10 October 2011
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" 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!
15 April 2011
For a much larger list of breeds with more technical information and less personal experience, please visit this website: Henderson's Chicken Breed Chart
In this journal I will be documenting the various experiences I've had working with different breeds of chicken. I have only worked with a handful of breeds of chicken in the past two years, but of those I worked with:
* Ameraucana / Easter Egger
* Blackstar ( Barred Plymouth Rock crossed with Rhode Island Red )
* Campine ( possibly Egyptian Fayoumi )
* Japanese Bantam ( Chabo )
* Orpington ( buff )
* Plymouth Rock ( barred )
* Rhode Island Red
* Sizzle ( a breed in progress that is a Silkie crossed with a frizzled Cochin )
* Many mutts as a conglomerate of breeds listed above ( namely, Barred Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red, and Welsummer ), as well as some that are either Dutch Bantams or Old English Games bred to something like a Sebright or Mille Fleur-like breed.
* BONUS: a Turkey
Before I really delve into this, I would like to make it clear that the experience I have in judging breeds is very limited. I have only owned a handful of any given breed, and some breed experience I have is based on brief interactions with birds that I never actually owned ( working with other people's birds ). For instance, my house mate is the one with the Blackstars, Rhode Island Red, Barred Plymouth Rocks, Auracana, Cochin, and the Welsummer. I also don't have gendered experience with the breeds - the Campines were two cockerels, the Welsummer was a rooster, the Blackstars were, of course, females, who knows what the Cochin is, and so forth.
However, understanding that, I will go through the list alphabetically, as it is listed above. I will start with a small history of my experience, and what I have observed and come to hypothesise through the interactions Someday, I would love to have the time, space, and experience to really experiment with a much larger sample population of chickens to have an even better, more complete knowledge for this list. Until then, though, here's the best I can give you!
AMERAUCANA / EASTER EGGER
I have owned six Ameraucanas. I purchased them as day-old chicks at Del's Farm and Feed Store in two groups of three - about two weeks difference between the two batches. Four of the Ameraucanas have ended up in my house mate's flock, so I didn't work with all of them for too long, but two of them are still in my flock of five. The two Ameraucanas in my flock are Eddie and Ziggy, females. All six Ameraucanas are females.
One thing I would like to make absolutely clear here is that Ameraucanas and Easter Eggers are NOT the same thing!! An Easter Egger is a chicken that is a hybrid or a mutt of either an Ameraucana or Auracana - in other words, a non-pure bred chicken that still lays coloured eggs ( blue, green, yellow, purple... ). Ameraucana is a relatively new breed that some people still don't consider a "real" breed. Most Ameraucanas sold through hatcheries or feed stores are not well bred, and thus can be considered "Easter Eggers" instead of true Ameraucanas, which is why I have coupled them together in this post since my girls came from a feed store. However, the history of the Ameraucana states that Auracanas, due to their ear tuft gene, have lethal genes that make it so that 50% of the chicks make it to term and then die either shortly before or after hatching. That's half of your chick turn-out dying for no apparent reason. The Ameraucana was bred to keep the coloured eggs but eliminate the lethal gene. Breeds such as the Rhode Island Red and Plymouth Rock were used for this project, so if someone refers to your Easter Egger as a "Red Egger" they're using a term from when the breed was first in construction... or the few people from older generations that I've heard use it in that context are unique in their choice of dialect.
So far as temperament, I would love to rank these guys at the very top of my "desirable temperament" list. They're calm, affectionate, easily trainable, tend to be on the submissive side of things, don't pick fights, and all around very well-mannered. All six of my chicks were this way, and I keep hearing similar things from other owners of Ameraucanas. I have, however, heard that Auracanas are very feisty and difficult to work with. This all depends on the luck of the draw - genetics might make an animal more inclined to behave a certain way, but it will in no way guarantee that behaviour.
