Buff and Boss Join the Homestead

12/8/2012 7:00 AM
By Robin Follette Maine Correspondent

Buff came to live with us a week ago. She's a Golden Buff laying hen —a very fortune laying hen.

A couple of months ago my stepmom, Donna, went to her local farm to buy eggs. The farmer told her he had roosters to cull and asked her to pass on the information if she heard of anyone who could use them.

She asked what was involved in killing them, and he explained with good details. He said he'd have to know the day before so he could catch them when they went up to roost. She said she'd be back in the morning to get them.

The next morning, Dad and Donna picked up a dozen roosters. They were in the freezer by the end of the day. When it was time to cull laying hens, the farmers offered them to Donna, and she took 13.

Buff escaped on butchering day. She literally ran for her life. Buff spent the next month on the run, roosting 20 feet up in trees at night. She ate the food Donna put out for her but she wouldn't allow anyone to get close enough to catch. Cold nights set in and still, Buff wouldn't be caught.

Donna mentioned her again a couple of weeks ago. It was cold and Buff must be lonely. I offered to take her if they could catch her. Donna showed up with a chicken in a box on wreath-making day, a Monday.

Buff settled in nicely. The four silkie hens that live in the barn accepted her immediately. I've had all-out chicken wars when introducing new birds to the flock, so this was a relief.

I fed and watered the birds, shooed the ducks out and left the silkies in. I took Buff out of her cardboard box, held her a few minutes and let her look around. If she was nervous, it didn't show. By late afternoon she was part of the silkie flock and interested in the odd noise on the other side of the barn door. She disappeared when I let the ducks in for the night. I'd forgotten her ability to roost 20 feet up a tree. She spent the night in the rafters.

After the ducks went out for the day, Buff came down to be part of her new flock. I cornered her to catch her and clipped her wings. I don't want her tempting the resident barred owls by roosting in trees here.

Wednesday morning, bright and early, I opened the barn door and all of the birds went out. Other than making the always nervous ducks more nervous, all was well in the barn.

I heard the ducks quacking more than usual when I started for the barn Wednesday at dusk. Buff was sitting in the doorway and there was no way the ducks were going to waddle by her. Other than the ducks not liking change, all was well in the barn.

Our friend Jaime called one day to ask a chicken question. We solved the immediate problem, but long term, Boss, a Red Star hen, was no longer the boss but the victim. I believe it's called karma. Jaime separated Boss, let her peck wounds heal and tried to put her back into the flock. The other hens are having nothing to do with her.

Boss arrived this morning in a cardboard box. I lifted her out and looked her over. Nice-looking hen, just over a year old and laying (unlike Buff). I clipped her wings immediately and put her down.

There have been a few pecks at the silkies, but I think she'll be OK. She started to fly up onto me after I let the ducks in so I picked her up. Her heart was racing. The ducks might need therapy if I keep bringing in wayward hens.

When the ducks settled down and Boss's heart slowed down, I put her down and left. I heard her fly up to the 4-foot perch as I was leaving the barn. She has to adjust to her newly clipped wings and the ducks. That might be enough to make her feel a little less bossy.

I have a Plan B for Boss if she picks on the smaller hens or heaven forbid, the distraught ducks. I have four Buff Orpington laying hens and seven Bourbon Red turkeys in the hen house. She can be moved in with them if necessary, though I hope not. Those birds are less likely to accept her and won't tolerate her bullying.

Behave, Boss, just behave.

Robin Follette and her husband, Steve, operate Seasons Eatings Farm in Talmadge, Maine.

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