Wel, it’s official: We have a blended family. But not in the traditional sense … the members of this family cluck and lay eggs.
We purchase our Red Sex Link chickens from our local feed mill at 20 weeks of age so that they begin laying eggs shortly after they arrive. We’re finding that they lay quite reliably for almost 2 years, and then their production drops off. Here at Sunflower Farm they go into early retirement and live the life of leisure. (From what I understand at other farms they might end up in the soup pot once they have stopped laying.) I guess they are bred this way but they go downhill pretty quickly after their production ends. We’ve had 5 elderly chickens pass away and in every case they were fine one day, stopped eating and got very quiet and were dead the next day, usually curled up somewhere in the coop.
This spring, most of our ladies were getting on in age, so we ordered another 12. With the CSA we’re finding more people interested in purchasing our eggs so we felt it was a good time to expand the flock. We also watched a few documentaries recently, including this CTV W5 episode on the conditions of commercial egg farms and it seems pretty brutal to me. Our ladies live a great life, have room to roam in their pen, get out and free range after they’re done laying at 11 am, put themselves to bed when the sun goes down and eat like queens. Sometimes I wish I were one of our chickens!
I also decided that there are economies of scale here. I’m up at 6 am (during the summer months) to let them out of their coop and we coddle them all day, regardless of whether there are 4 of them or 24 of them. So we decided to double our flock and added 12 new ladies this spring. Then one of our neighbours got 4 chickens and discovered she was really allergic to them, so we offered to take them and added another 4. We’re paying Heidi in eggs for them. So now we’re at 27 chickens … and it’s pretty awesome!
Michelle insists on keeping old and new chickens separate for a few weeks to make sure that they are all healthy and won’t be spreading any illnesses. So we put the new ladies into the new coop I fashioned from a shed I got from our neighbor Alyce. We kept the two groups apart for about a month or so, and gradually introduced them by letting them free range together. Then I fenced in a walkway between the two pens and the blending started. When one of the new ladies ran into one of the old ladies on their daily walkabouts there was some tension for a while. I’ve blogged about how many terms in our language come from chicken behaviour … “flew the coop,” “hen-pecked” or in this case the ladies were just establishing the “pecking order.” After a while this was established and they started getting along just fine. At dusk the old ladies retired to their coop early, but the new teenaged chickens stayed out as a late as they could. This summer they drove me nuts, because I was ready for bed way earlier than they were!
For the last few weeks as I’ve opened up the old ladies’ coop, which I do first, I noticed that several of the new ladies came out of it. It was like they were having a sleepover. Some of the older ladies were already using the nesting boxes in the new coop so we decided it was time to force them all to sleep in the one larger coop. I bribed them all into the new pen before dusk and then closed off the walkway. And low and behold all 27 ladies were snuggled up harmoniously on the two roosts in the new coop. It was pretty cute.
Oh yes, and I have a new theme song. In the morning we serve the ladies bowls of large flake oats with sliced ripe bananas and warm water. Michelle likes to come up with new treats for them from the chicken blogs she reads. So once I’ve let all the ladies out I head over to their three bowls and fill them up with their breakfast. They love this but it is very hard to walk with 27 chickens milling around my feet, anxious for their bananas and oatmeal. So I have now absconded with (I was going to say that word that ends with jacked and starts with hi, but I’d have the authorities down on me) Billy Joel’s song “Piano Man,” which is an awesome song, but I’ve changed the lyrics to “Sing us a song you’re the banana man, sing us song tonight, cause we’re all in the mood for … some bananas… and you’ve got us feeling just right..”
Then I put the bananas in the bowl and stand back because I could lose a finger… or a hand pretty fast with the feeding frenzy that ensues. Our chickens are spoiled. They spoil us with their awesome eggs. Life is good on Sunflower Farm.