28 June 2014

Not Dead Yet...

Nope, not yet, though I haven't been online much at all as of late.  I still rescue roosters, I'm still homeless living in a thick cedar forest which has been ideal for my birds- they love it, and I'm sure they don't know the difference of living inside or out.  I'm currently housing thirty roosters, a turkey, a pheasant, three pigeons ( two male, one female ), and three "retired" hens.

If you're interested in other media outlets from me I keep up with YouTube:


And NOT chicken-related, DeviantART:

Remember, anyone with questions can also email me personally at:

I shan't promise expedient responses at the moment, but I'll certainly try to get back to any emails as quickly as I can manage.

09 February 2013

Still in Interim...

My laptop is hopefully in the process of being fixed.  I'm posting this from a library computer with only fifteen minutes, but I AM posting lots and lots of videos on Youtube lately!  Check it out! https://www.youtube.com/olychickenguy

02 November 2012

In the Interim...

Just an update to let you all know I'm still alive, but things have been tough.  I've been homeless since April, and now my rescue ( focusing on roosters ) is being threatened to be shut down because of lack of donations and resources.

I promised that my next post would be about why chickens fight, cock fighting, and so forth, and I still intend that to be true.  In fact, I rescued a fighter in that time, and he went from terrified of the other birds and trying to fight them at any chance he had, to sleeping next to them, following around my biggest rooster, and being a completely integrated member of my flock, and now even he helps integrate new members.  He will flee before fighting now.

If you want to know more, please look at my DeviantART journal here: [link]

10 October 2011

010 - The Realities of Urban Chicken Keeping

"You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed" -The Little Prince

"How NOT to Raise Chickens" I don't agree entirely with this comic, but it gets the point across nicely of what the urban myths are about chicken keeping and the realities that people don't think about. Many of the topics in this comic I'll address here, as well.

EDIT: Chicken Run Rescue has posted an article that outlines basically what I've said below, plus gives some advice on re-homing your chickens if you honestly feel as though you can't handle them anymore. The article is found [Here]. EDIT OVER.

I admit, the first time I read that comic I was kind of offended by the assumption that people raising backyard poultry were moronic hipsters... then I started rescuing chickens from moronic hipsters. I have had so many people contact me lately who've wanted to "get a couple chickens" and I've stopped responding to them all together in favour of writing this blog post.

I have honestly been asked, on a number of occasions, "So egg laying stops in a couple of years and I don't want to keep my chickens after that, but I don't want to slaughter them. That's where you come in, right? I just give you all of my unwanted chickens?" I am, unfortunately, NOT making this up, and my straight-up answer is to grow a spine and slaughter your own chickens if you're going to be treating them as naught but live-stock because I am NOT a dumping ground for unwanted chickens - I rescue chickens from inhumane conditions, and if I ever need to "rescue" a chicken from you, I will NEVER give you a chicken.

A Couple of Chickens...

... is never enough. The minimum number of chickens for ideal psychological balance in a group if you're NOT going to be spending all of your time with them is seven. With seven chickens, regardless of sex, all social positions are filled and minimum flock balance is achieved. I would like to note that this is LARGER than most cities allow, as it's quite common for the legal number of chickens in a backyard to be between 2-5, which at those numbers if you want to maintain psychological balance in your flock, you WILL have to take an active role in your chickens lives!

Minimum outdoor space for your chicken if you want to make sure that they don't decimate an area is 124 sq ft per bird. This amount of space ensures that the amount of manure they drop will be composed and the grass re-grown by the time they make it over to that area again. In other words, you'll never be out of grass for your chickens to graze if your chickens are full-sized and you stick to this formula. I would then ASSUME that a bantam at 1/4 the size of a standard bird would need 1/4 the space, but I haven't researched that.

Similarly, a coop needs a minimum of 12 cubic feet per bird, though some people will try to tell you four to six cubic feet is all you need. Some people will also tell you that you only need to clean your coop twice a year, which is FALSE FALSE FALSE!! You should clean your coop NO LESS than every other week - my rule is that when you can't easily discern the floor from manure, clean it - this usually leaves me cleaning my coop every three days when the weather is bad enough that I have to keep them confined to the coop.

Note: Chickens defecate the MOST at night while they're roosting and sleeping, so if you put some newspapers below your chickens while they're sleeping and pick the papers up before they get up, you'll save a lot of time cleaning!

The Egg-a-Day Myth

I have been lucky and fortunate to have two VERY happy hens that have given me an egg a day almost since they started laying. When I had many hens, almost all of them gave me an egg a day, but that circumstance is EXCEPTIONALLY rare. My hens were healthy, happy, felt safe and confident, and at the time I may have been feeding them in such a way to encourage egg production. I even kept receiving eggs through the winter! However, my chickens were housed inside, exposed to light while I was awake, never exposed to snow or harsh winter weather, and again, healthy and happy.

This winter is my first moult, and my chickens have stopped laying all together. All of those precious nutrients that go into making eggs suddenly becomes diverted into creating fresh, new feathers. Encouraging egg-laying during this period is very, very bad since it then makes a year's worth of feathers very, very brittle and all-around unhappy. It can encourage bad skin conditions, feathers growing in wrong ( kind of like ingrown hairs ), and all sorts of bad things can happen.

Winter is also when chickens restock their "calcium glands". I have never found proof or documentation that there is an actual GLAND for calcium deposits, but there is a little thing near the ovaries that supplies the calcium needed to make a shell! It's important to feed crushed egg shells and oyster shells to chickens because if that calcium deposit runs out, calcium will be sucked from the bird's skeleton, making them much more prone to broken bones and other osteo-diseases.

An egg a day is exceptionally rare and most hens that produce lots of eggs are bred to do so. The most eggs to ever be produced was 364 by an Australorp sometime in the early 1900s, but the bloodline that produced this bird has since gone extinct and that hen was an anomaly even amongst her strain. It did bring rise to Australorp awareness on a global level, but the most eggs produced by breed will likely be white Leghorns, non-heritage Rhode Island Reds, and Plymouth Rocks, and sex-linked breeds such as anything ending with "star".

