A Year in Review–Animals: Chickens and Guinea Fowl

I’m going to do a series of posts this week as a year in review.  This may be of interest to readers, but will be of great help to me when I plan for next year.  The topics I will review are:

  • Animals
  • Garden Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Preserving the Harvest
  • Equipment/Structures

We began the year with 11 hens.  These are the survivors from our Araucana flock of 15 we began in 2008.  In March we received our order of 25 ornamental layers and 11 roosters (we only ordered 4).  Raising up this new brood went along pretty uneventfully.  We were prepared for the about 10% inevitable loss. 

By early summer, it was clear we had more roosters than we had bargained for or even could handle.  For the size of our flock we knew 2 roosters would be ideal.  It was clear from the start we had one really stand out rooster.  Not only could he handle his obvious duties just fine, but he also protected his ladies–calling them to the food and escorting them outside and calling them in at the first sign of danger.  He got a name, Jethro, and he continues watching out for the flock.

We had to separate the majority of the extra roosters until we were ready to get them in the freezer.  The poor hens were terrified and harassed.  So, with the help of an employee, all of the roosters got sent to the freezer except Jethro, a beautiful Rose Comb Brown we had ordered for looks alone named Prince Erik, an Araucana Rooster named Prince Charming (saved with hopes we could increase of number of Araucanas), and a small but beautiful Silver Polish Rooster dubbed Elvis.  Elvis seemed to be a slow developer and we honestly kept him because of his beauty and the fact that he might as well be a hen!   He does not “bother” the ladies much.

It was immediately obvious we still had too many roosters.  It was hard to part with Prince Erik.  He really was gorgeous, but he was a bully.  He was not nice to the flock and most especially us.  He would occasionally come after us so he had to go.  We also parted with Prince Charming.  He was also beautiful but not a very good rooster.  So, Jethro and Elvis are our roosters now and they oversee a flock of 25 hens.  Elvis has matured and he crows and has charmed some of the ladies, but it is clear Jethro is king, and a benevolent one.

From the very beginning there were 2 polish hens who were small and spent most of their time hiding in a corner.  We thought perhaps they were disabled (mentally probably) or had bad vision.  One is black and the other, a buff color, died.  The black one, as of yet, unnamed, continued to hide.  She seems to have poor balance and we assumed very poor vision.  Any one looking at the bottom line would not keep this little hen. Our goals, however, are to supplement our protein with eggs and an occasional chicken, but to let these chickens be themselves and to learm from them. We did not think she would ever lay eggs.  Just in the last 2 months, she seemed to calm down a bit and let us cuddle her and she has been laying.  Right after Thanksgiving, she integrated herself into the rest of the flock and now acts completely normally!  I think she was just shy.  She is also the one sho loves to be picked up and cuddled. 

As I have blogged about, we have one White Cochin hen, dubbed White Pants, who has “gone broody” twice now.  Her first attempt, this fall, ended with her throwing in the towel about 6 days to early.  The latest one, this December, was fouled up by me.  She was getting harassed by the other hens and I took it upon myself to move her to another room.  I moved her and her 4 eggs and she never sat on them again.  She was quite close to some successful hatchings and I feel awful about it. 

In late winter, we got 5 guinea fowl in trade for some goat milking equipment.  We knew that the guineas were great at insect control and we would get eggs from them as well.  We also knew they were notoriously loud.  Loud was right.  The problem was they were so loud they upset the hens who hid inside and all but stopped laying.  Guineas can fly and it was nice to see them exploring the yard and sitting in the trees.  Within a week or two the guineas stayed just around the barn since they had learned that was the way to not have dogs bothering you.  So after 2 months, we had guineas who were not controlling insects on the farm and chickens who no longer laid. Goodbye guineas!  We returned them to the farm they came from.  I think  if our dogs did not have the run of the property around the barn, it may have worked out fine. 

So, we come to the end of the poultry year in review.  Just one more thing to note:  Jethro seems to be healing nicely from his frostbitten wattle.

The Big Freeze

Obviously, frigid temps mean that precautions have to be taken to keep the goats and chicken safe and sound.  We brought the goats into the barn when the pasture had frozen and they needed to be on pure hay.  They were upset by the move, but are very happy to have a new place to explore and some chicken companions.  Two adjoining stalls house the chickens, and the goats are in a third stall.  On days with above freezing temps, we open the three stalls into the fenced inner “yard”.   Probably the biggest consideration for winter is the need to keep water from freezing.  Both chicken stalls have metal heater bases that the metal waterers sit on top of.  The goats have a floating heater in their water crock.     

Despite our precautions, poor Jethro, our rooster, froze part of his comb and wattles.  The damage is more extensive on the wattles. The frostbitten parts are turning black.  Eventually, these will fall off but we are monitoring for infection.  There seems to be a lot of conflicting information about the risk of infection.  Also, the frostbite may cause temporary infertility.  It is supposed to be very painful, but he is feeling well enough to act normally.  I hope he is not in a lot of pain, but I imagine he is.  It is a very common winter affliction and it is supposed to be worst the first winter.

We are continuing to get about a dozen eggs per day.  We also have White Pants back on a nest of eggs.  She has been brooding since Dec 2.  Who knows if she will got he distance or whether she will be successful, but she is resolute.  She should have about a week to go.   She has had as many as 8, but some have disappeared and she has 5 now.

Here are some winter farm pictures: