Rebuilding My Flock

Reader Contribution by Jennifer Quinn
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This has been a bad year for poultry at Panther’s Hollow, so I haven’t posted anything about my birds since late winter. After losing most of my flock to predators, I had high hopes of rebuilding it this year, but my three attempts at incubating eggs all failed. Incubating is trickier than I thought, but I’ll explain that in a separate post.

Fortunately, I managed to hatch five chicks around July 1 with the one hen that went broody this year. It probably would have been 10 if I hadn’t trashed five eggs after candling that, when I broke them, turned out to have normally developing embryos. Candling is another tricky business, but more about that later.

Meanwhile, my one really good pullet from last year — a terrific asset for my breeding flock — got picked off by a hawk one day. That left me with only one decent layer — a guinea hen, surprisingly, who faithfully laid an egg in the nest box almost every day. But one night my dear guinea hen simply would not go into the coop, but kept endlessly circling it, picking at this and that. I think she was suffering from mites, which I had neglected to keep after with timely applications of Diatomaceous Earth inside the coop.

After returning a couple of times after dark to try and coax her inside, I finally gave up. Not surprisingly, later in the evening something put her to a noisy chase, which ended with my finding only a mess of feathers near the house next morning. Since she was my last surviving guinea, I decided it was time to start over with four purchased guinea keets. Here they are in the doorway of my new poultry house. (I’m trying to train them to go in and out on their own, but at this point I have to lure them with food.)

I’ve taken some steps to reduce the predation problem, so I’m hoping things will go better from here on. First, I’ve converted a new, larger building for use as poultry housing that is nearer the house and probably more secure. Having two poultry houses will make it easier to separate age groups, so I can shut in the younger birds as soon as they come in for dinner. Last year I found that the younger birds would come in first to eat, then would run back outside while the older birds straggled in. Many of them would then decide to roost in the trees, where one or two would usually get picked off during the night.

To reduce that hazard, I prevailed on a friend with a chainsaw to remove the lower branches of the trees near the old coop, as well as some small trees near the new one.

All told, I’m now back to a dozen birds, chickens and guineas included, so by winter I should have something resembling a flock again. And it looks like four of my five young chickens are pullets, which is a big plus. Here they are at seven weeks, if you’ll pardon the blur. (It was the best I could do!)

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