Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Playing Favorites

The Ladies have changed so much.  They look like "real chickens" now.  No more little fuzzy chicks.  The younger four are 14 weeks old.  And Lacy is 7 1/2 months.  Not only do they look different but their personalities are now pretty defined.  Are you as surprised as I am to hear they have personalities?  A chicken is a chicken right?  Wrong!

From the moment I took the chicks out of the mailing box, Luna was dominant chick.  We thought she was a wild woman.  And was she bossy!   As they got bigger she soon became the tamest.  Always jumping up on my hand to get an "elevator" ride out of the brooder.  Maybe it's just that she's the smartest.... or laziest.  Once The Ladies moved out to the coop, Luna was clearly Head Chick.  Always the first to try new things, always getting the prime roosting spot, and first one out of the run for free-range play time.  Luna is my favorite.  Shhhh!   Don't tell the others.  I know I'm not supposed to play favorites.  But she's always the first to great me.  She likes to pop into the coop to inspect my housekeeping work in the morning.  And she is constantly photo bombing the others.  She just makes me laugh.

Luna saying Good Morning while I scoop the coop
Luna photo-bombing Hedwig's Good-bye photo
When they were little chicks, I thought JiJi was going to be Second in Command.  Boy was I wrong!  Maybe I was assuming size equals position and Jiji was definitely the fastest growing of the Babies.   It turns out that JiJi is the meekest and mellowest of the Ladies.  I suspect she has a strong nurturing side as she was the one to take Bella and Hedwig "under her wing" when we introduced them.  And she was just a few days older than they were so she didn't have big wings at the time.  But she always snuggled up with the other two and they seemed to need that.  I remember watching her trying to sleep next to a very restless Hedwig. JiJi finally stretched her neck over Hedwig and Hedwig fell fast asleep.  JiJi is the hardest to catch and doesn't particularly like to be held (except when I rescued her from quarantine with Lacy.  Then she was happy to cuddle).  She has a voice but doesn't use it a lot.  When she does, it is quiet and sweet.  You get the impression that in a group of woman - she'd be the one everyone counts on to be kind.   A little JiJi quirk - she is always the last one off the perch in the morning.   Sleepyhead!  Hmm.  So maybe JiJi is my favorite.

JiJi adheres to the premise of "safety in numbers"

And then there is Ebony.  She is a spunky little thing.  She's by far the smallest of the Ladies.  But she is Luna's right wing - even now that Luna has been demoted.  Ebony is second to do everything.  She would have made a good rooster.  She is The Guardian!  She's always checking out every new sound.  It's pretty common to see all the other Ladies scratching around in the dirt and Ebony standing at attention.  She kind of reminds me of a Meerkat on guard duty.  She's also the bravest about people.  She is the easiest to catch and seems quite happy to be held.  And she was no "chicken" when it came to welcoming Lacy to the flock.  When Lacy was busy putting all the others in their places, Ebony quietly stood her ground.  She's the only Lady whose voice hasn't dropped.  While the others have deep "bwok"s, Ebony still says something closer to "Bweep".  I think she is by far the friendliest.  Whenever I go visit the Ladies, Ebony is right at the run door to greet me and see if it is time for free-range time.  Oh and she has also picked up some photo bombing skills form Luna.  She and Luna play comedian to JiJi's straight man routine.  Ok so she might be my favorite. 

Ebony The Guardian when still just a chick

Bella is a Big Chicken.  And I mean that in two ways.  She is large and a scaredy cat.  She's the first to run for the coop at the slightest cause.   I suspect she is the one that usually starts the rest of the flock running.  She's always the last to try new foods.  After all, she needs to wait for a little while to make sure Ebony doesn't keel over after being the official taste tester.  She is one of the first out of the coop to see me in the morning - but she maintains a safe distance.  She has a funny running dance move.  We have named it the Bella Dance.  Stick your neck out long and low, snake it side to side and run while wiggling your fuzzy butt.  That's the Bella Dance.  Someday maybe I'll get it on video but first I have to figure out what causes it.   The funniest thing about Bella is she NEVER stops talking.   NEVER.  Thank goodness she is quiet.  But she has this funny deep growly voice.  Bella has been the hardest to get to know but now that I do - she could be my favorite.

Bella maintaining a safe distance from the camera
 Definitely the fuzziest butt

Last but definitely not least is Lacy.  I think of her as The Boss Lady.  While she was in quarantine she was a love.  Always cooing at me.  Not that she's mean with the other Ladies but she is definitely in charge.  She successfully dethroned Luna but now that her position is clear she's settled into the role pretty calmly.  But don't mess with her before she lays her egg of the day.  She gets crabby!  I suspect she's a bit of a diva.  She loves a good dust bath and day in the garden.  As Boss Lady, Lacy gets to eat first, decide where the others fit on the perch, and dictate who stands where.  When she wants to.  And if she doesn't feel like dictating at that moment, then they are free to do their own thing.  Yup sounds more and more like a diva.  Even so, the rest of the Ladies all seem to respect her.  I guess even chickens need to have a leader.  And I for one kind of like the diva part of her.   I've had the least time with Lacy but she coos at me and gives me eggs!  Definitely in the running for favorite.

