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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Roosters: 3 Reasons to Rethink Keeping a Cock in Your Flock

- By: Mackenzie Reiss

As we talked about last week, roosters can be super cool additions to your flock for a number of reasons including protection, food calls, the pecking order, and for hatching chicks. However, the constant crowing and the aggressive tendencies of certain breeds can be cause for consideration before introducing a cock to your flock. Here's some things to think about.

Crowing: In the movies, roosters only crow at first light, but reality tells a very different story. Most roosters crow throughout the day, and sometimes even into the night. The reasons for crowing are many: to announce the start of a day, to alert the flock to danger, and perhaps to simply assert his masculine presence. To help minimize crowing, Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens recommends that owners restrict the time chickens are let outside, close coop windows at night, and insulate coop walls to reduce sound.
 
While some owners enjoy the rooster's call, others or their neighbors find the constant noise to be an annoyance. For this reason, it is necessary to check your local zoning ordinance to find out whether or not roosters are allowed in your community. BackyardChickens.com user, melikamiki had this to say about crowing:
If you like crowing, you'll like a rooster. I don't mind crowing, per se. I mind the ceaseless crowing all day, especially when I'm sitting on my porch enjoying the weather trying to have a conversation. For someone new, I think it's a good idea to point out that they do crow all day long and mine does before dawn and after dusk, and sometimes at night when he hears something.
Rooster fights: Roosters fight with one another and with hens if not introduced to the flock properly or in the right conditions. It is best to raise roosters and hens together so that the pecking order will be established at an early age. If a rooster is introduced to a new flock of hens, he will assert his dominance by fighting the alpha hen and other birds he views as a threat, which could lead to disruption of the flock, injury, and even death. If you would like to add more than one rooster to your flock it is important to ensure that each bird has adequate space. Roosters in close quarters will fight each other to protect their territory and hens. You can minimize fighting by adding one feeding and water station per rooster spaced at least 10ft apart so that each rooster may claim his own territory.

Aggressive behavior: Certain breeds are predisposed to aggressive behavior such as the Modern Game, English Game, Belgian D'Anver (Bantam), Cubalaya, Japanese Chabo, Malay, Rhode Island, and Silkie, according to Henderson's Chicken Chart. Aggression can take on many forms, from harassing hens and other roosters to attacking you - the owner! While the latter seems to contradict all logic, from the rooster's perspective, you are viewed as a potential threat to his hens. A rooster may use his beak to attack, but his spurs are what you need to really watch out for. The spurs are the pointed talon-like protrusions on the backs of the rooster's legs. To avoid being attacked by an aggressive rooster, you can prove your dominance by training him. One method is to hold the offending rooster upside-down while firmly pressing his head down with one hand. When he feels relaxed, remove your hand. Repeat the motion until the rooster stays still with his head down even after you have removed your hand.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Roosters: 4 Great Reasons to Keep a Cock(erel) in your Flock


By: Mackenzie Reiss

Nothing says "farm" quite like the quintessential crow of a rooster in the early morning. These stunning creatures are not only visually appealing with their gorgeous feathering, but also act as the first line of defense between predators and the rest of your flock. A rooster is essential if you're planning on hatching chicks; but even if that is not the case, these birds provide a range of benefits to almost any flock:

Food Call: When a rooster happens upon a tasty morsel, such as a table scrap or something found while foraging, he will alert the rest of the flock with a repetitive call or even pick up the food and offer it to a nearby hen. This behavior, known as tid-bitting, is a manifestation of the rooster's natural protective instinct to put his hen's welfare before his own.

