Monday, June 2, 2014

Chicken changes


Things were getting a little teste around here.

About two weeks ago, I awoke to a very distinctive sound. It was about 4:45 in the morning, and still quite dark. I thought it might have been my imagination, or maybe a neighborhood dog, so I lay there listening carefully. I heard the sound again, and again just a few minutes later. And then again and again and again. It was weak, but I was pretty sure I knew what I was hearing. It was coming from the chicken coop, which is a few steps from our bedroom, in the backyard. We let the chickens out of their coop into the run about an hour later, as normal. The sound continued; it was crowing, clear and shrill. It was now much louder because there was no muffling effect from the coop. I could tell that the crowing was coming from Ginger, our biggest chicken.

Ginger, a Buff Orpington, had grown far faster than either Penny (Rhode Island Red) or Betty (Barred Plymouth Rock), and this was true right from the beginning. I was starting to feel suspicious about Ginger because her comb had grown very large, as had her wattles. Her tail feathers were starting to grow out and down, in a cascading fashion, and she was getting big spurs on her legs. Alarmingly, she was also becoming a bit aggressive toward the other chickens; I saw her shoving them a few times and also standing atop the waterer "shouting" at them as they approached her. They backed away, subdued. I didn't like any of this and I took to my favorite chicken-keeping forums and websites, where I read about dominant behavior in hen flocks. It happens a lot, apparently. Sometimes hens even begin to crow. This comforted me for a few days and I decided to stick it out, waiting to see what developed (no pun intended).


I haven't written very much about my chickens. I am a total novice. I read avidly about chicken-keeping; I find the topic truly fascinating. My husband grew up with chickens so he has a lot more practical experience and knowledge. I've been hesitant to put myself out there as a "chicken blogger," though, and I've felt that rambling on about it here would make it seem like I was trying to do that. Please know that I am not, at all. I'm learning as I go.

That being said, my chickens have become very important to me. I really love having them. They've been the perfect pets, actually. Because we handled them so much from early on, they're really like little lap pets now. I love to hold one in my arms, hugging or even kissing them on the tops of their heads. Sometimes I sit in a lawn chair with one on my lap, just stroking her feathers. I love everything about them, it turns out. I really didn't know chickens were so lovely. Their little noises, especially the soft bup-bup-bup they do when I open the door to feed them or give them fresh water, are entertaining and sweet. I think this is why I was so alarmed by Ginger's transformation. Suddenly, her sounds were not sweet, they were harsh and loud, and I was becoming afraid of retaliation from the neighbors. She sounded exactly like a rooster in a cartoon. And her aggression was worrisome; she is so much larger than the other two (probably outweighing them by two or three pounds at only three months old) that I began to fear for their safety.


Ginger was becoming really beautiful. I could still pick her up and hold her, and she was starting to eat a lot more bugs and spiders, which she seemed to enjoy. But the noise was getting worse. Every morning, she crowed earlier and earlier, and soon continued crowing throughout the day. If the kids were playing and shouting in the backyard, she'd crow back. She would crow in the evenings too, right up until we closed them inside the coop for the night. Then there were maybe six hours without constant crowing. It was a matter of time before someone complained and I had a feeling they wouldn't even approach us about it, they'd just call the city to report us (roosters aren't allowed in residential neighborhoods here). The Bear had begun calling her Klinger, after the character on M*A*S*H who tries to get out of the Army by wearing ladies' clothing. I was wondering if our Ginger was a Rogers or a Baker. But I still wanted to believe this was just a female bird acting like a male for power in the flock, and that she'd give it up after awhile, especially because she was still young. In my heart, though, I felt very doubtful.



This weekend we decided it was time to look for a new home for Ginger. To address the obvious point, I felt it wasn't fair to use her for meat at her young age. It's not her fault that she's of dubious gender, and it's certainly not her fault if the hatchery misidentified her as female. At three months old, she can still live a good life somewhere else, whether male or female. I'm normally a great proponent of the whole "circle of life" thing, actually, and I'm married to a man who was given the task of slaughtering and skinning his own sheep on his sixteenth birthday. Though I've never done anything like that, I can see the value in such a rite of passage. But it didn't seem like the right solution in this case.


I called the feed store where I'd purchased my baby chicks to see if they had any advice for me. They connected me with a different feed store, just up the road from theirs, where the owner likes to take in unwanted birds. I called him and he told me to "box him up and bring him over." We created a makeshift cage for Ginger out of two smaller boxes, jerry-rigged and taped together. The kids came with me on the drive up to the feed store. I was concerned that they would be sad but they were actually in good spirits, somewhat relieved to be done with the noisy, grouchy member of the flock, I think. At the feed store, we handed Ginger over to one of the employees, who put her in her own cage near a bunch of others, all stacked up against a wall of their barn. There was a duck, a lot of small hens and a huge, aged-looking rooster. They said it won't be difficult to find a home for Ginger because people in rural areas are always looking for new roosters. I hope so. I'm trying not to think about her destiny in a stew pot, but I know it's a possibility.