I would strongly recommend bantam Ameraucanas for starter flocks or for children - but NOT Auracanas for the reasons stated above. Since Ameraucanas are already very docile, the process of making them bantams is only going to enhance that since bantams are typically bread as ornamental varieties of their standard counterparts, and thus made to be even more docile and able to be handled. On the plus side, your chickens will lay unique, green eggs. They won't lay as much as breeds that are bred for laying ( though Ziggy gives me about an egg a day ), but they'll give you more than the Auracana. Moreover, their eggs will tend to be smaller than production-quality hens. However, with this batch even your roosters should be calmer and friendlier on a whole - but ONLY if you're treating your chickens as chickens, as this blog has preached from the beginning.
I have owned two Australorps, both female. Australorps are related to Orpingtons, their name meaning "Australian All-Purpose Utility Orpington", but their temperament is drastically different. I have not had very good experiences with Australorps and ended up giving both of mine away when they were very young to people looking for chickens reputed for a high egg production.
Australorps come in black, grey, and now blue varieties. They hold the record for most eggs laid in a year at 364. However, no Australorp before or since has EVER been able to get anywhere near that number, and as far as modern breeders know, the strain that produced that bird is gone, so don't hold out hope for your Australorp to out-lay your Blackstar. Australorps are, however, renowned for just how LARGE their eggs are, especially in their third and fourth years of life.
I did not like the temperament of my Australorps. They bullied the other chicks, plucking out ALL of the feathers on the backs of my Ameraucanas, but left my buff Orpingtons alone. I sold one at two weeks for 5$, just to get rid of her since she was the one instigating the bad behaviour, and tossed the other one into my flock of much older chicks before selling her once she just came into lay. If I had known then what I know now, I most certainly would have worked on correcting the behaviour, but at the time the whole situation was just way too much and I only wanted calm, personable birds to build my starting flock with.
I would not recommend Australorps to beginner chicken owners. They take a little more time and discipline than most other chickens, and seem to be more defiant. My flock is made up of chickens that have had calm demeanour from the start, so the two Australorps I raised were set to be adopted out from the start once I got to know their personalities. I do not consider this breed untamable or at all impossible, and they are perfectly capable of being good pets to people with the right demeanour. They need someone more energetic and structured, willing to spend lots of time with them and lots of exercise. Hens may also end up needing special care due to the size of their eggs later in life, though I did not keep my Australorps long enough to find out.
BLACKSTAR ( barred Plymouth Rock x Rhode Island Red )
A Blackstar is a sex-linked breed of chicken of the barred Plymouth Rock variety. Plymouth Rocks - specifically the barred variety - tend to be able to be bred to other breeds of chickens and create what are called "sex-linked" chicks meaning that males and females can be told apart from the moment they hatch due to colouring. Other sex-linked breeds are Amberstars, Bluebells, and Whitestars. The benefit of hybrids is what is called "Hybrid Vigour" which means that as hybrids, they have a little more of just about everything. Longer life span in some cases, MUCH more egg production, much more vivid colours, and so forth.
I have not dealt with any sex-linked males as males tend to be destroyed immediately. Males are not desirable in hybrids since they cannot breed true - which is to say a Blackstar male bred to a Blackstar female will NOT produce colour-coded chicks - and they do not produce eggs, which is what hybrids are for. The males can, however, be harvested for their pretty feathers to be used as crafts and fly ties for fishing. I have, however, dealt with three Blackstar females and a few offspring of Blackstars of both sexes.
I have found Blackstars to be on the higher end for energy levels, but calmer to handle and work with. I have also found Blackstars to be more inquisitive and quicker to learn when training. This is probably likely due to quicker ability to learn means longer-lasting and more predator-savvy birds, which would be valuable in an egg-producing flock - especially free range egg-producing birds which is where Blackstars are usually found. Similarly, I have found them to be much more adapted to being human friendly. Out of my house mate's mixed flock, the Blackstars and offspring of the Blackstars are the most common to come running right up to me. The Ameraucanas are the second friendliest in that flock.
CAMPINE ( possibly EGYPTIAN FAYOUMI )
Now here's probably one of my favourite breeds that I've worked with, and I am very, very sad that I was not able to keep my two boys. I have not dealt with Campine females, but I had two silver Campines ( which may or may not have actually been poorly bred Egyptian Fayoumis ). Campines are bred from Egyptian Fayoumis and are not very different in physiology and temperament, so for all intents and purposes I tend to group the two together, though Campines tend to be more "tame" than Fayoumis - but not by much.
The Egyptian Fayoumi is an ancient breed, remains found in ancient Egypt that seem almost unchanged from today. They were bred to be completely independent and people would just walk around the town and find eggs wherever the hens decided to plant them. These chickens were not penned at all, and would often simply wander the streets. Due to this purpose, the chickens were bred to not be very dependant upon humans. Campines were bred from Fayoumis that were imported into Northern Europe environments to keep the black and white colouring and independent temperament but to eliminate the larger combs and wattles indigenous to warmer climates. A golden variety would be created later.
My Campines I have found to fit the "independent" criteria - they keep themselves occupied, they are intelligent, learn very quickly, even experiment, and they're very high energy. This behaviour, however, translates into something else that people who have herding or sled dogs might recognise: An eagerness to please their dominant member, strong loyalty to their group, and a constant need to have a job to do. Left to their own devices, animals of this nature can become very aggressive and protective of their territory - including their people - and incredibly destructive. Most owners of Campines compensate for this simply by giving them huge roaming space since these chickens are known escape artists ( Huskies and Border Collies, anyone? ).
However, just like Huskies and Border Collies, these chickens can be given jobs to help redirect that behaviour. I gave my Campines agility courses, strict rules and boundaries, and worked with them extra hard on command phrases, socialisation, and frequently took them with me to events such as carnivals and street fairs. Giving them something to do really helped curb their negative behaviours ( aggression, crowing, tearing apart their enclosures, trying to escape, etc. ). When they came to understand that I was dominant, they became extremely loyal, affectionate, eager to please, calm, and were constantly checking in with me to see if their behaviours were accepted or denied.
I would not recommend Campines for beginner flocks, simply because they take so much time and energy. They require CONSTANT attention, rules, and reinforcement. For those content spending a lot of time with their chickens, Campines can be a whole lot of fun. They're energetic and easy to train, eager to please and quirky. They enjoy playing, and were some of the quickest of mine to catch on to harnesses and leashes. They loved riding my bike and seeing all the people in downtown Olympia. Hens will lay small, off-white eggs, but ALL Campines and Fayoumis will fly, and a standard seven-foot fence will NOT keep them contained. They MUST be trained to stay close to home, or kept on a leash. Campines do not come in standard OR bantam variety - but rather have a constant size right between the two.
I have dealt with a couple of bantam Cochins, and met a couple of standard Cochins. The Cochin I owned was a mixed bred with a Silkie and frizzled, thus part of the Sizzle breeding project, but I've helped raise a couple of bantam Cochins non-frizzled and non-mixed bred. Cochins are ornamental chickens, known for their extreme fluffiness and feathered feet. I have known many people who refer to Cochins simply as "those funny little chickens with fuzzy feet." In all fairness, their context may also have been referring to Brahmas, and standard Cochins are HUGE, sometimes used for meat production, but not commercially. Due to being considered an "ornamental" breed, Cochins are bred to have calm temperaments towards humans and each other.
Cochins are sometimes called "Pekins", but the Pekin bantam is a true bantam that is unrelated to the Cochin. Cochins are not known to be good layers, but my Sizzle, Mop, laid about an egg a day for me once she started, though it took her awhile to start laying compared to the rest of my flock. Cochins are known to be quiet, scarcely crowing or clucking, but this has NOT been my experience. Cochins that I have personally worked with have been VERY vocal - perhaps not loud, but vocal.
I would strongly recommend Cochins to beginner flocks. Even the large varieties tend to be incredibly sweet and affectionate. They need less boundary reinforcement than other breeds, but never take this as a free card NOT to give your chicken boundaries and rules. Cochins are simply less apt to challenge a limitation. Most Cochins are not good layers, and lay medium-small brown eggs. Due to their calm temperament, Cochins are great for children, able to be handled and cuddled without much complaint.
