Tag / Dottie Speckles

Chickens Stories from Our Nest

A Book By It’s Cover

Yesterday, I had time to catch up with a chicken friend and chat for a while.   Of course, the conversation would not be complete without me asking about Dottie Speckles.  The thing I love about my friend, who has been keeping chickens for over 45 years, is that she has a huge heart for animals.  She rescues horses and often has a menagerie of roosters in need of new homes living among her and her beloved farm animals.  Her place is a sanctuary filled with warmth.

She told me that Dottie Speckles has now settled into her new home.  She is living with a few breeds including a pair of Polish and some Silkies.  She has ample space, six nesting boxes at various heights and roosts galore.  Yet now that she is comfortable in her new home, she is asserting her dominance.  The worst part, is that even with a change of scenery, change of flock and change of space, Dottie Speckles is still mean.  She deliberately is attacking chickens that are not even in her vicinity but in her field of vision.  She runs to them and attacks them for no apparent reasons.  She is pulling feathers from the Silkies.  She terrorizes them all.  My friends tells me she has never seen a hen behave this way or be so mean.

6 weeks
5 months

Unfortunately I’m can’t say that I am surprised.  We both agree that she is an incredibly beautiful hen and lays a lovely brown egg.  My friend says that she is going to keep her, yet possibly make some more adaptations to her living quarters.  For now, everyone can escape from her wrath.  I’m not quite sure what makes a hen this way.  I guess the reality is that just like with humans, this can and does happen in chickens.

8 months

I have met many beautiful people in my life like Dottie Speckles.  Yet, they have hearts of coal and ruthless personalities.  For no apparent reasons, they do their best to attack the innocent, prey on the weak and make others around them walk on eggshells.  I have also met people who appear at first plain and because of their personalities are some of the most beautiful people that I know.  I think my eight year old son said it best when I was relaying how Dottie Speckles is doing on the ride home from school yesterday, ” I guess,  it’s just like judging a book by it’s cover.  She’s a bully.  Don’t worry Mom, I get it.”  I never thought that I would have chickens help me to raise my children by sharing this sort of lesson.  I guess I was wrong.

Dottie Speckles will turn 1 year old April 10th.

Photo Credit:  Tilly’s Nest

Chickens Stories from Our Nest

The Silver Lining

Sometimes, no matter what you do or how badly you want your flock to get along, it never comes to be.  I can remember looking into the feed store brooder and seeing little sleeping patchwork quilts of day old Silver Laced Wyandottes.  I had to have one.  Which one did I pick?  Well it wasn’t a sweet little sleeping one.  It was the one that was awake, with boundless energy, running everywhere.

Day old Dottie Speckles was the boss of the brooder where she lived with Dolly and our two week old Silkies.  Since I can remember, she has been boisterous, curious and loves pecking.  Over time, as she grew, it became clear to me that she enjoyed pecking things more than the other chickens.  I can recall, as she was moving up the pecking order, she decided to peck Dolly.  Typically, chickens will assert their flock position with a quick peck to another bird’s neck and get on with their business.  Poor Dolly, Dottie Speckles pecked at her repeatedly.  Dolly cowered close to the ground and just froze.  I had to intervene.  I was uncertain that Dottie Speckles would stop.  I often find her pecking at the Buff Orpington’s combs and now more recently Tilly.  Lately, the Silkies are rarely pecked by her.  They run from her.  They live in fear of Dottie Speckles and with good reason.  We have tried, treats, toys, pecking blocks and cabbages to no avail.  With added room in the run and free ranging, nothing seemed to make a difference in the personality of Dottie Speckles.

I began to research dealing with this type of behavior late last Summer, when it really started to affect the flock.  I searched for answers, read books, fellow blogs and many websites.  It soon became clear to me that despite what I did, hens can be mean like roosters.  I began to discuss the situation with fellow chicken friends and local farmers.  Many suggested getting rid of her.  I certainly wanted that to be my last resort.  Unfortunately, I knew after yesterday that I needed to take action.

I had spoken with a dear friend who has raised chickens for over 45 years.  She keeps a sweet little farm and B and B here on Cape Cod.  She is always so supportive. She suggested that when I was ready, a change of scenery and a new flock might do Dottie Speckles some good.  With a lump in my throat and a heavy heart, I knew yesterday that she was right.  Late yesterday afternoon, in the sleet, I scooped up Dottie Speckles and placed her in a box with shavings.

