The Turkish are coming! The Turkish are coming!

I have just received notification from Porter’s Heritage Turkeys that my poults are on the way!

I have been disappointed by bad hatches so many times (a common occurrence with birds from a small gene pool) that I didn’t dare expect the shipping notice. I half-expected an email explaining that my order couldn’t be filled due to yet another bad hatch.

But, oh, they are coming, gentle reader!

I ordered ten of the Self-Blue/Slate turkeys, and am getting eight. I ordered five White Holland turkeys, and am getting seven. One must needs be flexible in the world of conserving rare and endangered creatures. These poults were ordered and paid for way back in September. That’s how hard it is to get these birds.

I have never ordered live babies before, not directly. I’ve purchased them through Chicken Debbie at Agway, who had them shipped from a large hatchery, but these are coming directly to me. I will drive to the post office at dawn, open the box and hold my breath to see if there were any losses during shipping. I will be responsible for their immediate care, making sure each and every one receives water immediately (with molasses for energy), and ensures each one knows how to eat and drink. I am nervous.

That may sound silly, but all reports are that poults are much slower to learn these essential skills than chicks are. Many people suggest putting a chick or two in with poults, to teach them. I thought to do this, but Chicken Debbie is no longer offering chicks, C3.0 is too big (and have now been exposed to the Great Outdoors), and C3.1 is three weeks too young. I shall have to be extremely diligent to ensure each and every poult is eating and drinking. Yes, they are that dim.

Here’s what I hope to find when I open the box:

Self-Blue (AKA Lavender)

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Slate (AKA Blue Slate)

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White Holland

Holland-hen-poults

I have been notified that the White Holland poults will be marked with yellow on their heads to distinguish them from the Self-Blue poults.

And as if that weren’t enough, I have also received notification that my BBS Orpington eggs are on their way from Wisconsin, and my Plymouth Barred Rock eggs are headed north from Kentucky. I will be receiving packages very early Thursday morning, very early Friday morning, or both.

Tomorrow, I will be bringing Heedley’s Hens eggs to the post office peeps as a token of appreciation/bribe, along with a heads up.

Fingers crossed, y’all…

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It IS easy, however, being blue.

Hatching the Marans was my first foray into the genetics of blue colouration, but not my last. Ten of my fifteen heritage turkeys are to be in the blue spectrum, and one dozen of the hatching eggs I’m expecting are for Blue/Black/Splash (or BBS, as it’s known) Orpingtons. It’s turning out to be my thing.

There are differences between the genetic laws of blue colouration in chickens and in turkeys, and I’m learning those as I go (as I do), but there are also similarities.

Here’s what I know from my very first hatch of a BBS chicken breed: it pays to be blue. Of the twelve Marans that hatched, eight were blue, three were black, and only one was splash. Two black chicks and the splash chick needed help hatching. None of the blue chicks needed any help at all.

Of the four blue chicks of C3.0, all are healthy, active and growing, two of them prodigiously so. Big Blue is just so…big. And it’s not just her size. She is feathering out at a fantastic rate. She is also fearless; she was the first to jump onto my knee, and the first to fly up to the (rather high) roost I placed in the coop brooder.

The first black chick I helped is the only chicks of the five I helped who has required no further assistance, and is doing just great. S/he is, however, considerably smaller than his/her blue siblings. The difference is remarkable.

I look forward to observing the poults. I won’t have any blacks, but I will have slates (the turkey equivalent of blue) and self blue (the turkey equivalent of splash). Just to make things interesting, there is a divide amongst breeders of Blue Slate turkeys: some refer to the colours as Black, Blue and Lavender; others refer to them as Black, Slate, and Self-Blue.

As my foundation stock is coming from Kevin Porter, I will be using his terminology: Black, Slate, and Self Blue. You can read about Kevin’s thoughts on blue colouration in turkeys here.

When the Orps eggs arrive, it will be back to the drawing board again. I’ll need to study this. I never was very good at science.

The upside? Both the Orp eggs and the Rock eggs will be light, and easy to candle!!

Gaps kill. And then there were nine.

Yes, nine. For the first time ever, the population of Heedley’s Hens has dropped down to a single digit.

