Monday, April 25, 2011

Country Living Series: The Ladies (and Possibly a Gent)

I can think of little that is more quintessentially 'country' than keeping chickens.

Yes, many urban homesteaders and suburbanites are raising chickens in their postage-stamp-sized yards these days, so keeping chickens is certainly not exclusive to country living. But in the country is where it all started and I think that every urbanite or suburbanite who keeps chickens is seeking to capture some of the essence of country living via their chickens.

My chickens are collectively referred to as "The Ladies."  The flock currently numbers six laying hens and two youngsters, one of which we believe is a boy. I hope he will prove to be a true gentleman because we had a not-so-gentlemanly rooster not too long ago.  Let's just say he's no longer with us in this earthly realm...

Anyway, when we got chickens last year, I had no idea how entertaining they'd be or how much I would adore keeping them. I just wanted fresh eggs from chickens that were treated humanely and allowed to live happy lives. My husband simply sought good-quality fertilizer to add to the garden.

What we have now is feathered pets who just so happen to endow us with delicious eggs and fertile compost.

These chickens never fail to put a smile on my face. I love hearing the ladies chattering away when I'm outside.  It delights me to no end to walk past a window while inside the house and spot them in the yard, scratching and pecking for bugs.

I'm quick to take them treats--bananas, melons and yogurt are favorites--and I chided my husband just the other day when he'd emptied some veggies into the compost bucket rather than give them to the ladies.

Chicken enjoying her watermelon

As the temps warm here, I often find myself in the evenings headed out to "play with the chickens." That usually entails me cornering one of them in the run and then picking her up and talking softly to her whilst stroking her feathers.  You know how it's said that stroking an animal (usually a dog or cat) calms you, lowers your blood pressure, etc.? I find chickens have the same effect on me.

If I didn't have this camera in my hand, I'd pick you right up, Lu!

My husband designed and built the ladies' coop from various salvaged materials that we and my dad (our next-door neighbor) had on hand.  The siding came from a local sawmill that sells green, rough-hewn oak boards (usually 8-10" in width by 8-10' in length) for $1 a piece, making this a very frugal project.

The nesting boxes are housed at the rear of the coop (left in the photo below) and a hatch that lifts up gives us access to the eggs from the exterior. The hens enter via a gangplank in the front (right, below), and though you can't see it from this angle, there is a larger access door on the offside for cleaning the coop. The floor of the coop is made of hardware cloth and some droppings fall through, but much of it rests on top, thus I scrape it out with a hoe via this access door.

We attached a 20'x30' run to the coop to give the chickens an ample yard in which to scratch and do their chicken thing. I dug all the post holes by hand (for which I thought I deserved Wife of the Year!) and then up went the fence for the chicken run.

Since getting the hens, we've actually alternated between keeping them in the run and letting them free range in our yard and woods. They are happiest having the run of the place and even go as far as sulking, pacing along the front edge of their fence while giving me the stink-eye, when I shut them in the run  The only downside to free-range chickens in the yard is the free-range poo I occasionally step in, but it's an inconvenience I'm willing to live with.

The ladies frequently free range in the woods around the house where ample bugs and grubs are found.

The leader of the flock is Henny Penny. I believe she's a standard production Red Sex Link, but possibly a Buff Orpington. I've only ever found conflicting information when visiting online chicken forums and doing Google Image searches. Regardless of her breed, she's intelligent and quick to eat out of your hand when offered crumbles.  And I swear that chicken has laid an egg every single day since we've had her. You couldn't ask for a better egg producer than Henzer.

Henny Penny - Alpha Hen

Darkness is a Black Jersey Giant for whom we couldn't come up with a better name. Sorry, Darkness! Her eyes have an eerie look to them, and that's what initially inspired the moniker.  For any of you who watch True Blood, her eyes remind me of the residents of Bon Temps when they were under the spell of Mary Ann. She also clucks in this menacing sort of way, so really, the name fits.