To receive eggs during the winter you must expose your chickens to fourteen hours of light a day. No special lighting is needed - just an average lamp will do. However, if you do this you will be depraving your chickens of their recovery period, which considering how hard it is on their bodies to lay as many eggs as they've been bred to do already, will drastically cut their life expectancies. Look for good winter layers such as Transylvanian Naked-Neck chickens ( also known as Turkens, but there is not an ounce of turkey in these birds - they're all chicken ), Delawares, or Faverolles to name a few. They don't lay as many eggs as other breeds, but that's to stretch out their laying during the winter.

Please remember that by encouraging egg-laying in your chickens, you are also encouraging a plethora of reproductive-related illnesses! Enhancing egg-laying also encourages such things as cloacal prolapse, egg-binding, egg peritonitis ( also known as "internal laying" ), cysts developing on the ovaries just to name a few ailments.

The number one reason the "egg a day" statement is a myth, though? It takes a hen's body 25-26 hours to MAKE an egg, meaning each day your hen will lay an hour ( or more ) LATER than she did the day before! That means that now and then she'll go to sleep before laying, and when that happens and she hasn't laid all the day before, she'll wake up the next day and lay her egg FIRST THING in the morning, skipping a day. You will not have received an egg that day!

However, if you're worried about having too many eggs in the summer and not enough during the winter, do not fret! On the outside of the egg is the "bloom" - this is an invisible protective layer created inside of the hen and comes into being immediately after the egg is laid and dries. The bloom is destroyed the moment it comes in contact with water. If you wash your eggs and refrigerate them immediately, your eggs will be good for about three months. If you do NOT wash your eggs ( instead gently brush off debris and use sand paper if there is some particularly stubborn debris - or just wash it right before you use it ), you can leave them out for up to a week and then refrigerate them and they'll be good up to SIX MONTHS! I have tested this, myself.

Worried that your egg is bad or you don't know when it was laid? Float-test it! As eggs "go bad", oxygen builds up inside of the shell. If your egg is bad, it will float in water. If your egg bounces off the bottom, floats to the top, and then goes back down... well, I'd throw it out, and if it bounces just a little bit ONLY use it in baking - do NOT fry or poach that egg!

My Chicken is Sick...

Well, too bad! As much as I hate to admit it, this is the response from MOST chicken owners to newbie chicken owners about sick or injured chickens. There is almost NO veterinary care aimed towards chickens, and almost all advice on chicken forums leads to either "kill it" or "stew pot". I am VERY fortunate to have a vet that is excited to work with my chickens and research whatever I bring to him, and to have worked with people who have had the patience to do what's best for their chickens, resulting in some incredible stories of survival and recovery.

When it comes to vaccines, though vaccines DO exist, they tend to be for flocks of 500-1000 chickens, and some vaccines can only be given to chicks no more than 72 hours old! Have a backyard flock of five chickens? Good luck finding a cost-effective way of vaccinating everyone against New Castle's, Marek's, or coccidiosis! I imagine that if you have a large-scale poultry farm near you that you might be able to talk to them about taking some of the cost of the vaccine, but I wouldn't bet on it. If they wanted it, they'd probably already have it, but they do get new batches of chicks every spring or every other spring, so if they DO vaccinate their chickens you could approach them before they get their chicks. I've never, personally, done this, but it's worth a shot, no?

Also keep in mind that MOST anti-worm and anti-parasitic medications make eggs "non-human consumable", and you'll have to wait 14-30 days before you can consume meat or eggs from treated birds. The bottle should tell you how long you have to wait. Same goes for "dusting" your chickens. Almost all medication and dust is toxic on some level ( poison the bird to poison the bug ), and NEVER use dust in a non-ventilated area. I dusted my chickens in my bath tub with the window open and fan on, and sprayed down the tub immediately afterward. Your coop MUST be sanitised at the same time as your birds, otherwise they'll just pick up the parasite again - I've heard good things about using vinegar, but watered-down bleach left to air dry is probably your best bet.

Does your hen have a prolapsed cloaca? The only way to solve this is surgically. You can stuff the cloaca back in, ice it, and all sorts of other remedies are out there, but it'll usually pop out again, and usually with the next egg. Ask your local vet about doing surgery on a bird - a chicken no less - and they'll probably laugh you out of the clinic! I called a clinic one when I had a scalped chick and they were all ready to get me in as soon as possible, then the woman on the line asked, "You said you had a CAT, right?" and I said, "No, a chick! A baby chicken!"

"Oh," she said, deflated, "Uhm... we'll... call you back, okay?" She hung up and NEVER called back. This was my experience with every single clinic until I found the one I'm currently with ( Farm House Veterinary run by Dr. Widener for anyone in the Olympia, Washington area! ).

Do you want to neuter your rooster to keep him from plucking all the feathers on your hens due to incessant mounting, or to lessen aggression, or to make him pretty and his meat supple? This is called "caponising" and is RARELY done these days. There's only a 33% survival rate since it's an internal surgery ( the chicken's testicles are up on their backs under their ribs ). All pet chickens are "intact" and you have to deal with sexual aggression whether you want to or not - from both sexes!

Chickens are one of the only animals without slaughter rights today. All birds lack slaughter rights, but other animals such as cows, goats, sheep, and pigs have slaughter rights. Why? Because when the laws about slaughter rights were being made, chickens were considered "too unintelligent to comprehend pain". There are NO laws to protect chickens against abuse or inhumane conditions - both in keeping and in killing, which brings us to our next topic...

Recycling / Upcycling Chickens

Ever heard of chicken recycling plants or upcycling? Also known as "trading in" your chickens for newer, fresher ones. At eighteen months is usually when egg production declines, and if you've pumped your chickens for every last egg in that amount of time, they'll be spent, and their egg laying might even abruptly stop. Urban chicken keepers don't realise that chickens are NOT egg-laying machines, they need maintenance and there's a moment where you have to decide if they're earning their keep anymore.

