Care and Feeding
Hens are gentle creatures by nature. They nurture their young, are usually passive, and forgiving whenever dinner is late. They really are scatter-brained little things, for the slightest upset or unusual noise will send them running in every direction willy-nilly! They may even jam their heads into the hay to hide, leaving their entire body exposed! Silly silly! And oh my, the hoopla each hen goes through whenever she lays an egg!! You would think it was the first time ever! They announce each egg with loud cackling, which falls and rises in intensity!
Roosters, on the other hand, are vain, and competitive by nature.
There must be a good ratio of chickens to roosters or there will be trouble in the hen house! They strut around, loudly crowing their many attributes at all hours. They crow at two in the morning, three in the morning, six in the morning and sometimes all throughout the day! One gets up early here at Dunn Farm, being serenaded!! They make more noise than our resident frogs!
We really are fond of our chickens. They are kept for egg production and as barnyard pets. Many of them are named while young, while some earn their names, like Crazy and Studley.
The chickens all enjoy free range meals on the weekends (each house takes turns), and as soon as Tim opens the gates, chickens and roosters run gleefully out to the yard, pastures, and forest. Once there they contentedly work the soil, digging up bugs, and other squishy things. Chickens are true scavengers and will eat almost anything! We give them stale bread and crackers, ripe fruits, cooked rice, and vegetable trimmings from the kitchen.
There are two sets of laying boxes each with three nesting places, small, wooden boxes with nests of straw. The chickens lay their eggs here and Tim collects them each morning. Often we will find eggs that have been laid in the straw in corners of the coop. Sometimes they are laid behind the nesting boxes if a chicken is trying to hatch them. When the little Bantie gets out, she lays her eggs under the hen house or between the bales of hay.
The chickens lay enough to keep us, our friends and neighbors well supplied during the warmer months. Egg production stops with the cold winter months.
Straw covers the floor of the coop, not only to keep it warm and dry, but to absorb the urine and feces. They are not particular where they do their business. Tim cleans out their coops as needed, putting this refuse into the compost piles. Small windows in this coop provide light and air.
New stock is purchased each spring and sometimes in mid-summer. Selection is always fun as there are many different breeds. Some are better egg layers and some make better mothers. I love the white Silkies! They are just so darling!
Finally, nightfall finds chickens and roosters all lined up on the roosting poles, settled in for the night. The door is closed, keeping critters out. The chickens roost on one inch dowels that span corner to corner at a height of about five feet. There are two roosting areas in the coop. Towards dusk, the chickens all go into their coop, and squabble and push and shove to get on the roosting perch they want, in the exact spot they want. This is when 'King of the Roost' competitions occur with loud cackling and cock-a-doodle-doos!!
Each year Tim experiments with different breeds. He has always toyed with the idea of being a local breeder, as he is very good raising these baby chicks. They are very healthy and develop into fine stock.
Free-range chickens produce rich eggs with deep-orange yolks, just full of vitamins! You cannot believe how tasty and wonderful this is compared to mass-produced eggs. Most producers will tell you there is no nutritional difference; however, most of you have eaten vine-ripened tomatoes and realize the taste difference from store bought tomatoes! It is exactly the same with free-range chicken eggs. The captive chickens never feel the wind through their feathers or enjoy the sun on their backs. Or munch on natural things in the grass. And these eggs are richer and better for you, of course; after all, the hens all ate their vegetables! Their contribution to a more healthy you makes all the chickens very happy!
There is something about raising chickens that we really enjoy. For me, it reminds me of the ranch, Van Vleck's, where my grandfather worked and lived for a good part of his life. I remember visiting each summer when I was young, in the early fifties, and have such fun! I would visit the farm animals, the horses, pigs, cows and the chickens.
The ranch had a large chicken coop, with many, many chickens and large roosters that would chase me! The chickens would chase me also, as I usually got too close to their baby chicks. Each morning, my Aunt LuLu would scatter corn across the yard, saying 'here chick, chick, chick, chick' over and over, tossing corn and chanting.
The little chicks would scurry around, picking up the grain. Then she would put corn in the feeders for the chickens and roosters. Raising chickens is a pleasant pastime with its own rewards, but especially because each one has its own personality. They really are quite funny!
Feeding is done twice a day, and because of our commuting schedule, the hours are far apart. A suspended feeder which holds cracked corn or lay crumbles (a high protein feed to help produce eggs) on a given day, is filled once at three thirty in the morning, and again at six thirty in the evening.
A snack of cracked corn is also tossed
out into the main area outside on the weekends. It is important that feed is kept fresh
as the vitamins will deteriorate with time. Tim keeps all foodstuff in
large 33 gallon, plastic bins with tight lids. Chickens are very adept
Chickens cannot digest their food without the aid of tiny rocks. They pick these up when they are feeding outside. These are actually used to crush their food in the gizzard before it goes into the small intestine.
Tim built a ramp for the main chicken house so the chickens and roosters may go in and out of their little door at will during the day to snack on these rocks. It is a little larger than a doggie door and leads directly into their main yard, surrounded on all sides by chicken wire which is stapled to overhead beams and side posts. This protects them from critters and varmints who hunt at night, like foxes, roaming dogs, possums, raccoons, and skunks. Prevention is critical as one can lose a whole flock in a single night. Care must also be taken during coop construction to bury the chicken wire well below ground level. This will prevent the burrowing animals from entering the chicken coops.
Roosters enjoying the afternoon outside.
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