Friday, June 14, 2013

A pleasant post about my chickens

We have new chickens. Have I mentioned that? We have new chickens, two glossy black-emerald feathered Australorps; their names are Shirley and Esme - or, because they're barely distinguishable, and they're always together anyway, perhaps we should refer to them by the one name: Shirleyandesme? Esandshirl?

But yeah. Pertinent points: New. Chickens. They're due to take up their laying duties soon, but in the meantime they're working on their other talent (and what a talent it is), escape. Their principal method is to fly over the back fence when I'm in the room at the other end of the house; there is also a subsidiary method, but we'll get to that soon.

Once they're out and over, a simple five point manoeuvre is employed on my part.

1. Open the back gate to go out after them.
2. Close the back gate again because the other chickens have heard it and come running, excited by the possibility of getting some oval time.
3. Going round the side of the house and scattering some seed to distract those chickens.
4. Opening the back gate and slipping out while the chickens are distracted.
5. Closing the same back gate and holding it shut with a pole stuck in the ground.
6. Walking the Australorps (wherever they are) back to the gate.
7. Opening the gate and somehow attempting to keep the other chickens in (they have ceased being distracted by the food and are now distracted even more from their previous distraction by the oval, which is really just one gigantic food bowl)
8. Running after the Australorps again, wherever they have got to, and walking them back through the gate.
9. Walking the other chickens back in through the gate again.
10. Somehow making sure that the Australorps don't get out while the other chickens are getting in, shutting the gate, and going back to the other end of the house waiting for the whole exercise to be repeated.

As you will have worked out - probably at about point seven of my simple five point plan - it's all pretty tricky, and I'm not sure whether I'm fully practised in the finer details yet. Strangely enough, the Australorps only seem to do this escape trick once a day; the rest of the time they work out other tactics for escape around the garden, which I discovered the other day when I was trying to walk them back into their house before it was dark because I had to go into the city. First of all they refused to be walked to that corner of the garden where their house was, and kept turning around and dashing back to another corner, then when I got them near their house they veered away repeatedly, then they ran to the other corner of the garden and split up into two so I had to choose which one to chase and by the time I'd got that one cornered and almost into the house the other one would be far away and I'd have to let that one escape while I ran after the other one, then infuriatingly they ran around a tree in pointless circles so that I wasn't walking them anywhere and they weren't walking me anywhere; I became quite outraged, I spluttered, I blustered, I waved my arms in the air, I swore like a maniac, basically I was having a great time; and still the Australorps weren't in their house! So I gave up and left them there.

That's about all I wanted to say today about my chickens.


Steve said...

I guess I could easily Google the question, but how long is your average chicken expected to lay eggs?

What do you plan on doing with your chickens when they are not good layers any more?

And if you leave the coop open, will all chickens eventually return to it of an evening?

TimT said...

Almost like you're planning to have chooks!

The Baron said...

The chooks start life with a finite number of ova, so how long they lay for depends on how much time they take off (for moulting, going broody, and mothering).

Because we won't kill our (really very gorgeous) chickens, and we expect them to live for around 8-10 years (barring illness or fox-related misadventure), and our garden really couldn't sustain more than ten birds without turning into a dust bowl, we're trying to build up the flock very slowly - so that we always have laying birds but can also provide a decent home for the post-henopausal. We're planning two new birds every two years - and have somehow managed to stick to that plan so far, despite the fact that every chicken I ever see or hear of, I want to bring home and handfeed with silverbeet.

TimT said...

I checked with the Baron about this just to make sure. Our old chooks, the ISA Browns, are bred to lay consistently and then go straight to the pot for stock, so they've been laying eggs, for two years plus, pretty consistently. (There's been a day or two here and a week or so there when they have a break.) Griselda - who was the first to lay by about a week - is having a moult now, but she may lay again, intermittently, following that. So about 600-700 eggs from them, maybe?

The Baron is a kindly soul who will not eat our chickens, and I am a timid soul who can not bear to look at the Baron afterwards if I eat our chickens, so they will probably have a long and happy retirement!

The Australorps, when they start laying, will probably be more on-and-off than the ISA Browns.

The chooks take themselves to bed, no help needed from us bar shutting of doors to keep foxes out. They have a very strong nesting/roosting instinct! Watching them go to bed of an evening is prime-time entertainment, let me tell you.

Steve said...

Thanks for the info.

Our small back yard is probably only suited to 2 chooks, I think. I didn't realise they lived so long.

ISA Brown is a technological sounding name unsuited to chickens, I think. They should have had a competition to come up with something more romantic sounding. The Brown Magnifique, or something like that.

Wikipedia notes one problem with them as they age:

"Another disadvantage to having Isa Browns as "Back-Yard hens" is their genetic design for a short life of rapid egg laying. After their second or third season their eggs often become deformed, with weak shells that do not properly seal, and hence do not keep. An owner hoping to keep retired hens for years after their laying prime, will instead have with the miserable chore of having to kill clapped-out hens who are creating a mess. (From a sad Australian farmer, information verbally sourced from professional Poultry Breeders.)"

TimT said...

You're right, I used to think it was a homely name as it made me think of Mt Isa - though it's a French acronym, 'Institution Scientific Animal', or whatever the words are in French. They're quite lovely, our chooks; if their eggs do become brittle and unusable I hope we can just let them enjoy their retirement.

Steve said...

I forgot to mention this story, which I read last week and thought of you:

TimT said...

Oh I can't believe they didn't go for one of the MANY wonderfully witty and amusing headlines that were blatantly obvious: HOW THE COCK LOST HIS COCK, COCKADOODLEDONT, ALL CROW AND NO COCK, or just COCKLESS COCK.

Email: timhtrain - at -

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