Thursday, June 16, 2011

Chicken Hunt!

No, it’s not something like a snipe hunt. 8-) Rather, we went looking for some new chickens over the weekend! And found some!

At the Station, we have quite a few cluckers. But over time, the numbers have dwindled a bit. Chickens can die for many reasons, including predators (Red-tailed Hawks, Weasels, Foxes, or Raccoons), old age, or simply dying for no apparent reason. Chickens aren’t all that bright, & sometimes they’ll sleep on top of each other, which occasionally smothers the bird on the bottom. Unfortunately, that means that sometimes we’ll walk out & find that one of our special birds has literally bit the dust. Due to this “sudden unexplained death” issue, we've had to learn not to get too attached to a chicken.

We lost our last rooster a couple of months ago. Pavarotti could crow like nobody’s business! His crow was substantial, several ululations long & wonderful to hear. Obviously, with such a marvelous crow, “Pavarotti” was the only suitable name! He was a Black-breasted Red Phoenix rooster like this one, not very big, but the spikes on his ankles were INTIMIDATING! As a 4H display rooster, his tail was once over 3 feet long, altho it shortened during his life in the henhouse. A Phoenix is one of the “fighting” breeds that were bred by Chinese emperors, but Pav had been raised by a young man in 4H, so he was gentle with us & with the kids who visited the Station. He loved to be held & petted, & died of peaceful old age. He joins Dinner, our departed Brahma rooster, & Romeo, our departed Silkie rooster, in our hearts & memories.

Most hens prefer to have at least one rooster around. Not only do they father chicks, but most roosters will die to defend their hens. We decided to go to a bird & small animal swap last Saturday, sponsored by the Michigan Bird & Game Breeders Association. This group usually sponsors excellent swaps & sales. If you’ve never been to such a sale, it’s definitely something to see! You get to see the absolute BEGINNING of the food chain, down to day-old chicks or even fertilized eggs! On this visit, we saw a variety of birds, from canaries to turkeys to geese to rare Chinese Golden Pheasants. We also saw rabbits, goats, lambs, alpaca, ferrets, chinchilla, & small dogs. Something for everybody!

We were specifically looking for Brahma chickens, which are large, gentle, & wonderful to have in a henhouse. Brahma roosters are both huge & mellow, like the one in the pic. My previous rooster, Dinner, was a gentle giant in our henhouse until a predator invaded. Dinner died defending his hens. Since then, we have tried to purchase more Brahmas, with no success. Fortunately, our “Brahma drought” ended on Saturday when we found a Brahma breeder at the sale & were able to purchase 5 younglings! Altho it is difficult to tell a chicken’s sex until they are a bit older, we hope we have gotten 2 cockerels (young roosters) & 3 pullets (young hens).

We also found 3 Cochins, such as those shown in this pic. Cochins are another Oriental breed that is known for its gentleness. One thing you might not know is that there are some Chicken breeds that have feathered feet. For the most part, the feather-footed breeds tend to be larger & gentler. Both Brahmas and Cochins are feather-footed. Cochins look like big, round, fluffy balls of feathers. Brahmas look like the bigger, “ripped” older brothers & sisters of the Cochins. Although mellow birds, Brahmas are the enforcers, due to their large size. Cochins are the gentle younger siblings.

There is also a type of chicken called a frizzle, seen here. For want of a better description, frizzles look as if their feathers were put on backward. Instead of curving close to their bodies, a frizzle’s feathers curve out & away. I suspect it originally appeared as a defect in chicken coops, & occasionally shows up in chicks bred from non-frizzle hens. But, as is often the case with unusual things, an enterprising farmer or two decided to breed their chickens specifically for the frizzle appearance. Now, frizzles are quite commonplace in chickendom. Once we were assured that being a frizzle IS NOT painful to the chicken, we purchased 2 Cochin frizzles to add to our flock. We also purchased a couple of Americauna hens, who lay colored eggs (they’re called Easter Eggers).

Finally, we decided to add one adult rooster to our flock, since our Brahmas are juveniles. He is a Salmon Faverolle rooster, like the one shown here. We have named him "Magnum" after Thomas Magnum, PI (e.g., Tom Selleck). Magnum is tall & handsome, & the hens seem to be quite happy with his presence. We are hoping that Magnum will provide stability to our flock. Since the Brahma cockerels are still growing up, they will most likely not challenge Magnum when they are older.

Altho I would certainly be happy with a chicken coop full of Brahmas & Cochins, my sis likes to add a bit of variety to the Station’s flock. So we also have Black Astralorps, Silver-Laced Wyandottes, and Buff Orpingtons. In the past, we had crested Polish, Sultans, Marans, and other breeds. There is a tremendous variety in chickendom, with the result being that someone interested in having a couple of chickens can find pretty much whatever they want.

If you decide to have chickens and your zoning allows, I suggest adding a rooster to your coop. He will keep your hens happier, & there is nothing like hearing the crow of your rooster while you’re working outside during the day. One warning: roosters don’t just crow in the morning – they crow all day long, stopping only when the sun goes down. So if you’re not prepared for that (or your neighbors aren’t), you should probably only keep hens.

Keeping chickens is a bit of work, but it is also great fun to watch the chickens in the yard as they peck for bugs & give themselves dust baths. It may be something that you might consider if your zoning allows it!

For more information on specific chicken breeds, this is the best website I’ve ever found. I’ve consulted this site countless times when making decisions about breed selection, care, or medical needs: 

Thanks to for the awesome pix in today's post!!!

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