My Tiny Brood of Backyard Chooks

chooks, hens or chickens?


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My rooster chick is becoming a gentleman

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Harry Hen Boy has been trying to get the girls attention to show them that he has found food for them. He is just over 14 weeks old.

I went out yesterday evening after work to throw some scratch treats and I heard a strange little noise, a bit like a squeak. I looked over and there was Harry Hen Boy trying to get the girls attention by making this funny little squeak and pretending to peck at something on the ground (just like mama hen used to do when she was teaching her chicks to eat). At the same time he was eagerly watching the girls to see if they would notice and come over to see what he had for them. But did those girls notice? Of course they didn’t. They only had eyes for the purple treat tin.  They were too busy crowding around me expectantly waiting for the lid of the treat tin to be opened and the scratch to be scattered.

Then tonight I went outside to close the coop door after the chicks had put themselves in for the night. And there was Harry Hen Boy. He was the last one into the coop and went trotting past the food container (that is always in the coop) and then he stopped. Looked at the food and decided he would let the girls know it was there. So he made his little squeak noises and did his little pretend pecking at the food and waited for the girls to come out of the hen house where they had put themselves to bed. I’m sorry Harry Hen Boy but the girls know the food is there and they have already walked past it to go to bed.

Never mind Harry Hen Boy, one day those girls will be grateful that you have found them food and they will want to share. Thank you for trying to look after them.


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My teenage roosters have started their sexual shenanigans

When my roosters were eight weeks old, I happened to look out the window to where the chicks were meandering about and I saw one of the roosters doing his sexual shenanigan practicing on his brother. I did think this was slightly forward behaviour and thought nothing more of it and didn’t see this again…..until last weekend.

Last weekend the rooster boys turned fourteen weeks. I know that bantams start laying between five and six months and I am guessing roosters become sexually mature at about the same age.

So I wasn’t expecting to see what I saw last weekend. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw chicken wings flapping. I looked over and there was one of my rooster boys being shaken off the back of the mama chicken who had hatched him. After she had shaken him off, she fluffed herself up and indignantly trotted away from him.

I am guessing he is still just practicing but if she goes broody again before the boys are sold off, I will leave a couple of her eggs under her, along with purchased fertilised eggs, just in case. (And don’t worry, it is not as gross as it sounds. Mamma chicken is not related to the rooster boys. She was just used as their incubator.)


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Hannah Hen is back sleeping in her coop and not outside in the trees

After being chased off her broody nest by poultry mites, Hannah Hen, my partridge wyandotte bantam started sleeping in the trees at night so she didn’t have to be anywhere near those nasty mites.

So once I had ridded the nest of mites, I needed to get Hannah back sleeping in the cozy, warm coop. I didn’t want her to be cold or wet or hurt at night while she slept in the trees.

So the first night after I found her in the trees, I hatched three plans to get her back into the coop at night, a plan A, a plan B and a plan C.
Plan A consisted of me luring her into the coop each night with treats and shutting her in so that she had no choice but to go into the house to sleep. She would eventually get used to this and go to bed on her own.
Plan B consisted of me going out at night in the dark and getting her out of the tree and putting her into the coop.
If plan A and plan B failed, plan C was to lock her in the coop for a week until she realised this was her home. But that was a drastic thing to do to a free range hen.

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The first night after finding her sleeping in the trees, I put plan A into action. I lured her into the coop with watermelon and yoghurt, about one hour before her bedtime. All three of the big girls trotted into the coop for the treats and I shut the door behind them. They ate the yoghurt, pecked away at the watermelon (until they tipped it skin side up and couldn’t be bothered turning it back over) and by the time they realised they were locked in for the night, they all happily hopped up onto the perch to wait for bedtime.

Later in the evening after they were settled for the night, I checked in the coop to see where they were sleeping.
I found Hilda Hen and Helen Hen in their normal beds (my girls have always slept in the nesting boxes) and Hannah Hen had squeezed herself in with Helen in the same nesting box. There was no way she was going back to the other side of the coop because those nests were where the mites were. What a clever chicken.

The next night I lured her into the coop with her favourite treat tin but Helen and Hilda were busy outside and didn’t want to go in. I let Hannah Hen wander back out and thought I would get them all a little later in the evening but I missed my opportunity and Hannah waddled off and flew up into her tree for the night. I decided not to put plan B into action as the tree was at the bottom of a steep bank and I couldn’t imagine traversing down it in the dark (even with a torch) as I would probably end up rolling down the bank and frightening Hannah from her roosting spot and I may never find where she sleeps again.)

