It’s like Christmas morning when new chicks arrive. I ordered a new breed, called Cukoo Bluebars, in February, and Tuesday morning, five baby chicks arrived, shipped USPS overnight from Ohio.
I had a brooder all ready for them, and they’ll spend the first two weeks inside before moving to the outdoor brooder. Continue reading “New chicks” →
I really can’t resist them, so when my Silkie hen began sitting on eggs, I isolated her and let her think she was hatching them. Three weeks later I went to the feed store and bought six baby chicks. That night I slipped out the eggs and slipped in the chicks. I brushed a little butter on the chicks’ feathers to absorb the mother hen’s smell.
The next morning, the Silkie adopted the babies (who were several days older than newborn), and the babies bonded with the hen (even though they’d been born in a hatchery). It all worked just as if they had hatched right here.
I kept them completely caged for a few days, then let them out for a bit. The first thing the Silkie did was leave the chicks and take a prolonged dust bath, as if to say, “I’ve been cooped up for weeks–I have to take a shower!”
After about ten minutes of dust bath, she rejoined the chicks and herded them around, teaching them what to eat and where to look for it. She makes the sweetest little clucks when she finds something interesting, and all the chicks gather round. Of course, it also trains me to bring them treats.
Continue reading “Baby chicks” →
This year I got my first Cream Legbar chickens. I have four. They are curious, friendly, and lay turquoise eggs. On top of that, they have adorable little feathery topknots. Definitely my favorite chickens of the moment.
As my chickens get beyond laying age, I’ve been giving them to my Ethiopian friend who is willing to slaughter them for fresh meat. But today I decided to try something different. I took my two oldest hens deep into industrial Oakland to the live poultry Halal butcher shop, where for $5 each, they quickly slaughtered, cleaned and plucked my hens, returning them head, feet and all in about 10 minutes.
The shop itself (at least the part I saw), is a big garage with pens of chickens, geese, pigeons, quail and ducks waiting for their end. Fortunately, the fowl seemed unaware of their status, and ate their feed happily enough. The menu listed rabbit, pheasant,veal, lamb and goat, but I didn’t see any.
While I waited, a young man from a Chinese grocery store drove up to by some quail and chickens, and a curious pigeon dropped in to eat some scattered feed, but had the sense to fly off after his snack.
The pigeon reminded me of the title poem of my current poetry ms.
What Birds Know
Always our animal companions
exist at our pleasure—
the fattened hog
roasting on the spit,
the shorn sheep in the field.
Chickens thrive on grain
we spread for them.
The birds of the air
and steer clear.
Larry forwarded an article about the cost of backyard chickens today. Here’s the graphic overview. The graph on top is the price of a dozen commercial eggs (not organic BTW, you’d have to at least double, and in some cases triple that number for pasture-raised organic eggs).
The lower figures are pretty accurate for startup costs, though they don’t include fencing, the electric fence, and the labor of scrounging fresh greens, straw, etc. for the birds. Continue reading “Chickenomics” →
For years my flock has consisted largely of Americana chickens, docile birds who are good layers of green or olive eggs. But this year, diversity has been the theme. I just can’t seem to resist new breeds.
In addition to the original Americanas, of which two remain, I have a Black Australorp and Rhode Island Red (brown eggs), a couple of Silkies, little white puffballs with feathered feet who are great mothers and lay small white eggs, and my favorite from the original flock, Houdini, a Hamburg hen who escapes the chicken area every day to lay her white egg in the bushes.
When I ordered chicks, I decided to go for exotics, so I have two Cream Legbars (turquoise eggs), three Coco Marans (mahagony colored eggs), a Black Orpington, an Olive Egger, and a Rhodebar. Some of these look pretty strange. Here’s a Coco Maran and a Black Orpington with her feathered feet:
And here’s a Cream Legbar: Continue reading “The Angelina Jolie of Chickens” →
As a farmer, I have to treat my hens without sentiment; when they pass their peak laying year, they have to go. This week I took the oldest hens, the beautiful Black Australorps, and gave them to my Ethiopian friend, who eats them. I’ve made one exception so far, the Hamburg hen we call Houdini for her ability to find a way out of the chicken run. She’s a small hen, and although she’s almost three years old, she still lays well. Continue reading “Culling the flock” →
I have been raising my chickens in a large run covered in layers of various hay, straw, grass, etc. This is called the “deep litter” method, that I read about in Juliette de Baïracli Levi’s Herbal Handbook for Farm & Stable, a book I referred to often when we had a real farm. Levi was one of those intrepid Englishwomen of the early 1900s, who studied and traveled and made her own way in the world. Continue reading “Deep Litter” →
Once you have chickens (or at least once I do), it becomes tempting to want more exotic varieties. Four years ago I started out with six Ameraucanas, the friendly, puffy cheeked hens that lay pale green or olive eggs.
Now I have a wide variety, and often know which hen laid which egg by its size and color. Still, I wanted a couple of Cukoo Marans (rich, dark brown eggs) and Cream Legbars (turquioise eggs). When my Silkie (a small white puffball with feathered feet) got broody (sitting on eggs to hatch them), I arranged with a small breeder in Redding to ship a few baby chicks. Continue reading “New kids on the block” →
Do you remember the seven eggs that the silkie hen hatched? Five of those chicks turned out to be roosters! Beautiful as they were, they had to go. In their place, I got three 3-week old hens from Craigs’ list. Their breed is Cuckoo Maran, a medium size chicken that lays deep brown eggs. They are in the chick pen now. At least the owner says they’re hens…
And the silkie is broody again. This time, I’ve ordered female day-old chicks for her to raise–I’m not taking any chances. Continue reading “Babies” →
Many modern hens are too refined to set on a nest of eggs and hatch chicks. The instinct to get “broody” is bred out of them, because they stop laying. Commercial farmers would rather mange egg production and incubation. Continue reading “Meanwhile, back on the farm” →
This week, I decided that the two young Polish roosters had to go. I really can’t have three roosters. Cloud, my Americana rooster is a gentleman and protects his hens. I didn’t feel good about sending him to the stewpot, so the young ones had to go. I waited till evening, then boxed them up to take to my friend who eats them. (I would have no problem killing and eating my chickens except that plucking a chicken is hard, smelly work. My friend’s husband, apparently doesn’t mind.)
But as I put them in the box, I couldn’t help but notice their gorgeous, glossy feathers and entrancing topknots. Especially Dorie One, as my grandson named the now certainly rooster, whose head was laced with gold and red feathers. Continue reading “A bad farmer” →