I spent half of 2015 and most of 2016 writing, How to Speak Chicken. It was a labor of love and something that I felt needed to reach the backyard chicken community. During my research, one of the many scientists that impressed me was psychology professor, Dr. Evans. A leading poultry researcher, he dedicated his life to decoding chickens. Like me, he too wanted to know exactly it was that made them tick and he made some pretty amazing discoveries. Sadly, Dr. Evans passed away in 2011 quite prematurely, from what I understand was a motor neuron disease. A man who had dedicated his life to communication lost his ability to speak due to the progression of his disease.
If you are like me, you have questions that arise when you keep chickens. When I started meeting the faces behind Purina Poultry, I quickly learned that there are wonderful people behind the brand, like Dr. Patrick Biggs. He’s down to earth and friendly, and I had a moment to sit down and ask Dr. Biggs some of your biggest chicken nutrition questions. Take a peek at what Dr. Biggs, a chicken nutritionist, had to say and learn something new. I did, especially when it comes to feeding roosters.
All toenails, beaks and feathers are made from a protein called keratin. When chickens are allowed to be out and about to scratch in the dirt and explore, they do a good job at keeping their nails and beaks nice and trim. However from time to time it is not unlikely that your chickens’ toenails and beak will require a little maintenance. For example, our Silkies frequently need their fifth toenail trimmed as it never touches the ground. Keeping the nails from overgrowing is very important for overall general foot health, the ability to walk and the ability to hold the foot in a normal position. Trimming your roosters’ spurs and toenails can also help to keep them from digging their nails into the backs of your hens. Cutting the toenails is relatively easy to do and takes only a matter of a few minutes per chicken.
Well, I have been officially appointed as a member to the Agricultural Commission in the town of Barnstable. Today I am going down to the town hall to be sworn in. Our next meeting is tomorrow night. I am looking forward to it. I believe that we will be voting on the matter of roosters in the town of Barnstable. I feel a sense of self pride with this appointment. I hope to serve in my position well. This is a new chapter for me. My involvement in local town politics comes as a surprise to me. I am constantly reminded that life’s journey is full of surprises. This one is especially important for my flock. I hope to make both my human and feathered families proud.
|A peony growing in our Garden last summer|
“Mom, are we going to be able to keep Chocolate forever?” I heard this coming from the backseat of the car yesterday from my eight and three year old. And so, the discussion about forever began.
“We will keep him for as long as we can. We are lucky to have him. As he gets older, I am not sure if he will get noisier or mean. Right now, I am so happy that we have him. I think that we should just enjoy him for as long as we can. I’m not sure how long it will be.”
My three year old then asks,”Can we keep all the other chickens?”
I replied, “Yes.”
Then I heard, “How long are the chickens going to live?”
“I know that some chickens can live to be twenty but most live for about 4 or 5 years. Everything dies at some point. Nothing can live forever. When they die, they’ll go to the Rainbow Bridge where we can see them again. I’m sure they will try to live as long as they can.”
|Foxglove, Rhododendron and Catmint in our|
Garden last summer
“How long are you going to live?”
“I am going to try and live a very long time. I hope to be 100 some day. My Greatgrandma lived to 101!”
“Does everything die?”
“Yes, some things live a long time and some things live a short time like the plants in the garden.”
“I wish the chickens and us could live forever.”
“I agree, forever would be nice….”
Yesterday evening, I got home around 4:45 to lock in the flock. I wanted to check for eggs because I didn’t want them sitting in the nesting boxes overnight. Since some of the chickens sleep in the boxes, the last thing I wanted to happen would be for another hen to go broody!
All the chickens were already inside the coop. I gently lifted up the nesting box lid. In the far left box, I retrieved a small Silkie egg. In the far right box was our rooster, Chocolate. I had never seen him sleep there before. Afraid of getting attacked, I gently closed the lid.
Early this morning I went to let the chickens out and check for eggs. In the box, where Chocolate had spent the night, were two large very cold eggs. I swear he must have been sitting on those eggs when I checked for eggs last night. For reasons unknown, I think he sat on those eggs. How long, I do not know. Be it possessiveness or fatherly instinct, as of today I shall nickname him Mr. Mom.
Chocolate is getting feisty! When I went to look for eggs over the weekend, I was pecked at twice. I was shocked to see this from my usually docile boy. He was definitely telling me that he did not want me in the coop, but this was never going to fly with me, I need to be sure that I can get the eggs, refill the feeders and clean the coop at my leisure, not his.
I am a huge fan of the website http://www.backyardchickens.com/. I have utilized it as a resource since getting my chickens this past Spring. Everything, and I mean everything, you ever would want to know about a chicken is on this site. So, this weekend, I took the plunge and joined as an official member of the site. I posted an introduction about myself and then posted about my situation with Chocolate. Within a few minutes, people started to respond. I was amazed. Over the course of about a day, I had about five suggestions on how to deal with Chocolate. I was thrilled and started to take some of the members’ advice.
I thought all along that his behavior and his rooster dance, aka the sideways two step, was his assertion to let me know that I was one of his girls. However, because I was always in charge with the food and the water, I thought he would always think of me as head hen. Apparently, caretaking is not enough. According to suggestions, I needed to show Chocolate that I am the boss, the ultimate head hen, no matter what he thinks otherwise. So with new advice in mind, I took to action.
First and foremost, Chocolate is no longer allowed to dance near me. He is also not allowed to partake in humpty love in front of me. If he tries to do these things, I must stop him by flapping things at him and make him step away, keeping in mind not to use my hands or feet. So, yesterday morning, I did just that. At first he looked at me confused. I stood my ground and he started to get the message. In the afternoon, when I looked for eggs, he came running into the coop. He did not peck at me. So, I grabbed him with assertiveness and held him for a while, whispering nice things into his ears and stroking his feathers under his chin, on his belly and back. He enjoyed this and I felt him relax and calm down as he snuggled into the down of my coat.
