It was August and the end of the shipping season, and while it's common practice for hatcheries to add an extra chick or two to each order to offset any losses during shipping and to add warmth during cold months, this hatchery was obviously wanting to deplete stock -- they sent 12 extras. All boys.
|The mural on the back of the chicken coop - the picket fence is painted on the taller guinea coop|
All the chicks survived. Being a complete novice, I wasn't sure how much room the chicks would actually take up. Nor had I counted on the additional 12 boys. I had set up a 55-gallon aquarium for them, but realized that would be a tight fit. Luckily I had figured out I was never meant to raise tropical fish indoors so I also had an empty 29-gallon aquarium on hand. I set the temporary homes up in the sunroom and sorted the chicks by size: standards and bantams. Like regular Miniature Horses are simply small versions of standard-size horses, regular bantams look like half-sized versions of standard-sized chickens. Note that they also lay half-sized eggs.
|Transition from the aquarium at 3 days old to outside at 1 week old to temporary fencing at 2 weeks old|
One myth about roosters I can dispel is the belief they only crow in the early morning hours. Not so, as many of my coworkers can attest after hearing the boys hollering while I'm on conference calls throughout the day. When you have roosters (and guineas), the mute button is your friend. Also, mine often start crowing around 4:30 a.m., long before dawn.
And a bit of trivia you can use to dazzle at your next party: Did you know you can look at a chicken and predict what color of egg she will lay? If she has red ears, she will lay brown eggs; if she has white ears, her eggs will be white. The shell is simply pigmented or not, just like their ears.
|My Disney-fied motif on the front and end of the coop.|
The little door in the lower right is chicken-sized to allow access
when the large doors are closed during inclement weather.
During the first 3 years, I made a few hundred dollars selling eggs, although I still wasn't quite breaking even with feed costs. The girls are now finally beyond their best egg-laying years and while they still lay more than enough eggs for me and my dogs, the weekly quantity continues to diminish. Since their laying cycle is based on the number of hours of light in the day, as well as temperature, they naturally hit a seasonal low around Christmas. There's a reason eggs feature heavily in the Easter tradition -- by the spring equinox, hens tend to be in full laying mode and families who keep enough layers to ensure a good supply of eggs year round, have reliably more eggs then than they need.
Coyotes have gotten more than their fair share of chicken dinners. And the original chicks, now in their sunset years, are passing on. I have had two hens -- one a bantam and the other a standard -- who found their way into the flock from who knows where. I don't know any neighbors who raise chickens, but the girls showed up separately, about a year apart, and stayed. Right now the count stands at 24: 10 roosters and 14 hens. Four of the roosters live in the guinea coop where I've built them a separate small pen. Two more roosters live in the backyard with the ducks since one of them was being bullied by his brothers and the other had the chicken equivalent of a stroke and was having trouble getting around.
The rest of flock free-ranges, eating tasty weeds and chasing bugs, napping in the shade and taking baths in the sand. They have their individual personalities, quirks, and habits. Chickens are such a quintessential farm sight and having them around brings a bit of comfort to my life. Whenever I see them, I can feel a bit of stress unclench itself from my chest and just ... leave. It isn't chicken soup that's good for my soul. It's the wonder and beauty of the chickens themselves. And while I'll never have 67 at one time again, I'm sure there'll always be a dozen or so running around underfoot to make life just a little happier.