A Chicken Update
If you had told me only a year ago that caring for and keeping chickens would one day be my new normal, I probably would have laughed in your face. It was an odd day earlier this week when I had to ask my friend, who also owns chickens, while we were out to dinner if she minded if we stopped by the feed store on the way home. I had finished cleaning out the coop the other day and after realized that I was out of bedding. So we walked through the farm supply store, me hauling a 50+ pound bag of chicken bedding and realizing, "I never thought I would be doing this!" Normal is now letting out chickens at 6 AM and combing through the garden for mediocre samples to feed them, like kale leaves that are too large or Swiss chard that's fallen over. It's normal to have excess apple cider vinegar on hand to add to their water or figuring out which herbs will best promote laying, though we still have a couple more weeks until that will start to happen. It seems silly to feel so involved in their little bird lives, and yet, I am completely fascinated by them.
Apparently our readers are, too! Whenever we show off the girls on a video or share their photo, it seems like the questions flood in. The other day I received the question, "What's the hardest part about raising chickens?" and it kind of threw me off. What was the hardest part about raising chickens? My mind of course went to what I worry about, which is generally if the chickens will get sick, or even if we will get sick. Though it's much more likely you'll get salmonella from handling or eating raw chicken rather than handling your flock. I also thought of the cost of keeping chickens. That part can be hard, if you're hoping that by getting chickens you'll be saving the money you usually spend on eggs. Really, you'll be paying more because of the feed, bedding, housing, and whatever else you have to purchase regularly for your chickens. They're not cheap, but you can make your money back if you start selling your eggs. So, there's that.
But really, I was struggling with the question because keeping chickens has been the easiest pet I have ever had to raise. They're very self sufficient if you think about it. All I have to do in the morning is let them outside to their run, check their food and water, and clean out the poo once every two weeks or so. We only have six chickens, so the cleaning can be a bit delayed. Truly, I don't have to play with them to keep them happy, and I don't have to let them outside to go to the bathroom every hour. They just go where they live, and I clean it up when it deems necessary. We can travel much more easily as well. We can leave for the entire day if we needed to, and they would be fine in their run. We've watched predators, mostly neighborhood dogs, approach the run, and they know to enter their coop and hide. We've done a good job keeping them safe, and if we were to leave for days on end, we'd only have to ask a friend or neighbor to open their coop door for the day, close it for the night, and make sure they have food. The perfect job for a neighbor kid looking to make a few dollars!
I'm definitely not a chicken expert, nor do I think I'm qualified to teach anyone how to raise chickens, but I do love convincing other people that these are the best pets! They've been my favorite to keep. You get multiple of them, and they don't fill your house with fur, and they don't make it smell. Their house kind of smells, but hey, it's their house. Ha! Like all pets, you can't be lazy, but I feel like you can be a little bit lazier than if you had a dog. Plus, they're extremely entertaining!
Did you know that chickens have their own form of government? It's definitely not a democracy either. It's called the Pecking Order, and it's literally brought on by pecking, specifically pecking that backs of each other's necks. I've personally witnessed it, and am currently still having trouble figuring out which hen is our head lady and so forth down the line. To me, they all kind of seem like equals until a witness a little squabble. Someone will find a bug in the grass, and another chicken will ruffle her feathers, spread her wings, and a land a big ol' peck on the back of the other chicken's neck. This results in her getting the treat, unless the other bird decides to fight back. Again, still having trouble figuring out exactly what is happening in our own hen house.
I do have one hen that stands out from all the rest, and that is Olive, aka Gimpy-Toed Olive. When I first brought the girls to live outside in their coop, Olive broke a toenail and limped around for several weeks until she finally sucked it up and moved on with her life. She's always been dramatic, and she's my least favorite chicken because she never lets me hold her and always makes me chase her around before she decides to reenter the run in the evening. Ugh! The most annoying chicken ever, who I thought was at the bottom of the pecking order, but now I'm not so sure...
She doesn't roost with the other girls. Rather, she sleeps on the ledge outside of nesting boxes, the top row, which is much taller than their actual roosts. She's been doing this for a few weeks now, and every time I open the coop doors in the morning to let some fresh air in, she's sitting either in a box or on the ledge. I don't understand why she would separate herself? She's also the most assertive, beating on others for food and leading the hens out into uncharted territory, aka the neighbors' yards. She creates mischief, and from what I have been trying to research on pecking order, it sounds like she might be the head hen? Which would just baffle me since she is basically the bane of my existence. There's only room for one queen in here!!!
It's been rather hot outside, so I haven't been spending too much time in these past weeks sitting and observing our girls. I do really love trying to determine their social ladder. It's my own little soap opera to witness, and I do actually find it quite fun to share with all of you. Which breed of chicken is your favorite? I am really loving our Barred Rocks the best. They're very loyal and kind. Whenever I practice calling the girls in for treats, they always come running first, almost like a dog. They're really good listeners! The Australorps, the two all black ones, are somewhat loyal but mostly docile and don't mind being cuddled and scratched. I like them for that. The Buffs? My two yellow ones? They're annoying. I probably wouldn't get that breed again, even though they've very pretty! It's almost crazy to think that between breeds, some of them are just dumber than others, but my Buffs are really quite dumb and completely ignorant of anything I do. They also scare really easily and can never figure out how to get back in the run. It's taken them a while, but I think we're getting better at it.
Now that the season is getting into the dog days of summer, we're patiently waiting for eggs. Chickens start laying eggs when they mature, which is around 18-20 weeks of age. Our youngest chickens, the Australorps and Buffs, will be 18-weeks-old on July 26th. Until then, I will be patiently waiting for the first egg and meticulously researching what I can do to help that process along. I just can't wait, and I know it will be such a surprise, just as satisfying as finding the first big zucchini or ripened tomato in the garden. This year has really been full of amazing surprises on the homestead, and I am already dreaming of the things we can try next year. Anyone heard of ordering hatching eggs and letting your broody hens hatch them? Yeah, I really want to try that! Even though we couldn't keep them... maybe I can find someone who would want a small flock of chickens. Either way - really, really want to go through that experience! And also, the feed store next year will be really hard to resist. Has anyone witnessed the ducklings? Oh, my heart.
What are your chicken dreams? If you've been dying to have them, maybe we can make a deal to hatch some for you (; Love these girls!