As of Tuesday night I am now back to sleeping in my bed, with my husband. It is great. Since last Thursday, I had been sleeping with the chickens. On the floor, in the shed, where the smell of chicken poo had been steadily increasing each night. As you may recall, Thursday night ended with the hens and guineas in larger yet unprotected accommodations in the almost-finished shed. We thought we had solved our cannibal problems with more space. And we had, for exactly one day.
Saturday afternoon, I got back to the farm from a CSA drop trip to Memphis where I got to tell the chicken chaos story more than once at the Cooper Young Community Farmers Market. I found Randy anxiously keeping eyes on our babies, at least a dozen of whom had bloody butts, wings, or shoulders where their “friends” had pecked.
We set out implementing our three pronged “War on Cannibalism” strategy. One, up the protein in their feed. Two, paint all the pecked hens with Blu-kote, a liquid antiseptic for wounds applied with a dauber that dyes the area a dark purple so the chickens don’t see red and keep pecking. Watching our blue-butted and blue-beaked babies (from preening their dyed feathers), I happened to notice a Barred Rock going from chicken to chicken, pulling out feathers. I snatched her up and demanded to know what she thought she was doing. She did not reply. So the third part of our strategy was to remove the bad seed – we put this one in solitary confinement in the now empty spaceship brooder.
And it worked. Dyed blue, protein sated and un-bullied, the three week old chickens proceeded to live in harmony. We turned our attention to building their Egg Mobile to that I wouldn’t have to baby sit every night.
Tuesday the Egg Mobile was finished, complete with a straw covered floor and baby sized roosts. After lunch, we moved them in. Ah, how simple that sounds! First, you have to catch a chicken. They get faster as they get older, and now in addition to darting side to side, they can also go up. Once you catch a chicken, you have to put it in something. Giving each a private escort to the Egg Mobile would mean 60 trips. They are now big enough to jump out of the big black cattle supplement tubs we had been using for random chicken isolation needs so Randy had to hold a lid over it to prevent escape as we moved them in batches of ten. After much scrambling and crawling around in dirt, shaving, and chicken poop, all had been caught and moved. We put them back on the regular feed and reunited the bad chicken with the flock.
Later that very same days, when we thought our troubles were over, pecking resumed. More extracting injured chickens, more blue-dyed rumps and wings, and again we caught and removed the naughty pecker. Was it the feed? Was it the bad chicken? Increased daylight? Smaller, yet still spacious, quarters? I was dismayed, exhausted and discouraged. The day was ending. We hoped night would bring peace.
Wednesday morning, we put up the portable electric fence in a big circle around the coop and let the chickens out on pasture. Oh happy chicken day! We can’t electrify the fence yet because they are so small that they can fit through the gaps, which they do. It is more of a psychological barrier.
And do the baby chickens put themselves back in at night? No. As the sun sets, they huddle up under the coop and do everything possible to avoid being herded up the ramp and back inside. But at least for now, no more cannibalism.
I could sit by that fence for hours watching them scratch and peck, chase bugs and practice flying. What do we do for fun at Tubby Creek Farm? We watch chickens.