The Unexpected Joys and Troubles of Keeping Poultry – Part 2
When I started keeping poultry more than 10 years ago, it was not as easy as I thought it would be. If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, then do it now!
Males are a Nuisance
If you don’t want to breed your own flock, then don’t bother with males. They are such pain in the b… Poultry males are brutal to the females. Here are some scenarios I witnessed:
- 3 drakes attacked 1 duck, all of them trying to mate her at once. (I think that’s called group rape!)
- Ducks got bold bleeding spots on the back of their heads, where drakes held them down.
- Huge gander Hans tried to rape a duck while she was swimming in the pond. He squashed the poor thing and held her under water until I chased him away.
- Rooster Goldie was especially aggressive. All hens lost heaps of feathers because of him and 2 bantams were badly injured. (While I write this, he is living in my neighbours cage until his execution.)
Poultry Food Attracts Rodents and Rodents Attract Snakes
All ducks, geese and chickens are messy eaters and spill their food. Mice and rats enjoy living in a warm, dry poultry pen, especially if it includes an all-you-can-eat-buffet. I found a rat nest once with 5 pink rat babies. They still had their eyes closed and called for their mother. I won’t tell you what I did with them, but you can rest assured they didn’t have to suffer long.
I won’t use rat poison in the poultry pen, because I am worried a chicken or our cat could eat a dead rodent and die as well. So I use a classic spring-loaded trap baited with peanut butter instead, which works well. Since my son brings the grain bucket inside our house at night, we don’t have problems with rodents any more.
I always scan the ground for snakes, when I visit my flock. Snakes eat rodents and are attracted to poultry pens to hunt rats and mice. Snakes also like to drink from water-troughs. I have seen a tiger snake once curled up under the water bucket, when I lifted it up. Another time there was a copperhead swimming in the duck bath.
Over the years I found various dead chickens and ducks, who have been fine the day before. I suspect that mostly a snake bite was the reason for the sudden death. I am not sure yet whether chickens are brave,reckless or simply just stupid and mistake a small snake for a worm! One time I saw a view chickens fight over a baby snake. One of them ran off with the snake in her beak. When the hen found a quiet spot, she swallowed the whole thing!
Foxes Will Attack During the Day
I always thought foxes only hunt at night. Our poultry pen is fox-prove, so the animals are save at night. But I do let them into the yard during the day. A view years ago I was on the phone, when I heard the ducks making a big fuss. I ignored it for a while. When I finally went outside to check on them, I was confronted with a bloodbath! There were 3 dead chickens and various injured animals. Some broody hens were save in theirs nests. Some chooks were able to fly over the fence. They came back after a view hours. We suspected a mother fox taught her cubs how to kill birds, because the ducks had bite marks on their necks, but they were not dead.
I kept the animals locked up during the day for a view weeks, but they were so sad, so I let them out again. The foxes came back during the day while I was sitting on the computer. This time I didn’t hear a thing. I was so upset to find another disaster hours later.
We installed a solar-powered radio in the chicken coop. This seemed to work for a year, but then there was another attack during the day while my partner worked in the nearby shed. We set up fox traps and were able to catch one of the cubs. He was so cute and it made me sad that he had to be shot, but it had to be done. (Lucky not by me!) We purchased 2 geese shortly after that episode and there hasn’t been another attack since then.
Poultry can Die Unexpectedly
I used to think, when you buy poultry, most of them stay with you until they die of old age. But actually we lost many birds for one reason or the other over the years and had to replace them.
Sometimes a chook looks totally fine and happy one day and you find her dead the next day without any scratch and you wonder why. Sometimes a duck gets attacked by a wild animal (maybe a crow) and her wounds need tending.
Sometimes an egg is too big to be pushed out and gets stuck. Before you know it the vent gets covered in poo, blowflies lay maggots in it and they start eating the bird alive. That happened to one of our ducks. My partner tried to save her by washing her, gently braking the egg in her and removing it, but her skin was raw and red. Her wounds got infected and she was dead the next day.
Sometimes chicks get stuck in their shell when they try to hatch and die. Sometimes a chook gets paralysed, can’t move and can’t breathe. Maybe she was bitten by a snake? No idea. Sometimes poultry get killed by a fox and make you wonder, why you are still doing it all.
At the beginning I used to cry whenever we lost an animal. They are part of our family, our pets. Now I hardly ever give new arrivals a name, so I don’t get as attached to them which helps me to cope with the loss. It’s because of the joy of watching them and the taste of home-grown eggs that keep me persisting.
You can Freeze Eggs
I hate if when I don’t have enough eggs in winter and have to buy them from the supermarket. You just can’t compare shop bought eggs with backyard eggs. The taste is so different. Last year I learned that you can freeze eggs. This is so amazing, because now I can freeze surplus eggs in summer and use them in cakes and quiches in winter or just make scramble eggs. You can freeze egg whites, egg yolks or whole eggs. There are many different methods described on the internet. I like to freeze whole eggs in silicone containers. It’s so easy. Check out the website Fresh Eggs Daily to learn how to do it.
There is still so much more I want to tell you about keeping poultry. So stay tuned for Part 3!
Hi, my name is Irina. Together with my partner, 2 kids, a cat plus ducks, geese and chooks I live surrounded by native Australian bush near Esperance in the south-west corner of Australia. I am totally obsessed with healthy food and I am constantly trying out and creating new recipes. The only way to stay healthy is to keep our Earth healthy, so I am trying to live an eco-friendly lifestyle.