It’s a bird, it’s a plane….it’s Captain Chickenman!

Chickens are threatened every single day by predators of all sorts. It is your responsibility to  become their hero and make sure you protect them from a gruesome death. You must become Captain Chickenman!

Fortunately for you, I am an expert on being a chicken superhero. I have decided to share my knowledge with you in order to protect the greater good of the chicken world.

First we must focus on predator identification. There are quite a few predators that would love to sink their teeth, claws or talons into your birds. Before taking any preventative measures you need to know what danger is out there. Depending on your geographical location, you may be facing one or all of the following predators:

  1. Dogs: Dogs definately love to go after chickens. Domestic dogs usually kill aimlessly or even accidentally. A chicken who has been killed by a dog will have been mauled, left with a broken neck and nothing will have been eaten. The bird will usually be left where it has been killed. When the bird stops struggling, it usually means game over for the dog. This is common almost everywhere. Check out this recent article from The Sudbury Star titled Owner fears for her chickens.
  2. Foxes: Foxes are sly and will stake out a chicken coop for weeks before making their strike. They are also quite good at what they do. They can dig like a dog and climb almost as well as a cat, getting over fences you never thought they could. When foxes get into coops they usually clean house. As the chickens get worked up, so does the fox. The result is that every bird the fox can get to will usually be killed. The fox will take as many birds as itcan and take them with it.
  3. Coyotes: The coyote is a chicken predator that will find a way into your coop a lot like the fox, although they aren’t as good at climbing. They will more likely tunnel under the coop. It is hard to tell the difference between a fox and coyote attack but how they gained access may be a clue. The deaths are similar though, chickens are missing, necks are broken and feathers are scattered.
  4. Raccoons: These masked bandits are sly chicken predators. With the added gift of an opposable thumb, they can be quite the burglar. They can often figure out latches and door openings. If a raccoon gains entry it will probably kill multiple birds. Most of the time you will still find their bodies in the coop because the raccoon will have trouble carrying them out. It will usually kill by ripping into the chicken’s neck. Raccoons are also good at stealing eggs.
  5. Large Birds: Considering chickens don’t often look up when searching for danger, large birds often have a high kill ratio, when they do decide to attack chickens. Large birds normally stake out the best opportunities to launch their attack. Most attacks happen during the day when the chickens are free-ranging as opposed to much other attacks which happen at night. An attack by a large bird will look different than other predator attacks. Some birds will be missing and others will look cut up, as if they were cut with a knife, since large birds have sharp beaks and talons.
  6. Bears: Bears can tear into small wood structures such as chicken coops and will get as many chickens as possible. Bears are looking for a quick meal. Chickens themselves do not attract bears but things like easily accessible  garbage and chicken feed does attract them. Once the bears get this close to the coop most will just take the birds too. They are not as sly as foxes, they break in obviously and take what they want. Since they are heavy, you should be able to see footprints.
  7. Skunks: Skunks are more of an annoyance than chicken predators. They will go after baby chickens and eggs but will rarely attack an adult bird. They are usually nocturnal and have very poor eyesight. If they gain access to the coop they will go after the eggs first. If they do get to a bird, it will have its neck opened up and the head will be eaten.

These are some of the most common predators that  pose the largest threat to your flock. I’ll let you study these descriptions for a while and next week I will give you the details on how to defend yourself against these vile creatures.

Take care fellow chicken heroes, remember the future of your chickens rests on your shoulders!

So you want to keep chickens…

April hanging out in the backyard.

A lot of people these days are concerned with the amount of chemicals that go into their food. More and more people have started to grow their own vegetables, so the next logical step seems to keep two or three hens in your backyard.

You will soon learn that it is surprisingly easy and very pleasurable to keep chickens. It is becoming increasingly popular, probably  because hens make such charismatic and endearing family pets. It is a hobby that children can easily become involved in. You can also be safe in the knowledge that hens are not unhygienic. On the contrary, they will spend hours cleaning themselves.

As you get to know your chickens you will soon discover that each one has an individual personality or characteristic. At the end of a hectic day there is nothing more relaxing than to stand and watch your chickens strutting around the backyard, fending for themselves.

Before you go out and buy your first hens you will need to be aware that you must devote a certain amount of time each day into looking after them, just as you would with a dog or cat.

Rose hanging out in the backyard.You will need to consider where you are going to keep them, whether you have a friend or relative who will feed them when you are away, and how secure the site is against foxes, raccoons and other predators. Even if you live in the middle of a city this is still a major consideration as there are a surprisingly high number of urban predators these days. I must also note that there are certain city by-laws that prevent people from owning chickens (I have had no trouble to date).

Your neighbors will be another consideration because there is no point in causing unnecessary trouble if they are adamant they do not want to live next door to any livestock.  You can always entice your neighbors by offering them some fresh eggs every now and then.

Your hens will soon pay for themselves. For example, if you have three hens you can expect them to lay as many as 600 eggs a year – they will be large, extremely fresh and would have cost far more to buy.

Bernie (Alex's dad) loves his chickens!

Beginners always ask how much space a chicken requires. The rule of thumb is to allow 4 square feet inside the coop for each chicken and 10 square feet outside. Always allow your chickens to roam freely if you can, provided you have a safely fenced-off yard. Hens usually like to stay fairly close to their coop and as long as you provide them with regular food and water they shouldn’t look to wander.

If you are considering keeping chickens, here are couple books that can help you decide:

Gallus Gallus Domesticus

Most of us, when we think of chickens, picture the farmer’s wife (or in my case, the boyfriend’s mom) taking out her kitchen scraps to a few hens pecking around the yard. As of now, I had never thought much of the history of chickens so I decided to do a little research. Here is what I discovered.

