Meet the Flock

We’ve spent a lot of time in the front yard so far, but hey, there’s a whole lotta land behind my house. Hah! Kidding – my house sits on less than 1/4 acre, but I’m trying to cram as much as possible on that little bit of dirt. As of this posting, that include five chickens and four ducks.

The winter after I moved into my house, I started researching what a backyard flock required. Housing. Food. Protection from predators. Part of this came from my mom talking about getting chickens on and off while I was growing up. She never did it, though, so I figured I’d give it a go and see how two little fluffy chickens went.

Hehehe.

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The feed store near me had Barred Plymouth Rocks, so I got a pair of those in 2013.

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They were the top hens – assertive to others yet submissive to me. I quickly realized the pair would not be enough, and two months later, I picked up a pair of Buff Orpingtons.

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Man, chicks are awkward and cute at the same time. It’s so much fun to watch them explore.

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While both of my Barred Rocks had similar dominant personalities, the Buff Orpingtons are pretty different. I call the slightly smaller one “Sassy” because she’s quick to fly off the handle at the other birds and if she’s displeased with a person, she pecks feet. The other is “Goofy” because she frequently gets lost in my tiny backyard.

Once upon a time (when they were chicks living indoors), the chickens had pet names, but those went away when they moved outside. For the most part, the birds are either “chicken” or “duck.” Sometimes, if I’m feeling especially lovey-dovey, they’ll get “baby chickie” or “duck-duck.”

I’m sorry to say that the Barred Rocks have both since passed on.

Last year (2017), my chicken-raising friend got a batch of new chicks and I started to feel the itch too. However, I didn’t really want more chickens exactly, so I ordered ducklings through the mail.

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The idea of ordering live animals has always made me uncomfortable, but the only breed I could find locally was Pekin. I’m sure Pekins are lovely, but I wanted something a bit different. I ordered two Blue Swedish (the grayer ducklings) and two Welsh Harlequins (the blonder ones).

People don’t lie when they say ducks are messier than chickens, and it’s mostly down to poop. Chickens have infrequent solid poop and most of it plops out as they roost at night. It’s easy to contain and clean. Ducks, however, often pause in their travels to shoot out watery poop. If they eat fish, that poop might even turn blackish. There; now you know about duck and chicken poop.

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The funny thing is, I was never a huge fan of ducks until I decided to add them to my flock. They are absolutely hilarious to watch, though. I was worried they might be loud, since I live in a city neighborhood, but they’re pretty quiet. When the ducks do make noise, it’s “chatter” (like a very soft goose honk) or the occasional startled quack.

While the ducks will turn your pristine pond into a mess, they aren’t as destructive in the garden as chickens. My ducks will root around with their bills, but the chickens have sharp little feet their use to scratch apart plants and dirt.

This spring (2018), I got the itch again. I was still recovering from my ex and spending loads of time in the garden was a large part of my healing. I realized just how much satisfaction I get from raising and caring from animals. The feed store also happened to have some breeds I haven’t yet raised:  Rhode Island Red and Australorps.

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So. Stinkin. Cute.

I’ve heard that Rhode Island Reds can be aggressive, so I only got one. All three, however, seem to have similar personalities – very energetic, curious, and adventurous. After a day or two, they were already climbing all over me. My other chickens were quite shy.

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David Attenborough voice:  “Here, we see three juvenile females – oh! Looks like we’ve been spotted.”

Now that I’m more comfortable with raising ducks and chickens, this batch of chicks moved outside way earlier than the others. Previously, my system was to raise the birds in a large dog kennel in my living room for a few months until they had feathers. These three moved outside at two weeks old.

Of course, it helps that I live in a subtropical climate and even our early spring days were close to 70F. I also put their brood shelf outside (protected in a plastic bin) so they had access to heat. For weeks, they lived in their own little section of the coop, fenced off for protection from the older birds. Although the chicks were freaked out at first, they seemed to enjoy living outside, and they feathered out quickly.

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Ah, destroying my gardens as a family. How sweet.

Now everyone gets along, for the most part. I was worried that the young chicks might grow up to be aggressive, but living with the older birds from a young age has tempered that a bit. If one of the younger chickens gets in the way of a duck, the duck will make like she’s going to smack the chicken with her bill. They don’t make contact, though. No one’s singled out, and no blood is drawn. Yay!

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I won’t lie. The birds are a bit of work, and keeping the flies at bay is a constant battle (it doesn’t help that I live close to the stables of a horse racing track). They are more at risk to predators than other pets because they live outside. Losing them really freakin’ hurts, because often, we as owners could’ve done more to protect them.

But few things in my life up to this point can compare to sitting under the pergola, coffee in hand, on a Saturday morning and watching the birds wander around the yard. Then, when my tummy rumbles, I head inside and cook a pair of fresh eggs.

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