Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
If you’ve been waiting for an update on our chickens, you might be surprised to find out that our chicken population here at Sunflower Farm has doubled! We started out with two chickens but we’ve already added two more! I decided that I probably should have ordered 3 to begin with rather than 2. One of the books that we’ve read on the subject suggested that if you only have two birds and you lose one, the remaining bird would be rather lonely. The coop is big enough for a couple more, so I figured if I was going to the effort of ordering one, I might as well make it two.
Michelle and I are really enjoying getting to know our chickens. They are very cute and lots of fun to watch. I have discovered that chickens are the biggest carnivores on the planet. My daughter the anthropologist tells me that they are direct descendents of dinosaurs. They actually move just like the “raptors” in the movie “Jurassic Park.” Remember in the movie when the kids are trapped in the kitchen and there are a couple of raptors prowling around looking for them? Well Henny and Penny do exactly the same thing. And their feet are just the raptors in the movie! Scary.
When I’m weeding the garden I inevitably find bugs and other creatures that I don’t want around my vegetable plants. I find grubs, cut worms, June Bugs, Click Beetle Larvae and lots of other nasty critters. Usually I just squish them on the spot. I used to drown them but it wasn’t always convenient to have a bucket of water with me, so I learned to just squish them. Now I collect them in a plastic container and take them over to the chicken coop. Henny (Henrietta) and Penny (Penelope) come running when they see me coming and the second the grubs hit the grass, they snap them up! Seriously, I’m afraid I’m going to lose a finger one of these days. So much for cute, cuddly little grain eaters.
Now whenever I walk anywhere near the pen, Henny and Penny
bolt over to me with that “Give us more of them grubs!” look in their eyes.
They gather around my feet and are happy to peck away at my boots just in case
there are some bugs on them. It makes it a little hard to walk through the pen.
The other day I was splitting some older oak logs. They had been on the ground for several years and they had massive ant nests in them. So I took them over and tossed them in to the chicken pen. The chickens went crazy! Periodically I’d go over and knock a bunch more ants out of them and it was like the All You Can Eat Buffet at a Chinese Restaurant when college students eat for half price. A feeding frenzy.
I made some modifications to the coop before the two new ones arrived. Henny and Penny had been using the walls between the nesting boxes for roosting. I hadn’t provided them with a proper “roosting” spot. So I put a roof over two of the nesting boxes so they would stay nice and clean for egg laying. Then I put a roost on the third box and a larger roost that runs across the whole coop. This roost gives them a “birds eye view” out the “chicken TV” window. In this photo, Flora & Bell, the new chickens, watch Henny & Penny who have been here for about three weeks now.
The new chickens spent most of their first day inside the coop. (Henny and Penny did the same thing on their first day here.) It sounded like that movie “Pacific Heights” in which Michael Keaton plays the tenant from hell. The chickens go into the coop and they bang and scratch and making a racket. I almost expected to hear jackhammers at any minute. Once they finished arranging their coop “just so” they began to spend more time outside.
We chose to buy twenty-week-old chickens so that they would be ready to lay and they are all laying, albeit erratically. On Friday we got 5 eggs, and then Saturday just two. The eggs are fairly small but they are beautiful brown eggs and will get bigger over time.
I built a “Chicken Gym” of roosts outside for them to hop up on to and they have been up on the roof at least once that we know of. I think it was the ring leader Henny scoping out her escape plan, using the height of the coop to see over the chicken wire enclosure and out into freedom. But every time I deliver another bunch of cutworms I can see her reconsidering, “Should I fend for myself in the wild, or wait for that guy with the boots to bring me ready-to-eat bugs?” So far, we’ve been able to stifle any escape plans.
The ladies really seem to enjoy themselves during the day. Our place is kind of like a chicken spa… ample food, lots of room to move, fresh water, sunlight, or shade if they want to go under the coop, and soft comfy nests when for when they want to lay an egg or take a nap. Doesn’t seem like a bad life to me.
It never fails to amaze me at how some people treat animals. Both times that we picked up our chickens we put a nice towel in the cat carrier to give them a comfortable ride home. The man ahead of us didn’t bother to bring any sort of cage so he put his three chickens into a feedbag for the drive home. Really? A feedbag? Just crammed in there? Sure they were squeezed pretty tight in the cages at the feed mill, but a feedbag?
Last Thursday the Globe and Mail ran an article about how the Egg Farmers of Canada are sponsoring an $110,000/year academic “Chair of Poultry Welfare” at the University of Guelph to research whether or not battery cages are humane.
Hey egg farmers; I can save you a hundred grand a year! Battery cages are not humane! Cramming 6 or more chickens into a cage the size of a filing cabinet drawer, where they can’t spread their wings and they each have about as much space as a piece of paper allocated to them is simply wrong. Why this needs to be studied is beyond me.
Last year hundreds of thousands of eggs were recalled due to a salmonella outbreak because of this type of system. I don’t think most people want to eat eggs that could make them sick, or that come from animals that are poorly treated. So if you want to eat eggs, you should track down a local farmer that lets their chickens roam free. Our chickens love to scratch in the ground. In fact they dig holes all over the place and roll around in them giving themselves dust baths. They love to peck at the ground and knowing my soil, they probably find lots of bugs to eat doing this.
Keeping chickens in a cage for their entire lives just doesn’t seem right. Our chickens have personalities. Penny doesn’t mind being held. Henny is the alpha chicken and at the top of the “pecking order.” She’s actually a bit of thug, especially with the Flora and Bell, but we’re trying to modify this behavior.
I am always verbally appreciative when they lay an egg, as I should be. They produce amazing brown eggs. They deserve to be praised. Taking the time to toss the cutworms that I find into a container and then delivering them to the chickens takes more time than just squishing them, but frankly, I think my chickens are worth it. I do wish they’d take a little more time and savour these treats rather than inhaling them, but they seem to love them none-the-less.
Michelle was away for a few days just after Flora and Bell arrived and I was worried about how I would get all four of them into the coop to close it up at night. Well it turns out that as it’s starting to get dark they put themselves to bed! When I go out to lock up the coop I look inside and they’re all cuddled up in the far corner in the open nesting box. Two are in the hay on the floor and the other are perched on the roost above them, keeping each other warm. Some business-minded person probably saw chickens doing this and thought “well what the heck, they seem to like to be close together, let’s pack them in cages all day, every day of their lives.”
I would disagree. Every morning at 6 a.m. when we open their drawbridge door they charge out of the coop and down the ramp and they spend the day happily roaming, and pecking, and rolling in the sand, and flapping their wings, and chasing each other. They hang out in the coop long enough to lay an egg and then they are back outside, then up on the roosts, and have a pretty busy and varied day.
If you eat eggs and can’t keep your own hens, be sure to buy your eggs from a local farmer who treats his or her chickens humanely and lets them roam freely. Watching our busy chickens, I can’t imagine how awful it must be for a chicken to be stuck in a cage for her entire life.