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First time I’ve done this:

May 13, 2010

I’ve followed some of your comments back to the source, and it seems that some of you already HAVE chickens. I had them as a little girl, but my mom did all the work. (I did all the pretending-to-be-Laura-Ingalls, while being pecked and attacked by angry roosters. The fantasy died hard.) So, make with the advice, please. Specifically:

How many hens?

What sort of abode? A pair of foxes frequents my yard, by the way.

What kind of care do they require? Constant? Infrequent? On the scale between, say, Labrador Retriever puppy and outdoor cat, where do hens fall?

Can one construct one’s own hen abode, within reason? (My consoling-windows friend and my boyfriend are both quite clever with tools and the like.)

Is it permissible to have a kind of Rainbow Coalition of hens, in which different races and species all just get along?

Which hens lay the most eggs? Which ones lay the most delicious eggs? Which ones are kind and devoted? In short, which kind should I get, other than the Araucana?

And so on. I’m serious about this. I’m thinking only chickens can mend my broken heart.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. May 13, 2010 3:17 pm

    If you followed me back to my source you surely found that the only chickens I have are of the “well, those chickens will come home to roost” variety.

    Can’t wait to see your real, live chickens! I hear they arrive via Fed Ex.

  2. jewelly permalink
    May 13, 2010 3:39 pm

    You might find this thread at Ask MetaFilter helpful.

  3. May 13, 2010 4:00 pm

    Jealous! Our yard is too small to house chickens (much to the husband’s displeasure). My daughter’s preschool has a bunch. They live in an enclosed area. There are different varieties all housed together. They lay eggs. I have no clue what kind of chickens they are, though! Good luck on your chicken endeavor.

  4. More Tennyson, Less Arnold permalink
    May 13, 2010 4:10 pm

    There’s supposed to be something called an Egloo for chickens to live in. Susan Orlean wrote about it in The New Yorker. It sounded tacky and very un-Ingalls-ish, but functional and perhaps fox-proof.

  5. May 13, 2010 4:21 pm

    If you are serious about chickens, then I highly recommend Ashley English’s new book “Keeping Chickens”, which addresses all of the questions you posted. Her blog is:

    I don’t have chickens myself, but am also in the investigating/quite serious stage. I’m due with my 2nd in August though, and am thinking it might be best to get through baby stage before taking on livestock.

  6. May 13, 2010 4:49 pm

    If you click the Demented Poultry tag on my blog, you will read tales of woe. Joy, yes, but primarily woe! The fox keeps having the bloody lot. Would highly recommend an enclosed run. Highly!

  7. Also wanting chickens... permalink
    May 13, 2010 5:32 pm

    I desperately want chickens, and now that our town has recinded its “no chicken” bylaw and we’re moving into a house with a bigger yard, I’ll be able to! In the meantime, I have been a stalker of There is a TON of information there which will probably answer all your questions. If not, the community will.

  8. yammeringon permalink
    May 13, 2010 5:58 pm

    in my experience, as long as they’re locked up at night, you’re good to go. Except in the dead of winter when hawks might get a few. Yes. You can construct your own coop. Our first coop was a big wood crate with a door cut in it and a roof – the crate had shipped semi-conductor parts to the local university. Then my husband built a palace of a coop. It cost $600ish in materials. Check out the backyard chicken website for photos of all sorts of coops that people have built. A dog igloo that can be fitted with a door might work if you only have a few.

    I’d recommend deciding how many chickens you want to end up with and then buying twice as many. Chickens are cheap and stuff happens to them (hawks, etc). Yes, you can totally have a rainbow coalition of chickens. Go nuts. Our family of four finds that 3 eggs/day is just about perfect. This means aiming for about 5 chickens since we aren’t too particular about how productive they’re being. In fact, one chicken stopped laying and then adopted a gimpy chick that we’d bought. So we got our useless chicken a useless pet. But they’re SO.CUTE.

    Care: remembering to let them out in the morning and locking them in at night. Tossing them food and remembering to collect eggs. I’d say they’re awfully close to the outdoor cat on that spectrum, except they feed you back. nice!

    Google chicken egg laying productivity terms – there are a lot of charts that show about what you can expect per week from various breeds. Also a bit about their personalities. There’s a good one from a guy at ithaca college.

    I like sussexes. They’re sweet. I also like spangled hamburgs. They’re *crazy.* I haven’t yet met a hen I disliked. Roosters, now that’s another story.

  9. May 13, 2010 6:15 pm

    Read read read Still Life With Chickens. It’s not the best memoir ever, but it’s about a woman who gets a divorce and then gets chickens, so maybe it’s a fit?

    We have 70 chickens right now. 50 of those are destined for the freezer in a few weeks; 20 layers gives us about a dozen eggs a day. We started with four, which was much more reasonable, then went to eight which was about perfect for my family of five. Now I’m just glad the dogs will eat eggs. My husband is fairly handy with tools and has made two chicken coops out of odds and ends, bits and pieces – the important part is being able to close them in securely at night. Don’t worry about making it airtight – ventilation is healthy, even in the frigid months.

    Care is easy. I let them out in the morning, check water and food, close the door at night. I’ve never had a lab puppy or a cat, but the girls are way less consuming than the guinea pigs. And they live outside, so no smell in my house.

    Definitely go Benetton with your chickens. Faverolles are my favorite – they look like comfy slippers hopping around the yard.