I don't feel great about re-homing her. Can you tell? I still refer to Ginger as "she," you may also notice. I don't know for sure what Ginger was, but I do know that we couldn't keep her here. That's nobody's fault, but it still makes me sad.


I have to admit that life after Ginger is easier. Penny and Betty seem happier. There's much less noise and certainly no crowing. They come and go from their feeder and waterer very peacefully. They behave in a sisterly way; they lie side by side in the shade in the hot afternoons and snuggle up at night too. They don't seem to miss Ginger, but maybe they're too young to have been very attached. We'll see how it goes with just the pair of hens. Maybe we'll get another pullet next spring. I'll miss Ginger, but we did the right thing. I don't feel stressed or nervous about my chickens anymore, which is a relief. And I'm sleeping past dawn again, which is definitely a reason to be cheerful.

***************

Welcome, new readers and followers! I'm really glad you're here. You guys have been so kind to me with your comments. Thank you so much. I really appreciate the annuals-planting tips and feedback. I'm feeling pretty good about my barrel so far. I think keeping my plantings to one small, easily-maintained container was one of the smarter ideas I've had in awhile...here's to a bountiful growing season for all of us.

49 comments:

  1. Hahaha this story is sooooo familiar ! We also had a "Ginger" here, that turned out to be a "Fred" :-)))
    He even started to attack my husband whenever he tried to enter the chickens' yard...
    But roosters aside, you're right, chickens are such adorable pets !

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  2. Yes, we had the same 'problem'. You've done the right thing for Ginger. Getting another hen would be a good idea. Our hens are getting old now so I think we'll have to get a few new ones. And possibly some ducks.

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  3. Peace at last for you all. You have to do what's right for you and your family whatever the pet, so you have done the right thing. Hope you have a good week.

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  4. I'm sorry for what you've been dealing with. Aside from the noise and behavior, the difficulty of deciding what to do couldn't be easy. You did the right thing!

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  5. Hello Jennifer,

    We know from our very brief period as keepers of chicken that this is not an easy task. It all seems wonderful at the start and the free range eggs are simply the best one has ever tasted. But, chicken are a quarrelsome lot and there always seemed to be some issue to sort out between them.

    We are sure that you have done the best thing for Ginger and for the other two. The situation would probably only have worsened as time went on. At least peace and calm have been restored for now......make the most of it!

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  7. Oh Jennifer,
    My sister in law had a chicken who turned into a rooster. And her turkey turned into a turkette too (although she's still called Godfrey). It's a hard decision to give any pet away. But you have done the right thing. Just think, you could have ended up with lot of chicks to giveaway, and that may have been harder for your little bears to deal with. Farewell Ginger. May you crow on the farm gate and announce the dawn for years to come!!

    Leanne xx

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  8. So interesting to read about your chicken keeping and it's unexpected aspects, Jennifer. I am sure you did the right thing to re home Ginger. Hope all will be nice and peaceful from now on in the henhouse :)
    Happy week.
    Helen xox

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  9. I have never had chickens but have read other blogger posts where sometimes a chicken can fall out with the others and a new home has to be found for them. I'm glad peace has returned to your home!
    Sarah x

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  10. Never had chickens for myself but I have heard similar stories from my mother in law and a friend who keeps them in the yard. You know how to do, you are a sensitive person, I'm sure you did the best.

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  11. I've never kept chickens so all this has made fascinating reading! It sounds like you've done the right thing for all concerned - your hens are happier, you're happier, and hopefully Ginger will go to a good new home where she/he fits right in and no neighbours to mind the crowing!
    Gill xx

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  12. I remember my Granny and Grandad kept chickens and, as "townie" children, we were always fascinated by them. None of those chickens would ever have sat on your knee so you could pet them. They'd have pecked your hand off - or maybe that's just what we were told so we wouldn't try to pet them. Actually, now that I think about it, that sounds highly likely! :oD

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  13. I was so interested to read about your gorgeous chickens. It was a wise move to find Ginger a new home though a very difficult decision to make. I'd love to hear more about them sometime :-)
    Tracey xxx

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  14. So sad that Ginger/Klinger needed to move on but for the happiness and safety of the "family" (and for your & neighbors sanity)...had to be done. I hope you're all doing well and Ginger is having a great time at her new home.

