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Dec 30, 2008

Hens, Roosters, Poults, and Eggs

Chickens, what are they? They are birds. The female is a hen, the male is a rooster and their young are poults (although I call them little yellow chickens). When a bunch of chickens hang out together it is a flock. There are many different breeds of chickens, from the large Rhode Island Reds to the miniature Bantams.

The rooster has a large red comb on his head, so does the hen but her is much smaller. White the rooster crows, the hen lays eggs. Roosters protect the hens so they are more aggressiveat times; however, a hen with poults can be a real tiger too.

Both roosters and hens have big gizzards that grind up their food the way we do by chewing our food.

Laying chickens are omnivores, and need much more than mere vegetable scraps. We feed our hens and their big daddy's (we have three roosters) layer pellets, sunflower seeds, and also just let them forage for food all day.

The most important detail a chicken owner needs to attend to is fresh water for the chickens and plenty of it. A dozen chickens will drink about two gallons of water on a hot summer day.

When chickens forage in the yard, they are looking for worms, grubs, ticks, insects, and anything else small. I've read that it is good to feed chickens chopped onion and raw garlic to control worm infestations but I don't do that because I don't want garlic and onion eggs.

Dec 29, 2008

Anatomy of an Egg

This is fascinating information. I found it on an Australian chicken site and wanted to keep it and share it on this chicken blog. The information and egg drawing originally came from

The Yolk: The chicken egg starts as an egg yolk inside a hen. A yolk (called an oocyte at this point) is produced by the hen's ovary in a process called ovulation.
Fertilization: The yolk is released into the oviduct (a long, spiraling tube in the hen's reproductive system), where it can be fertilized internally (inside the hen) by a sperm.

The Egg White (albumin): The yolk continues down the oviduct (whether or not it is fertilized) and is covered with a membrane (called the vitelline membrane), structural fibers, and layers of albumin (the egg white). This part of the oviduct is called the magnus.

The Chalazae: As the egg goes down through the oviduct, it is continually rotating within the spiraling tube. This movement twists the structural fibers (called the chalazae), which form rope-like strands that anchor the yolk in the thick egg white. There are two chalazae anchoring each yolk, on opposite ends of the egg.

The Eggshell: The eggshell is deposited around the egg in the lower part of the oviduct of the hen, just before it is laid. The shell is made of calcite, a crystalline form of calcium carbonate.

This entire trip through the oviduct takes about one day.

Growth of the Embryo: The fertilized blastodisc (now called the blastoderm) grows and becomes the embryo. As the embryo grows, its primary food source is the yolk. Waste products (like urea) collect in a sack called the allantois. The exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide gas occurs through the eggshell; the chorion lines the inside surface of the egg and is connected to the blood vessels of the embryo.

The Incubation Period: The embryo develops inside the egg for 21 days (the incubation period), until a chick pecks its way out of its eggshell and is hatched.

Dec 28, 2008

Hatching Eggs

FuzzyTop, named that because her head always looks like it needs to be combed, went broody and we let her keep two eggs to brood on. One morning when we went to let the chickens out to free roam, we heard tiny little chirps and peeking out from under FuzzyTop were two little pale yellow, almost white, heads.

One of those little chicks turned out to be a rooster who is the spitting image of Rocky and the other chick grew into a pretty white hen. Little Rocky as we call him is coached by Rocky himself. Rocky teaches him everything and will let Little Rocky mate with whoever he wishes. Rocky is not that good to Darth Vader, who is also his son.

Rocky will not let Darth mate with any of the hens. Darth is more accepted by the black ducks than he is by Rocky; all the hens like Darth but it does no one any good. Rocky won't have it.
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Dec 27, 2008

Fall Scene from Screen Porch

This is what we see from our back screen porch. The ducks are visiting by the bird bath bowl which is on the ground. I don't use the pedastal. With the bird bath bowl on the ground, a lot more animals can come and get a drink. The chickens free roam in our large wooded yard which is surrounded by wild woods.

Sometimes the chickens even mosey down into the woods to snack on whatever. At first we'd go shoo them back but we couldn't keep that up for long.
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Dec 26, 2008

Chicken Eating Impatiens Flowers

This little white hen is called Flower Top. She got the name for good reason: she walks through my impatiens, plucking each and every flower from the plant. By the end of the season, I had lot of impatiens but no blossums on them.

