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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Chickens: Growling in the Snow

More pictures here!

Have you ever heard a chicken growl?  Let me tell you, it is a very disconcerting sound.  Walking into the garage one morning, I heard the low rumble.  I couldn’t figure out from where the sound was emanating until I saw our (usually gentle) Jersey Giant Dom hunched into a sinister stance and staring darkly into her nest box.  And to what do I owe this demonstration of The Chicken Hunter?  Due to a series of events, none too pleasant, Dom and Pirate were attempting to share space in the Tractor. 

It all started when Alan and I needed to be out of town for the same 24 hours.  Having installed the aforementioned (and raved about) Pullet Shut Door and a radiant heater in the coop, as well as a heated base for their outside water, the ladies were well provisioned for a night and day alone.  Pirate, on the other hand, needed a bit more attention (this really doesn't surprise anyone, does it?)  

Up until this point, he had been spending most of his time roaming free in the yard and sleeping away his nights in the brooder box in my office.  There were two reasons why leaving him for 24 hours in the brooder box would not work:  (1) With no outside time to roam and run free, I worried that he would go a little stir crazy; and (2) he has a propensity to dig in the water dish, often tipping the plastic one completely over and flooding his box.

So I decided to move the Tractor into the garage for the duration of our absence.  This way, Pirate had room to roam and I had enough space to put in a heavy-duty aluminum water fount; dig all he wants, at least he wouldn’t be able to tip it over.  

I knew a snow storm would be hitting the area during my day away so I covered the chicken run with a tarp so the ladies, when they awoke, would still be able to roam around the run without getting snowy feet.  

Thus, I left town able to keep my panic at a low simmer.  (Alan had left a few days ago.)

When I awoke in Pleasanton, California, I made the mistake of looking at the weather for Evergreen, Colorado.  It was fifteen degrees outside with snow falling.  So much for my panic remaining at a simmer!  I could barely concentrate on the business at hand I was so anxious to return home.  My flight landed in Denver at 6:00 p.m. but with the weather and downtown traffic, I didn’t make it home until almost 8:00 p.m. 

Quickly exchanging my pumps for snow boots, I ran into the garage to check on Pirate.  He was dead asleep in a nesting box of straw but did pick up his head long enough to give me a few peeps.  The well below-freezing temperature outside and knowledge that the coop door would be shut didn’t stop me from going out and checking on the ladies.  Not wanting to let any heat escape the coop,  I didn’t open the back door but called in to them and received a few chirps in response; my guess?  JJ.

The next morning I ran out there as soon as the sun was up.  Not only had they survived, but two of them laid eggs despite the deep freeze!

Since the weather was now consistently cold and Pirate was not quite full of his deep winter feathers, we decided to leave the Tractor in the garage and it became his new home.

About a week later, I went out to collect eggs from the coop and discovered the interior splattered with blood.  It was everywhere and looked like something out of a horror movie.  The four ladies were outside and milling around, apparently undisturbed.  But upon closer examination, we noticed that Dom had several bald spots on her hind quarters and a bleeding gash under one wing.  Apparently being the largest bird is not a guarantee of your rank in the pecking order; Dom was definitely being taught her position.  We have read about chickens fighting and establishing their chain of command, but it was sad to think any of our four ladies could be so mean.

To let her heal in peace, we removed Dom from the coop and put her into the Tractor.  Initially Pirate was in there with her, a transgression for which Pirate may never forgive us.  Then Dom began to think she could be queen of this particular castle and began to put Pirate in his place.  I tried my best to leave them alone understanding that this is part of chicken life but the morning I walked out and realized from whence the growl emanated?  That was all I could take. 

Pirate had run into the nesting box to escape Dom’s pestering.  Although Dom could fit in the nesting box, (indeed, she had already laid eggs inside) she opted to skulk outside the box in a very good impersonation of a vulture.  (Her being solid black increased the drama of the scene.)  Even I was afraid of this crazed Dom!  She wasn’t paying the slightest attention to me as I opened the door, called her name, and even crawled inside the Tractor.  Finally, scared to touch her myself, I tapped her butt with a stick and thus broke the spell. 

With a few loud crows, Dom moved over to the jungle area and I peered inside the nesting box.  Pirate was crammed into the far corner, his head buried in the straw, not moving a muscle.  I called and called his name and finally he dared to look up.  Relief flooded his eyes and he immediately ran over to me.  Since I was crouched inside, I could not pick him up so I used my body as a shield and directed him along my right, keeping Dom on my left, finally freeing him from torment.

As of this writing, Dom is still living in the Tractor (healing slowly but well) and we have Pirate spending most of his time in the brooder box, both in the heated garage.  Colorado has been hit with a severe cold spell (down to 15 below zero overnight here in Evergreen) with daytime temps in the teens if we are lucky.  We clean Dom’s wounds with hydrogen peroxide which she barely tolerates and let them race around the garage on occasion.  Dom has spent some time back outside with the ladies, but we found her wounds back open after only just a few hours in the coop.  So I have limited her time with them to free-ranging in the yard until she is fully healed. 

Free-ranging isn’t much fun in the snow as the pictures indicate, but it is nice to finally get a few shots of them standing still.