My daughter and I drove across town to the farm.  We dropped Dottie Speckles off.  Later that evening, under the cover of darkness, my friend placed Dottie Speckles in a nesting box with one of her sleeping Silkies.  Instantly, she told me that they snuggled together.  Morning came and she sent me a picture of Dottie Speckles in her new home.  Today, Dottie Speckles has been busy enjoying the sunshine and scratching in the run, getting acquainted with her new friends.  She is currently residing with assorted hens and a rooster.  For now, everyone seems to be getting along.  I am curious to see if living with a rooster will make a difference.  We will watch Dottie Speckles closely and see if a temporary flock change can break her feather plucking behavior.  If so, we just might be able to bring her home later in the Spring.

This morning, Tilly and the flock gave off an entirely different vibe without Dottie Speckles.  The Silkies were walking tall and intermingling with the bigger girls again.  Everyone seemed happy and relieved.  Their eyes are bright and their combs are a deep crimson red.  When we rehomed Chocolate, the flock was sad for a few days.  Today, this was not the case.  There was a sense of peace.

These decisions are never easy.  Despite best intentions and doing the best you can to meet all of your chicken’s foreseeable needs, sometimes chickens do not get along.  Sometimes no matter what, roosters and hens can be mean.  Sometimes, chickens develop bad habits such as pecking each other, eating eggs, laying outside the nesting boxes or pulling feathers.  How much is behavioral and how much is genetic?  I am hoping that things will improve with Dottie Speckles.  We had to make a decision in the best interest of the entire flock.  It was made out of love and carefully thought through. Sometimes the right decisions are never the easiest.  Even though I knew it was coming, nothing quite ever seems to prepare the heart to deal with loss, even if it is over a chicken.

In my new home

Photo Credit: LS

Chickens Stories from Our Nest

Moonlight Mischief

I’ve been waiting two years.  I’ve known that one day it would eventually happen late in the evening when we had settled in for the night.  It would wake me from a deep sleep.  I would immediately run to the coop with my heart racing and my throat tight.  Finally, it happened last night.

At about 9:30pm, I heard the unmistakable chicken alarm.  It was loud.  It was so loud that I heard it while the TV was on, through the house walls and a closed up coop.  I panicked.  I was snuggled on the couch under a blanket in my pjs.  I jumped up, ran into the garage, opened the door and threw on the flood lights.  I grabbed a flashlight and my coat off the hook.  The alarm was still sounding.  I ran to the coop.

Racing through my mind were visions of raccoons, skunks, fisher cats and coyotes.  I shook my head to try and empty it.  A vision of one of the girls clenched between a predator’s teeth was burning into my mind.  When I arrived, nothing was there.  The coop was locked and secure.  Nothing was out of place.  Thank Goodness.  As I reinspected the locks, I noticed that there were pine needles scattered on the nesting boxes from the wreath hanging above.  Something surely was perched upon the nesting boxes, peering in through the window and planning their entry attempt.

Finally, I returned inside.  There was nothing else I could do.  I left the flood light on and said a quick prayer for the girls.  It was quiet the rest of the evening.  This morning I went out early to greet the girls.  I arrived with scratch in my hand and fresh water.  The girls were giddy.  I opened up the coop door and one by one like popcorn they popped out of the coop.  All eight were safe and sound.  Tilly came over first to say good morning.  She is our most talkative hen.  While we chatted, I could not help notice that her neck feathers were returning.  Guided by the brilliant light of a Cape Cod full moon, Dottie Speckles had methodically been removing Tilly’s neck feathers while they were sleeping at night.

Tilly had finally wised up.  This week, I have checked on them in the coop at night.  Dottie Speckles still wanted to sleep near Tilly.  However, Tilly no longer decided to face in the same direction.  All the chickens were facing toward north except for Tilly.  She was facing south.  She was protecting herself from Dottie Speckles.  Well, as Tilly and I were talking this morning, I noticed. Tilly’s tail and back feathers were missing and sparse.  Dottie Speckles is picking at Tilly’s tail and back.  Dottie Speckles only picks on Tilly.  We have tried numerous solutions with Dottie Speckles. No one else is missing feathers.  No one else is showing this behavior.  Everyone else seems to get along.