Later the ducks ate all the greenery off them too so next year I'm growing these flowers from seed and growing as much of it as I can.
I had to move my hostas from the area by the screen porch because both the ducks and chickens devoured them. I just hope the ten-year-old Hostas come back next spring.

Dec 25, 2008

Chickens Eating with the Dogs

Rocky the Rooster decided the sunflower seeds and other goodies I'd sprinkled around on the ground were not as good as Kibbles N Bits. Here he is eating out of Missy's dish. Missy is a Shelty and one of her greatest pleasures is asking for a slice of bread or toast before she goes outside.

If it is a nice day and the other dogs are around, she will lay the bread in the open and hide close by. When another dog comes by and tries to take the bread, Missy jumps out as if from nowhere and scares them. She then goes back to hide. And the bread is still there.

She will also lay down in front of her dish of Kibble n Bits and prevent another dog from coming close to it. But one day, it was not a dog but Rocky the Rooster who decided to eat from her dog bowl. Missy never moved. That little chicken has scared her before and she doesn't understand yet that Rocky is bluffing when he flaps his wings to make her move.
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Dec 24, 2008

Ducks Love Winter

We, new innocent duck owners that we are, were surprised that our five cayuga ducks splash and dip and have a jolly time in the little pond, even when it is barely 20 degrees. However, the temperature got down to only 4 degrees the last two nights and only the waterfall and a small area where the water flows into the pond were still liquid. The rest of the pond was frozen.

The ducks were not happy with that development and all tried to get into the little two foot by two foot thawed area of the pond and the temperatures continued to fall. I stayed up all night that last night, afraid the ducks
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Dec 23, 2008

Ducks Territorial Chickens Debate It

Late fall 2008: We are concerned about our Cayuga ducks. What will the ducks do when the weather turns to freezing and snow and sleet start to fall. Four of these ducks were raised on this pond but the mother was raised elsewhere. But all of them hold firm that the pond is their pond.

Only this fall did the ducks loosen up a bit and let the chickens, who were there first after all, come close to the pond.

The nine little chickens are finally standing their ground, challenging the ducks right to scare them away.

The four white hens, the bravest of the hens, lined up and just would not budge as the ducks tried to intimidate them. Strangely enough, the ducks allow Darth Vader, the black rooster, to mingle with them in the yard and near the pond. I often see Darth standing with the ducks.

However, Darth Vader, prefers to hang out with the hens. The morning that the ducks attempted to push the chickens away from the pond, the chickens clearly decided to stay put right where they were.

You'll notice three black ducks in a row along the left side of the picture and four white hens and a gold rooster on the right side. Darth Vader is standing almost in between both groups (he's the black rooster with the red on his head).

When it was clear to the ducks that the chickens had finally had enough bully bully, all the ducks turned away and moseyed off to the birdbath for awhile.
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Dec 22, 2008

Ducks on Lakes

You are looking at our view of Pomme de Terre Lake in the Ozarks in late fall after all the leaves have fallen to the forrest floor. It was a pleasant day so we decided we would walk our ducks down to the lake and "let them go."

So three of us got long sticks which we held sideways, surrounded the five ducks and began to slowly walk toward the lake, gently guiding the ducks to their new freedom, and, we thought, a lake they would just love to explore.

The landscape is all downhill and more steep than people our age prefer but for the ducks, we'd make the journey. It took about half an hour to get them down to the water's edge and with great pleasure we all smiled as we watched them scoot off into the clear blue lake.

We watched them play for awhile then decided to get the dreaded journey back up the hill over with. We trudged up the wooded path, cut through the neighbors yard, and eventually made it all the way back to the top of the hill where our house is.

Guess who was waiting for us: all five ducks. And they did not speak to us or even look at any of us for days. I think we hurt their feelings. They thought we didn't love them anymore and were trying to get rid of them. We do love them and thought we were making a big sacrifice by turning them free on the lake. We had no doubt they would join other ducks migrating south and live happily ever after. Well, they are living happily ever after but they are doing it on my Koi Pond.
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Dec 21, 2008

Chickens and Ducks in Winter

We have five Cayuga ducks which live on my Koi Garden which once was clear as crystal but is now always churned up and murky, and eleven bantam chickens who live in a cozy chicken house with thermostat controlled heat, small heater comes on automatically when temp drops below 35 degrees and shuts off when temp reaches 45 degrees.

Today the outside temperature is 19 degrees. The chickens are happy, cozy and content but the ducks refuse to go in a confined space and love floating around on the water garden, even in these temperatures.

