Category Archives: poultry

Welsh Harlequin Ducks

p1180674I can’t believe I haven’t already posted something on my beautiful Welsh Harlequin Ducks! (Follow the link to learn more about this beautiful breed of duck.) I picked up my first three a year ago in November to help keep my lonely Khaki Campbell girl company. I had lost the Khaki Campbell drake and 2 hens over the late summer and early fall season, so she was the only duck left. I had had them for several years, so it was pretty sad to not have them hanging around anymore. And the remaining girl was pretty lost without other ducks. Chickens just didn’t quite cut it with her.

In one of the local towns, they hold a poultry swap the first of the month, so I headed down with some extra chickens I had and wanted to sell, with a vague plan of picking up some ducks if possible. While there, I sold my chickens and also met up with a great lady that had a trio of the Welsh Harlequin Ducks available. Next thing I know, I am driving home with new ducks.

When I first brought them home, I put them in a small enclosure so they would get used to their home and also allowed the resident duck access to them so she could meet her new duck companions. After a few days, I let them loose to wander around the place. All worked out well, and they have now been here for a little over a year.

In the spring, one of the hens tried to hatch out some eggs, but since she didn’t start until there were quite a few laid and it was super cold, none of them hatched. I was able to pick up a few from the same lady that I had bought the original three from, hoping for more hens, but of course both are boys. Sigh… I put them in with the little hen that had tried so valiantly to hatch the eggs, hoping she would bond with them so that when they were old enough, I could let them out with the rest of the ducks and they would stay together and protect the little ones.

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I did pick up a cute little girl later on in the summer, but she is about half the size of the other girls and is colored just a little different, so I suspect that she is not purebred. I’m not sure that I should keep her, as I would have no way of knowing who the mom is to any ducklings, and I wouldn’t really want to sell them as purebred Welsh Harlequins. They could easily end up being really small instead of the medium meat bird size that they are supposed to be. Not a good plan.  A bit of a dilemma, as I really like her looks.

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I am considering the purchase of new birds from a reputable breeder in Oregon, as I need more girls. I will probably have to sell off two of the drakes, as 3 drakes to 4 hens is not a good ratio! The only problem is that they rarely sex the ducklings, so I may end up with more drakes and no new hens.  A risk I will have to take, as I do want more girls. I really love the looks of the Welsh Harlequin and would enjoy getting involved a bit with the raising and breeding of this breed, as it is on the Watch List according to the American Livestock Conservancy. The “Watch” designation is not as serious as Threatened or Critical, but they still are a more uncommon breed, and I believe in helping to preserve the more uncommon breeds if I can.

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Moving day for my chicks and poults

As the chicks and poults were outgrowing their home in the stock tank, I have moved them into a bit larger area where I will keep them until they are big enough to not slip through the fencing in the outdoor courtyard. Which I think will be in about two weeks.

Of the poults that I ordered from Ideal Poultry, I did lose one that didn’t look good from the start. It’s head was a bit crooked and one eye didn’t look right. I had thought it was one of the White Leghorns, but it ended up being on of the Buff Orpingtons instead. I am a bit bummed, as I really like the Buffs, but hopefully I can pick some up next spring. The Narragansett Turkey poults are doing well.

In the meantime, we are hatching out about a dozen eggs, hopefully, that I collected from our current survivor hens. We decided that since they seem to be the ones that are surviving both the coyotes and the puppies, they must have some excellent survival skills, or just plain good luck. But since some have survived several years of being free range, I think they deserve to be continued on. We’ll see how it goes. Heck, who knows. Maybe I will start my own breed! Ha, right!

Anyway, here’s the video for anyone who wants to see my little flock.

 

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All is quiet on Singing Bull Ranch

CJS Twila - Dexter cow

CJS Twila – Dexter cow

Fall and winter have been pretty quiet here on the ranch. We’ve sold all of our cows, but still have two of our bulls, Elliott and Reno. Chris bought me a Dexter cow with a Jersey cross steer for Christmas that is suppose to be a milk cow. We haven’t tried to milk her yet, as it’s just been too cold. We also don’t have a stanchion or chute, so we’ll have to figure something out later. She was bred again by Reno last summer, so we should be getting another Jersey/Dexter calf from her. Hoping it’s a heifer!

One of our mules has gone on to Utah, and Junior has found a new home close by here. We still need to sell Lucinda, as we just don’t have the time for them anymore. Chris wants to keep Otis, as he is a good riding mule. I’d kinda like to sell off all of the mules, because they can and will kill the calves or other small livestock that we may have. Chris saw them toss around a full sized goat that we had a few years back. She survived, but she sure was hurting there for a bit. And they did a real number on one of our newborn calves. I believe he had neurological issues for awhile after that. Poor thing walked funny, with his head down, and if he got too tired, he would fall down and his legs would twitch. I thought we were going to loose him, but after separating him and his mom from the rest of the herd and putting them in a stall with a run, he recovered fully and grew into a nice little steer.

Rainin' on our snow.