Red Jungle Fowl (Gallus gallus)

The domestic chicken evolved from the Red Jungle Fowl (Gallus gallus) of southern and southeastern Asia. These jungle fowl lived in flocks which had a dominant male and a definite pecking order. Our domestic chickens have many things in common with their distant relatives.

For a long time the main reason for keeping or breeding chickens was for fighting. The original farm hens were dual purpose, being bred for both their laying and meat qualities. Gradually, through selective breeding, these characteristics were developed separately.

Little by little other breeds were introduced from Europe and from the East. Some of the best breeds were produced in North America around the turn of the 20th century, perhaps the most notable being the Rhode Island Red and the Leghorn.

After World War I, many ex-servicemen started their own poultry farms as the demand for fresh food increased. These were always free-range and it was quite common to see large fields filled with grazing hens. As demand increased, more intensive methods were developed. In the 1950s and 1960s, the preferred method was deep-litter, where many hens were housed together indoors on bedding of straw or shavings.

This progressed in the late 1960s and 1970s to the system we have today – the intensive battery farming. This is where hens spend their lives -one laying season-

Standard Battery House

in tiny cages being denied the pleasure of foraging for their own food or experiencing any daylight.

In recent years there has been a lot of negative reaction towards this method of keeping chickens, and we are again seeing a resurgence of part-time farmers and smallholders who keep chickens for their eggs, meat and quite simply for their own pleasure. Hopefully, one day consumers will give preference to free-range over the desire to buy cheap produce.

Now let’s hear from you. Would you consider purchasing free-range eggs and other poultry products although they are more expensive?

Back In Business

Rose in the coop after laying her egg. Notice the egg on the top shelf.

This morning, Alex and I woke up to the sound of a chicken squawking. We thought something was wrong so Alex ran out in his boxers and noticed that Rose AKA “Ugly” was making all the noise. Everything seemed fine though, and all the other chickens were worm hunting around the yard so we thought nothing of it.

Later on around the kitchen table, we noticed Rose had gone into the coop alone. That’s when it clicked: “I bet she’s going to lay an egg!”

We waited while she did her thing, then Alex ran out to pick up the egg.

It was smaller than it used to be, but that’s to be expected. We broke out the frying pan, cracked the egg and made ourselves a mini sunny side up breakfast snack. Delicious!

Hurray! Our hens are back in business!

Rock-a-doodle!

This post is entirely dedicated to the most colourful and entertaining creatures on the farm — roosters!

When I was young, I remember watching the movie Rock-A-Doodle (except it was in french, and called Rock-O-Rico). I would watch it over and over again because I found it so entertaining. Flash forward about 15 years and here I am staring at actual roosters for hours because I find them so entertaining!

In the avian world, males are always the more “showy” ones. They dance, they sing and they show off their beauty. For example, the male pheasant is so beautifully adorned with all colours of the rainbow whereas the females are very monochromatic. Or take the birds of paradise; the males are known for their dazzling plumage and their elaborate courtship dances.

Roosters are really amazing birds. They are known for their brilliant wake-up calls but many are unaware that roosters sing all throughout the day. Their song varies on the size of the bird and also on the level of dominance of the bird. The more dominant the bird, the louder their cock-a-doodle-doo!

Since we are located in the middle of the city, surrounded by neighbours, we are unable to keep roosters. Throughout our experience raising chickens, we have had two roosters. It is very hard to determine the gender of a chicken when they are young, therefore we were unaware that they were roosters until one day they began to sing. First, there was Ruby, who later turned out to be Ruben. Next there was Molly, who turned out to be Cosmo. It was sad to have to give them up, but they went on to our friend’s farm and had the opportunity to live a happy, song-filled life.

I will now leave you with our friend’s big rooster named Kellogg!

Meet The Flockers

Without further delay, I’d like to introduce you to the family.

April AKA “La Grosse Grise”

April has been around from the start. She was born in April (haha) 2009, and came to live with us in June of that same year. April is a Barred Rock laying hen and she has quite the personality. She can be stubborn, but when she feels like it, she can perform tricks and is very friendly.

Rose AKA “Ugly”

Rose is a newer addition to the family. We received Rose in May 2010, from Anzil’s English Setters, located in Hanmer. Rose is either a Lavender Cochin hen or a Cochin/Faverolle mix. She is the reason why we have little baby chicks. In July, we noticed that she was constantly brooding over her unfertilized eggs so we decided to go back to  Anzil’s and get nine fertilized eggs. We switched them with the unfertilized eggs and about 30 days later they began to hatch.

The Chicks

Here are our babies. All nine hatched, which was unexpected. We have a mix of Golden Silkies, White Silkies, and Golden Laced Polish chickens. It’s too early to tell which are female and which are male. We plan on keeping them all through the winter but eventually the roosters are going to have to find a new home. We have a few prospects; a couple of our friends have farms or land. Until then, we will enjoy their cuteness!

Breaking News: The Seagull Has Landed!

Last night as I was leaving work, I noticed a bird under my co-worker’s car. I realized it had an injured wing and wasn’t able to fly so I decided to pick it up and bring it home. I had to drive with one hand on the wheel and one hand holding the bird. I think my co-workers thought I was crazy.

The seagull is now living in my boyfriend’s garage. We named him Bridget (yes, a boy named Bridget) and we fed him steak, a tortilla, crackers and some lettuce.

Now I know there aren’t any benefits to owning a seagull, but hopefully he’ll get better and be able to join his seagull friends soon. If not, I might try to introduce him to the chickens.

Does anyone know anything about rehabilitating a seagull?

UPDATE:  Only 12 hours after being rescued, Bridget sadly passed away. Hopefully his last night on earth was comfortable. He will be missed.

UPDATE: Upon further review, Bridget was a pigeon, not a seagull. Thanks Shelby!

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