The Woes of Chicken Raising

My husband and I are still relatively new to raising chickens. It was only a year ago this past May that we received our first 8 chicks. At the time, our intentions were focused on raising meat birds to satisfy our search for local, free-range, chemical/hormone-free meat that we could feel good about eating.
We ended up with 5 roosters, which in our little neighborhood with it’s nuisance laws, was not great. I learned my lesson on ordering a straight-run and “hoping for the best”!
What we truly did not expect, were the personalities, entertainment and bonding that happened with the remaining 3 hens. I am not kidding when I say the day after the last rooster was processed, I saw an immediate change in the behavior of the hens who we know affectionately call “our girls”. They were relaxed – they laid out in the garden for dirt baths and naps in the sun; they would come running to the gate for treats and snacks, and started following me anywhere I went. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves admitting that those beautiful hens had gone from food to friends!
Over the winter through spring, we learned a lot about each other. Sassy became the attention-hungry diva, jumping into my lap for grooming and cuddling. Little Hen became the garden-expert – any time you till, dig, rake or move the hoe, and her eyes lock on to you as if to say “what needs to be done? I’m on it!”. Amelia (named for Amelia Earhart as she consistently tried to fly into our bedroom and bathroom windows) was evasive to hands and hugs, but was adventurous and a prolific layer. I grew to know who needed to lay an egg, the meaning of their different calls and cries, and more about chicken anatomy then I ever thought I would learn when they acted unwell.
It’s been a wonderful year, and if you had told me last year I would fall in love with those hens, I would’ve laughed. If you’d met me 7 or 8 years ago, the fact that I would even have chickens would have seemed ridiculous!
So it is with great sorrow that I announce that my dear Amelia passed away early last week. It was one of those heartbreaking situations where there is no apparent cause; no symptoms, no foul play. I simply found her one morning, lying in the run beneath the coop. My husband and I buried her in her favorite spot in our garden, and I think of her often. She laid so many eggs – one large, perfect egg each day – that we still have many of her eggs in our fridge! The day we crack the last one will be sad, but I look back on the joy and time we had together, and the wonderful eggs she provided us every day. While we have adopted two new young hens, and I look forward to new challenges and adventures with them, I hope they know what a wonderful hen went before them!

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Early Summer Update

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Well, summer has finally arrived in CT. We seem to be about a month behind the usual weather schedule, but since there still hasn’t been much for humidity, I don’t mind!
Our zucchini and squash plants are covered in buds and little baby gourds – I can’t wait! The green beans have exploded with dozens of beans and our rapsberry bush looks like it will be ready any day! While we have to say good-bye to our early season delights, like radishes and snap peas, summer brings its own tasty treats! In a short time, our corn will be ladened with ears of delicious, sweet corn – I have to say, nothing compares to the fresh, sweet taste of homegrown corn!
Now that the vegetables and herbs are large enough to withstand the crushing of baby dinosaur feet and the loss of a tasty leaf or two, I have been allowing the hens to enter our garden (now penned off from their run) to help with the never ending abundance of grass and weeds that multiplies daily.
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Amelia, our skittish and least sociable hen (no matter what we do) lost no time charging through the squash to find a special patch of dandelion and grass!

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Little Hen, our sweetest and most docile, is the one I can trust not to rip of tomato leaves or eat the carrot tops!

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Oh, Ms.Sasafrass! Sassy, our largest and most bold hen, has figured out that she doesn’t need me to let her into the garden! When we let them out of their coop to dig and enjoy the run, I always end up finding her on the otherside of the garden fence! At this point, all I can do is laugh and shake my head.

Chicken, I am your . . .fodder?

OK, I know – that header was cheesy! Sometimes I just can’t help it.

My husband and I always try to keep the holidays low key, especially when it comes to gift giving. This year my husband bought the “gift that keeps giving” – a home fodder system to produce our own chicken feed. It’s amazingly simply – a frame of pvc pipes, a pump and water bin. He purchased a dried seed blend of wheat, barley and sunflower seeds. They only require a half hour soak in water before you put them in their little tray. The system rinses them down every two hours for about 20 minutes, and the only thing you have to do is change the water daily!

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This couldn’t have come at a better time, as well. Our nearest farm supply store is close to an hour away; and the ones that don’t take advantage of their location and charge insane prices for a bag of chicken pellets are close to two hours away! We went up to the family cabin for new years, anticipating that we would buy more feed at the local Tractor Supply to find that it was closed due to the holiday. All I could think of was returning home to my sad, cold, hungry little hens. We had some wild bird seed left, as well as leftover deer feed from the hunting season that has stretched us through until that point.

Thank goodness my joy at being able to grow something to preoccupy the long wait until I can start my garden seeds had led me to set up four trays of fodder Christmas morning. They take about 6 to 8 days to grow, so just as we ran out of chicken feed, it was ready! Each time I empty a tray I setup another, and it has, amazingly enough, proved to be plenty of food. Natural fodder has much more protein and nutrients than the pellets, so they don’t need as much as they do with the store bought grain.

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My husband still went out of his way this morning to go pick up a bag of feed, but considering the hens¬†fought each other out of the coops’ doorway to get to the fodder in my hands . . . I think we won’t be needing as much anymore!

 

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