backyard poultry

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.