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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Chicken Chatter

I have been amazed about the sounds that come from our flock. Sound is incredibly important in the beginning of a chick's life. They begin in the eggs, before they hatch. Momma hen and chicks cluck and cheep at each other as she incubates and turns the eggs and when they hatch, she knows them and they her, by sound. And once they lay eggs they have a particular egg song (which sound to me like they are complaining about passing yet another egg).

I will be the first to admit I am a total nerd about the flock. And making audio recordings of your flock is pretty nerdy, but I just can't help myself.

From the moment they arrived on our doorstep (via USPS) they were chirping away (listen here). In fact, their chirping never stopped (except when I played the recording back to them and they were all silently watching the recording).

Now they seem to talk to each other, but it isn't quite a clucking yet. Sometimes it's close to a purr mixed with a little growl. They don't quite sound like chickens to me, but we still have a couple of months to go from pullet to hen (and from cockerel to rooster). Sampson, the roo, is also vocal, but no attempts at crowing yet. They talk to us when we go outside with corn (aka chicken crack) in our hands, when we pick them up, when they realize the group has walked away from them - basically they chat whenever some thought comes into their heads. Pepper was sure to let us know how she felt in isolation (it sounded like a grumpy fussing) and she was quiet when we walked away. But my favorite chicken conversation happens at dusk when they decide it's time for bed. Chickens can't see in the dark, so as the sun sets and it slowly turns from night to day outside, the chickens head toward the coop. About 20 mins before dark they will all be settled in the coop for the night but the process takes about 10 mins from start to finish. One chicken heads up the ladder and finds a roosting spot, then another heads up and finds their spot. By the time the fourth or fifth pullet is in the coop the birds are fussing for the best spots (in this case "best" means closest to the opening, which seems silly to me - the opening is the most dangerous in regards to predators, but then again, I have to remind myself, I am not a chicken). We hear louder talk and flapping of feathers as more go up. One of the Buff Orphingtons is always last up (that's Goldie or Hawn) and then they quiet down and are pretty silent for the night. I love watching them go up - Brian calls it our chicken TV. One night I set up my iPhone recording in the coop before they started the ritual (keeping my fingers crossed that no calls came in and that no chickens knocked it down). The recording is 10 mins long from first hen climbing the ladder to the last settling down. You can listen here but unless you are a total nerd (like the author of this blog), you might want to jump in the middle and listen to a min or so.

Friday, February 12, 2010

White Texas?!?

It snowed more than a foot here yesterday - completely unheard of in Dallas. I was stuck in Houston for several hours waiting to catch a plane to Dallas and got in pretty late. I just love the house covered in snow!

The chicken run collapsed under the weight of snow, so I think a new, more permanent run is in the future. The funny thing is, the chickens won't go out in the snow! I got them out briefly with food, but they headed back inside the coop after a few mins. Their feet aren't made for wet or cold. Happy me and miserable chickens!

Pepper has been reintegrated and is happy and healthy. The was a great surprise waiting for me...
Yep - her very first eggs - and five at that! I thought she wouldn't lay because she is underweight but she's been busy! Yea! Finally, after all that waiting...

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Meet the Flock - Chicken Portraits at 3 months



Frank (with Rose comb, illegal roo)

Goldie & Hawn


Sampson (illegal roo)
Tammy Faye Baker
special thanks to Tanner for her assistance and help chicken wrangling

Monday, February 1, 2010

Another Vet Visit - Pepper Update

Pepper had one round worm egg in her stool, so the vet wanted to check more chickens out to see if they were sick. To save money we did a group stool sample (instead of 11 more individual samples). He also wanted to get weight on two of the pullets and "the heaviest rooster." The (un)lucky trio was Tammy Fae Baker, Hawn (as in Goldie), and Sampson. Sampson got his own cage since he tried stomping the girls when they were in the same one. I think the vet techs got a kick out of the group. It is certain most people don't take chickens to the vet. I get it now.

All three were weighed. Sampson was the ringmaster.
Hawn will perch wherever looks good. She scared the tech who wasn't watching when she picked her arm to fly onto but the tech ended up loving Hawn.

Good news - the vet called the next day and all tests were negative. The flock is healthy and fine. The vet recommended we treat them anyways as a precaution. But you have to be careful with chickens and meds. Since we're treating Pepper with a drug untested on poultry we can never sell her eggs (though the USDA vet assured me it was safe to eat her eggs after 10 days). It seemed silly to treat the rest of the flock for something they don't have considering it mars their eggs for life. Pepper's medication and bills cost over $270 and the trio's check up was $134. The vets still wanted to run more tests and see Pepper for checkups, but I felt sort of taken by the bills (after all, you can get new, healthy hens already laying eggs for $20 or less each). These birds are somewhere between livestock and pets and I want to stay reasonable about them. After all, we have backyard hens so that we aren't contributing to the cruel and unethical system of battery hens where each animal is reduced to a cog in a machine. These chickens will have good lives, in a healthy flock, free-ranging on grass and eating bugs. We want to be responsible about our food. On the other hand we don't want a dozen pet birds who don't lay eggs.

I understand now why most vets won't see chickens. I'm sick we spent $400+ After a few hundred dollars in vet bills, these birds will have the advise of the USDA vets and we'll avoid the in-person vets. If one gets sick, we will immediately separate them and hope they can ride it out. They're more like us - completely uninsured!

Update on Pepper - She has completed her drugs and is in quarantine until this Friday (more than 2 weeks of separation). I couldn't get a rooster to stay with her - they became neurotic and acted like they were going to ram through the wire. She paces back and forth all day but looks and acts very healthy and is rapidly putting on weight. We'll re-integrate  her at the end of the week and disinfect her area. I'm sure she's looking forward to being out of prison!