Chickens – Week 13

by Beth

Week 12 was uneventful, but this week, 2 very exciting chicken things happened. The 2nd is at the bottom of this post, but the first is that we have Easter Egger chicks!!

EasterEggerDayOldChicks

We arrived at the farmers co-op so early in the morning that staff hadn’t returned from the Post Office with the chicks yet. Demand for poultry is still extra high, and I’d been anxious we wouldn’t be able to procure the 4 Easter Egger chicks I’d been hoping for.

To make it worse, as we waited, the clerk said she wasn’t sure which chicks they’d get that morning. The hatchery calls several times a week to dial back their orders. They can’t keep up. We’ve heard from other local businesses that hatcheries have completely canceled on them some weeks. Smaller poultry vendors are legitimately concerned about shipping delays.

It’s funny because at the end of February when we picked up our first chicks, the co-op didn’t come close to selling out of Brahmas and Langshans. We were able to compare the sizes of our chicks to the chicks in the brooder at the store when picking up supplies well over a week after we picked them up. A few weeks later as the pandemic set in, they were selling out of even the strange breeds by lunch.

That’s why we were here so early, along with a patient woman clutching a Bojangles box to put leghorns into. Apparently they’ve run out of the “Hooray, baby chicks!” boxes.

After 10 minutes, a gentleman walked in with a big, vented, peeping box. The staff began to painstakingly unpack 3 layers of baby birds. Golden Wyandottes, Brown Leghorns, Bourbon Red turkeys, an assortment of goslings and ducklings. Easter Egger chicks were in the bottom layer. I slid up next to the shipping box and pointed, “Hey, I’ll pick mine right out of here, if that’s okay. I just want 4 of these.” The gentleman nodded and handed me a small cardboard box.

It looked like there weren’t as many Easter Egger chicks as the hatchery had promised, and most looked the same: like chipmunks.

EasterEggerChicks-2dayold

We wanted chicks of different colors, because maybe those will give us different colored eggs. Easter Eggers got their name from all the different colors they can lay, but each bird only lays 1 color. With so few birds, I thought a feather-color mix might increase our odds of having at least 1 or 2 blue/green layers. That’s totally unscientific in the case of Easter Eggers, who are a genetic mish-mash, but who knows?

Another goal was chicks with cheeks. Some Easter Eggers grow fun, Chester A. Arthur mutton chops, and from what I could tell through weeks of online research, those chicks have fluffy cheeks from day 1.

EasterEggerDayOld-CheekPoufs

There weren’t many chicks with lambchops to choose from. I found 2 with good cheeks then focused on color, scooping up 3 more and bringing the box to Chris to inspect. All looked healthy with good legs, but one was standing tall (sign of a rooster), squawking loudly. I walked back over and gently set it in the store brooder. She probably wasn’t a rooster. Lots of chicks stand tall when they’re peeping. But she wasn’t our bird. I’m trying to keep our population reasonable, and 4 was the plan, so we went with our gut and stuck to it. We want to try more breeds in the future as well as have room for occasional hatches without having to scramble to build more coops.

We drove right home so I could immediately obsess about which one will be an unexpected rooster, whether the brooder heating plate is at the right height, etc. The first days with chicks can be nerve wracking.

EasterEgger-DayOld

These chicks have been easy compared to the first group, probably because it’s our 2nd time around, the weather isn’t terrible so we’re not as worried about the power going out, and there are only 4. Four is just enough to form a rockin’ mini flock. I can’t imagine brooding fewer birds together. Each personality offers something different to the dynamic.

They’re also more independent and rowdy than the first crew. Where the Brahmas and Langshans ran under the heating plate first thing, the Easter Eggers ran to the food. I set up the nipple waterer for when they’re old enough to use it, and one of the first things they did was run up and peck at it as hard as they could. Wow. They will be smaller than the extra large Brahmas and Langshans but will probably be able to hold their own.

EasterEgger3-2dayoldchick

Other differences: they’re much more feathered already, except for their legs. Hatchery Easter Eggers are usually “clean legged.”

EasterEgger2-2dayoldchick

They make almost no noise and move in fast-forward. It’s like watching a silent movie.

They have zero pasty butt. This may be because they didn’t get chilled during shipping. Chris pointed out that we’re starting them on better feed, too. It’s just Nutrena, but it has fewer byproducts than the co-op generic brand we fed the first chicks after winning it at the chicken class.

