Monday, April 25, 2011

Raccoon in the neighborhood

A raccoon is the ultimate bully who will murder, decapitate and ravage a whole flock for sport. On Saturday night at dusk Bob spotted a fat raccoon ambling around our neighbor's yard. We banged pots to scare it away but it seemed oblivious as it eventually climbed a tree to escape the threat.

"Maybe it's tame," Bob said. I immediately went to the coop, chased two stragglers into the coop, and closed it for safety. Because we our house is surrounded by water on two sides and there are several dogs in the vicinity, we have never had a problem with predators. However, there are MANY predators of chickens, so it's a constant threat.

The next day I couldn't find Houdini - the bird taking feed from my hand. She is prone to escaping the coop and exploring. I figured she had flown the coop sometime during the day and the raccoon had gotten her.

This morning, Houdini was back home when I let the hens out for the morning compost feast. Maybe I can't count. Maybe she sneaked back in and I didn't realize it. Either way, Houdini continues to elude predators.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Who will be the next flock leader?

I found Delaware, left, dead on the floor of the coop yesterday morning. She had been acting funny. I checked her to see if she had a clogged vent, but felt nothing. 

Delaware was a Delaware breed. Because I'm from that small state that's famous for poultry, I named her Delaware, then re-named her Susannah, Del-Sue for short. I chose her because Delawares are a cross-breed of New Hampshire Reds and Barred Plymouth Rocks known for prolific egg production and being meaty, too. A heavy breed, she laid about four eggs a week.

More importantly, Del-Sue was known as the self-appointed flock leader. At left, she is the only bird with enough pluck to stick her neck out [there are SO MANY chicken-related sayings in our language] on a snowy day to investigate one their favorite treats -- a cantaloupe rind.

That was typical of Del-Sue -- to take risks, investigate, state an opinion by loud clucking, insisting on first dibs on everything, and taking lead in bullying hens lower on the pecking order.

I'm waiting to see who takes over Del-Sue's position at the top of the pecking order.

Her death will  inspire me to obtain two more pullets -- hens who are six months old and ready to lay -- to replace her and some of the other aging hens. After 18 to 24 months, hens are not as productive and cost more in feed than they produce in eggs. So they must be humanely disposed of, i.e., butchered and stewed.Old layers are a bit tough but make excellent stock.

Some people say not to name your food. I disagree. I can have a good relationship with my pets who produce eggs so willingly, and appreciate the nourishment they give us, even in death.

I laid Del-Sue to rest in the woods, covered by leaves and dirt, where nature will re-absorb her. Thanks for your life, spunk and eggs, Del/Sue.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Spring Chickens aren't for everyone

That's Muffin on the left, a black sex-linked hen that I purchased for $10 when she was 6 months old, called a pullet, about ready to lay eggs. I let Tom Doherty of Westford manage the fertilization, hatching  and raising of chicks from birth to pullet.

I bought Muffin and her sister Mooey for $10 each to add to my flock, for about the cost of the feed to raise them for six months.

By purchasing Muffin and Mooey as pullets, I didn't have to fret over the nest temperature and watch their welfare. It's a commitment to raise them from chicks that requires time and knowledge, which I'm lacking.

If you're thinking of becoming a backyard chicken keeper, know that you don't have to raise spring chickens. It's much easier to adopt pullets at 6 months old, enjoy a good laying cycle of 18 to 24 months, and then butcher or give them away.

Yes the baby chicks are adorable, but I like having layers. There is nothing like going outside and finding eggs in the nest laid by my chickens. They are so fresh and delicious.