Saturday, June 1, 2013

Spring, at last


Cicada struggled through the winter and my learning curve mostly intact.  His feet have some cold damage, but he never got outright frostbite, and he kept all his toes.  I finally put him in the broody suite by himself in mid-February and he recovered.  He walks a little awkwardly, but is now crowing and stalking Finn’s hens.  He was slow to mature; while the first group of Araucana boys were all crowing by 15 weeks or so, Cicada never did until he was 6 months old.  I still have him penned with Finn and the older hens and he’s still at a loss for company.  I am hoping that I get some tufted pullets from Kiwi’s pen this summer to put him with.

The ash devastation

Spring was slow in coming this year, but just like last year, as soon as it warmed up Clucky went broody.  She was soon followed by Hawk and Flicka.  My hands have been tied in terms of moving the chicken enclosures around due to the “We’ll try to have it done by Christmas” ash tree removal.  Maybe they meant THIS Christmas because it has yet to be completed.  All the areas I had pegged for chickens require access for the tree crew.  In March, I had to move Oriole’s flock to the broody suite where they remained until a couple of weeks ago.  So my broodies have been biding their time.

This year's first brood

I finally took pity on Clucky and set her up in the dog crate inside the main coop.  I put her on 12 eggs from both Oriole’s and Kiwi’s pens, from all the Araucana hens except Hawk (who remains broody).  About halfway through, Clucky moved most of the eggs under her to the center of the crate, leaving 5 cooling in the corner.  I’ve heard that hens can tell if eggs are bad and will pitch them out of the nest, but I suspect she chose to move with some eggs and then got “stuck” between the eggs she had and the ones she left behind.  They were cold by the time I found them, so I removed them, leaving her with 7.  Six of these hatched, all from Oriole’s pen.  There are 4 little black/birchen chicks, one, Nightshade, with double tufts and 2 blonde stripy chicks.  Although I don’t know which chick came from which mother, I now at least know that Oriole carries a wild type gene hiding under his “birchen-esque” coloration.

You plan to do what?!

I had set Hawk on 4 eggs from Kiwi x Magpie, but after Kiwi’s eggs failed to hatch under Clucky I added some from Oriole’s pen.  The original eggs are due to hatch next week.  If they fail, I will do some feather trimming on Kiwi’s group!

Wren's new saddle

In moving Oriole’s group from the broody suite, I saw my chance to gather some eggs that I knew for sure were from Wren.  Her back is in pretty bad shape from Oriole’s attentions so I figured she could use a little break.  I left her alone in the broody suite for a week (which she resented) and got 3 eggs from her in that time.  I returned her with a hen saddle to her group and set Flicka on her eggs last week.  So now we wait!


They're waiting....

I had envisioned moving the fencing around Finn’s group often enough this summer so the woods/yard wouldn’t get decimated.  But then I saw that the area in the woods where they were penned last year was coming back in a garlic mustard monoculture.  In the interest of saving at least some of my woods from invasives and also being able to keep from having to move the labor-intensive fencing every two weeks, I went to Plan B.  I found a company online that sells a pasture mix specifically for chickens so I’m in the process of setting up cells fenced with chicken wire (which will remain in place) within the big run and planting them.  The company suggests letting the plants grow to 2-5 inches and then letting the chickens graze them down halfway, at which point I can close up the cell again.  I think this will work well if I make enough “exclosures” and can keep up with the chickens.

Pasture greens

Saturday, February 9, 2013

February 9, 2013


The winter was slow in coming this year, but now that it has there’s been plenty of snow and wind and much colder temperatures than last year.  I’ve had some management issues lately and some of the older chickens look a little rough.  Finn’s got some frostbite on his comb, and by the time I noticed it, it seemed too sore to put Vaseline on it.  Good ventilation is supposed to prevent this, and I have been keeping at least one window open in the coop at night, depending on wind direction, but perhaps that’s not enough.  He was a little subdued for awhile, but he’s bounced back well this past week.  

