Saturday, March 12, 2016

A Chicken Update

It's been awhile since I've written extensively about my flock. If you know me, you know I *talk* about them extensively (sorry about that), but I wanted to document where we're at, almost a year into our foray as chicken keepers. 

Simply put: we're crazy for our chickens. If you're reading this and thinking "I did not see this coming," you are not alone. Heck, I didn't see this coming. Me, lover of cleanliness and manicures and Nine West pumps. But you see, I also love nature, and simplicity, and a healthy dose of do-it-yourself, and it turns out that these things can coexist. So, what's cluckin'? 

Nearly a year ago, and with no small amount of trepidation, we brought home 6 (what we thought were) female "chickie babies," as Jake calls them. Who couldn't fall in love? They were ADORABLE. But we'd never done this before and I wasn't totally confident in our ability to keep them alive, despite the fact that we seemed to be doing ok with two human babies. 

Not only did they survive (in addition to normal every day chick concerns such as pasty butt, but also a close encounter with a heat lamp and an even closer one with our former pooch), they thrived. But as they grew, it became obvious that one was bigger than all the rest. A week in, Brian said he bet that one was a rooster. I scoffed. We had paid extra for sexed chicks! We ordered girls! Get outta here with your rooster. Turns out, chick sexing is about 95% accurate and we hit that lucky 5%. Dino Chick, as he came to be known, soon sported an impressive red comb and wattle and before summer was over, he was crowing with the best of 'em. Though I was dismayed at first at the idea of having a rooster, Dino proved himself to be friendly and gentle with the hens and with us, and we came to truly appreciate him. When he passed away of a sudden suspected heart attack, we were all distraught (I know, right? Over a rooster? What can I say?). Off we went on a day trip to fetch a new guy for our girls, and John Wayne entered our lives. His approach to being a rooster was a little, direct. And he is GOOD at being a rooster, if you know what I mean ;) 

When we moved onto our new 9 acre spread over Labor Day weekend, John Wayne, Crystal, Fuzzy, Daisy, Rosie and Marigold all came along for the adventure, and they have settled into their roles as country chickens beautifully. And they've acquired a friend, though they might not be ready to call her that. JoJo joined the flock after her own got picked off one by one by a predator. The story goes that she was the last one standing and she evaded that sneaky fox for months before our friends asked if we would take her, poor lonely thing. If nothing else, our girls have finally stopped kicking her out of line for food, and they do allow her to hang out with them now, so that's major progress! 

John Wayne is a very good rooster. Here he is showing his girls that he found them a tasty morsel. He makes a soft "gurking" sound to call them over, then bobs his head to the ground to impress them with his generosity. Then when they're busy sampling, he usually takes the opportunity to mount one. Ha. He is gooood at being a rooster. 

Here's the flock working the compost heap. Yummy. But see how the girls all have their heads down and their butts in the air, busily digging out all manner of bugs? Not JW. He is all business. Watching the skies, taking in their surroundings. Ready to sound the alarm in case of trouble. In fact, when I let them out this morning, I am almost positive I saw a bald eagle sailing in the sky above our yard. I glanced at John Wayne and was impressed to see him watching it, too. It went on its way, but he would have called the girls to safety if he had sensed he needed to.

See? He heard me sneaking up on them and reeled around to check it out. 

Our flock helps us out around the yard. Brian had freshly tilled our future veggie garden, and they got right to work scratching and aerating the soil for us. Thanks ladies!

And of course, the best perk of having chickens! Our girls have hit their egg laying stride this week, capitalizing on their age, the warming temps and longer daylight hours. It makes me feel that all my hours of lugging fresh water out to the coop at 5 am in the freezing cold, when the hens weren't giving me anything but a grateful purr, were well worth it. You can use supplemental lighting to get your hens to lay all winter, but I read that because you're essentially messing with their hormones, it's been linked to cancer and other not so pleasant side effects. Plus, something about forcing my hens to lay eggs when their bodies naturally wouldn't just didn't feel right to me. I kept saying if they got the winter off, they'd better step it up come spring and they are definitely delivering!

We have learned so much and had such a great time raising our little flock. I honestly can't see us being without chickens from now on. The only problem we will face is what to do with the girls when their egg laying days are over. We know we can't eat them, or send them off to be eaten, we know them and their goofy personalities too deeply. But we don't have the space to keep an entire retirement flock in addition to any new layers we'll if anyone wants some spoiled pet chickens in 3 years or so, let me know ;)