My Tiny Brood of Backyard Chooks

chooks, hens or chickens?


My Barnevelder chickens have started moulting and their egg production has reduced

It is a few days from the first day of autumn here in the southern hemisphere. About two weeks ago I started noticing feathers littering the yard and then I noticed my Barnevelder girl’s egg production started to go down.

So I am guessing my Barnevelders are going through their first moult. I checked online and yes, I see that late summer, early autumn is a common time for chickens to start moulting. I hope mine don’t go through an almost naked moult like some poor chickens do. Because my girls are not yet twelve months old (they will be one year old in April), I am guessing their moult will be less severe but I am not sure if that is right.

Hannah Hen went through a moult after hatching her chicks so she may not go through another one.


The sparrows are eating all of my chick’s feed

I am surprised that the sparrows at our house can fly. Their tummies are so full of my chick’s grower pellets.


The sparrows can’t get to my big girls chicken food. They have a sparrow proof chicken feeder (a Chooketaria).


This is the Chooketaria open. The big girls stand on the little step, which opens the lid for them to gain access to their delicious treats.


This is what the teenage chicks eat from. As you can see, the food is very accessible to all, including the sparrows. The feeder is kept in the chick’s coop through the day while I am at work and the chicks can go in and out of the coop to eat. But of course, so can the sparrows.

I used to fill this feeder right to the top every day and by the time I got home, it was completely empty and the sparrows would be still pecking away at the remaining dust as our car pulled into the drive. The chicks spend most of their day free ranging out and about and only a few times do they go back to their run to eat their pellets and corn so I have come to the conclusion that the sparrows are eating most of the food from the feeder each day.

During the weekend I think I have it under control. I shut the coop so the sparrows can’t get in and I bring the feeder out every couple of hours to put in front of the chicks and then I put it back. The sparrows are very cross with this and they sit outside the coop chirping indignantly at having their food source taken from them.


A friend who keeps backyard  chickens told me that he has a bird feeder in the garden so that the birds eat their own feed and leave the chicken’s feed alone. So I tried that. I bought them their own feeder with their own wild bird feed to go in it. It took the birds a few days to notice the feeder and they loved the wild bird seed. But it definitely doesn’t stop the birds from eating the chick’s food. They just eat both.

So now that the sparrows have eaten all of the chick’s grower pellets, I have decided that the chicks can go onto a mixture of crushed corn and adult. (The adult pellets that my fussy adult birds won’t eat.) I know you are not supposed to feed chicks on adult food until they are about 16 weeks but mine are almost 14 weeks and I am not going to buy a big sack of grower pellets for 2 weeks. I checked with the man in the feed store and he said they will be fine. He added that the chicks might start laying in a few weeks as some start laying at 16 to 18 weeks! Arrgh. These are my babies I’m not ready for that. (I wonder when partridge wyandotte bantams start laying. I must try to find out.)


I left the chicken coop door open all night

I had to go away for one night last weekend and I had been agonising over what I was going to do with the chickens.

The big chickens live in the big coop that has a h0use and a run. The teenage chicks live in a slightly smaller coop that also has a house and run. Each night just on sunset, they all put themselves to bed in their respective coops. After they are safely tucked into bed, I go out and close the run doors so nothing can get in and get the chickens while they are sleeping.

I have no idea what I think here in New Zealand is actually going to get into my chicken coops and hurt my chickens but nevertheless, I like to shut the coops up at night. The only real night time predator living in New Zealand that would attack a chicken is probably a weasel or a stoat and I don’t think there are many of them around. I guess a stray and very hungry feral cat may harm the chickens at night.

But because I was going away for only one night. I decided to take my chicken friend’s advice and leave the coop doors open while I was away.

I felt bad leaving my chickens in such a vulnerable situation but I felt I had no choice and I was willing to take the risk.

So as we drove up the driveway at the end of the two days, I eagerly peered over towards the coop. All looked normal. Then I quickly got out of the car (barely waiting for it to come to a stop) and went out to find (and count) the chickens and chicks. Three chickens (Hannah, Helen and Hilda) and five chicks (Harry, Howie, Hedvig, Harriet and Hazel) all accounted for and happy to see me.


Helen Hen wants what everyone else has


Helen is my highly strung chicken who wants what everyone else has. Treat feeding time must be very traumatic for Helen.

When we arrive home from work, the chickens hear our car come up the drive and that is their queue to crowd around the glass doors, make lots of noise, try to look cute and and watch my every move inside the house until they see me with their treat tin.
When they see me coming towards them with the treat tin, they get very excited and try to climb through the glass doors.

Once I get the glass sliding door open, Helen and Hilda are right by my feet watching me put on my outdoor shoes (the ones that I don’t mind getting pooh on). Once I have my outdoor shoes on, they start to walk right beside my feet, criss crossing in front of me, looking up at their treats.

Hannah Hen plays it a bit more cool and walks ahead of us to where she knows I will throw the treats.
The five teenage chicks are also waiting but they are not allowed to wait at the glass door. That is Helen’s space and so therefore the chicks are not invited. But they are not far away and they  hang back and wait patiently for their treats, which they know they get last.