Obviously, my chickens earn their keep just by being chickens. By being cute, cuddly feathered friends that love me as much as I love them. However, for a lot of people, a chicken's keep is earned directly by how many eggs they produce. Considering start-up, maintenance, and feed costs, collecting your own eggs is NOT cheap, and it definitely will NOT be cheaper than buying eggs from the store. Farm-fresh eggs are expensive, and store-bought eggs have cut so many corners to produce that they're pretty darn cheap.

If you recycle, upcycle, or trade in your chickens, here is the unfortunate truth about what happens...

Your chicken will die. It will die an awful death that you could prevent by learning how to humanely slaughter, yourself, or by simply never engaging in the backyard chicken fad.

Your chicken has known you for about two years now. It knows your face and your voice, and you are a part of its flock - even if you ARE ill-adjusted, and your chicken knows it, your chicken still loves you. It loves you unconditionally, and every time it attacks you, it's trying to help you. Honest-to-God, it is TRYING to discourage behaviours that it sees as "unhealthy" and help you live right! I'm seriously not making that up, I've addressed it in previous posts.

You put your chicken into a crate or other holding facility for a car-ride to the recycling plant. If your chicken has been on car rides before, cool! It's familiar with this part, and it'll probably calm down after awhile even if it isn't. It can still hear you, and that, at least, is comforting. When you arrive, you take your chicken out and the whole place is big and strange! Who are these other people? You hand your chicken over to the other people and you leave. Well, you leave every day after feeding them and putting them to bed, so maybe when it's dark you'll come back... but in the mean time there's these people that are handling your chicken very roughly and probably not even treating it as a living creature.

Remember, chickens are business, and businesses put on faces that best appeal to their prospective buyers! They'll tell you what you want to hear ( "she's going to a nice farm", or "she'll be killed quickly and humanely" ), and with the laws surrounding chicken keeling and slaughter, they are NOT, technically, lying! As soon as you leave, or your chicken goes out of sight, it is no longer a bright, nice world.

"Spent" chickens are shoved into a cage full of other chickens so tightly that they can NOT move, and shipped off to a slaughtering plant. Many chickens break wings and legs in this process, and several die in transportation, some from suffocation, some from panic. At the slaughtering plant, no laws maintain humane treatment so the chickens are often unloaded roughly and shoved, even kicked and thrown towards their destinations. The most humane form of slaughter is where the chicken's feet are shoved into metal clamps that hold them upside-down. First the conveyor belt dips the chickens into a trench of water that is pulsed with electricity - up to about 80% are unaffected by this step. It's supposed to use just enough electricity to knock them out, but not kill them. The next step, the chickens are brought through a line of spinning blades that are supposed to slit their throats and allow them to bleed out, killing them that way - many survive this step. The next step, the belt again dips them into water - this time their whole bodies, and the water is just under 140*F. Many chickens survive even THIS, and are alive as their bodies are pulverised by feather-plucking machines!

As you can see, supervising your own slaughter of your own poultry is MUCH more humane than recycling and trading in.

Auctions are just about as bad as upcycling, and most people buying poultry at auctions have a "live stock" mentality and are experienced farmers or breeders. Breeding chickens can be just as laborious and inhumane as egg production since eggs are encourage and produced, males are encouraged to mate ( resulting in "over mated" hens which can result in grave injuries ), and eggs are hatched out in incubators or sold as fertilised. I have NOT encountered as many horror stories from breeding-stock chickens as I have from meat or egg production, though. Almost all roosters bought at auctions are slaughtered immediately either for their meat or their feathers. Cat toys and most fishing flies use rooster feathers if they use feathers at all, and almost ALL craft store feathers are from meat-production turkeys that have been dyed. It is UNPROFITABLE to keep a rooster alive just for his feathers, though, so don't expect a particularly pretty bird to be well-off!

Predator Proofing

The number one cause of chicken casualties outside of intentional slaughter is predators, followed closely by weathering ( over heating and frost bite to be precise ), and finally chicken-specific diseases ( especially reproductive ones for hens ), and poor sanitation ( leading to disease ). Almost all newbie chicken owners will have a run-in with their first predator pretty quick, since chickens are pretty darn high on the list of easy prey for most predators.

Here's a list of common predators, just for starters: neighbourhood dogs and cats, raccoons, opossums, coyotes, hawks, eagles, osprey, weasels, snakes, foxes, mink, cougars, bears...

Neighbourhood pets, though not very hunting-savvy, tend to do the most damage on urban flocks since their instincts to chase are still there, but they have no idea what to do with a dead body, most of the time. Dogs will dig into your yard, cats will jump the fence, and they'll "play" with your chooks to death. Raccoons and opossums have been my biggest ire, especially when my housemates left their chickens COMPLETELY unguarded and open to night-time predation. If you have a wide field for free-ranging, raptors will be your ire since they'll swoop in and take a chicken in the time it takes for you to answer the phone. Foxes, weasels, and raccoons will dig under and fencing you have, or reach in through fencing and "grab" chickens, killing them without even being able to get them through the wire. Cougars and bears will tear down your entire coop and enclosure without prejudice to what they're destroying, and they might even become aggressive towards you if they associate you with the easy meals.

Another common problem is rats and mice. Rodents need to chew things CONSTANTLY, and if you have roosting chickens, that will include their toes. Don't believe me? This thread on Backyard Chickens shows very graphic photos of what many believe were mice or rats that chewed off the faces of several silkie chickens! Others suspect raccoons, but the incidents ceased all together once hardware cloth was placed over all the openings to the coops.

How do you predator-proof an area? Lots of money, for one. Proper fencing is necessary, and for ultimate protection double fence everything with at least a foot between your inside and outside fencing and put nets over the tops of your runs. If you have a huge yard or range that you're letting your chickens run in, I've heard that just putting strings of fishing wire tied off to sticks here and there helps to discourage hawks. Always bury your fencing at least a foot underground or bury large rocks in the ground around your fence, and put rocks or planks in front of any gate structures you have. Make sure coops are well ventilated, but free from drafts and any openings where chickens can get out or mice can get in.