I didn’t bother with electrolytes in their water after the first day. They got pine chips and grit on day 2 and enjoy both. They love scratching. I tried giving them oregano on day 5, but it wasn’t much of a hit. That afternoon, we pulled their brooder outside for a few minutes as we shifted things around in the study, and they were unimpressed. Unlike the Brahmas and Langshans who couldn’t get enough of the sun, these chicks were irritated by it. The biggest chipmunk even started pecking the light-colored chick, which never happened with the first bunch. Luckily the bad behavior stopped as soon as they were back in the lower light inside.

On day 6, I replaced the heating-plate cover with the cardboard already so they could hop up there, since they’re so light and flappy. Suspected rooster #1 hopped up first, sigh. Being adventuresome is a sign of a rooster, along with its slower feathering. Note this video isn’t in fast forward. That’s how fast they move.

Of course it might be in our heads that this could be a rooster because it resembles Cogburn. The different feather pattern can also be because it’s a slightly different breed blend than the other chicks. Easter Eggers are simply mixed-breed birds who possess a blue egg-laying gene. Plus, all 4 chicks have been evenly rotating on firsts. For instance the littlest, red-headed bird scaled the water jar first, on their 1-week birthday.

LittleEasterEgger-WatererSummit

Easter Eggers are notoriously difficult to sex. We won’t know for weeks whether any of them are unintentional roosters. Their colors are surprisingly unpredictable, too. Here are all the chicks from the top. There’s no way to know what colors they’ll change into, though these will all probably be what’s called a “partridge” pattern in varying shades of gold and brown.

EasterEggerChicks-Sleeping

This picture also illustrates how these chicks sleep harder than the others. Maybe moving so fast tires them out. The first chicks didn’t do the thing where they’d fall asleep with their wings out and head on the ground, but these do that. It’ll scare you if you don’t know chicks can sleep like that.

Meanwhile, in the coop, Rooster Cogburn is turning into a teenager.

Brahmas-and-Langshan12weeks

Several times now he’s looked down at my hand and pecked it lightly. That’s him testing me. It earns him a light beak bop that sends him sulking off, pretending he doesn’t care anyway, like who even cares.

The beak bop is something I tried out of instinct as a gentle way to flip his “rebellious switch” from on to off (plus his beak feels cool and I like touching it). However, when he began grabbing screeching pullets by the backs of their necks, I turned to the internet for tips beyond bops to train a growing rooster.

Young roosters test everything, especially in their first spring or 2. It’s part of them turning into what they’re supposed to be, but it can be disruptive to everyone around them.

Plenty of people online offer tips for maintaining a role of authority and/or just not getting harassed by your rooster. Tips that resonated for me included walking confidently through his space (not around him or avoiding him in any way), ignoring some of his bad behavior (not rewarding a peck with moving away from him), and picking him up if he’s just done something egregious. If I carefully pin his wings, it’s easy to hold him lightly with one hand. When I set him down again, he’s a puppy. He’ll toddle off to forage like nothing happened.

Fortunately, he’s not started to make the pullets afraid of him. In fact, they seem to dislike me picking him up more than he does. They look really annoyed when I pick him up, which has me thinking I won’t do it unless he’s been particularly confrontational. As they get older, I try to give them more space. It’s fun, and still important, to sit and visit with them, but it’s equally fun to watch them from the distance as they function together as a flock.

By the end of this week, Cogburn had stopped bothering the pullets and seemed to stop thinking about challenging me. By all accounts, he’ll go through a long roostery phase, especially this year and maybe next. Things could get dicey. We’ll stay kind and consistent. We raised him to be a lovebug, so hopefully that’s what he’ll go back to when he figures out his hormones.

And now for the 2nd exciting chicken thing of the week: one day shy of turning 13 weeks old, a little after 6 a.m. Rooster Cogburn crowed! I didn’t walk out fast enough to record it, so here’s a portrait of our little grown up…

CogburnCloseup

…who, 3 months ago, was still trying to grow out his green “I’m a rooster” mark from the hatchery:

Light Brahma cockerel rooster in front of feeder with Buff Brahma chick and Black Langshan chick

He only squawks 2-3 syllables so far. Sounds pretty weird actually, so I trotted down to the chicken yard to make sure everyone was okay. They were fine except for looking annoyed at Cogburn, super proud of himself and pecking everyone on the head to say good morning on his way to the feeder.

I think he was practicing his crowing the previous afternoon after waking up from a nap. Something that sounded like a distress call (or like a 6th grader learning to play the clarinet) sent me running down the hill to check on them. They looked at me like I was crazy. After seeing that everybirdy was good, I walked away scratching my head, but the next morning, the situation made sense. Cogburn had been tuning his windpipes to refine our new alarm clock.

He’s not overly loud (yet?). It did set the dogs off that morning. I’m not sure if he tried again the following morning. If he did, the dogs and I slept through it. I’ll be sure to capture audio in week 14.

 

 

 

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