The weasel came back last night, and I opened the coop door this morning to find Coraline’s body by the spilled water dish, her neck chewed to the bone, as Buffy’s had been. A quick visual sweep saw Haley in the right nesting box, motionless.

We believe we found the point of entrance. The Man found Barred Rock feathers outside the coop, by the nesting boxes. When he pried up at the corner of the nesting box lid (and I mean hard) he was able to squeeze two fingers through the gap. That has to be it. Oh, please God, let it be it.

The Man screwed the lids shut, and we will be setting traps tonight.

It’s funny; yesterday was a day of bad weather, too: dangerously high winds. I am definitely seeing a pattern. We had planned to set the traps last night, but we were making beer and had guests over and it got late…I’ll add that to my very long list of self recriminations.

We’ll need to bury Coraline and Haley today. I’ve asked The Man to dig the graves, as I don’t think I can face the task so soon after digging the last three. I dread telling the Stepdaughters; upon hearing of the death of the first three a few days ago, Stepdaughter the Younger was upset, but deeply relieved that her precious Coraline had survived. And now…

Beyond the emotional toll, which I’m finding crippling, there is the practical cost. Of the five hens killed, the weasel managed to kill my four best layers. He may have killed a third of our hens, but he has cut egg production in half. I’m glad The Man and I decided to add another twelve hatching eggs to our order from The Garry Farm, but it will be a lean summer, egg-wise.

The count is now devastating. 1.0 now counts 2,1,1. That’s it. All our Plymouth Barred Rocks are gone. I feel like hatching some, to be honest. In my limited experience, they are the best layers I have found, and Abby was broody, and I hear they make good meat birds. I will have to see how the Ameraucana/Maran hatch goes. I don’t think either breed is famous for its egg output, pretty as the eggs may be.

I have obituaries to write, on their five pages. I’d been putting off moving Abby, Maisie and Dorothy over to the “In memoriam” section, waiting until the wound had healed a little. And now, there are two more. It may take me a while to bring myself to do it.

In the meantime, here are pics of our lost girls in happier days. Abby checks out Tallulah’s molting butt…one of my faves:

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Maisie, in the chicken hospital for a badly-ripped nail:

photo 1-1

Dorothy, checking out the Nest on Pooh Corner:

photo 2-1

Coraline, in the chicken hospital for bumblefoot (with Buffy):

photo 4

And Haley, all shiny in her new, post-molt feathers (Abby, at left):

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Oh, my poor girls; I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I failed you. You were all so good to us. Thank you.

Home kills. And then there were eleven.

Eleven.

Readers of the Heedley’s Hens Facebook page will know that we had a terrible loss Monday night. The Man and I were visiting family and friends in Canada, and Chicken Debbie was staying at our house, looking after Sergeant, the cats, and the chickens.

I received a text on Tuesday that there had been a terrible sight greeting Debbie that morning, when she opened the coop door: three of our chickens were dead, killed by a predator. She told us she felt it was a weasel, given the state of the bodies.

It was horrible to be away in that moment, as you might imagine. I had no idea which of the hens, specifically, had died, as Debbie could only give me the breeds: two Plymouth Barred Rocks and one Silver Laced Wyandotte. I was grieving and guilty, but I was also terrified; we weren’t to leave until Wednesday…what if the predator came back Tuesday night, as well, before we had a chance to find the point of entrance?

Debbie reported that the remaining eleven girls had made it safely through Tuesday night, all praise be to The Great Chicken, and The Man and I returned home yesterday, as planned. I went into the coop expecting to find a crime scene in need of a cleaner, only to find it looking…perfectly normal. No blood. A few feathers.

I cannot tell you how I felt knowing that we had lost chickens, not to illness, not to a car or an accident, not even to an outdoor predator, but in their coop, their home, where they should be safe, while they were asleep, helpless and trapped. I felt sick.

We tightened up the coop with the daylight hours we had left last night, but, honestly, there wasn’t much to tighten. We’re still not sure how he got in. We set out a couple of rat traps last night; this morning, one was untouched, and the other had been sprung, the bait taken, the thief nowhere to be seen. We will be bringing in the weasel trap boxes tonight, loaded with fresh chicken livers.