    We now stick with hens, after our roosters knocked the baby over and tried to eat his hair. Hens are fine. They don’t need a rooster, no matter what our neighbor farmer guy says.

    The best way to learn about chickens is to find someone who has some. Chicken owners generally love to introduce their flock. And is a great resource.

    Have fun!

  10. May 13, 2010 6:22 pm

    Have you considered ducks? We have a fox in the neighborhood, and a friend of mine lost all his chickens to him despite repeated efforts to shore up the chicken coop. But, my next door neighbor keeps ducks and they seem to do fine in just a pen with a sheltered corner. She tells me ducks will band together to scare off foxes instead of scattering like chickens.

    I don’t know if she ever does anything more, but when I duck sit all I have to do is change their water daily and collect the eggs. She feeds them in a feeder that stores several days worth of food, and they apparently eat a lot of insects also. I would say they are maybe a tiny hair more work than an outdoor cat, but not much. Plus, I really like the duck eggs.

  11. May 13, 2010 6:57 pm

    I have chickens! And answers! I’ve posted a bit about them, I will get URLs when I’m on my computer. Rhode Island Reds are great for laying and temperment. Chickens are easy if you don’t have poo issues, coops can be made by you/friend/etc. Our coop is handmade. You need more than one chicken because they get lonely. More info later! (I love my chickens)!!

  12. Celeste permalink
    May 13, 2010 9:25 pm

    I only know about Martha Stewart’s fixation with the Aracaunas because of an April issue she had one year in which she introduced the $100/gallon paint she made based on their egg shell color. I’m enchanted by robin’s egg blue and the blue-green turquoises, so she had me.

    My mom grew up on a farm and I don’t think anybody could turn a chicken into parts faster than she could.

    Everybody I know who keeps chickens says that if only everybody would do it, nobody would fight. Apparently they have a calming influence. Here’s to getting broody over chickens!!!

  13. May 13, 2010 10:11 pm

    A friend of mine had chickens while we were growing up. They would go on vacation and I would go over and take care of them. They were fun, and you get used to stepping in chicken poop in your bare feet. Or you learn to wear shoes.

  14. May 14, 2010 3:01 am

    I have always fancied an Eglu coop for chickens – but not sure they fit in a rural idyll.

  15. May 14, 2010 7:52 am

    We’ve had chickens for two years, and they bring us a lot of pleasure. We keep a mixed flock of 10 hens plus a rooster (the latter is a rural luxury; he’s not necessary for delicious eggs, but he keeps the girls safer) because we fancy a variety of egg colours. That’s far more chooks than we need, but we don’t give them supplementary light in the winter, so when their laying slows down in the shorter days we still have ample eggs. In the summer we sell and give the excess to friends and family. We have all heirloom/heritage breeds; an easy decision as there’s a local hatchery that breeds many types. We currently have Araucanas, a Chantecler, Wellsummers, Barnevelders and a couple of Rhode Island Reds. They’re all good foragers, and are a good balance of curious about/terrified of our toddler.

    I’d say chickens fall somewhere between bees and puppies on the responsibility spectrum (though baby chicks require several-times-daily attention for the first several weeks). We’ve found a few tricks that allow us to leave our flock alone for 3 days/2 nights without needing a neighbour to check on them: 1. A great big hanging feeder that takes the girls many days to empty. 2. Multiple well-placed water buckets. 3. An automatic coop door opener. That last is the jewel in the crown. It can be set to open and close at either a particular time or light-level, keeping the flock predator-safe, and reducing our visits to the coop.

  16. May 14, 2010 9:21 am

    I’m channelling Karen from Will and Grace when I say this: Oh, sweetie. Where has your mind gone? Clearly you’ve lost it. Let me help you find it. Chickens stink. They get lice. They’re filthy, nasty animals, kind of like my Stan used to be before we sent him to charm school.

    If you don’t want to house-train a puppy, kittens are good. If your longing can only be satisfied by the bird variety, may I suggest a cockatiel? [Parrots are like children though, and require near constant attention.]

    If it’s spending time in the great outdoors, may I suggest a vegetable garden? Ample opportunity to hoe (good for aggression), plant and weed with the bonus of tasty fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and fresh herbs. Try some mint off to the side (because it usually grows like a weed and will overtake all else if not separated) and when it’s ready do this: Mix a handful of mint leaves in a blender with 1 cup of ice, 1 container of frozen limeade and 7 oz of either gin or vodka. Blend and enjoy the fruits of your labor, love.

    Pair it with a lovely grilled chicken breast that you bought at the store, which required no stomping around in chicken shit (on your part at least) and didn’t result in the entire neighborhood smelling like a festering swamp by the time August rolls around.

    Cheers, darling! Smumzie

  17. May 16, 2010 1:36 pm

    Do you read Susan at Trout Towers? She’s got chickens!

  18. n dolan permalink
    May 16, 2010 6:00 pm

    why do you have a broken heart? Seems to me you are happy with your new beloved and were unhappy in the marriage for a while. I just got divorced, and the man I thought was waiting for me I just found out is not. Now that is a broken heart. (sorry sooo obnoxious)

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      May 16, 2010 7:40 pm

      Not at all obnoxious, and how awful for you. I’m sorry. I was kind of being flip w/ the broken heart comment–you’re absolutely correct that I haven’t earned the right to say that at all. I hope you mend as soon as feasible…and I’m sorry your intended behaved poorly. What a cad.

      • n dolan permalink
        May 18, 2010 9:17 pm

        thank you for being gracious about my mean comment.

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