Friday, March 26, 2010

Meet My Flock: Keeping Chickens, Part 1

If you're thinking about raising chickens this year, now is the time to start.  Walking into Tractor Supply the other day to pick up 50 pounds of chicken feed, I heard it.  Tiny little peeps!  Not taking a few home took major self control.   That's how they suck you in; they're so cute.  If you get sucked into the cuteness vortex and get your chicks now, you should have eggs by late August.

We bought our day-old chicks last year on Good Friday as an Easter present for the kids.  Well, maybe more for me if I were to be completely honest.  I'm getting ahead of myself.  We'll start at the very beginning.  It's a very good place to start...

For seven years, my parents home schooled my brother and I.  They suffered through many tantrums I threw.  Looking back (and after many apologies to my enduring folks), I can honestly say I am so thankful they made that choice for my chemist brother, Dr. Chris and I.  It gave me the chance to really discover what I love, who I was, what I was made for.  I found... my inner nerd.  There was no turning back.

After consuming the Little House and Anne of Green Gables book series, I longed to live in a different, simpler, earthier time when people were far more connected with creation and aware of their symbiotic relationship with it.  I decided I needed to become Amish.  This was in the 5th grade.  Phase 1: use no electricity in my room.  I couldn't hold the rest of the family to my new, higher standard, but my room would be a pure place, untainted by outside influences of the world; mainly electronics.  It lasted all of half a day.  Living without my Amy Grant and Chrystal Lewis CDs became unbearable.

Later, I tried another avenue.  Livestock.  We were living in the suburbs, on less than 1/5 of an acre.  I was going to make it work, though.  My parents, wisely seizing every learning opportunity they could and unthreatened by my current 11-year-old oddity, walked me through the proper protocol.  First: research (smarty-pant parents).  What livestock did I want?  A cow.  What kind of cow did I want?  A dairy cow.  What kind of dairy cow?  A Holstein.  Why?  Because they are docile, produce more than enough milk for one family, and I loved their black and white spots.  Next:  I was to call the city to see if we were zoned for cattle. I did.  The lady on the other end was quite sensitive and pushed through her initial shock of hearing a little voice ask if I could own a cow, and informed me we weren't zoned for cows, but we could have three hens, no roosters.

That's where it all began.  We researched coops, built one with my dad, and learned all about hens.  My old 2nd grade teacher who grew up on a farm lived around the corner from us and she offered her advice, a cage, and a warming lamp for little chicks.  We were all set.  I became the proud owner of Amy the Araucana, and Zachy and Red, the Rhode Island Reds.  It was magical, I tell you.

19 years later, we care for a 12-hen flock.  Dreams really can come true...
Meet the four different breeds we keep.  Why did we choose these breeds?  Because they have gentler dispositions, they are good layers, and they're just plain pretty.  This first one here is a Barred Rock.  I love their look.  So pretty.  And plump.  I love chubby chickens.  They were the first to start laying.  They yield light brown eggs (pictures of all the different eggs are at the bottom of this post).
The next to begin their laying career were the Rhode Island Reds.  They are the more aggressive of the docile breeds (??), but the most consistent layers, bearing darker brown eggs.
Then you have the Buff Orpingtons.  They are the most gentle hens we have and by far the fattest.  I love that.  They lay medium-toned brown eggs.
Lastly are the Ameraucana.  They seem like they are a few bales short of a wagon load, but don't be fooled by their strange behavior.  If there's a chicken who will find a way out of the run, it will be one of them.  They were the last to start laying, but the wait was worth it.  They lay greenish/purplish "Easter" eggs.
Quiz time: can you determine which breed lays each egg?
This is probably enough chicken talk for one day.  Next, we'll go back to when these fatty hens were adorable little chickey pufflets and how to care for baby chicks.  I can hear the awwwwwes from here.

I'm sharing this at Barn Hop Monday.


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