Rainin’ on our snow.

We’ve had some decent snow and a bit of rain so far this winter, so we’re hopeful that the water year won’t be quite so bad as last year. I’ve heard we’re only at about 80%, but I haven’t checked it yet. We’re not into our ‘wet’ season yet, so hopefully we’ll get more snow up in the mountains over the next little while. I know it’s been dang cold here lately, rarely getting above the low 20’s for most of December. We were actually getting rain at the end of January. That just created a lot of mud as it melted the snow quickly. Two mornings we had sheet ice on the roads as it was just barely raining, and right at 32 degrees. Chris said he could only go 10 mph on the roads it was so slick.

With luck, we’ll have some good pasture this year. We’ve been lucky in that Chris had fenced off some of the pasture last summer and used some sprinklers to irrigate it. That’s where the horses have been all winter, and there’s still a bit of graze out there. It’ll be tight, and we may have to buy some hay, but we haven’t fed them at all this year. If things go well, and we can lay some gated pipe and sow some seed, we could get the pasture looking really good this coming summer. Maybe to the point where we won’t have to feed much hay to the livestock. Time will tell, but I believe it’s an obtainable goal.

This summer we’re planning on putting in a garden. I am going to purchase some meat birds, probably  experiment with both the Cornish X and the Freedom Ranger and see which do best in our situation. I’m also planning on purchasing some Basque Hens, and maybe some Buckeyes. The Basque because everything I’ve read say what a wonderfully friendly chicken they are, as well as a dual purpose bird and excellent forager, and the Buckeye because they are a Heritage breed and my dad is from Ohio, as are they. We’re also talking about maybe buying another Dexter milk cow or two. I would like to have a small herd of purebred Dexters, using Elliott’s bloodlines, to provide new, dual purpose blood to this area.

Although we need the cold, and the wet, I’m looking forward to spring and summer. I think it will shape up to be a wonderful year,with lush pastures and an abundant garden. I think it’s time to go look through the seed catalogs!

Tucker – English Shepherd – Chicken class #1

I must apologize to my readers, as I had honestly thought that I had posted how I was going to work on training my English Shepherd, Tucker, how to guard the chickens. But after I had posted Chicken class #2, I realized that I hadn’t posted anything yet. So, I’ll take a minute now to explain the reasoning behind the Chicken classes.

Tucker face 2-13-2011

Tucker at about 14 weeks old 2-13-11

I bought Tucker a little over a year ago, mostly as a guard to my little flock of chickens, ducks and geese, and for a bit of herding the cows when needed. While he seems to have the herding down pretty well, and took great care of a little bull calf that didn’t have a mamma last year, he didn’t seem to get the idea that he was supposed to be watching over my poultry. Now to be fair to him, I had no clue how to train him. He watched over the little calf with no guidance from me, and I’ve read how this wonderful breed seems to naturally want to take care of all the critters on the place, that it didn’t really occur to me that I had to figure out a way to train him. Looking back, it’s like a “well, duh!” moment, but he’s such a great dog, I just assumed he’d just kinda fall into it all by himself.

All was well actually with the chickens until the fall of 2011. My husband had bought a little heeler pup in September to replace the one that died earlier, and both dogs had the run of the place. I came home from work and found a small bunch of feathers from one of my Aracuana/Leghorn crosses, but no bird. Never did find her. Than my Khaki Campbell drake disappeared. Then over the next day or two, I came home to some headless chickens. Needless to say, I kinda got a bit freaked, as I couldn’t figure out what was happening to the birds. I’m still not sure, but I reinforced the chickens courtyard and locked them up. The dogs were sent to doggie prison, a large kennel by the house.

Tucker watching the chickens

Tucker watching the chickens

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I’ve been scratching my head trying to figure out how to train Tucker that the birds were his responsibility. A few suggestions had been to take him with me when I feed, collect eggs, etc. Well, I have been since I got him, and although he sniffed at the birds, and was curious, he didn’t seem overly impressed with them. I don’t really spend much time with my birds, although I would talk to them mostly at night, and when the Aracauna/Leghorns were younger, I’d pick them up and pet them and talk with them. But none of my birds are specifically pets, so time is not spent on them much. My son was the chicken whisperer. I didn’t seem to inherit that gene!

Then I got to thinking. Tucker probably doesn’t relate to the birds  because he doesn’t see me doing much with them, and because we don’t spend time with them. Other four footed animals are easier to relate to for a dog. Poultry, I have discovered, not so much. So on the mornings that I can, I have been taking him into the courtyard when I let them out of the coop, and we just hang out with the birds. I can see him paying more attention to them each time I take him in. Here’s the link to the video I took of his first time: Tucker and Chicken class #1.

Hence the Chicken Class for Tucker. I’m hoping that by spring, when I want to let the chickens out to range on the pasture, Tucker will be ready and willing to watch over them and keep them safe.

