I remember well our first chickens. There were so many new experiences to be had - so much to learn! I laugh now at the many silly thoughts I had as a new chicken owner. When our trio of point-of-lay pullets produced their first egg, they made that wonderful sound that I now know is in celebration. At the time I thought they were telling me to go away.
I was also taken aback at the chicken's pecking-order, which was particularly strong as our hens all had Leghorn blood in them, which is a rather dominant breed. I even thought that the boss of the flock, Caroline, was sharpening her beak at one point. She seemed to really have something against poor Hilary. I later discovered, to my embarrassment, that she was in fact cleaning her beak! (I did apologise to Caroline.)
Needless to say, I learnt a lot in that first year of chicken keeping, and now, almost ten years later, I'm still learning. I've seen dozens of chicks hatch, raised hundreds and run out of names for them all. The very first time we decided to hatch chickens was only a few months after we'd bought our first hens. Two of the hens decided to go clucky, and being new to the world of chickens we gladly excepted the offer of some fertile eggs from a friend's chicken pen.
How lovely that Hilary and Harriet shared the nest! What beautiful team work, I thought.
However, when the eggs started to hatch twenty-one days later, the sad truth that hens cannot share nests was discovered. One squashed chick later, and Hilary was removed from the nest, to let Harriet do the rest of the work. Then came the rain, and the ants, and the fact that Harriet was a terrible first time mother who pecked the chicks when they emerged from under her.
We saved the hatched, bleeding chick from the nest and put it into a frying pan with the last of the eggs. We'd read that an electric frying pan, padded with moist towels, makes a good emergency incubator. Sadly, the already hatched chick died, but then something wonderful happened. We spent the next twenty-four hours hovering around the frying pan, watching the last egg hatch, listening to his wee peeping voice, and encouraging him with motherly clucks. At 7 o'clock the following morning, the chick emerged from his egg. We named him Peep, and he was the most spoilt chick to have ever lived.
As you'd expect, Peep grew into a rooster. We were living in town at the time and were faced with having to re-home him, when another friend, well experienced in chickens, told us that some people put their rooster into a box over night, to stop him from crowing.
We found a roomy but dark box for Peep and began putting him into it every evening, and not letting him out until the street was awake the next morning. He had to stay in a little longer on weekends. It worked a treat, Peep didn't seem to mind and he didn't bother the neighbours with early morning crowing.
There was only one side affect - his natural roosterly routine was delayed by an hour or two, which made him a little over excited to greet his hens in the morning. A few of the feminists in the flock really didn't appreciate Peep's increased morning energy.
I look back on that first flock of chickens as being the most enjoyable. It was all a new experience and there was so much joy contained in those chickens - the beginning of a dream coming true.
If you've thought about buying chickens, I recommend you just do it. There isn't really going to be a perfect time. We were so keen to finally own some, our first chickens arrived only a few days after we'd moved not only house, but to a whole new part of the state.
You don't even need a fixed chicken pen to keep them in - you could put them into a Chicken Tractor. (This it the name for a movable chicken coop). With a chicken tractor, you could even keep them in a rental, provided you of course have permission from your landlords. You won't be building any permanent pen that the landlord has to worry about, and when you move you can take your coop with you!
If you'd like more information about chicken tractors, or even just a handy guide as a beginner chicken keeper, I really recommend checking out A Beginner's Guide to Backyard Chickens and Chicken Tractors. The eBook author, Elizabeth Beavis (perhaps better know as Eight Acres), has written about her first-hand experience with keeping chickens, with advice on everything from using an incubator, to stopping a clucky hen from brooding, to how to feed chicks and process and cook your own homegrown chicken. There are also ideas for designing your own chicken tractor, and plenty of resources to expand your knowledge of backyard poultry keeping further.
A guide like this would have saved me a lot of time trawling through google and forums, searching for answers in the beginning. Check it out!
Do you have any funny chicken stories?
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