence in a pile of leaves. It was Mini – just laying there. He hadn’t even bothered to go back to the coop for the night, he had simply given up.

We took Mini back to the house, gave him some food, and set him up in the dog crate for the night, hoping he’d have a little more spark by morning.

Spark….looking back these days I rather think I had wished for gracious humility instead of spark.

As the weeks progressed, Mini returned back to the coop, and Stephen and I found ourselves spending more and more of our free time doing what we called “chicken therapy.” Andy eventually allowed Mini back into the flock, but he still threw his weight around, literally all 11 pounds of it. Despite the occasional knockabout, things had become more peaceful than even our hopes anticipated.

But, that brings us back to gracious humility…and the wrong rooster’s lack of it.

Andy has really been quite a surprise to us, and in some ways he always has been. He’s done a remarkable job at taking care of the hens and he’s never shown the least amount of aggression towards us – even when we pick him up, which he doesn’t like very much. He’s proved to be both calm and fair minded, sometimes a rare trait in a head rooster.

 

 

Mini, on the other hand, is  back to his old self….which means he’s back to biting and flogging, and we are the lucky recipients. It hurts and I don’t like it. I had hoped, perhaps dumbly, that this particular aspect of his personality had changed, but I’m not sure you can break what is inherently part of his genetic makeup.

So, here we are. We have two roosters….and where do we go from here?

I’d like to think that I don’t have an answer to this question, but if I’m being honest I probably do. I’m hurt and disappointed, I want things to be different. I want Mini to feel the same about me as I do about him; but he’s a chicken and he’s not supposed to, and he feels about me exactly the way he should. And that doesn’t make either of us right or wrong….and that is what makes the situation so hard.

So, here we are. We have two roosters….and that’s how it’s going to be for awhile, but probably not how it’s going to be forever. And, just like it took Mini awhile to get his confidence back, it’s going to take me awhile to get used to the fact that it’s not going to be both Mini and Andy forever.

Against the Ropes – a chicken saga, part 1

Once, there were two brothers who worked together as a team. They took care of their flock, played together, and often dust-bathed in the same hole. One brother was the leader and the other brother was okay with being number two……and then one day, everything changed.

Andy & Mini

It’s a sick feeling when you go out to the chicken pasture and realize that no one is there…..that feeling of apprehension merely heralded in the roller coaster of emotions and events that would soon take over our entire weekend and continue throughout the coming weeks.

As I searched for my flock, I found my boys covered in blood and could only imagine that my worst chicken fears had come true….that we had an intruder. I quickly discovered there was no intruder…..just that the days of calm brotherhood were over.

Mini, a Golden Comet, had been head rooster since the brooder box days, and Andy, our enormous, gentle, White Langshan had always just accepted “roo number two” abuse with easygoing grace…..never rocking the boat. Well, that Friday the boat capsized, and I found myself out in the middle of a wet pasture, in my pajamas, standing between two fighting, mad roosters.

There were few options available to me. Take one boy out and call it done, accepting the fact that he could never go back…..and how could I choose between my boys? My other option was to let them fight it out in hopes that they could come to some sort of rarely heard of rooster peace.

For better or worse, I made my choice. I moved back and stood next to the pasture fence with the hens, who had been hiding in a spare barn stall, scared of their own protectors.

Watching roosters fight, no holds barred, is one of the most distressing and painful things I’ve ever seen…..and maybe this was worse because these were MY birds. Though we had trimmed their spurs just two nights previously, it didn’t make much of a difference since the boys were prone to biting rather than spurring.

Once the dust settled, it was obvious we had a New World Order in chicken land. The excitement that usually comes with spring had quickly vanished, and the stress of the coming weeks seemed likely to overcome us all….human and chicken alike.

Thankful for Andy

Andy is a very special chicken for quite a few reasons, not all of which are a credit to his character. Just saying.

As a wee chickie, Andy suffered some sort of childhood illness….which will remain nameless because we never figured out what it was. The long and short of it was our smallest chick had pulled out most of  his underside feathers, refused to sit down or eat, and cried constantly.