Proofing against big predators is a bit harder, and foxes and raccoons can be tenacious and intelligent predators. I, personally, have never had to protect against any but the raccoons, and the coop in the garage seems to have discouraged them nicely. However, I have heard wonderful things about electric fencing both to keep poultry in and predators out. If your poultry is getting out the two most likely ways I've found is that they scoot UNDER fencing ( they will unintentionally dig out, too - I say unintentionally because they'll take dust baths near the edge until they happen to notice it's deep enough to squeeze under ), or they fly OVER fencing by jumping up, landing on the top, and jumping back down. A low-volt electric wire on the top and bottom of your fencing should do well to keep your birds in.

However, if you're not worried about your chickens escaping, a wire or two running just OUTSIDE of your enclosure might be best. I have also heard of a product called "Nite Guard" that is a little box that flashes a red light to scare away predators ( as well as deer if you're having issues keeping them out of your garden! ). You just set it up around your enclosure, although I have no idea how many or just how they work since I don't have to worry too much about night-time predators what with my coop inside the house and all. I have, however, heard multiple accounts of them working well, and know several people that will swear by this product.

Similar to how the Nite Guard works, I have heard that for repelling predators ( and again, deer ) during the day, some people hang shiny things around their property such as CDs, shiny ribbons or metallic tape. The key is to let the items move in the wind so that it simulates the same "flashing" as the above-mentioned product, and with these you can be really creative. Since you're trying to catch wind, you can try to mimic other wind-catcher products such as chimes, swirly things with lots of ribbons, metal art ( so long as it's polished and shiny ), and much more! You can really decorate your property with these things since there's never too many of them, and if you have children, it's a great way to encourage them to be involved with the safety of your livestock and gardens!

Lastly, if you want to predator-proof your poultry... invest in an ostrich, emu, or rhea! Emus are mid-ranged in size, and have the best temperament, and make the best pets out of these three. Rheas are slightly smaller, and tend to be more common, but they require behavioural upkeep to prevent aggression, and they NEED structure. If your poultry is unstructured, a rhea is NOT for you. Ostriches have a bad reputation for being mean, nasty creatures, but with proper structure and socialisation, they can make wonderful additions to a farm. They need about as much room as a horse, but due to their size and potential power I would say the same rule applies to an ostrich as a rhea: If you cannot provide proper structure and spend LOTS of time with your birds to maintain flock balance, do NOT acquire an ostrich.

Ostriches, emus, and rheas do a fantastic job of integrating into poultry flocks, especially when they're raised around poultry as chicks, and if you adopt one into your flock they'll never know that they're NOT with their native species. These large birds do a marvellous job of discouraging many predators, and will often take the dominant role in the flock, meaning that they'll take it upon themselves to protect the flock at all costs. Turkeys do a wonderful job to maintain flock balance, though they tend to be just as much of targets to predators to chickens, so if anyone out there can report on the benefits of keeping turkeys for balance, and big birds for protection, I'd love to hear about it! My vet was actually the one who tipped me off to emus, and he has quite a varied flock by the sounds of it.

I, personally, keep my coop in the garage now, and have plans for fencing off the back yard and putting in a place where I can sit in a lawn chair and hang out with my chooks while they get to roam around outside.

Oh No, it's a Boy!

50% of all chicks hatched are male. Compare that to 1/3 of all humans being born male, and only 20% of crows are male. Chickens are pretty evenly matched in that area! If you've ever noticed the trend in the fall of free roosters EVERYWHERE, it's because so many people think it'll be fun to let their hens hatch a brood of chicks, or they buy a "straight run" of chicks ( "straight run" means the chicks are NOT sexed and could be either ) to raise, not realising that half of all those chicks are going to be boys! Now imagine if you let a couple of hens hatch, let's say... twenty-four eggs. You'll end up with twelve roosters! Who wants twelve roosters?? Other than cock fighters, and crazy people who love chickens no matter what they are, that is.

Big-time hatcheries have ways around this. Murray McMurray hatches out about 80,000 chicks PER WEEK. 40,000 of those are boys, which are unprofitable, and end up tossed into boxes of male / female, where the females are shipped out to their new homes ( again, no humane treatment laws, so they're packed tight with extra chicks as "packaging peanuts" - often times males - and as "luggage", MOST chicks being shipped out via air which means they're in the cold, jostling environment of all other air-borne shipments ), and males are shoved on a conveyor belt that drops them into a grinding machine ( all while alive! ), where they're ground into low-grade animal feed. "Chicken" in dog and cat food is often made of these discarded males, and some chicken feed even includes this "by-product"! I don't tend to buy into the idea that chicks die of dehydration or starvation when shipped since in nature, chicks hatched first will often times wait two to three days before all the other chicks are hatched and mum gets up off the nest to take everyone out foraging for the first time, and the last of the nutrients from their yolk is absorbed into them in this time, but they will die of exposure and shock.

Murray McMurray actually practices one of the more "humane" means of discarding males. Other factories will just dump the male chicks into industrial-sized trash cans, letting the chicks suffocate under each other, or stomping them to death to make room for more chicks to be shoved in. Chicks on the tops of the trash cans have the bag tied shut and are tossed into dumpsters, often times living for days before dying of starvation or dehydration. Sometimes male chicks are gassed, but the gas required to do this is expensive, and for an animal with no laws regarding humane treatment, such an expense is often times ruled unnecessary.

So you asked for pullets only, but one of your girls is growing awfully quick and her comb and wattles are big and red, and she's only four weeks old! Well, some breeds of chickens are awfully hard to sex ( such as Silkies and Polishes ), and some boys have very hard to discern bits, and when talking about 40,000 males a WEEK, you're bound to get a mix-up here and there. If you "return" your boy, he'll more likely than not be slaughtered, and if you give him away he'll probably turn into stew or have his feathers sold as fly ties or crafting feathers. Or, he'll go into the fighting industry.