JAPANESE BANTAM ( CHABO )
Japanese Bantams, also sometimes called "Chabo" which means "dwarf" in Java, where these chickens are also quite popular, are a very, very old breed. Recently, the Chabo was used to create a new breed now known as the smallest breed in the world, the Serama. Seramas were almost wiped out a few years ago when a hurricane hit the Malaysia area, then followed by the avian flu which ended up slaughtering the Serama population so low that breeders had to start the breed anew with Chabos once more. One large difference between Chabos and Seramas is that Seramas are known to be much, much more vocal whereas Chabos are known to be very quiet. My own boy, Sindri, only crowed thrice that I know of. The other Chabos in my flock - one male, one female - behaved much the same.
Sindri was a very, very special boy to me. My house mate purchased he and his mate at an auction, and then tossed he and his mate into a shed with about thirty or forty chicks ( mostly bantams, and about ten turkeys ) and several bunnies. Her plan was to let these two breed and make a profit on their chicks simply for the "cute" factor. However, when I went in a couple of weeks later, I found the two of them were grotesquely underweight. I took them out, fed them, and gave them some time alone, away from the chicks and bunnies. Unfortunately, when they went back in, they were so bullied by the week-old chicks that the female starved to death, and since they weren't my birds there was little I could do about it. My house mate expressed disinterest with the male if he had no female to breed with, so I took him and he became part of my flock, put weight back on, and perked up a great deal. I do think, however, that he remained ill from the event if not from literal disease, from loneliness and the trauma of leaving his home, going to the auction, and all else. He was perky and peppy around me, but whenever I left for more than a day he would become lethargic, stop eating, and just sit in a corner. Twice I came home to him being almost dead, to the point that when I picked him up he was limp, and both times I revived him. Then I left for a weekend and wasn't able to bring him with, and he passed away.
Sindri was extremely friendly and loved cuddling up with me when I was on my computer, watching a movie, or just about anything else. He took to riding my bike very quickly. He would get up on my hand and just hold onto my biking gloves. He would watch the world go by then eventually huddle up and go to sleep - yes, on my hand, while I was biking on the bike trail and through town, he was asleep. He would snuggle up on my shoulder right up against my cheek and coo, coo, coo almost like a purring cat. I could pick him up, look at his wings, his feet, open his beak, whatever I wanted and he would grunt and chortle, but put up almost no fight at all. A couple of people who were Chabo breeders said that he behaved exactly as the typical male Chabo would. It's the ones that have gotten a little bit of Serama in them that are the ones that are noisy and energetic.
I would strongly recommend Japanese Bantams to beginner flocks. With four Chabos - two of each sex - I have found them all to be very calm, complacent, affectionate, and trainable. They are gentle and sweet and love human interaction, having very little to say against it. They are quiet and great for indoor flocks, but DO NOT leave your Chabo outside unattended. Chabos are some of the smallest chickens, and make for super easy targets for predators of all kinds, including neighbourhood cats, a danger seldom thought of for other chickens because they're simply too large for a cat to think of as prey, usually. Chabos also have short legs that make it difficult for them to run away from predators, and they trip over themselves easily. Same goes for Seramas. Chabos lay tiny, off-white eggs, but they don't lay often.
Orpingtons, most commonly known for their buff variety ( though there's also black, white, and blue ), so much so that other varieties can be incredibly difficult to come by in some parts of the world, and in many areas it's often thought that the "buff" is part of the breed's name, similar to "Barred Rock" for the barred Plymouth Rock and "Black Australorp". I raised two Orpington pullets who ended on bad terms in my house mate's flock. In fact, those are the two featured in my profile picture!
The two buff Orpingtons I raised were very sweet and affectionate, with hardly a struggle or a peep in defiance when I wanted to handle them. They would cuddle up with me , and were always fairly quiet - and good, golly, gosh they were soft! Orpingtons are very common chickens for backyard flocks due to their larger-sized brown eggs, and frequency in laying.
