Monday, August 1, 2011

A boyhood dream - Easter in July

Who needs 'Christmas in July' when you can have Easter all year round!  Thus are the joys we experience on a daily basis with Lizzy, our Cornish hen.  She is the queen of hiding her eggs.  Lizzy will sometimes lay 2 eggs at the same location but just about the time you think you have her figured out, she chooses a new hiding place....and we begin the search again.  She's creative too!  Under the snow blower.  In a corner of the wood pile.  In coop #2's nesting box (a place she's never been known to visit).  In the ivy along the neighbor's fence.  In a plastic bucket.  Under the neighbor's bush.  Then back under the snow blower again....except on the other side.  What more can an 8 year old boy ask for than to have a new Easter egg hunt almost every day?
My boys often referred to my homemade egg sandwiches as "Dad's famous egg sandwich".  I was quite proud of this family favorite dish however Lizzy slowly but steadily has stolen my thunder.  As sole supplier of the most important ingredient, the boys now ask for a "Lizzy egg sandwich".  Just doesn't have the same ring, does it?
Here is an updated photo of Lizzy (Cornish hen).

During the Easter egg hunt yesterday, my youngest son's joy suddenly bubbled over.  Inside the coop, but not in either of the nesting boxes, he found 2 brown eggs.  What a surprise!  Here they are, freshly washed.
As you can see, brown egg #1 is slightly larger than Lizzy's eggs and brown egg #2 is slightly smaller.  We really weren't expecting any of the chickens to start laying until late August or maybe even September.  The oldest of the chicks are Nugget and Bleu so those are the 2 we suspect are responsible. 
Chicken Nugget (Golden Comet).
Cordon Bleu (Mottled Cochin Bantam).  Bleu has really grown up since her last photo shoot.  I think she is easily the prettiest chicken we have.  And her feathers are velvety soft too.

It's been a while since my last blog so our flock has weaned down a bit since that time.  I gave 2 of the young chicks to a friend.  I suspected they might be roosters but she did a couple odd dangling & groping movements and decided they passed the hen test.  So the Polish mix and Americauna mix are gone.  That leaves us with the Fizzle mix and the Old English.
Aunt Jemima (Frizzle/Silkie mix).  No crowing from this one but I haven't ruled it out yet either.  She's a sassy one.....but I would be too with an afro like that!

Verna (Old English Game Bantam) continues to look like a pigeon.  In fact, she seems to have stopped growing and I'm wondering if perhaps she is older than we expected.  She is about the size of a pigeon too.  Anyone know what color eggs this breed lays?

I think M&M (Myrtle & Mildred) will be the next duo to start laying.  It's genuinely difficult to tell which is which with these twins.  Their tails are becoming more & more similar.  I've given it my best guess here.
Myrtle (Rhode Island Red)
Mildred (Rhode Island Red)

Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our hens lives.  Here is a recent photo of their favorite morning feather-preening spot.

Anyone have any good, creative egg recipes to share?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Overrun by Roosters

Changes have come aplenty for my backyard flock since our last rendezvous!  I'm beginning to think I have quite a knack for randomly picking roosters out of large congregations of chicks.  Go ahead, just put 50 chicks in front of me and I'll venture that I can pick all the roosters out for you.  Skill?!?!  Who needs skill?  I got the best "rooster luck" anyone could ever ask for.
Well, to briefly recap our last adventure, I delivered our first rooster to a man that may have transmitted "the disease" to me.  I came home with 4 more chicks. 

Since that time, my 2 remaining Americauna chicks have also turned out to be roosters.  So 3 out of 3 Americauna chicks all turned out to be roosters.  At least these adopters sent me home with 2 Rhode Island Red pullets.  Maybe I just deal with heartache & loss a little differently than most people.  Some people mourn.  Some people acquire more chickens.  Meet Myrtle & Mildred. They are identical twins except for their tails.  One is stumpy (Myrtle) and one is pointy (Mildred).

