Holy Saviour, Light of the World, Source of All That Is and Will Be,
Thank you for the changing seasons (though a little more warmth would be nice: it is going to drop below freezing tonight!). There is joy in each flower, hope in each bird song, new life in the warmth of the sun, and most of all: love is here.
Well, we’ve got two new birds! Starsky and Hutch came to us from the RSPCA site at West Hatch, Taunton, Somerset. They arrived there in January, a pair of bantam (small) cockerels (male chickens less than 1 year old) who had been left to fend for themselves. Starsky is the biggest, weighing 1.4 kg; Hutch is 1 kg. They were named by one of the RSPCA staff members.
I have been looking at them since I started volunteering there… in January. We do, after all, have room for 6 birds.
Cockerels, Cocks (over a year old), and Roosters (another name for Cocks) are very difficult to re-home because they can be aggressive and they are noisy. The last pair of Bantams at West Hatch were there for over a year. There are two standard cockerels there too, and they will be very hard to re-home: the bigger the bird the louder the crow and the stronger the kicks. Because we live in the country their noise is not an issue.
The RSPCA does a cracking job at vetting potential adopters. After speaking with someone on the phone about the possibility of adopting them I was sent a form to fill in. Once I sent that back and it was processed I was contacted by a home visitor who came round to make sure all was well here. The RSPCA also do a cracking job at supporting adopters, making it quite clear that if there are any problems, I only need to ask them for help; and if the birds just don’t work out, they will happily take them back.
As with the introduction of any new flock members, I kept the boys separated from the girls for the first 2 days, and since then have kept a close eye on them. I set up a dog crate in the shed, sprinkled lots of straw around, and gave them their own food and water. They spent most of their time looking out the window, watching for movement of some kind.
Some would suggest two days is too soon for an introduction, but as they could hear each other quite well through the shed wall and the girls seemed curious, I gave it a try.
First, they just got to look at each other: I kept them separated by the hutch mesh, letting the boys run around in the paddock while the girls were still locked in; then I let the girls out into the garden and left the boys to explore the paddock and the hutch on their own.
The following day I decided to put them all together to see what would happen. It was a hectic: the boys alternated between kick fighting with each other and the girls, the girls alternated between kick fighting with the boys and running away, Kelpie kept trying to get a good sniff of the cockerels’ bums (He does this with the girls. They’ve gotten used to it).
I didn’t know who to feel most sorry for: the boys because they had hens kicking on one side and a dog sniffing on the other, the hens because their home had been invaded by these pompous Napoleons, or Kelpie because I kept telling him ‘No!’ and ‘Lie down!’ every time he tried to approach them. After 45 minutes or so, I separated them again and that night they slept apart.
The next day I let them out at the same time, and things were just as awkward. The boys thought it best to keep the hens corralled in the shed, and the hens were not comfortable with this restriction of movement. I decided to let the hens go into the large grassy garden alone. I was going to keep the cockerels in the chickenarium, as I had the day before, but as soon the hens were out of the boys’ sight…..well there was flapping, clucking, and next thing I see is Hutch, running on his tiny little legs, to find out where the girls had gone! He had flown over the paddock fence! I picked him up and put him with the girls only to see Starsky standing on the same fence trying to decide if he should follow. I carried him over to the rest.
In the garden the girls and boys started out by doing their own thing. But it wasn’t long before the boys had pinned the girls in a corner and were keeping them there. Night came, they slept apart.
The following day a sad thing happened. Little Nutmeg, who had suffered with respiratory issues, had to be put down. She had developed egg peritonitis, something that happens when the egg-making mechanism in a chicken goes wrong. Instead of an egg forming properly and being laid, the egg material moves into the abdominal cavity and festers ( a bit like an ectopic pregnancy, except the egg is not fertilised). It is not immediately fatal but there is no effective treatment, and it is likely to recur. Eventually the chicken will become septic and die. Death is slow and painful, sometimes taking months to wear the bird down. So we put her to sleep. It was not a comfortable decision, but the best one I think.
But since she has gone, things have settled. It makes me wonder if part of the kerfuffle was caused by the girls trying to protect their poorly friend. In any event, by the end of that day flock of five was more or less mingling. They were mingling in the grass, they were mingling in the chickenarium, and so I decided it was time to try them together overnight.
That was last night. And this morning, all is well in chicken land. Well – but different.
Hutch, though the smallest of all, is definitely Number 1. Starsky is his back up.
Ginger is subdued for the first time even. I think she is still trying to figure out if this is OK, but she is not fighting it.
Actually, it was the bully, Cinnamon, who was most aggressive towards Hutch, but even she seems to have relaxed now.
Clover, being the lowest ranking hen and having nothing to defend, didn’t fight at all. Instead, she bravely approached the boys, walked around or through them and pecked at the ground as per normal. She has acted as peacemaker.
I think Starsky and Clover may become ‘a thing’ as they seem to stick together. I think bossy Hutch gets the two high maintenance girls. Frankly, they deserve each other.
Now, a couple of other points. It is unusual, but not unheard of, to keep two cockerels. Often these birds are so territorial they will fight ‘rivals’ to the death. But, because these two came in to the RSPCA together, and roosted together without any problems, re-homing them together was/is worth the risk. As long as they feel they have enough space, and there are enough hens to share, the boys should be fine. But if aggression starts up I will have to reconsider things.
It is possible that the boys may fertilise the hens’ eggs, but as the girls are twice their size, it may take some determination for them to succeed. I am not interested in chicks right now, so I will simply to continue to collect the eggs each morning. That will keep any embryos from developing, even if the eggs are fertile.
The last Bee Class was about pests including Varroa Mites. The subject is important but not nearly as exciting as the arrival of Starsky and Hutch, so I will skip telling you about that; the tadpoles have all hatched, the songbirds are nesting, and I have had the pleasure of visiting a nearby farm to ‘help’ with lambing. This included feeding and watering lots of sheep with hay and feeding a couple of lambs whose mums don’t want them, and sharing lovely cakes and breads and cups of tea and conversation with my host.
Spring is lovely! And busy!