Musings on Raising Chickens

I had to have a good talk with my hens the other day, as they’re just not laying enough eggs for me and Chris to eat, and to have some to sell to our neighbor. They clucked and purred at me, but I’m not sure they got the message that if they didn’t straighten out, they were going to end up in the stew pot.

A little mutt hen...no idea of her parentage!

But in all fairness, it is late fall, and it’s much colder, and darker, so I should expect fewer eggs. It’s just so frustrating when you know they can do better. The last winter Colby was here, we were averaging about a dozen eggs a day! Maybe Colby was the key. He has a special touch with his chickens. Ah well, he’s stationed in Hawaii, and I don’t think he can come home just to talk to the chickens. And all of those birds are no longer with us, as a few critters got to them while they were free ranging or staying out late at night and missing curfew.

Fluff, a Polish Lace hen, who is Colby's last remaining chicken. She's about 6 years old now.

I do have a light on for about two hours in the morning. That gives them the impression that it’s daylight longer. They are supposed to have about 14 hours of daylight, if I remember correctly, to consistently lay eggs. Well, right now, we may be getting about 12 hours of daylight. I was also out of lay mash, which helps provide the right nutrients for them to be able to lay eggs regularly.  And they are growing in some new feathers, so that depletes their nutritional stores too. I’m hoping that once they have all prepared for winter, they can return to the egg laying business. So between the lights and the lay mash, they have started to lay a few more eggs consistently. I tell them they are very good girls when I put them to bed at night. They reply with coos, purrs and quiet clucks.

Light Brahma hen

One major difference from a few years ago, is that I have no idea what breed most of these hens are. I do have two Buff Orpingtons, a Light Brahma, some colored Leghorns and my most recent addition of Aracuana/Leghorn cross pullets, but the rest, hmm, that would be about half of them, are total mutts of who knows what parentage behind them. I would like to clean out the non-egg layers, and replace them with maybe more Buff Orpingtons, Red Stars, or Buckeyes. I’m seriously considering replacing most of my flock over time and just focusing on a few breeds of chickens that are considered endangered by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy ( http://www.albc-usa.org/cpl/wtchlist.html). Some of the breeds that I’m most interested in are the Buckeyes, as mentioned before, the Maran, or maybe the Lakenvelder, Chantecler, Favorelles, Delaware or Dominique.

Chickens in the courtyard.

I like the Buckeye especially, as it is a 100% American breed, created by a lady in Ohio in the late 1800s/early 1900s. They are supposed to have a really good, people-friendly temperament too, which would be cool. I like the Maran too, as they supposedly lay chocolate colored eggs, and are also rare, although I don’t see them on the ALBC list. The Chantecler was developed in Canada specifically for the harsh, cold weather in Quebec, and is known for being very hardy and an excellent layer of brown eggs, even in winter. The Lakenvelder is a really striking bird, with a dark breast and head area, and dark rear, with either white or a pretty golden red color in the middle. Favorelles are an old breed from France, while the Delaware and the Dominique are American creations.

A nice mix of naturally colored chicken eggs.

Before I decide what breed(s) I’m going to focus on, I need to figure out what I’d be raising them for. Do I want a dual purpose breed for eggs and meat, or do I want a prolific egg layer? Do I want a fast maturing meat bird? Do I want colored eggs or white? So much to think about! I know I want a good tempered bird, something that is known to be more friendly and not too flighty. And a bird that does well with free ranging, although I do feed them in the morning. And definitely something that is not fragile, and will handle the freezing temperatures we have in the winter. It’s not too bad usually in the summer, but winters are always cold.

I’m seriously considering breeding the Aracauna also, or maybe continuing with the Aracuana/Leghorn cross I have now, as I do have a gorgeous rooster that was supposed to be a hen in the group that we bought this spring. I’ll have to build a separate coop for them, so that I can make sure it’s only this rooster breeding the hens, and I can collect their eggs for hatching next spring.

These are the Aracuana/Leghorn cross chicks this last spring. I really love their colors!

I did lose one yesterday. When I was out feeding the bulls, I noticed a little bunch of feathers from a reddish colored chicken, but no body. When I did a head count last night, one of my little Aracuana/Leghorn cinnamon colored hens was gone. I think she might have been taken by a hawk or something, as there are no feathers, no bones, no carcass, so it wasn’t a dog. I really hate losing my hens. I never, ever seem to lose a rooster! Sigh…I noticed today that the other chickens that normally fly out of the coop didn’t leave it, so I really do think something got them, and now they’re hesitant to come out of the coop. Tucker is suppose to guard or watch over them but there are so many buildings, he can’t really see all that is going on where they roam.

This summer, we lost another one of my ducks. It’s not surprising, as Chris would tell me that he saw them about a half mile or so away from the coop, out in the field. Something got one of the girls, and since then, the few remaining ducks don’t go very far away! I’m thinking I might replace her next year, but I haven’t really decided yet.

Since I’m not going to be getting anymore chicks until spring, I have some time to decide where I want this chicken thing to go. But it’s so challenging when there are so many fascinating breeds! And I really want to be able to sell more eggs, now!