A little more than two years ago, we decided to launch our GRIT Country Skills Series with the Guide to Backyard Chickens. Thanks to your enthusiastic response, and GRIT Magazine’s readers requesting even more poultry pages, we have now completed the third edition of this book. Since that first edition launch, I am happy to report that the backyard chicken movement has only grown stronger. And as more folks take back the right to produce clean food for their families and roll back municipal laws that would limit their ability to do so, they also reconnect with the land, their agrarian ancestors and a more sustainable American dream. I am proud that GRIT has so effectively fanned the flames associated with all aspects of the chicken revolution, but mostly I am tickled beyond belief that so many of you are embracing domesticated animals of the feathered kind. My entire life has been richer, thanks to these winged friends. A few specific individuals come to mind.
I always kept plenty of roosters around the place, and still do. One of the best roosters we’ve ever had currently has spurs about 3 inches long — we named him Roo. Roo is a commercial Barred Rock. He stands about 2 feet tall and is ever ready to call an alert when there’s a hawk or eagle soaring high overhead. He marshals his 30-some hens when he discovers the mother lode of good eats or sometimes just because he can. He tolerates the several other roosters around the place, but does keep them from messing with his hens, though they try several times a day. The sight of him running toward them is all it takes to send those rogues back under the cedar trees. Sure, he’s just a nasty old rooster with a crooked comb and a coarse crow, but we love him just the same.
The most remarkable hen I had was a mongrel Ameraucana. She laid beautiful purplish-pink eggs. They were lovely. Although she was one of about 150 hens that I kept at the time, she stood out with her mostly white plumage accented with butterscotch patches around her cheeks and hackles — I named her Penny. She was a South Dakota survivor. When the rest of the flock was warmly roosting indoors, there Penny would be, sharing a cottonwood branch with a turkey. Some days her egg was in the grass-lined rim of an abandoned piece of equipment, and other times it was in a shallow tunnel formed with hay in the bale yard. But she had a wonderful knack of leading me to her then-current nest by simply running to it when I approached with egg pail in hand. Penny was around for more than four years and stayed with that farm when I sold it.
If you ask my wife, she will tell you I am not prone to making pets of farm animals: and I most definitely am not. But it would be a lie for me to suggest that those two chickens, a score of other birds like them, Madge the Walker Blackwing Bronze turkey hen, Burgo the big Highland bull, and Mica the lead ewe in our Katahdin flock have not held a special place in my heart.
So please join me and the millions of others around the world in this celebration of all things poultry. In the pages that follow, you’ll find top-notch advice on how to brood fertile eggs, protect your flock from predators, produce the healthiest eggs, build comfortable coops and so much more. If your interest is in cooking with eggs and/or chicken, we have you covered. If you want to dabble with ducks or try turkeys, you will find all you need to get started. So what are you waiting for?
It’s time to join the revolution!
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+.