I want to go on record as saying that my chicken addiction is my mother’s fault. She started sharing Backyard Poultry magazine with me, even though she had absolutely no desire to own chickens. I lived in a city. I didn’t want chickens either. I still have no idea why she started getting that magazine. But somehow, reading the articles and peeping at pictures of pampered poultry, the idea started to grow on me. After all, I’ve always liked birds, and chickens are MUCH cheaper than parrots.
Then we moved to the farm, and lo and behold, it had a coop. Old and dilapidated, yes, but still a coop. I put the matter out of my mind until I took the kids to TSC one day to get horse feed. Wouldn’t you know it, it was chick week. Sure enough, they had straight run bantams, and some of them looked like Silkies (a breed known for their docility and fur-like feathers). The kiddos started clamoring for “their own pets.” How could I resist at $1.50 each? Scott said OK but told me to also get some that laid eggs. Why, I’ll never know, since he won’t eat eggs.
Naming the banties was an event. Each kid got to pick one and name their own. Caitlin called her Silkie pullet “Beautiful Sweet.” Arthur, being a boy, named his Bantam Cochin pullet “Spiderman.” Scott was reluctant to name his. “You WILL name this chicken,” I intoned. Thus, Murphy the rooster was christened. The kids started carrying on about when we were going to get a cow since we live on a farm now. I pointed to the remaining chicken and said “Voila! Now we have a Cow!” Yes, a rooster named Cow. I warned you that I was crazy. (and, in my defense, I only learned which was which after a few months.)
I picked up some traditional layers from the “pullet” tanks. After they matured, I discovered that we had ended up with five roosters and 8 hens (counting the bantams). EEK. A few months followed while I caged them at night, but moved some chicken pen with screens on top (to keep the hawks and cats out) around the yard so they could range during the day. We fixed the floor in the coop. We fenced a run. I bought a nifty new nestbox arrangement. Finally we were ready. I even gave Murphy to a new home.
For those of you who have never met a chicken, they poop. A LOT. I kept them cleaned up while confined (good compost, you know) but it seemed like the poo increased in proportion to the available space. WOW. Thank goodness for Harvey Ussery’s deep litter idea. Deep litter is laying down at least 8 inches of loose litter (like leaves, grass clippings, chopped hay, etc) in your coop and run to absorb the nitrogen and ammonia from the poo without having to clean your coop every week. The material then starts composting and you can scrape it out once or twice a year. Sounded good to me!
He also mentioned ventilation. Mind you, I’d been feeling bad because I just hadn’t gotten around to fixing the coop windows. The theory is that enough ventilation will prevent harmful fumes from harming the chickens’ lungs, while keeping the air dry and eliminating frostbite. This sounded better and better to me, since I don’t have
electricity out to the coop and can’t heat it. So I left the windows open. I have noticed that now, even after 7 months, my coop doesn’t stink and my chickens are all still healthy.
The first night it got down into the teens, I couldn’t sleep. I was convinced that I’d go out to the coop and find them all frozen, or Stewie’s magnificent comb frostbitten. It
was a bit of an anticlimax the next morning, but everything was fine. Sure, the water was frozen, but I’d brought extra. Nobody had frostbite. I would have done the happy dance, but none of the hens would have laid for a month afterwards. My happy dance is a little scary.
Fast forward to this year. Few human women have planned for their babies as I’ve planned for my new chickens in the last few months. The perfect breeds, the necessary equipment, the places to keep them through their stages of development . . . my brain is still spinning happily along. I can’t wait to see how my carefully selected new babies will work out. I can’t wait for my first dozen “rainbow” eggs later this summer.
In the meantime, I had fallen in love with the longtails - I wanted an Onagadori (sometimes their tails get up to 30 feet long and that's not a typo!) but you can't get them in the US, at least not without selling your firstborn child. So, next best was the Phoenixes and Yokohamas (their tails can get up to 5 feet long). I managed to get a mixed pair AND another coop, but that's another story!
Finally, here came the mail. I had ordered some of the rarer breeds from My Pet Chicken - a Jersey Giant, a Barnevelder, a Welsummer, a Black Copper Marans, and two Silver Laced Wyandottes. I wanted to get some Ameracaunas to go with them (for blue/green eggs). I thought my order at Orscheln fell through, so I found another source (and ended up with a blue Silkie to boot). Then Orscheln called to let me know that they were still holding my 4 (that I thought they didn't have). My ever so patient husband let me get them too.
I thought I wanted to raise my own meat birds too - I even found someone local who's willing to teach me to slaughter. Off I went to the feed store again, planning to get 6 Cornish Cross meat birds. Well, they had some older ones and I picked them up at a steal for 50 cents each. Sure, it was 18 instead of 6. No big deal, right?
Let's not even mention the 8 more that are coming in late April. Speckled Sussexes, Anconas, and Salmon Faverolles. I'm really going to hit the rainbow egg idea hard!
I'll post the story of Banzai the Phoenix chick soon - it's funny enough that it deserves its very own blog.
Sure, it can be a pain venturing out in the cold to collect eggs or carry unfrozen water 4 times a day. Sure, it looks odd to throw frozen veggies into the pen and put out frozen water bottles in summer. I’m sure people driving by have laughed at that crazy lady on the side of the road pulling up weeds in the dead of winter. But just one afternoon spent surrounded by feathery bodies clucking contentedly is worth it. Those perfect eggs are WAY worth it. And I can’t wait to see what that compost will
do for our garden. So, from city girl to farmer. I think it's funny that people around here are starting to come to me for advice on chickens. Still, I'm happy to share what I know!
You can see pics of what my flock will look like at http://fearlessfarmfrau.blogspot.com/2012/02/chicken-fever.html. Catch chicken fever with me!