Wednesday, February 15, 2012

# 203 - Almost One Year of Chicken Experience!

Chickens can teach great lessons in this life. I can only imagine what it must be like to be raised on a farm. Ranches are great, but I think that farming gives a much broader chance to experience lessons about life in general.

I know that being a city gal has given me valuable insight in life. A city person seems to have a second "radar" implanted into their system. We learn to be on the look-out for the straggler behind us who is getting too close and we always question which side of town is the "wrong" side of town to head toward.

That being said, chickens have brought great entertainment and lessons into our daily lives. And I will explain...

1.  Chickens are interesting creatures. The truth is, they LOOK funny. Their infamous chicken feet are something to behold, cartoonish and creepy, all in one. A mostly "grounded" bird, they look awfully funny while pounding around with their little chicken feet and drumstick legs.

2.  Chicken talk: I've learned that there are soft sounds that a chicken makes when it wants to chat with you as it follows you around the yard; there are the harsh OUCH clucking they make when laying an egg ---- OW, OW, OW, OWWWWWWWW is how it sounds to me; the screeching sounds they make when threatened or being attacked cannot be missed; the "I need your attention" clucks are distinguishable and I've learned that those sounds can mean that they need more water or food, they do communicate, no doubt. Just as you learn the sounds of a newborn baby, you learn the sounds of your chickens.

3.  Chicken Housing: it's fascinating to see the habits of chickens as it relates to their housing. They see light and want OUT. They are ready to eat and drink. They are rather picky about their bedding zone and like to make a habit out of using the same space, every night, so keep it nice and tidy for them. We first used pine shaving for our coop, then changed to hay which is more affordable. It's easy to clean with a hand-held pitch fork, just shake out the poop and the hay will be usable for a while longer. The chickens like to head inside at dusk. Some people like to put down some pre-dusk treats inside the coop area...just enough for a small snack, not enough to accumulate and attract pests.

4.  Chicken Feeding: We buy chicken feed and have found that our chickens do not like pellet form. I give the chickens daily treats in the form of scraps from the kitchen, especially bread that has become stale. I've also given them other special treats of regular birdseed, sunflower seeds, etc., and they always are enthusiastic about feeding time. Our chickens "free-range" as much as they can in the confines of our backyard, but once we get moved to our land, they'll have much more available for the picking in the wilderness. We feed the chickens in the morning and give them an afternoon treat. We no longer leave the chicken feed out all day long, especially since there is enough feed put down for them to find through scratching for hours.

5.  Chicken Eggshells - Sometimes we rinse out the cracked eggs shells after cooking a recipe requiring eggs, then I let the kids in the family crush the eggshells to put in the garden. The shells add calcium back to the soil. Presently, we are blowing out the contents of our eggs so that the shells can be left intact as I intend to decorate a ton of eggs so that we can decorate next Christmas with EGGS! All things eggs! It will be an interesting Christmas tree, that is for sure. Eggshells, I'm sure, have many wonderful uses, such as half an eggshell being used as a little soil bearing planter for starter seeds. I've done this one as well and it works.

6.  Chickens and Dogs can be a tricky area. A dog, if prone to attack chickens, will do so quickly and efficiently. Dogs who delight in the chase, capture and killing of chickens will be hard to rehabilitate, but it's not impossible, as I've been told. First-hand, we have rehabilitated a dog from attacking chickens to being completely docile and submissive around the chickens. Deputy Dave and I witnessed one dog attack and I witnessed another when by myself, both upon poor Miss Speckles whom I should re-name "Miss Survivor." Fortunately, each time, the dogs had been supervised and prevented from making a kill. But I can tell that it would be a nasty scene indeed if I was not able to intervene. In the country, I've heard that farmers would tie a killed chicken around the neck of an attack-dog and leave it there for a week to make the matter an unpleasant experience in the dog's memory banks, but I'm not sure about that in practice. In my experience, I've learned that NOTHING replaces good training and supervision with verbal cues to let the dog know they are doing right or wrong. Dogs are just like children, they need supervision. Of course, there are breeds of dogs that should never be around chickens. Period. We introduce our dogs to the chicks with heavy supervision. Lots of sniffing, observing and bonding goes on. It's integral to a dog deciding that the chickens are part of the family instead of their dinner.

7.  Chickens and Eggs are something I'll never take forgranted. I can see how chickens on a farm for our ancestors would have been invaluable. The eggs that we gather daily from the coop are like little treasures. We can definitely tell the difference between eating eggs fresh from the backyard coop or the grocery store. The test of floating an egg to determine freshness never ceases to amaze take a clear glass and fill it with enough water to cover an egg. Make sure the glass is broad enough to accommodate an egg laying on its side. You want to see the egg lay completely on its side for the highest level of freshness. An egg that is slightly tilting is not as fresh, an egg that stands on end or floats is certainly not one that I would eat. I often found grocery store eggs to slightly lift on one end in the glass, but the eggs from our backyard coop are consistently so fresh that they lay flat on their sides at the bottom of the glass. It's a wonderful sight.

