Even funnier than the coop I pulled together for the first chicks I brought home a year ago, was the year before that (2014 for those of you keeping track) when Wylie’s chickens came under attack by hawks and everyone rushed out to save the them. I told Wylie “I think you’ve got this, I’m going to stay inside.” I was wearing a white sundress and wedges and there was no way I was going to do anything like chase chickens around the yard. I was still way too “City” for that. It is still one of my finer “Green Acres” moments.
Fast forward to today, my girls are laying regularly and I enjoy fresh eggs from the yard nearly every day. I have a clutch of new chicks and the coop is done for now, with its own built-in brooder! I joke about being a chicken hero. The chickens are one of my favorite features of the Dome and they follow me around the yard when I’m doing chores.
We don’t name our chickens, after all, they’re not pets, but every once in awhile, a name sticks. Each breed of chicken has it’s own personality and often that characteristic will earn the bird a name. (You have to call them something!)
Let me introduce our hens, and what I’ve learned from them, in pecking order…
The Polish Bitch – She is our oldest hen and the most feral. She doesn’t sleep in the coop with the others, but in her tree. She also insists on laying her eggs in a nest of her own choosing somewhere in the yard. Her reluctance to comply with the rules is what earned her a nickname.
What I’ve learned: The expression “What’re you, chicken?!” has its roots in the nature of chickens. Chickens are notoriously skittish and synonymous with cowardice. Since they are prey, chickens are very good hiders. We usually have a very hard time finding the Polish one’s nest, but when we do? Easter egg hunts pale in comparison.
Oh, and her skittishness isn’t necessarily due to her preference for being left alone. Her vision is impaired by her crest of feathers and that keeps her wary, just a bit more so than the others.
Next is the Big White one. I chose her because she was tail up in the feeder at the store and I could relate to her enthusiasm for food. When we got her home though, we realized she had a bum leg. That’s why she was tail up, she couldn’t stand! We kept her and watched her get stronger and stronger. She was a runt, but you would never know by looking at her now.
What I’ve learned: Baby chicks face a number of life threatening circumstances before you see them in the store. Even then, conditions like Pasty Butt can appear within the first few days. Chick fatality is so widely acknowledged, most baby chicks come with a full refund within a month!
Big White didn’t know she was handicapped, so she wasn’t. Now she is at the top of the pecking order. I only put the Polish one first, because she is the oldest and very much her own bird. Limitations aren’t real, unless you say they are. Pasty Butt, one of my new chicks was suffering from toxicity and I took care of her. She would have died left untreated, but now she is so spunky! She’s got some dark tail feathers coming in and her aggressiveness makes me imagine her as a rooster. We’ll see!
Interesting facts: You can’t tell roosters from chickens until about 4 months old and most hens will start laying when they’re about 6 months old.
Then there is the Yellow One, who pretty much minds her own business, and Red. Red is the most people friendly, and she will let you pet her and pick her up. She does not like the baby chicks though, and was part of the slaughter of the two chicks Wylie brought home in early Spring.
What I’ve learned: While it may be great to think that introducing your chicks to your chickens will help them integrate into the flock, it’s not that easy. You can introduce chicks to a brooding hen, but the timing is complicated. Really, if you’re buying them from a store, you need to be prepared to care for them until their feathers have come in and you’ve built a proper coop.
As I mentioned earlier, the pecking order is a real thing and it is roughly enforced.
Our other new additions include an Americauna and Silver Phoenix. Both are more of the yardbird variety like the Polish one. I’m really hoping the Phoenix is a rooster, because they can be stunning.
You only need (or want) one rooster. They generally don’t get along well with each other and are the epitome of being “cocky”. Roosters help protect the flock from perceived predators. This could include you, or small children. They will fight to the death, and although they are fierce warriors, sometimes the best they can do is to alert you to the intrusion. With a rooster, you can also have fertilized eggs and the possibility of baby chicks!
The other three are layers, and we’ll see how they turn out.
To answer the most popular questions: Chickens lay an egg just about every day. It’s not fertilized without a rooster present. Chickens will share a nest box, up to 4 or 5 birds per box. They like to sleep on a perch, as witnessed by the Polish one’s preference for her tree.
That’s all for now. Let me know if you have any chicken-related questions and if you’re considering raising chickens, do it. It’s easy and so rewarding.