Thursday, December 2, 2010

Chicken Management

We had Thanksgiving at a friend’s house last week, and this friend knows many interesting people who have skill sets I could only dream of. One of the guests was quite knowledgeable about chickens, and she explained to me that roosters could peck each others’ heads until one died. She expressed surprise when I told her about our two roosters and told me about her brain damaged rooster she is currently nursing.

So, here’s the rundown on our chicken situation. We have two roosters. One is a lace Wyandotte another friend gave to us because she had too many roosters. He is about one month older than our pullets, but he’s noticeably bigger than the other roosters. He is so beautiful; he is also a good breed to create our own flock of chickens brought up from our own hens. A little genetic variation helps to have a healthier flock, and, as I said, he is so beautiful.

At the time we added him to the layer flock, we had six New Hampshire Red roosters. It’s not that we wanted six or seven roosters. Back in June we ordered a “straight run”; that means we got whichever chickens came along- they were not sexed. We could have ordered all hens or all roosters, and the hatchery would guarantee 80% accuracy. Since the minimum order is 25 chicks, and we did not need 25 hens, we asked for a mix of roosters and hens. We had seven older hens, and the new batch of 26 chicks included eight roosters. The plan had been to kill all the extra roosters. After a couple of accidents- like the fox, cat, neighbor’s dog, and coop attack- we have 17 hens, which easily justifies keeping two roosters.

The top rooster is the Wyandotte and he earned his name the second day he was with the flock. The older hens did not give a fig for him, and the pullets were too young to be of any interest. He is a very flashy black and white with fluffy feathers and a definite strut. He would drop his wings as he moved close to an older hen, then kick a little with one of his feet and do a sashay. I named him Elvis on the spot.

The one I liked best of the six red roosters had this outlandishly big comb. He had earned my favor by keeping Nico away from the free ranging hens and then by seeking Nico out to play with him. He was definitely the top rooster before Elvis came along. His personality drew my attention, and then his comb made him easy to pick out from the rest of the roosters. He is now named Jerry Lee.

Once he joined the flock, Elvis kept the other roosters away from the older hens. He most particularly chased away Jerry Lee. I figured as the red hens matured, Jerry Lee would claim a few of them for himself, and Elvis could just keep the more mature ladies. That’s not how it played out. As the red hens came of age, Elvis added them to his flock. I wondered if it was just too many roosters, and if the animosity would subside if there were fewer roosters.

So, one day the kids and I culled the extra five roosters.

Things did calm way down in the chicken yard, but Jerry Lee seemed to be even more of an outcast. A few of the red hens shunned Elvis, but they shunned Jerry Lee as well. I had to start putting food out in multiple places so Elvis could not keep these hens and Jerry Lee from the food.

If you’ve read this far you might be wondering why I did not just kill Elvis, that big meanie. He’s a very good rooster. He calls the hens in, he lets them know if he’s found a delicious tidbit, he never eats before them, he rounds up stragglers when it’s time to roost, he’s very watchful, he doesn’t let then hens pick at each other, and he’s really beautiful.

And that’s where things stood when I visited with the knowledgeable chicken lady on Thanksgiving Day. As you might imagine, I kept thinking of Jerry Lee’s wondrous comb, and I thought about how I want two coops next year on opposite ends of the property so that the chickens do not get moved around so much. The next morning, Ezra and I segregated Jerry Lee and eight of the hens. We put all four black hens with him, because Elvis did not seem to like the black hens. Then we added the red hens in who seem to fly out of the fence the most often; we figure they must not be too fond of Elvis or they would stay closer to home.

I’m not quite sure how it will work this winter, but I currently plan to alternate which flock gets to roam. That is, I’ll alternate when I feel like the new flock has melded into a flock. For now, everyone is locked up, getting used to this arrangement.

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