Sunday 6 January 2013

Ah! So he finally got you, then!

[A land mark today but a confusing one. If you click on 'site-meter' (top right on the screen) you'll see that my page-views count has finally hit 30,000. This is a nice mile-stone to reach, but oddly, when I log in to post these stories, the website tells me I have scored 33,000. I am not sure why this is but it might just be that I did not embed the Site-meter thing till I'd been going a while.]

"Treading His Hens". That is the expression we poultry keepers use (Well, in Ireland anyway) to describe the rooster's nuptial activities with his young ladies. If I may be a tad indelicate for a few more sentences, that is exactly what happens. Not given to romantic wining, dining, soft music or candle-lit smooching, William's half of the population tend to just stop mid way through a stroll across the front lawn, lunge towards a likely hen who strays within range, get a grip on the feathers on the back of her neck, climb onto her back with both feet and swing his delicate bits round and under to accomplish the deed. She does not have much say in this as he's a lot bigger and stronger than she is, so she takes that one for the team for the few seconds it lasts and, once he's jumped off, shakes out her feathers and goes back to scratching for grubs. To be fair, he seems to do this only once to each hen per day and that is one reason why you should keep a small gang of hens with any rooster, to share the 'load' a bit between them.

One amusing and useful aspect of this 'treading' is that at this time of year, he is walking on wet ground most of the time so he has muddy feet, and the hens which are getting 'trodden' have permanently rather muddy feathers on their backs. This is how we knew that Broody Betty, back among the girls as she gradually loses interest in the young ones (now half grown 11 week old teenagers) was still managing to evade the attentions of William, squarking and nipping out of the way if he got too close. She was playing hard to get for now, thank you, while her wattles and comb got brighter red and her legs became brighter yellow. She was coming back into lay but he didn't need to know that just yet!

Then two days ago I'd just left the chicken house where I'd only half noticed the familiar sight of a hen on a nest box presumed to be laying an egg, and coming back into the yard I saw three muddy-backed hens with William. It dawned that the one in the nest box must be our Betty! Liz and I nipped to check and yes, all four hens have muddy backs. "Ahh!", said Liz, "So he finally got you, then!"

Well, she sat there for a hour or two but never actually laid and egg, so maybe things are starting to move inside her and she's getting the feeling back that this is something she needs to do, but she's not quite there yet. Coming into spring we are hoping that, as we are told by poultry-keeper friends, once she's got the broody bug she'll do it again and again. If she does go broody we are going to manage her better this time, giving her a clutch of 12 all in one go, candling them at a sensible time and hoping they'll all hatch in the same two or three consecutive days.

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