Well, you've made it past all of that and you only have girls! Hooray! You're even receiving eggs out of all of them when one morning... you're awoken by someone crowing?? Here's a reality check you probably NEVER thought about: hens crow! A crowing hen is MOST likely to happen when she lived in a flock with males, and the males were abruptly cut out of her life and it's upon her to take their position. SOME hens take this so seriously that they'll actually TURN INTO A FERTILE, SEXUALLY ACTIVE COCK. Again, I'm not kidding - it's called "Emma-Turns-Into-a-Guy Syndrome". Chickens are exceptionally strange creatures regarding their sexuality since hermaphrodites and other sexual anomalies are extremely common amongst them! Although it's MOST common for this to happen when males are abruptly cut from a flock, and a female takes the role of the male, it is NOT unheard of for this to happen to female-only flocks that have had naught but females for generations.

Domestication is...

This is my biggest rant so far when it comes to chickens, dogs, cats, pigs, cows and ALL domesticated animals. Domestication is a process that takes generations of selective breeding to achieve. Domestication first happened tens of thousands of years ago, with a good likelihood that the dog was the first domesticated creature. Chickens were domesticated roughly 8,000 years ago ( most estimates point towards 6,000BC ). Domestication makes an animal reliant on humans not only for food, water, and shelter, but psychologically as well.

When domestication first began taking place, humans still roamed with the animals, and understood the balance between dominant, submission, and a group of animals. If you are dominant to your dog, he behaves well, respects you, and doesn't suffer from a poorly balanced pack. Chickens, just as sheep, cows, pigs, cats, and all other early-on domesticated animals, fell into the same niche. Their person was the head of their flock, and they followed and trusted this person unconditionally. That's why in many third-world countries people can walk their animals to markets without need for leashes or anything to contain their animals - because they are their animals leaders, their dominant, and the animals respect and follow that.

There is NO such thing as a "wild" chicken - even the flocks that have overtaken Hawaii are still domestic, and still respond well to strong, dominant figures. Whereas a pig can "go feral" in a number of weeks, pigs are quite unique in that. Most other domesticated animals take several generations to "go feral" again - chickens amongst those. The backyard chicken still needs an assertive, dominant, strong leader to follow, and they need structure in their day with rules, boundaries, and limitations to follow and abide by. Like dogs, chickens thrive when they have a person to please on a day-to-day level.

Since many backyard flocks are NOT legally allowed to be big enough to maintain its own structure ( seven or more ), that means it is absolutely imperative that people take an active role in their chicken's lives to maintain a sense of balance. As I've said in previous posts, it is possible to create your OWN pecking order that you and only you keep up, and even in the largest of flocks your presence should still be welcomed and respected. If your rooster is attacking you when you enter the coop, or if the girls scream and flee, your presence is not respected and you're not doing your job of keeping these domesticated animals as happy and healthy as our ancestors intended.

Your chicken is emotionally connected to you and each other. If one chicken needs to be "rehomed" for ANY reason, NEVER send it alone - always send it with its best friend for best luck of being accepted into its new home and adjusting well, even if your chicken is going to be an indoor pet spending ALL of its time with you, it will do best with a buddy. Likewise, never adopt a chicken alone!

Chickens are one of the only animals that have been recorded to empathise with others ( that is, their emotional state is affected by others ), and they are so emotionally connected with each other that they will mourn the passing of a flock-mate ( including humans! ). Chickens can remember up to 150 different faces and voices for up to three years, and when their pattern of meeting those faces and voices is disrupted, they'll figure out that said flock member is gone. Chickens are also intelligent enough to understand death upon observing it. If a cat kills a chick in front of another chicken, that chicken will remember that instance and begin alerting to all other cats even if it had never raised alarm around a cat before then! Likewise, if chickens witness a traumatic slaughter for another chicken, they will be traumatised, whereas if you practise calm, humane slaughtering techniques within the vicinity of your chickens, they will be more compliant come their time to go.

What's extremely remarkable about chickens is that their recognition skills and empathy is cross-species. They can empathise with humans as well as dogs, cats, and horses, as well as recognise faces and voices amongst difference species. They are highly intelligent and require our care and attention to attain the best they can in life.

If you are new to chickens and are considering starting a flock, please be aware of all of these facts before you begin your journey. If your chickens are going to be discarded after their egg-laying declines or because of their sex, make CERTAIN you can slaughter your chickens yourself in the most humane fashion possible, or that you know EXACTLY what's happening to them and you are okay with that outcome. If you can read this post and know that you understand and consent to all of these facts, then welcome to the world of raising chickens. If you do not feel comfortable with what you have read, then maybe chicken-keeping isn't for you.

If you have any questions or comments, I haven't yet figured out if the commenting feature of the blog is working to where I'll be notified, but I will ALWAYS respond to Emails in a fairly timely manner. Best of luck to all of you chicken-lovers out there!

009 - How to Deal With Fixations

FIRST OFF - I must apologise to people who have commented on the blog and received NO responses. It would seem that I was NOT receiving notifications of comments and I AM SO VERY SORRY for this lack of response to those who have commented! Comment notification SHOULD be fixed, and I SHOULD be able to see comments now and actually respond to them. I thought it was weird that I wasn't getting any comments, but just decided to check before posting this blog up! I'll begin making blog posts catered specifically to comments the post after this one, I promise.

I have recently had a few inquiries about chickens with fixations, and have decided that to be the topic for this journal since there is a wide variety of behaviours that can be considered fixations, but since they're all classified under the same thing, they can all be treated as more or less the same thing. Feather plucking and egg eating are fixations just as much as a fighting cock's alleged "need" to fight - let me just point out that in the case of fighting cocks, fighting is NOT a need, but rather a psychological trauma that has manifested as an obsession based on survival. We'll talk about how detrimental fighting is to a chicken's health later in this journal. For now, though, just know that I do not condone fighting animals despite the fact that I walk around with roosters wherever I go. My roosters are my friends, and they are not expendable.

