THE OFFICIAL BLOG
For over six years now we have raised our flock of Buff Orpington chickens. We range as many as 75 and as few as 25 at a time. We also always keep at least two roosters out with the hens every day, all day. I have bragged on these roosters for all of these years - having never had an issue with the boys fighting or otherwise causing trouble. I had been told that roosters will fight if there aren't enough girls to go around and I was always sure to keep the rooster-hen ratio just right. And I patted myself on the back, too. MY roosters NEVER fight because I am the chicken whisperer....
But a few weeks ago we found both of our mature roosters bloody and huddled in the cold rain. Honestly, we were stumped as far as what had happened to them. Equally wounded and missing a fair amount of feathers, we speculated that perhaps they had both nobly fought off an attacker in the rain. Or maybe the peacocks beat the poor sweet boys mercilessly when we were not looking. We even hypothetically blamed Loreto the Donkey because he's usually to blame for just about everything.
Things were quiet for a couple of weeks after that. The wounds mostly healed with just a few tale-tell scars left behind. It was peaceful.
And then we caught them fighting. Brutally fighting. Neither one ran. Neither one showed any signs of backing down. They went after one another for at least an hour before we got out the water hose and tried to break things up. It didn't work. We had bloody, angry, WET roosters fighting in the driveway.
With no clue what to do, one of the kids rounded up one of the roosters into one of the chicken coops for some solitary confinement so they could both heal while we contemplated our next steps. But the roosters stalked one another and fought as best they could through the coop wire day in and day out. It was obvious that these two were never going to call a truce. We ultimately decided to release the caged rooster and let the two of them work it out in whatever way was going to be best for our flock. Apparently, the best thing was for one of them to win. The other is gone. Not necessarily dead by rooster-fight.. but gone. We are not asking any questions about his whereabouts now. It's sad. But it's over.
So what happened? Both roosters had enough hens between them. They also had plenty of territory to claim for their own without infringing on the other with just over 17 acres to roam. Food is plentiful this time of year and I have always been sure to do any supplemental feeding at at least two different locations during the day so that the boys can claim their own space. They were raised together as chicks and have been together for two years without previous incident. Everything I have ever read about keeping roosters together successfully had been covered. And ... Don't forget.. We had been doing it for six years without a problem. And, hello? Chicken whisperer? Remember?
I think this falls on these particular roosters. Yes, they were raised together, but more importantly they were exactly the same age. They both reached full hormonal maturity at the same time this spring. They also were evenly matched in size - so much so that it was pretty hard to tell them apart most of the time.
In the past I had always kept one mature rooster with the hens while I raised the secondary rooster from a different batch of chicks. What this meant was that we always had at least one older rooster who was boss. The younger roosters would challenge him when they came into their own - but it really didn't take much other than a good display of awesomeness to send the younger boys running back into the little territories they had carved out for themselves.
Given the fact that we exclusively free-range, we rarely kept a single rooster for a full two years. Roosters do tend to end up getting themselves uh... eliminated... in the process of looking after the flock. So we would often lose that boss rooster who would be replaced by one of the younger roosters... while we grew out another young rooster... and so on. This time.. it didn't happen that way. Both of these roosters, exactly the same age, managed to survive a full two years... There was no boss rooster and young challenger. Just two bosses and one flock of hens. And me, chicken whisperer, paying absolutely no attention to what was going on....
We will be growing out a young rooster to take up secondary position by the end of this summer and will be paying close attention to stature and attitude this time. Hopefully, as long as one or the other of them will just LOOK LIKE a clear winner - there will be no more need for fighting. In the meantime, we have peace... and one bedraggled, yet victorious, rooster.
When we acquired our first donkey, we thought we would keep her in a barn stall overnight and then set her out to roam and graze our property during the day. She was such a tiny thing and so cute and would be a joy to halter every morning for the routine. Except. The first problem was that she was as wild as any ass in the desert and wouldn't let me anywhere near her to halter. The second problem was that this tiny little donkey managed to kick down the stall gate within the first 48 hours of her time here.
Such problems continued with our plans as we acquired more donkeys. For quite a while they were housed in a large fenced area behind our main barn with access to the barn itself for shelter. But our jack, Loreto, is prone to boredom and bored toddler type destruction. The boy wrecked our barn. Then he turned his attention to our chickens and goats.
We spent several weeks over a previous summer building a low barbed wire fence around the immediate perimeter of the cleared area around our house and barn so as to give the donkeys more room to range and play -- and curb frustration and boredom. It worked. They were no longer bored. They were completely entertained by eating all of our trees and shrubs and accessible outbuildings. Oh.. and grass. Every. blade. of. grass.
So then came the Okay. New Plan. part of this story: we bit the bullet and hired a good company out of Tulsa to build us a pole-barn type building. It was a slightly strange request as I was looking for a run-in or loafing shed - but wanted it to be large enough to take care of future needs including weather-safe stalls if necessary. The result was a 20 x 30 foot steel building totally enclosed on three sides and totally open on one long side -- an over-sized loafing shed.
