Chickens, Rural life

The great chicken experiment

I trudge out to the mailbox, slopping through mud in my husband’s snow boots thinking I really need to buy myself some shoes suited to our new life. Hunter greets the mailman’s jeep with barking and prancing, ready for the race to the treeline where he always stops, satisfied that he has yet again driven off the intruder.

A bill, a postcard, The Penny Press and. . .oh happy day. . .Orscheln’s flyer.  The local feed store has quickly become my favorite local hangout. I lament all the days wasted wandering WalMart during AWANAs when I could have just as easily visited the feed store across the street.  But that was then, before we had five acres, before we had chickens even.

Then, WalMart defined my world in a strange sense.  Today, Orscheln’s does. But as we research and plan and dream, I sense something else on the horizon. Something that doesn’t have a name, or a logo or a weekly flyer. But more on that later.

I toss the mail on the counter, reserving Orscheln’s flyer to look through over breakfast. I open it up and what should I see in bold green print but “Chicks Are Here!”

Up until this very minute, I had intended on getting our next batch of chickens from a hatchery.  Up until this very minute, I had been frustrated by the minimum orders required by hatcheries or the use of roosters as packing peanuts.  I didn’t need 25 birds, but it looked like ordering from a hatchery was going to provide me with 25 birds, whether I paid for them all or not.

At this very minute, I realize that the feed store really was a better option for us right now.

To no one in particular, I announce that I am going to be at the feed store at 8:45, fifteen minutes before they open.

Why, mommy?

It’s Chick Days.

My husband rolls his eyes. The children leap with excitement. They know what Chick Days are. That’s where they got the four hens we currently have. But we got those at the tail end of the yearly event and pretty much got what was left over. This year would be different. This year, we would get first choice because this year we would be sitting in the parking lot when the doors open.

Yeah, I’m a little weird like that.

Less than 24 hours later and ten minutes before Orscheln’s officially opens, Bear, Bug and I are heading back to the chicks, led by the sound of their peeping. They dart back and forth, trying to look at them all at once. I concentrate on one bin: Plymouth Rock, straight run.

This year, in addition to layers, we are adding on a rooster. A rooster to guard the flock. A rooster to strut about the property. A rooster to crow in the wee hours of the morning and remind us of just how beautiful each and every morning is. A rooster for fertile eggs.

So I ponder the Plymouth Rock, straight run bin.  Straight run means they’re unsexed.  In theory, half of them should be male. How many would I need to guarantee I got at least one rooster? What would I do with a second or even a third?

Someone arrives to help us and I ask somewhat stupidly,

Theoretically, half of these are males, right? So theoretically, if I get five, we should end up with two or three roosters?

He smiles, not sure how to answer the obvious. I smile back, understanding the dilemma I’ve put him in. “It’s ok,” I try to say with that smile. “I’m just thinking out loud.”

Happy with my statistics, I ask for five.

Bear begins to squeal as he recognizes the little Rhode Island Red pullets.

Diego! Diego! They’re just like Diego!

That was the breed he selected last year. He carries her around the property, showing her everything and teaching her to be an explorer like her namesake.

I ask for one of those.

Bear then moves to the Americaunas, fascinated by their many colors.

Are these leghorns? he asks.

No, they’re Americaunas.

Bear and Bug light up simultaneously.

Oh, canwecanwe?!  They lay blue and green eggs, mom! Canwecanwe?!

I ask for four of those.

I look at the Plymouth Rock pullets. Unsure why, I am suddenly drawn to these, a breed I’ve never paid any particular attention to, a breed that has never made it on either my “must check out” or “must avoid” list. A new thought is forming in my mind. I already have five.

I ask for two more.

I ask what is crossed to make a production red. The young man guesses Rhode Island Red and…and, well, something else. “Maybe leghorn?” he ventures. Still, my attention has fallen on them for more than a brief moment.

I ask for one.

Will that be everything?

No, not quite.

Not quite. The new idea, not yet fully formed, needs a point of comparison. Cornish crosses are the standard for meat birds. Ready for slaughter at just six weeks, they present minimal investment in time though they tend to camp out at the feeder, moving only for a drink. They grow so fast, their little legs are known to break under the rapidly increasing weight.

I ask for five.

And now for the comparison.

On their third day with us, you can see that the Cornish Cross  is starting to show just a little more size than the Plymouth Rock. It feels firmer and more meaty, as well. This is where I discover that our small scale is broken so I can’t do an official weight comparison, but we’ll remedy that over the weekend.

Stay tuned to watch these guys grow toward our dinner table, complete with recipes for how they are eventually served!  Also, if you are interested in raising your own chicks, stay tuned for some rare weekend posting as I discuss the why and how of beginning a small backyard flock.

3 thoughts on “The great chicken experiment

  1. We are hoping to get some chickens this year again. However, our dog is a bit !@#$%^&* them. If we get a rooster, will he, help train our dog? THANKS!! Great post!!!

  2. Not too experienced with dogs. Roosters can deliver a punch, but others will just crow and run, sometimes faster than their hens. Most of their protection is from the warning they give and dogs can make short work on a flock.

    If you dog has ever attacked a chicken, I wouldn’t trust him with them again, but you can work with him to hopefully help their chances.

    Our beagle will chase them, but doesn’t know what to do when he catches them. I take him to their pen on a leash, and hold him as they get close. I pat him, tell him what a good dog he is and if he makes a motion toward them, I pull back on his collar and say “No!” We’re doing this with the chicks right now, and he’s actually in the garage with them at night. Hoping that will help him lose some interest.

    Our lab mix was curious about them, but he doesn’t chase them. In fact, I lock him in with them if we’re not going to be home before sundown so that nothing unpleasant will get into the coop!

    My parents’ dachsund attacked them once, but fortunately was too small to really do any damage. Then the larger one pecked one on the nose and that ended that dog’s curiosity!

    Training an animal is easier if started as a puppy and if they’ve never actually killed a chicken. But that doesn’t mean you can’t work with him and see how it goes!
    .-= Dana´s last blog ..The great chicken experiment =-.

  3. We have a large variety of bredes that we allow free access throughout the property during the day (they’re guarded well by our dogs & geese). The smaller bredes seem to be the most sprightly and best layers during this exceptionally hot Texas heat wave: Cubalya, Golden Phoenix, Egyption Fayoumi, Sicilian Buttercup. The heavier bredes have not been laying as well, although they seem to be doing okay otherwise: Jersey Giant, Ameraucana, Barred Rock, Buff Orpington, Brahma. We have a couple of shady areas that have misting hoses set up. Water is available at all times, and we’ve been adding a veterinary electrolyte mix to their drinking water. I’ve also added a great deal more milo to their morning scratch to offset the digestive heating that too much corn can cause in the summer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge