Four Weeks of Chicken

The 3-4 week mark has been one of tough realizations for me. When our Barnevelder, who we dubbed Miss Olive, hit the 11.5 week mark she switched from being a friendly, outgoing chicken and was suddenly terrified of me. Thinking it was something I had done I took to the Backyard Chickens forum, where I sadly learned this is pretty normal. Just like puppies they go through a fearful stage, but unlike most puppies the fear also includes their owner, and also unlike dogs she will likely never be as friendly as she used to be. She will probably settle down as she matures, but the pullet that would climb my leg to be held and trill happily whenever she was petted is gone. I don’t have buyer’s regret, but I do want to be honest with anyone considering getting their own flock: Chickens are not dogs in bird suits. There’s a reason we dubbed one Man’s Best Friend and eat the other.

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Miss Olive is content living with her chicken friend, a Barred Rock named Lucy. Lucy belongs to the people we rent from, but we’re taking care of her after a coyote ate her flock mates. At first I didn’t think the two would get along, because every time Olive would escape the introduction barrier I had set up Lucy would go after her. It took three weeks for Lucy to warm up to Olive, but Olive worships the ground Lucy walks on (even though Lucy still pecks her on the head if Olive is eating and Lucy wants food). Honestly though is seems like the more Lucy beats on Olive, the more infatuated Olive becomes.

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Because they don’t want to be pets I decided they can get used to being treated like livestock, which translates to stand-in sheep. This week I’ve been taking Suki out to the chicken pen and sending her out to move them. Chickens don’t flock well and for a more experienced dog they would probably be frustrating, but for a greenhorn that just needs to learn she actually does have the power to move livestock they work really well. Working the chickens have been a huge confidence boost for Suki. She’s still a bit apprehensive, but she’s getting bolder every day. Starting her on sheep in the fall should be a lot easier now.

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Okay, on to what you’re probably here for.

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Dark Blue is feathering out really nicely, and is even getting little feather stubs on her head. I love her colour, and I’m really glad they only had blue and lavender quails available because I originally wanted black quail. Weight: 134 grams.

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If I had to guess at this point, I think Little Blue has the best breed type. I don’t know a lot about Belgian d’Anvers structure yet, but her tail-set seems to be higher and she’s wonderfully compact and small. It also helps that she’s the most photogenic, and almost poses for the camera. She’s joined Dark Blue in flying up to perch on the edge of the ex-pen, and like Dark Blue thankfully has always flown back into the brooder instead of making a break for freedom. Weight: 118 grams.

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I can’t decide if Lavender’s build is just another sign he’s a cockerel, or if he’s just really lacking in breed type. His neck is looking better now that it’s getting some feathers in, so I’m chocking it up to his typical macho stance with his head held high. His colours are… Interesting. He should be quail like the other two, but he’s feathering out differently from the other two. I guess we’ll see as he completely feathers out! I’m taking the deeper red tones compared to pale creamy colour of the other two as another sign he’s male (cockerels tend to have brighter colours). Weight: 140 grams.

DSCF8784 DSCF8791Morbid fact: Chickens feather out over the cuts of meat first.

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2 responses to “Four Weeks of Chicken

  1. That’s so cool to see Suki move the birds – do you worry he might hurt one or is he more inclined to just herd? Would love to see a video if you have any.

    • As far as I can tell it’s all herding with Suki, because while she’ll chase she stops when the livestock do. I learned this in a pet shop, when the person working thought it would be cute to let her rabbit out to play with Suki. I was trying a harness on Suki at the time and wasn’t able to get a good grip on her before she tore off after the rabbit, who thankfully froze in terror instead of running. I nearly had a heart attack, but I learned Suki isn’t overly predatory haha.
      The herding instinct is a modification of the hunting instinct though, so it can be hard to tell the two apart sometimes. I’ve been playing it safe and only let her chase the chickens for a few paces before I stop and reward her, and I only reward chasing that I’ve given the command for. If she tries to herd the birds without being told to I give her command “out” and reward for that instead. If the chickens run into their coop I reward her for stopping and standing at the gate, since the objective is to pen them rather than harass them. If she seems like she’s getting too excited or the chickens seem stressed we stop for the day. I don’t have a video yet, but I’ll be sure to post it when I do.

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