We made them a duck blind with fresh dry hay close to the pond, actually right on the lip of the pond. However, with snow and ice on their black feathers, all five of them are asleep right now, heads tucked under the wing, on the edge of the pond laying directly on the cold hard earth.

I then realized that there were also birds in the trees, coming in no and then to eat the sunflower seeds I'd strewn out over the snowing ground. They also appeared to be basically comforable in this cold weather.
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Dec 20, 2008

Broody Bantam

This is Whitie, a little Bantam hen. She is broody right now and will only leave her nest once a day to poop and eat. Rarely she'll even go out the hatch door and walk around for a while before returning to her nest and going back into a coma like state.

We knew nothing of chickens when we got our Bantams. The first time one of them went broody we thought she was in shock or sick. We'd pick her up and talk to her, trying to cheer her up.

We'd take her out and put her down with the other chickens who were playing in the yard, but she'd immediately run back to her nest and go quiet again.

We considered the idea of having to put her down, thinking she'd die a slow death in her current state and it would be more humane to do it quickly. But first, I decided to ask around and do some research.

Broody! She was broody! We were thrilled. Until two little chicks peeked out from under her one fine morning. I felt like a chicken grandmother. Now we have eleven chickens.
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Dec 18, 2008

Dogs and Chickens

This is the inside of a dog house right after we built it last year. We put in fresh straw and Whitie, a hen, loved it and went in to lay an egg, which she did. Buddy, however, also liked the dog house but he loved all the chickens better and so he went in and laid down by her while she laid the egg.

She watched him and he watched her. We watched both of them, not sure where this was going. All went well. She laid her egg and left, Rocky the Rooster did his proud crowing, which he does everytime of the hens lays an egg, Whitie cackled happily, which all the hens do after laying an egg. And Buddy went to sleep by the egg.
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Dec 17, 2008

Ozark Style Dog House

We built this miniature Ozark style dog house complete with a porch for the dogs to lay on but we built it for our dogs, of course. The dogs watched with interest as we built it, but so did the chickens. We had no sooner put fresh straw in the little house when the chickens rushed up on the little porch and quickly made themselves at home.

This is not where they roost at night; they roost in the big chicken house we also built that summer. As with the dog house, when we built the chicken house, the dogs watched and all nine of the chickens watched as it slowly took shape.

When we were almost done, two of the dogs moved in and laid around on the floor as if to say, "They can have the dog house, we'll take this one."

However, Rocky the Rooster knew a good thing when he saw it and brought his family into the very nice new home and spent his first night in a chicken house. Remember from earlier posts, Rocky flew away the first day we brought them here and roosted in an oak tree across the gravel road and in the woods each night.

He did that from May 2007 until October 2007 and to our happy surprise, he survived. The Ozark woods is full of predators: raccoons, foxes, opossums. We even discussed various ways to get Rocky to go in the new chicken house but none of that was necessary.

When the chicken house was ready with fresh straw, nests, food and water, we opened the hatch door and Rocky marched right in and never went back to the oak tree in the woods again. He did take his family across the road and apparently showed them where he had been living for months but after that, he never returned to that area.
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Dec 16, 2008

Chicken Dog

This is Buddy, a self-appointed chicken protector. Our Bantams free-roam all day; they even went out of their warm chicken house today with temps at 15 degrees. They went back in after about 15 minutes of exercise. Anyway, about Buddy:

When we first brought home two hens, a rooster, and seven little yellow chicks, we put them in a make-shift chicken coop with only three-foot chicken wire around it to keep them in. Someone had told me Bantams didn't fly so why not a three foot fence.

The rooster flew over the fence and lived in the woods, roosting at night across the gravel road in a big oak tree. But he always waited around in the evening to see that the hens and chicks were tucked away in their coop before he strolled off, occasionally looking back longingly, as if he would prefer to stay with them but was afraid he wouldn't get out again.

Anyway, back to Buddy: Shortly after we got the chickens, one of the little yellow chicks escaped under the fence and ran. Buddy, fascinated by the chickens from Day One, ran after the chick and caught it in his mouth, breaking its neck. We explained to Buddy that he was to protect the chickens but was never to touch one. He listened carefully, sadly looking at the dead chick, his ears drooping.