I would strongly recommend Orpingtons to a beginner flock. They are gentle and easily trained, with the added bonus of being extremely soft to the touch. These birds are great with kids, as they tend to be easy to pick up and carry around, and extremely responsive to human attention. Orpingtons are considered "utility" birds which means that they're good for eggs and meat, so after your hen's egg production goes down, you can still get a good meal out of her.
As above, Plymouth Rocks often times thought of as "Barred Rocks", but that barring is only a colouration. Plymouth Rocks also come in white, buff, silver pencilled, partridge, columbian, and blue. They are extremely common in backyard flocks due to their production of large, brown eggs, and their gentle temperament. Plymouth Rocks are utility birds, as stated above meaning that they have a fair amount of meat on them in order to make a good meal after their egg production starts to go down. However, within modern day, the Plymouth Rock has stepped aside from its duel-purpose roots and leans more towards the side of egg production strictly.
My experience with Plymouth Rocks tells me that the are very energetic, inquisitive chickens. They love to learn and are eager to please, even the males being gentle and cooperative. They can be aggressive towards other chickens, and I have heard many, many complaints about Plymouth Rocks being aggressive specifically towards other breeds of chicken in mixed flocks. I, personally, did no experience the aggression, but I was dealing with chicks for the most part. I have heard other people state that their Plymouth Rocks deal just fine with other chickens, and when I was young I knew a barred Plymouth Rock in a mixed flock who was just fine.
I would recommend Plymouth Rocks to beginner flocks since they are so prolific and thus bred for being able to be handled and human dependency However, know where your chickens are coming from because breeds that are over-bred can come with added medical problems and behaviour problems tend to start cropping up in "cash crop" breeds. When people will pay for the breed, it's not uncommon for a breeder to care very little for the health of the animals and just try to produce as many chicks as possible. Do some research into where your chicks are coming from and other people's experiences with chicks from that source, and you should be good.
RHODE ISLAND RED
Rhode Island Reds are some of the most common chickens in the world. They lay lots of large, brown eggs, tend to be cold resistant, and also duel purpose utility birds. There is also a Rhode Island White, but it is considered a different breed. My experience with Rhode Islands is mostly limited to mutts and males, but all of my boys have been absolute dolls. Bo is my eldest chicken right now, and he has proven himself as an alert animal, alerting me to anxiety and panic attacks, starting when he was about five months old! His brother, Socrates, was also a very enjoyable friend to have while he lived with me - he now lives with a woman out on a large farm, where he sleeps indoors and sits on her lap every morning while she gets ready to tend the farm, then follows her around while she does her chores.
Bo was the first of my chickens to really get into bike riding with me. Socrates was soon to follow. Perhaps because he's the oldest, and thus has the most life experience, or perhaps simply because he's that awesome, I find Bo to be the most trainable and socialised of my chickens. He is very gentle and even when eating out of my hand, he never pinches my skin. He was rough when mating the hens at first, but I quickly deterred that behaviour, and now he is much nicer.
However, next to Plymouth Rocks, Rhode Islands are probably the ones I hear about the most as being aggressive towards other chickens in mixed flocks. I have even heard of Rhode Islands going so far as plucking other, non-Rhode Island flock members bald! No one is quite sure why breedism exists in chickens, but it seems to manifest in similar ways all across the globe. Albeit, I have typically found this behaviour to only be evident in unbalanced and unhappy flocks.
I would recommend Rhode Island Reds to beginner flocks. Such as the Plymouth Rock, since they are so popular they've been bred for good temperaments, but as with the Plymouth Rocks, "mean" strains have been created due to bad breeding habits. Educate yourself on where your chicks are coming from and other people's experiences, and you should do well to have a good experience.
Silkies are well-known as soft feathered chickens with blue skin who are rather funny-looking. Way back in the 1200s, Marco Polo described an animal from his Asian expeditions as being a cross between a chicken and a rabbit - many historians believe this to be a reference to the Silkie chicken. There are also legends in China about Silkies being akin to Phoenixes. Silkies are considered a delicacy for their unique blue skin and bones. Silkies do not lay many eggs, and their eggs are small and creamy coloured.
