Tuesday 24 January 2017

A Changing Dynamic

Miss Mini-Buff enjoys the indoor life. She is starting to recover
well from the over-amorous attentions of those Marans roosters
We have always been fascinated by our chickens. We could watch them for hours, with their little comings and goings. likes and dislikes, their individual personality traits and their little battles to try to be as high as possible up the 'pecking order'. We love to see the changing dynamics of who joins the small gangs under each rooster and how these relationships change as roosters climb up the rankings or get beaten back down again by their rival(s).

Flood control measures by the local drainage crew.
Sorry you kingfishers and herons.
Regular readers will know that we have been trying to favour the 'Buff Orpington' breed and trying to ensure that only pure bred Buff-Orps were incubated or brooded so that we would slowly but surely evolve into a Buff -only flock. You only have to look at our flock to see how badly this has gone for a whole variety of good reasons plus that fact that we tend to look at the 'misfits' and decide that they are perfectly good, healthy chickens laying perfectly good eggs, so we will keep them. To add another fly in the ointment, we also decided that the breed 'Marans' were also good and that maybe we could run 2 'approved' breeds here just keeping the roo's and purebred hens separate while we got hatching eggs.

Garlic emerges in the tunnel
As a result, as well as the Buffs we have a mad and merry mixture. We have a couple of Buff-crosses, we have a black Marans hen and another black hen whom we think is Araucana x Game. And then there's our belov├ęd "Enda Vaneera", the only Sussex Ponte (white with black markings) hen left from our first ever Irish batch of birds, bought in 2011. The Marans came as a dozen fertilized eggs for the incubator last year and hatched as 4 roosters and 2 hens. Mr Fox took one of the hens and we had to cull out 3 of the roosters as they were stalking round as a threesome and gang-raping any hen they could catch.

I found this rather lovely shed during a '365' hunt.
Through much of this time we have enjoyed the gentle, dignified dominance of our alpha Buff Orp Rooster who you may recall, was named Lt. Col. Sir Buffton Tuffton. 'Buffers' did a splendid job minding his ladies, seeing to their needs, keeping us in fertile eggs and never indulging in that short-lived behaviour of 'aggression towards humans'. I say "short lived" because sensible chicken keepers do not tolerate such attacks and tend to cull out anyone who shows signs fairly quickly.

The archers take a break for tea and some of Liz's most
excellent polenta, nut and orange cake.
Last year, an upcoming Buff Orp rooster (The Captain) took Buffers on in a spring-time fight and soundly beat him. We have been advised that we should then have culled out Buffers (who was obviously 'fading') but we did not know that at the time, we preferred Buffers to the Captain, and we offed the latter, so Buffers got a bonus year. The Captain was followed by another Buff roo' (The Corporal) and the same might have happened this spring but when Mr Fox came he managed to badly damage the youngster (he died of his wounds a few days later). We are not sure how, but Buffers came through that day unruffled and without a mark on him - we suspect he made himself scarce to the beer tent or to his London Club and watched the action on Cable News.

So now, if you are keeping up, we have a depleted collection of girls and just 2 roosters One is 'Buffers' who is/was nominally in charge and would by now be our only source of pure-bred Buff Orp DNA for use in the 'Let's go Buff Orp' campaign. The other is an ever-more magnificent, fast growing Marans rooster who we believe might be the 'Blue' colour variant. He lost most of his long tail feathers in Fox-wars and has only 1 left, but this is surrounded by half-length replacements which are coming on strongly. He struts and marches about and crows like a professional - even letting a few loud cock-a-doodles go late at night if we turn the yard light on and disturb his darkness.

Sausage meat, black pudding and apple pie filling.
This guy, named 'Gandalf' for the blue-grey of his magnificent plumage is starting to be a real challenge to Buffers and we often see him with a good collection of women around him while Buffers is quite often alone. The only fights we have seen have generally had Buffers come out on top but the only blood we've seen was on Buffers, rather than Gandalf. Buffers needs to be looking to his laurels a bit and watching Gandalf closely but instead he has made a big tactical blunder.

The way we shoot, safest thing to wear on your head is the
target! Wouldn't want to be the bloke standing next to me.
He has taking to attacking us, the humans, and particularly Liz. Now, fortunately, he has no spurs (we don't know if this is a Buff Orp thing or just a trait unique to this particular rooster), so his 'attack's involve a lot of 'looming' and some fluttery 'kicks' and wing-butts at your calves. However he needs to know that his sole-Buff-rooster status will not protect him if he starts to annoy Liz to the degree where she gives him the Roman Games 'thumbs-down' or if he loses in a proper fight with Gandalf. There is more than one way, as they say. to skin a cat. We can buy in a replacement rooster or buy in fertile pure-bred eggs to put in the incubator or under a broody. Meanwhile we would just enjoy having a blue-grey roo about the place instead of the old military 'buffer'.

Ducklings at 2 weeks get that long-bodied shape.
I suspect that this is enough on chickens. Meanwhile the 3 ducklings are the every definition of 'thriving' they seem to feel heavier and bigger each day when I handle them to taxi them outside each morning and back in the evening. They have long since left behind their spherical, new hatch, ball-of-fluff shapes and moved properly into young duck shape; long body with legs at one end and neck and head at the other. At a week and a bit they outgrew the first plastic crate and were promoted to our bigger crate. The new breathing-space did not last long and they are already tall enough to not be able to stand straight under the (cat proof!) mesh 'roof' and starting to look like battery hens on an A4 size allocated patch of floor.

A kitten-box for safe transport.
They are also very very messy as anyone who has tried to brood ducklings indoors will happily tell you. They need a constant supply of fresh water but are very sloppy with it, dipping their heads to dibble up food or to drink and then flicking their head side to side, spraying water everywhere. Their food is mainly a pelletized dry mix (chick crumb) which goes soft on contact with water and with which they are as clumsy and messy as they are with the water. As a result, the food/water end of their home quickly submerges under a grey mush of crumb, other food, water and poo and you have to change their bedding (newspaper is nice and easy to roll up even when sloppy wet) daily.

Those pies get a (lamb) suet crust.
We find ourselves buying the thickest, most page-iferous newspapers we can (Irish Farmers' Journal is good) and snatching up any free 'rags' on offer to meet the demands. The ducklings get evicted as soon as we dare - let them do their messing and water-spraying out on the yard for as long as it's warm enough! At present, that means they go out into one of my 2 x 1 m rabbit runs with a mesh roof and a 'bedroom' at one end. I move them each way in a kitten-basket because they were quickly able to leap out of the open-top feed buckets I had been using.

If you are doing this, I advise never let them even TRY to escape. If ducklings get out they will do what wild ducklings do by instinct every time they are threatened - they scatter (at high speed!) and go to ground hunkered down silent and still somewhere out of sight - a grass tuft or under your enamel bath. They will then stay hidden and silent till Mum sounds the all clear and calls them back to herself. Your problem, obviously, is that these are hand-reared babies so there is no 'Mum' to do this and I am guessing you, the reader, do not speak 'Duck'. You end up having to go stand close to where you think they went, stand very still and silent and hope to hear the first, tentative, piping calls of bored ducklings who think they have hidden long enough and are now hungry.

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