September 26, 2021

Chicken Drama


Confession: Up until this past Wednesday, I hadn't left the house in about two weeks. Well, I've left the house, but I guess I should say I haven't left the property.  There are a few reasons for this. Last week, I worked 80+ hours, plus I haven't really had the need to go anywhere. I have all of my groceries and food delivered anyway. I've also been laying low because the whole COVID thing seems to be ramping up again. And for the last week, I've been in a bit of a funk. It just feels like nothing is going quite right lately. It's almost like I'm re-learning life and what I want and don't want and what I'm willing to put up with and what I'm not. Those are tough lessons on top of grieving my mom, but as my mom herself used to say, life doesn't stop just because someone dies.  

While there are many reasons I've been in said funk, some of it has to do with my chickens. Back in July, I ordered 22 chickens. Well, I ordered 20, but the hatchery sent me a couple of bonuses. I ordered all hens, but one of the bonuses was unsexed, so I knew it was possible that it would be a he. Having one rooster might be fun, I thought. Maybe I could hatch a few chicks. Maybe I could sell chicks. He could also help with predator control. 

Well, that unsexed chick did indeed turn out to be a rooster. A rare breed, apparently — a golden penciled Hamburg. I'd never even heard of them. He's a tiny little guy, and he moves at full speed 24/7. I've named him Leppo, and I kind of feel bad for him because the hens beat up on him, but he's so quick, it doesn't seem to bother him.   

Leppo is the black and orange one in the middle.

I ordered four Cochin hens, and they've turned out to be my favorite breed so far. They're unique in that they have feathers up and down their legs, and they look like big fluffy bears. They're supposed to be gentle and fairly easy to handle. Of course, I noticed right away that one of those four had a much redder comb than the other three. It's hard to get a great picture of him, but meet Rudy, my second rooster. He's actually my favorite of the four and one I definitely want to keep. 

Rudy, the Cochin rooster 

I also ordered four barred rock hens. In my last flock of chickens, I had one barred rock, and she was my absolute favorite. I just knew I wanted more of them. What I didn't know is that two of my four hens would turn out to be roosters. To be honest, I haven't named these guys because I didn't really want to keep them. 18 hens to 4 roosters isn't a great ratio. There's already some tension in my flock because they spent so much time cooped up together due to issues beyond my control. So, now I have to figure out what to do with these guys. I'm okay with keeping two roosters, but I can't keep four, and I've kind of bonded with the other two. But I also feel guilty just giving these guys up because they're males. 

These two need a new home. 

Some people start a rooster-only flock, a bachelor pad.  At first, I was against this idea. The last thing I want is yet another construction project. The duck pen turned into way more than I had planned for it to be, and it soured me on being ready to start something new anytime soon. My dad was creative enough to build the chickens a temporary run out of my mom's old greenhouse frame and my grandfather's old tomato cages, but it won't hold them forever. They need more space and something safer. I plan to build them a more permanent one at some point before the end of the year. Just not today and not this month. 

I do know someone who will take the roosters, but they'll be butchered immediately for a meal. I have no problem with this. No judgment from me.  I eat chicken every other day probably.  But again, I hate for them to lose their lives and for their purpose to change just because of their sex and because the hatchery mistook them for girls. This is the grey area where me and farming part ways. My dad is worse than I am, and he's currently my farmhand, so we talked it out last night. We've decided to work on the bachelor pad after all unless I find someone who wants them in the meantime. We have 8+ acres. Plenty of space. Why not give them a space where they can just chill for the rest of their lives, however long that may be? That will probably be an October project.    

But that hasn't even been my biggest issue with the chickens. Have you ever seen a Polish chicken? They're smaller than the average chicken and have big bushy feathers on top of their heads. They lay eggs, but they're more for show than anything. My mom became kind of obsessed with them because someone she followed on Instagram had them, so I ordered two with my flock for her benefit. I didn't research them well. I also ended up with three because the hatchery sent me an extra. 

They're cute and they're fun, but I don't personally recommend them for a bigger flock full of mixed breeds. (I know many people do successfully keep them together with standard chickens, and that's great, but I would never get more of them.)    

So, now I have these three Polishes: Lola, Butters, and Peanut. This is Butters. Not the best picture, and she's a little beat up and recently got a haircut, but you get the idea.  

Butters hasn't had an easy life so far. 

Before I moved them outside, I noticed Butters laid around in the brooder/on the porch a lot, but I figured it was out of boredom. After I got them outside, I noticed she was almost always cowering in a corner when I went out to feed them. I also noticed her laying around, even when she ate, and one day, I noticed she was missing several tail feathers.  

On the first day in the new run, she never came outside with the others. We brought her in and examined her a bit, and I noticed she'd been pecked a lot and had a few bald spots on her back. So, she spent a couple of days by herself on the back porch. That's why I finally left the house — to go to Tractor Supply to get her some medication. She was okay on the porch, but chickens are not creatures who like to be alone and she got a little depressed. Plus, the longer they're away from the main flock, the harder it is to reintegrate them. So, on Friday, I sprayed her down with this stuff called Blu-Kote. It's an antiseptic for animals that tastes gross and camouflages her bald spots so the others will leave her alone. I also cut some of her crest feathers because Polishes tend to have bad lines of sight.  

We put her back out with the rest of the flock, and she seemed to do okay, but by the end of the day, they were pecking her again. That night before they went up for the night, my dad helped me catch her, and we put more Blu-Kote on her. Yesterday, she did pretty well and held her own with the other chickens. Today, she spent more time inside the coop, but when I went to put them up for the night, I noticed she was eating and pecking at some of the others and holding her own for now. We're beginning to think something might be wrong with her —something neurological or some partial blindness based on the way she acts. She isn't really steady on her feet. Or it could just be weakness from not getting much food or exercise when the others were bullying her. We'll have to wait and see how it plays out. But I'm not certain about keeping her with the main flock forever. If there is something permanently wrong with her, they won't be nice to her. Survival of the fittest, I guess.  

Also, I'll probably let the chickens free range in the near future, and those little Polish chicks are free food for hawks. As a matter of fact, once got loose today, and I was able to sneak right up on her and catch her.  

So, I'm probably going to end up separating the Polish chicks into their own little coop and run at some point soon. This is not exactly what I had planned — three separate groups of chickens — but once I take responsibility for an animal, I just feel that I should do everything in my power to make sure it has a good life, even if it's not exactly what I had in mind. 

And that's okay. I'll get it worked out. I have a few weeks before everyone matures, so I can get it all together. It'll cost more than I planned, and I'll have to give up a few more days to build some new homes, but hopefully, everyone will be happy and healthy once I'm done. To be honest, it took me a few days to wrap my head around it all. I just wanted to keep my little flock together and for everyone to get along. But it was more about me being selfish. I didn't want to have to put in more effort than I had to, but I realized this weekend that this is just lazy and not fair to these little lives that I'm responsible for.  

So, now that I've recommitted myself to these guys and girls, I think that will help me out of my funk a little bit. Being busy this week will help too. I have a carload of stuff to take to the antique shop; a big exam in, of all things, my bird biology class; a big work project; my other regular work; and I need to get back to fixing up my downstairs office and cleaning up the porch from its chicken invasion. I'm even making some plans for some day trips in the weeks to come.