We have chickens. Many, many chickens. And among them wander quite a few roosters. Some are magnificent and really are looking out for their girls – others are loud little punks and rather annoying.
For one, they are loud. Like four a clock in the morning loud. That is when the competition starts: Who can “cock-a-doodle-doo” the best. By the way, German roosters “kikeriki”, but they are just as loud as their American brothers.
For two, as they get older, some of those boys decide that the humans, big and small, are an obvious threat and must be dealt with. Roosters are dirty fighters. Often, they run up from behind, jump and grab a leg (or any other body part they can reach) and pound both of their legs really hard. That hurts. If the bird is big enough to have grown spurs, it not only hurts, but blood becomes part of that equation.
A rooster who has become aggressive is quickly retired to freezer camp in our house. Or he goes directly to the soup pot. We have little people, also know as grandsons, visiting on a regular basis and roosters can be dangerous and inflict real damage. Think little eyes at pecking level – not a good thing.
So, yes, getting a rooster from running in the yard to swimming in the soup pot requires what we, in our genteel city farmer’s way, call “harvesting”. That doesn’t make me feel like a killer at all. It makes me feel like a responsible chicken owner who has allowed a grown lady chicken to fulfill her natural instinct of sitting on a nest and hatching out adorable little chicks. Usually, half of all eggs being incubated, be it by mommy hen or a brooder of sorts, end up being boys. The egg and chicken industrial complex deals with those little boys swiftly and in a not very human way (I don’t want to get into right now). Let it be sufficient to say that they are not getting to be 2 days old.
In our urban farm, we allow mommy to raise those chicks. We help of course, but for the first 6 weeks, mama hen does most of the heavy lifting of baby care. At the 6 week point, things change rapidly, but that is another story. Did I mention that we allow mommy to brood and raise her chicks? What I really meant is that in the past, a couple of hens decided to hide from us to reappear after 3 weeks with their babies in tow.
One of those hens is Rocky. She is either amazing or crazy, or, like so many, a little bit of both. In Spring of 2016, she had disappeared for the first time and I finally found her with 17 baby chicks. When a hen is broody, she barely eats and drinks. She sits on that nest to keep those eggs warm. Usually, the hen will get off the nest only once a day for a short time to seek some water and food and to eliminate. As you can imagine, that 3 week fast is hard on the hen’s body.
Rocky is one of our chickens we can’t keep in the enclosed chicken area, no matter what we do. And some of her babies took on that trait. Now, we have the majority of the flock living in a fairly big enclosure, with trees, deep mulching,and compost piles to play in; and we have a few which roam the yard. Some go back and forth. To our dismay, they usually come out of their chicken yard to seek a hidden spot to lay their eggs. Yup, we have egg hunts on a regular basis. Usually, we find their nests, pick up the eggs and leave one behind to encourage them to come back to the same spot – easier for us.
That works well for the most part, but in July, Rocky hid out again and showed up with 8 little chicks. This time, she was much more willing to let me help and the 8 turned out quite tame and are now the first flock of a friend of mine. In the meantime, the gang of 17 has grown up and some of the girls stepped into their moms bad habit of laying their eggs in the yard instead of their nice nesting boxes. I have been finding clutches of sometimes up to 20 cute little eggs.
Lately, we have had regular visits of two kind of hawks which made everybody scatter and hide under bushes and trees. So, I didn’t think much about not seeing that many chickens running around. Until I noticed Rocky showing up in the afternoon displaying all the broody hen behaviors. Did I mention that she must be crazy? This is the third time this year! When I see her, I run to give her some extra special treats like meal worms or a cooked egg. I also make sure that fresh water is available and other food for her to fill up on. She is sneaky and I am busy, so I couldn’t watch her to find her nest.
A couple of days ago, my husband was home and we went on nest hunt together. Rocky was out eating and we found a clutch of 25, yes, 25 eggs under a particularly nasty black berry bush. We were sure we had found her nest and were very surprised when we saw Rocky wander off into a different direction. Anyways, I was happy that she had led us to her nest so I can stop by and offer her at least water on the very hot days we are having.
Back to the 25 eggs. We apparently just stumbled upon one of the laying places of those renegade hens. The egg picker came in handy to retrieve them without getting ripped up by horrible Blackberry thorns. It is really a trash removing tool, but works very well to retrieve eggs from hard to get to areas – which, of course, are the favorite egg laying spaces.
When I find random eggs, I always put them in the fridge and then crack them one at a time – preferably outside. The term “rotten egg” in our lingo to describe something/body highly undesirable is not a coincidence. If you ever have smelled a rotten egg, you know why I am cracking them outside.
One egg was marked and left in the nest to entice the hen(s) to come back to a nest we know the location off. Sure enough, my husband saw one of the gang of 17 go back in that spot that evening.
In the middle of the night, I woke up with a start and suddenly felt almost sure that that little girl my husband saw had also been broody and we had just robbed her of all her babies. First thing in the morning, I broke open one of the eggs. Sure enough, there was a little chicken embryo. I had just ended 25 potential little chicken lives. And that did make me feel like a killer.
If you like to find out more about the going ons at Marianne and Jenise’s homesteads, you might enjoy listening to the fall update podcast
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