I’ve wanted chickens for a long time. But to be honest, I was a little scared of them. I never really dealt with livestock before outside the occasional visit to a local farm. We had ducks when I was a kid, but they seemed a lot less intimidating. But for the the past few years I still longed for chickens, and the eggs they gift on a regular basis.
It finally happened for me bout a month ago. After getting over my fears by house sitting for a friend with chickens, I learned that it really wasn’t that hard to do. So I read multiple internet sites, checked out books from the library, did a skill trade with a friend to build the coop, and got my first two girls. I couldn’t have been prouder of our first egg if I’d laid it myself.
And the whole thing continues to be an adventure. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
Yes, You Can Pet A Chicken
Chickens can be trained to come when called, and if handled correctly (hands over those wings to prevent flapping) they can be petted and rather tamed, depending on the breed. I started by just spending time in the coop so they would get use to me. I try to handle them at least once a day, holding them close, speaking in soothing tones and petting them gently. But remember chickens can have a lot of germs. No kissing, seriously, and always wash your hands after handling your girls.
Pecking Order Is Real
If you think politics are harsh, check out what’s going on in your coop. I started with two hens that came from the same flock. Although this was a new dynamic for them, they quickly figured out who was in charge. Dumpling is my dominant Sussex. She’s the largest of my hens and the most vocal. She hems and haws a lot when she’s not happy with one thing or another, but overall she’s a good egg (layer). Her flock mate is Teriyaki who kind of just goes with the flow. After a couple of weeks we introduced two new girls to the mix, Noodle who’s barely 6 months old, and only just laying, and Paul,who is likely a few weeks ahead of Noodle and laying daily. When we introduced the new girls to the flock, Dumpling went full on Heather. Almost immediately her personality changed, and it became very clear that Dumpling is the HCIC. Paul it seems has more moxi than is good for her, and thus gets pecked from time to time to remind her who is in charge, but she is more or less accepted into the group. Poor Noodle, the youngest, still timid and not at all assertive is not in the clique yet. Paul is accepting of Noodle, and I’ve seen Teriyaki being tolerant of Noodle on the sly, but sadly Noodle is not a Heather yet.
Chickens Are Smart
When you see their dinosaur legs and relatively small craniums, it’s easy to write chickens off as stupid animals. They’re not. The first few nights we had our girls it stormed. The wind howled, it rained sideways and the shelter we had was not nearly sufficient. So, we put the girls into the dog kennel, set them up with food and water and shavings, put a blanket over the kennel and called it a night. No problem. After the second night of this, I slept in a little later than I should have. The girls were not amused. I was awoken by a clatter. When I got up, I found that the girls had somehow figured out how to open the crate, and were perusing the kitchen for crumbs and food from the dog’s dish. Now Dumpling believes this is her right. If the sliding door is open enough for her to get her head in, she will shimmy until the door slides to let the rest of her in. While we don’t mind her detailing the kitchen floor, I’m not sure how long the dogs will be tolerant of her poaching. And sadly, any service Dumpling performs as a floor detailer is negated when she shits on her way out. Meanwhile, Noodle has figured out how to scurry under the chicken wire around the raised garden beds.
I never knew chickens had so many vocalizations. They coo and purr when they are content. They cackle when they are annoyed and want to be free of the coop in the morning. They scream when alarmed or startled. And they sing a song of self congratulations when they’ve laid an egg. Some hens talk more than others. If learned that Teriyaki is most likely to sing after laying. dumpling complains the most. Paul is my drama queen and most likely to scream over the slightest thing, and Noodle, we don’t hear much out of her beyond quiet timid clucks.
Overall, I find Operation Chicken Keeper to be a great success. We love the rich, flavorful eggs, but oddly, love our chickens even more for providing us the eggs and for enriching our lives. We spend a lot more time outdoors now that we have chickens, and enjoy their daily adventures as though they were our own.