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Posts Tagged ‘chickens’

Malone

Malone the giant rooster struts through grass.

Meet Malone, the free-range young rooster who has been hanging around at Bee Heaven. He is huge, and has big feet, a big appetite, and big poops. Originally his name was a slang word in Spanish that sounds like Malone, that means big — never mind.

Malone on a mission to seek out dry cat food, while Flash the cat drowses nearby.

Malone showed up several months ago, a refugee from South Miami, where roosters are not wanted. You can have fowl, but not foul mouth fowl. He hails from a farm in Jasper, Georgia, where he was bought as a tiny golden yellow fluffball chick an year ago. Surprise surprise, he quickly grew to ginormous proportions. Nobody knows what kind of breed he is.

Greyling the cat having a few words about Malone’s greedy ways.

Malone started hanging out near the farmhouse carport. He quickly discovered the gourmet delicacy of dried cat food meant for outdoor cats, and also learned the sound of pellets hitting metal bowls means yummy nom noms are served. He comes racing out of the bushes, making a dash for the dish. The cats step aside. After all, he outweighs them by a kilo or two. The only way the cats can eat is if their food is put out after dark, when Malone goes to sleep.

Nobody knows where he roosts. Malone roams around the farm, free as a bird. He started hanging out with Crazy Chicken, another free-range rooster, and they saunter around the farm, scratching for bugs and chatting up hens in the chicken tractors.

Malone and Crazy Chicken.

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A hen lays an egg every day.
True. Hens generally lay around the same time of day, usually in the morning. To get more technical, it takes about 25 hours for an egg to form and travel through the oviduct, causing the hen to lay her egg a little later each day. As the cycle progresses, she will skip a day (hens don’t lay eggs in the evening) and start a new cycle. A group of eggs laid during one cycle is called a “clutch.”

A hen will lay eggs all its life.
Maybe. A young hen, called a pullet, will start laying eggs at 6 months until its first moult. It will then resume laying eggs in the second year at 80% of its previous rate, then 60% of that year’s rate in the year after that. After 3 years, laying drops off. But a hen can keep laying eggs for several years after, just not every day. Older hens usually stop laying eggs, but some might keep laying an occasional egg.

A very big hen lays the big double yolk eggs.
False. A pullet, or young hen, that doesn’t have a regular laying cycle can occasionally lay double yolk eggs. That happens when ovulation happens inconsistently, and one yolk joins the next as the egg develops. (Some breeds will regularly lay double yolk eggs.) Of course, a double yolk egg is much larger than a normal sized egg. Sound painful? Not really. The egg comes out soft and its shell hardens in contact with air.

An old egg will float in water, but a fresh egg will sink.
True! A fresh egg will sink in a bowl of water, but as it gets older, it will start to stand up. A very old egg will float. Don’t eat that one! Inside the egg is a small air pocket at the blunt end. Eggshell is porous to air, and as the egg ages, more air will slowly seep in, and make the air pocket bigger.

The best place to store eggs in the refrigerator is on the door.
False! Keeping eggs in the refrigerator door is bad, because every time you open the door it changes temperature — hot, cold, hot, cold. Always store eggs in the carton with the pointy end down. To keep eggs fresh longer, find a spot for them on the shelf where the temperature is cool and consistent.

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White chickens lay white eggs, and brown chickens lay brown eggs.
Not true! The color of the egg is determined by the color of the hen’s ear lobe. White ear lobes indicate white eggs, and red or pink earlobes indicate brown, blue or green eggs, depending on the breed. Some brown breeds, like Rhode Island Red, will lay brown eggs, but other varieties of brown hens don’t. Cuckoo maran hens, which have black and white speckled feathers, lay dark brown eggs, with shells so dark in color they are called “chocolate” eggs.

So does that mean that green chickens lay green eggs?
Sort of. Araucana hens will lay green, blue, and pinkish beige eggs. They do not have green, blue or pink feathers. Look at their feet! Instead of white, yellow or gray, their feet are blue or green, ranging from pale to deep in color.

Speckled eggshells mean the hen was stressed.
Maybe. Certain breeds consistently lay speckled eggs. Or the dark brown speckles could be tiny flecks of blood that were deposited on the egg as it traveled through the oviduct. It just happens sometimes, no worries. The hen is ok and the egg is good to eat. If a hen is stressed, such as when she is moulting (seasonally shedding feathers) or getting henpecked (ever hear of pecking order? it’s real), she will stop laying eggs for a while.

Farm interns Donna and Jon pack eggs.

A blood speck next to the yolk of an egg means that the egg is fertilized.
Not true! It means that a little bit of blood got inside the shell as the yolk was developing. You can tell if an egg is fertilized only if you hold up the egg to light (candling) to see if an embryo is forming. The egg needs to be incubated in warmth (under the hen in a nest, or in an incubator) for the embryo to develop.

An orange yolk is more nutritious than a yellow yolk.
Mostly true. But, some breeds, like the araucana, lay eggs with a light colored yolk. A deep yellow or orange yolk egg generally comes from a pastured or free range hen, which has a chance to eat a variety of nutritious things, including plants and bugs. Marigolds have carotenoids which make egg yolk color darker. An orange yolked egg is not necessarily fresher than a lighter yolked egg.

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Jeepers, peepers!

Three day old baby chicks pecking at food.

A new batch of baby chicks arrived at Bee Heaven Farm this week. The little peepers  hatched last Monday and arrived in the mail on Thursday. Yes, baby chickens travel by mail! The post office called Farmer Margie at 6:30 in the morning to come pick them up. They were packed tightly in a cardboard box with lots of air holes. They kept each other warm with their own body heat while traveling. So far it looks like all survived the trip.

