So I left my house yesterday thinking that I would be picking up two month old Black Austrolops. I traveled over an hour out to another part of the state while battling cold, was surprised by chance to run into an old friend, but overall the entire trip was a bit different than what I expected.
The lady selling me the pullets as part of her children’s 4H project was very nice and seemed to know a lot, but she also seem to have a lot of misinformation at her disposal. From feather sexing to the effects of food on been to growth sizes to different types of breeds, she seemed a little too trusting of information on the Internet. (This brings to mind some different subjects that I’ll be tackling either here on this blog or in future writing projects.)
I’m a little concerned that she might be going out of her way to mislead others, but I hope that’s not the case. What she was claiming to be 2 to 3 month old Black Austrolops were barely five weeks old. They still had a lot of down, very few second growth feathers, and would in no way be ready to be outside in a week or two. She had only a few older birds, and none that she had intended to selling. After talking and explaining how long we’ve been raising chickens, she seemed to be changing her mind on letting a couple of the actual two month old birds go. (Come to find out, this was only their first year doing chicks and second year doing chickens over all. There was a lot that she seemed hesitant on, but in talking to her I think she’ll be all set as long as she gets her hands on some better information.)
While I didn’t get that specific breed, I did bring two chickens home to become Jovi’s ladies. Supposedly they are Leghorn/Aracuana mixes. They’re very beautiful. They’re predominately white with some very light speckling. Even though she was “200% sure” they’re both pullets, I have a sinking suspicion one of them might be a rooster. It’s hard to tell with mixed breeds, though. If one does end up showing to be a rooster, well, we’ll deal with it at that point. We’ll keep them as docile as possible and if someone’s looking for a beautiful, nice rooster will try to home him. If not then he might just meet the fate of other roosters and help nourish our family.
Here’s hoping that they’re both beautiful, docile hens. If they stay as calm as they are now, it shouldn’t be a problem. More specifically, here’s hoping that these two ladies and Jovi get along splendidly as it will be so much easier to blend them into the flock together. And I upset that the trip didn’t turn out as planned.
Am I upset that I didn’t get the specific chickens that I wanted? Not necessarily. Things happen for reason and as were looking to build the best flock of tame yet intelligent chickens for our family, this might be a blessing.
We started off with two comets – Edith and Louise – about three years ago now. We bought them for $50 in a chicken tractor. It was a 4-H project that a little girl on a goat farm had done. We brought them home in a cat carrier and they were really unhappy to woke up when we got them home at about 10pm.
A month later we got a third hen, a little three month old Araucana who had been beat up by her current flock. We bought the three of them a cute little coop that had been made out of a dog house and let them free range.
Thus started the cascade. One year later we bought 8 Easter Egger chicks from the local hardware store. One turned out to be a rooster. Two never showed up one night for bed time. By winter we had a flock of nine hens and one roo. We renovated our old shed to a mini-barn and bought a new shed for everything else.
This spring brought trouble: we had a fox attack that took off one of our sweeter birds and injured another. A month later another attack took Louise, one of our pet birds that was going to live her life out here.(The bird that survived a racoon chasing her, a dog attack, and various battles with her sibling, Edith) In that second attack the roo was a bit ruffled up and fled, and Skee (our little rescue bird). The third attack was a coyote. It napped Skee and then kept trying to come back. I had to work outside for close to two hours before it wandered off.
In amongst all that we had to have our rooster dispatched. He became overly aggressive and was attacking us. I had to carry a stick around the yard with me. If it was just my husband and I, that would be one thing, but we have a young child. The roo had to go.
This summer we raised meat bird for the first time – all heritage breeds – and added four ladies back into our flock of layers. The three Rhode Island Reds and one Barred Rock have melded in nicely.
Right now we have 22 birds on the premise: 9 layers, 12 meat roos, and one roo that we’ll be keeping. In order to make a smoother transition for Jovi we’re trying to find a young hen to match him up with.
