So you want to keep chickens…

April hanging out in the backyard.

A lot of people these days are concerned with the amount of chemicals that go into their food. More and more people have started to grow their own vegetables, so the next logical step seems to keep two or three hens in your backyard.

You will soon learn that it is surprisingly easy and very pleasurable to keep chickens. It is becoming increasingly popular, probably  because hens make such charismatic and endearing family pets. It is a hobby that children can easily become involved in. You can also be safe in the knowledge that hens are not unhygienic. On the contrary, they will spend hours cleaning themselves.

As you get to know your chickens you will soon discover that each one has an individual personality or characteristic. At the end of a hectic day there is nothing more relaxing than to stand and watch your chickens strutting around the backyard, fending for themselves.

Before you go out and buy your first hens you will need to be aware that you must devote a certain amount of time each day into looking after them, just as you would with a dog or cat.

Rose hanging out in the backyard.You will need to consider where you are going to keep them, whether you have a friend or relative who will feed them when you are away, and how secure the site is against foxes, raccoons and other predators. Even if you live in the middle of a city this is still a major consideration as there are a surprisingly high number of urban predators these days. I must also note that there are certain city by-laws that prevent people from owning chickens (I have had no trouble to date).

Your neighbors will be another consideration because there is no point in causing unnecessary trouble if they are adamant they do not want to live next door to any livestock.  You can always entice your neighbors by offering them some fresh eggs every now and then.

Your hens will soon pay for themselves. For example, if you have three hens you can expect them to lay as many as 600 eggs a year – they will be large, extremely fresh and would have cost far more to buy.

Bernie (Alex's dad) loves his chickens!

Beginners always ask how much space a chicken requires. The rule of thumb is to allow 4 square feet inside the coop for each chicken and 10 square feet outside. Always allow your chickens to roam freely if you can, provided you have a safely fenced-off yard. Hens usually like to stay fairly close to their coop and as long as you provide them with regular food and water they shouldn’t look to wander.

If you are considering keeping chickens, here are couple books that can help you decide:

Gallus Gallus Domesticus

Most of us, when we think of chickens, picture the farmer’s wife (or in my case, the boyfriend’s mom) taking out her kitchen scraps to a few hens pecking around the yard. As of now, I had never thought much of the history of chickens so I decided to do a little research. Here is what I discovered.

Red Jungle Fowl (Gallus gallus)

The domestic chicken evolved from the Red Jungle Fowl (Gallus gallus) of southern and southeastern Asia. These jungle fowl lived in flocks which had a dominant male and a definite pecking order. Our domestic chickens have many things in common with their distant relatives.

For a long time the main reason for keeping or breeding chickens was for fighting. The original farm hens were dual purpose, being bred for both their laying and meat qualities. Gradually, through selective breeding, these characteristics were developed separately.

Little by little other breeds were introduced from Europe and from the East. Some of the best breeds were produced in North America around the turn of the 20th century, perhaps the most notable being the Rhode Island Red and the Leghorn.

After World War I, many ex-servicemen started their own poultry farms as the demand for fresh food increased. These were always free-range and it was quite common to see large fields filled with grazing hens. As demand increased, more intensive methods were developed. In the 1950s and 1960s, the preferred method was deep-litter, where many hens were housed together indoors on bedding of straw or shavings.

This progressed in the late 1960s and 1970s to the system we have today – the intensive battery farming. This is where hens spend their lives -one laying season-

Standard Battery House

in tiny cages being denied the pleasure of foraging for their own food or experiencing any daylight.

In recent years there has been a lot of negative reaction towards this method of keeping chickens, and we are again seeing a resurgence of part-time farmers and smallholders who keep chickens for their eggs, meat and quite simply for their own pleasure. Hopefully, one day consumers will give preference to free-range over the desire to buy cheap produce.

Now let’s hear from you. Would you consider purchasing free-range eggs and other poultry products although they are more expensive?

The past is not a package one can lay away.

Lately, Alex and I have been uncovering moments from our past that serve as an explanation for our current admiration for our backyard pets. I believe that when we were young, we subconsciously absorbed a love for chickens, which in turn lead us to raise chickens.

The other day, my boyfriend’s mom brought up some baby pictures from the basement. She picked one out of the bunch and put it on the fridge. It was a picture of Alex and his little sister Danielle when they were babies. They were in the bath together and both kids had toy cups. Danielle’s cup was plain but Alex’s cup had a white hen on it. 

What a coincidence! Or is it? Could it be that Alex’s toy engraved an image of a little white hen in his brain? Could it be that subconsciously Alex relates chickens with the joy of his youth? The subconscious is a powerful thing. It is a force that can only be recognized by its effects – it expresses itself in the symptom. I believe that Alex’s desire to raise chickens is a symptom of his subconscious mind which links chickens to his youth.

When I was in the seventh grade, my best friend Gabrielle and I would go all out for class presentations. Presentations became one of our favorite things to do. We dressed up like news reporters, moody poets, weight lifters and celebrities such as Michael Jackson, Britney Spears and Jared from Subway.

For this particular presentation we had to create two urban legends. Mine was on Ouija boards, and hers was on chicken fingers. We decided to make costumes to go with our urban legends so we made a Ouija board out of a television and cereal box and then we made the chicken costume. This was absolutely the most ridiculously amazing costume we had every put together. We had feathers, orange tights, beak and even chicken feet. I remember being jealous that I wasn’t going to be the chicken, that I was stuck being the stupid TV box Ouija board.

I am now certain that this chicken costume plays a part in my devotion to the flightless bird. My envy may have resulted in my desire to own chickens. I am the only one of my friends to possess chickens and this therefore validates my childhood jealousy.

