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…and her name was Lorelai…

turkey

I shit you not, this is printed on the bag our Christmas turkey is in. I’m all for animal welfare, but I kind of feel bad for cutting this bird down in the prime of her life. She was having such a lovely time.

More on “high welfare” farming here.

Don’t forget — back here tomorrow 6WBT for Dead Pool Round 93!

December 22, 2016 — 10:21 pm
Comments: 15

QUARANTINE!

quarantine

Well, hell. It’s not going to be a very Merry Christmas for my girls, looks like. DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) has today issued a 30-day no-free-range order across England (other parts of the UK have their own separate governing bodies).

The Government Chief Vet has declared a Prevention Zone introducing enhanced biosecurity requirements for poultry and captive birds, helping protect them from a strain of avian flu circulating in mainland Europe. The zone covers England and will remain in place for 30 days.

Keepers of poultry and other captive birds are now required to keep their birds indoors, or take appropriate steps to keep them separate from wild birds.

Outbreaks of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (H5N8) have been confirmed in poultry and wild birds in several countries across Europe. No cases of H5N8 have been found in the UK and this order is a precautionary measure to help prevent potential infection from wild birds.

There’s no keeping ours inside, and it’s impossible to keep them entirely separate from wild birds. We live in an incredibly birdy area — by design. We’re a designated habitat for all sorts of birds, particularly ground-nesting waterfowl. They pay the farmers around here to make conditions hospitable (and when you pay a farmer for a thing, you’re bound to get a hell of a lot of it). But I’ll have to put a crimp in their free ranging for a miserable month. Poor little pecker-heads.

If you want to know more from DEFRA about the outbreak, click the link above or here.

Anybody know where I can get some xylophones?

December 6, 2016 — 9:56 pm
Comments: 11

LOOK AT THESE CHIKKENS!

polands

Just LOOK at them! The breed is (usually) called Polish in the US, or Polands in Europe. Also sometimes Pols, which is closer to the thing. Calm down, mein Führer, they don’t (probably) have any relationship to actual Poland. It’s a very old breed and the name likely comes from the Middle Dutch word Pols, which meant “head.” Because duh.

And yes, they bump into things if you don’t trim around their eyes. Though I saw one lady who hated to trim and gathered the feathers up in a hipster topknot with a teeny, tiny rubber band instead. It was adorable.

Yeah, I want one of these in the worst way. I haven’t worked out yet if they come in a Pekin bantam variant — little chicken, feathery feet — except possibly as an accidental crossbreed. I shall investigate. Anyway, I promised Uncle B our next birds would be lemon cuckoos, which are a pretty little Pekin bantam. Very fat and sweet tempered.

I wonder if I could persuade someone to breed me a Polish lemon cuckoo. Hell, that would be worth doing for the name alone.

Anyway, I bring this up because I was looking for a picture of a chicken skull (as you do) and I found this picture of what a Poland’s head bones look like. I thought it was a diseased chicken at first.

Whatever they keep in that thing, it’s probably not brains.

November 16, 2016 — 10:22 pm
Comments: 20

Now, how do I change the subject?

xylophone

Ah, yes…chickens playing the xylophone. No, no link. Unfortunately, it’s a FaceBook video — I refuse to link to ’em, and I can’t find this particular video elsewhere. Never mind. If you enter “chickens xylophone” into YouTube, you will find literally minutes of wholesome entertainment.

Chickens like sounds. They will return again and again to peck things that have no food value but make an interesting noise, like empty buckets, wooden gates or my banjo.

So anyway, I have thoroughly enjoyed the political salt storm this week. I intend to continue enjoying (and probably posting about it) for some time to come. But, let’s face it, it’s politics — if you get pulled in too far, it will always break your heart.

No hostages to fortune.


p.s. Tell me electric blanket stories. We bought an expensive one last year, got a whole luxuriant season out of it, fired it up this year and…control burnout. To be fair, I think the big fat cat napping on it during the heat-up cycle tripped the heat sensor — but it’s a lousy failsafe design that permanently breaks when overheated. Any advice?

