I'm exercising a bit of restraint in the backyard chicken arena this year by resisting the urge to add another thousand or so chicks to our already sufficient flock. Oh, I tempt myself practically every evening by poring over colorfully-illustrated catalogs from some of my favorite commercial hatcheries. But, my laying hens turned up the egg production a few weeks ago and reminded me that I need to grow our egg customer base before I can rationally think about expansion. I will place an order for meat birds later in the year, but for now the backyard flock, as it exists, will have to suffice.
Of course, just as I write that, I am reminded that the backyard chicken flock will grow a little this year because I plan to increase the numbers of purebred, and fairly rare, buff Catalana birds on the farm. We have just a single Catalana rooster and three hens at the moment -- the birds are about 6 months old and have exhibited sufficient signs to indicate that they've passed through puberty. The hens have begun laying eggs -- my plan is to collect a few incubator loads of the eggs later this spring and see whether I can increase the numbers right here on the farm. I'll never give up the motley crew of brown-, speckled-, mauve-, and green-egg laying chickens for purebreds entirely, but it will be fun to add the slightly off white Catalana eggs to our cartons in the future.
For those of you with backyard chickens in the works, or in the plan, now is a good time to book your mail-order chicks, especially if you have your hearts set on any specific breed. And if you don't want to deal with disposing of unwanted roosters, be sure to spring for the pullets, as opposed to straight run birds. Either way, just remember that you need to have a brooder of some sort, feed, feeders and waterers set up before the chicks arrive. You can brood the chicks in something as simple as a cardboard box, plastic tote or a small stock tank -- and all you need is an incandescent light to keep them warm. You can read all about brooding chicks here and how to build a chick brooder for virtually nothing, here.
Even if you don't have a backyard chicken coop worked out yet, you will have plenty of time to build or buy one while the chicks are confined to the brooder. So don't let the lack of a coop keep you from placing your order. If you feel lucky, you can sign up to win a Cadillac of a backyard chicken coop here.
I frankly cannot imagine a life without backyard chickens. Whether it's just sitting in the shade of the huge hackberry tree and watching the big, gentle Barred Rock rooster dance for his ladies, or chuckling at the mostly-white Ameracauna hen who flies the coop every morning to pick through the hog pen and returns to the coop in the evening, or revelling in the daily anticipation of finding fresh, delicious eggs in nests, backyard chickens are good for the soul.
Buff Catalana photo and author photo courtesy Karen Keb.
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.