Monday, November 11, 2013

Oreo Becomes a Mom

Oreo in the nesting box with Cotton.

I think one of the things that appeals to me with my hens is how matronly they seem. We’ve seen the mother-hen instinct in action for the last week, and I find myself absorbed by the behaviors and instincts throughout the flock.

Oreo is the older silver-laced bantam cochin hen that my sister-in-law gave the girls in exchange for the esteemed rooster, Cluck Norris. I’m not sure how old Oreo is. She came to us with Clover about two years ago, and she might have been two or three at the time. I do know it has been a long time since she laid an egg.

When we went to the chicken show last week, L brought home the small bantam barred rock (currently being called “Cecily” by L) and a little bantam cochin chick – probably about four weeks old – who she named “Cotton.” The chick will look a lot like Oreo when she's full grown.

Cotton and Cecily were placed in a separate crate in the coop to introduce them to the new flock safely and gradually. Cotton peeped endlessly. We put a red heat light in over the crate to be sure she was warm. But still she peeped. Cecily did not seem particularly interested in being friends with Cotton.

One morning I let the two little ones out into the small chicken yard while the big hens had the run of the backyard. Cotton peeped and peeped. I noticed that Oreo seemed to be hanging out, clucking away, nearby. Curious, I let her in to see how she’d behave toward Cotton and Cecily.

She chased Cecily away with a peck, but seemed unconcerned about Cotton. Not necessarily interested, but at the same time, not hostile. I sat and watched, uncertain. But Cotton clearly had no doubts: Oreo was her long lost mom.

It wasn’t long before Oreo would scratch and peck at the ground, make a distinct cluck sound, and Cotton would hurry to see what Oreo had found. Cotton peeped and Oreo clucked. In those first little communications, a bond was forming. Convinced all three would be fine, I left them for a while.

About an hour later I returned to find Oreo in the nesting box. Tucked under the warmth and shelter of her wing was Cotton, quiet and happy, not making a peep. Oreo looked pleased.

At that point, I wondered what I should do for the evening. If Oreo kept the chick under her wing, Cotton would be warm enough. But if not, Cotton would be exposed not only to the chilly night, but also to the big hens who might easily hurt her. I hemmed and hawed. Then I opened the run door so I could see how Oreo behaved with the big girls around.

Eventually, I saw Oreo lead her new charge out into the backyard. Cotton’s peeps kept Oreo aware of where she was at all times. If Oreo became concerned, she’d cluck to Cotton and the little chick came running. Then I watched Pip approach Cotton like she was going to pick on her. Oreo charged between them, drew herself up and chest bumped with Pip, even throwing her feet up at the younger hen.

Pip retreated, chastised. Oreo and Cotton ran to each other, the danger past. Rosemary then decided to pick on little Cecily, and I chased her off. But my actions and Rosemary’s hostility threw mama hen into action. She chased her chick to the safety and cover of the lilac bush. One of the black hens suddenly became auntie, and joined them to offer additional protection.

Clearly, Cotton would be fine in the flock with her fierce mama (and auntie) watching out for her. When Kirk went out to close the coop that night, he noticed that not only was Oreo tucked into the nesting box with Cotton, but Violet had wedged herself in as well, adding her name to the auntie roster.

Yesterday, all were out in the yard happily pecking, and Cotton was trailing along, peeping and pecking and checking in with mom. I was supposed to be doing yard work, but it was a beautiful day, and I found myself constantly stopping to watch the sweetness of the bond between mama and chick. The other hens minded their manners and Oreo proudly shepherded her baby like an old pro. It certainly makes my job a lot easier and eases my mind, and it is nice to think the Oreo gets to be a mama after all this time.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Mom and Daughter Day

One of two new girls in the flock, a bantam barred rock, name still pending...
On Saturday, L and I woke up early. If you knew me, you would know the magnitude of that statement. L is an early riser. Me? Not so much. Clearly, I must have had a compelling reason to get up early on a Saturday.

We were heading to the Rocky Mountain Feather Fancier’s show in Brighton, about an hour away.

Yes, that’s right: A chicken show.
Can you imagine a better reason to get up early on a Saturday? Me neither!

We jumped in the car and were on our way. L had her Pocket Poultry guide with her, just in case there was an exotic breed that we needed to identify in a jiffy. She chattered all the way down to the show as we braved Denver traffic and found our way to the Adams County Fairgrounds.

We have, sadly, lost a few hens over the past year: Clover, Pearl, and Betty Boop. Bossy Clover and sweet Pearl from old age. Betty Boop, the funny Polish Crested who had yet to lay an egg, was found lifeless on the coop floor several weeks ago. This made me sad. She was a young pullet that had started following me everywhere, and she had been perfectly chipper the day before. Once again, we were reminded that chickens are fragile.

We still have Violet, the Grand Dame of the flock. And Oreo, Thelma, Louise, and Pip. Young pullets Nettie, Hazel and Rosemary have yet to produce an egg. But we were heading to the show to see if we could find a Bantam Cochin pullet for Lydia, and maybe one other hen.

We hadn’t spent one-on-one time together in a long time. We talked chickens and horses and music and books. It was good.

Pulling into the parking lot we wondered if this was the right spot. Our questions were answered when we opened the car doors and heard roosters crowing. We both looked at each other and said, “We’re in the right place.”

The fiercely competitive tension crackled from the fair buildings.

Well, ok, not really. Poultry peeps are fairly relaxed folk.

There were a couple of horse trailers parked in the front of the building. They were filled with cages and stereophonic with quacks. Ducks for sale. Poultry pushers. Oh, so tempting. We glanced longingly at the little Call Ducks, but we both knew what we were there for, and ducks weren’t on the list.

Kids strolled around with hens tucked nonchalantly into the crooks of elbows. Rows of cages housing birds entered in the show filled half the building. I asked where the sale birds were, and we were directed to the north end of the building.

Four people were sliding a floorless pen along the cement floor to relocate it to a different spot. Inside about a dozen adult ducks waddled along, their webbed feet making little slap-slap noises as they walked along, like a bunch of kids in flip flops at the pool. We waited for this little procession to pass by, then got down to the serious business of bird buying.

I liked a nicely colored Ameraucana hen. Housed with her was a pair of very nice cochin bantams—a hen and a rooster. We really can’t have a rooster in town. The owner wasn’t sure she wanted to split them up, which I can understand. She had a box full of young chicks, bantam cochins, but their coloring was iffy for showing, though we thought maybe 4H would be more lenient. Then we saw three little bantam barred rock hens. Hardly exotic, but appealing. Violet is a barred rock, but she’s a full sized hen and her feathering wasn’t as fine and barring wasn’t as crisp as these birds.

We knew we didn’t want to introduce a solo bird to the flock. But just about every cage held a pair (hen and rooster) or trio (rooster and two hens). We hemmed and hawed and decided to go have a coffee at Starbucks and think about our choices.

We chatted and enjoyed the time together, then headed back to the show. Someone had brought in a bunch of speckled Sussex hens, reminding me of Mabel. L didn’t really want another Speckled Sussex—because they reminded her of Mabel. We made a decision. We’d get one of the barred rock bantam hens, and one small chick. We talked to the owners, L made her selections and we put our new flock members in the small crate we’d brought. As we pulled out of the fairgrounds…. The naming game began, punctuated by peeps and clucks all the way home.