Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Little Hen Who Crowed

27 Aug 2011: 3-month-old Prudence?  No, make that Percival!

Three months ago we purchased a dozen of the cutest little 3-day-old chicks.  We chose our brood from among those that were guaranteed to be females only, because Ed knew he didn't want a rooster.  We were only interested in eventually eating the chickens' eggs, not producing more hordes of little chicks.

Somewhere along the way, though, Ed noticed that Prudence's little budding comb was rather larger than her sister Priscilla's.  He suspected Prudence might actually be a Percy, so we watched and waited.  Nine days ago Ed and his mother left for Colorado.  The very next morning, Dylan and I heard several very loud and determined "Cockadoodle-doos" from the backyard!

Exit Prudence.  Enter Percy.  You can see for yourself the difference between Percy (above) and his sister Priscilla in the photo below:

27 Aug 2011: 3-month-old Barred Plymouth Rock, Priscilla

No big red comb and wattles, and no crowing from Miss Prissy!  At first, Ed planned for Percy to end up in the crock pot after he returns from this trip.  However, I did some Internet research and Ed talked to his friend Jerry in Oregon (who has experience raising chickens), and we both learned that fertilized eggs are no different than unfertilized as long as they are collected daily and immediately refrigerated.  We also discovered that hens who have a rooster tend to be happier, calmer, and better layers than those who don't.  It looks like Percy got a reprieve! 

27 Aug 2011: Miss Prissy still likes to jump up on my lap!

Until Ed left on this trip, I hadn't spent much time with the chickens lately.  Going back to school soaked up most of my free time.  For the last nine days, though, the chickens and I have been spending a lot of time together as Dylan and I have taken over their care.  I've found that Miss Priss is still the dominant personality among the hens, and still the most tame, but she's an awful lot heavier on my lap than she used to be!

27 Aug 2011: All 12 of our 3-month-old chickens out in their yard.

A few weeks ago, Ed completed the chicken yard he added on to the hen house, and the chickens love getting to go outside everyday.  It's fun to watch their different personalities as they vie for food, search for bugs, and establish their pecking order.  Yep, there really is such a thing! 

Percy, of course, is at the top of the pecking order list.  He's very new at this, yet he seems to know instinctively how to manage his flock.  Any lady who gets out of line gets a reminder peck on the head.  If she tries to ignore him, he grabs the front of her face in his beak and holds on for a few seconds while she flaps and squawks as if she's being beaten.  You better believe she follows directions after he lets go!  He is very protective and ushers his ladies right into the chicken house at nightfall, as well as any time he feels danger is nearby.  Dylan has had his feet attacked by an agitated rooster a few times when he entered the hen house after dark! 

27 Aug 2011: Five escapees

Yesterday, when I went out to the hen house to take these pictures, I had an unexpected adventure.  I had left the door to the hen house open wide so I'd have some sunlight for my camera, when one of the hens slipped past me.  As I turned to coax her back in, another got out.  While I tried to herd them back toward the door, two more escaped.  Before I knew it, I was chasing down five escapees!

It was tricky because I was alone.  Not only was Ed gone, but Dylan was away at an overnight campout with the Scouts.  Luckily, the hens don't go too far and they tend to stay in a group unless you spook them.  They just wanted to explore the new grounds, looking for more goodies on the ground to gobble up.  Eventually I rounded them up and got them safely back in their enclosure.  Meanwhile, Percy had been pacing back and force inside the pen, eyeing his escaped ladies anxiously and muttering loudly.

27 Aug 2011: 3-month-old Easter Egger, Buffy

Thanks to the birds' escapism, I wasn't able to get individual shots of all the birds, but here are a few that I got before I gave up.  Percy and Prissy are both Barred Plymouth Rocks.  Buffy, in the above picture, is one of our six Easter Eggers.  She would be the Number Two hen in dominance, just behind Prissy in the pecking order.

27 Aug 2011: 3-month-old Easter Egger, Maybelline

It's funny that the chicks I had the hardest time telling apart were the Easter Eggers, because now that they are young adults they are the easiest to tell apart.  I had read that, due to their breed being unregulated, they vary wildly in colors and features, which turns out to be totally true.  Maybelline (above) has earned the nickname "Baldy" from Dylan because...

Maybelline likes to imitate a bald eagle! 

27 Aug 2011: 3-month-old Easter Egger, Nadia

27 Aug 2011: 3-month-old Easter Egger, Cocoa

27 Aug 2011: 3-month-old Black Australorp, Crysta or Sally

Of all twelve chickens, in fact, there are only two I cannot tell apart at this time.  We used to be able to tell our Black Australorps, Crysta and Sally, apart by the markings on their faces.  However, as they've matured, the black spots on their faces have blended into identically smooth, black cheeks and I haven't been able to figure out which is which for several weeks.

27 Aug 2011: On the left is an Easter Egger, Kate,
and on the right is a Silver Laced Wyandotte, Gonzo. 

Our most unusual-looking chicken would be Gonzo, one of our two Silver Laced Wyandottes.  Her sister, Lacey, is beautiful with a sweet, petite face.  Gonzo, you may recall, was given her name by my daughter Sarah, who was intrigued by Gonzo's funny little twisted face.  The name Gonzo came from an odd little Muppet character who had a long, twisted beak, and it seemed to fit our odd little chick.

As Gonzo has grown, her deformity has increased.  Her little comb has contorted to one side, one eye is lower than the other, and her upper beak has twisted so far to her right that it doesn't even close on the lower beak (which seems to be fairly normal and straight), meaning she cannot ever close her mouth.  If you click on the picture above, you can see her sad little face pretty clearly.

Ed tells me that normally a disfigured chicken like Gonzo would be seen as a threat to the flock and would be pecked to death by the others.  Somehow, though, Gonzo has managed to hold her own with her peers and is accepted by them.  I think it's a miracle that she has even survived.  With two halves of a beak that do not meet along the edges at all, I marvel that she can pick up the tiny bits of feed crumbles and scratch feed that make up most of the birds' diet.  Yet Gonzo manages to grow at the same rate as the other chickens and is by no means the smallest bird in our hen house.

27 Aug 2011: 3-month-old Silver Laced Wyandotte, Gonzo

As odd as her distorted little face is to behold, there is also something very beautiful about Gonzo.  I guess you could call it "True Grit," that determination and grace under pressure, her refusal to quit.  And, as you can see in her pictures, Gonzo has the most lovely green sheen to her black tail feathers, a trait that even her pretty sister Lacey does not possess!

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