Posted by: A Part of the Solution | September 16, 2011

What I Now Know About Chickens

I’m not an expert on chickens. We have about fifty on our farm at present. Last year we had just over a dozen. But in the time we’ve been keeping chickens, I’ve learned a thing or two. Thanks to the chickens themselves, it’s been an interesting voyage of discovery.

For one thing, all those cliches are not just banal, they’re also true. Chickens do come home to roost. So you never have to worry about putting them away at night to keep them safe from predators. However, they will resist like anything any attempt to be relocated vis à vis their coop. When we transferred our first batch of peeps from the workshop where we’d kept their brooder to a purpose built, spacious, airy coop about half of the chickens spent a week huddled resentfully at the door to the workshop. We called them the Oud Kirk Faithful. And yes, chickens have a strict pecking order and cling to it. High status chickens will take turns eating so that the rest of the clique can prevent low status chickens from eating until all the varsity chickens are done. Our chickens are provided with one rooster per flock to keep the peace and regulate the exigencies of the pecking order. The hens allow this to some extent, but I have seen one chicken after another snatch a treat from the beak of the rooster and gobble it down while he looks on in some dismay. Apparently, the rooster is somewhat outside the normal flow of the pecking order.

Truly free-ranging chickens, pastured in fact, may or may not choose to lay their eggs in the beautiful, perfectly situated, deeply strawed nesting boxes you provide for them. For most of a year, our Wyandottes determined that all the cool chickens would lay their eggs in the corner of their coop, under the nesting boxes. Now the Wyandottes are using a slot between the wall of the barn and some brooders we have stored on their sides (a little straw there seems to have been the precipitator). This year, the Araucanas have decided that they prefer the tall grasses just east of the coop for laying purposes. And the pullets in the Lower Coop have started coming up to the Big Coop for laying purposes only. Those are some of the more regular locations for rogue egg deposits. We also find them under the porch steps, in the borders, under a volunteer squash leaf  at the compost heap, in the irises growing next to the barn’s concrete apron, in the pigging box on the barn’s upper level, against a fence post near the clothes line, &tc. Pretty much every day involves a colorful egg hunt on this farm.

Chickens are nearly pathological in their desire to have whatever it is that any other chicken may have acquired. They will gang up on and chase a chicken with a cricket hanging out of her mouth. They will get equally excited about a chicken with a scrap of plastic in her beak. Chickens, as you will have guessed, have lots of visual acuity and it stimulates them to go wherever the action is. Our chickens even challenge the turkeys for their foraged finds. And the chickens, less mild mannered than our famously docile Narragansetts, get away with it regularly though the turkeys are certainly twice their size at present writing.

If you’re thinking of keeping a few chickens, you may find it useful to keep these observations in mind.

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