Thursday, November 19, 2009

Raising Chickens:Photos, Stories, and Updates

We share a good bit of land (that is owned by Leif's parents) with Leif's parents. Half of the land is developed into a nice backyard with green grass, trees, benches, and a trampoline. Behind the developed yard is a miniature fruit tree orchard and a homemade log jungle gym for the grandkids. That is the portion of land that sets behind Leif's parents house. To the east of their home they built what is called, The Barn. The barn looks like a well built, pretty, yellow barn. In reality it is a two level building with a two room garage on the bottom and (up until three years ago) the upstairs was 800 square feet of open space with an enclosed bathroom. Now, the upstairs is our cozy two bedroom cottage. Before Leif's parents graciously allowed us to gradually make ourselves at home, the land surrounding the barn consisted of wild alfalfa and fox tail fields with a large greenhouse (turned storage unit) at the back of the property.

Why am I beginning a post titled "Raising Chickens" with a description of the layout of our land? Well, because now the land surrounding the barn could be classified as a growing little homestead filled with a large dog house and a puppy, a small plot of grass for the family, a good sized garden, a pile of enough wood to burn for a winter, and two large chicken coups filled with almost 30 chickens. It seems that all we need are a couple of goats and maybe a miniature horse or cow. But I'm getting away from the subject at hand: Chickens.

For some families, the chickens they raise are intentionally given names such as "Sunday Dinner," "Frozen Dinner," or "Barbecue." When it comes to our chickens, they have been affectionately given names such as Frank, Marty, Bessy, Sue, Sally, Hershey's Kiss, Silky, and Tiny. We have 30 pet chickens. Some of them we naturally know and value more then others. For example, we had a Silky named Princess who unfortunately ended up with some brain damage and had to be put down. This is No Fun! We tried to help her live a decent life. But she got to the point where she couldn't figure out which way was up or down. She would twist her head around and end up on her back in a corner. That has been one of the more troublesome experiences with our chickens. But then again, there have been other times. Like the morning that Leif rushed in after checking on our chicks we had just moved outside the night before. He carried a tiny half frozen chick in a towel and hesitantly handed it to me to try to revive as he had to run out to work. I worked with the chick wrapping it in a heating pad and such. But it took a final breath after a while and was gone.

But raising chickens isn't all down and dreary. We had a hen go broody for the first time last month. That means she was ready to sit on any eggs we were willing to put under her and she'd hatch them out. We gathered 10 eggs for her and set them in front of her one at a time. She took the egg with her little beak and gently rolled the egg underneath her. She took 8 eggs and squawked when we suggested she take more. She then incubated the eggs for 21 days straight, only getting off of her nest twice that we know of the whole time. The mother hen's natural instincts are astounding. We were thrilled to find Sally, (our mother hen) with five baby chicks exactly 21 days to the hour that we set the eggs at her beak. Three of the eggs didn't develop. But the five that did are still alive and well. It has been so fun to watch all of them grow. It is also Very Nice for us not to be the mother hen. Jakob tries every day to make sure they know who he is. He'll climb in their coop and visit with them, which also helps Sally to accept our presence.

Before this current batch of chicks we actually purchased several fertile eggs online of a chicken breed that is very rare in the US (Light Sussex with Lavender/Coronation Gene) We did order some of the pure Coronation Sussex but none of them hatched. Leif is planning on raising them and selling their eggs and chicks. It was fun to get the eggs in the mail and take them to a friend who has a nice incubating machine. Again, 21 days later (actually, some were 23 days) we had a batch of skittish little chicks. I don't mind having them in the house. They actually don't smell and the little peeping sound is soothing in a way. These are the chicks who were spared from the smoke that I wrote about in a previous post. We will be securing our heat lamp much better in the future. However, we hope to always use a broody hen to raise future chicks.

As you can see, there is much that can be said about raising chickens. It has become a family endeavor. We now let the chickens free range throughout the yard for the afternoon and they are mighty grateful for the chance. The boys love to walk among them and try to pick them up. So far the easiest to catch are Sally and Sue, our Buff Orpingtons. Our roosters are very tame as well. We actually have three. Frank is the head rooster, Marty and Silky are the two underdogs. Which chicken am I most attached to? I would have to say Bessy. Bessy is the very first chick that we bought. She is a Black Australorp. When she was a chick she was very curious. So much so that we had to put an oven rack over the brooding box to keep her inside. However, it wasn't at all uncommon to look over and see Bessy's little head poking up through the bars turning every which way. She is still a leader. But very calm and patient.

This isn't even the half of what I could write about our "Raising Chicken's" experience. Until next time, I hope the picture I've tried to draw for you flows through.


Heather said...

That is very cool! Thanks for the pictures. I have been wanting to see your infamous chickens. Your coups and yard look awesome! The chickens are beautiful.

Faith 'n Family said...

What great experiences and memories for your boys!

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