The Sacred Bird of January

Did you know that the month of January, and the first day of every month during the year is associated with roosters?
Well it’s true and I’ll tell you why.

A Buff Orpington Rooster

Jimmy the Buff Orpington Rooster

January is named for the ancient Etruscan god Janus.
Janus/Jana was an androgynous, mythical creator sun-god and was considered to be the keeper of the door of life. He was the guardian of all beginnings and endings and every new undertaking. He was father to twelve other Etruscan gods, and his divine children had twelve altars that belonged to the twelve months.
Gates, doors, caves and portals were all sacred to Janus.

The early Romans adopted and absorbed the myths of Janus and he was one of their earliest divinities.The people of Rome attributed the introduction of agriculture, law and religious worship to him.
In Rome, the doors to the temple of Janus were left open in times of war and closed during times of peace.
In art and literature Janus is most often portrayed as a two-faced or two-headed figure.


The Two Faced Roman god Janus

One face looks to the past – and the other face looks into the future.
Janus is at times depicted with a staff and he is usually in possession at least one key. Sometimes Janus has a rooster by his side.
The staff is a porter’s staff that directs the way forward to new beginnings or ventures.
The key is a symbol that Janus is the gate-keeper of life and that he holds the keys to the gates of heaven.
And because Janus is a sun-god, the rooster was his honored and sacred bird.

The Romans believed that the rooster welcomed the sun at dawn with vigorous crowing that symbolized the sun’s triumph over the night and darkness.

Dark BrahmaRooster

A Dark Brahma Rooster

Tiny Chicken Eggs – A Natural Phenomenon With A Spooky History

I went to collect eggs yesterday and found a tiny chicken egg sitting in the nest boxes along with the regular size eggs. I thought to throw it over the house but instead decided to tempt Fate and brought it indoors so I could take a picture of it to share with you.

Tiny Chicken Egg

Regular Size Eggs and a Small Dwarf Egg Called a “Cock Egg”

Tiny or miniature size eggs in standard size hens are the natural result when a small bit of reproductive tissue or other small foreign mass enters the hen’s oviduct and triggers the regular formation of an egg.
Inside the hen’s body the bit of tissue or foreign mass is treated exactly like a normal yolk. It is swathed and enveloped in albumen, membranes and a shell and is eventually passed from the hen’s body. When it is laid it looks just like a regular chicken egg except that it is very little and teeny.

These types of malformed eggs have been known for centuries as a ‘Cock Egg’. Most often these little eggs contain only the white of the egg and no yolk. Usually the shells are harder to break than that of a normal egg.

Cock Egg - No Yolk Just Egg White

Cock Egg – No Yolk Just Egg White

‘Cock Egg’ is a synonymous term for any type of abnormal egg.
Sometimes a normal sized egg is formed without a proper hard shell but with a yolk. That egg too is also known as a cock egg, but is sometimes called a “rubber egg’ or “tube egg” by people not familiar with the history or folklore of eggs.

In folk tradition, a cock egg was understood to have been laid by a rooster or cock and not a hen, and was a cause for concern. Cock eggs according to different folklore traditions bring bad luck or illness if they are brought into the house. That’s because a cock egg is believed to have malefic and magical powers. They are reputed to be of value to sorcerers and magicians for mixing magical potions and casting spells.

The way the story goes, is that if a toad, serpent or witch at the behest of Satan incubates a cock egg, the resulting hatchling will be a cockatrice or a basilisk. A cockatrice or basilisk is an ancient winged monster with a serpent’s body and a rooster’s head that can kill and destroy by its breath and glance.

During the middle ages it was self-evident to most intelligent people that a cock egg was the work of the devil. Animals as well as people could be in league with Satan, and in 1474 a chicken passing for a rooster in Basle, Switzerland was put on trial and condemned to be burned at the stake for “the heinous and unnatural crime of laying an egg”. American author and educator, E.V. Walter in his essay – Nature On Trial – The Case Of A Rooster That Laid An Egg , writes, “ the execution took place with as great a solemnity as would have be observed in consigning a heretic to the flames, and was witnessed by an immense crowd of townsmen and peasants.”

