Re Rustica

  (Squaw Valley, California)
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the Duck named Rooster

The duck named “Rooster” thinks that he is a chicken. He was raised with two hens and, when we adopted the three friends at the shelter, was quite confused. He takes good care of his hens, making sure they find ponds to bathe in (though they don’t want to bathe in the water - they prefer dust baths - he pushes them in). He finds them good things to eat and then eats them himself to demonstrate that they are good, urging them to join him with his “tasty” call, which they do not understand. He herds them about with his mallardly mastery using words and gestures they understand as well as those used by real roosters. He also sits on their eggs and defends them.

His inability to communicate with his hens is a problem, but nothing so severe as to break his love for each other. They are his hens and he is their rooster - er, duck.

He also take care of the other chickens. He has a special friendship with Scuttle and will treat him like a hen. Ducks can’t tell the difference easily between roosters and hens.

We love “Rooster” almost as much as the hens and real roosters do. He stands guard at night over the entire flock like a rooster ought to, taking shifts with Rodney and Scuttle (the other roosters are too tired to take a shift). Like a rooster, he sings them songs to let them know everything’s alright, or alert them that something strange is happening. He announces when we come by, and a few of the chickens stagger up to us to see if we’ve brought them a treat.

Any time two species make friendship or love each other, they learn how to talk to each other or otherwise serve each others’ needs. When humans adopt a pet, either domesticating a wild critter or taking in a domestic one, we teach them some of our language so they can help us, too.

All our birds know how to “go home,” “find your rooster,” “hide,” and “come to the coop!” We teach them several dozen commands. Some are very friendly, and enjoy being picked up. Because, when they are young, we help them if they are injured in front of the entire baby flock, they know to come to us when they need help.

Yesterday, some of our geese got attacked by a coyote. The coyote lost, and now looks for mice to eat, but one of the geese got a scratch on her leg. She ran up to us and wanted to be held, so we told her to give us her leg for us to inspect. We told her it was alright and gave her some treats. She rested for most of the day, and her flock kept her company.

Like our “Rooster” duck, all animals understand more words of another species’ language than they can speak. Though we could not express ourselves in “goose” we could express ourselves in english, and she understood, giving us her leg and holding still. She could tell us something was wrong with her and we understood. The duck can tell his hens about the joys of bathing and… well, perhaps some things can’t be understood.


Born to be Bad

Rodney, our current Head Rooster, dances well, sings well, is courteous to his hens and minor roosters, and even finds and shares good things to eat.  He defends them against hawks and coyotes, and teaches younger birds where to lay eggs, what to eat, important resources and - most recently - has taken the former head rooster, Scuttle, under his wing.

Scuttle dances bad.  Real bad.  He puts the wrong wing out and steps wrong.  He rapes hens, mating them without courtship.  He sings poorly.  He steals food from younger birds.  He leads hens off into the bushes where kitties like to hunt and leaves them there.  He runs up to other birds, pecks them between the eyes and runs away.  He hides up in trees, jumps down and scares the other birds. 

He is a bad rooster.

But he doesn't want to be bad.  He just doesn't know better.  He was raised without other roosters, with no role models.  Rodney is teaching him.  Lesson by lesson, Scuttle is learning how to sing, how to treat his hens with respect, how to do the jobs required of him.  He's even got the right (er, left) wing out.  Sometimes.

At least he's not feeding his hens to the kitties anymore.


Hear and See the Geese Explore

Some like to lead, others like to follow, everyone looks about and shares what they see!  What a great trip...

Some like to lead, others like to follow, everyone looks about and shares what they see! What a great trip...

Click here to hear the geese explore!

The geese explore to find new delicious things to eat, interesting animals to hiss and honk at, nice places to nap and to find us. Occassionally, they’ll show us their find!

Domesticated animals differ from wild animals in one key respect: domestic animals (usually) have no wanderlust. They do not take vacations. Wild animals will take vacations to explore new territory in case their current territory is rendered unusuable by disaster, to find new resources to exploit (expand their territory), to learn from other animals (even of other species) and for the pleasure of some exercise and play. The naturalist Enos Mills once took a vacation from his Rocky Mountain home only to discover upon reaching his destination that his neighbor bear had decided to vacation to the same spot! They looked at each other and recognized each other (the bear’s missing toe and particular coloration and Mr. Mill’s distinctive appearance were giveaways). The bear was friendly with Mr. Mills and they greeted each other and played, and then went their separate ways home.