When owning a Silkie, frequently check to make sure their feathers are not growing into their eyes. This is also an exercise that should be done with Polish chickens, Houdans, and any other "top hat" chicken whose feathers grow over their face. If this does happen, clip the feathers away from the eyes. If the feathers are not trimmed, they can grow INTO the eyes and cause blindness.
I have found Silkies to be incredibly gentle and tame, affectionate and eager to please. My Silkie, Liza, was very quiet and loved to cuddle with me. She, Mop, and Marshmallow ( a Dutch Bantam mutt ) all live with a wonderful woman who takes very good care of them, and frequently spends time with them in the garden, and frequently sends me Emails about their well-being. Liza is very observant and inquisitive, learning quickly about the world around her. She loves people-contact and she loves other chickens. She would follow Mop around and do whatever Mop did, and the two of them were rough on Sindri when I first introduced him to the two, but after establishing the order of things, they all got along quite well, and I would see all three of them roosting together frequently.
I would recommend Silkies to beginner flocks. Silkies need special care with the feathers on their face, and also to keep their feathered feet clean. Due to their funny feathering, some people report that Silkies have a harder time keeping themselves insulated against heat or cold, and they're also much easier picks for predators. Always keep your Silkie in safe sight, and make sure their perches aren't too far off the ground since Silkies CANNOT fly like regular chickens - they can't reach the usual recommendation of three feet off the ground. However, they are extremely affectionate and eager to learn. They make for wonderful indoor chickens.
Much of what I have to say about Sizzles will be similar to what I have to say about Silkies. Sizzles are bred by breeding a Silkie to a frizzled Cochin. "Frizzle" is when the feathers bend outwards and towards the head - hence my Sizzle's name, Mop. The actual "breed standard" that Sizzles are aiming for is for the skin colouration and comb, wattle, and feet of Silkies and the feathering of a frizzled Cochin. The Sizzle is NOT a recognised breed yet, and all Sizzles are currently "in progress".
Keep in mind that you should NEVER breed a frizzle to a frizzle, as it causes feather brittleness and can cause skin problems and other genetic maladies for life. A frizzled bird is a bird with a GENETIC DEFORMATION that is considered "cute", but in reality can be devastating to the animal. It takes away the chicken's ability to fly or maintain its own body temperature, thus needing extra protecting during cold winter or hot summer temperatures, and thus robbing the bird of its basic instincts and needs to roost on high perches, to jump off of things without getting hurt, and so forth. I DO NOT CONDONE THE BREEDING OF FRIZZLED BIRDS. PERIOD.
That in mind, I did not know that Mop would be a frizzled bird when I adopted her. I purchased her in a "Bantam Bundle" which was a straight run of random bantam breeds, and she won my heart by being the first one to jump out of her enclosure, run across my room, and snuggle up in my lap. She has always been incredibly affectionate and eager to please. She always loved going out with me to meet other people, too, and loved being pet.
I would recommend Sizzles to beginner flocks. Sizzles need the special attention noted above due to their genetic condition, but so long as you are concious of their special needs, they tend to be incredibly easy to handle and trainable. Frizzles can be of ANY breed, and are NOT a breed themselves - it is simply a way to describe the feathering. Again, make sure you know where you're getting your chickens, because a poorly bred frizzle can cost you in vet bills or just be outright totally not worth it as soon as they start growing feathers, and may need to be slaughtered outright simply as a humane thing to do.
Welsummer is probably the most recognisable chicken out there. The Kellogg's rooster for Corn Flakes, Cornelius, is based on a Welsummer rooster. The Robin Hood and Rock-a-Doodle roosters may have also been based on Welsummers ( though I personally think Chanticleer was based on an Auracana with those silly ear tufts ). The Welsummer rooster is your typical story-boo rooster with the large, green-purple tail, bright orange neck, red wings and back, with a black breast and belly. He also has a large comb and large wattles, and typical yellow beak and legs. Welsummer hens lay lots of dark, chocolaty-brown eggs and speckled brown eggs.