Protection: Roosters will alert the flock to airborne or land-based predators and fend them off if necessary. When the end of the day draws near, a rooster will also help corral the hens back towards the coop. Rooster owner, Matthew of Virginia posted the following testimony to his rooster's usefulness on the forums at BackyardChickens.com
Without my roo I would be out several hens even with two border collies and two guard geese roaming. When a hawk swoops I hear him give his warning and the hens scatter. The geese and the dogs don't look up! I haven't lost any chickens to a hawk and I think it has a lot to do with the rooster.
Social Hierarchy: It is a natural behavior for social birds like chickens to establish a social hierarchy to help maintain order within the flock. This pecking order dictates many behaviors such as who mates with who and which hens get the best roosting spots and scraps of food. Because of his strength and masculine authority, it is natural for a rooster to take on the alpha role. This helps prevent disruption in the flock by establishing a firm pecking order. Without a rooster, hens will compete amongst themselves for the alpha spot which diminishes peace and stability within the flock. (The Field Guide to Chickens, Pam Percy)

Hatching Eggs: If you are looking to hatch chicks of your own, you will need a rooster to fertilize the eggs. Chicks will hatch after approximately 21 days of incubation. Conversely, you may also choose to sell your fertilized eggs which can fetch twice the price of regular eggs. Roosters are sexually mature at 25 weeks and will mate throughout the year anywhere from 10-30 times per day. To avoid excessive mating and stress on your hens, it is recommended that you have 8-10 hens per rooster.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

New Farmer Coming Soon! Baby Raff Due November 2014

Dare 2 Dream Farms is happy to announce that we will be adding a new farmer to our team in November 2014! Baby Raff will be showered with chicken love of course, in addition to becoming a loving and worldly little being surrounded by our always changing, ever-awesome crew of WWOOF-USA work/stay guests. We can't wait to welcome little baby to our hearts, home, and farm!




Until then, Baby Raff, xoxoxo.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Tips for Integrating Chickens

No matter how sweet, fun-loving, and friendly Lucy and Ethel are with you and with each other, as soon as you add new chickens to their perfect little flock, they will probably transform in front of your very eyes to bullies! The shock of this transformation in conjunction with your concern for the wellbeing of the new little girls may very well put you over the edge. If you’re not familiar with this behavior, we wrote last week about The PeckingOrder so you can understand what on Mother Nature’s good green earth is going on. The most important things to do are: 1) supervise, and 2) have a back-up plan. However, the more you interfere with the pecking order, the longer it will take to finish. Understandably, everyone is looking for ways to make this transition easier! Let’s put to rest a couple of myths about integrating chickens.

Myth #1: If you put your chickens in at night, they will wake up and just accept each other. Here’s the problem with this myth: the need for the pecking order does not go away just because they wake up snuggling. What’s really happening? Chickens wake up as early as 3:30 or 4:00am. You don’t arise until 6:00am or later, meaning your chickens have had hours to duke it out while you’re snoozing away; so the worst is already behind them by the time you greet them with your morning cup of Joe. The benefit of this is that the worst part of the pecking order is watching it. In all likelihood, they’re all going to be fine whether you referee or not. But if you’re not careful with the number and size of the new chickens in comparison to your flock, there’s a small possibility someone might be hurt or worse.

Myth #2: If you take one chicken out and put another in its place, they will never know, right? Wrong! Chickens are much smarter than some humans give them credit for. In a homogenous flock of chickens that all look alike, they can tell the difference between each other even when you cannot. Although you might luck out with a mild pecking order transition, this is no indication that they didn’t notice the sneaky swap, or that this creates a mild transition every time.

So, what can you do that will effectively minimize the bullying and possible harm to the chickens?

Trick #1: Create safety in numbers. The more chickens you add at a time, the more the pecking must be dispersed amongst the newcomers. Adding two new chickens to four established hens creates a two on one pecking ratio; whereas adding four chickens takes their advantage down to a one to one ratio. More chickens running around creates more confusion, and less of an ability to corner and bully one new baby girl.

Trick #2: Create safety with size. Adding chicks that are just ready to go into the coop will be more difficult than adding chickens that have some height and girth to them. If you put a few big girls into the flock, they can stand up for themselves better than a tiny chick who has just been weaned off of heat lamps.

