A Flourishing Flock

Reader Contribution by Jennifer Quinn
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It’s been quite a while since I posted anything about my poultry flock, since I’ve been merely waiting and watching them grow. Back in the summer I wrote about losing my entire flock to predators in one way and another, and how I considered giving up the whole venture, but decided to press on. At the beginning of July I had acquired four more Buckeye chicks and four guinea keets, to which I added ten Icelandic chicks in August.

My experience with this flock has been completely different! I began taking them outside in a cage at an earlier age this time, which may have helped. On the day I released them on their own, all except one Icelandic rooster returned to the coop on their own, and have done so ever since — even the guineas! The latter seem to have benefited from being raised with the Buckeyes, and they still go around as a group, while the Icelandics mostly stay in their own group.

The Icelandics are much more independent and a little skittish around me. The Buckeyes, on the other hand, are just like cats — they want to be wherever I am and get involved in whatever I’m doing. With the guineas close behind they follow me around and get underfoot all the time — it’s all I can do not to step on their toes!

I’ve only had a couple of losses, other than the rooster who wouldn’t come in on the first night — both my own fault. First I made the mistake of putting the guinea keets out in the cage when they were quite small, and they were so frightened that one managed to squeeze through the bars and take off across the yard. I was never able to catch her after she disappeared into the weeds along the stream, never to be seen again. (I imagine ”she” was my other hen, since the remaining three included two cocks.)

Then one day I noticed that the door to the coop had blown shut, the stopper having fallen out. I was about to head into town, and thought I would reopen it on my way. Do you think I remembered it? I arrived home just before dark to find the Buckeyes and guineas milling around the closed coop in a state of agitation and the Icelandics nowhere to be found — not even in the trees around the coop! I still can’t imagine where they spent the night. In the morning, thankfully, they were all accounted for except for one rooster.

That left me with three guineas, four Buckeyes — three of them hens! — six Icelandic hens and two Icelandic roosters. Of the three roosters two were destined to become meat (more on this later), so my present flock consists of seven Icelandics, three Buckeyes and the three guineas.

My plan was always to have them free-ranging, both for the sake of economy and to give them as varied a diet as possible. Fortunately my location in a mostly wooded area with no resident neighbors is ideally suited for this, as they take the term “free-ranging” very literally. (“That means we can go wherever we want, right?”) And both breeds are said to be good rangers, with the Icelandics especially known for their foraging ability. The latter’s flightiness gives them an advantage in avoiding predators, while the Buckeyes are said to be well-camouflaged by their brown color.

Still, I was a little taken aback when I began finding them on the adjoining properties down by the creek, even nosing around the cottage where a neighbor occasionally spends summer weekends with his family. I expect they’ll abandon that practice once the neighbor’s boxer goes after them, but I hope they all escape unscathed!

Meanwhile, my birds have been providing me with lots of chicken-litter compost, as well as depositing some fertilizer directly in the garden, while picking out whatever bugs and weed seeds they can find. And now, as of the second week of January, they’ve been producing one or two decent-sized eggs every day!

Oddly, it’s the Buckeyes that have started laying first, though I expected the Icelandics would, since they’re supposed to be especially good winter layers. And even though they’re about a month younger, I expected them to mature at four-and-a-half to five months, as opposed to six for the Buckeyes. This morning I did find a little Icelandic egg in the litter, but with a very thin, broken shell — more like a skin. That added to my worry that the Icelandics aren’t getting enough of the layer ration, since the larger birds tend to chase them away from the feeder. This morning I moved the feeder outside, where they soon crowded around it, and put some poultry shells in the coop, just in case.

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