Our geese don’t take vacations, but they do like to come out on their promenade. They’ll go this way and that, and always explore the same way: in a double file line, with every goose looking about them and describing (in honks, hisses and visual language) what they are seeing. Some like to lead, others like to follow, and their merry train makes its way through the flowers.


Dinosaur Eggs!

Dinosaur or goose? You decide.

Goose eggs are back! One of our younger visitors to the farm, upon seeing them, pronounced them to be “dinosaur eggs!”

We were pretty sure they were not dinosaur eggs, but goose eggs. We showed him our geese, and explained much evidence against his hypothesis, but in the end we were forced to acknowledge by this young scientist that we had not seen the geese lay those eggs, and they did look like dinosaur eggs.

This week, we’ll let you be the judge. Goose egg or dinosaur egg? Conduct your own experiment (on a skillet, in a baking dish, in your favorite bread, or in a pot) and let us know whether they taste like dinosaur or goose.


Watch Goose

Our head goose (with the biggest hat) does guard duty most often.

Our geese are so careful! When eating or sleeping, they will take turns watching each other. One at a time, they’ll stop eating or sleeping and stand guard. This watch goose is all attention, and loves to honk to tell everyone else what is about them. “It’s Aaron!” they’ll honk. “It’s Mary!” they’ll honk. “A squirrel is coming over!” “a coyote is trying to be sneaky!”

In the middle of the night they’ll occasionally sound “all’s clear!” to let everyone know it’s still ok to sleep. This is usually followed by the “be quiet! we’re trying to sleep” honk.

One of our geese really hates the chickens. She will growl every time she sees them. Occasionally, she’ll growl long enough to work herself up hopping mad! She’ll hop and growl, and honk and squeek, and then charge the hapless chickens to attack them. The chickens and geese think it is some kind of game, and the chickens largely ignore her because she’ll come to her senses at the last moment and not hurt the chickens.

We’re not sure what this fight is all about, but when she’s on guard, she will sound high alert every time the chickens are nearby. She doesn’t do much guard duty these days…


Geese Discover Music!

Our geese will knock their beaks against our ford, tapping off a rythm that is actually quite groovy.  They also like to bite on the tailpipe and the fenders to make a grinding sound.  Harmonizing like this occupies our geese for quite some time.  They used to like to tap on the roof of the chicken coop (especially when chickens were inside - then even better noises are made!), and on the wheel barrow, and on any other hard, noisy surface.  But the truck, they've discovered, is best.  One or two of them will honk out rythmically as the others tap and grind.  We're going to try to get an audio recording of it...


Baths are fun!

Chickens will burrow out holes for bathing

Chickens rely on us to provide clean, dry, safe coops, to take care of them if they get sick or injured, and occasionally provide a healthy and delicious treat or a hug. However, chickens also need us to allow them the space to play and run around so they can digest their food (exercise is as important for people as it is for chickens and other animals), the nutritious pasture for them to find grass and other vegetables (and the occasional mouse or insect). They also need dirt for baths. They LOVE baths.


Rodney, our new Head Rooster, the first day of his freedom reacted as most (recently) cooped birds do upon liberation. He cowered inside the coop, then gradually began to explore with the other birds, and then relaxed. He romped and tasted new things, and then he had a VERY execllent bath. Chickens like to bathe with friends, and his new sweetheart, the crazed Americana we call “Crazy,” came by and splashed him with dust. He splashed her with dust and they then had a good sun nap, laying on their backs, sunning their bellies.

Our former head rooster, Scuttle, likes to hide behind the bathing tree and pounce on unsuspecting bathers. He gets a lot of enjoyment out of scattering the hens and other roosters.

Baths are as fun as they are important for the health of our birds. Dirt baths reduce disease and improve egg production.


Geese LOVE Collards

Quick! Catch her!  Our Head Goose almost makes her getaway with the collards!

What do the geese like almost as much as our specially mixed bird feed? Collards.


The geese love the flavor so much that, while they normally share EVERYTHING they find (except for the bird food we mix them), they refused to share the delicious collards.