Our favorite family chicks are also on their way out the door.  These are gonna be some beautiful roosters someday.  If you've never seen a mature Partridge Cochin or Light Brahma rooster, I highly recommend you Google them.  These chicks were best of friends but they are beginning frequent evil stare downs.  Chilly has also started to crow.  Chilly continues to be the friendliest chicken we have and I suspect he'll make someone a nice friendly rooster.  Party endeared himself to us through his crazy antics.  He is the most uncoordinated chicken I've ever seen.  He can barely balance on a stick.  And sometimes when you set him down on his feet, he promptly falls on his beak. Today my son saw him shake off after a dust bath and he had to take several awkward steps sideways so he wouldn't fall over afterward.  Silly guy!

5 roosters so far and I think we have 3 more amidst the 4 little chicks.  Here are some updated photos of the little ones.  They are growing FAST and are now turned out in the yard during the day.

Old English Game Bantam- We named this little girl Werna but you can call her Verna for short.  My grandma's name is Verna and grandpa always pronounces his v's as w's.  I guess it's a PA Dutch thing.  I always got a kick out of that.  They owned a big Chevy van when I was a kid so it was common to hear him say "Werna, let's get in the wan."  But there would be big trouble if grandpa saw anybody laughing!!  We love our little grey Werna.  My youngest son has adopted this chick has his own.
Easter Egger/Silky mix- We named this chick Flora.  She was a wild child at first but has tamed down nicely.  She does the little mock fight thing with some of the other chicks.  In hindsight, all the Americauna chicks did that and Chilly & Party always did also......and all of them turned out to be roosters.  Could this be rooster #6?
Polish/Silkie mix- We named this chick Pearl.  She has feathered out from that dull gray to a beautiful white with a nice afro. 
Frizzle/Silkie mix- We named this chick Jemima.  Those feathers sure are funky!  Seems like a lot of exposed skin which could be nice over summer but I wonder if she can keep warm over winter.  She can be a real bugger to catch too.  I'm 75% sure we're looking at rooster #7 right here.
UPDATE:  We delivered Chilly to his new home this morning.  He has an awesome farm to live on now with 3 Buff Orpington hens to call his very own.  And best of all........we didn't come home with any new chicks! 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Addition by Subtraction?

A popular cowboy quote by CM Russel goes something like this: "Spending that many hours in the saddle gave a man plenty of time to think. That's why so many cowboys fancied themselves philosophers."  Well, I've come to the conclusion that too many days of rain tends to do the same thing to a chicken farmer.   Does having a few chickens in my backyard make me a chicken farmer?  Does continually contemplating roosters make me a philosopher?  Well, maybe not technically, but let me tell you about the weekend's exploits.

To briefly recap last week's discovery, Buffy the "hen" turned out to have quite the singing voice.  The kind that wakes you at 5:45 am.  Not exactly the talent that urban chickens are supposed to exemplify.  That punched his ticket out of town via Craigslist and I was happy to find "Joe" that needed a purebred Americauna rooster to match with his Easter Egger hens.  As we delivered Buffy to his new home, we quickly discovered that Joe has what my older son has coined "The Disease".  We first encountered "The Disease" about 8 weeks ago when we were shopping for our first chicks.  It appears to be highly contagious and as I reflect back on the various chick sellers, I believe every single one of them displayed various symptoms.  What are the symptoms?  Here are a few:  distinct smell of chicken when entering certain rooms of the home, various cages & boxes in the corners of the dining room, incubator in the basement, chicks with heat lamp in the living room, and last but not least.....chicken droppings all over the backyard sidewalk.
Could I have possibly escaped contracting this dreaded disease after being so frequently exposed to it?  You be the judge.....cause I've developed this odd habit of putting my fingers in my ears & singing "la-la-la-la" whenever my older son talks to me.

