Thursday, April 22, 2010

Chicken Drama

Here's the situation.  We have 30 chickens.  Two of them are roosters.  Their names are Marv and Merv (I had an Uncle Marv, Jamey has an Uncle Merv).  Chicken Marv is Chicken Merv's father.  Merv is a third of the product of a small clutch of eggs that one of our hens hatched out last summer (try diagramming that sentence).  Marv and Merv, despite their relations, do not get along.

Marv in full crow.

Marv was here first and is therefore head rooster.  He considers all the hens his.  If Merv comes too close to Marv or one of the hens when Marv is close by, Marv chases him off.  Merv should be scared.  Marv has killed a rival rooster in the past.  But Merv is younger, faster and, well, trimmer.  So far Merv has always been able to get away.  Granted, sometimes it means Merv has to fly over fences into part of the yard that is off limits to chickens or into our neighbor's backyard.  Sometimes he goes back over on his own when the coast is clear.  Sometimes he needs some encouragement.

 Loner Merv in the run between the chicken house and chicken yard.

If it were up to Jamey and I, Merv may have already been harvested for the freezer.    Our chickens are not pets to us, despite the fact that some of them are named.  Several of the hens were named when they hatched chicks, but we would have no idea who is who if it weren't for their colored leg bands that we use so we know which hens tend toward broody.  But, Sam really likes Merv.  We aren't sure why other than because he (Sam) thinks Merv is pretty.  If Merv knew this, he may volunteer to be put down, who knows.  So, for the past while, we've had two roosters to guard and fight over our flock of 28 laying hens.

To complicate things further, a couple months ago, Jamey found a hen dead in the chicken yard.  No sign of blood or being pecked to death.  No sign of disease either (we've never had trouble with disease at all).  So, one unexplained hen death.  It comes with the territory.

The chicken yard.   
Our asparagus bed is all the way to the right.  It's mulched with wood chips and the asparagus crowns are covered with wire- the chickens love scratching around in there.  To the far left you can almost make out the edge of our main garden.  This is also the orchard which contains a mature pear, a mature sour cherry (the tree that is flowering), four young peach trees and eight young apples.

But, just this past weekend, there was another hen death.  This time, the poor girl was sitting up in a hen box, neck stretched out and over into the box next to her.  Again, no sign of blood or pecking or disease.  This second death smells of murder to me.  Whether it was homicide (hen on hen) or manslaughter (I guess I should say chickenslaughter) where the over zealous and often competing roosters showed a willful disregard for life, I don't know.

What I do know is I don't like it.  My hens are dying one by one.  I would really appreciate some advice here.  If you have some chicken/rooster experience and wouldn't mind taking a minute to offer a possibility as to what is going on, I'd sure appreciate it.  Could it be these roosters are doing this?  If so, their days may be numbered.  Pretty or not. Pin It


  1. Your chickens are an attractive bunch.

    The rooster to hen ration is 1 rooster to every 20-25 hens.

    We've had chickens for years and have had the same thing happen. All of a sudden a hen will die for no apparent reason. We have only one rooster so the extra rooster isn't the problem. There never seems to be a rhyme or reason. Probably natures way of keeping the flock healthy. That's what we tell ourselves.

    Aunt V.

  2. Eek! I guess I'm glad we can't have roosters for zoning reasons. I love a good murder mystery, though. I hope you are able to solve yours soon. This has a soap opera feel to it- "As the Chicken Turns" or "Days of Our Chickens" or "Guiding Chicken". ;)

  3. I had a summer where I kept losing hens (and I have no roosters). Out of two of them, neither one showed any signs of trauma. One died out in the yard while the other died in the nesting box. In the yard situation, I found a rattlesnake the next day in the same vicinity. I had found her right before she expired and by the way she acted, I'm sure she was bit. As for the one in the nesting box, she was a young hen and hadn't been laying real long - I assumed she either had a weak heart or was egg bound and I didn't catch it. This probably won't help you much, but just guess I wanted to reassure you that sometimes these things happen in "seasons". You know, kind of like when all the appliances go out at the same time - makes you think conspiracy is going on!

  4. I'm sorry to hear about your chickens...that is so sad. I have no idea what could be the cause...and I don't have roosters so I'm not familiar with their behavior. But if you do find out it's them...chicken dinner M&M!!

  5. I have had chickens die with no apparent cause as well. I'm not sure I have any other theories to add to what has already been said in the other comments. Also, I don't have any roosters now but we did have 4 roosters with our 12 hens. The rooster chicks came free when we got the hens as chicks. :) One rooster died. The other 3 ended up in our freezer because they were terrorizing my boys.

  6. What did you do with the dead chickens? Pet funeral? Dinner?

    As for the boys... I say turn them into curry chicken! You could always get a new one next spring. I'm sooooo mean :)

  7. Thanks, all, for your support and commiseration. It's starting to feel like "Days of our Chickens" around here:-).

    Mavis, we buried them. We didn't want to eat them just in case they were diseased.

    Karen, we keep our chickens in a separate yard from our kids. I'm even afraid of Marv. He's very protective which is how we want him to be, but I DO NOT like getting chased. We don't even let our kids gather eggs alone.

  8. Perhaps you need a good stake-out or some specialized surveillance...

  9. My advice is if you do "get rid" of Merv, name your next rooster something that doesn't sound EXACTLY like Marv! I had to read it 3 times to figure out who was on first! :) Love you!

  10. No experience here, but I'd go with the 'natural causes' theory. Similar to the 'appliances going out' theory.
    Glad to have read this post. Considering buying about 4 chicks in about a month. We move this week. Can you tell chickens are high on our priority list?

  11. I'd start being concerned if another dies. The healthiest, most naturally raised flock can run into disease now and then. But no blood, no injury tells me it wasn't the roosters' fault. They're not so good at hiding the evidence.

    We keep more of a 1 rooster to 12 hens ratio, in order to be sure the eggs are fertilized. The only time we've had problems is when the dominant (older) rooster starts aging and the younger one moves in to take over. That can be ugly, but in our case only the roosters were injured. And there was a good deal of blood.


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