Early this morning, I steeled myself to deal with the bodies. Debbie had placed them in a large black garbage bag, inside the courtyard. We will be burying them when the ground allows, and I wanted to wrap them, individually, for burial. More even that that, I wanted to look at them, to not turn my eyes from what had happened to my girls. More and more, this becomes my most important mandate.

They looked…asleep. There is very little damage: a few feathers missing at the neck. For reasons I can’t quite explain, I took photos, maybe to have in case The Stepdaughters wanted to know. I am attaching them here, in the smallest size wordpress allows, so as to not upset anyone. If you want to know more, you can click on them to enlarge.

photo 1 photo 2photo 3

From left to right, we lost Abby, Maisie, and Dorothy. Abby and Maisie were 1.0, and Dorothy was one of 2.0’s “good girls”. Their loss is difficult to bear. Abby was my superstar layer, and my last known broody. She will be sorely missed. Maisie was her breed sister, with her curved toes, long, skinny eggs, and flappiness. Dorothy laid late, but eventually turned out marvelous snowglobe extra-large eggs, almost daily. She was three weeks shy of her first birthday.

I wrapped each of them in one my dad’s old shirts, brought home yesterday as protective wrapping for a sculpture he gifted me. I find it comforting that they will go to their rest wrapped in his figurative arms. That will have to wait for softer ground.

The revised count is heartbreaking. From my original eleven 1.0 girls (after Jack was rehomed), I now have only six. I feel their losses more than I do those of 2.0, which is not something I’m proud of. One thing I have determined: I cannot continue to keep them all in the chicken graveyard. Not only do I have three chickens to bury, I also have five headstones to paint, and that’s not the worst of it. The worst of it is that a graveyard containing all the chickens we lose will be a constant, daily reminder of loss, one that I’m not sure I can bear.

I’ve decided that, going forward, only 1.0s (or others particularly are close to my heart) will be buried; others will be cremated.

These are the risks we assume when we have chickens. I know that. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck.

Above and beyond above and beyond.

You know, we still haven’t fixed that pop door. It just hasn’t risen to the top of the list yet, especially as snow has rendered the passage from the run unusable for much of the winter. It’s not that big of a deal; the girls wait for me to open the inner coop door in the morning. Until I do, however, they don’t have much in the way of light. They have food, but the heated water dish is in the showroom.

It’s not ideal, but it works. Some mornings, I wake them up on the roost. Others. like today, I sleep in a bit, and I open the inner coop door to some very impatient hens. Now that days are getting longer, I’ll find eggs already laid when I get there, or hens bursting out of the door, running for their favourite nests.

A Barred Rock with a straight comb (Maisie) rushed past me this morning and into the Not a Tennis Racket Nest, which is Maisie’s go-to nest. Nothing to see there.

I went back a while later to collect the egg, surmising that she’d have laid it quickly, and she had. I reached under her and found this:

photo

Ruh roh. Blood on eggs is not unusual, especially for new layers, but I thought this to be rather a lot for an experienced girl like Maisie, even for an egg just shy of a jumbo, like this one. I picked her up and turned her butt to the window. There was no blood around the vent, so I decided to stand down red alert. So to speak.

What did concern me was how pale her comb was. That was cause for concern, especially as she’d just laid. I took her out to to have some treats, but she wasn’t having it. She flapped a lot, as Maisie does.

And that’s when I finally figured out that it wasn’t Maisie.

Abby, who laid while all the other 1.0s were off duty in November and December, who only began to molt at the beginning of January, who looks like a ragamuffin because her feathers haven’t yet regrown, whose comb is so pale and small that it isn’t even leaning left, as it does in full bloom, but sticking straight up like her sister’s, who has been squatting for me for a week, much to my bemusement…is back.

And with an-almost jumbo first egg back. No wonder she bled.

Will someone get this girl a medal, already?!

The state of the molt. The bitter end.

I can’t believe it’s the end of January and we’re still talking about this. This is brutal.

That said, things are looking up!