A chase game quickly developed when our Head Goose’s sisters grew envious. Though there were enough collards to go around, they loved to chase the Head Goose! She eventually was pursuaded to share. Reluctantly.


Ivana, get out of the rain!

Ivana and the other chickens decided they didn't want to be wet so they went inside their coop.  But they didn't want to spend the day inside, so they perched just outside or on the lip of their coop, where they continued to get wet.  They weren't cranky for their wetness, and our roosters got everyone inside properly before bedtime, early enough to dry off so nobody would catch cold.

Hugging a Goose

Everyone needs a hug sometimes.  Today, our goose with no hat came up and asked to be picked up and hugged.  After she got her fill, she told us she wanted down and wandered off to join her friends. 

Chickens don't like to swim

A brief break in the weather resulted in a delicious pond of water.  Our duck-rooster (he thinks he is a chicken, talks like a rooster and has bonded with 3 hens) swam about and excitedly brought his hens to the water.  He nudged his big red hen into the water, but she did not seem to appreciate this, squawking and flying back to shore.  Alas, perhaps soon they will learn to swim... but not today.

Good Luck to the New Guy

We have a new head rooster. He’s more mature thant the other roosters, but smaller because of his breed. It’s very confusing to everyone.


The hens give him no respect. He can’t get the time of day from anyone except the baby birds. What a misundestood rooster! He sings a lot in a sad, proud sort of way, clucking and chuckling with disgruntlement even as he sings the head-rooster song. He can’t get no respect. We’re calling him Rodney.

Scuttle let him become head rooster without a fight the moment he was introduced to the flock. Too many hens for Scuttle. Good luck to the new guy.

In the first photo is the second of our 3 new roosters. He and his brother are almost identical - black and white and very large. Though younger than the other birds, they are much larger. Large and mel-low!


3 new roosters!

We always are keeping an eye out for new birds for our flock.  Sometimes we're adopting from shelters, other times from other farmers.  Sometimes we take on extra birds from breeders.

We just bought 3 roosters from an enterprising young man who, in his family’s back yard, is making a good run at raising chickens, guinneas, quail and pigeons. He does not let the birds run free, but keeps roosters to breed his hens. When he has extra roosters, he must sell them. He raises the birds to sell as mid-aged chicks or new-hatched chicks, and breeds them.

We inspected the roosters - they looked quite healthy! The young man then showed us their father - a beautiful, large rooster. We saw the young chicks, taken from their father and mothers so their mothers would brood more eggs into chicks.

No picture of our beautiful “prisoners:” they’re sitting in the back of the truck in a transportation cage. We’re all waiting to get home - blizzard conditions up on the mountain are keeping us all prisoners of a sort on the roadside.

Rather than wait in the cold, we returned to town for a while to ride out the storm at Denny’s, where we are taking advantage of their free WIFI and endless coffee and tea, and consuming unhealthy quantities of fried potatoes.

The birds seem to appreciate it - it’s much warmer down in the valley! As soon as we get back, we’ll put them in the coop for a few days of socialization, and then set them free when they’ve learned where home is and have bonded with their new flock.

Though our practices of chicken husbandry differ considerably from those of our new young friend, we have the utmost respect for his enterprise. His objective - to produce as many chicks for sale as possible - leads him to undertake the logical result: keeping the birds in cages. Our objectives - to maintain a healthy semi-wild (low maintenance) flock yielding a surplus of nutritious eggs and a stable quantity of new chicks leads us to undertake an equally logical and different method: free roaming birds kept in coops whose populations we modualte by season +/- 1 bird per square foot.

Though he must remove the chicks from their mothers and father, we must keep our chicks with their mothers and fathers. We must have many roosters, and are glad to take his extra roosters - especially considering their health and good breeding.


Everyone Needs Some Alonetime Sometimes

The day before yesterday, yesterday, last night and this morning, the hens were bickering about who was Head Hen.  Scuttle, our Head Rooster had enough this morning.  As soon as it was light and everyone was up, he bolted far away for some alone time.  When Clucky announced her victory, he came back.  He inspected all his hens and chicks, and continued business as usual.

Everyone needs some alone time sometimes.


Goose Versus Lynx

Goose versus Lynx.

Who wins? Goose! Why? She’s brave, big, strong, healthy and ferocious!