We buried the chick. Life went on. But Buddy has never touched another chicken yet he all but sleeps with them. If they do their upset cackle anywhere in the yard, he's there, ready to take on whatever is bothering them. We are completely at ease as long as Buddy is outside when the chickens are out.
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Outhouse to Chicken House

This is the view from our screen porch in the Spring of 2007. We had to come up with a chicken house and quick -- we had only two days notice. A neighbor of ours had this little building which was designed to look like an outhouse but which they actually used as a chicken coop for small bantams. We bought it and hauled it to our place in the back of our pickup. We then built a small lean-to on the side so the chicken could go out even if it was raining. You can't see it but all of this is surrounded by 3' chicken wire.

Today, the chickens live in a nice big chicken house with two windows, nesting boxes, bales of straw in the corner which they like to play on and plenty of high roosts. But at first they lived in this little house.
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Dec 9, 2008

Duck Blind

We put up this wood fence on the northwest side to block the wind and spread out nice fresh hay. Later the next day we also put a long flat piece of painted plywood on the top to keep the hay dry. But we learned early on that ducks will not immediately explore anything new.

Our ducks have been experiencing so many new things that it only takes a few days for them to get comfortable with changes, but in the beginning it took them weeks before they'd get close to some change (moving a bench for instance).
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Ducks Love Winter

This started out as a Koi Water Garden and was such for ten years -- crystal clear water with underwater rock formations for the Koi and Goldfish to explore over a pebble bed 8 inches deep. Then in June 2008 we were given "just one duck and four cute ducklings."

We had no doubts that when they matured, we'd have roast duck. However, we never took into consideration the fact that these ducks might grow on us. Now we don't know how we ever got along without having ducks to watch each morning as they single file march here and there. The most interesting thing I have learned by watching our Cayugo ducks is that they seem to actually enjoy playing freezing water.
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Aug 19, 2008

The Rocky and DarthVader Standoff

Rocky, the head rooster in the group, stood at attention on one side of the round hosta flower bed while Darth Vader, the young black rooster stood at attention on the opposite side. Each stared at the other. Neither moved. The hens just moseyed around the yard not paying attention to either of them. Darth Vader is starting to challenge Rocky's leadership.

Aug 14, 2008

Baby Chicks Get Top Roost

If you look closely toward the back on the very top roost, you'll see Mama and her two little chicks. The other hens and roosters apparently allowed them to take the choice spot in the chicken house.

Five of our seven bantam hens are broody right now. They went broody almost immediately after the little chicks hatched. Guess the hens want baby chicks of their own to look after. The only problem is, we don't want more baby chicks to look after so we took their eggs immediately upon laying them.

They are still sitting on their nests though. I feel sad for them. Maybe next season.

Aug 11, 2008

Rocky Makes Nest for Momma Hen and Chicks

We watched our golden rooster Rocky work hard to make a new nest for Quail and her little chicks this morning. All our nest boxes are full of broody hens. Apparently Quail, we named her Quail because her head looks like a quail, told Rocky, "I have no place to lay eggs today!" He is such a considerate rooster.

Aug 7, 2008

Mrs. Duck

A lady sold me some black ducks (momma and her four babies). I have a small 14ft diameter water garden with Koi and large goldfish and I thought these ducks would add even more tranquility to the pond. I was right. We sit in the swing by the pond each evening and just swing and talk about our day and listen to the water fall and watch the ducks glide over the moonlit water. Yes, I was right about the tranquility.

However, ducks also eat all greenery within reach and will even reach up high on my water plants to eat what they should not be able to reach. They also love to splash and dive and potty in the water. My water is a mess now.

So soon, within a week or so, we are going to herd the ducks down the lake (about 500 feet) and see if they'd like to go free and migrate south for the winter. I'll miss them but I just can't continue to keep the pond water fresh, my filter system wasn't made to handle five ducks which have all reached maturity now.

Aug 4, 2008

Dawn Approaches and Roosters Crow in the Day

Our roosters, Rocky and Darth Vader, start crowing about 4am. Neither of them say "CockADoodleDoo." Both of them say "ErraErrrErrkkaErr." Both are a type of Bantam. Rocky taught Darth how to crow. When Darth first tried it sounded like "Errrraa" He gets better with each day. I told Larry the first time we heard Darth crow (I always thought roosters were born knowing how to crow), that if we crowed each morning with Darth, we would be able to crow perfectly at some point in time. He said he'd rather learn from a expert rooster. He said Darth was learning from Rocky and Rocky doesn't crow the way a rooster should crow.

