Backyard Farming Update Part 1: How We Got Our Chickens

May 24, 2013 by

Il Giardino

I was just reading the post I wrote at the end of April in 2012 (over a year ago--mon dieu!) and realized I hadn't written an update on my backyard farm dreams. Basically, my three goals were to: convert the dirt into a fall garden, get bees, and get more chickens--all of which have come true. I thought it might be fun to share  how each little dream came true. As the title suggests, this post will be about... The Hens It all started a few months ago. Henrietta was hanging out in her hen house, huddled up against the wall to fight the foggy winter cold. I felt bad for her; chickens are flock animals and very social. They constantly communicate with each other with little clucks and pecks, and keep each other warm at night in hen house. Since Henrietta had been on her own since I met her, I didn't realize that her solitude might be taking a toll on her. But then she stopped laying in September or October, and we still hadn't gotten eggs by January and February. The owner of the property, we'll call him R, and I chatted about getting more hens, but neither of us was sure we wanted the extra work. We were also nervous about introducing new hens to Henrietta--afraid they might have diseases that could kill her or that Henrietta could peck the other girls to death (she's a sassy lady). But I began to wonder if she might die soon--either from disease or because she was depressed. One day, I saw a dog carrier next to the shed and opened up the hen house. Three chickens were staring back at me. Two new and smaller hens were huddled together on the rafter roost, and Henrietta was at chest height, staring at me with her "What the hell is this crap?" expression, clucking with irritation. The other two kept shifting from one foot to the other, then walking down the roost and staring at each other, then me, then Henrietta. She shot an angry glance up at them from time to time that sent them to the corner, feathers shivering. I had no idea how the chickens had gotten there. I shut the coop--I decided to let them fend for themselves--and went for a walk. Robert--the owner--almost drove by me until I waved him down. "Did you see the chickens?" he grinned. A friend had given them to him. "I hope Henrietta doesn't kill them," I said. We both knew she was the only one that survived the last batch of chickens that had been there before me--and that says something about her ruthlessness (basically, it says she's ruthless). The next few days were touch and go. Henrietta would prowl the chicken run and the other two chickens stayed up in the roost, terrified. If the ladies tried to come down from their roost, Henrietta would squawk at them or chase them back into the hen house. I had to feed the girls on a ledge at the top of the hen house for days. Ruthie came down by the end of the week and endured a bunch of hen pecking--her little neck has finally grown back all its feathers, but it took almost a month. Beatrice took almost ten days until she came down--I finally stopped feeding her because I felt like I was enabling her cowardice. I wanted her to Lean In, you know? After about a month, the girls all adapted to each other. Now they get along like gangbusters. One of my favorite things is to watch them take dust baths together. They claw out a big ditch in the shade, then nestle down into it with half-lidded eyes and a look of blissful pleasure. They'll cock their neck to the side (pun not originally intended), then tuck it into the dust. Then they'll brush a wing out and flap the dust on their backs. Sometimes they do it side-by-side and flap dust onto each other, and wriggle around in the dust, squirming and getting all dirty and shoving their heads into each others sides and extending their wings over each other's backs as they "bathe." It's pretty darn cute. Anyway, without further ado, let me introduce you to the Ladies, in their pecking order: Henrietta: The oldest and most sassy of the two. She is most likely an Araucana and a great layer, but I think she's eating her eggs, darn it. Going to have to work on that one. She likes to strut around like she owns the place--she kinda does--but try to see her keep her cool when I chase after her. Then all that bravado is out the window and she's totally...chicken. (You can see a great photo of Henrietta here). Ruthie: A bit lighter, also an Araucana, looks a lot like Henrietta, and is only slightly less bossy. Also a great layer and she could also be the culprit who is eating her eggs. She likes to talk to me a lot--mostly about how unhappy she is that I don't let them out of their spacious chicken run more often. She used to get hen pecked by Henrietta all the time, but now she holds her own. Beatrice: Oh Bea. She's so cute and timid, and quirky...and dumb. There are plenty of nests with straw in them, but she'll lay in a wooden nest that has been long abandoned. I think it might be because Ruthie and Henrietta are eating their eggs and she's being protective--but that's granting her some brain power that she likely doesn't have. The other two girls peck her a lot, but she's getting more confident these days. Sometimes I'll try to chase her back into the chicken run and she'll go into the corner between the door and the fence and not be able to figure out how to go around and go through the door. Sigh. She is pretty dumb. I can't lie. Okay, that's it for now. Next update: BEES!

The Ladies (clockwise): Beatrice (the white one), Henrietta, then Ruthie.

Color of an Easter Egger's eggs vs a brown egg (the shape is a bit unusual here, but happens sometimes)

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