Chickens develop fixations for all sorts of reasons. Fixations are signs of boredom, insecurity, other psychological problems, overcrowding, unstable environments, and are even encouraged by human interaction when we don't know how to properly discourage the behaviour. I have found the most common reasons for fixations to be boredom and unstable environments ( which lead to insecurity and other detrimental psychological problems ). Luckily, both of these issues are well within our control. We're in charge of their environment, so we can take steps to make a more balanced environment for our animals.

An "unstable environment" refers not only to an environment being unsafe or uncomfortable, but also to the energy and emotion that we, as humans, attach to it. If we are abrupt and upset every time we go to collect eggs, soon the chickens will become difficult to work with as they, too, become upset simply because we are. This can even lead to such problems as roosters trying to reestablish the environment by kicking out to unstable specimen - which tends to be us. He's doing this not because he wants to be aggressive, but because he wants to help us to reestablish ourselves. In an animal's perfect world, everyone is healthy, everyone is happy, everyone is well-balanced physically and psychologically. In their perfect world, no one is fussing over them or cooing about this or that. In their perfect world, there is clear structure and boundaries. It's always obvious what their leader wants, and they will consistently receive praise for the same things, and consistently receive discipline for all of the same reasons as before, and when a new rule is introduced, it's made clear what's wanted of them right off.

The key here is communication - specifically communication on the level that the animal understands. Have you ever seen a crow and a squirrel fight? It's surprisingly common, and with some basic understanding of their behaviours, it becomes obvious why these fights take place. Both crows and squirrels make a very similar-sounding clicking noise. For crows it's a way to simply state their territory to another crow and to ask for respect of their territory. For squirrels this is a friendly sound meant to illicit companionship and invitation into one's territory. In other words, they are saying the exact opposite thing, and thus communication between the species breaks down and the animals argue and sometimes fight because they are trying to tell each other, "No, that's not what I said! I said something completely different!" [ DISCLAIMER: this is from my own observations of crows and squirrels. If anyone out there knows crow or squirrel communication better than I do, please inform me - I was not able to find anything to back up these claims when I tried to research their behaviourism myself. ]

However, going back to the previous paragraph... is it possible to obtain our animal's views of the perfect world for them? No. But we can come pretty close. One obvious way that we'll not be able to meet our animal's every desire is the fact that we, as humans, are not able to be with them every single moment we live. There will always be something you need to do that your animals just can't come with. Most stores let me bring my roosters in with me because they are well-mannered and clean, but some stores absolutely forbid it. It is against federal law to bring anything considered a "livestock" animal into a restaurant, even if they're service animals ( which the service animal laws have changed recently, too ). Certain people won't want anything to do with your animals, and these people might be family or employers, or otherwise people we are "obligated" to be connected to. During these moments, however brief they are, our animals are not living in their perfect world. This does not mean that they are destined to be unhappy, though. We merely need to set parameters that give them a clear goal on how to behave while we're gone.

For me and animals that I work with, this starts with patience training, which can often times be integrated with tolerance training. Tolerance training is just what it sounds like - you train your animal to tolerate anything and everything ( so long as you deem it safe and reasonable for your animal to be exposed to such situations ). I train my chickens and dogs to allow me to hold their feet, faces, necks ( gently! ), torsos, tails, legs, and wings. The functional part of this is if your animal ever is hurt, you can easily perform a quick physical check-up to assess the situation. I also train animals to let me handle inside of their mouths in case I ever need to medicate them. These are also good things to train animals for veterinary appointments. Your animals should see the vets at least once or twice a year, and there's no reason your pet should feel at all upset by this experience, which is where tolerance training and patience training come in.

Both tolerance and patience training helps your animal to trust in you and to check in with you when exposed to new situations. That means if you're taking your pet into a grocery store, dog park, veterinary hospital, vehicle, or friend's house for the first time, they will check in with you to see if this situation is safe or not, and depending on your reaction, they will act accordingly. The first time I brought my big rooster, Bo, into a grocery store, he kept looking at me whenever something new would happen and whenever someone else passed by. He would look at me when the cart stopped or started, when I turned, when something was placed into the cart next to him, and each and ever time I made eye-contact, but calmly went along my way, and not once did Bo try to get out of his bag in the cart, make uncertain noises, or make any sign of stress or nervousness.

Patience training is like tolerance training except instead of focusing on being able to tolerate certain activities the animal is now asked to be able to put up with it for extended periods of time. I start out by simply touching my chicken's feet, wings, combs, and wattles, and when they don't pull away I praise them. We'll work up to me being able to handle and manipulate them, and then work towards me being able to hold something for just a few seconds at first and work forward until the animal just plain doesn't care that I'm handling it. When I trim my chicken's claws ( and spurs for cocks ), I will flip them on their back, and then encourage them to relax. They'll often times close their eyes and just let me do my job, and when the trim is over they get to go on their way as if nothing happened.

With patience training, one can train an animal to wait for you to come back, in the mean time leaving them in a calm state of mind. I've seen this most often done with crate training, which is to say you put the animal in a crate and wait for them to calm down, then you let them out. Put them back in, wait for them to calm down, walk out of the room, come back, and let them out. The period of time that you're out of the room will work up and up until you can be gone for up to an hour, and then by that point your animal should be safe being left at home without a crate - but not for long. You'll have to retrain at this point, but since your animal is used to the patience training at this point, they'll catch on quickly since the exercises are so similar, it's just the amount of space open to your animal that has changed. Don't expect to be able to up and leave your animal for a day if you've worked up to an hour and feel confident from there. A day is a lot longer than a single animal and your animal will get bored or start wondering where you are. I can leave my cocks without supervision for about three to five hours before they start crowing, trying to figure out where I've gone off to. Luckily, they only crow a short amount and then go back to whatever they were doing before I left, but some animals will just continue to make noise indefinitely if left at home for too long, and even start performing extremely destructive behaviours such as urinating and defecating indoors, chewing on furniture, or jumping up where they don't belong.

