Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Poultry merry-go-round

The two white hens have moved to the turkeys' pen, the turkeys have moved up to the white cockerel's stable, the white cockerel has moved to where the four cockerels used to live and the four cockerels have moved to... the freezer!
All this happened a week ago. For as a smallholder I seem to be constantly moving animals from place to place.

The two white hens are in fact Ixworth hens and when they are big enough they will be laying eggs to be hatched under our broodies to be raised as meat birds.

This cockerel will be a more permanent resident
than some of the others, so we'd better think of a name for him.
The white cockerel is slightly older and came from a different home. He is an Ixworth too and his job is to look afer the two girls and make sure their eggs are capable of hatching.
So there we have our breeding trio. They will be kept in a separate pen to the other chickens so their offspring are pure. Hatching them under broodies will not only keep the broodies happy but it saves Sue and I having to look after them inside. And when they hatch they can wander around with all the other hens until they are big enough to go in the freezer, for Ixworths make an excellent meat bird.


The turkeys came to us a few days old, which meant keeping them in a box with a lamp for heat until they had enough feathers to go outside, which coincides with the time that three of them are pretty much too big to fit in the box comfortably. It also unfortunatley comes several weeks after they begin to create quite an odour! They go out during the day for a while first, like hardening off plants, and then they went into their own pen down with the chickens.

The turkeys in their hardening off pen.
 (and Sue) (and Boris on the outside, when he was little)
But turkeys like to roam, so they quickly learned to hop the fence and wander around the farm. This home too was a temporary one for them, since again they quickly get too big to be put away every night in a chicken house. They barely even fit under the door. But it gives them a chance to get used to their surroundings before they move up into the stables, where they can roost safely every night and free-range during the day. In the evening I simply lead the gangly creatures back to their stable.


The turkeys explore their new accommodation
That brings us to the four cockerels. The law of Sod states that when you hatch eggs there will always be plenty of cockerels. But the law of Sod also states that you will have to keep them quite a while until you know for sure they are cockerels. (The Crested Cream Legbar male chicks were different to the girls, but they didn't make good meat birds and the young cockerels were very 'boisterous'.) So you end up with macho young cockerels upsetting the balance of the chicken pen, challenging the older cockerels and harassing the females. Therefore we separated four of them off a while back until they were big enough to ... well.... let's just say that their moving on was well timed for the great poultry merry-go-round. Their dispatch was swift as Sue and I have become pretty good at this now and Sue soon had them processed and in the freezer.
Five years ago we were city folk and wouldn't have had a clue how to do all this. We have moved on a long way since then.

As I write, the Ixworth trio are now together. For a couple of days they were in adjacent pens so they could get used to each other but when we opened the door, they settled together instantly. The hens follow the cockerel everywhere and he takes care of them.

Meanwhile one of the black ducks has disappeared. To be more precise, once in a blue moon she appears for food early in the morning before wandering off to disappear again. I think she has hidden herself on Weasel Ridge somewhere. If all goes well, she will appear one day soon with a line of ducklings waddling along behind her.
And on the same theme there are now only ten guinea fowl on the fence at nights. I found the other two yesterday, hunkered down in the comfrey bed. Let's hope they do better than last year, when between all of them they eventually only managed to rear two young. If only they would incubate earlier in the year so the chicks weren't so vulnerable to Lincolnshire's early autumn weather.

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