Posts tagged rural

Flipper:1 Hawk:0

When you catch the ear-piercing screech of a mama hen and the panicked flaps of her chicks, you stop whatever it is you are doing and go into rescue mode. With our free-ranging flock, we have witnessed our share of tragedy due to raptors but we have also been on-hand to tend to and mend the near-misses.

We have eight young chicks wandering around the Queendom these days. Two are lucky enough to have been hatched out by Zorro, an experienced mama hen who takes her mothering role very seriously. This is her third brood and many of our other girls were raised under her wing. Flipper and Pilot are just four weeks old but already gaining confidence and leaving Zorro’s side for short stints.


Flipper in the front, Pilot in the back.

While FM and I were both in the outdoor coop yesterday, there was the above-mentioned screech from Zorro – a long, grating, fear-filled cry – and then the sound of wild flapping. In the time it took to turn our heads towards the noise, a hawk was already gaining altitude and flying away across the property. FM had seen the hawk for just an instant and was fairly certain that it didn’t have anything in its talons. We stepped out to see the damage and instantly saw that one of Zorro’s chicks was missing. Pilot had scooted under a salmonberry bush and had quickly reunited with Zorro but Flipper was nowhere to be seen.

We both started searching for a tell-tale cluster of downy feathers out on the drive. Then our eyes went up to the trees, searching for a feasting hawk who would be casting aside its prey’s feathers. We know that a hawk will land on a nearby branch to eat newly-caught prey before it manages to wiggle free. We wandered to the back of the field, looking for any signs of movement in the thick forest beyond our fence line. Nothing.

Even if we find her, we won’t be able to save her.

Turning back towards the scene, we began looking in all the favourite hiding places – in the woodshed, behind the wheelbarrow, under the garden tool shelf, under a different bush, behind the old stump. But reality started to settle in when we saw Zorro standing tall near the porch, scanning the yard and processing what had just happened. She seemed bewildered and devastated, if you’ll allow me artistic licence on her feelings. One moment, Flipper was there; the next, she was gone. A life erased, just like that.

For a brief instant, our hope rekindled as we all heard a familiar cheep cheep from across the yard. As we hustled over toward the sound, we realized it was just one of the penned-up meat birds chattering.

It was too much to hope for.

A long while had passed – probably close to 30 minutes – and, after having considered every option, we both had returned to our weekend tasks with heavy hearts. Then, something caught my eye and I looked over to see Flipper quietly hustling across the drive, over to her mum. Hidden alone, way beyond the compost bin, she had outfoxed the hawk – and us. Zorro dropped her stoic stance and welcomed Flipper home with clucks that promised fresh shoots and grubs. Flipper chest-bumped her sister and then jumped up to perch on a tree branch.


Both Pilot and Flipper love to roost in the pine tree beside the porch

FM and I were awash with relief. There is something so precious about a little chick. In her short month of life, we have already become attached and we look forward to years of watching her on Chicken TV, as in:

Let’s go out on the porch and watch an hour of Chicken TV.

This whole episode (of Chicken TV) makes me wonder how often this kind of close-call happens. For us, this was the first attempted predator attack for young Pilot and Flipper. But what do we know? This could be happening once a week or even daily. Our lives are busy with work and play. This flock is busy with daily adventure and survival. Flipper and Pilot are being taught by the best and have proven to be fast learners – which is great since their lives depend on it here in the Queendom.


But life in the Queendom is pretty good, too. Here, Zorro takes in a sun beam with white-chinned Flipper by her side and preening Pilot beyond.

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Off To Greener Pastures

In a small, backyard flock, there is only room for one rooster. We learned this lesson before with Pingu and Skana. As the old adage proclaims, there can only be one cock on the block. If there are not enough hens to go around, there will be a cock fight.

So, once again, with great sadness, we watched poor two-month old Jockey get kicked out of the nest and directly into the fray as secondary rooster.

Young Jockey learned quickly how to be the lowest in the pecking order.

Young Jockey learned quickly how to be the lowest in the pecking order.

