Flock’s flux

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We’ve had a small flock of chickens since moving to Salt Spring. We started with two hybrid laying hens that we got as wonderful parting gifts when we left Haliburtion in 2009. We had raised those two – plus 26 of their ‘sisters’ – from day old chicks to 6 weeks old in our suburban Saanich basement. I would not recommend doing this unless you are aware of the many issues like smell, noise and canabalistic violence that can ensue. But it was an unforgettable experience in any case.

A few weeks after we moved to Salt Spring, Hannah and Laura got 5 bantam heritage birds from a Vancouver Island breeder. The whole lot of them spent their nights protected from raccoons and mink in a coop that the kids and I built out of scrap lumber and Windsor Plywood giveaways. They stayed safe from raptors in a 30X30 bird netting-covered pen. About a year ago, Pauline put a call out on the community list for a particular breed of rooster, for the purposes of mating the hens. Almost immediately someone nearby offered her rooster for a Valentine’s weekend of debauchery. Shortly after, one of the bantam hens got out of the pen and was killed by a hawk. Happily, ‘Ginger’ had left a clutch of 5 fertilized eggs prior to her death which her broody ex-coopmate warmed up over the next 3 weeks to produce 4 viable chicks. Of these four new home-growns, 2 were roosters. The roosters met their end somewhat unnaturally in July.

About the same time Ginger’s chicks hatched, we bought an unsexed Ameraucana chick which turned out to be female. We were also given 3 more silver sebrights, 2 of which were roosters. Last summer we sold a ‘mating’ pair of sebrights, leaving one mating pair for ourselves. Then, just prior to Christmas, we moved the whole flock from our backyard setup to a new home on the farm. Given all the extra space, both inside the coop and outside in the pen, we started adding to the flock by purchasing 3 barred rock pullets.

Since then we’ve been having a very distressing problem. Despite taking others’ advise to hang several strings of fishing line above the coop to keep out avian predators, it was only a couple weeks before we lost one of our prize heritage hens to a hawk. Because of this, I built 2 70’long X 6′ wide covered tunnels, thinking that this extra covered area would give them ample space to avoid or escape attack. But just after Christmas, another of our favorite hens and surrogate mother to Ginger’s eggs, was killed by a hawk. Most recently, our beautiful white bantam leghorn was killed although the hawk could not or did not fly away with its kill, implying that perhaps it has run out of birds in our flock small enough to remove.

To conserve the last of our bantam birds (a rooster and 2 hens), we moved them back home. Just before we had moved them to the farm, a dump of wet snow ripped and flattened the bird netting, rendering it unusable. So the girls replaced it with lots of ORANGE baling twine, copiously criss-crossed to and from each pen post . Orange apparently confuses hawks and other birds of prey but I’m not sure of anything these days. In any case, we missed the sound of Splash’s (the bantam sebright rooster) crow so it’s nice to have him back.

Oh yes, just before New Year’s we picked up another 3 full-sized pullets from a guy on the island who’s liquidating all his farm animals in preparation for a move. Two out of the 3 went to the farm but the runt of the litter is at home with us, where the other small birds are unlikely to abuse her.

A couple of days ago I got out the mega roll of baling twine and did the same overhead criss-cross at the farm pen that the girls did at home. It took about an hour and a half and was actually kind of fun because I tried (successfully) to do it without cutting the twine (I figure that if this protection technique is also unsuccessful, at least I can salvage my twine, sort of). With this new grid – which BTW, reminded me of a complex map of aviation airways-, the natural tree cover at one end and the larger average bird size, we’re hoping that predation will stop. If, after a month or so, we’ve not suffered any further losses, we’ll resume our flock expansion. The coop can probably handle 40 birds and we only have 9 at the moment. Demand for our eggs is significantly higher than our ability to supply them.

And, with that, I shall conclude this post with evidence of our third serious bout of winter this season, which occured a week ago and lasted two days. Oh, and a little known fact: last Wednesday (or possibly Tuesday), it snowed in all Canadian provinces.



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