Abby: Still Absent With Leave. Poor thing, molting through this awful cold snap. I know she’s molting because I see the feathers everywhere, she’s looking a bit ragged, and her comb is pale and shrunken, but it’s not a disastrous molt. If it were, I would seriously have had to consider knitting her a little chicken poncho. Absolutely not expecting eggs from her anytime soon. And that’s…okay.

Coraline, Maisie & Trixie: Churning out enormous eggs now, about 4 per week each. No complaints here! Trixie, now that she’s laying after a 10-month hiatus, is still the loudest chicken ever made. Damn, girl.

Tallulah & Alexia: Both back in action, as of yesterday! Very exciting.

Haley & Hermione: Dude. Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot??!! Haley, you’re slightly off the hook as you did come back from molt and are now re-retired due to cold/dark/stress/whatever. You get a little more time. Hermione. I love you. I do. You know I do. But it’s been four (4!!) full months since I last had an Hermione egg. This is unacceptable. Both these Production-My-Ass Reds are really testing my patience.

That said, The egg supply is beginning to flow once more. Dorothy and Scarlet lay regularly; Jezebel and Delilah less frequently. Alice has been squatting lately and nested today, so maybe she’s getting ready to lay again. Mae lays about three eggs a week.

And, Marilyn? Another month and she’ll be the 40-week-old virgin…

The state of the molt. Just kill me already edition.

I’m at the end of my rope, gentle reader. It’s freaking January. Yes, the days are still short, but this has been going on since late September, and we are now into month four. I could almost handle that if it weren’t for the tease. Let’s review:

Abby: Abby just stopped laying a couple of weeks ago, powering through November and December while the others were sipping Mai Tais, and so is exempt from this rant. You take a month off, girl; you’re amazing. You get good and rested so you can broody mama my Blue Copper Marans babies come spring, m’kay?

Coraline: Is laying every other morning, which I find perfectly acceptable for a mature girl in January. Carry on, Coraline. Well done.

Tallulah, Trixie: Still nothing. Now, Trixie is into month ten of not laying, and she did molt very late. Her new feathers are in, but her comb is still pale. She has been squatting for me lately, though; a pleasant surprise. I am hoping all hope is not yet lost. Tallulah, on the other hand, is starting to piss me off. She has a gorgeous new coat of gleaming white feathers and is looking terribly posh. Her comb is big and red. But does she lay? No. Does she try? No. Does she even squat? No, she treats me like a sex offender. My patience with Tallulah grows short.

Haley, Maisie, Hermione, Alexia: Here’s where the tease comes in, and it hurts. Each of these girls has molted, grown new feathers, returned to a full, red comb, squatted, laid…and then stopped. I had about a dozen eggs each from Haley and Maisie, nice and regular, for a while. Hermione had two night eggs, which really got my dark brown egg hopes up, and Alexia laid one egg in The Baby Box (a large…from Alexia). And, then…crickets. Nothing for weeks.

Is it the shorter days? Quite possibly. This is my first winter with mature hens, so I’m learning. Are they hiding them? If it were just Hermione, I’d be ripping the barn apart, but…all of them?! It seems unlikely. Have they been stressed? Ah. That.

The day Buffy was killed, I found the other fifteen girls huddled in the coop, most of them hiding inside the nesting boxes. I found them in a similar condition a few days later, although I was unable to identify a threat or any damage or injury. It’s possible.

Well, it’s a good thing you have 2.0, I can hear you say. You’d think so, wouldn’t you? First year hens power through. First-year hens keep your egg supply going through the winter. This is why we want to get a few chicks each spring, right? Right??!!

I had zero eggs on Sunday. Actual zero. Zee. Roh. I had two before 9am yesterday, and thought, “Okay, that’s how it works; a bad laying day is followed by a really good one.” Those were the only two eggs I had all day. Mae is laying at the moment, thank dog.

Dorothy is now laying reliably, every other day, but Alice is MIA. What the hell, Alice?! I get occasional eggs from the bad girls.

Now, it’s possible I’ve been giving them too many treats, but that shouldn’t stop 2.0. I have looked and looked for stashes, and haven’t found any. I have wormed using cayenne pepper.

I’m sure it will resolve soon, but it’s all very frustrating in the meantime. Slackers.