...sometimes even a single feather is enough to fly. (Robert Maclean)


chicken... saddles

So what exactly is a chicken saddle?
I wondered the same thing myself...
The first mental image that I conjured up when I heard
"chicken" and "saddle" together
was a whimsical little world 
where a charming field mouse 
with a great personality
(let's call him Mr. Perkins)
was riding a chicken to get somewhere.
"Giddy-up, Hen Betty!"
Mr. Perkins would be going somewhere important, of course.
And Hen Betty and Mr. Perkins would be wonderful friends.  

Alas, the reality is far less interesting,
and born out of utter practicality. 

So who's riding the chickens, you ask?
Well, the damn rooster is riding the chickens.

And with only two girls currently in his little flock, they're getting a lot of action.
And to make matters worse, he has a very clear favorite.

Betty, our white plymouth rock,
 is a spunky little thing who is fast on her feet and does her own thing.
She manages to escape his "amorous" advances.  
 Goldie, our gold-laced wyandotte, on the other hand, 
is not fast or spunky at all.
  And she is the unlucky favorite of Emmaline,
as evidenced by her damaged back/wing feathers and her semi-bald head.

 Poor Goldie.

We really hate it.

We would give Emmaline to a more farmy farm any day of the week,
but the reality is that we keep seeing very hungry Cooper's hawks circling overhead.
Like multiple times daily.

This has been a hard winter on birds of prey.
They took two of our precious girls in late fall / early winter.

 Right above the entrance to our chicken yard.

Rest in Peace, Wellie.

Rest in Peace, Buttercup.
(Buttercup was a real hoot -- she only ever laid a few times, 
but she liked to go lay on top of this bag of pine shavings!)


So, short of keeping The Littles all cooped up in their very tiny coop,
we've decided to keep Emmaline the lascivious rough ridin' rooster around...
in order to be their bodyguard. 

Emmaline seems to do a good job of watching after them.
 You should see the way he stands around, posturing and flapping his big wings.
He takes his job quite seriously.

 He's constantly standing watch, and scanning the skies and surroundings for predators.

When he finds a food source, he makes a specific call to alert the girls that he's found food.
He always let's them eat first.  He can actually be a real gentleman in some ways, 
if you ignore his rough love pecks.  

Emmaline never lets either of the girls in his care stray far, 
especially not his beloved Goldie.

She can't get very far from him before he starts stalking after her.

 He does this funny thing with his wing, where he drops one wing to the ground
and makes some staccato movements and sounds.
At first we thought it was a pre-mounting routine, but it doesn't seem to be.
It seems to be when he's "herding" her, trying to get her to stay in a certain area. 
"Sh!t b!tch!  Stay up here! Don't go too far from the coop!"

 She tried to tell him about personal space, but he just doesn't get it.
He's part chivalrous knight and part caveman.  
"Me rooster."
  "Space dangerous."  
"You no get no space."

So back to the whole chicken saddle thing.

The saddle is to protect the chickens from Emmaline's advances.
It covers their back and provides some protection where he mounts and "treads" on them.

Boo made some saddles the other day after getting upset about how damaged Goldie's feathers were.
She made them in a flash...  She's amazing like that!
She found a template online and stitched them right up.

The saddles don't impede the girls' ability to flap their wings or fly up onto a perch 
or anything of the sort.
They just provide a little covering. 

As time goes on, I imagine we'll have a variety of fashions that the girls can sport, 
but for now, they have two great saddles that are doing the trick.
Boo even thought to make some felt "eyes" to sew on the saddles
 after reading that those big eyes can deter aerial predators.

Hawks have such amazing vision 
I can't imagine they'd be fooled, 
but whatever... it can't hurt!

Some websites even say that a good saddle can make it harder for a hawk to kill a hen.
Well, that would certainly be nice.

Hawks are expert killers, so I can't imagine a little fabric would deter them all that much.
But hey, let's just hope it *could* work.
We love our hens so much we want to know we did everything possible 
to give them the best life and the best chance of survival.

It's a tough balance to strike, but we keep working at it.

 We can already see room for some saddle improvements.
It would be wise to use a sturdier fabric - even canvas,
especially because Emmaline's talons are quite sharp.
So is his beak. 

I've been pecked several times by Emmaline and unlike a hen, who will peck and retract,
roosters seem to give a very sharp peck and then lock their beak on.
It's painful!  Emmaline has even drawn blood on my hand.
After one long latch-on to the skin on the top of my hand,
I was about ready to turn him into coque au vin!

But every time I see those hawks circling overhead, 
or the red fox 
or the resident mink
or various other predator tracks who loves to eat chickens
like raccoons, coyotes,
or even our neighbors disobedient dog 
who runs through their electric fence all the time
coming over to sniff things out...

I'm thankful for Emmaline.
Emmaline has an important job.

I do think that if a hawk swooped down,
Emmaline would come between the hawk and the hens.
And in the mean time, 
I think the saddles will help keep the peace between us, Emmaline, and the hens.
At the very least, it'll keep some feathers in tact,
and it won't ruffle ours quite so much.

So there you have it.
The story of chicken saddles.

Now we just need to figure out how to make a helmet for Goldie's poor little head!

 Boo is toying around with the idea of a tall collar 
that would come up off the back of the neck of the saddle, 
and cover the head if the hen is mounted or attacked.

Either that or Goldie needs a chain maille helmet!


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