Andy – 1 week

Andy cried loudly. Andy cried all the time. Andy cried in his sleep. We could hear Andy crying from our bedroom. We could hear Andy crying over the TV. Andy liked to watch TV and that seemed to help sometimes.

In my attempt to “save” Andy on one particularly awful night, I very nearly killed him. After much reading (on the oh so reliable internet) I had narrowed down Andy’s illness to a few things – and promptly decided on a treatment involving a bath and Vaseline.

The bath wasn’t so bad, but the Vaseline was a huge mistake. So at 3 am in the middle of a lightening storm, my husband woke up to me sobbing next to the bed with a trembling and crying chick, because I KNEW deep in my heart, that I had just consigned Andy to an early and painful death.

It was all my fault.

Stephen dutifully got up and gave Andy another bath, toweled his little raw body down with a flannel square cut from his own pajamas, gave Andy back to me, and went right back to sleep.

Doc Martin

With the storm and my medical experiments behind us, Andy and I settled down on the couch with a heating pad and sugar water. We both watched a few episodes of Doc Martin, one of Andy’s favorite shows, and we resolved that I was, obviously, no doctor and that we should go on  to bed.

I set up Andy’s heating pad and flannel on a chair next to our bed. He seemed pretty content, but still very weak. I closed my eyes fully believing that he’d be gone by morning.

As the sun rose the next day, we found Andy happily attempting to “fly” from the chair into our bed – he was lonely. Thankful doesn’t begin to describe it!

Last week before Andy’s bath

Today, Andy is our largest chicken. He is kindhearted and still a little dopey. He can’t run in a straight line, occasionally makes poor decisions, and still needs the occasional bath…..don’t worry, Vaseline is no longer part of his life.

Meet the Flockers

About a year ago, Stephen and I got the bug in our brains that we would probably like raising chickens. All I know is that somewhere along the road I went from “I’m not doing anything with them except handling the eggs” to “if anything happens to my Penfold I’m going to be furious!”

One thing that both Stephen and I have learned about chickens is that each one brings its own unique and colorful personality to the table (a figurative table, not the dinner table). We still marvel at all the different little habits, buddy systems, and intelligence floating around our flock.

Mini is our head rooster–his personality is definitely a cross  between an angry Mr. Myagi and a grumpy Mr. Wilson. Mini hates mornings, nonsense, and loud noises. Despite his grumbles with life, he does a great job making sure his ladies are well fed, safe, and happy.

Flannery – Black Australorp

Flannery, Mini’s lady of choice, is our head hen. She is the epitome of daintiness and calmness, but she gets into her fair share of trouble when hanging out with Penfold.

Andy – White Langshan

Andy is our special little buddy. He and Mini are best friends and can almost always be found together. Andy has never progressed beyond the maturity of a 16-year-old boy–Girls, Girls, Food, Girls, Food, Food, Sleep, Girls – if you catch my drift. He’s our morning crower and afternoon stoner….at the end of the day, he’s a great rooster.

Penfold – American Gamefowl

Penfold is my special little devil. Despite being the smallest of our bunch, she  brings a whole new meaning to the term “hell on wheels.” She loves snuggling, and we spend quite a bit of time together……when she’s not playing in the woods, flogging the new girls, or leading the others in a quest to do something they really shouldn’t.

Charlie is our quiet girl. She’s dependable, consistent, and easy going–but she’s certainly not boring! Charlie possesses the unique ability to remain completely hidden in plain site–it’s like her father was chicken Houdini.

Josephine (Black Star), Pearla (Plymouth Rock)

Pearla and Josephine are the newest additions to our flock. They are quite a unique pair. Jo is extremely smart, enjoys exploring almost as much as Penfold, and hates Andy. Pearla is an innocent baby–wildly curious about everything, she spends most of her time in a little dream-like Pearla cloud. Pearls and Jo are very attached and dependent on one another and hate being separated. They give Mini and Andy a run for their money in the Best Friends department.

For us, the chickens are great, and we look forward to the hilarity and drama of each new chicken day. Our tribe has good days and bad, but at the end of it all, they are a family…..and it’s sort of like having Sister Wives meets The Young and the Restless playing out in your backyard everyday….you have no idea how much fun it is.