The Chicken or the Egg?
~ by sindar_gloriel
Note: This article will not cover how to prepare chickens for table. I raise chickens as pets and for eggs.
Hobbits had eggs, so it stands to reason that hobbits had chickens. Did you know that there are more chickens in the world than there are people? Eggs supply complete proteins and, I believe, vitamin A. While chickens have a reputation for being stupid (and they can be) they can also be very affectionate and lots of fun.
If you want animals, you had better make sure you really want them and not just the idea of them. Chickens are a lot of work, a lot of trouble, and entirely worth it in my opinion. The first thing to do is prepare an area. Chickens grow up; you can’t keep them in the box you kept the chicks in. What constitutes a good spot to keep them? I have to fence mine, unfortunately. Chickens are extremely prone to predators. I have had to put a top on my chicken-pen because of predatory birds. (In the U.S. you can’t get rid of a hawk easily. You can’t catch it and move it; to my knowledge you can’t even touch a feather without breaking the law.)
Chickens need water, sun, shade, and grass to be happy. However, most chickens don’t get regular grass; I have to let mine out and keep an eye out for “my” hawk. When you have found a place, fence it. This can be expensive and labor-intensive. Know what you’re getting into before you start.
Chickens also need a safe place to sleep. Some companies sell coops or contraptions called chicken tractors that function as pen and coop, except moveable so the chickens can get to fresh grass. Water can be supplied in tubs. Chickens do not like moving water, so streams are not an option.
Make sure chicken-raising is legal in your area. You wouldn’t want your chickens hauled off to the pound!
Next you need to decide what kind of chickens you want. I’m partial to the Buff Orpingtons. They are golden in color and very sweet natured and tame. They lay brown eggs. For pets, they might be your best choice. Leghorns are the best layers. That’s what most egg companies use, but these chickens are not naturally friendly. Rhode Island Reds are hefty chickens, usually friendly. They lay brown eggs. Americanas are show-chickens—they have beards, fluffy feathers under their beaks, and muffs, fluffy feathers around their ear openings. They lay light-green eggs, but can be very broody (they try to hatch eggs, even if there’s not rooster!) and rather skittish. Their feathers are typically glossy. There are many other types of chickens. Do some research.
Find your egg or chick supplier. If you’re raising chickens as pets, get chicks. Females are obviously best for egg-production. Contrary to popular belief, you do not need a rooster to make hens lay. They may sulk if they are penned up, but they do not need a rooster unless you are planning to raise more chicks. Females are more expensive, but the few extra cents is worthwhile. If you don’t mind seeing some rather strange things, you can get eggs cheaper. Be warned, however—once I saw a chick that hatched inside out. Sometimes the survival rate is shockingly low.
Before leaving with the chicks, get chick starter, chick feeders, and chick waterers. If you don’t have proper waterers, then the chicks may fall into the water and drown. I kept all of my chicks in a straw-floored box. Be careful that you don’t put too many chicks in one box: they may gather in one place and suffocate each other, or so I am told. Chicks are very delicate, so be attentive of their needs. They need shade at one end of the box and warmth at the other. This way they can move from end to end as they need to. For warmth, use a lamp and shine it straight down into the box. Make sure it won’t fall in. For shade, drape a cloth over the other end of the box. Always keep fresh food and water with the chicks, and check on them frequently.
If you want pets, play with them every time you get a chance. Make time for them. They are tamer if you play with them and handle them often. Just make sure you don’t tire them out. For the first couple of days, just sit by the box with your hand in it. They hate to be alone! Always have fresh food and water with them, and make sure that they can’t tip the water or food over onto themselves.
As the chicks grow, it will be harder to keep them in the box. They will jump out and run towards every hazardous object in sight. They are extremely curious and obstinate. Make sure that you keep them safe. Even if they are starting to jump (or, rather, especially if they are starting to jump) be certain that they don’t fall and hurt themselves.
A lot of work, isn’t it?
Start taking them on little trips outside when they are old enough. Yes, my chickens were and are spoiled rotten and they love me for it. When they get tired, put them back in. The chicks will love scratching in the dirt and even bathing in it, hunting for little bugs, and pecking grass.
By the time they start looking ragged and getting pinfeathers, start putting them out on their own. You can watch them if you want. I did. Feed them grass and such—eventually you may have them trained to come running when they hear the door open. At night, they need to be protected by either being shut away from predators or in the house in their box. You will need to change the hay in the box frequently. Keep handling the chickens and giving them treats. They will start eating grown-up food: grain or chicken scratch. I feed my chickens chicken scratch and cracked corn. In the winter they seem to like cracked corn best. If they don’t have access to find gravel, give them grit. Your feed store can direct you to the correct size. You will want to have laying boxes ready for the hens.
Eventually the hens will begin to lay. Pick up eggs frequently, especially in the summer. Some hens develop the habit of egg pecking, so if you have an egg-pecker, get to the eggs before she does! Feed the hens calcium, usually in the form of crushed oyster shell.
Eggs! Gollum’s favorite. If you see something creeping out of your chicken coop, you will know to find your local Gondorian archer.
If you have a rooster, and you notice that the hens’ backs have no feathers or they have bare patches, it’s because the rooster is brutalizing the hens. Get more hens or get rid of the rooster. (Chicken and dumplings…just kidding. I sold mine or gave them away.) It will take a while for the hens’ feathers to come back. You might even have to separate the stripped hen from the others. They may, out of curiosity, peck the pinfeathers that are trying to re-grow.
This article should obviously not be your sole source of information. Go to the library (yes, I have found books on chicken-raising at the library) and check out a book or two. Find out what works best in your area, for your budget, and for your purposes.
Note: The more you talk to your chickens, the more they will talk to you. And no chicken says bock-bock that I know of. They have a wide range of noises, most of them amusing (especially a rooster when he first starts crowing!) If you hear a grating noise rising in pitch coming from a hen (very, very loudly) it’s probably singing. That means she wants to lay or has laid. Or she’s just happy. You will learn to identify the noises your chickens make. You can judge their condition by their noises. Talk to someone who has raised chickens. Get chicken-health help from an all-animal vet or from the personnel at your local feed store.
Reference: Raising over 20 chickens gives you a lot of reference.