Sunday, June 04, 2017

Meanwhile, Back At The Chook Pen ...

I'm not sure if I've given you an updated roll call of the feathered inhabitants at Spring Rock. There are the galahs, Hedwig and Hermes (both roadside accident refugees) of whom we'll here very little in this post. And the chooks:

Eros, our old black rooster who arrived here when he outlived his welcome at a friend's home.  Eros and his brother Helios were thrown over my friend's fence when they were young.  My friend owns a brood of bantam hens and once Eros and Helios grew to their full potential and started trying to chat up the girls it became clear that something had to give. With visions of little bantam hens squashed flat in the boys pursuit of love my friend offered me the pair of boys.  At that time I was in need of a rooster to protect my hens from hawks and Currawongs and I was thrilled to welcome the boys.  Both settled in and life in the chookpen was happy and simple.  Eventually Helios died leaving Eros in command.  Eros has always been a gentle rooster, preferring peace to war so luckily the sheer size of him made predatory wildlife think twice before attacking anything in the chook pen.


Then came Phoenix, an affectionate (when not with his harem) pet rooster who believes the world is better off without Eros.  He came to us because he got too big for his boots in Savannah's mother's back yard.  Phoenix, who was raised from an egg, was confused about pecking orders, being a rooster not a human and what constituted a threat to his ruling the harem.  He began running at the children when they came outside and soon the poor kids were hunkered down inside, scared to brave the stroppy rooster in order to play on their swing or enjoy the outdoors.  They still loved him and wanted a good home for Phoenix so the first name on their lips was Rosemary!  I said yes, little realising how complicated life would get.  I love Phoenix to pieces so despite his complicating the order of the chook yard I'd still say yes.  Phoenix entered the pen and, with the impression that it would be a better world with less black roosters in it, he immediately tried to put an end to Eros.  Eros refused to fight back but usually ended up cornered somewhere with Phoenix beating the daylights out of him.  The only solution was for Graeme to build an inner yard in the chook pen and Phoenix was forced to reluctantly retire from the lists and take up residence in his new quarters.  Eros once again reigned supreme in the chook yard and Phoenix enjoyed daily visits from me where he sat on my lap and enjoyed wattle and comb rubs.  All was peace and quiet once more, but not for long of course. 

Phoenix amongst the gardening pots strewn about by Aslan and Cleo.
Around the same time our Muscovy duck Quacker died leaving her partner Christmas to roam the yards trying to seduce hens half his size.  This resulted in flat, dead hens so Christmas was quickly shuffled into the bachelor quarters too.

The last of my Isa Brown hens were on the aged and infirm list, meaning eggs were few and far between so I decided to venture into pretty breeds of laying hens.  I chose point of lay (not yet laying eggs - but any time soon ...) Hamburgs for a few reasons, not least of which was that there were some for sale in our nearby town.  I purchased six hens - three silver spangled and three gold spangled, and the breeder threw in an Easter Egger/Hamburg cross because there were doubts that one of the girls might be a boy.  Yes, I'd never heard of an Easter Egger either but they are in fact a breed.  They lay blue/green eggs.  Mine doesn't though, she leans towards her Hamburg ancestry and lays a creamy white egg.  I was told I could bring the chook back if it did in fact turn out to be a boy but as the breeder sold her roosters to a meat producer, I knew that I'd never hand an innocent rooster back for that fate and just accepted I may have yet another rooster to cater for.

That night the first gold hamburg left the yard never to be seen again.  Wings were duly snipped to prevent further escapes, but a silver hen took off the next night. Thankfully that was the end of the escapes and the Hamburg population settled down to two gold and two silver hamburgs and the Easter Egger.  Names were duly bestowed and the chook pen now housed: Henrietta, and Hendricka the golden spangles, Pain in the Neck 1 and Pain in the Neck 2 known and PIN 1&2 (because the two remaining silver spangles turned out to be roosters and nasty roosters at that) and Bunny, the Easter Egger. 

