Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Should I get more chicks?

Oh, I'm really on the fence and can't decide.  I really miss my fresh eggs.

We are not eating the eggs from the four hens because they have been treated w/ Baytril.  The FDA pulled Bayer's approval for use in poultry in 2005, 7 years after granting approval, when they started to see a trend with people getting a bacteria resistant to Cipro.  I'm not a big risk taker when it comes to my food so I've decided not to eat their eggs.  It's just not worth the risk.

But that said, there's nothing wrong with adding to the flock and eating the eggs from the new hens.  And if I got hens who laid green, blue, white or dark brown eggs, it would be super easy to tell them apart from my brown egg layers.

Honey has been broody for two and a half weeks.  Saturday would be 21 days.  And I've read that you can buy day old chicks and give them to a broody after 21 days and that she'll almost always take them and raise them as hers.  So I'm really tempted.

My hesitation is around Ginger.  Ginger is a traumatized little hen.  She hates change and I had a devil of a time integrating Honey, Sugar and Spice with her earlier this year.  Coco is much more mellow.  She'll deliver one good peck to show she's boss and that's that.

But I can see Ginger going after babies.  And I'm not sure that Honey would stand up to Ginger and defend them.  But who knows.  Maybe that mama hen instinct would kick in hard if she had babies to defend.  I suppose I could put up a barricade and keep them separate for a period of time.  But I'm still going to have to deal with integration at some point.

I'd love to give Ginger a Valium laced treat every morning to ease her anxiety.  I feel awful for her.  Alternatively, if I can get Honey to give Ginger one good peck to put her in her place, that would do the trick too.

Oh, what to do?

I have till Saturday to think through this.  At which point I need to either go for it or just forget about fresh eggs and enjoy my four pet hens.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Be careful, the hens bite

My girls really are not vicious, but they love food.  I mean, LOVE food.  And they know that my hands bring treats so they watch my hands constantly.  I've learned over the years to not carry things in my hands if I don't want them to eat it.  I have baskets for picking fruit and berries from the garden.  Another basket for collecting eggs.  If I take anything outside that I don't want them pecking at, I put it inside something else as a cover.

Thankfully, chickens don't have big beaks and don't have teeth.  Or I'd probably be missing a few fingers by now.  Both Coco and Spice will latch onto the end of a finger and chomp down and pull.  It really smarts.  You forget how many nerves one has in their fingers until this happens.  While they've never drawn blood, I always caution guests, especially with small children, to make fists, don't eat in front of the hens, and don't hold your hands out in front of them.

My poor husband learned this the hard way last night.  I had let the hens into the big garden while I went about doing a few chores.  He came out to say hello to the girls and noticed all the cherry tomatoes that were ripe and proceeded to pick some.  I suggested he grab one of the baskets from the garage to put them in but he said he was good.

Well, it didn't take long before he had a circle of hens standing around watching him.  He knelt down to say hello to the ladies and he got rolled for his goods.  Coco lunged at him first and plucked a tomato right out of his fist.  Spice when in for the kill next.  But she got part of his finger in the process.  This caused him to drop the tomatoes and the feeding frenzy ensued.  At first I was laughing until I noticed that Spice was trying to eat them whole.  I quickly caught her and extracted the tomato from her mouth and smashed it in my hand and gave it back to her.

Ginger is not aggressive at all and will patiently wait for a tomato to be presented to her.  So I picked her up and set her up on the stoop with two smashed tomatoes to nibble.  This keeps her out of the feeding frenzy and gives her a chance to eat them uninterrupted.

All the while, I'm just busting up laughing as my husband is standing there trying to figure out what just happened.  He's telling me that my hens are vicious and I say I know this.  It's all my fault and I fully realize this.

I hand feed them a treat almost every day and so they know where to look for treats.  And the aggressive hen always gets a bit more than the others.  But I do watch this and make sure that my two docile hens, Ginger and Honey, get their fair share of treats.  It's amazing how smart they are and these two will go to their safe places, up on the cinder block or up on the back stoop and wait for me to put a treat in front of them.  There, they can take their time and eat slowly and not worry that Coco or Spice might take it right out of their beak.  Which they will given half a chance to do so.