As Tilly and I were talking.  Dottie Speckles came over.  After she said her hello to me, she pecked Tilly on the back and pulled out a feather.

To be continued

Chickens Stories from Our Nest

Love, Happiness and Cabbage on a String

Never far from me, Oyster Cracker
As I walked across the yard to deliver a cabbage pinata to the girls, I caught Dottie Speckles and Oyster Cracker taking a dust bath together.  There they were nuzzling their beaks as the dust and dirt was being tossed high in the air.  As I approached, they were so content that they did not budge.  Instead, they just rolled over, puffed out their feathers, and began to roll around as if it was an orchestrated show.  They would curl and straighten their legs all the while twisting and contorting their bodies into yoga poses for chickens.  I could not help but smile.
The Silkies too, continue to be the wonderful broody little ones that they are.  It is a constant struggle in their brains from day to day.  Shall I be broody?  How many days shall I allow it to last?  Will I ever get to hatch one of these eggs?  I have become content and happy to open the nesting boxes and find one of my little fluff balls growling at me. I lift their featherless chests up, harvest warm toasty eggs from underneath and praise them for being so sweet.
Everyone is laying their eggs in the nesting boxes.   The Silkies always let me know when their eggs are coming.  They sing their egg songs sometimes so loudly, that I can hear them calling out despite the closed windows of winter. Finally, no one is standing guard at the coop door anymore, regulating who and when one gets to lay their eggs.  For a while, it was a job that Sunshine was taking way too seriously!

Harmony has returned to the coop.  Between the hanging pinata and the Flock Block, the winter boredom has been busted and the pecking order, for now, is clear.  I retrieved seven eggs today; not bad for eight happy chickens in the middle of Winter. It just goes to show you sometimes it is the simple things in life, like love and cabbage on a string, that help us to find happiness.Photo Credits:  Tilly’s Nest

Chickens Stories from Our Nest

Room at the Top?

Tilly has been our head hen for as long as we have had chickens.  She is a wonderful leader.  She is thoughtful, compassionate for the little ones and fair.  When the girls free-range, she is careful never to wander too far from home.  In the evenings, she remains outside until everyone is in the coop.  Once she is satisfied that everyone is safe, she then retires for the evening.  The only time when she is not perfect is when she hogs the treats.  For that, I can’t blame her.


Our pecking order two weeks ago:
Tilly
Oyster Cracker
Sunshine
Dottie Speckles
Autumn
Feathers
Dolly
Fifi

Dottie Speckles was introduced to our flock last March.  She and Fifi are almost a year old.  Both are laying eggs but other than that, could not be more opposite.  Raised together, you would never imagine that Fifi is content at the bottom of the pecking order, while Dottie Speckles will not be content until she reaches the top.

A couple of weeks ago as I was giving the girls their late morning snacks, I noticed that there had been a scuffle between the Buff Orpingtons and Dottie Speckles.  All three had injuries to their combs.  The blood had dried and what occurred will always be a mystery.  To me, except for the injuries, everyone seemed to be getting along and happy.  Of course I was concerned, but I did not notice any differences in the way the chickens were behaving and their minor wounds were soon healed.

Yesterday,  I caught a glimpse of  Tilly.  She was stretching up high to reach a treat and I noticed that patches of her neck feathers under the wattles were absent.  She also had an exposed downy patch at the base of her tail.  I took her out and held her.  There was no blood, no mites and she seemed happy.  I was stumped.  I could only think that she was being picked on, but by who?  Last night as I was falling asleep in bed, it dawned on me.  Dottie Speckles was likely responsible.  Two weeks ago, the fight between Oyster Cracker, Sunshine and her was most likely over pecking order.  The only chicken now keeping Dottie Speckles from reaching the top is Tilly.

I was sad and I felt bad.  Dottie Speckles is a true bully and she has worked hard to get to the top.  Blood has been shed, feathers have been pecked and she struts around the coop.  I am worried.  I understand this is natural, but what will the flock be like with a bully at the helm?  Tilly is such a graceful leader.  Dottie Speckles is a reckless chicken.  She pecks at the little ones when they are not even near her.  I have come to determine that she is downright mean.  I am worried.  Apparently in the chicken world, there is only room at the top for one.  I am definitely going to have to think this through.