New addition #1- Old English Game Bantam.  This is a 5 week old chick that appears to be a hen based on the large body & small, feminine-looking head.  She is bonding with the new younger chicks and even acts a bit protective of them. 
New addition #2- Easter Egger/Silkie mix.  I sort of jumped at the chance to add another potential EE hen to the flock after losing Buffy.  What threw me was how it has 5 toes and feathered legs.  To my knowledge, only Silkies have 5 toes with feathered legs.  Then it made sense!  Why else would Joe need Buffy the rooster?  His Silkie rooster had fathered this chick.
New addition #3- Polish/Silkie mix.  Polish chickens are one freaky looking bird so mixing it with a Silkie that also tends to get a little mop on its head should create one interesting looking chicken.  Let's hope we don't have too many hawks in town cause this kind of chicken sure won't see it coming!  After the chick pic, I posted a couple other Polish chicken pics so you can see what I'm talking about.

New Addition #4- Frizzle/Silkie mix.  We know this chick has Frizzle in it cause the tell-tale wing feathers that are curled but it also has the 5 toes & feathered legs of the Silkie.  Frizzles have feathers that look like they belong in a feather down pillow.  The feathers curl out instead of down.  After the chick pic, I posted a pic of a full size hen I found on Google.

As you can see, Joe had one very BUSY silkie rooster!  My younger son never liked the look of the Silkie chickens and now we have 3 silkie mix chicks.  Oops!
So, my goal was a small flock of 3-4 good laying hens....and I'm adding small bantams and breeds that aren't known for their egg laying abilities.  Don't say it!  I know what your thinking.  La-la-la-la-la.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Houston, we have a ROOSTER!

Last week I called into question my rooster identifying abilities (or lack thereof).  After all that hubbub about rooster spurs, I was informed by the friendly folks at Backyard that these are grown at 6-8 months old, not the 6-8 weeks that we originally thought.  By that time, all the other rooster characteristics would have already become painfully obvious.
Speaking of rooster characteristics, this morning I was completely caught off guard as I walked out the door at 5:45 am to hear what sounded like a sick coyote.  I followed the sound to the chicken pen in time to see Buffy, my beautiful gray Americauna "hen" puffing up her neck and calling to the rising sun.  It wasn't exactly the proud rooster sound that you would expect but it was close enough that I immediately recognized the effort for what it was...CROWING!
Well, needless to say, I wasn't expecting Buffy to be a rooster.  Just a couple of days ago, my wife commented on how beautiful she is getting.  Now we know why!  Arghh!!

So, this week we take yet another look at fresh photos and see what we can determine...
Americauna #1 - My son talked me into waiting to hear Buffy crow one more time before he goes.  I'm pretty convinced already though.  Just look at him.  Did I mention that he is hopping on Lizzy's back & biting her neck?  Anyone want a rooster?
Americauna #2 - Could this be rooster #2?  If I were a betting man.....I would bet this is the next bird to crow (and therefore go!)  Notice how he/she looks a lot less perky for the photo though with the tail sagging.  They don't exactly enjoy these weekly photo sessions. 
Americauna #3 - Now that the spurs are no longer a worry, I'm back to hoping Rita is a hen....but I'm not holding my breath either.  I honestly wouldn't be too surprised to find out all 3 of these Easter Egger birds are roosters.  And I was so excited to get green & blue eggs.  Well, there's always next year.  :-(
Golden Comet - Ah, it feels so good to know Nugget is a hen.  She's such a nice girl too.  I got too caught up in buying so many different breeds and should have just taken a half a dozen of these little girls like my neighbor did.  While he'll be filling egg cartons with Grade A large brown eggs, I'll be painting Lizzy's Grade C small eggs with gold spray paint and trying to bribe him into a friendly chicken trade.
Mottled Cochin Bantam - Little Bleu's personality mirrors her buddy Nugget's calm & friendly nature.  That in itself makes me think HEN but I know better than to get excited. 
 Partridge Cochin - This is one wild little chick.  I never officially named him because I'm thoroughly convinced he's a rooster just waiting to crow but his adopted nickname, Party, certainly fits him.  My wife actually announced that she thinks he is the coolest looking little bird we have.  His long feathered legs remind me of a baby eagle or falcon.  He shows some aggression when a quick hand attempts to scoop him up, then he takes off running like a mad bird.  I really should shoot a video of him running.  He looks like a long legged teenager that is still learning to control his legs.  I'm certain he's only here temporarily so I snapped a few extra pics of him this week.