My husband took what few tomatoes he had left and put them in the kitchen and came back out eating a snack.  I looked at him and said, are you completely insane?  Once again, and without warning, he had all four hens lined up at his feed staring up at his snack.  He immediately did a 180 and went back into the safety of the house.

I don't know what it is that makes a hen become aggressive.  I have two that are and two that are not and I raised them all the same.  So the best I can offer is a gentle warning to visitors and guests.  The hens bite!  Mind your fingers and above all else, do NOT eat in front of the ladies.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Girls Gone Wild

I've completely lost control of my flock.

Ginger started molting about a month ago and is still molting.  She'll probably still be molting next March as she's doing it one feather at a time.  If it wasn't for the bucket of feathers I've collected, you'd never know by looking at her.  And I thought she was a grumpy hen before she started molting.  OMG.  She pouts.  She won't let me pick her up.  She's just in a bad mood so I leave her alone to hide under the house.

And as I suspected, Coco quickly followed.  Both Ginger and Coco are 20 months old.  Chickens typically go through their first big molt at around 18 months.  So we're just a tad off.  And they each did a mini molt last winter which probably explains the slight delay.  I'm just so thankful that they are doing it during these warm summer months.  Coco did an "ugly" molt last winter.  And by ugly molt, I mean she lost nearly all of feathers at once and had a bald patches before the new feathers came in. 

Coco during her "ugly" molt last winter.  Her bum and her legs are nearly bare.
Honey has gone broody AGAIN.  I tried to block her access to the nests which is what worked so well before.  But Spice doesn't seem to want to go lay in the big girls house.  Meaning she has no nest if I block them off.  So I give up.  I'm going to just let Honey be broody.  Because when I picked up Spice yesterday for a cuddle, I couldn't help but notice that she's plucked out all her breast and tummy feathers.  Yep, she's about to go broody too.

So now I'm not getting any eggs.  Which is disappointing.  But then, I can't eat them, so what difference does it make.  I am having fun blowing them out and decorating them.  But I blew out too many yesterday and today my jaw is really sore.  ACK!!!  It's always something, isn't it.

Would love to hear from those who have let a broody raise young.  I would let her sit on fake eggs and then tuck live, sexed, vaccinated chicks under her rather than let her hatch eggs.  I can't have roosters, don't want to ever experience Mareks, and really just want to eliminate as much drama as possible.

I think my BIGGEST worry is Ginger.  She was bullied by my EE her first year of life and she's never gotten over that.  She still pecks at Honey and Spice despite the fact they are nearly twice her size.  But she won't peck at their face.  She goes for their backs or lower neck.  Integrating them w/ her was BRUTAL.

If I let Honey raise young, would she defend them from Ginger?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Spa day for the hens

Yes, you read that correctly.  My girls had spa day.

Chickens do a very good job at keeping themselves clean and in top shape.  But sometimes they need just a little extra help to maintain that good form.

If you are a regular follower, you'll remember I blogged a while back about Ginger needing corrective shoes.  She's pigeon toed.  She'll frequently stand with her feet so crossed that she'll have one foot on top of the other.  And I'm guessing that because of this, she's not big on scratching.  She'll daintily brush a leave out of her way to see if there is anything under it.  But as far as really moving dirt, nope.  That's not her thing.  And so her toe nails don't wear down naturally.  They grow so long that I can hear her walking behind me on the patio, click, click, click.  And then I know, it's time to trim her nails.

I hate doing it because she hates having it done.  But I really don't see any alternatives.  If she's in a pickle of a mood, I'll wait till after dark and pluck her off the roosting bar, wrap her in a towel and give her a quick trim.  But in the summer, it's not dark till after 9pm and she's not really drowsy until closer to 10pm which is kind of late for me.

So today, I scooped her up and she knew what was coming and kicked and fought at first.  But I talked to her softly and tell her that I'll do it as quickly as possible and she quickly calmed down.  Snip, snip, snip with a pair of dog toe nail clippers and that foot it done.  I like to take a nail file and smooth down the rough edges so she doesn't scratch her face.  Quickly do the other side and voila, she's done.