A cock egg has also been called a ‘Witch Egg’ since the Middle Ages and a ‘Fairy Egg’ during the mid and late Victorian era. In Scotland and elsewhere in Europe, a cock egg is sometimes also called a ‘Wind Egg’. In recent times here in the U.S. these types of deformed eggs are sometimes called ‘Fart Eggs’.
I suppose language really does reflect cultural ideals and concerns.
Superstition instructs that the best way to protect against the evil of a cock egg is to throw the malformed egg over the roof of the house and smash it on the other side which of course I didn’t do.

So now I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens next. But I’m not too worried – it was worth the photos.

Pick The Best Day For Hatching Eggs

I’m a great believer in agricultural traditions and folk wisdom.
That’s because much of what I learned about homesteading was passed onto me by the two generations of garden farmers that came before me. Heeding their advice enabled much success and fewer homesteading failures.
One bit of advice that was given to me by those far more experienced than myself was regarding the best time for setting or incubating eggs.

The most favorable time for setting eggs under a broody hen or in an incubator is 21 days before a waxing moon is in the zodiac sign of Cancer.

New Hatched Chick

A Buff Orpington Chick Hatched During A Waxing Moon in the Sign of Cancer

In order to determine what day that would be you’ll need an almanac for the current year. All good almanacs have tables or charts that map the course of the moon though the zodiac.
If we use chicken eggs as an example here’s how to find the best day.

Chicken Eggs Hatching

A Clutch of Chicken Eggs Hatching In The Moon Sign Of Cancer

Chicken eggs need 21 days to hatch.
So a quick look in any current almanac will find days that the moon will be in the sign of Cancer, and will also be waxing.
Most years there will be a couple of days that this will occur during the light (waxing) of the moon.
All that is necessary is to pick a Cancer, and then count backwards 21 days. Whatever day that happens to be is the day to begin to incubate the clutch of eggs. That day counts as Day 1.

If for some reason a waxing Cancer day is inconvenient for setting eggs, a day that a waxing moon falls in the signs of Scorpio or Pisces would be a second best choice.
Chicks that are hatched during a waxing Cancer moon tend to hatch with fewer problems and grow faster.

Speckled Sussex Chickens

Now that there’s just the two of us, I don’t keep as many laying hens as I use to. These days six to eight good hens supply my kitchen with more than enough eggs.
Through the years I’ve owned many different types and breeds of chickens. Thirty years ago when I was a new homesteader they were one of the breeds I started out with.

The Speckled Sussex is a very calm and quiet brown egg layer. They are an older English breed and have been a favorite on American small farms since the early part of the 20th century.
The Speckled Sussex is often described as a “dual purpose” chicken that will tolerate confinement well.
If you don’t already know, a dual purpose chicken is one that is used for both meat and eggs.

Speckled Sussex Hen

Speckled Sussex Hen

But it’s been my experience that unless the cockerels are caponized they make more bone than meat.
I think intact Sussex roosters aren’t worth the bother when it comes to using them for food. They make a tough and bony fryer.
In so far as tolerating confinement, I think the Speckled Sussex is happiest when they have lots of room to roam. They are a very people friendly, large bird that cannot fly well. Since they can’t really fly, they put up with whatever arrangements their keeper wants for them.
So if the criteria for tolerating confinement is putting up with any treatment you’re given – then I guess the Speckled Sussex fits the bill.

Young Speckled Sussex Chick

A Speckled Sussex Chick

In the past I’ve had a few Speckled Sussex hens go broody if they are given plenty of space and are allowed to free range.
My Speckled Sussex hens always seemed to have a preference to sit a clutch of eggs in the mid autumn instead of the spring like some other breeds of chickens.
Around here, inevitably the broody hen will go missing for a few weeks and then turned up later with her newly hatched brood in tow.


How To Keep Snakes Out Of The Chicken House

I hate snakes. Big or small – snakes  really freak me out.
Maybe I have too much monkey DNA in me or something, because snakes are the only creature that I do encounter here on the farm that I’m afraid of. I know I’m in good company because even Indiana Jones has a bad case of ophidiophobia.
Back when I used to keep our chickens in a chicken house with a dirt floor, during the summer I would encounter big snakes in the chicken house living under the bedding and hiding in the corners. Not every day – but often enough to keep me on my guard.

Snakes Like Dirt Floors

A Chicken House With A Dirt Floor

Use to be that old-time farmers would catch snakes just so they could release them in the chicken coop. Snakes are hell on rodents but I think I’d rather have the rats.

