Monday, October 18, 2010

Transitioning Outdoors

Getting used to the chicks while they were indoors was easy, but getting trained with them outdoors is a lot tougher. 
Outside, the chickens now run free, and they actually do run sometimes. They chase bugs, they chase each other, or they are playing, and we have to be trained not to give chase, or allow that instinctual prey drive to kick in. Mum starts out by putting us on a Down-Stay. We get used to the activities and behaviors of the chickens.
There are a lot more distractions for us too, more things to lose focus on, more ways to get in trouble, but we know by now, to stay calm when we are with our chickens. That's the crucial thing, to stay calm.

Mum also feeds us together, and she's done this indoors too, so we have learned that treats = good chicken behaviors. The more we stay calm, the more praise we get, the more treats we get. The chickens get treated too. This is training for both species at the same time.

Rummy surveys the property to make sure all is fine. He checks the chickens under their favorite spots, and is satisfied when all is calm and orderly.

It became a daily ritual, at least twice a day, where we would be on a Down, and Mum would sprinkle oats and other chicken treats all around us so that the chickens associate us with good things.

Rummy watches his chickens from far and close by.

After we get "freed", we are allowed to move with the chickens. By and by, we all get so used to each other, that it no longer becomes necessary for any further training, and all is well.

Rummy moves with the flock as part of our pack. 

So that was how we trained our chickens to love us. I'd say I am amused by my chickens, but I'm not in love with them, as Rummy is. That's me above, sniffing my chicken's butt.

We can now be left alone outside with the chickens, guarding them against hawks or other birds of prey. When we are near, nothing harms our chicks, and that's how we like it. Our neighbor lab, Howard has killed chickens before, and once, he came by around and went to the back fence. Our acreage is totally fenced in, but Howard has learned to push and shove his way under the fence so as to get to our chickens. Rummy was so angry and protective, he and I immediately charged to the fence, and Rummy was growling so hard and deliberately, telling Howard to "Go away, stay away! No entry to you". He really meant it. Howard heeded his warning growls and barks, and he did not push his way through that time. Fortunately, his owner then build him his own run, on their property, so that he couldn't attack our chickens. There is a saying, "Once a chicken killer, always a chicken killer." And Mum is extremely cautious about making sure we don't witness Howard making any kills in front of us. But I don't think Rummy or myself would allow any such thing to happen. The chickens are now part of our pack. We feel strongly for them and our urge to protect them is strong.


When we sense danger or see a strange car pass, we'd bark and sound the alert. All the chickens would hear us and hide. They would dash into their house and stay away till all was well again. We become the alert signals and the birds heed our signs. This was, we become their guardians.

Kimi and Rummy

The Bonding Process

This entry recounts what happened when we got the chicks.
The chicks were ordered online from a hatchery and they'd be sent to us by regular mail. The post office would call us at 6am in the morning, and Mum would get the brooder ready, turn on the heat lamp, then prepare food and water. Rummy and I, being the most observant, would trail her like shadows. We know the drill, she's getting chicks, and we would not leave her side.

 Mum takes us with her to ride in the car. We get to sit up front in the passenger area, so that we can be 100% involved with the raising of the chicks. The bonding starts right at the beginning. Mum comes out from the post office with this box that chirps and cheeps very loudly. We get to sniff it, and look at it, but no pawing or making any noise. Then we go straight home.

 When we get home, we sit patiently by the box, paying close attention to the little sounds coming from there. We're really excited, but Mum won't open the box until we are absolutely calm, so we settle down as quickly as we can, so she'll open the box sooner. We wait and the moment arrives.
Mum opens the box on the floor, telling us to watch and see. There are always chicks in the box, and this routine has happened 3 times, so we know what to expect. 

 I tend to hang back a bit more but Rummy puts his nose right in.

 There are normally scared little peeps in the box, we can tell by their energy that they are anxious, and sometimes, the chicks shut their eyes because they are very frightened, so we stay very calm, and Mum also stays very calm. We don't talk much during the initial presentation process. And one by one, Mum carries the chicks up, to our noses, so we can have a closer look and smell.
 Kimi smelling a chick upon its arrival

She presents every single chick to us both, one by one, first I smell it, and then Rummy smells it, until the box is empty. She lets us have the first inspection and lets us touch our noses to the chicks.
Once the chicks have settled in, they eat, sleep, poop and peep. They relax and their chirping sounds change from a high pitch cheep, to something mellow and deep. Their bodies relax and become soft, and they start becoming inquisitive about their environment.

From the first moment they get introduced to our world, the chicks get used to our furry faces. They smell our doggie breaths and they like it. Maybe they like it because our breaths are warm, and the chicks get a rush of warmth which they need. At this young age, chicks love to be under a heat source, so they go relax under the heat lamp in their brooder, or they cuddle with Rummy.

I would say from my observations that my brother Rummy is healthily obsessed with the little peeps. He would go first thing in the morning to check on them. It is almost as if he makes a mental note, how many there are, and would watch every single one to see if they were ok.

