Nothing like dodging a clumsy chicken to start your morning off right.
I woke a bit later than usual (5:30 am, if you’re wondering) and wandered blearily out to the chicken coop. Now, if you’re new to chickens, you may not realize that they wake and sleep with the light. (Honestly, it’s kind of amazing the way they konk out at lights out.) So when I wake after the sun is up, as I did this morning, our 25 birds are on the move already.
The baby birds – now more teenager-y than ever – have a hatch to the outside that opens from the inside. So typically, I step in while they are just beginning to stir and pop open the door, but this morning, some were already on the coop floor pecking like they haven’t been fed since last Tuesday (instead of 6pm yesterday).
So when I bent over to open the hatch, someone – Dipstick, I think (there’s another story there) – took a leap off her roost and just cleared my head.
I’m not sure who was more alarmed – her or I.
But 30 seconds later, when I opened the old guard’s hatch, it was clear that I was far more wary of Xander the rooster than he of me. I back away waving a switch to keep him from coming at me spurs up. He’s kind of pesky that way. Good thing he’s pretty.
Last week, we opened up the new chickens run and began to let them all mingle together. Once Fern, who is really low on the older birds’ pecking order, decided the new gals were alright, we’ve had all peace, except for the babies’ tendency to get trapped behind a fold of netting and be unable to walk out. (Dipstick earned her name this way.)
Now, they are all eating together, drinking together, and enjoying the experience of eating the super-big zucchinis that hide in the garden until they are the size of cabers that should be a part of the Highland Games.
The process has slowed down egg production a bit, though, so I’m hoping that this week, we might see the old guard ramp up their laying a bit. We have folks who want eggs after all, and every dollar from their sale helps us with the dream of this farm.*
Come September, when the new gals start laying, we’ll be flush with free-range goodness. I can’t wait.
Several folks have asked us about raising chickens, and we are not – by any means – experts, so just take these tips for what they are – the experiences of new chicken raisers. First a few of the harder things:
- Chickens need attendance twice a day, every day. Some folks leave their birds’ coops open for a night or two when they are away, but we have found that our gals need to be safely tucked in at night to keep the foxes and raccoons away. So if you want chickens, you’ll need to be home or hire someone to stay with them.
- Chickens are not super clean. While it’s AWESOME if you can have them free range and spread their poo out as natural fertilizer, they do poo a lot, especially while they sleep. So good, healthy chicken keeping means that their coop has to be cleaned often.
- Chickens aren’t cuddly. While some of our gals – especially In-Fern-O – are more social and willing to be held, for the most part, they’d rather not be picked up, and too much handling can stress them out, which isn’t good for their health.
Now, the good stuff.
- Chickens are beautiful. Really beautiful. Their feathers are intricate, and their movements so interesting. Plus, they make this cooing sound when they are calm that just soothes my spirit.
- Chickens lay eggs. This may seem obvious, but really, they make food, which is incredible. Plus, if your birds free-range as ours do, their eggs are so much richer and healthier than anything in the grocery store.
- Chickens give joy. They are goofy and fun, and just watching them is calming to me.
If you’re thinking about raising chickens, be wise and thoughtful, and if you’re ready, go for it. I wouldn’t trade ours for anything.
Yesterday, I went out to the run, and there were 5 chickens in holes, just their heads sticking up. All of them flapping and rolling, giving themselves dust baths. Joy, I tell ya, pure joy.
Have you ever thought about getting a few chickens? Why or why not?
A couple resources if you’re considering chickens:
- The Chicken Chick – She’s funny, smart, and her Facebook page is totally worth following for her ongoing saga “As the Egg Turns.”
- Fresh Eggs Daily – Sound advice from a seasoned chicken raiser. Plus tips on herbs and gardening.
- Your local extension office – ask about materials and classes about chickens in your area.
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