Chicken Keeping Lessons

Reader Contribution by Heidi Nawrocki
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When people would tell me how fun chickens were, I’d think to myself – they’re chickens! They can’t be THAT fun! But, boy was I wrong. And happily so, I might add. We have now had our chickens for seven months. We got 11 chicks in late April/early May and were gifted 10 hens from a friend moving out of state. The hens adapted quite quickly and hardly took a break from laying. We enjoyed the littles, as we call them, in the house for a few weeks. We have lost two over the summer – one of our chicks from reasons unknown and we had a hen wander off a few weeks ago. I suppose there’s hope out there that she might return, but it’s not looking good.

I’ll be the first to admit that before we got chickens, birds totally freaked me out. Like, I had visions of the movie “The Birds” in my head. It helped me tremendously by getting the littles. One little in particular, my dear little Barred Rock Amelia, became my therapist. She would roost on my shoulder while I walked around the house. And she only tried to peck at my eye once! I think she might have been enamored with my eyelashes, but luckily she missed. She is still a great little pullet. She has started laying, so whenever we find a pullet egg we can safely assume it is from her. And she’s still my therapist. A few weeks ago, I had a rough day. I went out and she came running to me. I picked her up and hugged her. It made me feel better. If that makes me weird, then so be it.

While I initially wanted to have a flock of Buff Orpingtons, I am glad we have a motley crew. We have Black Australorp, Speckled Sussex, Buffs, Light Brahma, Silver and Gold Laced Wyandotte, Red Sex Link, Barred Rock, New Hampshire Red, and an unknown white brown egg layer. Most of them have names, such as Butter the Buff Orpington. We also have Fish and Gucci. And Rex Roo (in the photo).

It really is no joke that they are easier to take care of than cats. We let them free range, and I just need to let them out in the morning and put them in with some feed at night. I occasionally go out and give them scraps or treats, but otherwise we see them all over the place hunting bugs.

Acclimating a pound puppy to the new kids on the block was fun. And by fun, I mean nerve wracking. We rescued our shelter pup when we moved in and she has been a great addition to the family. She loves our children and torments the cats. She has never needed to be shown her boundaries and can be trusted outside without running off. But, it took her some time to get adjusted to the chickens. We had a rhythm in place where she was allowed out in the early morning and after the chickens went to bed. The chickens had the place to themselves during the day. And then she got out. She nabbed a chicken – all were unharmed, other than the dropped feathers. And if no one tells you about dropped feathers, be sure to look it up. It might freak you out a little if you happen upon a big pile of feathers. She has adjusted to them now, so we can trust her outside with them.

Until! Until we noticed a drop in egg production. And we found her eating an egg one day. We’ve been trying to be proactive now in watching her in and around the coop. She must have picked up on the fact that the chickens cackle when they lay. She’s pretty in tune with her flock. While she’s not a guardian dog per se, we haven’t had any predator problems.

And the children LOVE them! Our son has started to help me feed them. Our daughter loves to run up to them to pet them. And the chickens love them as well. The other day, the children and I were having a reading party in the playhouse part of their swing set. Little Amelia tried with all her might to figure out a way to get up to read with us.

And they are most definitely a gateway drug in terms of livestock. We now have hopes of getting some dairy goats in the near future and hopefully a family cow in a few years. There’s just something about going out back for an egg for some homemade ice cream. Be sure to check out our blog to follow along our crazy homesteading antics.

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