Lacy's Garden Spa Day
The Chicken Chick

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Peaceable Kingdom

This morning I was out doing Chicken Chores.  Although it was quite chilly I was taking a minute to watch the Ladies, and I was struck by the fact that we have successfully transitioned Lacy into the flock.  All is peaceful!

It's been just a little over a week since bringing Lacy out of quarantine and pretty much just plunking her into the run with the other Ladies.  I didn't follow any of the many recommendations that I got about the best way to introduce a new flock member.  I started to but then ended up going with my gut.  I think I got lucky!  My theory was always that even though Lacy was older and bigger she would be out numbered by the other 4.  That kind of worked.  It certainly wasn't without some pecking and feather plucking and squawking but they worked it out quickly enough.  And today I have a peaceful little flock!

To back up...  Lacy did really well in quarantine.  We had her in a large dog crate in the garage with a little box to nest in, a tarp to provide some privacy during nesting, and a perch.  She made herself quite at home.  They say that since transitions are generally stressful for chickens, it often causes a disruption in egg laying.  Not for Lacy!   She is a very regular layer.  In fact, she lays more eggs per week (6) than the predicted average for her breed (4-5). 

I have to say part of me enjoyed the quarantine piece a bit.  Don't get me wrong - I felt bad that she was stuck in there during some beautiful fall weather.  But quarantine allowed us to get to know Lacy.  I had been a little worried that by getting a 6 month old pullet (a girl chicken less than 1 year old), that she might be afraid of us.  Not Lacy!   She seemed to love the one on one attention.  She talked to us whenever we came out to the garage.  I didn't even know chickens could make those noises.  She really didn't cluck.  It was more cooing and booping.  And sometimes if she was feeling lonely she'd make quite the ruckus.  I know it was because she was wanting attention because as soon as one of us would go out and say "Hi" she'd quiet down.  We also tried to keep her happy by sometimes taking her to the garden at the other end of the house for garden and dust bath time.

Some of the things we discovered about Lacy?  She likes people.  She's very gentle.  She occasionally would peck at one of us but very softly - not like the other Ladies who haven't quite mastered gentle pecks!  Often when I would clean out the crate she would sit on her perch and gently pick at my hair.  Grooming me???  I usually do morning chores before my shower so I probably did need some grooming!  She's also messy!!!   Admittedly she was eating out of a chick feeder while in quarantine but she was constantly throwing food all over the place. It's ok though since she makes up for it by being a great layer!

My favorite thing about Lacy is her range of sounds.  Until we moved her outside with the other Ladies, I thought she had the sweetest voice.  Apparently that is a voice she reserves for her people!

When it was time to bring Lacy out of quarantine we followed one of the recommendations and brought one of the other Ladies in to live with Lacy for a bit.  The idea being that they would bond and then it would be easier to introduce Lacy to the others.  So in came JiJi.  Bad choice.  JiJi is too mellow and passive and was just terrified.  Lacy growled and pecked and refused to let JiJi eat or drink.  I think this method is generally sound but I picked the wrong Lady to bring in.  I think the dog crate is also too small for this method.  And I might just not have the heart for it! 

I made it through about 18 hours of JiJi toughing it out and then I couldn't stand it anymore.  So JiJi went back out to the coop and run with her flock.  And right behind her came Lacy.  We just plunked her in there.  Head Lady Luna came right over to defend her flock which worked for about 20 minutes.  But Luna is about 1/2 the size of Lacy.  Size and age usually gives a chicken a rightful claim to the top position in the pecking order.  So Lacy set about making it very clear to Luna that she was Top Bird.  Unlike in the dog crate, this worked in the run and coop.  The 4 younger Ladies had room to run for cover and Lacy couldn't chase all 4 at the same time.  Lacy took over bossing the others around.  She decided when they could come in the coop, when they could come out of the coop, when they could eat, and generally sent the message that when she wants to lay an egg - she wants QUIET.  But by that evening they were all snuggled up on the perch together for bedtime.

And it just improved from there.  Once Lacy set down the law, she backed off a bit.  Every once in a while she pecked or pulled a feather or gave the stink eye just to let them know she was still Boss Lady.  Now a week later, the Little Ladies no longer run from her.  They eat when they want to and go where they want to.  But they definitely respect the Boss Lady.  All in all I think Lacy has a pretty good management style.  Start off tough and be clear about the rules and then have some flexibility.  The chickens get it.   When there is structure, rules, and respect there is peace in the coop.

The Chicken Chick