Recently a friend mentioned that her friend who raises many different animals commented that of all of her animals, chickens are the most trouble – there is always something going on with them! I stopped and pondered…. I hadn’t really thought about it that way, but goats, cows, dogs, cats, goldfish…. we hardly ever deal with them at all. But chickens… yes, it is always something. And yesterday, as Caleb and I strolled back from evening chores, which included searching seven different spots for eggs and debating how to deal with the broody hen nesting in the barn, he mused, “Chickens sure use up a lot of brain power.”
It is so true. If they aren’t broody (chickens wanting to do nothing but hatch eggs), they are pecking at each other (I had to spray Blu-Kote on a victim’s bloodied comb to prevent other chickens from pecking it to death) or nursing pecking injuries (I struggled to figure out why one chicken’s eye was swollen shut and pussy, but finally determined it was a pecking injury and repeatedly wiped the puss away until it was healed). They decide to sleep in the nesting boxes and fill them with poop so that no one will lay eggs in them and we must search the aforementioned seven laying spots in the barn for eggs. (We’ve just given up and boarded up the boxes so no one can use them for any purpose.) They get worms (I researched and administered safe worming medications) and they will stop laying at the slightest provocation… a stormy day, introducing new chickens into the flock, molting (shedding feathers and getting new ones), daylight waning, broodiness, and just general moodiness that in my humanness I am not adept at understanding.
Since I’ve mentioned broodiness three times already in this post, l’ll start there. Last summer we had a revolving door of continuously broody chickens. I’ve talked about this before, but a broody chicken wants to hatch eggs, as God designed her to do. So she will stash eggs in a nest, pluck out her breast feathers to make it soft, and sit… and sit… and sit, getting off the nest once per day to drink and eat. In the natural order of things, she would sit for 21 days and hatch her eggs (providing she had been around a rooster and her eggs were fertilized). Since our girls have not, they will stop laying eggs and sit until they starve themselves to death, even if we take all the eggs out from under them, which we always do. The only cure is to put them in the broody buster or let them hatch eggs. They will not snap out of it on their own. (A few of our hens have never gone broody because their breeds have had the trait bred out of them, as it is very inconvenient for commercial egg production. But the breeds that do go broody are always repeat offenders.) One matronly Wyandotte wanted so badly to be a mama that we decided to let her realize the dream. I bought a dozen fertilized eggs on Craigslist for $10, stuck them under her, and 21 days later we had seven adorable chicks. (A couple of eggs disappeared in the process and three were duds.)
It was a delight to keep vigil at the barn and watch chick after chick break out of its shell and peek out of mama’s wings.
She was an excellent mother and had them foraging within days of hatching. She kept them warm (they slept under her wings) and safe (you should have seen the tussle when our poor cat inadvertently crossed her path) and fed. After raising chicks by hand, which included feeding, watering, sheltering, and constantly monitoring the heat lamp for proper temperature, we were amazed at the ease of this process. Why do all that work when a mama hen will do it for you? I don’t think we’ll ever go back!
All seven chicks made it about 10 weeks and then two were picked off on the same day by an unknown predator. They simply disappeared, one in the morning, another in the afternoon. But the remaining five are still alive and well… for the time being. This brings me to the next chicken trouble.
When you buy chicks at the store, they are sexed with a 90% success rate. And even though we bought twelve chicks, none of them were roosters. Hatching eggs is a game of odds, and unfortunately they were not in our favor. Out of five surviving chicks, three were roosters. We had been told if we were going to eat them, we needed to do it within about 3-4 months, before they started crowing. Any older and their flavor is very strong and unappetizing. Well, with the holidays and everything else, time got away from us and they began crowing. (We cannot hear them from the house, so honestly that part of it is not too bad, though for the life of me, I cannot figure out a pattern or purpose to their crowing.)
|RIP, Diana and Anne|
People keep roosters because they fertilize eggs and often protect the hens from predators. One rooster per ten hens is said to be an appropriate ratio. Since we have 20 hens, we thought keeping two might be a reasonable idea. We had lost several hens to predators (including the mama that hatched all those chicks) and since having the roosters, we had not lost any so we were warming up to the idea. But we are going through feed at an unbelievable rate (these roosters are 2-3 times the size of the hens and that organic feed is expensive) and then just last week, my most beloved chickens, Annes Shirley and Diana Barry went down together against an unknown predator. And just where were those three well-fed roosters???
It’s on the “To Do” list, so now it’s official. The roosters have got to go.
However, we have made use of (temporarily) having roosters on the premises and are letting another broody sit on our very own fertilized eggs.
|One of the chicks we hatched is now
sitting on her own clutch of eggs.
The chicks will be a crazy “barnyard mix” since we have mixed breed roosters that are different from all of our hens’ breeds. But we’ll see how it goes. Perhaps we’ll actually get around to eating the cockerels this time and will be able to add “meat chickens” to our list of homesteading accomplishments.
I actually have not fully aired my list of chicken grievances but this post is long enough, and I concur whole-heartedly with the person who said that chickens are the most trouble. But I have to add that they are also the most endearing, entertaining, and fun, and those bright yellow yolks in farm fresh eggs are more than enough reward for our trouble.