The key to patience training is doing everything in a calm manner and to never progress in any step until your pet is in a relaxed state of mind. They must be relaxed before the exercise even starts, they must be relaxed and calm when entering the crate, they must be relaxed and calm when you stand, when you walk, when you exit, and when you enter. They absolutely must be relaxed and calm when you release them, too. I often simply freeze in my actions until the animal has once again relaxed, and I also train my animals to not ever leave a designated area or engage in an activity until they've been given a "release" command. If I open a crate, an animal is not allowed to exit until I give them that command; if I put food in front of them, they're not allowed to eat it until I give them the command; if I introduce them to a new toy, they're not allowed to engage until I give them the command. Once the command is given, they are allowed to partake in the activity set before them - but remember, even play should be in a controlled manner. You don't want your pet to become too rambunctious or they'll risk breaking something or they'll get so caught up in that high-energy state of mind that they'll forget to listen to you. Even if an animal seems to be completely unaware of what's around it ( dogs playing and ramming book shelves, fire places, or people is a very common happening ), it is not impossible to train them to be aware of their surroundings while playing.

Now that you've successfully patience trained your pet, you've curbed destructive behaviours and fixations that occur due to unstable environments while you are gone. What about when you're home? If your environment can house calm, happy animals while you're gone, it can certainly keep them that way when you come home, and if this is the case - that your animals go wild the moment you come home - then you need to start looking at yourself and how you interact with your pets to figure what you're doing that's causing your pets to behave that way. This does not mean that you are doing anything inherently wrong, destructive, or harmful, and it certainly doesn't mean you're doing anything malicious, but our animals do reflect our own emotions and our own energy that we emanate. Think of them as emotional barometers. I mean this quite seriously, too - even MY chickens become horrible little demon-spawn when I'm upset and casting that energy out around me, but they calm down and behave the moment I stop and take some deep breaths to ground myself once again.

Another big factor in fixations is boredom - and this is another factor that leads to separation anxiety, too. If your pet has absolutely nothing to do while you're gone, they will find something to keep them occupied. However - and here's something a little interesting - patience training helps your animal to have a longer attention span, and thus have less need for things to expend its attention on. Nonetheless, some animals are going to need toys, and don't you think for an instant that lots and lots of room to wander is a suitable way to curb boredom. Some of the worst dogs I've worked with are dogs that have had lots and lots of acreage to roam every single day whenever they wanted. Your pet still needs structure, boundaries, and toys.

As for chickens, specifically, toys are difficult to come by. I have come across some vendors on the internet that make chicken-specific toys, but I have done little research into them and have not tried them out myself, so I cannot vouch for them at all. My chickens love to chase paper balls ( I take a small bit of news paper - the same newspaper that I use for their bedding - and crumple it up into a ball ). They also enjoy suet and honey-seed sticks that hang from the ceiling of their coop. I can also play "catch" with my chickens by tossing cat kibble ( their preferred choice for "treats" next to tuna ), and they'll chase after it. I have heard of people buying crickets for their chickens to chase and hunt ( chickens DO have a prey drive since they are predators of bugs and even small reptiles and rodents ), but insects with hard carapaces need to be given in extreme moderation since the carapaces don't get entirely digested and can easily cause an intestinal blockage if your chicken eats too many. I have also heard that chickens enjoy the cat toys that are a fuzzy ball on a spring that's anchored on a block of wood to cat-scratch material. Since chickens are curious, have prey drives, and have foraging capabilities you can work off of all these to create your own toys. Some chickens enjoy the classic "Which cup is the prize under" game once trained that if they knock down cups, they can find something to eat, and they're smart enough to keep track of which cup has been moved to where. If you're creative you can come up with many chicken toys that will keep your chickens quite happy.

Some training exercises and disciplines ( and remember that a discipline is not always a negative action - for instance, patience training is a discipline in the same way that martial arts calls it a discipline ) can also be turned into games that will keep your pet's lives active and enriched. I once had a pair of young Campine cockerels and quickly learned that they have mentalities very similar to border collies - always needing something to do, and in constant need of feedback that their actions are approved of or disapproved of. Before finding new homes for them, I began to train them in agility and I would even go running with them, which they absolutely adored. That's all they wanted, after all, was to run, run, run. This exercise in along with disciplines such as patience training and ending with a calm and relaxing cuddle time left these two young boys feeling quite calm and happy themselves, making their company much more enjoyable.

Specific forms of fixation I have been asked to address are egg eating, feather picking, and fighting. I will address the issues in that order.


This is a behaviour that has created much chagrin amongst egg farmers everywhere since the dawn of time. Why do chickens start this behaviour? Almost always this starts as an accident ( a hen steps on an egg and breaks it, or she lays her egg in a place where it rolls off a ledge and breaks, or someone is curious and pecks at the egg and the shell breaks ), but once chickens learn that edibles lie inside, they will quickly take to breaking eggs to get to the gooey middles. After all, the hens laying the eggs are losing all of those nutrients each and every day that they lay an egg, and seldom are their nutritional needs met. A hen laying eggs needs a very specific diet - they need plenty of calcium, they need protein, and all sorts of other vitamins and minerals that plain old scratch doesn't provide. This is why there is a specific formula for layers. HOWEVER, layer formula is also formulated to encourage laying which if you simply want a pet chicken, is a very bad thing. Overlaying can lead to prolapsed cloaca, internal laying, massive calcium deficiencies, and so forth. If you are keeping chickens as pets and not just for the eggs then you will want to discourage egg laying which can mostly be done through diet. Diet and nutrition is also often what encourages egg eating after it starts.

Hens will also be more prone to eat eggs if they are struggling to maintain healthy calcium levels. Hens have a little calcium deposit ( I forget if it's an actual gland or just a deposit ) in the reproductive tract where the shell of the egg comes from, and when that is depleted calcium is taken directly from the bird's bones. During the winter months, when hens don't lay as much, they are replenishing those calcium resources, and if forced to keep laying their bones will become brittle leading to broken legs and wings along with all of the reproductive issues. Not something you want in a pet.

On top of hens having low calcium from overlaying and eating eggs for that reason, hens with low calcium lay eggs with extremely thin, brittle shells, which means if another chicken comes along and pecks at the egg, curious as to what it is ( remember that chickens only have their beaks to explore the world, so they are not always looking for food - sometimes they are just exploring ), the egg could very well break, leading to that chicken to learn what lies inside of an egg.