Another issue with Finn was his long spurs.  I was noticing raw spots on the backs of the hens from him before they molted so one evening Steve and I removed his spurs.  This was nearly a disaster.  I had read and talked to my chicken mentor, and the consensus was that the easiest way to do it was just to twist off the outer layer with pliers, and there would be little pain and bleeding.  The spur coverings came off pretty easily--he flinched a bit, but not badly.  But then we could NOT get the bleeding to stop.  I had cornstarch on hand, but it wasn’t enough.  Finally Steve duct taped cornstarch-filled paper towels to his legs.  That finally worked, but I’m glad I didn’t take this on alone--we definitely needed two pairs of hands!

About a month ago, I started noticing a bad smell from the back coop.  I’ve been keeping up with adding litter, especially with all the birds hanging out inside during snowy days, so there’s usually not much odor.  I finally found that molting, ragged-looking Silver was having diarrhea.  She’s been active, out with the others, and up for treats so I hesitated.  But finally I bit the bullet, brought her in, and kept her in a crate on the porch last weekend.  I plied her with medicated chick starter, probiotics in her water, plain yogurt, and some dry cat food.  She took to her confinement pretty well--I hardly heard a peep out of her all weekend.  She ate well too, and I never saw much evidence of diarrhea or anything abnormal, so back to the coop she went.  I have since seen her chasing Cicada around.

Cicada, at nearly six months old is having a rough winter.  He hangs by himself or with Lark all day outside in the snow.  I put a little lean-to outside for wind shelter, but he avoids it.  I should have put the pair of them in the broody coop, but once separated, I don’t think I can ever put them back with the rest.  We’re going to have a milder stretch in the next 10 days, so I think I’ll leave well enough alone at this point.  He’s certainly old enough, but I haven’t heard him crow, and he isn’t strutting around.  I even had a day recently when I was wondering if he wasn’t a pullet after all (he’s not).  For a while I thought when he got a little more mature (like in a week, or the next,,,,), he’d put the older hens in their place (Oriole is adept at this, although they certainly resent him), but it’s not happening.  I’m definitely needing more coops, and I think it will be better if I just get all the Araucanas out of the main area with the older chickens.  Finn’s breeding all the pullets (which they encourage--they love him and hate Oriole), and the size difference could be a problem, not to mention I have no intention of propagating mixed breed chickens with the Araucanas.  Sparrow and Oriole seem to have integrated well, but Wren, Lark, and certainly Cicada have not.


Despite the relatively rough winter, most of the Araucana pullets are laying like crazy.  I usually get at least 3 eggs a day from the five pullets.  In the front coop, there is a greener egg (Hawk’s I think) and a bluer one with white speckles that I see more rarely.  In back there’s a much greener kind of stone-colored one and two blue-green ones.  I have hopes of being able to tell which egg comes from which hen when it comes time to set them.  I’ve been advertising table eggs locally to no avail.  My plan is to find a food pantry that will take fresh eggs.

Lark with the Sussex girls

Saturday, December 15, 2012

December 15, 2012

The mobile coop in front

It’s been a busy few months since the last post.  I left Bug and Cricket with Clucky and let nature take its course with them.  They did seem to recover by the time they were about a month old, but then at the beginning of November I came home from work to find no trace of Bug.  I hunted within the enclosure for any sign and came up empty.  My guess is that the Cooper’s hawk that I had started seeing around swooped in and carried him off--Bug was still small enough.  Hawks migrate in the fall, so this bird might have been a stranger--for whatever reason (roosting vultures, resident crows, the strings and flags around the coop, adequate cover for the chickens), I have had no problems at all with whatever raptors are around during the breeding season.  All the leaves had fallen by that point, so there was less cover for the chickens and they were starting to look nervously up at the sky.

With that in mind, the following weekend I took down the second length of electronetting to keep the chickens closer to the coop and in preparation for for the frozen ground and snow which have yet to materialize.  The halving of their space made it more imperative to trim down the flock.  I set up the mobile coop out in the front field and moved all the blue and black Araucanas--Kiwi, Raven, Dove, Hawk, and Magpie.  I decided to sell Kestrel, Raven, Dove, and Bunting and put them all on Craig’s List.

Bunting and Kestrel

Show beauty

At the Ohio National Poultry Show this fall I finally succeeded in my quest to see a show-quality Araucana.  This beautiful black pullet was the only one of her breed.  I stared and took pictures and she gazed regally at me.  Comparing her to my flock, it is apparent that a lot of my birds are too leggy and gamy looking.  It seems that Oriole and Hawk have the best body type of the first set.