How baby chicks travel through the mail.

Farm interns Sadie and Mike immediately started holding and cuddling the baby chicks. There’s something about handling the little birds, or just watching them peep and run around, that’s mesmerizing. What’s not to love? They’re so cute and fluffy! The chicks will have no problem getting socialized with all the attention they’re getting.

Mike and Sadie playing with chicks.

Margie got two heritage breeds. The black chicks are cuckoo maran and the brown chipmunk-looking ones are welsummers. When they grow up to be 4 to 6 months old, the hens will lay chocolate (dark brown, that is) eggs. This week 25 chicks arrived, and next week 25 more are coming. Farmer Margie is getting that many birds to replace those killed by feral dogs this past season.

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Baby chicks grew up fast!

More pictures of the baby chicks as they grew up. They didn’t stay in the cute fluffy stage for very long, getting bigger and looking more bird-like with every passing week. At 31 days old, they were scooting around quickly, peeping almost incessantly. They were getting harder to catch and hold, too. The visiting camera scared them at first and they ran to huddle in the darkest corner of the chicken tractor for protection.

Most of the baby chicks huddled up safe in their corner of the tractor.

Anytime is feeding time when you’re a growing chick. Chicken feed is inside the red container.

At my visit one week later, I lifted the lid of the chicken tractor, and one chick flew up to the top of its water jug, startling me. At 38 days, the little birds can fly! They are looking leggier and more hen-like, with their little combs forming. Definitely at that awkward teenage stage, with their heads looking a little out of proportion to their more fully formed bodies. The growing birds are showing curiosity about the camera instead of running and hiding. Or maybe they just want more food!

One of the few pictures where a chick wasn’t a blur in motion.

Instead of timid, the chicks are curious about the glass eye spying on them through a hole in the tractor.

At the next photo session three weeks later, the little birds are much bigger at 59 days. There’s no mistaking looking at them that these are young chickens. Their combs have grown a bit. There’s not as much racing about going on, either, and their voices changed from peeping to something a bit deeper.

The white birds are Leghorns, the brown blur is a Rhode Island Red, and the other dark one is a mystery breed.

Getting the eye from the young leghorns.

At the most recent visit, my bird friends are 108 days old, or four and a half months. Farmer Margie calls them the “young ladies.” They certainly look all grown up, with their combs and wattles. They strolled about instead of racing and peeping, and they speak like hens, buk buk buk. The big brown one definitely looks and acts like a young rooster, coming front and center to see what the visiting glass eye is up to. He also has a spike feather in his tail, a sure indicator that he is a he. The young rooster isn’t crowing yet that I could tell, but that will come soon. The hens will start laying eggs in a few weeks. Yup, the kids are almost all grown up!

Gathering for the family portrait.

Egg color is linked to the color of the earlobe. Yes, chickens have earlobes, located just behind the eye. Brown lobe, brown egg. White lobe, white egg.

See the spike feather in the brown bird’s tail? That’s a pretty good sign that he might be a rooster.

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Feral dogs worked open this latch and managed to get inside the chicken tractor.

Last week Farmer Margie told me that feral dogs came on her property again and killed several chickens. Margie had heard her own dogs barking in the middle of the night, got up and went to investigate. She discovered that a chicken tractor closest to the road had been broken into by feral dogs. Four hens lay dead. The big golden rooster known as Fancypants (Margie’s daughter Rachel named him) was injured but survived.

There have been several chicken kills at Bee Heaven over the last three or four years due to feral dogs. They come at night through gaps in the fence, looking for something to eat — or kill. They smell chickens and are big and strong enough to somehow break in to the tractors, the portable metal coops that the chickens live in.  Several dozen chickens so far have been killed by feral dogs.

Bloody pawprints on the top of the chicken tractor.

The worst killing happened on January 16, 2009. Two large dogs (you could tell by the bloody paw prints) broke in to three chicken tractors and decimated about two dozen birds. Feathers and blood and torn chicken parts lay scattered in the front yard. Margie lost good birds that night: Goliath (that was my name for him), the large gentle Cuckoo Maran rooster, and Henita, the little black hen with black shiny feathers.

Feral dogs are the biggest reason why egg production is way down for the second season. There just aren’t enough hens at Bee Heaven to meet the demand for eggs. And it takes some time for baby chicks to grow up and start laying.

Feral dogs are also a huge, ongoing problem in Redland. I’ve heard stories about dogs killing chickens at other farms. At least one dog was spotted with a chicken in its mouth. It got shot. End of problem? Not really.

These feathers are all that’s left of a chicken killed by dogs.

The problem continues as long as people keep dumping their unwanted dogs in farm country. What are they thinking when they do that? That someone will magically take in and care for the now-discarded family member? Not likely, and dogs go feral and become hard to catch. They run in the night killing chickens and other animals to survive. Is this what the owners want for their once beloved pets?

Read Margie’s post Requiem for a rooster at Bee Heaven Farm’s blog.

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Baby chicks: day 16

Sneaking a peek through a hole in the chicken tractor. Chicken food is in the red tray.

The little chicks are growing fast. On my next visit, they were sporting wing and tail feathers. They actually look like little birds now, and a lot less fluffy. They scurry around a lot, very quickly, almost too fast to be photographed without flash.They also still peep a lot, constantly.

Hurrying back to the sleeping box to hide.

When my camera, that glass-eyed cyclops, drops in to visit them in their tractor, they promptly hurry to the relative safety of their sleeping box. They are getting “hoppy” and can jump up to the top of their large water bottle. Have to be careful when I open the lid to the tractor, so a chick doesn’t hop right out and scurry away.

A bird in the hand…

Baby chicks need a lot of petting to get them socialized. That’s a fun job, which I like to do.

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