Hmmmm, where to begin?
Last time I spoke of the chickens, I think the new chicken coop had just been completed. Unfortunately, that coop suffers from some major design flaws, the biggest of which is that it is simply too small for 30 chickens to roost in comfortably. The ladies solved this by some of them refusing to ever take to the new coop, instead roosting in the feed shed or with the pigs. This also meant that the exiled laid their eggs willy nilly all over the place, a boon for the pigs and dogs but a bust for us humans shelling out for organic feed.
Tom Waits, our rooster, was finally done in. Unlike the hens, he never ventured beyond the chicken netting until one day in June (or maybe July). His new found freedom meant we had a mini terrorist stalking the backyard, potentially hidden behind every bush or tree waiting to strike. That lasted about a week before he up and disappeared. I can only assume he tried to take on either a dog or a pig and quickly met his maker. I guess you gotta give the guy points for spirit, but I can’t say I miss him in the least.
In May, 30 Delaware chicks arrived as well as a few additional birds for some friends… I am now a chicken pusher – even a casual mention by someone that they were maybe thinking about the idea of owning chickens and I’m offering to tack on birds to my McMurray order. We have this chick thing down now – four weeks in the shed under heat lamps, six or more weeks in the chicken tractor in the pasture. Everyone did smashingly, and but for my inability to tell the Leghorns from the Delawares at such a young age, my friends received mostly what they’d ordered. My mixup even turned out to be for the best, as one of the Araucanas I failed to identify turned out to be a rooster who is better suited to our farm than a six chicken coop in a backyard with young children.
Now remember when I said we had the chick thing down? We do, but it’s the pullet stage where we still need a better strategy. In an ideal world, we’d have two chicken coops, so the fresh batch could have a coop to themselves and not have to duke it out with the older, more established birds. Well, we don’t. So the Delawares never really took to the coop at all, and instead are roosting in a tree above the pigs, safe from harm but not ideal now that winter is upon us. Ben cleaned out the coop, moved it to more level ground, and fenced around it (more on the death of our poultry netting later), with the hopes that we’ll successfully relocate these gals as they’ve just started laying. He also moved the old nest boxes from the days when we used the greenhouse as a chicken coop into the feed shed, as we kept finding eggs in random nooks and crannies there. So far this all seems to be working, as he collected 8 eggs the other day, up from the usual 3 we would scrounge up on a good day when everyone’s living arrangements were still up in the air.
So yes, we are still “doing” chickens. We haven’t figured out what to do about the older birds who’ve all but stopped laying at the ripe old age of 2.5 years, which is about 1 year older than it would be worth plucking for a stewing hen, but that’s for another day.
Two remain – one Khaki and one Rouen. And they are still my favorite critters on the farm, especially as they are always swimming happily in the pond, well, when they aren’t eating the cat’s food (weird, I know). They’ve all but abandoned the duck house and instead prefer to bed down under the boxwoods near the front porch. We are definitely getting more ducks in the spring. Definitely.
I am not too sad to report that the geese are gone, as so are the days of getting chased down the driveway, of Alston being afraid to play in the front yard, of being honked at every time you open the front door to get a log for the fire. They were good guard geese while they lasted, but that’s one animal we will not try again unless it’s to butcher in the fall. Geese are simply too unpleasant for such a small farm.
Despite what I’d read about guineas being terrible mothers, two separate clutches of keats hatched on their own this spring, bringing our guinea population back up to around 20. Given the complete lack of a winter last year, the bugs were out of control in Virginia (I pulled the first tick off Alston after a hike in March… MARCH), but the guineas kept our yard largely tick-free, offsetting the complete racket they cause at the slightest disturbance. As long as they keep breeding, the guineas are more than welcome to stay here, but I don’t expect I’ll need to order more this year.