November 14, 2016 — 7:25 pm
Comments: 19

Pitiful.

molting

This woeful beastie is Mapp Chicken, today. I really should have snapped a photo a couple of days ago — you can see here, the pinfeathers are already well grown on her neck. Monday, her neck was as nekkid as an oven-ready broiler.

And her tail! Just a sad nub of pink flesh (that thing we call the Preacher’s Nose and the Brits call the Parson’s Nose – or is it the other way around?).

Reminder: Mapp as she was meant to be. Sexy, sexy bird.

Molting is triggered by the first cold snap. It signals chickens to stop laying eggs, drop their feathers and divert all the protein they would have devoted to egg-laying into feather-building. It means they’re all fully feathered up and cozy by the time the real cold weather hits.

But it also means they face the first cold of the season part naked with uncomfortable quills sticking out of their tender places. They’re cranky as shit.

Which birds molt and how completely is affected by a variety of factors. It’s a rule of thumb that the better the layer, the more quickly and thoroughly the molt. Commercial layers — the kind bred to lay an egg a day for the first year — apparently lose them all at once, overnight. You go down in the morning and find a coop full of feathers and a bunch of joke shop rubber chickens on the perch.

Think of that, and this picture when you see photos of ‘abused’ birds from factory farms — this is what even a pampered family pet looks like during a partial molt.

Good weekend, and keep yer feathers on!

October 21, 2016 — 7:39 pm
Comments: 14

Infinite are the arguments of chicken keepers

pumpkin

It’s that time of year again: the time when hippie chicken keepers claim that pumpkin is a natural chicken de-wormer. According to this bomb thrown into the Keeping Poultry at Home forum, probably not. Though, having read the article, I think the most you can say is not proven. Still, everyone’s chickens love pumpkins, so why not?

Except mine. My flock has an irrational fear of large, frightening vegetables. I hung a cabbage in their run once (a thing you’re supposed to do to keep them amused) and they didn’t come out of the henhouse for three days. Until I made the horrible thing go away.

A big orange beachball puking seeds would probably give them avian PTSD.

October 11, 2016 — 6:42 pm
Comments: 8

The lean season is upon us

buttercup The old girls have stopped laying completely. The young ones have banked it down. Six chickens, one egg a day.

To be fair, head chicken is molting, headcase chicken never lays more than a dozen a year and I don’t know what’s wrong with Vita. I switched from pellets to crumb and that didn’t work out so good, so I’ve switched back.

The cold is upon us and there are feathers everywhere.

Here’s a nice little article from Modern Farmer on the Inner Lives of Chickens.

Do Chickens Have Feelings?

Yes, says British researcher Jo Edgar, who determined that hens, at least, experience empathy. He designed an experiment that simulated chick stress and found that the mother hens behaved as if they themselves were experiencing the pain—a classic sign of empathy. Chickens are also known to display mourning behavior when another chicken in the flock dies, and they will show signs of depression if they are removed from the flock and placed in solitary quarters.

Also hens are notoriously promiscuous, typically mating with several roosters at a time. They have the unique ability to eject the sperm of inferior roosters after copulation[!], however, ensuring that their genes will be coupled only with the most studly cock around.

And A surprising number of people suffer from fear of chickens, a condition known as alektorophobia. My mother-in-law is a chickenphobe. Also my nephew, which was fun — Mapp had a fine time chasing him all over the garden.

And

Recent research has shown that chickens can distinguish between more than 100 faces of their own species and of humans, so they know who you are and will remember you if you treat them badly. They’ve demonstrated complex problem-solving skills and have super-sensory powers, such as telescopic eyesight (like birds of prey) and nearly 360-degree vision (like owls). Chickens are the closest living relatives of the Tyrannosaurus rex (researchers determined this in 2007 by testing proteins from a particularly well-preserved T-rex leg bone), and they outnumber human beings on the planet 3 to 1.

So, you know. Watch yourself. The Time of Chooks may be at hand.

October 4, 2016 — 5:53 pm
Comments: 10

Not my chook

blindchook

Stole this chook off’n FaceBook. I tell you, I like FB so much more now that I’ve quietly unfollowed a bunch of people and added chicken, history and beer groups.

Anyway, this girl has just gotten back from the vet, where she was diagnosed as having gone blind. Judging from comments under the picture, this is not hugely unusual, even in otherwise healthy hens.

