This may sound trite to you unless you’re a chicken keeper or animal lover. This afternoon, we buried Buster wearing our “Chicken Lives Matter” t-shirts. I think I’ll just cry again. This was a very somber evening even though the family knew it was coming. We knew that old age had taken its toll on the old man and we knew it first when he stopped running at us when we approached his chicken door.
Buster came to our home to replace a young mean rooster that we had. I was new at chicken keeping and felt that the rooster in our run was too mean so with little affection for him, I traded him with $20 in my hand for another rooster who looked just like him. (I know! I know! I got taken!)
The chicken trader had an eleven year old boy go into the pen to get Buster so I really thought I had some gentle animal to take back to my flock. Little did I know that he was not only mean and “busty” but meaner and tougher than the roo I had traded. I had a real monster rooster on my hands! We named him “Buster” aptly because he busted out every time we would walk past. Buster left no opportunity untaken. If a gate was cracked in any way, he would bust out and run at us. When we came to feed him, he ran at the fence. When we walked to and fro near the runs, he would eye us down.
All of that meanness became actually endearing to us and we loved him for his solid personality of Mr. Mean. Sometimes people would want to get a closer look because he was indeed beautiful and I would brave catching him so we could gaze into those dreadful eyes and dreadful they were.
Earlier in the week, before Hurricane Irma, we noticed he was slowing. He didn’t have that kick in his step and he wasn’t eyeing us quite so steadily. Most obvious, he wasn’t running at the gate or fence or our legs and so we knew there was something really wrong.
This morning, he stood at the door of his coop and did not brave the heat. He didn’t spur the fence. He didn’t crow with that great and powerful “| er, er, er, er, er |”.
We lost Buster today and we’re all sad because of our loss. Many might say, “Oh, it was just a rooster” but when you’re a chicken keeper, chicken lives matter and especially those with unique personalities like Buster. RIP.
With the devastation and passing of Hurricane Harvey and the up-and-coming storm Irma, many are concerned about their chickens. When you have a couple of chickens, you can easily put them in the bath tub or box during a storm. If you have a handful, you could secure them safely in a crate. When you have two hand-fulls, a cage in the garage might be best but when you have dozens of yard birds, you must do something to keep them safe and all the while make them as comfortable as possible. More than likely that will occur in in the chicken yard.
On my little farm, I have 5 runs side-by-side with varied coop configurations. In addition, there are 2 very small coops for my growers. These two coops are perfect for the youngins’ but at about 3 months old, they must be moved to a larger area and somehow into one of the 5 runs and coops. Sometimes I find myself having to rearrange the girls due to size and space. As a result there is hardship on the weaker personality chickens because hen pecking is a truth. During a hurricane though, I have to let hen pecking take its course because rearranging who’s in what coup is a necessity. I definitely have to regroup and the girls don’t like it.
For some days, I’ve been planning on what to do as hurricane Irma comes closer and closer. On the internet this week, I saw a photograph of chickens wrapped in newspapers as if they were swaddled like a baby. The owners were apparently Key West evacuees and transporting their flock to safety. In truth, I was shocked when I laid eyes on the image but the more I thought about that person’s plight, it may have been an ingenious idea to keep the chickens safe and sound. Each of us have to think about our own situation so as to do the best for our flock under the conditions in which we are faced. In that person’s case, evacuating from the largest recorded hurricane on record meant taking the flock as best as possible and safely. I’ve never seen a chicken swaddled but it seemed to work well. Who am I to criticize this chicken keeper when it’s obvious that safety was the number one concern for those chickens.
Preparing for a storm has many facets and every chicken keeper must do what is in the best interest of his or her flock. Considering storm concerns: chickens don’t swim and can drown easily. Chickens are light and cannot endure heavy winds. Chickens are small and could easily be hurt from flying debris. Chickens have their own agenda and do not come when being called like a dog or a cat (unless you’re feeding them LOL).
Chickens Don’t Swim
Chickens are not like ducks. They can sort of float- a while. Over time though, they get basically water-logged and will drown. The are not water birds. I have a pond near the coops. The chickens scratch and eat from the basin but never and I mean never go for a swim. Ever. The most water my chickens expose themselves to is sometimes stepping in their water bucket but that’s pretty much the extent of their water foray. A storm surge could be the death of one or a whole flock of chickens so I want to do all possible to protect my animals from storm water.
Chickens are Light and Cannot Endure Heavy Winds
According to reference.com, the average broiler weighs 5.80 pounds. It would never do for a chicken to be loose in a chicken run with 80 plus mph winds. Should chickens get in the wind surge of a hurricane it could easily toss the feathered friend to and fro. Chickens must be in a safe and covered area during a storm.
Chickens are Small and Cannot Endure Flying Objects
During a storm debris is flying all over. Leaves, branches, home objects and more are being tossed all around. Chickens do not have the sense or agility to fend for themselves in such conditions. They must be inside a safe area and be taken care of during such an event.
Chickens Are Not Like Cats or Dogs
Chickens are chickens. They hunt, peck and run towards you when you have food. While they may come to you when you call, they are not like a cat or dog where they jump in your arms and wait to be carried into the house. Chickens are foragers and that is their life.
Everyone has their own ideas on what to do during a storm. Here is what I did during Hurricane Matthew and will do again when Irma comes our way.
Before the storm, I go ahead and try to put more chickens in each run so as to minimize use of coops during the storm. I use the strongest coops possible for their safety. Days before the storm, the coops are cleaned and prepared for the chickens. Fresh food and water is placed inside of the coop on storm day. This is highly unusual for our plan as they are fed in the runs on a general basis.
To settle my chickens during the storm, I divide my 40 something chickens into 2 or 3 groups and put them into the strongest coops in the barnyard. I put a rooster in each coop and my old man rooster, Buster is placed in a coop of his own. He is too old to deal with the stress of other birds plus the storm. All of the babies or teenagers are placed together in a strong run and coop as well. I try to keep together the hens who already live together but I switch up their coops so that everyone is in a different environment. I know hen-pecking is going to happen but it seems better when everyone is in new surroundings.
Depending on the time of the expected storm, I may let the chickens out or may need to keep them closed in their coops. Since chickens go inside on their own in the evening, I may need to depend on that for getting them into specific runs and coops. At that time, I find myself moving different chickens from one coop to another and I trying my best to do this during the darker part of the day so as not to upset them. We all know pecking order is a real thing but at least if they begin the pecking order it would occur the day of the storm when things are wild outside for all of them. In addition, most of them are in a new environment or coop which discombobulates them.
Safety is the number one thing so as soon as they are in their coops and mostly settled, I put one screw in the door so the strong winds cannot cause the door to fly open. During Hurricane Matthew we were told there could be winds as high as 90 mph. To protect my brood, the coop must hold fast. By the time all of the chickens are in their runs and ready for the storm, all of the umbrellas, feeding pans, hanging feeders, watering utensils, whirly gigs and more have long been removed providing a safe area free from flying debris.
During Hurricane Matthew, the chickens were in their coops for one full day and half of the next day. As rain and lightening bolted outside, I fed and watered them inside their coops. This worked well for my 40-something bunch. After the storm was over and I went out to assess the damage finding the worst situation was a huge tree over Shaq, my Jersey Giant’s coop. Not one animal was harmed and by the time I could let them into the runs, I even opened the gates into the yard and let them free range. Big day for everyone and fun was had by all! (Even the chicken keeper!)
Do what you must for your own. In Psalms it says that “every beast belongs to God” and he’s put us among them to be their keeper.