Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Few Things That the Chicken Books Didn't Tell Me

When I first got chickens, I read every piece of material I could get my hands on. Books, magazines, pamphlets, anything! While these helped me learn a lot of things I needed to know about caring for chickens, they didn't tell me everything. My chickens have taught me plenty of funny, joyful, and painful lessons, from not-really-significant to pretty darn important.

They're smarter than you think

Sylvie, our very intelligent chicken!
The books told me that chickens weren't entirely stupid, but they didn't tell me they could be as smart as they are. So, our entire bantam flock feels like they need to roost on our porch, rather than the safety of their coop. This means every night we have to carry the five bantams and one overly docile salmon Faverolles in to their coop. One of those bantams, a silver Sebright named Sylvie, really doesn't like to be caught! While the others have given up on evading capture and just let us pick them up and put them to bed, Sylvie has adapted to every single method we have thought of! She quickly caught on to the first method of "catch her while she's asleep". So, since chickens can't see well in the dark, we came up with a new method. "Point the light in the other direction so she can't see us coming to grab her". Eventually, she figured out where the light was coming from, and that we were slowly moving towards her. Off she flew. Then, our new method "catch her in complete and total darkness" worked for a couple of months. But eventually she started listening to our steps and flying off as soon as we got close. Our newest method, "walk past her as if you're not trying to catch her and grab her before she realizes what you're doing" probably has about a week left. Sure, keeping her in the coop and not letting her free-range would solve the problem, but that's no fun!

Don't wear flip-flops in the coop

For some reason, I didn't think of this before getting chickens. No book has ever advised me not to wear flip-flops, but they should! If you have a freckle, or your toenails pained, a scratch or even a spec of dirt, the chickens will feel the need to peck it. A lot. I have one teenie, tiny freckle on my left foot, and every time they saw me in flip-flops, they tried to peck it off, and do the same to my painted toenails. For a quick, cool slip-on shoe, I recommend nurses shoes!

You will spend way more time watching your chickens than you thought

For some reason, chickens are fun to watch. Many owners refer to this as "chicken TV." Watching "chicken TV" is like listening to waterfalls or watching a nature documentary, it is calm and relaxing. In a world where we are constantly stimulated by our devices, chickens provide an outlet to observe something with no story and no problem solving. It's a type of entertainment that allows us to take a moment to just watch and enjoy animals doing what animals do - and that is a lot more satisfying than it sounds! Sometimes I spend an hour just watching them out my window as they peck around, and my rooster periodically chases his son away from the hens. After watching them, I feel very relaxed and entertained, even without my smartphone in my hand. 

The first chicken death is really hard... but it gets easier

 One of the most unfortunate things about keeping livestock, especially chickens, is that they are prey animals, and they die often. While a chicken can live for 10 years or more, it's more common for them to first be taken out by a predator, illness, or simply failure to thrive. My first chicken death was also my favorite chicken, named Blossom. We had let the chickens out to free range, but had to leave for the hospital due to a family emergency. When we returned, blossom was in the driveway with a note from our neighbor that she had been hit by a car, and he didn't want us to see her lying there in the road (thanks for very kind neighbors). That was very hard, but it prepared me for the following year. That summer we had a dog attack and an outbreak of coccidiosis that took out several of my spring-hatched birds both times. Each time, it got a little easier to deal with. It's still a little upsetting when one dies, but now that I have twenty-something birds and I have experienced a few chicken deaths, it doesn't make me want to give up. Even if an illness wiped out half of my flock, I could now learn to cut my losses and start over. I believe this has helped me a lot in life.

You probably won't get just a few chickens

Commonly referred to as "chicken math," this is a more serious problem than you would think. After our first six hens, we got a rooster. We figured we could hatch some new hens, since our coop had enough room to nearly double the flock size. Now we have two coops and a duck pen, and we are adding a bigger coop and a fence for waterfowl. We are adding several chicken breeds, one or two more ducks, and most likely a goose or two. This all started from getting six pullets from Tractor Supply. This is something you'll have to be careful about if you live in the city, where they usually have limits as to how many hens you can have. If you don't live somewhere with ordinances, plan for expansions. Chicken math will get you!

Nothing tastes better than the food your chickens provide you

So, maybe a home-grown chicken egg tastes just like a storebought egg in a blind test. Maybe it does cost twice as much to raise chickens than just buy eggs. But producing your own food, collecting those eggs that are waiting on you every morning, eating an egg for breakfast that is just hours old, it's rewarding! When you were a kid, and you grew a vegetable plant for school, nothing was better than when you finally got to eat it, no matter how gross is actually was. Something that is produced in your own backyard just tastes better to you. It gives you a sense of accomplishment! This is especially true in kids; I've had kids beg to collect the eggs for me when they come over!

I'm sure I will learn many more lessons throughout a lifetime of chicken keeping, as I have many more years to go. What have your chickens taught you? Leave a comment! Don't forget to check out our Facebook page and our Instagram for regular updates!