Four decibels less

Araucana bantam rooster

It finally happened this week: the first complaint about our chickens being too noisy. Fair enough too, nine roosters crowing in unison is bloody ridiculous. I mean, we’re not running a charity home for useless cocks! I was pleased to show the landlord’s wife that I had already taken steps to terminate the problem, with five of the offending beasties in the “death row” pen, awaiting execution. Such is the nature of being born male surplus to need on a farm.

They start out so cute and innocent, yet they all grow up to be soundwave terrorists

They start out so cute and innocent, yet they all grow up to be soundwave terrorists

I had been plotting the demise of these aggressive louts for weeks already, as more and more of our home-hatched Araucana chicks turned out to be roosters. Oh the dismay upon hearing their awkward baby crows! Oh the rage as the whole hoard cranked out full blown rooster anthems at 4am! Fortunately I am up at 4am anyway, getting ready for work, but I did feel vaguely sorry for one of our neighbours who I know is a shift worker. The other neighbours, a couple who foster feral cats and cultivate weeds along their boundary fence, I must admit I savoured their getting a rude pre-dawn awakening, thanks to my army of feathered heralds. Hehe. The flipside to my spiteful glee was being woken up myself on sunday mornings by relentless deafening crows. My only day off – sleep-in thwarted. Owh, so sad.

So the cretins had to go. The roosters, not the neighbours, I mean.

You are going to die

You are going to die

Today my dad came round to help me knock four of them off. Doling out death is not an enjoyable prospect to face alone, the task is much less grim with company. I used my broom handle technique, where I first calm the chicken by laying it on its back and massaging its crop, then I stretch out its neck, placing the broom handle lengthwise on top. Then I step down on either end of the broom handle, grab the chicken’s legs and wrench upwards to snap the neck. Dad was rather dubious after the grisly results of my last culling attempt, which I haven’t mentioned here yet. This time, I got three from three though – one broken neck, two accidental decapitations… and a lot of blood spatter! Ah well. Dad had a go at snapping the one rooster’s neck with his hands, not as easy as it looks! Chicken necks are super bendy, and though we did eventually hear the pop of vertebra separating, it probably wasn’t the cleanest of deaths.

Because the Araucanas are only bantams, there’s not really enough meat to warrant butchering them to eat. So I contacted a local chap who rescues and rehabilitates injured birds of prey, who said he would gratefully take the carcasses, feathers and gizzards and all, to feed his raptors. So now we have four decibels less, and he has four square meals for his deserving birds. Smiles all round!

And Sir lives to see another day… for now.

Sir

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Rooster Survivor – farmers prefer gentlemen

This is the only chicken we have named. By virtue of his polite and gentle demeanor, our blue Australorp rooster Sir has won his name and his place as flock protector. Despite being quite the gentleman, he does sometimes act … Continue reading

Muddy beasts and bile

muddy neck

The horses really enjoyed the storm last week. Caked in mud from hip to hoof, they were happy to spend most of the day under cover, the rain strumming on the corrugated iron roof. Horses and humans are not so different. I stood with them in the stables, watching the welcome weather roll in.

hens in the rain

The chickens stayed out in their coop in the rain, wet and bedraggled, rather than keeping under cover in their den. I decided I may as well let them out to roam. They ran down the hill to scratch in the horses’ hay pile – their new favourite spot.

Chickens scratching in the hay

Once the “big chickens” had evacuated the coop, the Araucana bantams beat their wings and hooned around, happy to have the space to themselves. The little Araucanas do get picked on a bit by the Australorps, but they are becoming more confident in the flock and I hope to let them out to day range with the others soon.

Muddy flank

It looks like a gross skin disease but it’s actually just water and mud!

We got 24mL of rain in 24 hours. I’d forgotten how quickly heavy rain can wash away our gutless sandy topsoil, revealing the gravel and rock underneath. Luckily we’ve established a lot more groundcover since this time last year. Run-off from the driveway and the bare dirt run collected downhill in the pasture, slowed down by ryegrass stubble and strongholds of kikuyu. Not much we can do about losing dirt from the run, unfortunately. The run is our sacrifice area for the horses while the pasture grows. We’re getting there, slowly.

Muddy socks

White socks no more!

Our dam has only been about a foot deep all summer, and it was a relief to see it fill to the brim, if only briefly. The landlord routinely drains it to top up his own enormous reservoir and keep his vast lawns green – just a few hundred metres further down the valley from our struggling pasture. He’s a businessman, not a farmer. I find it frustrating facing someone who has all that we so badly want, and more, yet he doesn’t take an interest in caring for and improving the land he has. Especially given he has the money, the staff and the equipment to do what we do in a fraction of the time and with far less effort.

Just one of many reasons I can’t wait until we have our own property. What I could do with a few more acres, and free rein!

mini-Mrs Moth & stormy day 278

It is hard living in such a beautiful place, yet in less than ideal circumstances. I find myself constantly stamping down my Scottish temper.

Johnny's muddy face

I try to remember that the things that are holding us back here are forcing us to become more resourceful and self-reliant, which will serve us in the long run. Until then, the rain does a good job keeping my temper in check. I can’t stay angry on a proper kilt-wearing day.

Chicken scrum

Our happy girls wallowing in the dust

Our happy girls wallowing in the dust

Today I went on a recruiting mission. I thought I had finally found some local Araucana chickens to add to our little flock of sixteen Australorps and Rhode Island Reds. I know my desire for those blue egg layers is buying into the wannabe farmer cliche – hankering after breeds with fancy feather patterns, comical poufy hairdos, or unusual coloured eggs… As if its proof our hens and eggs aren’t like the regular shop-bought eggs spat out by production-line ISA Brown hens. But I can’t help it, I so badly want blue eggs! Bugger the cliche.

