Chickens have always been a trademark of farm life and recently have gained popularity with backyard farmers looking to take out the middleman between themselves and fresh eggs. They’re funny looking feathered friends with distinct personalities and some unusual antics you might not know about if you are just getting into poultry.
People often get chickens to provide them with their own eggs. The average hen will lay about 300 eggs a year, but their laying is seasonal and will decrease as your chicken ages. You might be overrun with more eggs than your family can eat during Spring and Summer, but find yourself having to supplement with store bought eggs in the Winter months.
Fresh chicken eggs have deeper orange yolks than store bought ones and often contain more important vitamins and nutrients. They are also easy to collect and comparably inexpensive. If you have too many eggs, you can help cover your costs in keeping chickens by selling them. Farm fresh eggs can fetch up to $5 a dozen and in most states it is legal to sell eggs from your backyard coop.
While it is hard to make a large enough profit to cover the costs of keeping chickens, selling eggs can be educational for young farmers and a fun way to not waste your excess.
Chickens have plenty of fascinating behavioral quirks that will have you scratching your head. Most of these idiosyncrasies stem from wild behavior. You might notice that your hens start squawking and making a ruckus after laying their eggs. The egg song is a natural instinct because hens will nest away from the flock for privacy, and need to call out to find their group again. Staying in the flock is crucial to a wild chicken’s survival, so their calls are enthusiastic music to intended to locate their friends.
You might also notice that if you approach a friendly hen to pick her up, she will squat down and push her wings out, freezing in place. Her squatting position is how hens will stand when being mated by a rooster. It is a sign of submission, because in a wild flock the rooster will be the dominant chicken. A hen squatting down is her way of accepting you as the leader of the flock.
Someday you might look out to the chicken coop and see your chickens laying on their sides with their wings spread open on their sides and their legs stretched out. This might alarm you, but your hens are just catching some rays. They love soaking up the vitamin D from the sun.
If you notice them rolling in the dirt and using their feet to throw sand into their wings, then your chickens are dust bathing. Dust bathing is what chickens will do instead of taking a water bath. The dirt they’re spreading around their bodies will help keep parasites away, and keep their feathers neat and shiny.
Roosters also have some unique characteristics. For starters, roosters have larger wattles and combs, as well as more colorful feathers than their hens. Like many other wild birds, the rooster’s plumage is meant to attract females to his flock and intimidate other males. Rooster’s also have pronounced spurs on their legs just above their toes, sharp growths that are used to fight other roosters. Spurs should be kept trimmed so they cannot accidentally harm other members of their flock.
You might find your rooster scratching at treats but not eating them, picking them up and placing them in front of his hens while making guttural clucking noises. This behavior is very natural and a charming way that a male chicken will try to impress his females with his skills as a provider. Called tidbitting, this display is a crucial part of a rooster’s repertoire in attracting hens.
Chickens are fascinating and entertaining creatures that provide you with fresh eggs right from your own backyard. Their amusing antics means you’ll never tire of watching your flock, and they are sometimes called the “gateway animal” of farming. Many people’s mental image of a farmyard is not complete without a flock of chickens, and they are a fun way to expand your home’s self sufficiency.
Kirsten Lie-Nielsen is rebuilding a 200 year old homestead in rural Maine, using geese for weeding and guarding purposes, raising chickens for eggs, bees for honey, and maintaining vegetable gardens for personal use. Find Kirsten online at Hostile Valley Living's site, Facebook page, and Instagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog posts here.
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