In that role, he was chased, pecked, chased some more, kept away from food caches, forbidden from entering the coop and forced into solitary confinement. Although he could out-crow Skana with his strong set of lungs, he had to do so from far afield. He made himself comfortable each night on the woodpile, knowing that he was not welcome in the coop. Often his fair sister, Ash, would join him on the woodpile since she, too, was having difficulty integrating with the flock.

Jockey in front and Ash behind. At three months old, his crazy coloured plumage was just beginning to show.

Each night, as FM and I headed to bed, our final chicken chore would be to carry these two straggly teenagers into the outdoor coop area so that they would be safe from predators through the night. This was the routine for almost three months.

Throughout this time, Jockey remained the kindest and most gentle roo we have ever had. He flocked with me whenever I was home, chattered to me about his day and complained softly about his exclusion. He eagerly awaited the secret food stashes I hid for him alone.

Jockey ended up being quite a stunning looker. He grew this awesome 80s heavy Metal long hair with a soon-to-be-stunning greenish tail.

Jockey ended up being quite a stunning looker. He grew awesome blonde hackles which remind me of a 80s Heavy Metal frontman’s greasy long blonde hair. He is only 4 months old here and still will develop stunning greenish sickle tail feathers.

As soon as the automatic door opened each morning, he would be the first out of the coop, trying to avoid the inevitable bullying that would come. Each night, he willingly stepped onto our arms and balanced there as we carried him sleepily off his woodpile bed and onto his less-preferred coop roost.

Jockey is a big guy but he is as gentle as can be. He would easily step onto FM's arm whenever he was invited up.

Jockey is a big guy but he is as gentle as can be. He would easily step onto FM’s arm whenever he was invited up.

As if on schedule, at five months old, Jockey became interested in jumping Skana’s harem. In retaliation, Skana’s aggression increased exponentially. Things were going downhill quickly. FM and I discussed all the possibilities.

  1. We could slaughter Jockey. He is a big guy and would provide a couple of tasty meals. BUT he has such a lovely disposition and we have become so attached to him as a sidekick that we searched for a better option.
  2. We could slaughter Skana. He has been more aggressive with us, drawing blood on occasion. BUT the hens eagerly flock with him and he performs his protective roostering duties very well.
  3. We could obtain a whole bunch more hens so that both boys would have their own hens. BUT we don’t have either enough coop space or the time necessary to raise more chickens.
  4. We could give Jockey away. BUT everyone knows that a free rooster is simply going into someone else’s stew pot. No one wants more roosters.

There is no easy way out of this. Or is there?

Last week, FM directed my attention to a listing on our local Hobby Farm Network. Someone was looking for a rooster to protect her 50+ laying hens from a marauding hawk. Not only was this person living quite nearby, she was already a friend of mine from Book Club! A hawk had taken up residence above her hen house and was occasionally feasting on her hens. She decided to see if a rooster could provide some protection to her flock. But the rooster needed to be friendly since her young children love to hang out with the chickens.

This was exactly the job description that Jockey needed. All it took was a single phone call. Knowing that our chickens are healthy, happy and used to being held, she agreed to take Jockey. Two days later, I boxed him up in the car and drove him over to his new home. After being sequestered in a cat crate, watching his harem of hens and letting them watch him, he was slipped into his new coop in the dark of Halloween night. When he awoke, I’m sure that he thought he had died and gone straight to Chicken Heaven!

“Whoa! 72 virgins? All for me? Cock-a-doodle-doo!”


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Desperately Seeking Florentine

Imagine for a moment that you have a twin sister who is your inseparable bestie and together you share a loving Mum who keeps you warm, sheltered and fed. Now imagine that suddenly, without any explanation, Mum turns on both of you in anger, yells at you and makes it obvious that she wants nothing to do with either of you ever again.

As sad and surprising as this is, you manage to get by because you have your sister. Together, you venture into the big wide world to run, play and explore, all the while keeping a keen eye out for each other’s safety. Danger is everywhere, though, and one day you both witness your auntie get mauled and killed by a ferocious beast right before your eyes.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, imagine that this beloved sister suddenly falls ill with an unknown respiratory illness and dies within a week. Now you find yourself truly alone, on the bottom rung of society, trying to make sense of this new, lonely reality.