So today I had scratch (lots of yummy mixed grains), kitchen leftovers and cracked corn. I threw a handful of scratch (their favourite) in front of Helen and Hilda and throw a handful to Hannah who is always standing a little further away. Helen pecked furiously at the scratch trying to eat a much as she could, glaring at Hilda in case she was eating too much.
Then Helen caught sight of Hannah eating her little pile of scratch. So Helen ran as fast as she could over to Hannah’s pile and started pecking furiously at hers. Hannah is top hen and she was having none of this and gave Helen a peck and a growl and so off Helen ran back to Hilda’s pile.

By this time I had given the chicks some bread, some little bits of tomato and other leftover goodies. I feed the chicks a few metres away from Helen because she chases them.

But suddenly, Helen caught sight of the chicks and their treats, so she abandoned Hilda and the scratch and ran towards the chicks. I quickly threw her some bread of her own so that she wouldn’t bother the chicks. But no, she slowed, briefly looked at the bread I had thrown her and then continued on to the chicks. She chased them away from their food and around the table and chairs a few times and then went back to eat the chick’s bread while the chicks huddled under the table waiting for her to go away.

Then Helen spied out of the corner of her eye, Hilda eating the bread that I had thrown for Helen to stop her from going near the chicks. So Helen abandoned the chicks’s bread and ran after Hilda, who by this time had gulped down the last of that bread.
So then Helen ran over to where the scratch treats hd been and found that while she was chasing the chicks, Hilda and Hannah had eaten all the scratch.

So back to the chicks to see if she could steal the last of their bread. But alas, the chicks had seen their opportunity and had come back and gobbled it all up.

Poor Helen. It must be a very unsatisfying life wanting what everyone else has. If only she could work out that there is enough for everyone.


Mother Hen abandoned her chicks at 10 weeks

On the day the chicks turned 10 weeks old, mother hen finally decided it was time to let her baby chicks fend for themselves.

I knew she would leave them soon. I know most mother hens abandon their chicks long before this but Hannah Hen is a bantam and they are known to make excellent mums.

So how did this excellent and very protective mum leave her chicks. These chicks, their mum and the other two Barnevelders have been all free ranging together for a week or so now. How does a chicken mum leave her chicks to fend for themselves when they are free ranging together and the chicks can just follow mum around forever?

This is how it was done.
Two days before mother hen left the chicks, she was leaving them on their own for periods of time during the day. She would wander away and the chicks would stay put, waiting for her to return. Sometimes they would wander around together close to where she left them and scratch and peck and sometimes they would all huddle up under a bush and have a wee sleep until she came back. And she always did come back.

The day before she left her chicks, mama would leave them for much longer periods of time and would be out of sight from the chicks. They seemed quite happy going about their chick business and not really bothering too much where she was. Later that afternoon, the chicks got too close to mama when she had decided they shouldn’t be and she gave one of them a peck and made her angry “go away” noise. The same angry noise she makes when she is letting the Barnevelders know that they shouldn’t be eating out of the treat tin at the same time as she is.

While they have all been free ranging together, mother hen has determined the chicks bedtime by putting herself and the chicks to bed when she was ready. This was usually about 20 minutes before the Barnevelders went to bed. The Barnie’s coop and the coop where she is bringing up her chicks are near each other but there was never any questions as to who belonged in which coop.

This night however, mother hen seemed to be in a bit of a quandary. She stayed up until after the Barnies were in bed and seemed quite unsettled. It was starting to get dark and the chicks were also unsettled, standing alert wondering what was going on. Then mother hen decided to go into the big girl’s house (which was of course where she was living before we moved her and the chick’s into the new coop). Much to Helen’s disgust, Hannah hen (aka  mother hen) went straight to where Helen was settled for the night (unfortunately they sleep in the nest boxes) and kicked her out of the box and settled herself in. Helen indignantly ran outside and ran about in circles a bit and then ran back in and settled herself at the opposite end of the house in one of the many spare nesting boxes.

Meanwhile the chicks were watching all of this drama unfold in front of them as it was starting to move from dusk to dark. The chicks not daring to go into the big girls house, were outside where they could hear their mum settling herself down for the night, peeping their little hearts out.

Next thing mama hen came back outside, called the chicks and off they all went into their own house where they all settled and went to sleep.

The next day was the day mama abandoned her chicks. When she got up in the morning, she walked away and left them. If they came near throughout the day she would peck at them. The chicks seemed happy with this and they spent most of the day doing their own thing, exploring on their own and being quite grown up while keeping a watchful eye out for that Helen who still chases them.

Mid morning, Hannah Hen went running into the big henhouse and laid her first little green egg since going broody.

That night without any fuss, the three big girls went into the big girl’s house to sleep and the chicks went into their house to sleep.


So now, I seem to have two separate free ranging broods, one made up of the three big girls and the other made up of the chicks. Here they are having some rest time.