Doodle-Do, The Lucky Roo

Roosters hunting for late evening snacks

These chickens hatched from eggs our hens laid in the spring, just after Rudy the Rooster sacrificed himself to save the flock from a fox. For a few days after his death, instead of selling or eating the eggs our hens laid, we placed them carefully in an incubator.  Three weeks later we were rewarded with a new generation of spotted chickens.

Our chickens spread out over the four acres to eat as many bugs as they can find

We got about 18 roosters and 10 hens out of the batch we hatched, but lost three to dogs while we raised them, leaving us with 15 roosters and 9 hens.

We’ve kept three of the roosters–Vinny (AKA King Kamehameha), Ann Margaret (AKA Rooster AM) and Doodle-Do (named because he only DOODLE-DOs instead of COCK-a-DOODLE-DOs). Actually, Doodle-Do was an accidental save; when we went to cull the flock this morning at 4am he was perched too high in the rafters to grab. When the sun rose and Doodle-Do noticed he was one of the chosen few left, he stood like an opera singer in the balcony, but in the open hay door on the second floor of the barn. Over looking his kingdom–the garage, our house, the front yard–he let out his loudest, proudest, most pathetic DOODLE-DOOOOOOO ever, complete with wing flapping and pacing back and forth. He was companding his kingdom to awaken, embrace this beautiful day.

Doodle-Do!

….Doooooodle-Doooooooo!

I kind of felt embarrassed for him. Poor thing thinks he sounds great, like an Idol singer.

And so Doodle-Do lives another day.

Doodle-Do, the dim-witted rooster

The rest of the roosters have reached the end of their lives and are being processed at a USDA certified-organic facility a few hours away. They’ll return in a cooler this afternoon. It makes me sad; this is my first time raising meat. But I know if we didn’t process them they’d kill eachother in the next few weeks fighting over the hens, and they wouldn’t do it very humanely. And then their death would be a waste, nothing would be gained.

But this way–we gave them life and made it darn great–they’ve existed and exited as peacefully as possible. It’s our responsibility as compassionate, conscientious carnivores.

These animals are happy right up until their last moments.

Roosters at dusk

Yep. They’re very happy chickens.

One of the hens poses for her closeup

Some of the teen hens have started laying eggs, which means we’ve got a few extra these days–which is great. We had been selling out to the point that we didn’t even have any for us to eat.

But now? Now I told my son it’s his duty as a member of this family to eat an egg for breakfast each morning to keep the eggs from taking over the fridge.

It’s a good problem to have.

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Mama Hen and her six baby Easter Eggers

Matt shot this video of our Mama Hen, Miss Priss, teaching her just-hatched babies how to eat lunch. Watching the chicks watch their mama is probably my favorite pastime ever.  They are so much like human toddlers, watching mama very closely and trying to copy her every move. It’s really amazing to watch.

We put the mama hen and babies in the nursery coop for now and transitioned the teenage chicks (they’re 12 weeks old now) in to the barn and pasture to free-range full-time with the big girls. Miss Priss gets so stressed out around the other chickens and is very, very aggressive towards them while trying to protect her little fluff ball babies we thought this would be easier for everyone if we keep her and her babies apart from the rest of the flock for a little while.

Each of the chicks is a different shade, which is adorable. I love that they look like a rainbow variety pack.

We have two gray–one light and one medium; two brown–one light and one medium, two yellow–one very light and one dark.

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Moving Day for Mama and Babies

Logan checking out the broody hen and her Easter Egger Chicks inside the nursery coop…Broody isn’t too sure about any of this.

So we moved the Broody Hen to the nursery coop, along with six chicks and a half-hatched egg…hopefully tomorrow there will be seven chicks.

…then we moved all the teenage chicks (the 12-week-olds) to the barn, with the Big Girls, to roost for the night. They were very, very confused by this, but hopefully they’ll accept that they can’t go back to their coop and need to free-range full-time now.

The chicks are all sorts of colors: gray, light yellow, dark yellow, brown…It’s like the Jolie-Pitt family of the chicken world. And the hen is such a good mama, she’s sure to “set” on the barely-hatched chick and gather the other chicks up with her neck and wings to get under her.

When we first moved her and the chicks in to the coop she wouldn’t stop talking; she had a lot of scolding to do and had that very serious Mom Voice with the chicks, ordering them back under her. I am sure chickens can’t count, but she knew exactly how many babies she had and was accounting for each and every one, repeatedly. She didn’t sit back down until she knew she had all her babies.

And it’s obvious that she’s teaching them things–she’ll peck, earnestly, at the same spot over and over again until the chicks catch on and start pecking at it, too. It’s just amazing how much maternal instinct shines through in an animal that was hatched by an incubator and never had a mother herself.

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Babies! Ahead of schedule!

It’s like a clown car under this mother hen

A few weeks ago one of our hens went broody–she decided she was going to hatch some eggs. Problem was, she didn’t have any fertile eggs to sit on.

Thankfully, we have the internet.

We ordered a dozen fertile blue and green chicken eggs–they’re Easter Egger/Lavender Araucana crosses. The rooster was the Araucana. That means that the chicks would lay blue/green eggs…which is awesome.

the eggs we placed under the broody hen 3 weeks ago

So we placed the eggs under the mama hen, crossed our fingers, and let her be. About a week in, she left her nest for 8 hours…chickens aren’t supposed to be off their nests for more than 15 minutes or the eggs begin to die…so we were certain we’d lost the whole batch. But thankfully, it’s summer. And somehow, the eggs survived.

