Chicken business

Posted by Hannes on 25 April 2010 | 0 Comments

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Blue In the few months after our purchase, the little white cockerel grew into a giant and the colour of his legs and feet turned blue. He was instantly named Blue. The cuckoo chicks and Blue formed their own little gang and never mixed with the big girls but preferred the company of the bantams. Blue grew into one of the tamest and biggest roosters known to me. We pampered him silly and he loved it. He took ages before he actually started crowing with the other boys but when he eventually got the hang of it, he uttered extremely loud and stretched out cries. Anything that startled him would set off an alarm in him that got the whole farm in a twist! We arranged the hierarchy in the henhouse by separating George (the ruling rooster) and Silver (Max's boy) from the ladies. Blue moved in. Chaos! He was attacked by every girl in the harem. He remained on his roost most of the day and only came down to eat when the rest started to settle after dinner. It took him a while to win their favour but he got there. We had an idea of breeding with him to achieve bigger hens to produce bigger eggs. Unfortunately he never fathered a single chick in all his days. We realized our little chicks were not as little anymore and fresh stock was needed for next year's eggs. Once again we paid a visit to the chicken lady and big surprise: she had exactly what we were hoping for! We got 15 Rhode Island Red chicks of about a month old. The two little ones we had at home were about same size and age so we added them to the new ones in a secure movable pen. After a week all went well and the new babies were happy. I slept well that night dreaming of our well-stocked little family and how good and smooth all was going. All 17 chicks were gone the next morning … the only proof that they were in the pen were the few wing feathers and the gap in the mesh! We were shocked at what we found and considered all possible causes for the mass disappearance. From the size of the hole in mesh, it seemed to have been a smallish genet or mongoose. The week to follow was as bad. Borris, the bantam rooster, disappeared in broad daylight and each day we lost one or two hens. Nothing was happening after dark anymore. New Year's Eve I got home late from work in town that night and went to lock up and collect eggs as soon as I could. All was peaceful in the henhouse and all seemed safe. Almost at midnight we heard Blue calling from the hen house. I called one of the dogs, took the torch and ran down to see what had upset the birds. All was quiet as I got there but Jezz went from excitement to most alert. I pulled open the door of the hen house and words don't describe what I almost did to myself at that moment as a honey badger ran out right in front of me and escaped down towards one corner of the run. Jezz went after him but turned back when I called her. These animals are most fierce and getting a dog involved is not advisable. Inside on the floor were the last of the white grannies and loads of feathers. New Year's morning I stacked a pile of boulders down the hole the badger had dug under the back wall of the hen house. Nothing could get these out of the hole I thought and I felt happy it was secure enough to keep the badger out. Big mistake. We heard Blue screaming again late that night and with no fear ran down to see what had happened. All the birds were fine except Blue. He was stuck in a hole freshly dug on the other side of the boulders! I took him for dead but when I pulled him out he started screaming again. He set the dogs on alarm and had me in tears. I thought we had lost him but he seemed only to have some nasty bite marks on his neck. He went into a secure crate for the night and we thought it best to investigate the wounds in daylight. He was not dead the next morning but looked very sore. I cleaned his wounds with some antiseptic we got from the vet months before. He wouldn't eat but drank water when offered. I felt very sorry for him. He was terrified of anything that moved. It took him three days before he started pecking at the bread we got him. He always loved bread as a snack over the fence so I thought it might move him to try some and just get something into his crop. It worked. He slowly recovered and got his appetite back. In ten days he started chasing the hens with vigor and all was fine again. A week after the little ones disappeared, we called on the chicken lady again and she was most helpful, we picked 15 new chicks and she gave us 5 extra to encourage and support us. She warned never to get too comfortable as nature would always take its toll. One could be on guard as ever but something wild would always wangle its way in so we accepted there is always some price to pay. Back home we added three of our own hatched chicks to the new brood of babies and, although we have lost some with time, most are still going strong and on the verge of lay. We decided to build 'Blue's Roost', a new ultra-safe luxury apartment for our girls. We drew up plans, got quotes and started building. A concrete floor was essential to start off with and good solid walls the only option. Proper shuttering was also required and we decided that guttering could help supply the girls with their own fresh drinking water. It cost thousands of Rand til it was done but at the end it was worth it. It's structured with a partition to separate the flock if needed and each section has its own trap door to the outside. A splendid castle. Fort Knox. Some months after schedule, it was finished and we could move the girls in. Blue and his harem of 12 girls would move in over the weekend. On Saturday morning we found a trail of Blue's feathers leading into the woods. He and Grey, a cuckoo rooster, had been mysteriously snatched without warning. Maxine, one of Max's girls, must've been with them. We never saw them again. Blue's Roost was named in tribute, the only rooster I've ever heard of that survived a honey badger's attack. It was a sad day for all of us. We still miss him. Moving in we decided to get the new resident girls used to their new home by feeding them inside and letting them enter by themselves. They went in and out but kept returning to their temporary toolshed home to sleep. I had to move them individually and did it just after dark. It causes less commotion if they can't see what is happening. Chickens barely move at night, that is why it's the easiest thing for a nocturnal predator to catch them. They stayed closed in for a few days to home before we let them out again. The baby chicks and the bantams were closed up when the older ones were out and we alternated outdoors for the different groups. If they all came out at once, the big ones would jump the fence to get to the other's food and so cause drama with the bantam hens. The littlest ones were always the victims and if they got too close to the older hens they'd get pecked. The hens were happy once again and the eggs started rolling in. Soon the younger hens we got as babies, would move into Blue's Roost and work in the egg factory. This has brought us all the way up to today, and in all this time we have learned so much about keeping chickens that I would like to share in future postings. I guess it's nursing and nurturing them that got me to be so fond of them.

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Plettenberg bay - Garden Route - South Africa