My experience with the Welsummer breed was a poorly bred, human aggressive, young cockerel. He came from a chicken farm that was commercial production and quality, thus most chickens were not treated well at all. My house mate was allowed to take him home because he had escaped the pen, and the owners were tired of catching him, so I was given a rooster to work with. The first time I met him, he puffed up, then tried to run. I grabbed him, hugged him, and carried him around with me. I got a towel and set it on my lap, had him sit, pet him, hugged him some more, and watched The Green Mile with him in my lap. By the end of the week, he was sleeping on the foot of my bed.
This Welsummer was not aggressive due to plain being mean, he was aggressive out of fear. He was terrified of humans and felt the only way to get away from them was to fight them. When shown kindness and rules, and the fact that I am dominant thus alleviating him of his role, he calmed right down. He was energetic and perky, and very excited to learn about new things, and go to new places.
Due to my limited experience with Welsummers, I would neither recommend nor discourage this breed. I know they're not too uncommon a breed in backyard flocks, and I know they lay well, but trying to pin the personality of a breed due to experience with one extremely abused and neglected male is difficult. He was able to overcome is past pretty easily once given a chance, but most animals are that way.
MUTTS ( DUTCH BANTAM, RHODE ISLAND RED, barred PLYMOUTH ROCK, WELSUMMER, etc. )
Most of the "mutts" I have experience with are Dutch Bantam mutts and the two batches of chicks hatched from my house mate's Blackstars - one batch of eighteen with a Rhode Island Red father, and one batch of five from a Welsummer father. The Dutch group was a great group to work with. Unfortunately, out of six, only two are alive today. Millie passed away under mysterious circumstances, Mocha died I think due to heat exhaustion, and then I accidentally squished Miles and Artemis. The ones alive today are Bowser in my flock and Marshmallow who currently lives with Mop and Liza with a nice lady who takes wonderful care of them.
The Dutch batch were a bit aggressive with each other once hormones began to take over, but it took naught but a bit of boundary-setting and discipline to ebb that behaviour. Bowser, Miles, and Artemis used to love to crow during that adolescent stage of finding their voices, but just before Miles and Artemis were squished with Rutherford ( a suspected Belgian D'Anver ), they had begun to crow much less. Bowser is small enough that I can easily scoop him up with one hand, and as time has progressed, he's gotten used to the scooping so much that he will more often not struggle at all - no flapping or grappling with his feet - when being picked up. Marshmallow currently spends her days following her person around, and has trained her person to let her in at night, where she sleeps on a perch in a big, wire dog crate. Marshmallow also crows occasionally in the morning - AND is laying eggs!
ALL of the Blackstar chicks have been absolutely wonderful in temperament and egg-laying. Bo and Socrates have both been absolutely wonderful, and the last I heard of Socrates' new mum, he's as sweet and affectionate as ever. The group of five bred from the Welsummer dad, however, are ALL screamers. Faust and Maximilian in my flock ( Max was adopted out last summer, but his owner lost track of him, and he ended up in the humane society and no one told me until about six months later! ), and Janet in my house mate's flock. The other two chicks were victim of opossums in the yard. ALL of them, however, would scream bloody murder whenever you approached them too fast, or tried to pick them up or restrain them. Faust still screams sometimes, and Janet seems to scream if you look at her funny. Then again, I've worked with Faust and haven't worked with Janet.
Mutts are difficult to determine whether or not they would be good for someone since they are inherently unpredictable due to their mix of breeds and inherent traits. If you choose to pick up a mix-bred chicken, ALWAYS expect the unexpected, because they WILL surprise you. I have been very pleasantly surprised by all of my mutts, but then... that's what I do.
TURKEY ( unknown breed - mutt, likely )
I have had brief interactions with my house mate's ONE turkey poult. I must say, I have NEVER met a turkey in person before this little girl, and all I knew of them is that they'll stand in the rain looking up with their mouths agape and drown themselves, or that toms will do whatever it takes to mate SOMETHING, or the turkey was otherwise dumb or aggressive.