This year saw something new on the homestead: raising meat birds. For our first batch we went with Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rocks. While thy were technically layers, we wanted to get a batch that would help us fill in the void crated by the spring fox attacks. Out of the ten we raised, four were added to the coop and six were sent to the butcher’s. Sizes of the four were roughly the same: 2.5 lbs dressed. Not as large as what a Cornish X would turn out, but these birds were healthy, well cared for ladies that now taste just divine. Well worth the money in feed, care, and processing. Our only regret is that there weren’t able to free range at all due to our apprehension from the fox and coyotes running around. It might be out of guilt or annoyance, but we’re not as worried about it now. Hindsight’s 20/20, right?
Right now there are 13 roosters outside in the chicken tractors. Twelve will be going to the freezer and one will be staying as the new “man of the farm.” It’s been really interesting to see the interactions between the roosters compared to how the hens had interacted. Early on they were play fighting, chasing each other around, and just being cute little puffballs of terror. Now it’s even more interesting watching how they do get along, but how they also take turns trying to beat the snot out of each other. Who needs television when you have chickens? They’re awesome at entertaining you to the point that you forget what you’re supposed to be doing.
When all is said and done, we’ll end up with 18 chickens raised on and feeding this homestead. It’s amazing to think that this is doable and yet so few do it.
The long term game plan is to start hatching out our own chicks for meat and layer replacement. But we’ll see when that happens. One add on at a time.
This is our life now: the constant changes that the cycle of life brings.
This is the third chick we’ve lost this year; all three were white rocks. On came in DAO, one passed only two days later, and then this little one at roughly two weeks old. It’s hard to see their little bodies so lifeless. Even knowing that they will be meat birds, we still love them with all our hearts until judgement day comes for them.
It’s not just animals, either. Even the gardens have a cycle. Seeding, tending, weeding, watching, and enjoying the growth of the plants makes you grounded, connected to each little sprout. Losing them to heat, water, predators of the herbivore variety, and then the eventful harvest tugs at your heart strings.
Isn’t that life, though? The happiness, sadness, pain, and loss all intertwined. I would rather we live with this mixture of emotions while tending our own gardens, flocks, and land than walking through the automaton world of grocery stores any day.
For anyone who has a flock of layers, this is the most nail biting time of the year: integration. The mixing of the young and the old. Normally we would have let them all run lose around the property, pecking at things and each other as they established their new chain of command. Things are a bit different this year and a lot of the integration will happen in the run. The four Young Ones (three Rhode Island Reds and a Barred Rock) are still sleeping in their chicken tractors at night, but they are all mingling during the day. The crazy thing is that the Young Ones are only 14 weeks old. The other five are much older. It’s amazing the size difference between medium and heavy birds.
Edith has made herself the “Big Momma” and is keeping everyone in check. Raptor – the nickname we’re giving the Barred Rock – is challenging everything that moves. She was a runt and seems to have the need to prove herself. All the rest seem indifferent. Well, except for Snowbird, the white and black Easter Egger: she took the chance to jump from the chicken tractor inside the run to the top of the fencing, a good 6 feet above her. Needless to say, we finished the roof last night. Unfortunately she hopped down before I could snap a photo.
I have to admit, it’s been nerve wracking having the flock stuck in a run. Almost as nerve wracking as having them run around with the fox out there. I’m not used to seeing the different attitudes during heat and humidity, the changes in poop, the squabbles to be “hen of the hill.” All this was normally done in thickets and behind fence posts, buildings, and around the corner. It’s been a bit stressful, for everyone I think, as I am constantly second guessing and wondering about…well, everything. I’m not saying the change won’t be good, but it will be a hard one to work through. Now that the run’s done we can let them out while we’re gone and not have to worry about them. The hawks (who came by to visit last night) can’t get in and the only true worry would be a fox digging under. We tried to dig down as far as we could, but the run is on top of a leech field that’s pretty shallow. I could only drop the fence four inches in some areas due to the gravel bed, so here’s hoping the cribbing placed along the outside will hope to deter him/her. There’s been no sign on the buggah since the other day: he came by and watched them from the tracks, but wandered off when he decided there was no way to get in. I doubt this is the last we’ll see of the critter, but I’m trying to stay hopeful.