In any kind of serious poultry setup, such a chicken would be culled. But hobbyists will make accommodations and blind chickens can apparently do well. The important thing is putting their food, water and bedding in exactly the same place.

The most famous blind FaceBook chicken (why yes, there is such a thing) is Mumble. (Her gallery is here, but I think you have to be a FB user to see it). She was hatched entirely without eyes, which doesn’t look horrible. In fact, Mumble is weirdly cute.

Even most hobbyists would cull a seriously deformed hatchling (Mumble’s owner was advised to do so), but she seems a thriving, happy bird. She’s a year old now, I think. In that time the owner has been contacted about eight other chicks hatched in the same condition. Nature is weird.

Honestly, we should use the domestic chicken as an emblem of something. Fortitude. Placidity. Calm in the face of adversity. Just getting the hell on with it.

Anyhoo, this is a long weekend here. It’s not celebrating anything particular, it’s just known as the August Bank Holiday. And, believe it or not, it’s the last public holiday in Britain before Christmas.

These people need Thanksgiving. They could call it Hooray, We Got Rid of all those Wretched God-Botherers Day.

Good weekend!

sock it to me

August 26, 2016 — 9:25 pm
Comments: 13

Chikken science

comb

You know I’ve always told you that a chicken’s position in the flock is signaled by the size of her comb? Well, I found me a gat-dang scholarly article about it.

The question of whether attributes of the combs of laying hens have any consistent relationship with dominance behaviour has yet to be answered unequivocally.

Nonsense! I told you it did, didn’t I?

Pullets (n = 120, Hy-line® Variety Brown) were allocated randomly to eight groups of 15 hens for 32 weeks. Over this period the length and height of each hen’s comb was measured regularly to estimate the total comb area and hens were weighed. In weeks 3–10 the aggressive interactions between hens in each group were observed to calculate a behavioural dominance score (David’s score) for each hen.

David’s score is a measure of the dominance of a single member of any group of animals using the formula DS(interactionmatrix, prop=c(“Pij”, “Dij”)). No, I’m not shitting you. No, I don’t have a clue. Google if you math.

The luminance, purity and dominant wavelength of the colour of each hen’s comb was measured in week 27 using a telespectroradiometer.

What would you give — WHAT WOULD YOU GIVE — to watch an actual scientist apply a telespectroradiometer to a chicken’s floopy red hat?

There was no association between body weight and dominance score but there was a significant inverse relationship between dominance score and the dominant wavelength of the comb (gradient of slope = −0.067 ± 0.023, P < 0.01).

I buy this. My dominant hen is the smallest in the flock. She’s a fearsome little beast. Though I’m not entirely sure about the gradient of the slope of the dominant wavelength of her headgear, TBH.

This indicated that hens with combs perceived by humans as more yellow-red than pure red were generally more successful competitors. Further research is required to ascertain whether or not hens utilise this information on comb size and the underexplored area of comb colour to assess the competitive ability of their opponents.

“Stay away from Edna today, fam — she’s looking a little orange, iykwim.”

The underexplored area of comb colour. Hoo! Why didn’t I go into chikken science for reals? Oh, yeah…I can’t math.

Anyway, there you have Violence the Chicken as a young layer and three years later as Boss Lady.

Two of the three new girls are laying for sure. Possibly all three, but I haven’t caught Colette on the nest yet. When I stuck my head in the coop this morning, Rosie was on the nest and she shrieked at me. It really is like walking in on a teenager in the bathroom.

sock it to me

August 18, 2016 — 8:53 pm
Comments: 7

chicken problems

chickenbutt

Not original. I pinched this off one of the many chicken groups of which I am an unashamed member.

I think all the eggs I’m getting from the new girls are coming from Jenny. She’s the only one I ever see on the nest. But damn, she churns one out almost every day. She’s the one that looks most like Lucia, too, so it’s no surprise she’s a superstar.

All my little peckerheads are doing well and loving the Summer.

Another weekend of good stuff lined up. I’ll report back next week. Have a good one!

sock it to me

August 12, 2016 — 8:33 pm
Comments: 3