Trick #3: Create a separate space where they can see each other, but not touch for at least the first day. Whether you string up some chicken wire across a portion of the coop or run, or put a large dog kennel in the coop for the new chickens, the barrier will protect the new chickens immensely. Established hens will still come over to peck, kick, and bully the new chickens, but will be able to physically hurt them. After most of their aggression has been taken out on the wire, and the new chickens get the point, integrating them should go fairly smoothly. If you’re adding very young chicks, or a small number of chickens to a larger flock, you may choose to keep them in chick protective services longer than a day.

Trick #4: Give them lots of treats to chase and munch on. Although this trick might not last for long, chickens would rather chase tasty treats than each other. Tossing out meal worms or sunflower seeds to the established chickens might just keep them pecking around for long enough to let the little girls relax a bit. It will also give the new girls an opportunity to let the established hens eat first, signaling their submission before the pecking ensues.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Pecking Order: Why Becky head-butted Sophie?


It’s exceptionally difficult for humans to watch the transitional period of the pecking order in a group of chickens. This must be primarily because we love our pets and want them to get along; but also because we would never greet a new friend by head-butting them, forcing them to stand in the corner of the room, or taking their lunch. But chickens can’t say, “Hi, I’m Becky. Let me show you around!” So instead they use dominance to create a social hierarchy that establishes how the flock operates: who is the boss, where the cool kids hang out, who is dismissed for lunch first, and so on.

If the flock contains a rooster, he will generally make his way to the top of the pecking order as he matures. Without a rooster, a dominant hen will establish her place at the top of the pecking order and function much like the dominant rooster. The chicken at the top of the pecking order is charged with protecting the flock. They will keep an eye to the sky and to their surroundings and make a sound to warn the flock of incoming predators or unknown objects. In the case of a shortage of food, a rooster will often prove chivalrous enough to find food for the hens, and allow them to eat what’s available before he eats anything. A dominant hen on the other hand, may lay claim to the last morsels of food if resources are running low. Those at the bottom of the pecking order are mostly required to stay out of the way of more dominant chickens, and are often bullied away from the feed and water until the dominant chickens are finished.

Changing the makeup of the flock – adding new chickens, removing chickens, or mixing different flocks – causes uproar in the pecking order. A new order must be established by pecking, bullying, and fighting. New chickens in the flock will mostly end up at the bottom of the order as the established chickens peck at them. When a chicken stops looking at a dominant chicken, keeps its head low, or moves to a different area, they are signaling that they accept their less dominant position in the pecking order. Although the majority of the bullying and fighting happens immediately, it can take around two weeks for the flock to truly finalize their pecking order.

Chickens simply intend to show dominance to establish their place in the pecking order, but some chickens are stronger and rougher than others. Although it doesn’t happen often, a chicken will occasionally get injured by a larger or more aggressive hen. If a chicken is injured during the squabble and her wound bleeds, it can cause other chickens to peck at the injury. The saddest thing about the nature of chickens is learning they are cannibals. A bleeding chicken may be pecked to death if it is not separated from the rest of the chickens and treated. For this reason, it is always best to supervise when adding new chickens to your flock. If you’re looking for some tricks to make it easier on you and the new chicks, check out our article on Tips forIntegrating Chickens.

If your chicken is wounded, check out our ChickenFirst Aid! But first, get that chicken out of the coop. You can apply a topical antiseptic called Blu-Kote that also acts as a dye to cover up the color of blood. Be careful not to get this on your hands, clothes, or furniture as it stains! You can also use a triple antibiotic such as Neosporin to help the wound heal quickly – just make sure it does not contain “Added Pain Relief”.

Remember that the hardest thing about the pecking order is watching it. Most of the time, the order is established smoothly without any injuries. And if someone does get bullied a bit much, you might notice they’re simply more inclined to be loved on by their human mamas and papas, which you will surely enjoy. Just have a back-up plan ready in case things do head south: a spare dog kennel, a separate coop, or simply dividing the coop to create a safe space for injured or bullied chickens will work perfectly.