Most people think we're a little nuts with the animals we've slowly added over the last 5+ years as a married couple. Here's a recap for those who don't know: 3 dogs, 2 horses, 1 fish, 1 cat, and 6 chickens. And we've housed and cared for others as well, they just aren't in the current tally for various reasons. The chickens are probably among the quirkiest, yet easiest, animals we've had to care for over the years.
Now, don't get me wrong, plenty of effort went/goes into their care. Kevin purchased a coop and built an awesome run for them prior to picking them up from "the crazy chicken lady" (seriously, imagine the crazy cat lady and then replace the cats with chickens). He is about 90% finished with a second mobile coop as well -- built that from scratch with mostly extra materials at home. And day to day, we have to make sure their have plenty of food and water, clean the coop as needed, let them out of the coop run in the morning to free range, and then close it up at night to keep them safe from the critters. So, when it comes to day to day maintenance, they're really pretty easy.
Remember when I said quirky? That's where having a backyard flock gets interesting. Chickens are weirdos. Here are a few of the more interesting experiences we've had so far...
1. Right now, we have one particular hen (a lovely little black australorp) who has gone "broody" -- which means she is desperately trying to hatch an egg. Normally, I'd just let her, especially because we do have a rooster and having little chicks would be pretty cool (much cooler than just buying some from Tractor Supply this Spring). Problem is that our brilliant little bird is trying to hatch golf balls. At first, she'd go sit on the other hens' eggs. But they all lay in different nesting boxes, so she ended up being overwhelmed and just stuck to a couple nesting boxes. She had stayed in the same spot for a couple days, so I checked under her to see if she actually had an egg under there...Nope. Just a nice warm Nike golf ball. So, now I get to try and break the broodiness by pulling her off the nest and setting her outside. If she snaps out of it, she should start laying again. Though, if she ends up sitting on an ACTUAL EGG, I'll probably let her stick with it to see if she is successful. I'll keep you all posted.
2. Responsible pet owners know that their animals need to be de-wormed on a regular basis (or put on a preventative) to prevent a nasty infestation. Well, same goes for chickens. I just did the first round of worming our flock has experienced. An initial dose of wormer, wait 10 days, then a second dose. The real bummer is that you have to wait 14 days after each dose until you can eat the eggs again. Giving the birds the medicine is the tricky part. The first stuff I used just went in their water and they drank it up, no big deal. The second dose was different, I had to give them 1/2 cc orally. The broody hen was the easiest, she had her mouth open, squawking at me and I was able to squirt the medicine in her mouth with one of Riley's old Advil droppers. One other chicken let me hold her while I gave her the meds, but the rest had to be dosed by saturating a piece of bread with the medicine and then getting the chicken to eat the bread. Hardest part of that process was distracting the other birds so the target bird could eat his medicated piece. Not exactly as easy as dropping a meat flavored Heartgard chunk into their food bowl...
3. Only one of the chickens has a name -- that's our rooster (JJ). Another now has a nickname: The Egg Bomber. She lays her eggs first thing in the morning (way before the sun comes up), which is odd. Her clock is a bit off because of the winter and even though the lamp on the coop is on a timer, she still struggles in the morning. So, either out of laziness or confusion, she doesn't go into a cozy nesting box to lay her egg. Instead, she drops her egg where she stands...on the highest roosting bar in the coop...crack....splat...And she lays the most beautiful huge brown eggs too. It has been such a bummer to go out there and see her egg destroyed on the floor of the coop. I was really afraid it would encourage egg eating in the chickens too, because they'd been able to taste the yolk (sounds gross, but they think it's super yummy). So, I instituted a chicken training program. I used some of the extra hardware cloth and stapled it over the front of one of the nesting boxes. At night, I'd grab the hen off the roost and put her into the enclosed box. After doing that for a few nights in a row, she got back into the habit of coming off the roost to lay in a nest. I'm glad it ended up being that easy to retrain her. I've only had to repeat the training once so far -- and I think she was just being a pansy and was too cold to get off the roost to lay.
I'm sure a lot of you just yawned, but I have found raising these chickens to be pretty enlightening and rewarding. I would recommend having a backyard chicken flock to anyone interested. It really is super easy. You can go away for a weekend and not have to kennel them or anything :-) Plus, you can bribe neighbors with eggs if you need to go away for longer than a few days.
We have also recently lost a member of the flock. She is the hen who prompted the worming, but I think she was too sick to make it through treatment. I made a hospital coop for her and she had a nice space heater blowing on her, and after rallying a few days into treatment, she took a big turn for the worse and passed away while I talked softly to her. It was really sad. I felt like I let her down. We will be better backyard chicken farmers because of her, more aware, and better educated. But I'll sure miss her. She was lovely and gave us an abundance of beautiful blue/green eggs. Rest in peace, little chicky.