Tuesday, December 19, 2017

New Chicks Continued

Since my last blog in September about our home-hatched chicks, we've had a few changes to our backyard flock. None of these are really good changes.

A few weeks ago, Rihanna, foster mom who hatched and raised the chicks, died. I'm not sure why, especially considering she'd finally regrown her feathers and was looking a lot more healthy and less like a turkey vulture. I've learned over the years that even though we protect them from predators and try to keep their environment healthy, chickens are still vulnerable to unknown illnesses. If I notice a chicken has slowed down, I prepare myself for losing her.

Then just this week, Beeker died. I was not surprised as Beeker was now one of our oldest hens at 7 years. Although she willingly helped Rihanna raise the chicks, Beeker did not lay any eggs in the past year, a sign that her body was post-henapausal. Still, Beeker's adorable little pure-white Silkie presence will be missed.

Beeker and Rihanna in happier days
It's hard to mix the bantam (miniature) breeds of chickens with the standard sized ones as the smaller ones get picked on. Our rooster, Ed Sheeran, is technically a bantam also being half Silkie and half Frizzle, but as a male, he's larger and dominates. So in essence, I have to worry less now about making sure the little ones get their fair share of food and roosting space.

In addition to the deaths of our remaining bantam hens, we have gradually come to accept that our two Frizzle/Welsummer chicks are the wrong gender for egg laying; we have two cockerels. I'm not often wrong (just ask my husband and kids...not), but I was way off on these chicks. Or call it believing what you want to be true. Originally named Charlotte and Cindy, I now just call the little rascals Frick and Frack.

Frick (middle) and Frack (left)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

New Chicks!

My husband and I have a backyard chicken flock of varying ages and now we have new home-hatched chicks.
We tend to add a few new chicks almost every year, partly because if we see a breed that looks interesting we want it and partly because the egg production slows down dramatically in hens after the age of two years. Many of the older chickens have died off. The average life span of a chicken, assuming no predation, is 4-5 years. The last hen from our very first chicks, an Americauna named Flo, died during the summer at the age of eight years. Since our chickens have a guaranteed retirement here with us and we try hard to protect them from all the creatures of land and air, our oldest hens are now seven-years-old and our youngest turned a year old in May. Sixteen chickens, ten or so different breeds, one of which is a rooster.
Last May we got two Frizzle-Silkie cross chicks and two Welsummer chicks. One of the Frizzles is a red rooster we named Ed Sheeran, after the singer with similar hair (red with a comb-forward to cover your receding hairline). He’s a handsome roo with his wild feathers that look like they were caught in a tornado.
Ed Sheeran, red Frizzle rooster
Our other Frizzle is named Rihanna, also after the singer. Our Rihanna, however, is probably the ugliest chicken we’ve ever had. She is tiny, black, about one pound, smaller than our other female Bantam (miniature) breed Silkie hen, Beaker. Rihanna has been hen and rooster pecked so that she is missing a lot of her curly feathers, her head and neck almost completely bald giving her the appearance of a turkey vulture. Bantam hens are slower to mature, often not starting to lay eggs until they are 8 months old. Rihanna didn’t start laying until she was about a year old. I often said Rihanna was a sorry excuse for a chicken; not attractive, very poor layer and skittish.
When Rihanna became broody in August, I ignored it at first. Being half Silkie, her breed is known for going broody, which means they will just sit on a nest for three weeks or so, whether or not there are eggs under her. During the broody time, a hen will not lay eggs, getting off the nest only a few times a day for short periods to eat, drink and poop. This characteristic has been bred out of most other breeds of chickens, but not the Silkie. Therefore, Silkie hens are infamous for hatching and raising chicks the old fashioned way. We have used Beaker, our white Silkie, a few times to hatch the eggs of others and raise chicks.
A couple of weeks into her broodiness, Rihanna remained steadfast on her nest, and I decided we should go for a few new chicks. With our only rooster being a Frizzle, any chicks that hatched would have a fifty percent chance of having the curly feathers of a Frizzle, yet the size and coloration of the mother. Rihanna and her foster mother, Beaker, were moved into our old coop with six eggs; two cream, one green, two chocolate brown and one with dark spots. I wanted Beaker there for moral support and as a back-up in case Rihanna’s hormones suddenly changed her broodiness mid-gestation. I hoped that Beaker would take over if necessary. I put in more eggs than we actually wanted because our luck has only hatched one live chick out of every four eggs any time we’ve tried to hatch eggs in the past. Plus, with Ed being a smaller breed of rooster than the rest of the flock, I didn’t know how many of the hens he’d successfully bred. Some of the girls had no trouble out running Ed.
Biological Mom - Welsummer Hen - Either Dear Abby or Ann Landers (they're twins)
On Day 21, the first egg hatched! It was from one of the dark brown Welsummer eggs, either Ann Landers’ or Dear Abby’s. The next day, another egg hatched! Also a Welsummer. The other eggs either weren’t fertile or didn’t survive. So we have two new chicks, and by the coloration, both appear to be little pullets (young hens). One has the curly Frizzle feathers. Daughter Kelsey has named them Charlotte and Cindy.
Grandma Beaker with Foster Mom, Rihanna, and chick
Cute chicks, being raised by a not-so-cute yet very attentive mother. It is fun to watch how Rihanna scratches the dirt and clucks to her babies or how she lets them snuggle under her if they are cold. Grandma Beaker seems to enjoy being around to help out yet she doesn’t try to steal the chicks away from Rihanna. And so, the miracle of life in the world of backyard chickens continues.  
Rihanna with her brood