We also enclosed a little less than one half acre of a nice wooded area with cattle panel for them to play in when they aren't out with us. There are tweaks to be made to the fence as we put it up as quickly as possible to get them moved in. We also have a few frustrations to work out on the building itself as the pad takes on all of the drainage from our driveway and is staying pretty wet -- too wet for donkeys -- during all of this rain. Some more grade work and ditch-digging will take care of that.
We are using the corral panels that we had already purchased to make barn stalls inside the shed. We are short one gate panel before we can put together two stalls which will do for the time being as we are expecting two foals this summer. Ultimately, we would need four more gate panels and $360 more dollars. And, honestly, after all of this construction that's not currently in the budget.
I think maybe our barn-building guys thought I was a little touched in the head to be having all of this built for these tiny little donkeys. And I may actually be a little touched in the head, but I think it will all work out just right when it is done. I mean, the donkeys are here to stay and they are well worth it.
And once the tack hooks, solar lights, and decorations are all in place - we will be able to move on to all of the other little projects we have neglected for years - such as planting trees without having to build fences around them. Maybe someday we will even buy a park bench ... and then we will sit on it... and relax and enjoy all of the work we have done. Maybe. I can dream anyway.
I know that this COVID-19 disaster has caused major upheaval and, yes, tragedy in so many lives. I acknowledge the gravity of it. Which is also why I write this post in a spirit of gratitude. I am grateful that our daily lives have not been impacted much at all so far.
The first change for us was not going out for weekly archery lessons. We all miss our coach and the rest of the archery team. And I may even miss the pleasant drive all the way to Coweta (though I do not miss the drive back. I'm sure you understand how that could be so.). But not having to leave the house on Mondays has meant a less hectic start to the school week and a pretty sharp reduction in the amount of gas I need to purchase in a month.
And of course, I mentioned school. I can only imagine how disruptive it would be to have to bring your children home from school in the middle of a semester. I can only imagine because we homeschool. Our daily school routine has continued as it has for years. There is only minor inconvenience when ordered books required for online courses take a couple of extra weeks to get here because of COVID-related shipping delays. It doesn't matter much... we aren't on a schedule so classes start when the books get here... whenever that is.
My husband is the one who has had to adapt to the biggest changes once he was asked to work from home starting over a month ago. Mind you, it wasn't an unwelcome suggestion. We are both happy that he has been able to remain employed through all of this... and we, frankly, love having him here working from home. It happens to be something we always wished he would be able to do (and we will all be sad when things return to 'normal' and he has to commute in to the office once again). It just so happens that we have a comfortable office space down in the barn where he can work in private and is only occasionally interrupted by hens screaming their egg song of victory or a bleating goat.
The hardest change is not having access to Mass. Online streaming is nice for a sense of community and all, but as Catholics not having access to the sacraments (which are a visible sign of a grace received... emphasis on visible.. tangible.. in person) is tough-going. Our daily prayers continue unabated and we look forward to the restoration of public Mass in the future. God willing.
As a small farm, these times have been interesting. In the beginning of the crisis we were swamped with requests for chicks, hens, roosters, eggs, geese, goats milk, meat rabbits... Anything and everything that people felt they would need to make their family more self-sufficient in the event of a long-term disaster.
The demand has died down now. And, unfortunately, I don't think that it is because everyone is ready to take care of themselves. I am pretty sure that a bit of complacency has already settled in again. Maybe even on our part as we are no where near as self-sufficient as we had planned to be following the first large-scale disaster we survived.
Mostly I am talking about food. We have chickens and eggs. We even have enough eggs to have been able to start offering some for sale to the local community during a time in which it has apparently been harder to find them in stores. But surviving on chickens and eggs alone is for only the harshest of times. And this is not yet the harshest of times. I am disappointed that we still have to go to the grocery store for staples and wish I had already set up a network with friends and neighbors who own cows for our butter and milk. I wish we had a chest freezer full of beef and pork -- and a friend to buy more from. I wish my vegetable garden did not crash totally and completely with late freezes and too much rain. I wish squash bugs did not exist.
The lesson learned here when this is over... Please - if this is ever over... Is to make those connections in earnest so that we are not at all dependent on a long food supply chain.
In the meantime, we have enough of what we need and are fortunate to be able to somewhat enjoy this slow and quiet time all together at home. We are praying for everyone out there as they navigate all of the uncertainty and fear. And if there is anything we can help you with - please let us know. A grace shared is a grace multiplied.
Is that they are so quickly abandoned.
I know that I had resolved to maintain this blog on a more regular basis as soon as the business of the start of the year was through. Maybe I haven't actually abandoned the resolution and it is more a matter of the business has never subsided. And it was not entirely my fault this time - I mean, we ARE in the middle of a pandemic-induced crisis.
But I can't blame COVID-19 for my absence. We have actually had MORE time since all of the quarantining has started. More time to relax and reflect. JUST KIDDING! More time for projects and back-breaking labor.
By way of update, here is a run-down of a few of the changes that have happened since last I logged into the blog editor:
There's a lot more, I'm sure. It has been a very long three months. A very long, but totally enjoyable three months if not for the rain.
And now that I have finished with a necessary 'catch-up' post that will help put my head back in order... I'm off to figure out what I had been planning to write about before the world caught on fire.
LOOKING FOR SOMETHING?