Tall, skinny Kiwi


I have been diligently working on better understanding poultry color genetics in my spare time.  I’m making progress I think.  Oriole remains the biggest mystery, but when someone on the Backyard Chickens Araucana thread pointed out to me that he has spangles on his breast, I realized that he is almost certainly birchen (ER) based.  This fits with his down color and early patterning as well.  Crossing him with Lark who has recessive wild type coloration would reveal what else he may hide.  I think Wren may also be birchen based--she seems nearly brown red with some melanization and perhaps spangles as well, and she had a “helmeted” down pattern too.  So I really have three color groups:  blue/black/splash, birchen, and wild type.  I find myself dreaming of additional coops.....


Dove's little surprise

A week ago, a neighbor bought Raven, Dove, and Bunting to start a flock of blue egg layers.  Before they were picked up, I took some final pictures and discovered that Dove had a secret--a tiny single tuft.  I had been thinking she ought to go well with Kestrel--they both have some blue and her tail would balance out his short back.  Tufts would complete the package, but my neighbor preferred Raven and so off they went.


A few days later, I came home from work after dark in the rain to find Hawk missing.  I hunted around her enclosure and up in the evergreens nearby, but I found no sign.  I gave up and went to close up the back coop and there she was on the roost with the others!  I think she was spooked out of her run in front (although severely clipped on one wing, all the Araucanas in front can fly), spent the day in the yard, and when dusk fell went back to her original home to roost.  I left her there, and the next day she wandered around with no one to hang out with, already a stranger.  I put her back with Kiwi and Magpie the next night where she has remained.


The  main coop is strife-filled these days with all the different age groups and with Oriole and Kestrel chasing the girls, especially the little Araucana pullets who aren’t quite mature enough to find the boys attractive.  Finn, who I thought might be imposing enough to keep this behavior to a minimum has turned a blind eye, even when "his" older hens get ambushed.  Even though he and I have a tenuous relationship, I am appreciating even more how nice he is to his hens and how much they like him back.

Meanwhile, it has become apparent that Cicada and Cricket who remained with Clucky until yesterday at 12 weeks of age are both male.  I plan to keep Cicada, despite his being clean-faced and only partially rumpless because his body type is much more correct than some of the older Araucanas.  He also has been healthy and vigorous from the beginning and will be the only one I keep from this bloodline.

Cicada and Cricket

Cricket, although he seems healthy now, ended up being extremely runty.  After it became apparent that he was a boy, I have worried about his fate.  There is someone coming today who is interested in him for a pet, and might take Kestrel as well.  I hope it works out!

Monday, October 8, 2012

October 8, 2012

Cricket, Bug, and Cicada

Late in September, the new Araucana eggs hatched.  Of the eight I was sent, only three hatched--all of them black, and one with double tufts.  I’ve named them Bug, Cicada, and Cricket.  Clucky’s being a terrific mom, but even so, they’re struggling a bit with the suddenly cool, wet weather.

Both Bug and Cricket are trying to paste up.  Poopy butts can be a chronic problem in Araucanas because of the rumplessness trait and heavy fluff, but this young it probably indicates chilling or lack of vigor.  Clucky herself was afflicted with this when I received her after being shipped from New Mexico in November.  She recovered well although has remained smaller than the other Orps.  I could take the babies out and brood them under lights leaving Cicada (who is unaffected) with Clucky, but I think they’ll be better off remaining with her.

Cricket and Cicada

They all started out black, but after a week, Cicada is getting some rust color in his wings.  Even this early, I suspect he is male.  Cricket looks like he might have some blue in his coloring.  I was told that the potential fathers were blue and black and the hens were blue, black, and wild type, but I’m seeing from my first group that colors can vary wildly.


The first group is growing up.  Zen finally gave up motherhood last week, and at least two of the four males are crowing now at eleven weeks.  Both the tufted birds from this group, Kiwi and Oriole are male.  Oriole’s coloring is a constant mystery--he changes every week.  Looking at him now, I think he’ll end up being a sort of melanized golden duckwing with the straw color he’s developing spreading across his back.  He’s patchy now, but he’ll be striking in a month or two.  



