Living with Fowl – part I

Living with widely free-ranging chooks and ducks is an interesting exercise. It becomes especially challenging when you have a relatively large flock in a relatively young and delicate forest garden. Some things you just have to learn to live with, and others you just have to make a plan about.

Roosters will be roosters

Even though we hand-reared all our roosters, they all have their quirks. Sunny, our light Sussex rooster, leaves everyone alone, but every so often when I’m not looking he would gun for me and kick or peck me from behind. Fluffball, AKA Fluffy, our Buff Sussex rooster, which was particularly closely hand-reared by Micaela, leaves me alone, but he has something in for Patricia’s shoes. He doesn’t kick her but he pecks hard at her feet whenever he gets or makes the opportunity. Luckily she hardly ever walks around barefoot. And then there’s Midnight, AKA Flappy, a much smaller Scot Grey rooster, which seems to have kamikaze aspirations. Whenever he gets the chance he launches into a mid-flight karate kick. On anyone. From any direction. The ducks have become fed-up of his behaviour, I guess because he must have approached their hens inappropriately too. Anyway, they chase him away as far as they possibly can whenever they possibly can – it’s quite funny to see! I guess the only reason he’s still alive is that he is super-alert and super-quick, the bigger two roosters are just too slow to get him. So the kids are still very weary, and they always work or play there with a stick in the hand or their favourite “tool” – a small umbrella, which they open between themselves and any rooster who dares come too near to them.

Chookproof- rooster fence start

Start of the n-th chicken fence

But so the upshot of it is, we cannot readily let interns work there or have guests wandering around with these three hooligans around. But we don’t want them caged in either, and nor do we (me specifically) want a major big logistical nightmare of having to chase them into a separate area when we have guests or children around (because guess who will mostly have to do it.) Neither can we close the coops off as the hens need free access to be able to lay. So I’ve been watching their behaviour for a while. The Sussex hens and roosters are the least mobile of all, and so are the Scot Grey roosters – so they can all be quite easily contained. Meanwhile the Scott Grey and Wyandotte hens can and do fly any fence they want to. So my latest plan was to fence off a large area around the mansion coop and keep the three roosters there with the Sussex hens. Most days we will be able to just leave their gate open, but on days we’re open to guests or expect children over, we can just keep them in there. It’s quite a large area. Google Earth recons it’s about 172m². That’s not too bad for an occasional day camp for 9 chooks I reckoned – that’s 19m² per chook.

Various points along the fence

The big swop

However, this means I had to do the “big swop”! Tiara, another Scot Grey rooster – who is amazingly gentle and friendly, and his little tribe of four Scot grey hens were on the Homeland side already – so they stayed in place, thank goodness. But the Buff Sussex hens (the Queens) and the Light Sussex hens (the Princesses) had to move from Gaë’s coop, where they’ve always been since they arrived, to join the two Sussex roosters in the Mansion. And the Scot Grey and Wyandotte hens had to move from the Mansion, where they have always been since leaving the brooder, to join the ducks in Gaë’s coop.

But so this introduced two problems. The Scot Grey and Wyandotte hens that had to move to Gaë’s coop are extremely mobile and very erratic in their behaviour. They hop the fences wherever and whenever they want, they lay in whichever coop the want and they’re generally a pain to “manage”. So they had to be “locked” in Gaë’s run for a few days to get them accustomed to their new home. Meanwhile, the ducks had to be let in and out of the same run, without letting the new homies escape. So they had to be fed outside the run. Quite a process. And I had to get Patricia to adhere to this complex policy right in the middle of the crucial time while I was away for a day. Her approach is a bit different – she would just let them free-range and overnight and lay wherever they want to. Interesting times we live in, indeed. Talking of Patricia, that brings me to the second problem… Right at this time, she started selling our excess eggs to a few close friends. So the swop had to occur without a loss of production, because madamme advertised “forward” based on current production, in the middle of winter too. That’s quite a tall ask! Fortunately Tiara’s tribe kept laying, the Sussex hens adapted rather quickly to the Mansion and one day during the switch we had a mass of eggs in Gaë’s coop, even though the Wyandottes wanted to escape at every perceivable chance.

Just when I thought it was all turning out OK, we detected a third problem. Fluffy (the Buff Sussex rooster) and Sunny (the Light Sussex rooster) started fighting. Like seriously fighting. The two outlaws were fine free-ranging on ½ an acre, but at 172m² the town was too small for the both of them. So I had to re-swop Fluffy and the Buff Queens back to Gaë’s coop, and the Wyandotte and Greys hens back to the mansion. It seems they have now all adapted quite OK to this arrangement. But when it comes to rooster lock-down, it is a much more difficult process, especially with Fluffy. Well at least Sunny and Fluffy are staying apart now, even when free-ranging, and we haven’t seen a significant drop in egg production either. As a side benefit, the ducks have started laying steadily two eggs a day – and in the same place too. Now just to get the loose cannon Wyandottes and Greys to stick to the Mansion… and to get everyone else to make the rest of them stick to the new regime! Every time I work late at my day job, I find the weirdest combination of chooks in the various coops the next morning.

So far so good. In part 2 we’ll talk about their consumption, neatness and cleanliness.

Chookproof- Sunny fenced

Sunny in his day camp

About (207 Articles)
My name is Martin Rennhackkamp, I now live happily in Lara, Victoria, Australia with my wife, two children and two dogs. My interests, apart from the obvious Organic, Biodynamic and Permaculture Gardening and Farming, include sustainable living, surfing, horse-riding, a wide variety of music, dancing, nature, birds, reading, Christianity and a few other things which I never get to...

3 Comments on Living with Fowl – part I

  1. Some serious CODESA style negotiations seem to be the order of the day 🙂

  2. Chook politics even more complex than dog politics.

    • // September 9, 2019 at 12:23 pm // Reply

      I would have replied “most definitely!” but we’ve had some interesting developments on the dog front too (more about that soon!)

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