A chicken house with a solid floor or on a block foundation will discourage serpents in a chicken coop. Snakes probably won’t slither up a ramp into a coop with heavy “chicken traffic”under normal circumstances unless it’s a really “snaky” year. But the truth is, that if a snake is determined, it will go where it wants to.
Now that my chicken house is up off the ground I haven’t had a snake in it yet.

Snakes Stay Out Of This Coop

Chicken House On Above Ground Skids

One way to discourage snakes is with good old-fashioned mothballs. Place the mothballs in a capped length of PVC pipe with drilled holes. Put the capped pipe around the perimeter of a building or in an open area. Using mothballs as a snake repellent is not environmentally friendly and may actually be a violation of some kind of federal regulation. But screw Uncle Sam and all the Tree Huggers.  I do it anyway.
The active ingredient in mothballs is naphthalene and the last I checked naphthalene is used by the US Army as a snake repellent.
But be aware that naphthalene is a very toxic substance and is a known carcinogenic. Exercise extreme caution when using mothballs around small children, livestock and pets. Don’t let the chickens peck at it. Mothballs are nasty and you’ll have a medical emergency if mothballs are ingested. There is no antidote for mothball poisoning.

Snakes Hate Mothballs

A Box Of Mothballs

It doesn’t take a lot of mothballs to get the job done. One box of  mothballs is enough for three 8′ filled pipes. Place the pipes along the ground or in the area that you don’t want the snakes to cross or enter into. Snakes are repelled by the odor so you’ll have to keep the mothballs semi-fresh until the snakes find somewhere else to go.
If you don’t want to use mothballs some people have pretty good luck with turpentine soaked rags. Once again it’s the smell of the turpentine that keeps the snakes at bay.There are commercial snake repellents that also claim to work. They are much safer than mothballs.

Feather Loss – Molting & Treading Marks in Chickens

In chickens molting and treading marks are the most common reasons for feather loss. Both conditions are perfectly natural and usually require no human intervention.

About once a year chickens go through a molt. Molting is the time that a chicken will shed their old feathers and grow new ones. It is a completely natural occurrence and takes anywhere from 5 – 12 weeks to complete.

Molting usually follows a period of heavy egg production and hens will not lay eggs at all or will lay eggs sporadically during their molt. Laying hens usually fall into two groups -late molters and early molters.
Hens known as late molters will lay eggs on average for 12 to 14 months before they begin to molt.
Late molters are generally the better laying hens and they will often have a more raggedy and tattered appearance during their molt.

Hen With Feather Loss From Molting

A Molting Hen In December

Hens known as early molters sometimes begin to molt after only a few of months of egg production.
Early molters take longer to complete their molt and are often poor layers. They can have a fuller feathered appearance and don’t look as moth eaten. They often will only shed a few feathers at a time.

Fall is the traditional time of year that the molt occurs due to a decrease in daylight. During the molt period feathers are lost in a predictable sequence. Feathers are lost from the head first, followed by those on the neck, the breast, the body, the wings, and then lastly the tail.

One thing interesting about one of the hens in the photo below is that she has an unusual loss of feathers across her back. Below I’ve enlarge a portion of the image and added an arrow so you can see it better.
The loss of feathers on her back is from more than just molting. It’s called a treading mark.

Treading Marks

Treading Marks On The Back Of A Buff Orpington Hen

She has a treading mark because she was a favorite with my main rooster and some of the other young roosters. During copulation or mating (called treading in chickens) the rooster’s feet sometimes will tear feathers from the hen’s back as he moves his feet quickly across her back while he is on top of her.

The above hen has been treaded so often that she now has a very big bare spot on her back. She has had it since the summer and in fact looked quite bad until just recently.
Her feathers will probably grow back in time if she can manage to stay away from the rooster.

He's Doing The Treading

Sampson The Rooster

A Beginner’s Guide To Chickens

Here’s a blast from the past! A Beginner’s Guide To Chickens. It’s my favorite podcast from the old GRANNY MILLER RADIO.
Please note that this is a podcast that has been illustrated with images that I happened to have. Not all images will correspond to what is being said.

Here’s some resources that are mentioned in the podcast
Backyard Poultry
Murry McMurry Hatchery