You'd think she'd jet off my lap once I released her but no.  She knows the drill.  She gets worms after she gets her toes done.  So she waits for me to carry her to the garage and put a small scoop of meal worms in front of her for only her to enjoy.  Ginger is the most spoiled of all my hens.

Next was Spice.  Her butt fluff is so fluffy that she frequently gets "stuff" stuck in her fluff.  On these warm days, I typically wash it off and let her dry in the sun but I'm getting tired of doing this every other weekend.  So this time I decided to trim back her fluff.  I've never done that before and was afraid it would be more difficult than it was.

Spice will easily walk right up to me.  I wrapped her up in the towel just to be sure she didn't hit me with one of her wings.  But she's so calm that she just laid in my lap.  I felt like I trimmed off so much but because she's so fluffy, you can barely tell I trimmed off anything.  And one week later, she's still clean back there.  Woo Hoo!!!

Next was Honey who needed her face washed.  She had olive oil all over her and dirt was sticking to it.  The olive oil was really for Coco who had eaten too many weeds that I had tossed into their run for them to scratch in.  I was hoping they would eat all the bugs and slugs in the weeds and maybe nibble at the leaves.

But Coco is a Jersey Giant and would eat an aluminum can if I left it in their run.  I never cease to be amazed at what that bird will choke down.  I caught her eating Camellia leaves the other day.  CAMELLIA LEAVES are like leather!!!  Anyway, she appeared to be having trouble "going" and her droppings were full of weeds.  So I fed her some olive oil mixed up in a scrambled egg to get her insides all lubed up.  She's fine by the way.  But Honey got into the bowl and managed to get olive oil all over her feathers and of course, then the dirt stuck to it and well, she really needed a little help.

So yes, a little spa day was in order for the hens.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Coco is broody

Remember a few posts back, I asked if broodiness was contagious?  Well, I think it is.

For the past several weeks I've noticed quite a few black Coco feathers in her nest.  But I dismissed it as her starting to molt as Ginger is clearly molting.  They are the exact same age and do EVERYTHING together.

But I went to collect eggs the other day and found Coco sitting in her favorite nest all flattened out.  I thought perhaps she just laid a late egg and was still resting so I reached under her to pull out the egg and she bit me.  She didn't peck at me, she full on bit me.  Raised up all her neck feather, reared up and lunged at me like a viper.  DEFINITE sign she was broody.

Jersey Giants are not known for going broody.  That doesn't mean they never will.  They just are not as prone to going broody as other breeds such as Silkies and Orpingtons.  And I just assumed that if a hen was going to go broody, they would do so within the first year of their life.  That is not true.  Coco is 20 months old.

Broody Coco filling up every inch of her favorite nest.
I tried to push her out of the nest and she was having none of it.  So I lifted her off the nest.  No easy feat.  Coco weighs over 7lbs, which is small for a Jersey Giant.  Female JG's can easily tip the scales at 10lbs.  But I'm glad she doesn't weigh anymore.  Poor thing wouldn't fit through the hen house door if she did.  I set her down on the ground and she walked around complaining, "chuck chuck chuck" with her feathers all puffed up.

I decided to try and break her broody behavior as I'm not ready to let her raise babies right now.  And it's so stressful for a hen to sit there night and day for three weeks.  Some hens will even starve to death being so focused on sitting on the nest.  I don't think I'd have this problem with my "food obsessed" Coco but I didn't want to take any chances.

So I blocked off all three nests in her house.  Ginger is not laying as she is molting.  Spice does like to lay in Coco's nest but fortunately, she just moved over to The Bunk House when she saw the nests blocked.  Coco, complained and fussed for a day and kept checking the nests.  She stayed out of the house for the next two but was still all puffed up making that "chuck chuck chuck" sound.  And this morning, she's over it.

But now I'm seeing Spice's golden feathers in the nest.  Hmmm, I think we may be doing this all again in the near future.

Coco and Spice sharing some corn on the cob on the 4th of July.