Things are mostly good with the chickens. But, as has been the thing of late, there is good and bad. All the young chickens are well and 14 weeks old (16 weeks for Josephine and Juliette), with no sign of Mareks for the second hatch in a row. Yay! I think I really did start with original chickens from a poor source. Thank goodness I didn’t give up. Numbers dropped when two chickens were butchered: Salt, the sneakiest egg-eating hen I have come across, and the big black Lorelai boy, who I was unwilling to sell due to his overly-assertive, bossy and incredibly greedy nature. There’s a reason he was noticeably bigger than the other cockerels. But he did taste very nice… It seems that a Lorelai-Australorp crossing produces good meat birds that put on weight faster than my current Australorps. If the black dude hadn’t been a meanie he could have gotten to a bigger size in a few more weeks. Definitely some thought there for future hatching plans.
Getting rid of Salt was sad but it had to be done. I was relieved to find numerous developing yolks inside her during processing. She had definitely been laying, and very well, by the looks of things, but I never got a single egg from her in the 3 1/2 weeks I had her, because she must have been eating them straight away before I could check. She wouldn’t touch one of Nugget’s eggs that I left inside the cage with her as a test, but when I put her out in the small coop in The Corner with one of Nugget’s eggs, it disappeared. She was downright sneaky, unrivaled even by Lydia’s persistent egg-eating. I’m guessing she’d been at the egg-eating for a while before she came here, being such a pro at it. The good news is, we now have a camera in the coop, courtesy of The Husband’s new boss, which is extremely convenient. I am satisfied that neither Frodo nor Lorelai are egg-eating. Thank goodness for some good news in that situation.
The other four crossbred cockerels were sold to someone. It was good to offload them, although they were nice and pretty boys, and we’ve had so much on lately that it was better to get a bit of money for them than me having to make the time to butcher more chickens by myself.
That left us with the four Australorp cockerels and decisions about who to keep. They are all nice boys, which makes it harder to choose. It isn’t so hard to get rid of meanies or nutcases. My favourite black boy is still my favourite and I have decided to call him Mr Darcy. I have chosen the other black boy as a back-up or second roo and am calling him Colonel Fitzwilliam. He is looking very good and he has a very nice nature too. The splash (white) boy was very flighty when he was young but he’s actually settled down to be quite nice. The blue boy is going to be pretty, and I have a weakness for blue roosters, but he is still quite a struggler and very hard to hold down, plus he’s still more scrawny-looking than the others and crows a lot, so he really is at the bottom of my list. He’s got a skittish kind of dominance, which probably doesn’t bode well. I am still deciding what to do with the blue and white boys, Mr Crowpants and Mr Snowpants. To sell or to grow on for meat? In any case, they have now moved into The Corner. The Husband has actually said that he’s now willing to help out with some butchering, at the non-feathered end. Now, that really is something!
I was surprised to see Mr Darcy attempting to mate with Frodo a few mornings ago. He’s keen for 14 weeks old! Frodo seems quite keen on him too, but her eggs aren’t fertile yet.
The young black Lorelai girls are very friendly and I cannot get over how they often just come up to me as if they want snuggles. The slightly smaller one in particular, who I’ve named Rory, just gets in the way so much that I have to carry her around while I’m doing things sometimes and she likes to sit on my lap and eat. I’m finally giving them all names; I’ve just had my guard up after all the egg-eating business. I can’t wait until some of the younger girls start laying, but it is at least 4 weeks before the older two blue Australorps could start laying, or will the Wyandotte crosses be the first to lay?
Lorelai is laying less because of the intense heat, taking more hours to lay an egg, as opposed to egg-eating, which I was initially suspicious about. And Frodo? Frodo was the same, but is just back to laying after a broody bout. It’s been too hot to risk hatching more eggs and it was too soon for Frodo to undertake motherly duties again. Plus, there were other things…
I’ve had to deal with a red mite problem for the first time. They are horrible little beings. They may have come in with some of the new chickens or they may have just got into the main coop from the environment, or both, but either way, one of the biggest downsides of building this coop, which I knew was a risk, became apparent. It is very hard to keep it free of mites thanks to the gappy fence that is the back wall of the coop and the amount of cracks between different pieces of wood throughout the coop. Red mites are just ridiculous in this country. Getting them under control is not a one-hit approach. I have been doing a lot of spraying and powdering, with a few different things, especially focusing on the roosts and surfaces around them. And three full cleans of the coop so far. And powdering the chickens. It is an ongoing thing for a few weeks. The red mites weren’t all over the coop, thank goodness, but there were enough of them to be a problem.
I am currently trying a less toxic and cheaper approach to mite control. I have a struggle between wanting to kill mites and other crawly nasties as fast and effectively as possible because I loathe them with a mixture of hatred and fear, and wanting to use less harmful chemicals, especially as I like to be able to use old chicken bedding on the Vege Garden or other garden beds. I am trialing the use of a spray made from 2 cups of water, 1 cup of cooking oil and 1 Tbs dish liquid, kept well-shaken. This solution is from Lisa at Fresh Eggs Daily. I’ve also been adding lavender essential oil to that, since it is supposed to have insect-repelling properties, and I would like to get some neem as well. I don’t like DE (diotemaceous earth) because I think it’s harmful to our and the chickens’ respiratory systems, so I am trying sulphur powder (flowers of sulphur) at the moment for dusting the coop and the chickens.
I’m not the only one with a red mite problem this summer. There are always newbie chicken keepers who get inundated with them, but there seem to be a lot of people who have been chicken-keeping for a while who are first-time red mite sufferers this summer. It has been very hot and all it takes is a little delay in 6-weekly cleaning and spraying or an influx from wild birds or new chickens for red mites to set in and start breeding faster than rabbits on steroids. Anyway, the red mite situation is looking a lot better now, but I’m still checking and treating every few days. And I am yearning more and more for a new coop, which might not be too far away. The small coop in The Corner where the crossbred boys were wasn’t affected by mites, so that’s something. Flat surfaces for the win!
Now, wasn’t there another chicken? Yes… Nugget. ‘Was’ being the operative word. While she was laying very well initially, there were a couple of nesting-without-an-egg incidences that got me suspicious about her. I was always worried about her after discovering Salt’s bad deeds, because they were in the main coop laying at the same time the two days that Salt was actually in there before being isolated (plus, nobody rightly knows how long Salt was egg-eating at her previous home). Nugget seemed to come right though, but then her eggs started non-appearing again as soon as I took the fake eggs out of the nestboxes. Two days of that in a row and she was out and into a cage for observation. Finding a half-eaten egg in her cage was more than enough evidence to seal her fate. Jolly chicken. Is the egg-eating situation finally under control now? I think so, but I hardly dare say yes. Never fear, I have a trusty camera now. And I’ll be watching.