When I was 13 years old, I created my first e-mail address. Out of the endless name options for the e-mail, my selection was of course coincidentally related to chickens. chickenfan13@hotmail.com. That was my first ever e-mail address. This is possibly the most revealing chicken fact from my childhood. 

Why did I consider myself a chicken fan at the age of 13? I had never seen a chicken in person until I was 19 and no one in my family owned chickens.  Did my 13 year old self see into the future at my present self and understand exactly how much of a fan I would become? Perhaps my subconscious became aware of my adulation for chickens long before my hobby came into place.

Although there is no proof that the previously mentioned occurrences from our youth have directly affected our subconscious, I am certain that they have had an influence on our present-day passion for chickens.

For more information, check out my podcast! http://janiebeauparlant.podbean.com/2010/11/10/the-past-is-not-a-package-one-can-lay-away

Back In Business

Rose in the coop after laying her egg. Notice the egg on the top shelf.

This morning, Alex and I woke up to the sound of a chicken squawking. We thought something was wrong so Alex ran out in his boxers and noticed that Rose AKA “Ugly” was making all the noise. Everything seemed fine though, and all the other chickens were worm hunting around the yard so we thought nothing of it.

Later on around the kitchen table, we noticed Rose had gone into the coop alone. That’s when it clicked: “I bet she’s going to lay an egg!”

We waited while she did her thing, then Alex ran out to pick up the egg.

It was smaller than it used to be, but that’s to be expected. We broke out the frying pan, cracked the egg and made ourselves a mini sunny side up breakfast snack. Delicious!

Hurray! Our hens are back in business!

Rock-a-doodle!

This post is entirely dedicated to the most colourful and entertaining creatures on the farm — roosters!

When I was young, I remember watching the movie Rock-A-Doodle (except it was in french, and called Rock-O-Rico). I would watch it over and over again because I found it so entertaining. Flash forward about 15 years and here I am staring at actual roosters for hours because I find them so entertaining!

In the avian world, males are always the more “showy” ones. They dance, they sing and they show off their beauty. For example, the male pheasant is so beautifully adorned with all colours of the rainbow whereas the females are very monochromatic. Or take the birds of paradise; the males are known for their dazzling plumage and their elaborate courtship dances.

Roosters are really amazing birds. They are known for their brilliant wake-up calls but many are unaware that roosters sing all throughout the day. Their song varies on the size of the bird and also on the level of dominance of the bird. The more dominant the bird, the louder their cock-a-doodle-doo!

Since we are located in the middle of the city, surrounded by neighbours, we are unable to keep roosters. Throughout our experience raising chickens, we have had two roosters. It is very hard to determine the gender of a chicken when they are young, therefore we were unaware that they were roosters until one day they began to sing. First, there was Ruby, who later turned out to be Ruben. Next there was Molly, who turned out to be Cosmo. It was sad to have to give them up, but they went on to our friend’s farm and had the opportunity to live a happy, song-filled life.

I will now leave you with our friend’s big rooster named Kellogg!

Great Egg-spectations

There’s nothing better than a fresh egg from your own backyard. Unfortunately, it’s been months since my hens have last laid an egg! When hens start brooding, they stop laying eggs and it can take over four weeks after the chicks hatch for them to start laying again. Normally I would call my friend who also owns chickens, but his aren’t laying either. Over the summer, while his chickens were out of the coop and free ranging in his yard, a fox came through and attacked them. The ones that survived have been so stressed out that they’ve stopped producing eggs.

There are endless ways to enjoy fresh eggs: sunny side up, over easy, scrambled, poached, boiled, or maybe in an omelette, frittata or quiche. I love them all but when I’m most craving a fresh egg, I usually like it between an english muffin with ham and cheese; so delicious!

I was looking through bookmarked recipes and fell upon the last recipe I made with fresh eggs. It was awesome so I thought I’d end this post and share the recipe with you!

Asparagus Frittata

Curtosy of Canadian Living

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbs butter
  • 2 cups trimmed asparagus, chopped
  • 1 sweet red pepper, diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 8 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Preparation:

In 9- or 10-inch nonstick overnproof skillet, melt butter over medium heat; cook asparagus, red pepper, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper, stirring occasionally, until tender-crisp, about 5 minutes.

In bowl, which eggs with milk. Stir into asparagus mixture; sprinkle with feta cheese. Cover and cook over medium-low heat until bottom and side are firm but top is still slightly runny, about 7 minutes. Broil until golden and set, about 1 minute.

Meet The Flockers

Without further delay, I’d like to introduce you to the family.

April AKA “La Grosse Grise”

April has been around from the start. She was born in April (haha) 2009, and came to live with us in June of that same year. April is a Barred Rock laying hen and she has quite the personality. She can be stubborn, but when she feels like it, she can perform tricks and is very friendly.

Rose AKA “Ugly”

Rose is a newer addition to the family. We received Rose in May 2010, from Anzil’s English Setters, located in Hanmer. Rose is either a Lavender Cochin hen or a Cochin/Faverolle mix. She is the reason why we have little baby chicks. In July, we noticed that she was constantly brooding over her unfertilized eggs so we decided to go back to  Anzil’s and get nine fertilized eggs. We switched them with the unfertilized eggs and about 30 days later they began to hatch.

The Chicks

Here are our babies. All nine hatched, which was unexpected. We have a mix of Golden Silkies, White Silkies, and Golden Laced Polish chickens. It’s too early to tell which are female and which are male. We plan on keeping them all through the winter but eventually the roosters are going to have to find a new home. We have a few prospects; a couple of our friends have farms or land. Until then, we will enjoy their cuteness!

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