Light Brahma - Poor Chilly had a rough week.  My older son accidentally stepped on her right foot.  Chilly is a family favorite and we were all upset but nobody more than my younger son.  He unleashed his displeasure every opportunity that arose and then threw in a few more harsh words for good measure.  We had to remind him that it was truly an accident and it could have happened to any one of us.  Fortunately, Chilly's foot seemed to improve daily and she's almost back to normal.  I say "she" very tentatively.  I am actually leaning towards rooster at press time.
What are the odds?!?  Out of 7 chicks, I strongly suspect 5 or 6 of them are little roos.  How unlucky can a guy be? 
Cornish Hen - At one point, I thought we might not have room to keep Lizzy.  Now, I'm thinking Lizzy's egg sandwiches taste quite spectacular.  She's seems to be good for 4 small brown eggs a week.  Here's an updated photo of the old girl.  I think she's probably less than a year old but I fondly refer to her as "old" due to her age difference to the chicks.
Stay tuned! 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Just when you got it all figured out...

Last week, I went to the trouble of naming all the chicks that I believe to be hens.  Of all the hens, Rita (Americauna #3) was my sure-fire, mass-production egg-laying superstar of the future however............. tonight I noticed the small bumps on the inside of her legs looks to be growing.  They are still only stubs but definitely larger than before.  And even feel kinda sharp.  Uh-oh!!
So I punched up Google and queried "how to identify a rooster".  I've read most of these tips before but maybe if I reread them one more time, something will pop out at me.  Here are a few of them.
1. Generally by 5 weeks you will really notice slight differences in comb size - males will have slightly larger combs, length of the legs, size of the feet - males will have slightly longer legs and larger feet, and presence of saddle feathers - only the male will have pointed saddle feathers, hens are rounded.
2. Note their feathers, as roosters and hens of the same breed will look different -- roosters usually have more color on their wings and tail feathers than same-breed hens. Roosters also have more impressive tail feathers than the girls.
3. Check out the poultry physique -- roosters have longer necks and larger bodies than the hens. Their legs are stockier and longer as well.
4. Listen for the tell-tale crowing characteristic of male chickens. The females may cackle after laying eggs, or cluck throughout the day, but only the rooster crows.

Notice how none of the tips mention the spurs that grow on a rooster's legs.  One of the Tractor Supply employees mentioned we should look for these to grow at approx 6-8 wks of age.  Here's a photo of a nice sized rooster spur I found on the Backyard Chicken website ( Yowsers! That looks painful!
Well, now that we all know the tell-tale signs, maybe you can help me identify which of my chicks are little Roo's. In case you're wondering why I'm going to so much trouble to identify the roo's, our borough allows us to have only 6 hens.  No roosters. 
Americauna #1 - Buffy is our athlete.  She likes to sit on top of everything & flies quite well.  She is difficult to catch & even more difficult to hold.  She knows how to puff herself up for a picture too. roosters have more color on their wings huh...
Americauna #2 - Bigger comb = check. I can't really say that any other characteristics are jumping out at me anymore though. Watch this be our only hen after I've been suspecting rooster all along.
Americauna #3 - My prized Rita, complete with leg bumps (future spurs?). Notice the larger body....and I thought that was a sign of a hen!  Geez!
Golden Comet - Nugget is one laid back chick.  Not very noisy.  Doesn't object to being held.  Easy to photograph.  Not a gang leader.  Just follows the other smaller chicks around.  She is a sex-linked color breed so we're relieved to know we have at least one female chick.
Mottled Cochin Bantam - Is it true that a chicken's head doesn't grow after hatching?  Just kidding.  I made that up but I am hoping her head grows.  She looks so dis-proportioned.  We didn't buy Bleu for her egg laying abilities so if she turns out to be a rooster, it will only be disappointing in terms of her personality.  She's also very laid back and mellow.  Probably the easiest to catch of the whole flock.
Partridge Cochin - Can't help but suspect rooster here too.  Long neck = check.  Long legs = check.  Bad attitude = check.  But since all my rooster-identifying skills are being called into question, I don't know anything for sure anymore.  All bets are off!  I probably have a flock of ducks here for all I know.
Light Brahma - Chilly's neck is a bit suspect, don't you think?  She continues to be both my boys' favorite chick.  Even my wife likes this chick.  She's so friendly and likes to run after us.  Please don't be a rooster, please don't be a rooster, please don't be a rooster!
Latest & Greatest:  Well, this news isn't anything all that special but last night, our 3 large Americauna chicks decided they were old enough to sleep in Lizzy's side of the coop.  I have a heat lamp on their side but they abandoned it and roosted over Lizzy's nest.  One of them even bunked with Lizzy.  If you look at the top right of the photo, you can see the hole where the chicks can hop over to the other side of the coop.  I'm happy about this move because that allows me to move the youngins into the coop with the heat lamp.  The window pane behind Lizzy is missing which is where the chicks go out into the pen.
Stay tuned for the next update!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