The next night I managed to lure Hannah Hen in with another of her favourite treats, corn on the cob. Hilda and Helen followed shortly after. That evening Hilda and Hannah slept in the two larger nest boxes at the favourite end and Helen got relegated to the “mite” end of the coop where the three smaller boxes are.

For the rest of the week, the evenings went on as above, with only one night sleeping in the trees. But when will she go back into the coop at night on her own like she used to? This weekend would be the test. We were going away. Would she take the opportunity to go back to her tree with me not being there to lure and lock her in, or would she realise the coop was safe, warm and mite-free and be happy to put herself to bed there?

We got home tonight about twenty minutes after the big girls’s bedtime. I went outside and tentatively peeped into the nest boxes and there she was! Hannah Hen had taken herself to bed and was tucked into the nesting box, safe and warm. She was still sleeping in Helen’s “mite-free” bed and Helen was in the smaller bed all alone at the other end of the coop but I don’t care.

At last I can say I have my Hannah Hen back home.  What a relief.


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To sell or not to sell the chicks

The master plan for growing my brood of chickens from three to a maximum of eight (which my husband agreed to when we bought the bigger coop but has since forgotten the conversation), was to hatch a batch (or is that a clutch) of eggs each time my bantam went broody. I would then keep one of the girls from the hatch each time and sell the remainder. In this way, it would take a few years to get to my maximum number of chickens and it would give me time between broodiness to decide on the breed for the next hatch, while watching the new chicks grow.

My last (and only) hatched batch (or clutch) are now fourteen weeks old. I have three girls and two boys. The plan was to keep all of the chicks until the girls started laying and then I would keep one (Hazel with the crooked toe) and sell the other four. I decided if I kept them until the girls were laying, I might have more chance of selling the four of them as pairs. That way the boys may get a chance of surviving and living a happy life.

I say that was my plan because Hannah Hen went broody again far too quickly. (Only two weeks after she abandoned the chicks at ten weeks old). The maternity coop which I would need to move Hannah into, still had the chicks living in it. So the easiest thing (after weighing up a number of options) was to sell my four chicks early. But I was not ready to let my chicks go. I wanted to see my baby girls lay their first egg. I wanted to see what the magnificent boys looked like as fully grown bantam roosters. I wanted to enjoy the chicks for a couple more months.

But I knew how to go about selling them and that was to list them on the Trademe website, which is New Zealand’s equivalent to Ebay. So the first thing I had to do was to follow the chicks around and take some photos. The photos had to have the chicks looking as magnificent or as cute as they could, so I could entice a nice owner into buying them. At least I could take the photos. I didn’t have to list them just yet.

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Here they all are innocently sitting together not realising they were posing for their Trademe photographs.

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Here are the boys on their own so that the first person to want one of the pairs could see the boys colouring and choose which one they wanted.  I know it is not the best photo to show off their colouring but I had only just started taking photos. I was going to spend much of the weekend getting the right photos for  their prospective buyers. But this is as far as I got.

The mite drama and Hannah Hen being driven off her broody nest suddenly took precedence over getting the chicks to pose for photographs.

I feel terribly sorry that mites attacked Hannah Hen. It was obviously not very pleasant. But at least I can now keep my chicks for longer.


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I found where Hannah Hen is spending the nights

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I happened to see Hannah Hen going off to bed last night. At the end of our front lawn just before seven, one hour earlier than the younger girls. You can see her sleeping somewhere in this picture.

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Can you see her?

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There she is, in the manuka tree.

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All tucked up for the night. On a very thin branch I might add. Luckily she is a lightweight bantam. Thank goodness it is still warm here in New Zealand, even though it is Autumn. There is no rain forecasted for the next few weeks so I have a little time up my sleeve to get her back to a mite free coop.


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Did red mites kill my chicken?

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This has been a very traumatic week.

This is a picture of my partridge wyandotte bantam, Hannah Hen. This is her, when she first chose us to  live with. She has been with us for approximately nine months and we worked out after finding out where she came from that she is quite an old bantam.

Hannah Hen has hatched five beautiful babies for us and looked after them until they were ten weeks old before she decided they were big enough to make their own way in the world. The same day she abandoned her chicks, she laid her first little green egg since being broody.

A week ago (three weeks after she abandoned her chicks), Hannah Hen decided it was time to hatch some more babies. So she started sitting on a golf ball and two of her eggs which she managed to hide from me.