8.  Chicken and science has taught me that so many people are too afraid to get chickens because all of the data makes it seem too daunting of a task to tackle. It's as if you are expected to be a veterinarian to own chickens. NOT SO! All of the details about owning chickens can be overwhelming. Knowing the basics about feed, housing and daily habits is really enough to jump right in and GET THOSE CHICKS! Yes, a disaster just might is prone to having disasters occur or you might be fortunate enough to actually raise some chickens without having to be a science geek.

9. Chickens and people have shown me that most people are absolutely terrified of chickens, especially those of us who live in the city. Having chickens has shown me the shocking side to our civilization...that too many people have never seen a chicken up close and have never been around chickens. I had been in that group of people. Chicken horror stories had convinced me that a person raising chickens should never be around them unless they had put on their industrial, steel-toed boots, heavy clothing and protective eye-gear. You never knew which body part you might lose when around a chicken had been the lesson...and city people can be utterly ridiculous. There's no doubt that a Rooster can do some damage, but the tall tales had grown gigantic. Thankfully, Deputy Dave and I have been working toward the goal of educating as many people in our family and in our circle as we can about chickens. It's been gratifying. But, my sister still runs and screams if one approaches her. I don't know if I'll ever convert her to a chicken lover, but her daughter, Shaye, she is a "chicken farmer" as she puts it!

10.  Chickens as chicks do require extra tender-loving care and a heat lamp. Their body temperature is critical. Plus, it is important that their water source not come from something that would allow them to accidentally drown themselves; besides, their feathers are more of a downy substance that soaks the water right to the bone (my Southern side coming out). They will let you know about the heat being set just right by their moving away from the heat or huddling beneath it, give them enough room to be able to do either. As they get a bit older, they'll start to travel away from the heat. Chicks grow up so fast! And they are ALL adorably cute!

11.  Chickens and Boundaries have blown my mind. I had no idea that chickens would be so "intelligent" concerning boundaries. Our chickens can indeed fly over the fence lines in our backyard that we share with our neighbors. When the chickens were a few months old, they were testing their flying abilities it seemed and often could be seen gaining flight to the point of me being concerned that I'd have to go knock on a neighbor's door, asking if I could go into their backyard to get my chicken back. But, over the weeks they were roaming the yard, they learned their boundaries. We have two back doors that lead into the backyard and I have found it extremely fascinating that I can leave a backdoor open and the chickens will approach it, to the threshold, and they'll actually peck around the threshold while looking inside the house, but they will not cross over into the house. I don't know if the tile floor looks completely unappealing or what, but they stand there giving me those tilted head expressions while staying outside. Weird. Totally weird.

12.  Chickens and The Weather is something I've had to learn first-hand as well. Chickens will seek shelter on their own from stormy weather. If they are out free-ranging the backyard and a storm hits, they will make a run for the back patio and hide out until the coast is clear. If it is cold, they will find a spot and huddle. We're in Texas, so we don't get too many cold nights, but I've learned that putting in a heat lamp was unnecessary. As long as the chickens are in the coop at night, protected from harsh winds and given a cozy nest to nestle into, they will be fine. I've been surprised at the low temperatures that they can endure. Actually, the worst experience we had was when one of our chickens suffered from heat was BAD, but the chickens survived, due to fast reactions and treatment and good-timing, you can read about that episode here. Basically, chickens are hardy animals, at least the breeds that we are raising are hardy, Buff Orpingtons and a Bantam. I had mistakenly thought in my pre-chicken-raising days that chickens were delicate little things that were prone to falling over dead if you did one little thing wrong. Now, I know differently. At least with the breed of chickens we are raising. If you are one of those people who never had a "green" thumb and feel as if that "green" thumb issue will spill over into the area of raising chickens, don't be afraid. I might not always have a "green" thumb, but I sure have a CLUCKING GOOD TIME raising healthy chickens with minimal effort.

Above all, I've learned that chickens are very self-sufficient. As long as they have a food source, which might simply be good dirt and a source of water with a nesting area, they are good to go. These little feathered creatures are quite amazing, inquisitive and entertaining. There's something innocent and enjoyable about raising chickens...they live simplistically, ask little of you, blend in with their environment and give you thanks in the form of delicious, delectable, smack-worthy eggs.

Yep, I pretty much love my chickens. I'm smitten.

To all the people who told me that owning chickens would only bring me misery and disaster, I say, "Pooh, Pooh to you!"


LindaG said...

I've learned how to read the Julian date on egg cartons until we can have our own chickens.

And if I can't read the date, I don't buy the eggs.
That's the best I can do until we retire.


Clint Baker said...

Thats just awesome. Even the dogs are helping out!

HossBoss said...

Our chickens must have missed the lecture on boundaries ....they know no boundaries. They are only too happy to come into the workshop or the storage shed ...or the house if we leave the door open for too long.

Ours do like pellets but they get treats from kitchen scraps almost daily too. They love any soft fruit or vegetable, especially melons of any kind. Sometimes I pop a bag of popcorn for them. They love it!

: )

Charade said...

I have a little apprehension still, but the more I read your posts, the more I figure we'll have chickens once we're able to be in the country full time. At least we're getting farm fresh eggs from my S-I-L in the meantime.