I think I have to thin my flock down to 20 chickens total.  So that means 4 Araucanas will have to be sold.  Kestrel is on Craig’s List now, and I’m thinking hard about selling Bunting too.  She has nice form and her yellow legs are correct for her color, but I don’t have anyone white to breed her with.  If I put her with a willow-legged rooster, her daughters would have willow legs, but all her sons would have yellow.


I’ve been thinking hard about what I want to breed for.  Show quality birds must have two tufts, be rumpless, and be correct in color.  While I’m not that drawn to showing, a visit to the large Southern Ohio Poultry Association’s Fall Show last weekend yielded not a single Araucana.  It might be in the best interests of the breed to breed for shows and get them out there.  Meanwhile, since I have not one show quality bird among my original 11 (no one has two tufts, and only Raven is of a recognized color), I have been thinking about what I want to do for now.


They separate nicely into two groups on basis of color--I could have a wild type group and a blue/black/splash group.  But color shouldn’t be the first consideration at this stage.


I think Sparrow and Wren are my best two in terms of body type.  I think.  The main reason I’m even going to shows is to see what proper body type looks like in the flesh--so far to no avail.  These two pullets have nice solid bodies, a pretty expression, shorter legs, and no stray tail feathers.  As far as the boys go, I think Kiwi and Raven are too light and leggy and Oriole is too heavy.  I’m eager to see what they look like when they mature.  

Wren and Magpie


I’m also interested in breeding for good temperament.  I’m really tired of carrying a big stick and watching my back when in Finn’s presence, so if any of these new boys get an attitude, off they go.  This breed has a reputation for well-mannered roosters, so I’m hoping for the best.  Among the girls, Lark is still bold and friendly.  I also think she’s the most mature.  I caught her here in a private moment alone with Finn (who is in a heavy molt).  She may be disappointed when she eventually gets penned up with Oriole! 

Finn and Lark

Both Magpie and Hawk are extremely flighty, and I don’t want that either.  Dove is pretty shy too.  If I wanted to breed strictly for temperament, Kiwi and Lark would make the nicest pair.

Hawk and Dove

Vigor and health are very important to me too.  The first group are all excellent in that regard, but I’m keeping my eye on Cricket and Bug.  I remember Bucky being a sickly chick, and pulling through only to die suddenly and early.  

Another important breed trait is the blue eggs.  All the eggs in my first set were a sort of mint green, while those in the second set had more of a range.  I marked the second set individually and know that the bluest egg hatched and the two greenest eggs did not.  So I might have good egg color genetics in this second group.

So I have a lot to think about!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Sept. 3, 2012


At 6 weeks, the Araucana babies are all alive and thriving.  Gender is becoming apparent for some of them:  Kiwi and Raven are certainly male, and I think Oriole is too.  Some colors are obvious to me, but others aren’t.  The genetics behind the different colors is challenging too.  Five of them were striped as chicks which indicates they are wild type (e+) based, but they are all so different from each other that it’s still a puzzle.


Oriole and Wren 

Oriole, who started out with brick red and black down, is now feathered in a dark wild type pattern with a lighter pattern on his breast.  His light, patterned tuft contrasts nicely with his darker body.  His breeder has indicated that he was produced from a black x black-breasted red cross, so we shall see what he becomes.

Oriole at 3 weeks


Kestrel, who started out with dark stripes on a rufous background has turned beautifully golden.  The breeder says this one is black-breasted red, but I’m not so sure--the color looks more buff to me.  Unfortunately, Kestrel has several strikes against becoming a breeding bird, with his clean face, short back and yellow legs.

Kestrel and Bunting

The black chicks lingered on Craig’s List long enough for Jet and Onyx to start crowing.  I set them up with Ebony in the new mobile coop because they were starting to chase poor Coral and the older hens around.  It seemed there was always a commotion surrounding them, and after they were moved, things did quiet down a lot.

Ebony, Jet, and Onyx

They spent one day happily enough in their new quarters, showing off for the hens spending the day in the spa while I worked on the fence.  That evening, one by one, they flew over their fence to go back to the main coop.  Next time I try this, wings will be clipped!  By the next day all 4 were sold, destined to become urban chickens, crowing notwithstanding.  I offered to take them back if there were problems, but apparently all is well.