Last night, a whole day early, I noticed two little fluffballs under the mama hen.

This morning there were at least five, all different colors.

Mama Hen is having NONE of this…but you can see a little yellow fluffball under her tail feathers.

The hen is a fantastic mother; keeping the babies safe under her, even when she gets off the nest to get food or a drink. it’s like watching The Nutcracker’s Mother Ginger.

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News from the Hen House

One of the hens refused to get off the nesting box when I went to collect eggs one night last week. I had to pick her up to get to the eggs, and she pecked at me.

She was still there first thing in the morning when I tried again, and again, she pecked at me.

This is not normal hen behavior, she’d gone broody.

From that point on, every time I entered the barn, she would raise all her feathers upright, like a scared cat, and make a noise to tell me not to come close.

Poor thing was trying to hatch unfertile eggs and didn’t want me taking any of her never-gonna-hatch babies.

We’d hoped a hen would go broody when we had Rudy the Skipping Rooster because then she could have hatched her own babies and we wouldn’t have had to do hardly any work.There would be no need for a nursery coop, a brooder, heat lamp or incubator because not only does the hen hatch the eggs by sitting on them, she also protects the newborn chicks from the other chickens so they don’t have to be separated from the rest of the flock like the parentless incubator-hatched chicks do.

Hoping for a good hatch rate--and more hens than roosters this time!

So we ordered some fertile hatching eggs for Miss Priss to sit on and hatch for us. These are special blue Auracauna and Easter-Egger crossed eggs. The hens are Easter Eggers, the Rooster is a Lavender Auraucana. So the chicks that hatch out of these eggs should lay some beautiful blue and green eggs themselves in about eight months, provided everything goes right.

Miss Priss in her Broody Suite

Last night we moved Miss Priss from the nesting box in the barn to her very own private Broody Suite–an extra large dog kennel with an unused and wide flower pot, all stuffed with fresh straw. She has her own private food and water dishes so she doesn’t have to hardly get off the nest to eat or drink, and doesn’t have to compete with anyone else for food or water in her short breaks off the nest. That’s a problem with broody hens; like any mom they often neglect their own needs in the interest of their offspring. Broody hens sometimes refuse to leave their nests to eat or drink and they can become very weak and sick.

Right now she’s “setting” (as our 80-year-old neighbor calls it) on 3 golf balls. She’s not that smart.

But tonight we’re going to put the special-order blue eggs under her and set the clock to 21 days. It’s been 9 weeks since we hatched Rudy’s 28 chicks and we weren’t planning to hatch any more using the incubator for a few more months, but when the hen decides it’s time, it’s time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Chicks free-ranging

so many weeds to eat!

The chicks are 7.5 weeks old now so we let them out of their nursery coop to hunt and peck and make mischief.

Out of the 28 chicks, we think we have about 18-20 roosters in the bunch. When they get out of their nursery coop they do a little dominance dance to establish pecking order. It’s like a varsity-level starring contest: they freeze, then mirror eachother’s movements exactly until one of them flinches. The one that didn’t flinch is the winner and then goes on to challenge the next little Roo.

They also enjoy practicing how to fly. When one gets airborne they send the others in to a competitive tizzy and the whole little flock starts to look like popping popcorn–each jumping up in the air only to quickly come back down.

The hens, meanwhile, are still laying eggs like crazy. I have an extra four dozen in the fridge at the moment…so if I don’t sell them in the next day or two I may make some deviled eggs. And bread. And cake. And frittatas. And quiche. And egg salad sandwiches for lunch and dinner. Luckily eggs don’t go bad for more than a month, though I still prefer to sell them when they are just one or two days old because I think people enjoy the freshness that is unique to farm eggs, bought locally at the source.

 

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Chicks in their nursery

Chicks love the outdoors!

The chicks are about four weeks old now, all 28 have survived and are growing like crazy.

They are hilarious and, thankfully, finally coming out of their awkward phase when they’re partly feathered and still have funny little puffs of baby chick fluff on the back of their heads, making them look like balding old men.

This is a video of the first 23 chicks of the bunch when they were about a day old.

They lived in a posh brooder for the first three weeks, and in the last week we began transitioning them to their outdoor coop nursery. They will live in their nursery until they are old enough to free-range with the Big Girls at about 16 weeks–in three months.

 Here is a video of the chicks at 3 weeks in their new nursery. They are starting to try and fly, chest bump, and generally act like mini chickens.

Nursery coop

Their coop was made by an Amish craftsman in a small Amish community outside of Bowling Green, Ky. Buying it was an adventure! Since the Amish don’t use phones or internet or cars, we had to drive the 100 miles down there, speak to a neighbor who does have electricity and vehicles, get directions to the Amish farmers/craftsman’s home located wayyyyy off the grid (GPS was useless) and pay him, then drive back to the neighbor’s home and arrange delivery of the coop because, obviously, it couldn’t be delivered by buggy.

And yet, even without internet, phone or GPS, it all worked out smoothly and we got the coop the same night.

The chicks love it.

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