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BigDon
2010-Feb-18, 12:01 AM
So while Mom was waiting for grandchildren to come along, she went back to a childhood hobby after we all left the house that was her FH project way bach when. And that was raising bantam chickens. My parents have a good sized fenced front yard with an enclosed backyard.

One of my stepfather's brothers was a journeyman laborer with a million (30)years of experience in the trade and built a really nice chicken coop in the back yard seemingly overnight. As Mom's other favorite birds were the locally nesting redtailed hawks the coop was covered with chickenwire.

When I looked at all the little details I had to ask him, "This isn't your first chicken coop, is it?" He laughed and gave me a hearty, "Oh no!" Had all the little boxes to sit in, little doors and roosting pegs, etc, etc. It was elevated a foot or so, so vermin couldn't hide under it well and the lower walls folded up for easy cleaning of the interior.

Mom had all sorts of little tricks for seeing to the safety of the little guys. Back in the days of her youth she learned a neat trick I'd like to share. The main purpose of this trick was long term feline defense.

The Great Big Egg.

So Mom being Mom asks me to clean the coop but shes smiling about something. So I do it on the look out for something out of the ordinary and in the process of disturbing the chickens the biggest, maturest female gets up to leave and in doing so reveals a egg the size of a small orange. Obviously this didn't come out of her pigeon-sized patootie. But she was brooding it so I hurried to get the clean up done so she could get back to it. And this was how I first met Sweetheart.

Mom let the females go to brooding, then swiped the "big" hen's eggs at night, when they were asleep (putting them under another couple of hens) and replaced it with a live egg of an american bronze turkey. He grew to be the Minister of Defense for Mom's small flock. He really thought he was a bantam. As a gangly youth he looked awkward and I had my doubts about him growing into any sort of useful watch beast.

Really. Look at turkey chicks and there is very little to inspire confidence that he won't drown in his own water dish.

This ganglyness image was futher inhanced when after he got out of his down the aforementioned redtails, who were far more interested in the locally abundant ratsnakes and groundsquirrels, would do a slow criuse overhead and the hens would go into alarm mode and shelter the chicks under thier wings.

Ironically enough the redtails are intolerant of smaller raptors, who would have been a danger, near their nesting areas. But try and tell that to a chicken.

By the time sweetheart was out of his down and growing real feathers he was more than twice as tall as his "mother" and weighed at least as much. But he would still hunker down and she would cover him with a wing until the hawk flew past. He would even hide his face under her wing and tremble like he was scared.

But he did grow out of all that. Oh indeed. And dear ol' Mom knew what she was doing.

One big thing I noticed was he matured at the same rate as his little foster siblings. There's some part of your brain that thinks that because the turkey was bigger it would take longer. Oh, and a domestic breed of turkey, allowed to mature over a number of years, seems to take on the porpotions of a small ox.

Sweetheart grew to weigh 37 pounds (17 kilos). Cover that with fluffable feathers, which he did going into attack mode, and he looked a yard wide. The local cats learned to stay out of the yard, but there's always wanderers and hard cases.

I've seen Sweetheart knock a big orange tabby into a complete horizontal spin. As chickens in the yard, ahem, "simplify" gardening, (by eating everything less than two feet high) I was pruning the roses and had the flock off to the right, in the driveway, when I heard the hit and the yowl of the stricken cat. Sweetheart was in full fury and didn't let that cat have a moment of respite.

He would do that when he caught the cats in an actual stalk, as opposed to cats merely tresspassing, which still got ran off with enthusiasm but no real harmful intent. This tells me he knew the difference. And much like an angry Brit, when you see one with a blue face, you know somebody is going to get hurt.

That particular cat got another dose of the spurs which foiled his getaway long enough to get a round of beaking in as well. There was indeed blood drawn. That cat needed two more lessons (that I saw) before he found easier things to kill. Took a week all told for it to sink in. Smaller cats usually learned the first time.

He also kept rodents from being an issue. Rodents up to the size of adolsescent rats would be horked down like lumpia at a poker game. But he never hurt any chicks or smaller flock members.

There will be more...

HenrikOlsen
2010-Feb-18, 12:12 AM
There's a similar trick done by Italian shepherds, who has a breed of dog which looks almost like a sheep, including almost being as large:)
They take the pups before their eyes open and put them with the suckling lambs so the dogs grow up thinking they're part of the flock, this means the flock can be left to roam free with minimal supervision even in wolf country.

sarongsong
2010-Feb-18, 12:39 AM
Thanks, BD! (Was about to send out an APB on you!) http://www.bautforum.com/images/icons/icon10.gif

megrfl
2010-Feb-18, 01:41 AM
Great story. I love the mental image of the gangly Sweetheart hiding and crouching under his Mom's wing. Too funny.

aurora
2010-Feb-18, 06:16 PM
We had banties in the barn when I was growing up.

The rooster was really pugnacious. A neighbor dog came over one time looking for a snack of chicken, and the rooster landed on his back, dug his spurs in and rode that dog halfway home.

The hens would take their chicks into our garden to catch bugs. They'd never eat the tomatoes or other veggies, just the bugs.