The Chicken Girls Are Here

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It’s funny how suddenly it happened.

For a couple of years, we had tossed around the idea of having chickens someday. It started after I read the book Farm City, the same year my parents got their chickens. But it always seemed off in the future somewhere. Maybe not even until we had moved somewhere with a bigger yard. Certainly it wasn’t going to be right now.

It’s funny how things just click together sometimes, and you just know it’s the right time for something.

I am always thinking about emergency food storage (in fact, I’ve started a blog on traditional food storage–there just isn’t much there yet), and I wondered to myself what the best food storage eggs were. Certainly not the powdered ones, but maybe freeze dried? Of course, I knew what the real answer was–it was to keep chickens.

Then there was my current situation with eggs. My parents’ eggs were so delicious from all the grass, food scraps and grubs they ate. But I wanted eggs that came from chickens not fed GMO feed, so I switched to organic pasture raised eggs. But when I found out that some of the eggs I was getting were up to two weeks old, I began to think that having full control over the quality of eggs we eat might be a better idea. I began to dream of collecting fresh eggs every day and not even having to refrigerate them.

Almost as soon as I decided I wanted chickens, my husband told me that my stepdad had bought something like 30 layer chicks and was going to sell them. We could buy some from them.

And that’s when the plans for the chicken coop began. Lucky for us, husband was schooled in engineering and is pretty good at building stuff. The coop was built under the elevated clubhouse he built for our son last summer. Of course the little boy–engineer-in-training–helped.

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At first we were going to only get three chickens. I thought it would be more manageable. Plus, I wasn’t eating as many eggs as I used to. But soon three turned into four. Okay, I guess we could eat more eggs–we’ve done it before. Plus we didn’t know how good layers they were going to be anyway. If we ended up with extra eggs, we could share with our neighbor friends. Then, when we actually went to go pick out the chickens, we somehow ended up with FIVE. I thought this was funny because that’s how many I originally wanted back when we were eating a ton of eggs. So five it was.

The pullets were about 8.5 weeks old when we got them earlier this week. There were two breeds. My mom said the reddish ones were Welsummers. She couldn’t remember what the speckled ones were, so I looked at some pictures online and I think they are Speckled Sussex, which would be good because that breed is not only friendly but also good layers.

We snatched up three of the Speckled and two Welsummer and put them in a box. They peeped for dear life like they were being kidnapped. I guess they sort of were. When we got them home, husband put them in the coop. They weren’t too keen on going in, and sat in a pile in the doorway. So I went over and took one down and showed her where the food was below. Soon the other chickies came down to see what their friend was doing. They ate, drank, and totally relaxed. When the sun went down, they went back in the coop, and again huddled in the doorway. We tried to push them in further so they wouldn’t get cold, but they wouldn’t budge.

The next day I started getting to know the girls. The first one I picked up–a speckled one–was actually fairly calm. I cuddled her in my arm and pet her. After a while I set her back down so I could grab another one, and you know what? She came back to me! The others took a little more work. Another speckled was fairly easy to catch, and after some petting she started to calm down–way down. She sat down like she was really enjoying it! These first two decided after one petting session that they totally trusted me and wouldn’t fuss at all if I picked them up again. I tried the last speckled but she just kept running away from me. When I caught her and pet her, she realized it was fine and settled down–but even now, three days later, she’s still hard to catch!

The two Welsummers were also hard to catch. Boy they are fast and spritely! I caught the bigger one and she fussed, even after being pet. The other one was even worse, like she thought she was being kidnapped all over again and was calling for help. So the next day I tried just catching them, and immediately letting them go, or just putting them on my lap and letting go. The bigger one decided after this that I was okay, and even settled down to be petted finally. The last one still needs work.

You’re probably wondering why I would bother to do this. I’m kind of wondering myself if there is any benefit to it other than my personal reasons. Thing is, I’m kind of afraid of my parents’ hens. I’m afraid they’ll peck me. I would be afraid to catch one if I needed to. I figure if we could build some trust while they are young and get them used to be handled, then I would have less to fear. It makes me feel better to know I could handle and care for the chickens if they got hurt. Plus, it’s really neat to bond with an animal.

That first speckled one now thinks she’s my baby. She often comes up to me when I’m in the chicken run, expecting to be picked up. Yesterday I was feeding the pullets a handful of grass, letting them peck at it while I held the tuft. When done, I stood up and who did I find sitting under me? Such a funny girl.

My funny little friend.
My funny little friend.

Little boy and I have been trying to figure out what they like to eat. So far they really love grass and clover. Ironically, almost all the food scraps we’ve had lately are foods that aren’t supposed to be fed to chickens. There isn’t much they aren’t supposed to eat, so it’s kind of funny it’s happened this way. I’m sure they’ll be getting a lot of food scraps when our CSA gets started. I’m also going to plant some lettuce for them. I have a partly shady vegetable bed that is best suited for growing greens, and we’ll get so many greens from our CSA. I know backyard chickens are considered to be garbage disposals, but I want my eggs to be really good, so these girls are going to get the best I can manage for them. We’ve even been foraging for clover and other greens around the neighborhood. I just don’t want them eating too much grain.

So, that’s our first four days with the chickens. They are fun. I’ll update when they are older and let you know what we decide to name them.

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