Meanwhile, Clucky has become broody once more, so at the risk of becoming truly overcrowded, I have ordered 6 more Araucana eggs from another bloodline to arrive this week.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

They're Here!

While we were waiting for the Araucanas to hatch, we did indeed fit the extra A-frame coop with wheel casters.

Not getting any safer!

A day early, the hatch began.  After reading at length about the perils of shipping eggs and poor Araucana hatches in general, I was really hoping at least 2 of the 22 eggs would hatch (to break the broodies and so each baby would have a sibling for company).

As usual with all things chicken, I have been lucky.  Eleven eggs hatched!  Of the ones that didn’t, about half seemed infertile based on sloshing sounds inside and the rest seemed to have died late in incubation, caused by the lethal tufted gene.  I didn’t have the stomach to open any up after the hatch, and I never candled them either during the incubation, preferring to let the hens do their thing undisturbed.

I have a rainbow of chicks!  I’ve spent all week working on sorting them all out and naming them.  I’m trying to hand tame them to the degree that the hens will let me.  I’m bribing them with dried meal worm treats which have been a big hit!

Kiwi here has come by his/her name honestly.  And despite the miserable pose, this chick is the one closest to the ideal, with a tiny tuft on each cheek and no tail.  Another chick, Oriole, has a single tuft, and they’re the only ones I think.  I only see one, Dove, with an obvious tail.

We’re not out of the woods yet.  After I had purchased the eggs, I found that Araucana chicks tend to be fragile, with some post-hatch mortality conferred by even one copy of the tufted gene.  They’re also highly prone to Marek’s disease, and apparently suffer from inbreeding depression from a limited gene pool.  My thoughts are to just treat them like I have all my other chicks and let the hens raise them with the flock.  Anything I raise here has to be able to thrive under my conditions.  They all seem quite vigorous so far.

While I sure didn’t plan on hatching 11, my plan is to keep them all until they get their mature feathering when I’ll know their genders and colors.  Then I’ll come up with a breeding plan.

Meanwhile, Goldi, then Clucky weaned the black chicks, so I posted them on Craig’s List today.  Jet, Onyx, and Ebony all ended up being boys, and Jet especially is masculine, chunky, and beautifully iridescent.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A New Direction

It’s been an eventful summer thus far.  Goldi and Clucky hatched out four beautiful black chicks in early June.  I had tried to only set the lavender Orpington eggs, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to see.  All the chicks thus far have resembled the mother rather than Finn, but I suspect (not knowing poultry color genetics well) black must hide under his mahogany speckled pattern to produce these babies.  One of them does have some lavender down.  They are named Coral, Ebony, Jet, and Onyx, but I confess to not being able to tell them apart.  The moms keep them so well under cover, I can barely get a glimpse of all four at once--its just like watching wild birds.  I think of them collectively as “The Blacks!”

Just a few days after they hatched out, I had to go out of town for a couple of nights.  Last year I was able to leave the compound door open whenever I was gone and all was well, so aside from recharging the fence battery and making sure everyone had enough food and water I wasn’t too concerned.  I came back to a disaster.  Dan and Puppis were outside the electric fence and Ann and Colter were missing.  Upon scouting around, I found plentiful raccoon scat inside the fence and also inside the coop right in the nestbox where these young birds still slept.  I found two small piles of feathers matching the missing birds in the wooded area of the run.  I found how the raccoon had gotten in--up a small sapling outside the run that now had a broken branch dangling inside.  And then I found that the grounding wire had come off the fence charger (probably when I replaced the battery) leaving the fence stone cold.  If I had tested the fence before I left, I would have caught it.  A hard lesson.

Dan and Puppis went happily back into the run when I opened the fence for them, so my main concern was that the raccoon might still be inside the fence invisible up in the thick canopy in the wooded section.  I checked carefully and made sure that I was out at dusk to catch him coming down.  I never saw him, but was faced with a new problem.  Dan and Puppis were frantically pacing the fence, thrusting themselves under Flicka (who raised them), peeping in their maturing voices, terrified.  I caught Dan as he prepared to launch himself over the fence, and meanwhile Puppis burst through the (uncharged, since I was inside) fence mesh and into the thick weeds.  I put Dan in the coop, and hunted for Puppis, but she was gone.  She didn’t return in the morning, and a few days later, I ran across a pile of her feathers too.  Dan continued to be frightened at dusk and it was a good week before he willingly entered the coop again at night.

