Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Our Flock

The chickens are one year old this week, which also means that we have lived in our house for exactly a year (we brought home our little chicks on our second day here)! With our hens thriving and at the peak of their lay, it seemed appropriate to devote a post to them. (And yes, I am aware that I am now that girl who writes personality profiles of her chickens...).

The hens live on the west side of our backyard. The henhouse and attached coop sits against the house, and attached to it is the long run where they can range about without destroying our yard. Three weeks ago, we (mostly Matt) doubled the height of the fence, due to a certain daily escapee who kept flying over it (more on that below). It looks nice and tidy, if a bit like a maximum-security poultry penitentiary. Matt refers to it as Chicken Fort Knox. There hasn't been a single successful bid for freedom since we increased the height.

 (Click on photos to enlarge)

The hens roost in the henhouse at night (occasionally one ends up on the roof of the henhouse and we have to pick her up and stuff her inside) and the door to the coop (made of welded wire) is barred shut from the time it gets dark till they wake us up in the morning. We haven't had any problems with raccoons yet, but we have seen them in the neighborhood, and we don't want to take any chances (they are almost always nocturnal, so not a concern during daylight hours). Despite our best efforts, none of our flock ever learned to lay in the nest boxes. Instead, they lay their eggs in the straw on the floor of the henhouse, usually in the back corner, which requires us to reach in through the nest boxes at an extremely awkward angle to retrieve the eggs.

Penny, our Barred Plymouth Rock, would probably be rated the "best" of our chickens by any county fair judge. She is big, gorgeous, quiet, and an excellent layer. She was the first of the bunch to start laying and is just a very good backyard chicken!

 "What are YOU looking at?"

Lady Macbeth, our black Australorp, has consistently been the loudest and most obstreperous chicken I have ever experienced (given, my experience is limited). She has been incessantly vocal since she was a small pullet, whining these horrible loud and drawn-out guttural growls from first light every day, when the other hens just cluck mildly to be let out of the coop, please. She squawks all the time, scolds us if we don't bring her food every single time we go into the backyard, and escaped the run every day for two weeks until we constructed Fort Knox. If she weren't such a reliable layer, she would be soup by now.

Esther is probably my favorite of the hens. She's a Rhode Island Red, and she follows me around whenever I go into the run.

She is also desperate to invade the garage every time one of us opens the door (there is a big pile of straw in there that I am sure looks like paradise to a chicken). She is petite and quiet, and lays really beautiful speckled eggs.

Mimi  was not one of our original chicks, although she is the same age. She is a Blue-Laced Red Wyandotte, and came to us in October. She got beat up by the rest of the chickens for a few weeks, but now is fully part of the flock. She is terribly pretty, I think, and also the biggest and fluffiest of all the hens- the sight of her wide, upturned white bum when she is pecking at something cracks me up. Mimi has gone broody on us twice now (none of the other chickens have).

After trying several techniques of getting her un-broody, to no avail, I came across a website that recommended dunking a broody hen in cold water in order to lower her body temperature (a hen's body temperature goes up when she is broody, in order to incubate the eggs). We decided to try it, more because it was funny than because we actually thought it would work- but it worked a treat the first time. She has now been broody again for a week, and we have started finding some broken eggs in the henhouse, so we may need a new technique. Matt is the brave soul who regularly extricates her from the nest (she growls loudly) and gets soaked when she tries to flap herself dry.

Goldie is our Gold-Laced Wyandotte. She holds the position of second-most-annoying-hen--she seems to choose one day every week on which to be very loud and screechy from dawn till dusk. We think she is Lady Macbeth's protege, and that they conspire together to irritate us with their noise. Despite my paranoia about the neighbors reporting us for the noise (we have a permit for a large flock, so the number is perfectly legal, but noise complaints are legit), that hasn't happened yet, so we're probably in the clear. Goldie hasn't gotten as big as many GLWs I've seen, but the iridescent green in her feathers is magnificent.

We have decided that our old Ameracauna, Vivian, is going to be "retired" soon- whenever Matt gets an afternoon free to butcher her. It's sad, but we try to be practical, and has laid us a grand total of two eggs (one of which was yolkless) in nine months, and the reason we keep chickens is for eggs. We've put it off a long time, but she will go, and provide us sustenance in the form of chicken stew. We are deliberating about getting two pullets to replace her, increasing our flock to seven (the maximum we can have under our permit) and thereby expanding our (very small) egg business.

Despite whatever gripes I might have about noise, keeping hens is a real joy, and I love watching them hunt around in the run, come racing down the fence whenever one of us goes into the backyard, and collecting eggs. We have learned so much in this year, and next time we build a coop and a run we will know what to do differently. Since having our hens, we have zero food waste in our house. It is nice to know that even if we let the end of a loaf of bread go stale, the chickens will love it, and we will still get food from it, in the form of eggs. They give us endless fuel for the compost pile, they love when I give them big piles of weeds from the garden, and they are our slug and caterpillar disposal system. Now that I've gone down the road of chickenkeeping, I don't think I can go back to a life without chickens in the backyard.

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