What to Give Your Chickens

chicken_blkforestco_20100411_lah_2118You have gifts for your parents and gifts for your kids. You have a gift for Aunt Claire and a gift for Uncle Bob. You even have a gift for your dog. But what about your chickens?

If you culled your flock last month, perhaps your remaining hens are glad just to have another year of dust baths and fresh air. But don’t stop there… hens are actually very easy to “shop” for.

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Culling the Flock

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I have nine hens in my chicken coop: six pullets that have just started laying small eggs, and three aging biddies who lay huge eggs… once in a while. We love the jumbo eggs—one per person is enough for breakfast—but we are only finding three or four per week, whereas the six pullets are together laying five or six eggs per day. In the meantime, the hens are all munching down on laying pellets at pretty much the same pace.

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Composting with Chickens

eggs-and-chickens-067It’s time to clean out the chicken coop. All summer my little flock has been happily picking weed and grass seeds out of the straw I spread in their coop last spring. At the same time, they’ve broken down the big pieces of grass stem into finer shreds. And, best of all, they’re balanced all that carbon with some nice, hot chicken manure.

Now that the weather has cooled a bit, I’m willing to venture out to the coop with a rake, scoop, and wheelbarrow. All that compostable material is heading for my veggie garden.

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So Happy Together

I just avoided a war.

chicks_dbg_lah_5081Yesterday morning, I went out to tend my flock, and realized that my new pullets, hatched around June 1, were nearly the same size as my mature hens. When they were mere children, they fit just fine in their twelve square foot cage (above). (For their safety, it’s important to separate young birds from the main flock.) Now, however, it was clear that they needed more room. Although I had planned to wait until next month, I decided this was the time to release them into the main coop.

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Henpecked!

hen_lah_9305Chickens can be pretty darn mean. The terms “pecking order” and “henpecked” have a firm basis in how a chicken society operates. Like many other animals—wolves and elephants come immediately to mind—there is an alpha chicken (left) who literally rules the roost. Every other bird knows its place too, which (most of the time) results in peaceful coexistence.

chicken_blkforest_20090731_lah_054Since my flock lacks a rooster, we have a queen hen. The other hens kowtow to her. She is always first to grab the scraps I toss into their coop, and the first to sample the fresh water when I clean their basin. And then there is the poor biddy in last place (right). She’s lacking feathers in a number of spots, not because she’s molting, but because the other hens pull them out.

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Choosing Your Chickens

cecilia-chicksIt’s spring. Bulbs are blooming, birds are singing, and feed stores have fluffy yellow baby chicks!

When we were still living in Silicon Valley, finding a source for baby chicks was a challenge. These days, no matter where you live, buying chicks is easy. There are lots of hatcheries that sell by mail-order. It may seem odd that day-old baby chickens are shipped in a cardboard box via snail mail, but it actually works very well. Newly hatched chicks can survive without food or water for the day or two it takes to arrive at their destination. The post office will call you as soon as the box arrives, and you have to be ready to rush over and pick up your brood.

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Chicken Attraction

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My therapist lives in a chicken coop. Yup. We have (currently) six hens. Whenever I need some reassurance, I head out to the shed where they live. I tell them all my problems. In fact, I can tell them anything; hens are experts at keeping secrets. When I’m finished complaining, they come around and bwaaaaak and braaap at me. Hens must make the most comforting noises in the animal kingdom! My hens always help me feel better, and they don’t charge $100 an hour.

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