Our poultry are an important part of White Stone Farm. They are our natural insect control, fertilizer makers and feathery entertainers. (And one day, some of them will make it to the dinner table as well).
Poultry are fascinating. The way the chickens go about their business in their endless search for tasty bugs, the way they relate to each other in the flock, maintain their pecking order, interact with the other animals, peck, preen, dust-bathe, squawk, cheep, cluck, scratch, explore and cock-a-doodle-do (for the rooster at least!) – all of that is really interesting stuff! And it entertains us to no end! Except the cock-a-doodle-doing at 4am…
Our house chooks – Avalon, Bentley (and her 2 chicks), Commanche, Delorian, Eldorado (and her 9 fluff-ball chicks), Ferrari, Galaxy and rooster Henry Ford (yes, all alphabetical and car-themed…) live in the old stables and go about their business of scratching and exploring around the house, garden and nearest paddocks. On a hot day their favourite spot is under the house, so it’s not uncommon to be sitting in the lounge and have Henry cock-a-doodle-dooing under your feet directly under the floor!
As well as chickens, our poultry extends to ducks too – our beautiful but messy puddling Pekin ducks who add an extra layer of fascination as they do their ducky thing – and their antics as they interact with the chickens, horse and llamas. We started with a male (Benghazi) and 2 females (Aurora and Calais – although I can’t tell them apart now so they are Duck and Duck!). They happily live in the poultry stall of the old stable as well. They are also excellent look-outs for aerial predators such as eagles, hawks and falcons (you can see Ben scanning the sky in the photo), warning the others to take cover when necessary. I’m sure it’s saved many a small chick over the last few months.
Recently, the poultry crew were joined by three Silkie-cross chicks that Delorian hatched and raised as her own (we secretly slipped them under her when she got broody!).
They have grown so fast and have started their teenage voice-breaking version of crowing, so our guess is they are all boys and likely destined for the table. Due to this fact, they have not been bestowed with names. The girls don’t tolerate them much and it’s only relatively recently that they’ve been allowed to join the crew in the stables (prior to that their hangout was the woodshed).
Just like Delorian, our other Pekin Bantam chook, Eldorado, has proved an excellent surrogate mum! With a plethora of eggs and Pekin Bantams prone to broodiness, we set a few duck eggs under Eldorado to see what would happen.
Lo and behold, she diligently hatched out 3 baby ducklings! Clever girl!
We lost hours watching their antics as they followed their chook mother around and she was a wonderful, protective and attentive mum. She even allowed them to go swimming and would dutifully wait on the side of the small puddle as they mucked about in the water. They understood her chook calls for “Come on..” and “Oooh quick, I’ve found something tasty…”
However, as they grew, they soon began to dwarf her in size and so she decided they were obviously fully grown and promptly shacked up with the rooster again.
This caused some Duck Drama. With their mother no longer protecting them, Benghazi the drake started to harass and attack them. Fearing for their safety and comfort, I tried to quickly move them into the garlic patch before work (Mmmm…I love the smell of duckling poo all over your clothes in the morning!). Here they could live within the safe confines of the garlic fence, protect our crops against insects and get back to puddling around undisturbed again. Oh-so-happy not-so-little ducklings once more.
Our adult ducks have not been without their own baby dramas too! Both females became broody, so we set some eggs under them (both their own and some chicken eggs for the hell of it!).
The duck eggs hatched, and we had equal doses of elation and tragedy as we some ducklings did well and others fell fate to being abandoned overnight, drowning or being attacked by ravens. Our Pekin duck females aren’t the most diligent and doting of mothers it seems! I’m trying hard to toughen up with each tragedy – it’s all part of farm life…but it’s sometimes hard as a girl from the ‘burbs to see so many cute things die and not get upset or attached.
But, I’m getting better at not bursting into tears so readily now…
The Poultry Politics continues to forge ahead. As we expand the chicken numbers and breeds at White Stone Farm, we are also expanding where and how we house them and beginning our integrated Poultry Pasturing system. Based on Joel Salatin’s model of having mobile transport and allowing chickens to forage on the pasture during the day, Stace converted our paddock-bomb ute into a luxury lockable chook pad! By day they scratch and peck at the myriad of bugs found in the pasture and leaf litter near the trees and at night they are trained to put themselves to bed in the ute, where we can lock them safely away from cunning Mr Fox. Once safely locked away we can then drive them to their new bit of fresh pasture and shade, ready for the next day of foraging.
In the search for our newest chook breed, we decided that weirdly coloured eggs and a lavender coloured chook sounded fascinating, so procured a family of Araucana chickens consisting of Mum, Dad and 8 growing chicks. Renowned for their bluish green eggs, we decided to keep this group separate from the others and begin our Pasture Chickens integrated model. Araucanas are perfectly suited to open pasture scratching, with their long legs, strong claws and jumpy nature, just right for turning over the leaf litter in search of tasty grubs.
They will soon be joined by our llamas to assist with flock guarding during the day. Llamas do not tolerate foxes and can make excellent guards, so it’s another great way to integrate our farm animals to assist in our open and innovative methods of farming!
With all of our Poultry Politics, it sure keeps us busy and very entertained. We aim to continue to expand into other heritage breeds of chickens, ducks, meat birds and egg layers, so watch this space for more poultry politics updates!