Some people recommend just simply collecting eggs as soon as they're laid to keep chickens from eating them. This goes under the theory of "if you never give the animal a chance to misbehave, they won't." This might be true, but what if you have to go somewhere for a day? You wouldn't want to hire a chick-sitter or to come home to find no eggs for the day, would you? I'm going to take the opposite approach which says to give the opportunity to misbehave to the animal. Correct the animal when it does this behaviour and praise when it does not. This way your pet gets the opportunity to experience what is wanted of it, and it gets the opportunity to learn about this rule and figure out what you want from it. Chickens are extremely intelligent and they will want to please you, and you can always look at every misbehaviour as a chance to teach a lesson instead of a failure After all if the animal never shows you its misbehaviour you would never be able to catch it to correct it.

When my hen, Faust, began eating Ziggy's eggs ( and then Ziggy learned through observation and started eating Faust's eggs ), I took the girls aside and laid an egg between them. They both dove for it, so I snatched the egg and gave them both "pecks" on the head - like another chicken would do to disagree with their behaviours. This repeated until they had no more interest in the egg, and would simply ignore it. I don't want them AVOIDING the problem matter, I want them to IGNORE it, because avoiding means they could do it outside of my observation and simply associate me with discipline, whereas ignoring is a sure-fire sign that they have no interest with or without my intervention. Once they began ignoring the egg, I petted them and praised them. I even rubbed the egg against their breast and head, helping to associate affection with the intact egg itself. Today my chickens will only eat eggs out of boredom or frustration, and when faced with a lone egg, neither will start pecking at it unless it is left unattended for a few hours at least.


Feather picking is something that one most often hears associated with birds like parrots, crows, or other flight- capeable and not-entirely-domesticated birds. This tends to be picking of one's own feathers more often than not, too. With chickens when the subject of feather picking arises, it most often is someone speaking of one chicken picking on other chickens, and usually involves plucking feathers off of the back of other chickens or the heads. However, I have seen cases of chickens self-plucking, and I've seen some chickens plucked absolutely bare.

The chickens I saw plucked bare were frizzled white Plymouth Rock bantams, in a flock of Rhode Island Reds, Ameraucanas, barred Plymouth Rocks, buff Orpingtons, silver-laced Wyonnedottes, and Blackstars all of standard sizes. This leads me to believe that the rest of the flock thought the frizzles looked awfully funny and opted to see what it was all about. Chickens explore the world with their mouths, pecking and plucking to figure out what things are - if things are edible, and if not what else they could be good for - and since the frizzle's feathers looked so odd, they must have wondered what was on these chickens. Perhaps they even tried to groom the feathers off of the frizzles since grooming in the chicken world entails pecking at another chicken, trying to pull dirt and bad feathers off of one another. You can see how this would lead to some poor chicken having all of their feathers plucked out, if another chicken thought that it needed to be groomed or if a whole flock needed to pluck a single feather to find out what is going on - and usually a chicken learns through trial and error, so they likely would pluck many more than just one feather before learning that they're just feathers.

Feather plucking and eating, on the other hand, can be a sign of malnutrition, boredom, ill-adjustment to a flock, frustration, and many other things. Malnutrition is the most common, and if you find your chicken eating feathers - from themselves or other chickens - the first step you should take is experimenting with diet. First try supplements of fibre since feathers are a high-fibre product, and some people will say to try tuna or something high in protein. If your chicken is still plucking and eating, try eliminating things from their diet to see if maybe the cause is an excess of something. The key here is to experiment, observe, and keep trying. More often than not feather-plucking can be resolved with a change of diet.

Also remember that chickens, just like other animals, are individuals, so even if you've been feeding your chickens the same diet for fifty years and have never seen something like this, maybe your chicken has an allergy of some sort, or maybe their system is compromised in some way One of the biggest problems I have working with people is the thought process that all animals are the same and the thing that worked for their grandparents is going to work for them, or the thing they've been doing for years has had no ill effects yet, so why should something happen now? Long-term effects can take years to develop ( such as lung cancer to smoking or diabetes to sugar consumption ), and sometimes even generations, so even if the last several hundred chickens you've had have been fine, if you notice a sudden health issue spreading through your flock it's time to reassess your husbandry techniques since your animals depend on you for their well-being.

General Fixations

"General Fixations" can be defined as a fixation on ANYTHING. My rooster, Bo, has a nervous tick in which he scratches his face. He scratched his face SO much when he first started that I didn't even catch him before his whole comb and wattles were covered in little blood blisters and the fleshy area on his beak on both sides was raw. He was also scratching so bad that he'd fall off of his perch at night in favour of scratching his face!

I'm pretty sure it's not an allergy because he seems to only be prone to scratching his face during stressful situations, and after working with him to discourage scratching it's greatly diminished and his face is perfectly healthy now.

I've also heard of a rooster who was obsessed with people's shoes and would attack SHOES relentlessly! I also worked with two Australorps who were breedists - they were perfectly find with every single other breed I brought them in contact with EXCEPT Ameraucanas! They pulled out the beards and muffs as quickly as they could. Just like people, chickens will develop personalised interests and hobbies, and some of those interests might get a little more attention than others.

In my experience, most fixations can be spotted in chickhood and with regular structure, discipline, and redirection they can be staved off as adults, but even as adults they can be dealt with, but as with everything in this blog that assumes you have the time and energy to deal with every single one of your chickens as an individual!

I was going to talk about fighting in this post, but that deserves its own post all together. My next post is going to be about what to expect with chickens if you're new to chicken-keeping, the urban myths, and the realities of chicken keeping. Perhaps the post after that will be about fighting if I haven't had any new comments to address by then!

If you have any questions or comments, take your risks commenting on the blog since I only THINK that I have things fixed, but Emails will ALWAYS get straight to me and answered in a fairly timely manner. Happy chicken keeping, everyone!