A friend stopped by the other day and was so surprised to see how our new chicks had grown. “Are those even the same chickens?” he asked. It reminded me that it’s time for a chicken update. We are grounded here in California for a bit, missing out on fall in New York City, and even though I long for Manhattan, our sweet little flock is an excellent consolation prize for the lights of Broadway.
The three “little” ones now tower over mama Pippa. They are eleven weeks old, or, roughly, almost half-grown. When you are at the bottom of the food chain (everyone wants a chicken dinner!) it behooves you to grow up fast. Summer, Ginger and Lola are now pullets, which is the term for hens younger than a year old.None of them know or care what’s going on in Midtown Manhattan. I’m trying to take a lesson from that.
Our flock-building plan worked like a charm. We were down to two hens, but Pippa conveniently went broody on our schedule, which was crucial, since we were away much of the summer. Even though I was told by a supposed poultry “expert” that a hen that had been broody for less than three weeks would reject chicks, Pippa came through for us at two-weeks-and-change and has been a fantastic mother to her three adoptees. Since they are twice her size now (she is a bantam and they are standard-size fowl) they no longer attempt to sleep underneath her on the roost, but the four of them all huddle together companionably at night, while Luna has a second roost to herself.
Back when our beloved Hope raised Pippa and Luna, she was disillusioned with motherhood by this point and had resorted to pecking her clingy brood in order to get some peace. But Pippa is still on task, calling them over when she finds something tasty on the ground and offering the morsel to them instead of taking it for herself. This week I’ve been dealing out treats of cherry tomatoes and cheese, and while they mostly play hockey with the tomatoes, the cheese has been very popular!
Luna is sorta, kinda part of the flock. I think she may be horrified that these intruders are now larger than she is, but she began exerting her authority over them early on, so they don’t challenge her. After a far-too-close-for-comfort hawk scare last week, Luna has been staying closer to the coop while the others free-range. Pippa has become the undisputed flock leader, standing alert and relentlessly scanning the sky for danger.
Pippa has gradually introduced her charges to all her favorite haunts on our property. She started them out under the oaks, where a canopy of branches and nearby underbrush gives them at least the illusion of safety. Then she took them on strolls to the hydrangeas in front of the house, the box hedges near the garage and even over to the courtyard, which is more or less protected from intruders. Occasionally she marches them right into the kitchen, just to prove that she can. It’s not exactly Central Park, but they all seem happy. Pippa has also taught them about the relaxing bliss of sunbathing. I came around a corner last week and thought the entire flock had perished when I saw them laying prone in a heap. No, just a nice little sunbath:
It’s been a lot of fun to see the little ones change over time. Lola, the Barred Rock, is a new breed for us. She is somewhat independent and just a bit ungainly. Her bright yellow legs are so striking against her geometric black-and-white patterned feathers. And as the chicks’ trilling peeps have given way to more mature voices, we’ve learned that Lola doesn’t cluck – she honks!
Summer is destined to be a carbon copy of Hope, our dearly departed Buff Orpington. Calm and confident, Summer is well on her way to looking like a big orange bowling ball.
We’ve had Ameraucanas previously – Autumn and Coco – but Ginger has been a surprise with her magnificent coloring. She looked more like a mouse than a chicken when she was little. Now she is resplendent in cinnamon and blue-gray-colored feathers. I also admire her willow-green-colored legs and feet, although according to breed standards, the green legs are a giveaway that she is an “Easter Egger” mutt and not a true Ameraucana, as their legs are slate blue.
Truth be told, Pippa, like mothers everywhere, is a bit worn out after raising her three girls. She has just gone through her annual molt, losing some tail feathers and looking whiter in the face – I think she needs a spa day – in NYC – I’ll volunteer to take her!
It’s so nice to have a real flock again, although we do still have a few hurdles ahead. Ginger, Summer and Lola are just beginning to mock challenge one another, the first sign of developing their pecking order. And, while we have a 90% guarantee that they are all hens, there is always that tiny chance that at around three months, someone could start to crow and find themselves being introduced to a stew pot. There are the daily hawk scares, with both the red-tailed hawks and the smaller red-shouldered hawks dropping by frequently in search of a lunch menu. But all in all, things are going very well. In these early fall days while it’s still warm enough outside, we’ve begun enjoying the cocktail hour on the chicken deck once all the hawks have quit work for the day, and drink a toast to our pretty little flock. It’s not New York, but it will do. Life is good. Chickens > Broadway? Maybe…