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  15. A shame about Ginger, but of course the right decision. I love hearing about your hens as it's something I'd like to do one day, although I don't have any chicken knowledge at the moment. So I like picking up tips from chicken owners, expert or novice, there is always something to learn. CJ xx

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  16. Nope, Ginger is definitely Fred from those pictures, Jennifer. :-) Sorting male from female chickens is notoriously difficult when they are newly hatched, so it's not surprising some mistakes are made. I think you made the right decision.

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  17. Aw, so sorry to hear about Ginger. But I'm happy to hear things are moving smoothly now. Hopefully Ginger is enjoying her new home. Your kids handled it so well. I always enjoy visiting your blog. :)

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  18. Poor old Ginger, it does sound like she was of dubious gender. I hope he/she finds another happy home and I know the other two girls are probably enjoying the peace and quiet now. I love that you can pet and play with your chickens!

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  19. I'm glad that you were able to come up with a solution that was best for your family! I can only imagine how much easier it is not to have the crowing and the worrying of upsetting a neighbor! You have such lovelies there friend...and what an awesome adventure! Happy week to you! Nicole xoxo

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  20. poor ginger, but you've done the right thing for your other two birds , im sure she'll find a great home to crow all day long in :)
    by the way ginger was a beauty i can see what your saying, her colours were gorgeous x

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  21. oh a difficult decision, but sounds like the right thing! I know nothing about chickens, your very brave to have some! I imagine they would be real characters, Heather x

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  22. I understand how you feel - but you have done the right thing. We gave a home to 2 rescued cats - which we were assured would love living in the countryside and were a pair. We were conned! It was very obvious, very quickly that the tiny, weeny cat was a bully. She wouldn't let the other use the cat flap, litter tray, she'd ambush her etc. The other cat over ate. I tried all sorts of things to improve the situation rather than re-home one, and feel that I'd failed. I'm good with cats! But in the end, the one being bullied was re-homed with my book keeper and everyone is so much happier. The bully is happier and calmer, not needing to defend her territory all the time, and the other cat is more content in a home where she can come and go as she pleases. I didn't realise until after she moved out how stressed I had become by the whole thing, so you have definitely done the right thing. x

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  23. Oh that's a shame about Ginger, but it sounds like you have done the right thing.

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  24. Gosh this sounds like a very difficult situation for everyone concerned - Ginger, the other hens and all of you too! I am glad that you have managed to resolve it though and that the other hens are now happier as well as that is really the most important part of this isn't it. Also I suspect that if Ginger was a boy - or with boy tendencies - (s)he would not have been happy in your garden either and will be better off with wider spaces to roam. Sorry that you had this stress though as it must have been very difficult for you especially being new to chicken keeping. I hope that the other two are happier hens now and keep on producing and being great pets for you. xx

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  25. Jennifer, your sensitivity and consideration in this matter is admirable. I believe you did the right thing, and, if it helps, I wonder if Ginger crowed so much because something was not to HER satisfaction, as well; maybe just not the right mix of company, or something to that effect.

    Glad you're sleeping better!

    Poppy

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  26. A horrible decision to have to make, especially when we feel so responsible for the animals welfare, but you did the right thing. You found her another home, your other chickens are happier, and the stress your family started to feel regarding her behaviour and noise has gone.
    I'm sure Ginger will be happier too - he'll be able to crow to his hearts content on some huge farm no doubt.

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  27. You did the right thing, even though it was hard. I loved the way you told the story and the pictures are lovely! So glad everything is peaceful now!

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  28. Ha! Always a risk, and a mistake anyone can make. When I was a child my uncle bought two dozen day old chicks to refresh his large flock of layers (he was not a farmer, just a countryman with a bigger than average garden). They all turned out to be roosters - every one! You hens are, however very beautiful and photographs do them justice

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  29. I love hearing about your chickens. It know nothing about them but it does seem that Ginger was a he not a she, and you did the right thing, hard as it may be. You have peace of mind, no worries of neighbours reporting you, no 4am wake ups, and your other chickens will be much happier I am sure. I had no idea sexing chickens was such a minefield! x

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  30. Sometimes it isn't easy being a farmer, Jennifer. And sexing baby chicks isn't a perfect science. You made the right decision, and I'm glad you aren't feeling stressed any more. I'm sorry your egg production will be down from what you expected. A new chick next spring would be a great idea.

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  31. That's such a shame about Ginger, and though I don't know very much about chickens, I've heard so many stories about the wrong sex chick being sold. I think it's hard to tell the difference at such a young age, so you definitely won't be the only one returning a rooster. I'm glad the children weren't too upset.