But each new day still arrives. Grieving and mourning are only possible when all other necessities are taken care of – eating, finding a quiet place to sleep and earning a living – even if your heart just isn’t into any of it.

Just when you think that you have hit rock-bottom, your fickle and moody Mum vanishes. Even though she kicked you out and called you names, she is still your mum and you still seek her affection – but now you can’t find her anywhere.

This is the life story of our 5 month old hen, Benedict. She has endured all of the above and more in her short life.

Poor Benedict has had more family tragedy in her short 5 month life than any of us could handle.

Poor Benedict has had more family tragedy in her short 5 month life than any of us could handle.

“But she’s just a chicken! Chickens don’t have feelings or emotions!”,

I can hear you say. But I challenge you to come out to the Queendom and observe her for a while. You will see that this is not personification on my part.

At least once day, Benedict becomes frantic and begins pacing. She starts to emit low and constant clucks. She runs to each of our out-buildings and stretches up high and crouches down low to look over and under things before moving on to the next place. She will go into the wood storage, then into the tractor bay and then into the trailer bay before running over to the garden shed to continue her search. She will circle the house and then the shop, clucking all the while. She will run into the coop and hop up into  a nesting box, pecking at all the corners then she will exit and hop into the other nesting box. Once the circuit is complete, she will begin again. There is no way to calm her or divert her quest – even scratch has little effect. Eventually she gets hungry or thirsty or simply loses interest for the time being.

When she discovered that Tweedle Mum had not vanished but simply has moved out and is living on her own, Benedict makes sure to visit her every day

When she discovered that Tweedle Mum had not vanished but simply moved out and is living on her own, Benedict makes sure to visit her every day, much to Tweedle Mum’s displeasure.

Another change is Benedict’s egg laying. She had been laying cute little brown eggs, too small for the egg carton. But as soon as Florentine died, she began laying shell-less eggs, double yolkers and even laying two eggs at a time.

Benedict laid these two shell-less eggs in the middle of the grass. They were separate eggs but joined with a delicate membrane.

Benedict laid these two shell-less eggs in the middle of the grass. They were separate eggs but joined with a delicate membrane.

Antoher single shell-less egg. This one was laid on the gravel driveway.

Another single shell-less egg. This one was laid on the gravel driveway.

"One of these things is not like the others"

“One of these things is not like the others”

Even upon discovering Tweedle Mum in the broody pen, Benedict continues her desperate search, so I can only conclude that she is looking for sweet Florentine. Watching her is heart-breaking. She is obviously searching for something or some-chick and is driven to distraction by her absence. I am completely sold on the fact that she is confused and grieving, filled with sadness and anxiety. If you allow yourself to believe that dogs form attachments to their families, is it such a stretch to think that chickens may do it too?

My thoughts today will only push me deeper into that “Crazy Chicken Lady” category but I am willing to take that risk.

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If You Can’t Beat ‘Em….

As reported in The Torture Chamber post, putting Tweedle Dum in isolation for a few days succeeded in getting her back into the routine of laying eggs and flocking with the others. But, one month later, she has become broody again. This hen is made to mother.

With our flock dropping down to an all-time low of 4 hens, it is as if she knows that we need a few more chickens running around.

With no rooster on the scene at the Queendom, FM called in on a work colleague and came home with six freshly laid, probably fertile eggs in a wide variety of colours.

These six eggs came from a farm with many breeds of chicken, resulting in the full rainbow of egg colours.

These six eggs came from a farm with many breeds of chicken, resulting in the full rainbow of egg colours. We may be so lucky.

The weather has warmed up significantly and it only drops slightly below freezing on some nights, so we are able to house Tweedle Mum and the eggs away from the other hens in the coop. To hatch a successful clutch, Tweedle Mum needs to feel safe and secure from predators and other chickens while she sits for the requisite 21 days.

