Backyard chickens are pretty popular, and for good reason. What other pet delivers affection, entertainment, companionship, plus fertilizer and fresh, tasty eggs? If you’ve been smitten by the burb of a motherly hen—or if you’d like to know what it’s like to raise your own flock—have I got a treat for you!
Hasten thee to the library or bookstore and pick up a copy of Once Upon A Flock: Life With My Soulful Chickens, by Lauren Scheuer. (If that name sounds familiar, you might have read her delightful blog, Scratch and Peck.)
Last week we had nine hens. Six were young, prolific layers less than a year old. Three were old biddies past their prime. I’d been meaning to cull the three unproductive hens for a long time, but just couldn’t bring myself to actually follow through. Then I went to the feed store yet again, and realized that we were supporting three hens that were eating one third of my feed bill. That sealed their fate. So earlier this week I humanely dispatched three hens in their sleep and fed the local wildlife. I guess the local wildlife enjoyed the feast, because…
We got home late last night, and I headed out after dark to collect my half-dozen eggs. But instead of six, I found only five eggs—and five chickens. Alarmed, I searched the coop, but I couldn’t really see much in the moonlight. The five hens were perched on their roost, asleep, so I secured the coop and headed for bed.
You 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.
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.
I just avoided a war.
Yesterday 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.
It’s almost September, National Chicken Month. I adore chickens. Put those two facts together, and I have the perfect opportunity to enlighten you with some chicken trivia.
- Chickens are the most numerous bird species on the planet.
- Wild chickens are still found in south Asia, where birders know them as Red Jungle Fowl. There is also a feral population in Hawaii and in other spots around the world. If you want to check “Jungle Fowl” off your life list, you must find one of these wild birds.
- According to Red Bird Farms, the average American eats 80 pounds of chicken every year. (We prefer the skinless, boneless breast, but other cultures prefer dark meat. Much of our domestically produced dark meat is shipped to other countries.)
Your chicks have arrived! You got the call from the feed store or post office to come pick them up. Now it’s your job to be a mother hen for the next several months. What do you do?
Newly hatched chicks have a few simple needs. Meet those needs and they should grow into adult, egg-laying hens in about six months.