Monday, April 01, 2013

rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb

I read somewhere in chicken-message-board-land that it is possible a clutch of chicks could have as many as 80% roosters.  I didn't believe it, or at the very least, I didn't believe it would happen to us.

As it turns out, I was right.  We did not hatch 80% roosters.  We have, however, in raising two clutches of chicks, had the pleasure of rearing seven roosters and three hens.

I should rephrase that.  It hasn't really been a pleasure, it's been a downright nuisance.

On the bright side, we are not overwhelmed by 13 hens pumping out eggs every which way.  (And since our hens have a propensity to nest under a different bush in any of three yards every couple of weeks, this is a very good thing)

So.  In January 2012, seven fluffy, beautiful chicks hatched - our first ever clutch.  Technically they were two clutches, since we'd placed six eggs from a neighbour underneath one unexpectedly clucky hen and one under the other.  They had been evenly spread until I observed one hen wildly dirt bathing for an extended period.  Being concerned the developing chicks might die without their adopted mother warming them, I whisked several eggs away from her and stowed them under the other hen.  In the end all the chicks hatched and we housed them and their mothers in the coup to protect them from hawks and cats.

Four months later we had five roosters crowing day and night, night and day.  Someone complained to the council, but we were already onto it.  A quick ad on gumtree, and three roosters were dispatched to someone who promised to sit quietly with them before, ah... well... um (there is no nice way to say this)... cutting their throats and eating them.  I didn't really care if they were going to be eaten.  Once we (finally) caught them all and stuffed them into a box, they couldn't crow in my backyard any more and that's all that mattered.

So there were two, but in suburbia, two roosters is still two too many.  We had the bright idea of phoning a friend who lived on a farm.  'Yes,' he said. 'We'd love two roosters!  We've just built a new chicken enclosure!'  Just that easily we packed Gaylord and Focker off to their new home.  Last we heard, they were leading all their hens astray, sleeping high in the trees rather than in the hen house and staging escape attempts at regular intervals.  (We breed them feral here - all our chickens decline their coup and sleep in the trees.  One is even sleeping in the bush outside our back door at present.)

The two chicks who turned out to be hens (Maisy and Elsie) have definite bantam leanings.  They are small, lay delicate little eggs and go broody at the drop of a hat.  In twelve months they must have both been broody six times each.  Considering we don't really need any more chickens, it's all rather annoying.  Still, breaking the broodiness from these hens takes several days, and they pine for their eggs terribly, and Frank is tender hearted, so sometimes we let them sit.  That is how we ended up with another three chicks.  (The mother wasn't so great and a couple more chicks hatched but died, and a few tried to hatch but weren't kept warm enough.  They also died.)

It turns out that two of the surviving three were roosters.  Sigh.  What to do with another two roosters?  Pluck up the courage and kill them ourselves?  I'd like to give it a go, but it sounds like a lot of hard, potentially messy work.  (Although the bloke who took the last three assured me he could pluck a chicken in 6 minutes.)

The situation was eventually taken out of our hands.  We woke up one warm morning to a dead rooster lying peacefully in the yard.  He'd barely begun to crow, though we had named him Brewster.  (The other is called Speckles, and the hen is PJ, short for Plain Jane)

The only thing I can think of is this.  Rhubarb leaves were eaten some number of days before, perhaps as long as two weeks before.  Quite a lot of rhubarb leaves were eaten.  I was a bit worried, but every one appeared to be OK.  The chooks kept doing what chooks do (eating, pooing and laying eggs) and I forgot about it.  I did notice that Brewster was pooing strange, runny poos that didn't looks quite right for worms.  I meant to google them (gotta love chicken message boards) but forgot about it.  Frank came in one evening and said he was suffering from the heat... and he turned up dead the next day.

At that point I did google rhubarb and chicken poo.  Turns out that chickens are indeed affected by the oxalic acid in rhubarb leaves.  It causes kidney failure in them (as it does in humans) and kidney failure leads to strange, runny, brown poos... and death.  Poor Brewster.  (Not poor Cecily, though!  I thought it was a rather sad but convenient solution to our rooster problem)

So now Speckles rules the roost.  He has puffed out into all his rooster glory and willingly crows to the world that he is the king of his castle.  He mates with the smaller hens although the larger girls still think of him as a chick.  I suspect that if he keeps up with calling them over for food, however, he might just win them over too.  That is unless he dies too... today, we discovered the rhubarb leaves, eaten back to the veins.  I guess we'll know in a couple of weeks.