Our Current Pecking order:
Dottie Speckles?
Tilly
Oyster Cracker
Sunshine
Autumn
Feathers
Dolly
Fifi

Photo Credit:  Tilly’s Nest

Chickens Stories from Our Nest

Art by Mr. Tilly’s Nest

My children love to draw.  Sometimes, they like to sit back and watch my husband draw things for them.  Many times these involve drawing aliens and animals.  I can remember one day, my kids asked him to draw lots of animals.  When he completed drawing everything that came to their minds, the kids asked him to go back and put a goatee on all of the animals.  When he draws aliens, they come up with the most clever names related to some foreign appendage that is hanging from their body.  Well, last night, as I was busy filling calendar orders, little did I know that they were downstairs drawing our chickens.  It was my daughter’s idea. Tilly came first.

 

Then came Sunshine and Oyster Cracker, our inseparable Buff Orpingtons.

 

My husband, confessed that Dottie Speckles was the most difficult to draw.
Of course, he captured the Silkies too, my daughter would not have it any other way.
He was under specific instructions to write out the ENTIRE name of each chicken.
But my favorite, is how my daughter asked my husband to draw Dolly; broody in a nesting box.
My husband doesn’t think he is a very good artist.  The kids and I beg to differ.
Would you be so kind, and vote daily for our tree? Melissa C. #20.
Thank you!
Artwork by Mr. Tilly’s Nest

Chickens Stories from Our Nest

Musical Nesting Boxes

Fifi

Fifi is over being broody!  It seems as though this little fluff ball had been broody for over a month.  During these past couple of days, I could see the veil lifting.  She has been first with Feathers to jump out the coop door in the morning and I began to find her spending more time in the run and less time in the nesting boxes.  I felt so happy and relieved.

I always get nervous when the Silkies go broody.  They seem to be broody all the time and being broody is not easy on their bodies.  They eat very little and spend most of their time in a zen like trance that is sometimes difficult to get past.  When I find them broody, I like to reach into their nesting box a couple times per day, scoop them up and force them to stretch their legs out in the run.  Whenever I do this,  it is like they are stunned.  It takes them a minute to realize what is happening, who they are with and what exactly I am doing.  As soon as they realize, I barely have time to return and close the nesting box lid and vooomp, the broody girl has returned.

Imagine my surprise today when I went out late morning to give the girls their treats and Dolly was in the nesting box.  Like clockwork, she is dialed in to broodiness, every other month.  It was easy to confirm.  I lifted her up and found a colorful assortment of three eggs underneath her breast.  I am coming to the realization that this is just who she is and how her body works.  It makes me feel like I understand her and in someways, love her more for it.  I returned inside the house and continued on with my day. Later in the afternoon, I fed the girls some scratch.  The weather was getting cooler as the sun was setting. I took Dolly out of her box and let her enjoy the treat with the others.

Once nightfall arrived, I went out to lock up the coop.  I was in for a real surprise.  I opened up the nesting box door, expecting to shoo Dottie Speckles out and there I found it. Three girls, including Oyster Cracker were inside all three of the boxes. I first gently shooed Oyster Cracker out of the left box. She groggily left and walked off toward the favorite roost. In the middle box, I found Fifi. She was sound asleep so I picked her up and guided her feet to the vacant roosting bar. In the right box, I found Feathers. She too was sound asleep and stirred as I guided her next to her sister. Then, in darkness, I blindly felt in each nesting box for any eggs that had been laid between the afternoon and now. When I got to the box on the left where Oyster Cracker had been, there I found Dolly. Oyster Cracker had been sitting on top of her! I scooped her up as well and then placed her next to her fluffy Silkie sisters. Just when I think I have them figured out, they change their behavior. Tonight, it was like a clown car at the circus. The one expected chicken who like to sleep in the nesting boxes wasn’t there but four different ones were.  The hen who was supposed to be broody decided today that another Silkie, Dolly, should now assume that role.


This post is linked up to Deborah Jean’s Dandelion House Farmgirl Friday Hop.