Here she is immediately after we placed her in her new digs. She seems to approve of the dog crate housing.

Here she is immediately after we placed her in her new digs. She seems to approve of the dog crate housing.

The garden shed has once again become her broody pen but this time she is sitting in the lap of luxury inside a large dog crate, rather than under an upturned Costco vegetable box. Although we provide her with both food and water close at hand, she gets up only once each week to eat, drink, poop and preen. I check on her a few times a day and sometimes bring her a fresh garden salad of clover which she eats hungrily. The rest of the time she sits, flattening herself as much as possible to cover all of the eggs.

Tweedle Mum is our smallest bird and it is quite a stretch for her to cover all six eggs. Her wings need to be partly opened and her chest flattened below her.

This photo was taken on day 8.  Tweedle Mum is our smallest bird and it is quite a stretch for her to cover all six eggs. Her wings need to be partly opened and her chest flattened below her.

We couldn’t break this girl so now she gets her way. Go for it, Mum! Our hopes are high and we are trying to come up with 6 more egg-dish names!

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Everybody Loves Chicken

After a morning of puttering around the Queendom, FM and I had just come inside and were beginning to prepare a late lunch of soup and cold pizza. Out the kitchen window, movement caught my eye. I called out,

Look at that! Our those eagles mating?

We ran to different windows, picking up both the binoculars and the camera as we tried to get a better look.


FM answered and he was right. As we watched two full-grown Bald Eagles jostle for position, we could see that they were intent on getting the other guy out of the way.


The dominant one had finally scared the other eagle back a bit and got down to the business of eating something. What was it?

Chicken dinner, anyone?

Chicken dinner, anyone?

Oh my god! It’s a chicken! I saw the foot!

Oh no. It’s Benedict! Oh no!

I wailed and my eyes started welling up. How could we lose another of our flock? This cannot be happening. I stepped out on the kitchen porch to try to get confirmation. My panicked motion and voice sent both Bald Eagles and an angry Raven flying away.

We quickly donned our coats and boots (and safely turned off the soup pot burner) and ran outside. Before we left the house, he looked me in the eye and said,

There won’t be much that we can do for her.

Despite the situation at hand, it was a comical fact. There was nothing we could do. We could run over there but that was it. He was preparing his soon-to-be hysterical wife for the worst.

As FM headed straight out to the spot where the eagles had been, I ducked down under the front porch and counted. One, Two, Three. All three of our hens were cowering under the porch. Our fourth hen was safely locked in her broody pen in the garden shed. I recounted and put names to each one.

Benedict. Tweedle Dee. Chip.

With an enormous sigh of relief, I ran to catch up with FM and share the news that it wasn’t one of our hens.

The mystery chicken was, indeed, way beyond help. Already missing all the innards and the head, we couldn’t tell if it was a hen or a roo. The carcass consisted of legs and wings connected with the back bone. Orange-brown wing feathering suggested a typical Rhode Island Red. From our reading, we knew that if one of your chickens simply disappears from your flock, the culprit is either an eagle or an owl. Now we could see the truth behind it. The owners of this chicken could be our neighbours or could live many kilometers away. Probably they wouldn’t even notice their loss until their remaining chickens went to roost that night and someone counted them.

We left the chicken remains in the same place, hoping that the eagles or ravens would sate their hunger with the remainder of this chicken instead of hankering for one of ours.

Because, you know, everybody loves chicken!

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Another Sad Day

One year ago, we delved into the world of backyard chickens. We took on a clutch of 6 chicks and have watched them as they learned to peck, run, roost and lay. All of them have stolen our hearts and each for a different reason.

But with chickens come some sadness. We lost Croque Madame to sickness, Peeps to a mauling and Roo to aggression. But we gained happiness too. Benedict and Florentine were hatched just 5 months ago and showed such promise as the new generation.

But then, we lost sweet Florentine earlier this week.

The grey speckled sisters found refuge up on the nesting box.

Always inseparable, the grey speckled sisters found refuge from the older girls up on the nesting box. Here, Flo is in front and Benedict stands beyond.