When I first met all the turkey chicks, I was amazed at how much they looked like chicken chicks with little nubs atop their beaks and more slender heads. As they grew, they also seemed to have longer necks, but that was about the only distinction! But also just like chicken chicks, they were extremely inquisitive about the world. What's this?? The turkeys are curious, thinking creatures? Well surly they would grow out of it and dumb down, right? Nope! They showed no signs of slowing down their ingestion of information from the world around them.
I've even seen the surviving turkey poult out in the rain multiple times, and not once have I seen her looking straight up! She just goes about her business as usual. She's a little special, and she's blind in one eye, but she's nothing like those rumours we've always been told about how dumb turkeys are. Sometimes she'll get stuck in the fence when all she has to do is step two feet to the side, and sometimes she seems to forget how to eat, and sometimes she even seems to forget that the chickens aren't like her, and she'll knock them off the perch when she jumps up at night!
I think the most amusing experience I had was when she got out of the pen one day. I heard her crying and crying. She was saying, "Where is my flock? I don't understand where they have gone!" I stepped outside and saw her not in the driveway as I had anticipated... but in the street! Fearing for the worst, I trotted on down the driveway and entered the street. Sure enough, a car was approaching. A man and a woman were in the vehicle and they slowed down and approached me as I followed little Turkey, who wasn't sure what to make of me walking up to her, and slowly walked away. The car stopped, and the couple started asking directions, in which I replied, "I'm sorry, I really can't help you, I'm trying to catch my turkey before she gets hurt." The couple looked confused, until I pointed out the turkey who was now about four houses down in a neighbour's yard. With a disappointed "Oh" they moved on.
I continued to walk after the turkey - I have found NO good to ever come of chasing my birds, scrambling to swipe at them or scoop them up. I only ever walk after them. After entering the neighbour's yard and walking up to the back fence, their next-door neighbour comes out and asks if he can help me with anything. Sheepishly I inform him that no, I'm just trying to catch my turkey. He looks suspicious and comes over to see what I'm doing, which is when the turkey gets caught in the hedge. I lean over and wrap my arms around her huge breast ( well, huge in comparison to a chicken ), and stand up, holding my house mate's nearly full-grown female turkey. She tries to struggle a little and cries in distress, but calms down quickly as I stay calm and don't let her go.
"Oh my goodness, you actually DO have a turkey," the older man says, shocked.
"Yeah," I say, embarrassed, "She got out of her pen, and was in the street, trying to find the chickens. Figured I'd help her home."
I turned and left the man scratching at his head over the strange event that just took place. He watched me walk home with the turkey, her head pressed against my chest, and her long legs dangling in front of mine as I hugged her close. When we got to the coop I set her down between my legs so I could keep her from running off while I was opening the door to the coop, and it was then I realised she responded to me much the same way the chickens did. With a little pressure on her back, she sat for me, and with some scritches under her chin, she closed her eyes and gave me a quiet, happy coo. I opened the coop door, ruffled her wings and scratched her blading head, and she trotted on into the coop with high, happy chirps.
As mentioned in the Welsummer advert, another famous rooster is Foghorn Leghorn based on a leghorn rooster. White Cornish chickens crossed with Sussex are what we know as "broiler birds" or in other words, every single chicken you have ever bought commercially. Leghorns are the chickens used for egg production, and once they have reached their peak to lay eggs and their production begins to dither, they are slaughtered, ground up, and sent out as such things as nuggets at your local McDonald's.
I absolutely DO NOT suggest for anyone to just go out and expect their chickens to do exactly what they want just because they read this blog. Try techniques, see what fits you and what works best, but don't think that just because it's possible you can do it, but by no means should you just give up, either. Just be patient and persistent, and if you have ANY questions DO NOT hesitate to contact me or your local chicken gurus.
If you have any questions, comments, or concerns over this latest post, feel free to Email me. Leave a comment if you would like, but if your inquiry is urgent, make sure to Email me for a quicker response.