THE OFFICIAL BLOG
Remember the little difficulty we had had between Roosteau and Roostah a month ago? The one which ended in an epic bloody battle and a missing rooster? Roosteau may have won, but to any outsider he looked like the loser. I thought it would be nice to update and let everyone know that he is almost 100% back to normal these days.
Hopefully we won't be going through this again any time soon when we introduce the new guy. Fingers crossed.
So there he is. This is the fella we have selected to grow out for our free-range flock. I'm hoping he's either too shy or too bold to get bullied around by our number one rooster (Roosteau) when the time comes. I think I'm going to call him Chevalier. Just because.
He has the beginnings of a beautiful comb and wattles. His feathers are full and not too orange for my liking. And I think he's going to be a big boy. Also -- his crow is pretty musical for a beginner. Don't let anyone tell you that your rooster's crow doesn't matter. You're going to hear it one hundred times per day so it better be a somewhat pleasant sound.
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.
After years of navigating methods of maintaining bedding in the chicken coop....
I think I have finally found what really works for us.
First, you need to understand that our chickens free-range so when I say 'coop' I am talking about the secure building where they roost overnight. Some of our older girls do prefer to lounge about in the coop during the day as well - but for the most part this is not a 24/7 coop and run.
Second, it's a pretty large coop. It's actually a pre-fab 10 x 16 lofted cabin that we converted to a coop a few years ago. It can easily and comfortably house quite a number of grown chickens over night. This summer it has been evening home to about 30 chickens, I think... But who's counting?
The problem that I have always had - which I know is common to chicken-owners everywhere - is finding some way to keep the coop clean. I have always prefered the deep-bedding method, especially in winter when the composting manure and bedding keep things cozy. In summer, however, the stench and the flies - OH THE FLIES - are less than ideal.
I experimented with different litter - from hay and straw to sawdust and back to regular old pine shavings. The problem was not the litter. The problem was the poo. Most books suggest using diatomaceous earth mixed with the bedding to reduce moisture, parasites, and odors. I tried that too. I wanted it to work. However, having a large coop meant needing a large amount of DE to get the job done. Also, simply handling the bags of DE sent me into coughing fits for days and the chickens fared no better - I had problems with respiratory illnesses in my birds whenever I did use the DE. Unfortunately, there was another major problem: it did not actually help. DE is pretty much useless once it gets wet... And I ended up with a nasty dirty sludge of wet DE underneath the bedding which I had to scrape up -- adding to my coop cleaning chores. Oh, and did I mention that DE is not actually as cheap as the internet likes to tell you it is? I was shelling out $25 per week just to keep the chicken coop powdered in DE which didn't seem to do anything other than make everyone sneeze. So.. scratch that.
I also tried the 'no litter' method during the hot summer months. What this meant was scraping overnight poo off the coop floor every morning and toting it off to the compost bin. Not only was it something akin to torture to wake up every morning looking forward to scraping chicken poo... but as the days got hotter and longer there was no way to stay ahead of the flies or the smell. And since the clean-up was always wet - and my cleaning methods also required the use of some amount of water to remove the sticky bits.. the coop maintained a level of dampness during the humid summer that was ... not good.
This summer I decided to try something totally new. I was convinced it wouldn't work, of course.. but I had to say I tried. After spring clean-up - I bought 1 ten pound bag of the cheapest all-purpose flour I could find (the store brand flour was $3.98 per bag) and three large boxes of store brand baking soda (at 98 cents each). I mixed it all together in a bucket and then layered it in to a thick layer of pine shavings bedding on the floor of the coop. Then I sat back and waited.
Okay, not really. I still turned over the bedding every morning... but that's a lot more like waiting than scraping up icky poo every morning.
Something amazing happened. There was no fly problem in the coop this summer. There was a fly problem, of course. But not in the coop. And there was no stench. Not that it smelled like one of those trees you put on your rearview mirror in there... but it did not stink to the point of gagging even on the hottest of days... it just smelled like... chickens.
Also... no respiratory issues this year... no mites... and... the final test....
After four extremely hot and humid months - I cleaned out the old bedding in preparation for fall and all of the bedding was perfectly dry. It was light and easy to move. It was not clumped together. It was not even composting.
If you can't tell how clean it was from the tractor picture above, then perhaps this will convince you: Did I mention that we floored our chicken coop with leftover wood laminate planks? You know, the kind of floor that does not hold up well to a lot of moisture? The floor tells it all. After removing the bulk of the bedding I was able to sweep the rest of the coop clean... After four months of heavy use.
The best part? I did not have to use any funky chemicals to get the results I wanted this year. And bonus - it was super cheap and convenient.
I won't be adding flour and baking soda to the new bedding as fall and winter approach as I will be wanting this bedding to compost to keep the coop toasty on cold nights. But you can bet I'll be heading to the baking aisle in the spring.