Only 10 days earlier, she was running through the yard, with Benedict hot on her heels, flapping at the newly arrived Robins, tromping fearlessly through the deep snow and keeping an eye on the Mallards on the pond. She had even become comfortable enough to hop up onto my legs while I was having my daily visit with Chip. And, most importantly, she had just begun to lay eggs.


Perfect posture Florentine. If only this pic showed the beautiful proud tail she carried.

We first noticed her sneezing. Initially it sounded kind of cute but, within a day or two, it became a little too regular for my liking. She was also wheezing as she exhaled, making an upwards musical scale of five notes with each expelled breath. She stopped laying and had terribly watery poops. I started pulling her aside to feed her, wanting to watch how much she was consuming. But she was eating like a fiend, barely stopping long enough to catch her breath. I started to do some internet research and found everything from funny YouTube videos of sneezing chickens to complicated symptoms of respiratory infections. I learned that a sneeze may actually be a cough or a hiccup and that roundworms can increase appetite.

I called the local farm vet clinic, described her symptoms to the receptionist and then waited two days for the vet to return my call. Dr. Alicia eventually let me know that she wasn’t an expert in chickens but she recommended three medications to cover the bases of the symptoms shown – a de-wormer liquid for 4 days, 7 antibiotic tablets for 7 days and a soluble coccidiosis treatment for the whole flock. Armed with $9.00 worth of medicine (and a $14 dispensing fee!), I headed home to start her new regime.

As if she knew that I was now feeding her medicine, she stopped eating. Completely. And she began to make coughing sounds that sounded like a painful rooster crow. It was as if she was occasionally gasping for air and it seemed to happen most often when she ate. It sounded as if something were wrong right at the vocal chords.

Florentine was brought inside twice daily for her medications. She enjoyed a little FM scritch and often fell asleep on my lap.

Florentine was brought inside twice daily for her medications. She enjoyed a little FM scritch and often fell asleep on my lap in between her doses.

It took two of us to get those tablets into her. It felt so cruel to sneak them inside her beak as she was gasping for air and FM was holding her wings tight. She would sometimes stand up, look me square in the eye and then peck my forehead to show her displeasure. But then she would nestle down and drift off to sleep on my lap, enjoying the peace and quiet outside of the hen house. She was utterly exhausted, probably not getting any sleep because of the cough/sneeze.

One of her last days was a bluebird days with perfect snoozy sunbeams on the front porch. Here she is in full chicken melt.

One of her last days was a bluebird day with perfect snoozy sunbeams on the front porch. Here she is in full chicken melt.

Only 5 days into the antibiotics, she showed a real decline. Her throat and wattles suddenly were slightly purple and swollen, giving her neck an unnatural thickness. Inside our house after we gave her the pills, she had been sleeping comfortably on my lap with little wheezing but, when I brought her out to the coop, she was suddenly panicked. She began shaking her head wildly and scratching her throat and wattles with fierce aggression. She even started pecking and eating the pine shaving bedding. Her coughing and crowing increased too. I watched for a while, feeling completely powerless and knowing that she wouldn’t last through the night. In tears, I left the coop.

Sure enough, in the morning we found her dead. The other chickens were still up on their roosts, not wanting to go near her on the floor, and making a cacophony of squawks. She was still warm with her mouth and throat full of pine shavings, for some unknown reason. We do not know what illness or condition killed her.

You might say that this is a stretch but Benedict is showing real signs of grief over the past week. She has begun to lay shell-less eggs here and there around the Queendom. She can often be found hiding in the nesting box softly clucking to herself with no egg to show for it. Suddenly she is alone with the older girls, making her the lowest of the pecking order. When she had Florentine beside her, I think it was tolerable to be below the others. Florentine had been moving up in the ranks, foraging with Chip and roosting up with the ladies, and she always brought her big sister along with her.

I don’t think I’m tough enough for this backyard chicken business.

Look at that tiny beak poking out of Tweedle Dum's feathers!

Look at that tiny Florentine beak poking out of Tweedle Dum’s feathers!

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