The ever-evasive Darkness
Rosie, a Rhode Island Red, came to us via my husband's brother who also has a small flock.  This is another story for another time, but Darkness had two siblings that we got as youngsters. (Before genders could be determined.)  Turns out those other two Jersey Giants were roosters. We traded one of the roosters to my brother-in-law for a hen, so he could eventually raise chicks. Rosie was the hen we received in trade.

Chicken and Dumplings are a pair of Barred Plymouth Rocks that we purchased with Henny last May. My husband thought he was clever in naming them what he did, but don't worry, they'll never be what their names suggest!

Chicken (left) and Dumplings (right)

They're both large chickens and Dumplings is a waddler. It's hilarious to watch her waddle speedily through the yard after a treat.  She can be surprisingly quick and agile when it comes to snatching goodies from her flockmates. I have a particular soft spot for Dumpy after she had heat stroke last summer and required a brief stay in our house to recuperate.

Dumpy in the nest box

The newest hen to the flock is Lucille. Like Rosie, she's a Rhode Island Red from my brother-in-law. Poor thing's been here just a few weeks and Henny and Rosie continue to put her in her place, which is pretty much at the bottom of the pecking order.  She's adjusting and is a sweet chicken. She often freezes and crouches down when you approach her, so she's easy to catch and pet.


Finally, just last weekend, we received The Littles. Our nephew loves chickens and wanted badly to hatch eggs this spring, so Santa conveniently brought him an incubator for Christmas.  He and my brother-in-law hatched more than a dozen chicks of varying breeds in February and they gave us this pair.

The Littles...actual names TBD...right now Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum are at the top of the list.

They're Polish Silkies and from what I've read, they're a cross between Polish Bantams and Silkies. They are two peas in a pod and chatter constantly.

So, there you have it, the long-overdue introduction to our flock of chickens!

They are remarkably easy to keep and bring joy in spades to my life.  (What does that say about my life? Oh, never mind, we won't go there right now...)

If you've been thinking about getting chickens, I encourage you to do it!  All of my chickens have been easy keepers and the hens only require sufficiently protective housing, fresh water and feed, and space to stretch their wings and legs.

And let me tell you, there's nothing like eating a fresh, golden-yolked egg from your own chicken. Grocery store eggs, with their pale, anemic yolks, will look incredibly inferior (which they are) in comparison after you've had a real thing.

So, do you keep chickens or have you in the past? If so, what's your favorite aspect of having them?



  1. Chickens are so entertaining. One of ours used to jump up on my lap when I was outside enjoying my coffee. It's fun when you're on you hands and knees gardening and they hop into the holes scratching for bugs. They are great therapy.


  2. Looks like great fun and work to own but I can see that you and your family are really making it work! I enjoyed reading about your darling little chickens!~Hugs, Patti

  3. love your chickens and your coop! we have chickens too! just two right now, we had a few just die ; ( and i just didnt feel like introducing new ones this spring... we get two eggs a day! that is enough for our family! : ) your coop looks like a tree house for chickens!

  4. I love your blog--I found you through the Nest, my new obsession! I look forward to seeing more of your projects.

  5. Hi Erin, Yes we have chickens too and like you, find them a constant source of giggles and fun. They have become so much a part of our petdom. We lost one last summer and I cried and cried. Ours free range for half the day and they sulk too and pace the run if I don't let me out on time. I just won a blogger's give-away with a photo of our Romantic Roost aka chicken coop.

  6. Aren't chickens are so much fun? I love my little flock- we have Dominiques and live in rural NC as well. It looks like to me that one of your hens, "chicken," from what I can tell, might actually be a Dominique because she has a rose comb. Often many Dominiques are mistaken for Barred Rocks and vice versa because they have been crossed so much by breeders who aren't careful. The Dominique is such a great breed- very hardy, excellent foragers, good layers, good mothers and docile. I am enjoying your blog and look forward to following!


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