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  32. Ah that's a shame Jennifer but I think you did the right thing. She'll be happier in the long run (sorry that wasn't meant to be a pun) and you will have peace of mind. xx

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  33. Well I am hoping Ginger finds a very happy home and can crow all he/she wants. Bless your heart. Of course it was hard to see her go but you did the right thing for yor family and for your other chickens.
    Hugs to you,
    Meredith

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  34. Oh, that's a shame about Ginger, but you did the right thing. A rooster and a couple of hens would be a yard full of chickens in no time!

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  35. Sorry you had to make this tough decision and wishing Ginger a happy life and new home where she/he can crow at will.
    Clare xx

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  36. Sorry about the difficult time with Ginger but it seems as if you have made completely the right decision. I really enjoyed your photos in this post.
    Marianne x

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  37. I am sorry that happened with Ginger ending up being a Roo ~ I can tell that was hard for you.
    You did the right thing for peace of mind and to be able to not worry . It wasn't your fault that you had to let Ginger go do to a city ordinance and a mistake by the hatchery , albeit I know it was hard. You will have more peace of mind now not worrying that neighbors will complain and it can be annoying to neighbors when roosters crow a lot. We currently have 3 Roos and everyone in this area has a Roo or two ~so early mornings are real eye openers when they try to outdo one another with all the crowing !

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    1. I also meant to say ~ you have did a lovely job raising them they all look so healthy .

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  38. You made a loving and wise choice for Ginger, your neighbors and family, Jennifer, but I am sorry you had to, also. xx

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  39. I love hearing about your chickens as I had 2 for a few years. But sorry to hear of Ginger and her
    crowing, but glad she may be in another lovely place. Always good coming here xoxo

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  40. Aww, Jennifer. Sorry to hear about Gingers about-face. You did the right thing with her/him. One suggestion I have is - if you know you want 3 hens.. it's best to get one the same age as yours and get her sooner than later so they can acclimate to each other while youngish. It would be hard for a new young one to be added next year when the older ones are used to "ruling the roost". The new one might get picked on. But I'm sure whatever you do will be fine. Not an easy thing. ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

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  41. It's a shame you had to let ginger go Jennifer but you made the right decision hopefully she will find a good home, I would have done the same thing in your position. I enjoy reading your chicken stories :) xx

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  42. I don't know a darn thing about chickens or roosters, but I can totally understand why Ginger had to find a new home. You're right; it was kind of sad though. How do the kids feel about it?

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  43. What a shame you had to let her/him go...but better for all really in the longer term. Have you managed to sleep a bit better without the early wake up call?

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  44. Ah...I truly know how hard it is to let have to find another home for an animal is. We had a dog that was an absolute terror. He was darling but, the face nipping and aggression towards other dogs was just something I couldn't live with. It's hard, you definitely did the right thing! xoxo Jen

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  45. We've never had chickens, but we had to get rid of a cat that my husband brought home when it was picked on by our other cats. I'm sorry that you had to let go of one of your chickens, I hope the other two hens are adjusting well and doing better. They are beautiful in the pics!

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  46. Hi Jennifer,

    Growing up my family always had chickens and they are really lovely - and going to get fresh eggs everyday was a wonderful thing. So glad that Ginger will find a new home and your other hens will be happy.
    Yes, you must be enjoying sleeping longer and not getting the early morning wake up call.

    Hugs
    Carolyn

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  47. Oh Jennifer, it is understandable for you to feel sad about Ginger, but you did the right thing. I am sure she (or he) will be happy in her new home, wherever that may be. My neighbour has just rescued three chickens and we popped around to see them the other day. They are adorable and look like the greatest pets. There was a truck taking chickens to the abattoir you see, and it tipped over on the motorway, they all fell out and got set free! Lots of animal lovers from all over headed over there immediately to try to save them and hundreds were saved and rehomed, my neighbour has three of them. They seem so happy. I love looking out of my window and watching them lay on their backs in the sunshine! I really can imagine the joy you get out of yours. :)

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  48. I'm just reading through some of your old posts and came across this one. I know how you feel, we've had chooks for three years so decided to get a few more, which we keep in the garden. When we bought the new ones we were told it would take a couple of days for them to settle it, it took three flaming weeks with squarking all day!!! I was sure the neighbours would be round so I bit the bullet and went round to them to apologise.

    Luckily most of my neighbours are up early and they know we're a little (ok, maybe a lot) nuts! They have quietened down now but Bumblebee is one of the naughtiest chooks I've ever met and swings on the washing line and walks the fence line to spy on the neighbours.

    I love chickens lol x

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