I have wanted Araucanas since the beginning – a year and a half ago, in the lead-up to getting chickens, when my chicken-related internet research and habit of constantly reporting new discoveries about heritage breeds just about drove my partner mental.  Previously I’d had no idea about the variety of chickens out there, let alone that some laid eggs other than the standard white or brown. So when we bought our original batch of ten day-old chicklets, along with the Australorps and Rogues (as we call our RIRs), we got a couple of Welsummers (I’m keen on chocolate coloured eggs, also. Technically could pass as peeled Easter eggs?) and some Polish x Araucanas. Naturally, the more “exotic” breeds turned out to be all roosters. Awesome. My fancy egg plans were foiled, and from what I can tell, purebred Araucanas are hard to come by in Western Australia. I have trawled the Quokka, Gumtree and the popular chicken sites… And finally thought I was onto a goer when I found an ad for “Arakana” chickens in this week’s Quokka.

I rang up and spoke to a chappy, Bill, whose responses to my queries were rather no-frills, but I specifically asked if the birds he had were the blue-egg layers – and he said yes! Six weeks old, $15 each. I got super excited! I tee’d up to stop in at Bill’s on the way home from the saddlery and feed store. My favourite type of mission, to pick up horse gear, stock feed and new chicks!

Well, after rocking up at the wrong place, I eventually found Bill and his wife, Faye, sitting on their back patio. Bill with a VB longneck in hand, Faye with a ciggie. Before I’d even had a chance to properly say hello, Faye informed me that Bill had got it wrong – they didn’t have Araucanas, they had Andalusians. Oh. I was disappointed, but not surprised. I have been looking for so long, and have had so little luck, that I had a feeling it was too good to be true – purebred Araucanas, so close to home? Yeah, no. They were apologetic, and didn’t attempt to foist any of their other poultry onto me. Although, they were rather keen on giving me the extended tour.

Andalusian chickens – pretty spots! But no blue eggs

Upon closer inspection of their rather ramshackle facilities, I was somewhat relieved that the promise of blue egg layers had fallen through. Their birds didn’t look in the best of health. I would not have felt right taking potentially unhealthy chickens home where they might infect my existing flock. Blue eggs are not worth endangering the girls I’ve raised from chicklings to become power layers! Bill and Faye had three small pens tacked onto the back of their shed, with young chicks in one, turkeys and geese in another, and then the more mature chickens – the aforementioned Andalusians and a bunch of Faverolles with the craziest chicken feet I have ever seen: five toes, not four, and feathers! Actually they were crazy-looking in general, but I quite liked their grey beards, which made the girls look like little old men. I have heard that they are good meat birds but the idea of buying some didn’t even enter my mind. Their dirty little pen was way overcrowded and badly in need of a clean-out. There were too many roosters, and the girls all had bare backs and sad ragged tails from being jumped on by the boys.

Faverolle hen – who doesn’t love a chick with a beard?

I was quite taken with the geese and turkeys – it is probably the only time I’ve ever seen them up close without being chased through a farmyard or public park. Our local riverside park in my hometown was host to a gang of feral geese while I was growing up. They would gleefully torment adults and children alike with their loud honking, demanding chips, and then chasing their victims away. Needless to say, my experience and opinion of geese and turkey gobblers has never been all that positive. But Bill’s turkeys were rather sedate and very pretty coloured, and the pair of geese actually seemed bonded to their wiry, weathered old master. They would actually shut up their racket when he asked them to! And I thought they looked rather handsome, with a stately aura of goosey refinement despite their humble surroundings and the poor state of their owners’ teeth (or lack thereof). Geese don’t have teeth, so why would they care!

Hang on…

I don’t mean to be nasty, Bill and Faye were not bad people. They were just in want of a little TLC, some exercise, and someone to talk to. They eagerly spilled chicken info while they gave me the tour, tricks like how to tell if a fertile egg will hatch into a rooster or a pullet. Despite appearances, they weren’t creepy and I didn’t rush to escape, I was actually intrigued. Apparently they are the sort of people who are keen on breeding things in general – apart from the chickens they had budgies and a talking corella, and they told me that before they moved onto a smaller property they had over thirty-five horses. Bill even brought out the paperwork to prove they used to breed Welsh ponies – all “out of Drumcycler” (I didn’t correct them but the stud prefix is better known as Drumclyer), and named after cartoon characters, including Pocahontas and Ginger Meggs – I’m not making this up!

Things got a little uncomfortable when Faye started telling me about the recent deaths of her two sisters, and her own numerous ailments including diabetes, meningitis and spinal operations. I attempted to politely extricate myself several times, and each time they apologised for the Araucana/Andalusian mix-up and for taking up so much of my time, and then in the same breath, immediately resumed telling me their life story. I didn’t really mind. They were just a bit lonely and they said they didn’t get many visitors. It crossed my mind that maybe they had deliberately forgotten that they had Andalusians and not Araucanas, or purposely misunderstood what I wanted. I think that is being overly suspicious though. I mean, who would lie just to get a visitor/customer?

Sigh. One day…

To me, they seemed genuine, and rather sweet, in a way. They offered to incubate, hatch and raise Araucana chicks for me if I could source fertile eggs. Plus they sold me some cheap, awesome honey made by their neighbours’ bees – you can’t get more local than that! It was lucky too because I was running low. But… they did keep me there for close on three hours. They were real talkers, for sure. So I got my honey, but no new chickens came home with me. So the blue egg search continues. Maybe I will find some fertile Araucana eggs and Faye might hatch them for me. It could mean hearing another three hours’ worth of their life story though.

Definitely crazy chicken people. But maybe that puts me in good company!