We are a humane farm, which means we treat our animals with kindness, care and respect. This philosophy extends to the chickens own community. We think there should be peace and harmony in our chicken flocks. They all grew up together; they are in the same pasture together and roost in the same houses together. We have them living in plenty of space, more than four square feet per bird when housed and much greater than that when out doors. We do keep them in moveable fencing to keep predators out and them safe. Sometimes it works; unfortunately, we have learned that sometimes it does not. Our chickens have plenty of access to food and water and we provide shade and fans during the hottest parts of the season.
If a chicken pulls up lame, everything we have read points to management as the problem. Like excessive pecking is caused by competition for resources such as food, water or space. Soft egg shells indicates there is a calcium deficiency in the food source, which correlates to us not getting the feed mix right; and too cold or too hot and egg production drops and so on. Fortunately, the problems we do create we find quickly and fix, but what we read was right. Most problems we have had with chickens could be traced back to our management or lack of attention. You look for consistency in all facets of their existence. If anything is inconsistent, it usually is an indication of the start of a problem.
Every so often, a fight breaks out or one chicken will start pecking another, which is their nature. There is a pecking order but we discourage this behavior from the time they are chicks. We only have about two hundred birds at any one time. We do not de-beak because that is cruel and it works against the chicken and the goals of raising chicks. A de-beaked bird will spend more energy eating and wasting food than a bird with a full beak, and that energy could be going toward laying eggs or gaining weight. We do not clip their wings either; we let them fly as much as they can. Once they get to a certain weight, their wings cannot sustain them in flight but they try to fly just the same and it is a fun thing to watch when they all get going.
How we deal with pecking and rough housing is to yell. This startles all of them but it is directed at the antagonist, which usually gets her attention, and given the attention span of a chicken is long enough for the tormented one to get away. Seldom is there a prolonged problem. I yell" HEY," usually followed by "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" with a loud voice, deep timber and baratone measure. They hear the volume, timber, tone and that gets their attention. The combatants, stop briefly enough, look towards the sound and forget what they were doing. They do have chicken brains so, once distracted they go on to something else.
My neighbors on the other hand just hear me yelling. Not knowing what I am yelling at or why but, they too hear the volume and tone. It does not help that we are on the top of knoll and there is an echo. I have never been asked by a neighbor but, I cannot help but speculate that my neighbors must be thinking, "man, they need anger management classes.”
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