Monday, September 26, 2011

full chicken report

I just wrote and article for our community garden about our experience with chickens, so I am sharing it below... finally a good update!
this is Anna with Little Bird during week one!
Baby Princess is getting some loving as a teenager.... much bigger, but still no comb or wattles. Elisha told me the other day that the reason he loves her so much is because she is so yellow ;-)

our first egg! a lovely blue egg laid by our Araucana- Little Bird.
Little bird has lovely feathers and funny beard-like fluff around her face... this is typical of her breed.
Baby Princess is helping in the garden.
This is one of our Barred Rocks, either Glitter Rainbow or Henny Penny (Andrew wants to be sure you know that he didn't name any of the chickens ;-)
This is the home sweet coop... you can also see our two Rhode Island Reds: Sally and Kate.
So proud of our girls for laying their first eggs!

I think it all started with my mother... She brain washed me into thinking that you simply cannot have a kitchen without chickens. The chickens I grew up with were in paintings or on plates. Years later when I was registering for things to fill my family kitchen it was inevitable that the rooster plates and metal chicken would end up on the list. I little imagined that the sense of home I felt when surrounded by images of chickens in my kitchen would lead me to nurture a little flock of chickens in the backyard of my metropolitan area home.

A friend from Decatur told me about the Chicks in the City: Urban Chicken Symposium , so in January of 2010 I attended the Saturday morning workshop and decided that while I was pretty intimidated, this was something that I really wanted to try. Andrew and I spent the summer planning and building our coop and pen.
We worked on it here and there and finally decided that it was time to get some spring chickens just before Easter this year. At first we were hoping to get full grown birds so that we wouldn't have all the work of raising little bitties inside... but we finally decided that our chickens would need to be acclimated early on to life in our family with two small children and our dog. We bought our eight chicks from a feed and seed store in Roswell.They just happened to have a new shipment of the breeds we wanted at the time we were ready for them. We started with two Auracanas ( a South American breed that lays blue eggs), two Rhode Island Reds( a good laying reddish brown breed), two Buff Orpingtons (an English breed that is very friendly and lays consistently) and two Barred Rocks ( a lovely black and white checked breed).

All of our chickens are known as Dual Purpose, meaning they are good egg layers and have enough meat on them to be good for the soup pot when they stop laying eggs. Dual purpose breeds were in serious decline since practically the only chickens around have been commercially raised and therefore bred to be either enormous, fast growing, fat chickens for eating, or skinny egg producing machines. As backyard chicken enthusiasm has been spreading these dual purpose breeds are once again sought after.

When we tell people about our chickens they almost always ask if we are going to eat them... we hope that someone will benefit from our kindly raised healthy chickens when their job of egg laying is done, but we don't want to traumatize our children by forcing them to eat our pets. As it turns out this dilemma may be more of an issue for us than for our kids. It is amazing how normal all this seems to them since they have been exposed to the reality of the food chain from a young age. I overheard my son talking to his favorite chick, Baby Princess, when she and her flock mates were still living under a light bulb in our bathroom. He told her, "One day you are going to die and you'll get eaten up, but you have a happy life!" Speaking of being introduced to the food chain- my daughter's first sentence was "hawk eat chick"... a truth that she learned first hand! During our flock's first days outside one of the many neighborhood hawks got into the pen through a crack in the netting and left a little pile of feathers...well, we added more netting and thought they would be safe. The next day I heard my three year old son yelling down at the coop. He saw a hawk in the pen and went in after him. He was wielding a big stick trying to "teach that hawk not to get our chicks!" Thankfully, the hawk didn't get a chance to teach our son a lesson about threatening cornered animals. After the hawk escaped the pen we seamed all the overlapping pieces of netting shut and have not lost anymore of our remaining six birds. And now that our hens are full grown they have enjoying free ranging in the yard in the evenings... maybe the hawk decided that between our dog and our son, these chickens aren't worth the fight.

Although I was excited about having chickens, I didn't expect to feel so attached to them. Getting our chicks when they were just one week old fluff balls has really brought out the nurturing mother hen in me. People usually think of petting a soft dog or cat when they talk about how comforting pets can be... well, let me tell you-- having a warm fluffy chicken nestle into your arm and make sweet cooing chatter has been such a delight! And the entertainment is non stop... we love watching them busily scratch and peck around our yard in the evenings. Our dog got used to them early on and despite his bird dog heritage has become a chicken herder. Watching our chickens and our dog slyly steal leftover corn on the cob from each other was more fun than I expected.

Now, I was expecting to be excited about fresh backyard eggs and I have not been disappointed! A few weeks ago I was looking in the coop to check on their water and food when I was startled to see a beautiful blue egg nestled in the bedding by the door. Since we only have one Araucana chicken left I knew exactly which chicken laid that first egg. I was SO proud of her. You would think she had performed brain surgery judging from the amount of pride that swelled my chest every time I thought of her! Within a few days at least three of our chickens were leaving a daily egg in the coop. The only time we can hear the chickens from the house is when one of them is cackling an announcement to the world about the miracle she is about to perform... I'll go down 10-20 minutes later and sure enough, there will a fresh warm egg waiting for me. Chickens really are wonderful pets; you give them your leftovers and table scraps, your weeds and grubs and a safe place to sleep and they will give you beautiful healthy eggs, nitrogen rich manure for your garden, endless entertainment, and they will even go to work in your garden eating unwanted bugs and roto-tilling your plots.

I just went to my first backyard chicken meet-up group and got an excellent book written for city dwelling chicken owners. City Chicks: Keeping Micro-flocks of Chickens as Garden Helpers, Compost Makers, Bio-recyclers, and Local Food Producers by Patricia Foreman is very informative and is great for gardeners. She gives detailed information about composting and all the ways you can put your chickens to work in your garden. It could be the only book you get because it covers all the topics related to small scale backyard chicken raising, start to finish. The meet-up group would be a good place to go if you are interested in starting and want some moral support along the way.


Christy said...

Yea! I am SO excited about this post. I really want some chickens 'round here ... you did it so beautifully (of course!), so thank you so much for showing me how it can be done!

The Hiltons said...

What a writer you are! Great article!