Better to Die Than Not Live Free



I am the boss!  When the boss isn't around!

I am the boss! When the boss isn’t around!

 

I have 2 flocks of heritage layers on the farm,

one in the vineyard and one in the main farmyard near the house.  In the farmyard flock I have mostly Australorps, one lovely old Araucana (Evita, who still lays straight through winter), one old light Sussex (Maggie, who spends a lot of time sitting under the lemon tree and it is not clear if she is still laying or not) and a variety of cross breeds.  In this flock, I have had a series of big, strapping Australorp roosters, first Rocky, then Gunther, and now Guntherson.

For the last few years I have gotten fertile eggs from a great breeder in Flaxley, a guy who always gives me super fresh eggs with a great hatch rate and gorgeous birds.  2 years ago, I bought a dozen barnevelder eggs to add something different, and much to my surprise 2 of the chicks hatched with feathered shanks.  Instead of 12 Barnevelders, I got 10 and a bonus 2 Marans.

At hatching, I slipped the babies under a waiting broody hen, who then expertly raised them up until they were fully feathered and integrated into the flock.  But then of course the day arrived when there were too many boys in the house and they needed to be moved out to go to their ultimate fate- into the freezer.

I kept them initially in a little yard up next to the house to watch them for a few days (which also happens to be under my bedroom window- FYI, keeping young roosters under one’s bedroom window is never a great idea, but we make do with the space we have…I can’t recommend it as best practice) because I thought it would be good to keep a Barnevelder for breeding and I needed to observe them before I could choose.  The little Marans was in there too, and I didn’t think much about him until the afternoon I looked out the window and saw him prancing about in front of the huge Australorp girls, pulling out all the stops in trying to impress them, with me thinking, how the hell did you get out?

At nightfall, I found him in the chicken house and returned him to the yard.  But that afternoon, again, there he was dancing for the ladies.

I have a bit of a soft spot for birds with gumption, so I decided that maybe he was a keeper.

He moved into the main house again, his clutch mates dispatched without him.  But from the get-go, it really wasn’t a great situation.  He was about 1/3 of the size of Guntherson and just got his ass kicked, over and over.  He could never get to the food, his bill had a split down the middle (which we patched with a cut-up tea bag and superglue as advised by the totally awesome Chicken Chick) and he was always on the run.  So, when I had a second batch of young birds that I was training to an electric net (which we use to keep our vineyard flock safe) I decided to move him in with them and then ultimately up to the vineyard where I keep smaller breeds.

Under cover of night, I shifted him into the little shelter in the electric net with the young birds.  The next morning, all was well; he asserted his dominance with them pretty quickly and everyone seemed happy.  But then a few days later, there he was, in with the Australorps again, desperately pulling out all his most charming moves for the big girls and then getting chased up and down the yard by Guntherson.

So I clipped his wings.  I hated to do it- I always want my birds to have a chance against predators, but I felt he had to LEARN, he had to stay put with birds his own size, I didn’t want him to get hurt.  But did that work?  No, of course not.  Those young birds held no attraction for him, he just couldn’t stay away from the big girls and the very next day he was over the net and back out there, putting on his show, clipped wings and all.

At this point he earned a name- Camille Desmoulins, after the French Revolutionary who was known for, among other things, his way with the ladies.  And thus newly named and deciding his own fate, into the main house he went to stay.

Time has passed, and they have found something of a balance.  At night, Camille Desmoulins tucks himself in between some girls at one end of the chicken house, Guntherson at the other.  I always have an extra handful of grain for him, since he rarely gets in to the feeder, and still has that persistently split beak (my patch didn’t work, but he seems to get along just fine with it).  Most importantly, he is free to court the ladies in his pretty ways whenever he likes (and it is remarkable just how many babies turn out to be his when I hatch my batches of cross breeds, including one of my favourites, Lucita, who is Evita’s daughter by him and lays deep olive eggs with pale blue interiors).

I see it all the time, but I still laugh when I spy petite Camille Desmoulins aboard a huge ‘lorp girl, quickly doing the deed then shooting off like a rocket when hulking black Guntherson (who calls to mind Camille Desmoulins’ friend, Georges Danton) finally comes lumbering over to break it up….

At the moment, I have a number of young girls starting to lay, so I have been feeding the flock in the morning and then keeping them in lockdown until mid-day, to teach the girls to use the nest boxes, not the bushes.  But poor Camille Desmoulins can’t stay in there all morning being harassed by the big boy- he can’t get away quite so effectively in close quarters- so we have a little routine.  I go in, feed the flock, then wait outside the closed door until he comes over and I let him out.  He knows exactly what to do, makes his way through the crowd then pops out, following me around to the feed buckets where I give him his breakfast.  This morning, he got trapped behind the scrum and decided to fly up and over the flock, bashing into my head en route, but he made it out, anyway.

He then spends the morning pecking around the yard, hanging out with the dogs or newly weaned lambs, as happens to be the case this week, until lunchtime when I let the whole mob out.  And then he can begin his daily routine of romance once again.

One comment


  • Alan

    Nice story, good luck to the little fellow! 🙂

    10 September 2014

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