The weather is hot and steamy in the Ozarks tonight (last night too). The temperature in the chicken house is 91 degrees. They have several cool water dishes and plenty of fresh air coming in the windows on the east, south, and west sides. I also sprayed down the roof of the chicken house with the garden hose to help cool it down tonight.

My bet is that neither Rocky now Darth crow very loud tomorrow morning. It's going to be a long hot night for my darlings.

Jun 8, 2008

Rocky and DarthVader

Rocky, the golden rooster and head of the flock, raised DarthVader and even taught him how to crow. I thought roosters just crowed professionally right from the first crowing but they do not. We listened to DarthVader learn how to crow -- his first crow was no better than mine. If I joined in on all his lessons from Rocky each morning, I'd be able to crow with the best of them.

May 3, 2008

Proud of His Hens

Rocky the Rooster crows when he hears one of the hens doing her "I just laid an egg" cackle. He escorts a hen to the chicken house when she wants to lay an egg. Then he paces around outside for as long as it takes until he hears her happy cackling from inside the house.

He then struts up the ramp and goes inside. After a short while she comes out with him close behind her and they join the rest of the flock. He does this with each hen to different degrees. His favorite hen, Whitie, of course, gets the most attention from him. He simply adores her and she knows it.

He is always close by wherever she is. They have been in love since day one when I brought them home. I am so glad I took both of them. Without knowing, I could easily have separated them when I went to pick them up at the farm that day. Because back then I did not think chickens knew anything much less that they had deep, lasting relationships.

May 2, 2008

Barometric Pressure and Chickens

Ever notice that chickens stay close to their roosts when the barometer starts to fall below 29.5. If it falls lower than that, the chickens will actually go to roost early, even in the morning. When the barometric pressure is high, around 30.5, free range chickens, like mine, will venture far and wide, too far in my opinion. I like them to stay relatively close.

We have wooded areas around our place and whenever the barometer reaches 30.5, they venture into the woods. A danger zone because of predators, so my husband and I take turns scaring them back. We used to be gentle about shooing them back into the safety zone of the yard, but we have found that a good scare lasts a long time in keeping them out of the woods. Tough love.

Apr 29, 2008

Sweet Innocence

Rocky and friends mosey around the yard, scratching and pecking, cackling sweetly at their finds in the moist earth, totally unaware that they are in danger at this time. We may be losing our home and that means they too may be losing their home. I have not made a post to this blog for a month because all my energy, which is rather low at this time, has been devoted to dread. Dread. A horrible feeling. If not for the beauty, innocence, and love of our chickens, we might not have made it through Black March.

Apr 2, 2008

Chickens Have Feelings Too

I have been observing nine ornamental Bantams (seven hens and two roosters) for nearly one year. I have a large screen porch that is used as a living room during the spring, summer, and most of the fall. Rocky is the lead rooster (picture left).

I have a dining table and chairs, long table with coffee pot and microwave, couch, several easy chairs on the porch which faces west into a park-like area of about one acre. Our chickens free roam. They are fascinating to watch and hold my interest for long periods of time.

Rocky the orange rooster is the flock leader without question. DarthVader, raised from a small chick, gets put in his place by Rocky quite often. Whitie is Rocky's wife and lover. HennyPenny is a small black hen that has the personality of Aunt B on the old Andy Griffith shows. She raised DarthVader and six other chicks, all of whom are full grown now.

Each chicken has his or her own personality and has formed relationships with all the other chickens. One hen, Quail, because she isn't an ornamental chicken like the others but looks more like a quail, is a loner for the most part. The others put up with her but don't hang out with her. She stays close to them wherever they go but she has to follow on her own.

Rocky is most interested in the welfare of Whitie (aka Marilyn Monroe), who he has always loved deeply. If I toss little bits of cheese out to them, he'll gather up a few pieces and drop them in front of Whitie for her enjoyment. When she goes into the henhouse to lay an egg, he paces back and forth outside the hen house until she is done. If she takes a long time to lay the egg, he gets concerned and goes inside to make sure all is well then comes back out and paces some more.

Darth Vader (black rooster) and Fuzzy Top (hen), both raised by Rocky, Whitie, and Henny Penny from small yellow chicks, were always good friends and if you saw one, you saw the other. But as they matured, Rocky forbade Darth to mate with her. To make his point, Rocky mated with her instead. Darth never tries to mate with either of his hen mothers, Whitie and Henny Penny, but he will try to mate with Fuzzy Top anytime Rocky is not watching.