Who stupidly tries again the next day? Lynx! Why? Guess it’s hungry. Or dishonored.

Welcome to our Flock's Newest Adoptees

We’ve adopted some more hens! One of the folks in the neighborhood was moving to where they could not have any chickens. Did we want to give them a home? Of course!

Usually we’re adopting from shelters, but a true victory is to keep these good, productive and beautiful hens (and possibly one rooster?) from entering the shelter in the first place. There’s six of them, and one “micro” chicken we’ve named “Two Pence.”

The micro chicken is a breed that naturally is smaller. She’ll lay as many eggs as her larger sisters, but smaller eggs.

Mama Clucky's Adopted Chicks

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We name all our chickens, but the chickens have to earn their names.  The geese don’t have names because they look very similar and behave as one unit.  We tend to name them between one and five weeks of age (few have distinct lifelong characteristics earlier than one week of age).  Sometimes, though, they don’t earn a name until they are fully grown. 

Every chicken has its own unique “chickenality” (personality), which is usually what they become named for.  Scuttle, our head rooster, disliked being picked up when we first adopted him.  He is very intelligent, and quickly learned how to evade being caught.  Whenever he saw us coming he would scuttle under the nearest bush!  Cluckey is one of the most talkative chickens we’ve ever had occasion to listen to.  Occassionally they are named for some unique physical characteristic.  Stubs lost a toe during her chick-hood.  Nina is smaller than her companions. 

Soon we’ll be getting about a hundred newly hatched chicks, and we look forward to learning what names they’ll require!

Big Hats for Important Geese

People like to ask, are the geese with bigger hats more important in the flock than those with little or no hats?  The answer is yes.

The Tufted Roman Geese we have sometimes have tufts, or "hats."  Those with tall hats are higher in the pecking order than those with smaller or no hats.  This may be because the geese think that those with big hats are bigger. 

Our head goose has a nice "ten gallon hat!" 

So, make sure you greet the geese with bigger hats first!  It's polite.

Coming Home to Roost

Chickens have a strong sense of home, and gain that sense of home by sleeping in the same place for a week or so.  Whenever we move our chickens to a new home (though we do try to avoid doing that), we keep them inside for a week or so to force them to sleep there consistently.  Then, when they are released and free to wander about, they’ll always come home to roost where we want them to. 

Why they do this is similar to why they take care of each other outside the coop in our infirmary.

We just adopted 7 new Rhode Island Reds, 1 rooster and 6 hens.  One of the hens has a broken leg and was to be fed to the cats when we spoke for her.  She'll lay lots of good eggs and serve the flock as well as any rooster by being an ideal companion in our infirmary.

The infirmary is a special coop we build that allows sick birds to both be physically isolated so they don't infect other birds and can't be harassed by them while allowing them the necessary social visitation to keep their stress level low.  We usually put at least two birds in the infirimary, even if only one requires it.  Our broken-legged hen (whose name is Tammy) will be a permanent resident.

But even when a bird spends even weeks in the infirmary, they don't forget where home is.  Tammy's home is one intended for visitors.  Sometimes even geese!

Geese are very attached to their homes, as well.  We all are. 

Geese dislike going home and must be taught from an early age how to return home.  We train ours by whistles and the voice command “go home.”  If the training is reinforced periodically by treats presented in their home, they will never have trouble returning to their coop.

Geese require a very well ventilated coop, and we provide ours a dog kennel with a poultry wire roof.  This reduces disease, and helps them regulate their temperature best.  For laying eggs, they prefer a doghouse within their kennel. 

Geese and chickens rarely get along, but when a chicken is sick, geese will care for the hapless bird...and chickens will comfort an ill or distressed goose.  We like to pride ourselves on the service of our roosters, but Tammy's service will be no less important to our flock.

The roosters are instrumental in teaching the hens where home is.  They lead them back and forth from home to the grazing areas daily, and call home any strays at night with their goodnight songs of "come home," "time for sleep," and "have good dreams, I love you!"  In the morning, the roosters who stay behind to guard the coop sing the song all day to remind hens where home is, and whenever a hen comes home for whatever reason during the day, she is warmly welcomed: she's been working hard and needs a comfortable home.

We all do.  And Tammy will help keep our birds comfortable when they occasionally have to spend the night away from their usual home.

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