That same night, I decided Goldi, Clucky, and the new chicks would be safer in the main coop than in the broody suite (with it’s unsecured next box lid).  As soon as it got dark, I moved them in, locked down the coop, and made sure the fence was smoking.  Lesson learned!

After he settled down, it became apparent that Dan was lonely.  I’ve seen that until maturity and beyond, chickens hang out with their age groups.  Without his siblings, Dan was really at loose ends.  The older hens wouldn’t have him, so he tried to join the moms and new babies.  They weren’t thrilled with him either, so he skulked around just beyond their reach.  He idled on Craig’s List until I was thinking I would have to offer him for free and then he would certainly be dinner.  Just a few days ago, I finally got an offer.  Dan got to go be the rooster and hawk guardian for 11 pullets his age.  He will be a king!  And he got to keep his name too since the buyer’s son’s name is Daniel!

As this summer’s record heat ramped up, Flicka went right back to broodiness followed promptly by Zen.  These two hens shared chicks successfully last year, so I didn’t hesitate to put them together, but with Dan lingering unsold and unloved I was getting concerned about the number of “mutt” chicks I was producing.  I’m still not comfortable raising boys destined to go straight to someone’s table, so I redoubled my effort to find local pure-bred hatching eggs.  I found some people who raise Buckeyes, but they were located in Dayton (quite a drive), and while Buckeyes are a nice breed, they don’t really “call” me.  Last year I had thought I would concentrate on Orpingtons--I really love my broody hatchery buffs, but the lavenders, who are much closer to the standard are really suffering in the heat in their fluffy layers.  And honestly, even when they’re comfortable, they do just sort of sit around.

So I bit the bullet, set up a Paypal account, and went hunting for hatching eggs online despite all the obvious perils (not to mention expense!) of shipping.  I found an ad for true Araucanas and that was it.  This breed is derived  from a combination of two Chilean chicken races.  In the US, they are ideally rumpless, ear-tufted, and lay blue eggs.  They come in only a few standard colors, but I soon found that it’s so hard to get rumpless birds with tufts (neither trait breeds absolutely true, and the tufted trait is lethal when inherited in two doses), breeding for color tends to be secondary with beautiful, unpredictable results.

I was smitten with this breed because it seems to be the closest thing to the rumpless birds I worked with at Hiram.  I’m not sure what breed those were--maybe just bantam Easter Eggers, but they were all colors of the chicken rainbow, bearded, muffed, rumpless of course, and laid colored eggs.  Araucanas will suit me now because they will be individually identifiable from a distance (without bands), they are reputed to be friendly, fearless, and inquisitive, they have normal feathering so they won’t bake in the summer, a small pea comb that won’t freeze in the winter, and fertility issues apart from the lethal gene limiting the hatch rate.  I still don’t want a large number of birds here, so if my broodies only hatch out a few at a time, that would be ideal.

So I placed my order and received 22 (!) eggs safely in the mail.  I slipped them under Flicka and Zen and now we wait.  They came without a guarantee of course.  Shipping eggs is always a risk, the weather has been brutally hot, and there are the issues specific to Araucanas.  I hope I get at least one though so the hens won’t have to go through another round.

This started out as a hunt only to find pure-bred eggs so I could more easily sell the chicks, but my wheels are really turning now as I count them, still unhatched.  I have an extra A-frame coop that I haven’t used as yet.  I have a vision of putting it on wheels and getting another string of fence and a charger.  I could probably keep about 4 Araucanas in there (they’re much smaller than my current chickens--the roosters mature at a pound lighter than little Belle) and move them around the yard.  I’ll keep my current mature chickens of course (“the Blacks” will be sold after they’re weaned--probably pretty readily since they carry lavender).  They’re my pets, and what a terrible thing it would be to sell them off now just when their productivity is waning, but I’m thinking that any new ones I add will be Araucanas.