her grandchildren. Here, I relate my experiences raising chickens.
A few years ago a guy I worked with asked me if I wanted some chickens. “Sure, why not?” I said, and the next day he brought me seven Bantam chicks with a warning “…they run heavy to roosters”. Hmmmm…. what does that mean? What it meant was that three of the remaining six (my dog killed one) would be roosters. I eventually learned that more than one rooster is a problem.
A month later he brought me six more chicks, and I had a small flock to take care of over the winter. These mini-chickens (Bantams) are egg layers, and are way too small to eat a la KFC. So I sub-divided the tool shed, and eventually they started laying eggs, golf ball sized eggs, small but wonderfully tasty.
Unlike most chickens that have been bred to ignore their eggs, some of my hens actually wanted to “set” on their eggs. I discouraged this for a few months by removing the eggs every day, but then curiosity got the better of me and I decided to let one of our hens (Downybutt) hatch a few of her eggs.
A few weeks later, three of her eggs hatched and we brought DownyButt into the kitchen to raise her chicks in a small crate. After a few days of being “on holiday” in our kitchen she started pecking at her babies, became rather bitchy, and was quickly banished to the chicken house. This left us with three cute little chicks that would peep endlessly at dusk, wanting to be tucked under wing I figured, or under dishtowel as it turned out.
We got pretty good at calming them down and getting them to sleep, and I became the “chicken bus”, taking them outside for the day and bringing them back to their nest box for the night. After a few weeks of this their nest box went outside, but they still wanted to be tended to in the evening. One of them started flying up to my shoulder at bed time and I was kinda thrilled, a poor man’s parrot I figured, without the chatter.
Eventually they grew up and joined the flock, and started treating me the way all of the other chickens treated me – abject terror! After all, I’m the Egg-Stealer, the Head-Chopper, the Gun-Toter, the Arbiter of who lives and who dies.
Bambina was the only hen out of the three hand-raised chickens. This was sad, because after a month of too many roosters fighting each other and gang raping the hens, I had to eliminate all the extra males. You see, they also started having crowing wars… “I’m the boss!” “No, I’m the boss!” “No, I”M THE BOSS!”
They do this all day long, which gets old, very quickly. The Executioner alternated between a .22 and the hatchet. The hatchet is quicker, but you have to do it at night when the chickens are sleeping. The .22 works during the day, but you feel like a piss poor sniper as chickens move in jerks, and the other chickens get quite upset by the flopping about. “Fire! Foes! Earthquake! MURDER!!!”
Life is short if you’re an extra rooster.
Little Big Cock – The Papafamilia
Fast forward past the winter months – a time of heat lamps, wet soggy wood shavings, one rooster, grumpy hens, and the occasional cleaning day – respirator required. Spring finally arrives and I’m blessed with lots of hens laying dozens of little eggs. Sometimes there’s too many, but then the sneaky hens start hiding them in the tall grass and I run out of eggs for a while. I need to fence off a yard for them, but it’s too much fun watching the flock run around the yard. so I have “egg hunts” instead…
One hen hid a whole bunch and came back with thirteen chicks. Thunder storms with heavy rain and she’d be squatting in the driveway with all 13 under her wings. The chicks were dry as ever, while she (Mrs. Grey) damn near drowned…
One day, Bambina decided she wanted to hatch a few, so I started sticking Ginger’s eggs into her nest. Ginger is one of the original hens, one of Little Big Cock’s favorite targets, and her eggs are noticeably bigger than all the other hen’s eggs. I figure, if there are going to be more hens, I want bigger eggs. She hatched four of them, and like before, I brought them inside for the first week or so.
Much to my surprise, Bambina started flying to my shoulder at bedtime, something she hadn’t done since joining the flock. Her chicks must have picked up on this, because even though I had very little contact with them (other than bus duty) they started looking up at me in a special way that means that they’re thinking about something.
I moved these chicks out to the chicken house before they were able to fly, and would lift them up to their roost to sleep. Then one day, the four of them gathered into a little huddle and looked up at me with expectation in their beady little eyes. I leaned over a bit and offered my forearm, and damned if they didn’t fly right up and land on my forearm! It became a nightly ritual. They would fly to my arm, and I’d let ‘em walk off it onto their roost. If I was busy with other chores, they wouldn’t go into the chicken house until I showed up.
Now don’t get me wrong, I like having chickens around, but I don’t love ‘em like I love my dog. You know this is true, because I don’t take the chickens for rides in my truck. Not yet, anyway.
It’s a wondrous thing that these little creatures expect so little, yet provide me with the best eggs I’ve ever tasted. To have chickens fly to my hand is just one of the unexpected things that happens when you live on a farm.
I finally understand why the old family portraits of Midwest farmers show the wife holding her favorite hen. I couldn’t figure this out before knowing my Bambina, because none of my other chickens will let me get within ten feet of ‘em without panicking and running away. “What? She chased and caught the hen for the photo session?” No, she hand raised the chick, and then the hen flew up to her arms for the picture.
I’m looking forward to next year, hoping that one of these four will have the motherly instinct. I’m thinking that whatever chicks come from it (My Brown Eyed Girl – In Hand) might fly all the way across the yard to me. Wouldn’t that be something?
So I encourage you to explore the difference between a pet and its generations of offspring. This isn’t a scientific study, but I’ve found that they tend to be much more responsive, more intelligent, and a lot more fun to have around. Oh, and by the way, chickens are cool!
( and our beef cows have names too… )