To name or not to name...that is the question

So we are at week #4 of chick ownership and some of the chicks are actually probably pushing 5 weeks old at this point.  Should we begin to name them based upon our gut feelings on who is staying & who is going?  I think so!  Calling these chicks by temporary nicknames just isn't fair to them right?  Why grow up being called one name, only to have your owner pull a complete switch-a-roo?  Ha, ha.  Switch-a-roo...get it?  Roo............rooster...............oh never mind.
The chicks have been spending a fair amount of time outside.  In fact, the Americaunas are now the same size as Lizzy so I think our cat will leave them alone.  The 4 smaller chicks still need supervision.  In fact, we've caught our cat twice stalking the smaller ones and were forced to intervene.  The older chicks (Americaunas) are now living in the left half of the coop while Lizzy (Cornish hen) roosts on the right side.  We had to physically move them in & out every morning/night for several days before they began to get the idea that they could do it without help.  It's very addicting watching their crazy antics as they peruse the yard and take frequent dust bathes.

Let's get to week 4's photos (and new potential names!)
Americauna #1 - It is still questionable whether this chick is a hen or a roo.  While not built like #2, she certainly isn't as heavy bodied as chick #3 either.  As her colorful feathers emerge, her ho-hum gray is becoming quite beautiful.  My son is showing off her shoulder balancing talent this week too.  Let's call her Buffalo Chicken Wings or Buffy for short.  Yeah, I know, my grass needs mowed.

Americana #2 - OK, I'm still convinced this little guy is a roo.  I refuse to name him.  He is great looking though.  I love his colorful collar.  He decided to lay down on the job this week.  I think he's trying to disguise himself as a hen but I'm not buying it.
Americana #3 - She's my strongest hopeful for a hen out of all the chicks.  I'll be quite disappointed if she has me fooled.  Let's name her Chicken Burrito or Rita for short. 
Golden Comet - Chicken Nugget or Nugget for short is slowly but surely becoming more brown.  An egg laying super star in the making?  I sure hope so!  Nothing real special jumps out to me about this chick though.  I think she's content to let her gold nugget eggs do the talking for her.
Mottled Cochin Bantam - Chicken Cordon Bleu or Bleu for short.  This chick hadn't shown much personality either previously but is starting to show her quiet & gentle nature.  She allows me to pet her back without waddling off.  She seems big-bodied and small-headed.  My son thinks she's a HE but I disagree.  Only time will tell.
Partridge Cochin - I'm still calling this fella Party.  I thought last week's photo just made him look goofy but I'm coming to realize he's pretty goofy ALL the time.  He's the most jumpy & difficult to catch of the 4 little chicks.  His long neck & legs plus weird feathering all look very roosterish to me. 

Light Brahma - I think it's time to name this chick.  I'm feeling pretty hopeful that she's a hen and she continues to be one of the most personable chicks.  Let's call her Chicken Enchilada or Chilly for short.  My son thinks she'll be the most beautiful chicken of the bunch and I agree.  She is quite the "talker" though. 
Cornish Hen - I don't want to leave out Lizzy!  No new photos of her this week but she's doing well.  She laid 4 eggs this week.  I had another egg sandwich on Friday and LOVED it!
Stay tuned for next week's update!