We have had up to four roosters and fifteen hens. We have downsized since moving to town but still have a few chickens.
What the #&%* is a Cackleberry?
This is the question I imagine you all asking as soon as you read the title of this hub and hopefully are drawn in to read further to find out. That is sneaky of me I know but it's what one has to do to try and attract readers, right? Besides it's a relevant title that does describe what the article is about..really it is.
I often try to look for a play on words or pun for the title of many of my hubs and with this one I had almost decided on "Playing Chicken." I thought that would actually be more misleading as readers would expect an article or story about the challenge of driving cars at full speed towards one another before one would swerve at the last minute, subsequently losing the contest.
As this hub is actually about the farming of chickens for eggs, I instead resurrected fond childhood memories spent on my Uncle Bill's farm. He often made up his own interesting words to replace commonly used terms. These were often a combination of two normally unconnected words.Two of his most frequently used and my favourites were: "kangaroosters" for kangaroos, and "cackleberries" for eggs (hens cackle when they lay an egg, and I guess eggs are shaped a little like berries.. so it makes sense to me). Hence the title of this hub became "The Diary of a Cackleberry Farmer." (*After doing a Google search I found that Uncle Bill may not have actually coined the term, but that it was a popular slang term for eggs in the 1950s .. oh well)
Cackleberry was a well used slang word for egg during the 1950s
How about a couple of boiled cackleberries for breakfast?
— Urban Dictionary
Caring for pets and animals is a rewarding, funny, and sometimes challenging experience. Notice I didn't say "owning." With the exception of a few chickens purchased very cheaply (sorry for the pun) we have never paid for any of our animals. They have all been advertised as, 'FREE TO A GOOD HOME" or something similar due to their previous owners having to relinquish them for one reason or another. Besides, it often seems more like they own us. We provide them with a comfortable place to live, wait on them with ample food and water, clean up after them etc etc. All we expect in return is unconditional love, and in the case of the hens, an occasional egg.
Our menagerie currently consists of: four cats (Basil, Humphrey, Fanny and Phoebe), three dogs (Coco, Ginger and Jackson); a regular variety of wild birds (magpies, butcher birds, peewees, noisy mynas, currawongs, king parrots, red wings, and zebra finches) which we feed either directly (birdseed and native flowering plants) or indirectly (leftover cat and dog food); and ten chickens, or chooks as we call them here.
This hub is primarily about the chickens. They told me, in no uncertain terms, that it was their turn. I have previously written hubs about the cats and dogs, and only briefly mentioned the poultry in my hub about scrambled eggs.
A menagerie is a collection of live animals that people visit, study, or keep as pets
Tales From the Chook Pen (or Chicken Run Chatter)
It's hard to remember a time when we didn't have back yard chickens. Even when we lived in town, on an urban block, we always had a small chook pen with four or five hens. Since moving to our rural property our poultry population has continued to fluctuate.
We started off with six hens and two roosters, and subsequently hens hatched chickens resulting in the number reaching, at one stage, around 20. Before reaching maturity a few chickens were taken by snakes (pythons) or goannas, a couple were given away, and now and then an older hen or rooster would die from old age or natural causes.
Recently our poultry flock was down to two hens (Ugly Betty and Red Hen) and one rooster (Foghorn Leghorn). As egg production had fallen significantly we decided to rebuild our chicken stocks. We saw an advertisement in a "Buy, Sell, and Swap" group on Facebook "Chickens and Turkeys For Sale". Week old chickens were only $2.00 each and turkeys $5.00 so we bought ten mixed chickens and a male and female turkey.
Our chooks are free range and allowed the run of our 1 1/2 acre fenced yard, however while they are chickens we keep them penned until we consider them big enough so that at least the cats don't see them as an easy meal (about three weeks). The chickens turned out to be eight hens and two roosters which was quite good because we had no idea of the ratio when we got them, and too many roosters is not ideal.
Life and Death on the Cackleberry Farm
Within a week of letting them free, one rooster disappeared. Within another two weeks the number was down to six hens and one rooster. The male turkey had also disappeared by this time. A few days later I found the culprit.
While watching TV at around 11pm I saw something move in the corner of the lounge room, next to the cd rack. On closer examination I saw the head of a python poking up behind the rack. Being home alone at the time, but the brave man I am (stop laughing!) I put an oven mit on my hand and grasped the snake just beneath it's head and pulled. It had tried to crawl under the TV cabinet by this stage and had wound itself around a shelf to try and prevent me from removing it. As I continued to pull hard I slowly dragged it out from under the cabinet. It was around eight or nine foot long and thicker than my arm, which it was now wrapping around.
Normally, to get rid of a python and prevent it returning, you need to take it about 10 miles away before letting it go. However, as I mentioned earlier, I was home alone, it was almost midnight, and I didn't have a sack handy to put the snake in while I drove it somewhere. I just carried it to the bush (forested area) next door and released it.
I am 99% sure this python would have been the predator that had taken the chickens and turkey. Fortunately I haven't seen it since, though the female turkey went missing the next week. I have no idea what killed it but I found it's body a few days later next to the storage shed.
The Cackleberry Hunt
Six months have passed and we still have these seven chickens (bantams and Pekin crosses), and the original three chooks. Of the new ones only two have names: "Doodle Doo" the rooster, and a hen with a parted pompom of feathers on its head called "Moppet."
By the time the latest acquisitions were old enough to begin laying the weather had begun to cool down and days were growing shorter as Winter approached. As chickens usually need at least 11 hours of daylight to lay I hadn't expected any cackleberries before the onset of Spring and longer days. Over the last few days however, I have heard lots of cackling coming from the hens and occasionally even a rooster joining in.
For three days I went on a cackleberry hunt searching all over our 1 1/2 acres where the chooks have free range, and even though they have access to nesting boxes in the hen house there is no guarantee that they will lay there.
Once again yesterday I heard a chook clucking enthusiastically so immediately sent out in the direction of the noise. This time it was my lucky day. "Eureka!" i cried as I found a nest of four cackleberries in the corner of a small chook pen used to house the chickens while they are small. Continuing the search, I found another three eggs in one of the nesting boxes in the hen house. I don't know whether I missed them before or all three were laid today. It appears we are now getting seven cackleberries per week and this should continue to increase in coming weeks. That's just the right amount we need without having to buy any. If we get extra we can give them to family and friends or sell.
Thank you for reading this initial article of "Diary of a Cackleberry Farmer". Time will tell if there are any more hubs in this series. I guess it depends if there are any new additions to the feathered or furred occupants of our hobby farm or if some other earth shattering event occurs here that needs reporting.
Oh, and enjoy your cackleberries. They are a great source of protein.
© 2015 John Hansen