Photo Credit:  Tilly’s Nest

 

Chickens Stories from Our Nest

Saturday Serenity

This morning I awoke to one of those peaceful and quiet Saturday mornings.  There was a serene calmness about everything outside.  The wild birds were quietly bouncing amongst the branches in the trees.  Neighbors were still sleeping and not even distant cars could be heard zooming past in the background.   The woods surrounding our home are beginning to settle in for the Winter, now the trees are mostly barren of leaves.  The sky was a piercing blue and the sun was shining brightly.  It was one of those mornings where I find myself stealing a peaceful moment away with just me and the girls. I joined them as they were starting to take their morning dust bath.

I quietly observed the girls and their beauty ritual.  I was incredibly happy to find Oyster Cracker finally taking a dust bath after her long and severe molt.  She had it the toughest this year.  Finally, her pale comb had glimpses of red as I discovered her among our Silkies, Feathers, Dolly and Autumn,enjoying a communal dust bath.

 

Autumn

There the four of them were enjoying one another’s company. As three faced one way and Dolly faced the other, dirt was thrown, fluffed and kicked into every feathered nook and cranny all the while eating bits of found goodness from each other’s feathers. Dottie Speckles on the other hand, was content to inquire about my visit and continually interrupt the girls as they were dust bathing.  Sometimes, she is such a bully!

Finally, after spending a spell with the girls, I checked for egg.  In the nesting box, I found broody Fifi sitting on her invisible eggs.  Of course, I would expect no less from my egg detectives.  Dottie Speckles and Sunshine followed me inside the coop.  There were two eggs that I gladly retrieved, still warm in my hand after being laid.

It was nice to steal this morning away with the girls.  Quality alone time is important with any pets you might have.  It is during quiet times like this that you notice behaviors, personalities and what goes on in their minds.  Suddenly, you realize that you are catching a glimpse into the life of a backyard chicken.

Photo Credit:  Tilly’s Nest

Chickens Seasonal Care Stories from Our Nest

Fall Clean-Up

Fall clean-up began in our yard this morning after much procrastination. By mid-November, the excitement of Autumn’s leaves has worn off. I have cleaned the yard of leaves for the past five weeks. This week was hopefully the final week and a thorough job was on today’s to-do-list.

All of the perennial beds were cleaned out. Flowers were deadheaded. Lily and hosta leaves, dead from the frost, were pulled to reveal open spaces in the beds. The lawn was cleaned and reseeded. The hydrangeas were cut back. The vegetable and herb garden were cleaned out and the soil was tilled. I spent five hours today getting the yard tucked in for it’s Winter slumber.

Usually the chickens love to frolic and free range in the leaves. However, I rained on their parade. I felt badly, but a hawk flew overhead and that was enough for me to put a damper on today’s escapade. Last weekend, a chicken friend in town had his girls free ranging in his yard while he was outside with them. A hawk swooped down. He could hear his chickens squawking loudly. He ran and when he reached the girls, the hawk had flown away, leaving behind all of his chickens. Unfortunately, he discovered his sweetest Buff Orpington had her wing punctured by the hawk’s talon. Thank goodness, he still had his girl! However, she required a trip to the vet to repair her wing.

After I had cleaned out the area near the coop, I spent some time with the girls. One by one, I was able to say hello to them. I held Feathers, then Dolly. Dottie Speckles is usually too busy to be bothered with being held but she is always interested in what I am doing with the other chickens when I hold them. She looks at me and the chickens in my arms that like to be held with a quizzical look, trying to understand what is happening. Dottie Speckles is used to me petting her on her back as she darts quickly by to the next latest and greatest thing that catches her eye. Today was different. As I was sweet talking her she came over and I picked her up.

She was a bit nervous but settled down after she was in my arms for a while. My husband and kids came over to say hello. I was surprised. She is our biggest chicken and by far the heaviest! I had no idea that she was so solid! I held her for about 10 minutes and then returned her to her family. I put her down and with a shake of her feathers she ran back to Tilly to let her know about her latest adventure in my arms. I was so happy to have accomplished so much in the yard today, but the day’s highlight was getting to hold Dottie Speckles. That was something I had been trying to accomplish for the past couple of months.

photo (1) wp
Today’s reward for my hard work

Photo Credit: Mr. Tilly’s Nest