PINs 1 & 2 were duly ensconced in the bachelor quarters after they reached puberty and began attacking Eros. War broke out when they came face to face with Phoenix who, though severely outnumbered wasn't about to tolerate the introduction of two supposedly alpha males when he was the alphaest male there was.  I tried putting them in the aviary but they attacked Hedwig and Hermes who were just so affronted by the invasion that they started attacking anything that moved.  I arrived at the brilliant solution of putting Eros, Aunty Brown our little brown Silkie and Bunny in the aviary.  These two little hens had had a hard life while PINs 1 & 2  were growing up and feeling their oats so I declared all three refugees and granted them Aviary Asylum.  Phoenix moved into the main yard with the girls, making him a very happy little red rooster, and once again life settled down in the chook pen.

I had also introduced a gold laced Wyandotte I named Winona and a light Sussex I named Serena.  These two girls settled in quietly and caused no fuss at all.  Very unusual for my feathered inhabitants.  Winona though did have one peculiar episode in her life.

Winona, becomes a bit confused at times.  I think she is a hen of very little brain.  She has a problem in forgetting she's no longer broody for example.  She'll go through her broody phase, leave the nest, and then days later she'll come back and have another broody day or two, leave the nest again, only to repeat her broody days every now and then for a few weeks after she's over her genuine broodiness.  This wouldn't be a problem except that Winona defends her nest with gusto.  She has a nasty peck which leaves blood blisters or breaks the skin.  I've developed a system whereby I wave my left hand in front of her (out of pecking range) to get her attention then, with my right hand, tip her up and quickly collect the day's eggs while she's righting herself.  Trouble is she is sneaky too.  More often than not she keeps an egg clutched in her claws and getting that egg is a bit more of a challenge.

The trouble started when, as I believe, Winona decided that she'd hatched a world record sized chicken.  Henrietta is a gold spangled Hamburg and Winona is a gold laced Wyandotte so apart from size they look quiet similar.  During one of Winona's broody phases, while she was sitting on the nest trying to protect the eggs from my daily assaults, Henrietta too became broody and joined her.  We have two nesting boxes but all the hens ignore the newer, larger box in favour of our old, much smaller box.  

I tried fake eggs to encourage them to lay there but that was during the summer when we had a bearded dragon (we assume - it was definitely a lizard and I think they are the only local lizards large enough) stealing eggs.  When Winona went broody the lizard thief couldn't get at those eggs (not with that beak aimed at delicate, scaly spots) so it stole the fake eggs instead. Funnily enough, it actually brought two of the three stolen fake eggs back weeks later! I still wonder what it did with the last stolen fake egg. They were made of plaster and I would imagine, not very tasty. Did it keep one of the fake eggs as an example of the type of egg not to steal in the future?  As a den decoration? Buried it in the hopes it would soften up and become edible?  

I got sidetracked there didn't I?  Anyway Winona was well into her broody phase and Henrietta joined her in the smaller nesting box.  They sat  side by side for a while then Winona started sitting on Henrietta.  At first Henrietta objected, but Hamburgs being a small breed and Wyandottes being a very large breed Henrietta gave up, resigning herself to endure the rest of Winona's broody period under cover of fluffy feathers.

Gold Laced Wyandotte  Raising Happy Chickens

Gold Spangled Hamburg
When Henrietta finally finished her broody cycle she hopped off the nest and immediately regretted her decision to re-join the big, wide world.  Winona was waiting for her and while Winona couldn't train Henrietta to follow her, Winona is an adaptable hen - she followed Henrietta around all day fussing over every decision Henrietta made.  If Henrietta chose to eat a particularly  tasty scrap Winona was there checking its quality and advising Henrietta on the correct way to eat it.  Woe and betide any other hen who might peck at Henrietta while she was foraging.  Winona proved a formidable, if confused mother and she rushed to protect her prized chicken.  When Henrietta settled down for the night Winona fluffed her feathers and sat on top of her to keep her warm.  Henrietta developed that hunted look of those who know their stalker is close by.  There was little I could do.  Winona was stalking with love.  All she wanted to do was teach her huge chicken the ropes and fit her for life as a grown chook - when she finally decided to grow that is.  This lasted a couple of weeks until Winona considered Henrietta big enough to tackle the dangers of the chook pen and back yard on her own.  

I think Henrietta might reconsider spending her next broody time in that unused nesting box next time.