Late in the afternoon when I returned to http://www.backyardchickens.com/ to see if anyone had any other suggestions, there was one more. The suggestion was to turn him over on his back like you would a baby and show him your dominance. So, as I returned outside in the early evening to lock them up for the night, I did just that. I cradled my rooster like a newborn. He looked at me strangely. I held him for about twenty seconds and then I returned him to the coop with the girls. This morning when I opened the coop and he came bolting out, he noticed me but did not visit like he usually does. Who knew that psychology works on chickens?!
I knew that at some point it would begin. This morning was strange. Maybe love was in the air. Yesterday, Chocolate decided to crow like crazy in the morning. He was non-stop for about 20 minutes. That had never happened before. I just kept thinking, I can’t let you out until eight. So, after about 10 minutes, I decided to put some scratch in the coop as a distraction. It bought me about 10 minutes of time and he was at it again. Finally eight arrived and I let them out. He flew out of the coop like a crazy man! He was going all over the place, excited and dancing. I had never seen this side of him before. Before going in, I checked the nesting boxes and discovered a silkie egg. This was the first time I had found an egg that was laid early in the morning before I let them out for the day. Interesting; was all that commotion because of the egg? The egg was the only thing new in the coop.
This morning, I heard nothing, no squawking or crowing. It was strangely quiet. Something was different. So, as I usually do, after letting them out, I filled up the food and the waterers and started to observe and say good morning to the flock. There was Chocolate. He greeted every hen in the run. Typically they do not give him the time of day. I think sometimes, they think of him like a bad blind date. However, when he got to Dolly, one of our new lavender silkies, she saw something in him the other girls had yet to discover. He did his little rooster dance and then she squatted down. He climbed on top! It only lasted a matter of 5 seconds but he did it. He tried once more and she allowed him again.
Nature is so incredible. I’ve now thought that she is the one laying eggs. So somehow, nature has just taken it’s course. When the kids see it, they will want to know what is going on. I’ve given some thought about that. Since they were really little, they have witnessed our neighbor’s dogs, animals at the zoo and even at the pet store doing what comes natural. As all toddlers are curious, we just called it “humpty love” for the sake of escaping details. I can’t wait to hear what they will tell me when they see the chickens having humpty love!
I am so glad that I went to the meeting last night regarding the rooster regulations in the town of Barnstable. I was happy to see that seven other residents from town were there too, all in the defense of their roosters. Apparently, the rooster subject is not a new one. The Barnstable Agricultural Commission has been working on this for a while with one of our town council members. There have been some legitimate complaints about noise from roosters across town. However, there are no laws pertaining to roosters in town. Without an ordinance specifically for roosters, the town is unable to control some volatile situations that have arisen in neighborhoods.
I felt like we came to this meeting just in time. Last night, a town council member brought the draft of a rooster ordinance that was to be voted on and perhaps implemented at last night’s meeting. However, due to public comments and concerns, the ordinance as presented and drafted was edited and will be go back to the town and legal counsel for revision.
Initially the rooster ordinance introduced last night, although vague and broad, left a few of us with an uneasy feeling in our stomachs. The rooster ordinance basically had three key items. In layman terms, they were as follows:
1. Any person with a rooster must have at least 2 acres of land
2. The rooster must be plainly audible from 150 feet or less from the complaint site.
3. There is a three strike fining component before there is any other action.
The meeting lasted for two hours. After much contemplation and debate, the Barnstable Agricultural Commission decided on striking that 2 acres of land are required for a rooster. They also struck the wording “or less” and made it just 150 feet. They are also planning on clarifying what happens after you have had 3 strikes.
So for now, the rooster ordinance draft, will go back to to the town’s legal counsel for rewording and reappear in a new form at the next Barnstable Agricultural Commission scheduled for January 2011. The most interesting twist of the evening came when the commission personally invited me to apply for the vacant seat on the commission. Isn’t it funny how life just sorts itself out? Last night I was definitely in the right place at the right time.
I was worried about the first night for the three new girls. During the day, the pecking was minimal but when night time came around, would they go up into the coop at night? Would my old flock allow it? So as dusk grew near, I kept checking. Finally they went into the coop. I did not see anyone in the yard, but I had to be sure.
Outside I went. As I walked over to the coop, I saw that everyone was up inside. However, I wanted to get a bit closer of a look. I climbed into the run and peered into the little half moon door. Those chickens never cease to amaze me.
From all the horror stories about flock integration on the internet, I was sure that at best I would find my original flock sleeping in the nesting boxes and expect to find the 3 new girls in the opposite corner on the roost. Instead, I discovered a situation that even I would never have imagined. Inside mid-coop was Oyster Cracker. She was pacing back and forth, much like a soldier guarding a castle. As you know from my previous posts, before we knew that Chocolate was a rooster, she was taking on the role of guard chicken. Now, she was showing me that she still was a guard chicken. She was pacing and growling. So funny. I instantly thought that she was keeping both flock separate. I looked in the corner closest to me expecting to find the new girls but they weren’t there. I glanced over to the nesting boxes. I found all of the chickens old and new mixed and huddled in the nesting boxes together!
I could not believe my eyes. Was the integration going to be this easy? Time will tell. I think that Oyster Cracker was patrolling to be sure that no other new girl would enter the coop. I promised her not anytime soon as we now have a full house. I closed the door for the night, feeling confident, successful and incredibly joyous. We are one step closer to a unified flock. Even though they are different colors and breeds, they are all snuggled together despite their differences. What a fabulous reminder of tolerance and acceptance from my girls especially during the holiday season!