Oh no. Not again. Not so soon. I still have a batch of teenage chicks living in the coop (without the ramp) that Hannah Hen would need for new chicks. I don’t want to move the teenagers into the coop with the big girls because Helen Hen is mean to them.  I don’t want to sell my teenagers yet because I want to watch them grow into fine adults. Perhaps I could get out my original smaller coop for the teenagers (they’re only small) and then Hannah Hen could have her maternity ward back.

Then I had to quickly think about what breed of chicks do I want to have next time. I don’t have a rooster so I buy fertilised eggs, so therefore can select any breed of chick, depending on what eggs are available at the time.

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So I decided to have her hatch some Barnevelders because they have such wonderful personalities and they are so pretty.

Hannah Hen had been happily sitting on her golf ball and her two little green eggs for about five days, so I thought it safe and arranged  to get some fertilised Barnevelder eggs on Sunday from the same breeder I got Helen and Hilda from. I had until the weekend to sort out the coop situation.

Then on Saturday morning around 7am, Hannah Hen got off her eggs and didn’t go back on them until midday. Very unusual, as once she is broody, she sits tight, hardly getting off for eating and ablutions. She was a bit puffed up and didn’t move far. I took the opportunity while she was off to check the nest for mites as I know they can force a broody hen off the nest.

I had had an outbreak of mites in the chick’s coop but had worked hard to get rid of them. I had not seen any mites in the big girl’s coop  as I had DE’d it as a mite preventative (I had forgotten to do the chick’s coop when I bought it) and so far the big coop had been mite free. But you never know, so I checked the nest. No sign of any mites, even under the eggs and golf ball.

I phoned the breeder to cancel the fertilised eggs for now as I think something is not quite right.

The next morning (Sunday) Hannah Hen again got off the nest at 7am but this time stayed off the eggs all day. She didn’t look well and was fluffed up and looking very lethargic for most of the day. She stood around and didn’t move far and at one stage I saw her standing with her little head bowed with her eyes closed. She did not look well at all. I decided that when she goes to bed that night, I would pick her up and check her over. I am not able to do that during the day as she won’t let me get too near her. I checked her nest again for mites, but nothing again. And none to be seen anywhere else in the coop.

Then in the afternoon she perked up and started looking her normal self. So that night I didn’t bother to check her out.

Monday morning we went to work in the dark and the chickens were still sleeping so I opened the door of their run so they can free range.
Monday night we were late home and the chickens were in bed and so I just shut the door.
Tuesday morning we left again in the dark before the chickens were up and opened the door.

Tuesday evening we were home at six. (The chickens bedtime at the moment is 8pm.) Hannah Hen was missing. How long has she been missing? I haven’t seen them since Sunday and she had been very poorly Sunday morning. I started to get worried. I checked in her nesting box in case she was sitting back on her golf ball. But she wasn’t there and to my horror, the nest and the golf ball were teeming with mites.

How could this happen? I had been so diligent in checking (or so I thought). I know that mites can kill chickens by causing anaemia. Then I remembered her little droopy head and her eyes closing while she was standing up. I remembered that she was lethargic. Why didn’t I see the signs and rifle through the nest, lifting up the wood shavings and hunting those mites out? How could my inexperience at chicken management cause the death of my Hannah Hen? She had lived for years across the road on the farm on her own and I took her in to keep her safe. How could I do that to her?

She didn’t turn up that night. I cried. I felt so bad and so sad.

I went to work the next day and was very sad but I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone. Not even my kids. If I had even a hint of sympathy, I would have burst into a fresh set of tears, so I told no one.  I will tell them once I have worked through what I have done.

Wednesday evening we came home and I was sadly and lethargically going about my business of preparing dinner. I asked my husband if he would go outside and look through the bush for Hannah Hen’s body so we could bury her.

Then a few minutes later, my husband called out to me, “Hey, Hannah is outside!” I looked out the window and there she was, looking bright and perky  doing the evening pre bedtime preening with the rest of them. Not long after this, she wandered off into the bushes for the night. The mites had driven off her nest and out of her coop.


The night I discovered the mites, I sprayed and DE’d  and sprayed and DE’d some more like a mad woman. But this weekend my plan is to empty the coop of wood shavings, spray it with Poultry Shield, let it dry, dust it with DE, put in fresh shavings and one day soon, try to encourage Hannah Hen back into her nest. I have a few plans for how to do this. But first I need to find where she is sleeping.