Friday, August 19, 2011

Raising chickens Part 1

We've been raising chickens for eggs for the past 5 or 6 years, and I love it! It all started with a phone call from our favorite librarian who asked if we'd like to have a free rooster and hen, from another library patron. Sure! We'd been thinking of raising chickens. We packed an enormous box punched full of holes and set off to pick them up. Turned out they were bantams, the miniature dogs of the chicken world. Two pint-sized birds.That enormous box must have seemed so silly to the donors! 

After many questions, we loaded up Bruce and Betty and headed for home. We did this so backwards...where were we going to put them. How would I feed and water them? We stopped at the local farm store and picked up some feed, scratch (what we call chicken crack), and a waterer. At the time we had a dilapidated shed on our property that was going unused. Bruce and Betty quickly claimed their roosting spots and settled in. The place was drafty and I was afraid that unwanted critters would have easy access to a tasty, albeit small, chicken dinner. Time for another building project! Within weeks we dismantled the shed from around our two new pets and built the chicken condo behind our garden plot with the scavenged materials.

Those two birds were so lovely to have around. They had free range of our yard by day, and would return every evening to their home. I was so amazed by that! What? I don't have to herd them in every night? No, they do it themselves. Betty turned out to be a great producer of little pink eggs. And that got us started thinking... hmmmm, this is easy, maybe more?

Betty lived for two years with us. Upon her very sad death, I located a local seller and purchased a handful of birds. I knew NOTHING about buying birds and I got totally duped. This man kept them in rabbit hutches and the first thing we noticed upon getting them home was that they were terrified of the space in the chicken condo. They huddled in the corner on the floor. They didn't know how to roost! Bruce soon took over and got most of them to roost, or at least sit in a nesting box. But one little chickie was so enormously fat, she couldn't get up there. It was then I noticed that this bird had a damaged wing. Blanche, as we named her, would come and sit on my feet as soon as I entered the chicken shed. I had quite a tender spot for her. She didn't last long though. She would sit out in the chicken run and sun herself which made for easy pickings by some predator. Ok, now I know why weak birds must be culled. (Nice way of saying "gotten rid of").

Realizing there was something "wrong" about these chickens, I did more research. How do you know when a chicken is old? Well, it turns out that there are a number of ways to check. A simple method is to check the coloring and condition of their wattles (the hanging things under their chins), combs (the things sticking up on their heads), and legs. Easy enough. Hmmm, these chickens had really gnarly feet and legs that were pale yellowish grey. I compared to Bruce's, whose legs were clean, smooth, and a nice slate grey. The girl's wattles were almost colorless, as were their combs (Comb and wattle shape differs with each breed, so that didn't mean anything.). Yep, they were old ladies and just to prove it, as summer progressed one by one they died off;  just curled up and died wherever they happened to be in the yard. Sigh. Now I know how to tell young, healthy birds from old lady birds. 

Time to buy more girls. 

The oldest chicken on our homestead. She's four now and has just this summer stopped laying every day.

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