Tuesday, September 17, 2013

# 473 - Oh Where or Where is My Chicken?

This past May, we moved to our acreage in the country. We brought our six backyard chickens with us to the country. Yes, we had lived in the Greater Houston area and had chickens in our city backyard for over three years.

However, we had adopted two chicks a couple of Easters ago, after we rescued them from doomed lives as discarded pet Easter chicks.

We took them in after a family friend found the duo wandering into their garage.

And after we made the big move to the country, many locals told us that our chickens would not last the first week as free-ranging chickens in this area of the Big Thicket.

For almost four months, our chickens have happily survived living free. They seem to be defying the odds that the locals warned us would occur with their imminent demise.

Perhaps they've lasted this long because the chickens mainly stay near the home-site which is also the same territory that belongs to our two large dogs.

So, all my hens have been doing great for the past few months. They are healthy gals. We let them out of the coop in the early morning and they put themselves back up at night for us to lock the door behind them.

However, this past week, one of the rescued Easter chicks suddenly disappeared. No sign of her being kidnapped or being torn to shreds in this area, but she is gone.

My great-laying hen that has disappeared.

I was sad, especially to not know what happened to her --- I figure a predator of some sort was able to whisk her away. The mental images I have explored regarding her disappearance has not been pretty.

Hawk? Really big snake? Fox? Raccoon? Stray dog?

And then, two days ago, Sgt. Dave was working near the RV-Future Home-Site and he is standing near a piece of property adjoining our land that has just been cut to harvest and bale hay, and there, on the other side of our forested land was a Coyote. Soon, it dashed toward the other side of our acreage.

Our chickens scratching for goodies in the woods next to
the home-site.

I don't like Coyotes.

Mostly, I worry that any predator might think this land is similar to a MacDonald's drive-through and will make a return visit for more chicken goodness. We will have to see how this year goes with our chickens. If there are too many issues with letting the chickens free-range, we might have to make some changes.

For now, the chickens spend a majority of their time dirt-bathing under the RV, so I hope they will be close enough for us or for our two large dogs to hear of any distress calls.

Liyla is a fantastic guard dog.

Howdy the Aussie is definitely in-tune to the different sounds that the chickens make and if he hears any distress screeching, he is running for the door with his, "LET ME OUT OF HERE bark and grumbling sounds."

Howdy has scared quite a few critters away from the chicken coop and from the RV that serves as a temporary residence.

Howdy and Liyla, shot taken this past Spring, just
before we moved to our acreage full-time.

And we are always at the ready with some kind of weapon, just in case any critter decides to take on our dogs.

Anyway, I'm down to five laying hens.

Come Spring, we will be getting some more chicks. I'm thinking a few meat chicks, strictly for processing. Well, we'll buy our first batch of meat chicks only if we have enough room to store frozen meat. Right now, we're living with a tiny RV refrigerator/freezer unit.

Also, in the Spring, we'll get some more chicks to help re-populate our laying hens. If we happen to get an accidental rooster or two, we will keep the most useful one and will isolate the rooster with a few select rotated hens to get busy re-populating the hen-house.

I don't think we want our rooster to roam free. I'm not sure. I don't mind the cock-a-doodle-do moments, but don't want my regular free-range laying hens to mingle with the rooster. I prefer non-fertilized-embryo-free eggs for breakfast.

I'm sure we'll keep learning as we go along in this farming adventure --- I had two good roosters in my city backyard, once upon a time, so it might work out again. This time, we won't have to worry about their morning crowing bothering a neighbor.

For the moment, I'm hoping my five remaining chickens will make it through the Fall, Winter and Spring so that our new chicks can grow and have time to become good egg-laying hens. The old gals can teach the new girls how things work around here.

Regardless, these past few years of having fresh eggs at the collection-ready have me spoiled. No more grocery store eggs for me.


Carolyn said...

We've free ranged our hens for the past seven years. And I have to "restock" them every two years because of the predators. We have the dogs so the chickens are safe within "doggie-distance", but the hens that venture too far into the woods to get those good grubs end up as coyote/bobcat/hawk food and then once the predators figure that out, it's downhill from there.

We have roosters, but we occasionally like to keep fertile eggs to incubate and don't mind having a few just in case we have a sudden hankering for chicken soup.

As for eating a fertilized egg, I have never been able to tell which ones have been fertilized vs. which are not. The only way you'd be able to tell is if the egg was kept warm for SEVERAL days and started developing.

John Gray said...

My chickens as you know are free range
And happy

Over the Lear I have lost only 6 to predators
And that was a rogue fox in the middle of the day

Keep the good work up said...

Carolyn - thank you for the good info and for the contribution to letting me know that free-ranging chickens are working out for others as well. I have so many people telling me that my chickens won't make it, so I often dread having to run to the store or down the street --- thinking I'll come back to find feathers everywhere and chicken carnage. I know a predator can take them out fast, but the chickens also scatter and are learning to be cautious with certain bird sounds, etc., And the ground covering in the forest gives a good warning of an approaching critter. Our first batch of chicks found us with two roosters, by mistake. So, I am not sure how many roosters can live together peacefully. I've heard they can be trouble for the gals, at times. And the fertilized eggs...if they don't indicate any kind of change because of early gathering and fast refrigeration, I won't have problems. I guess I've never been down that road, so it's foreign territory for me!

John Gray - you have such beautiful chickens! I think I remember the fox episodes...we have a LOT of foxes around this area. My youngest daughter thinks they are SO CUTE! Ha! Maybe so, but they are chicken-assassinators! Thanks for the lift up, having a chicken disappear is a small thing to some, but on a farm, it is not fun and could be a warning sign of more problems to come. We are being especially diligent right now for a potential empty tummy to make a return visit.


Mike said...

I reckon it was time for one to get got. It wasn't Beaker was it? said...

Mike - No, it wasn't Beaker. You know I'd be a big mess if my sweet Beaker. It was Beaker's side-kick, we just called her "Beak." But, Beaker follows me around like she's a puppy dog, all the way to the door of the RV and she still tries to come inside with us. It's always so sad! She's very attached to us humans. She's the first one out of the coop each morning and the last to go inside. A true sweetie.

But, I miss seeing the other gal - she was always with Beaker, so now Beaker is more alone and that makes me sad for her.


Kids and Canning Jars said...

It is possible the she went broody and is off hiding a clutch of eggs. This process takes at least 3 weeks. She may surprise you with not only being alive but she may have some chicks for y'all. This happened to us about a year ago. We thought all the possibilities you have never did we consider she was just a broody hen.