Eventually, the chicks are so used to having us around, jumping on our backs and perching there comfortably becomes a norm. I don't like that as much, but Rummy loves the chicken attention. That's Ebony, above in the pic, perched on Rummy's back.

Rummy shares a special kiss and moment with a Black Crested White Polish.

Kimi, following Ebony and Goldie. 
We have learned not to rush at the chickens, that makes them go in a panic state, and they flap their wings and run away. We have learned to be gentle with them, to move slowly around them, to stay still if we want to invite the chickens to come close. Rummy is really good at these things.
He is the resident hunter in our pack, killing mice, snakes and moving things, but he has this sweet soft spot for the chickens, and who would have thought this could be possible?

While the chicks were still growing indoors, we'd hang out by their brooder everyday. Mum would lift the lid, and the chicks would perch on top, sometimes, when they see us, they'd come right up to us and play with us. They'd peck at us, pull our fur, and jump all over.

That's Smokey when he was little. He loved to climb on Rummy. Always, they would play together, and Rummy would be silly and love the attention.

When a new batch of chicks came, the whole routine would repeat. They'd stay indoors for 4-5 weeks and then get moved outdoors to the big bird enclosure. They'd have to learn to get along with the outdoor birds, and we'd be there to see that everything went smoothly. So from the time they arrive, to the time, they grow up and move out to the outside, we are right by their side, daily.

Rummy loved to spend his days and nights, laying by the side of the chick brooder. He'd watch them for hours, and seemed very content, relaxed and happy whenever they were together.

He would stick his tongue out to kiss them and lick them, and allow the chicks to peck at it. The chicks probably thought this was their hen, feeding them worms or goodies, but they would be unafraid of his huge canine teeth, or all his sharp teeth for that matter. He was so gentle with them.

Sometimes, he'd try to mouth them, or "feel" them through the grates, but the chicks would still be undeterred. For them, this was totally normal. Perhaps by instinct, when the chicks were close to him, he would never mouth them, or put them in his mouth although he easily could.

Rummy being super pleased with his chicks.

Everyday during our practice/bonding sessions, Mum would carry the chicks and let us get super close to them. That's me, kissing and sniffing a chick. I get bored of them easily, and I lose interest, but Mum still makes me stay and be with them. She was trying to build a strong bond between the species, so that eventually, we feel protective over the chicks, and it has worked.

Rummy being close to Smokey as a wee baby

Be it day time, or night time, Rummy or my face would be stuck in their brooder. They got very used to us, and grew confident and tough. Because of their familiarity with us, they would show no fear, or negative energy when they started free ranging. That in turn, dialed down the prey drive within us, because we didn't sense their fear, and we didn't see the need for a chase.

Rummy's face was a common sight for them.

Now we have stopped getting anymore chicks. Mum said, we've got enough, and we're getting eggs everyday now for free. So we're all really happy. Rummy and I get hard boiled eggs, fried eggs, and raw eggs for treats too. This is really wonderful.

Kimi and Rummy

Friday, October 15, 2010

These are Our Chicks

Some of the following pics are a bit outdated, since it covers the time when the chicks were still indoors with us, but they were so darn cute, we just had to share them with you.

You'll see why Rummy has such a soft spot for them.
 That's Smokey, the Blue Cochin roo when he was teeny. From that young age of a few days old, Rummy and him have been tight, like the two pieces of chopsticks in a pair.

 Mum used to have these bonding sessions, which doubled up as training sessions, where we'd have to sit by the brooder and the chicks, and calmly socialize and interact with them. Rummy was only too pleased to do that, but I had better things to do. But Mum made me. So being the good Airedale that I am, I'd listen to mum, and did as she bid me.

 As you can obviously tell from the above pic, I could care less what the chicks were up to, but Rummy clearly relished every waking moment he could be with them.

 When Smokey came over and jumped onto my forearm, I let him, but I didn't want to pay him any attention. I was giving avoidance behaviors, such as not looking at him, hoping he'd lose interest in me too. But the chicks were really keen on cuddling up with us.

 I'll have to say that Smokey and Rummy were meant to be best friends. They've always been close, right from the very beginning.


 Smokey making himself very safe and comfortable, snuggling up into Rummy's armpit.

 Rummy gives Smokey kisses and licks.

 The happy Airedale and his blue Cochin chick.

 Furry and Feathered kindred souls.

 The chicks really amused Rummy to bits. I was really being cool about it. I've been to many places, experienced many different things, but chicks are really one of a kind. They are quite affectionate and bold actually. Who knew birds would have personalities?

 Rummy and his chicks

 Smokey, Ashley and Ebony

 Ivory and Ebony

 Smokey resting on Rummy's head
 Let's both take a nap together

Besides Cochin chicks, we also had 9 Polish chicks. 
 A gold laced Polish chick

 White crested Black polish chick.
In those early days, the Polish did not have any names assigned to them yet. 

 Whatchya looking at?

 They start climbing on our backs while they are young.

 That's me and 2 buff laced Polish chicks

The Polish chicks are now all grown up, as you can see from the other posts.. We'll post more to come. Stay tuned.

Kimi and Rummy