Thursday, February 12, 2009

Keeping chickens

I've 'kept' chickens for nearly 26 years now.
For all of those years, the eggs were all 'brown'.
Varying shades of cream to mid-tone brown are the specialty of several breeds of dual-purpose birds that we've enjoyed having here on the farm.
It's safe to say that the primary reason why I keep chickens, other than the insane enjoyment of it, is for the eggs. Homegrown egg lecture saved for another day.

Last year, I posted to a bartering bulletin board in an effort to find some guinnea fowl hatching eggs and like many good barters things took an unexpected turn. A person who answered my post offered up hatching eggs from Americauna chickens and Welsummer chickens for a 'made to suit' apron. His desire was for a 'sexy apron' for his wife for their anniversary. Now, folks, you hafta love a man who finds an apron sexy, and many men do, indeed, find that to be true, but aprons are another topic. As I'd never even seen one of the elusive blue eggs, much less the 'blue egg laying chicken', I was very excited. After a very rough and tumble start, which we'll not go into here, I put some very seriously compromised eggs into my incubator... I'm ever the optimist. Let's just say that the eggs that arrived from a distant state gave new meaning to the term 'drop shipped'... though their initial packaging was above reproach. Anyway, I got a beautiful pair of Welsummers, who lay 'dark chocolate' colored eggs, and a few Americaunas, some black and some white from the resulting hatch, which was, I believe on June 18th. They hatched on day 19, which is a little early. The babies were healthy and beautiful and grew well.


Isnt' that a cheeky little attitude by the black one on the right? Cute, personable chickens!

Last Sunday, when I tended the hens, there in the nest was a single light blue egg. I did a little happy-dance. I was breathless (ok, so I had been running) with delight at the beautiful colorful addition to my daily take of eggs.

Some chicken owners get bent out of shape when the hens take a 'break' from laying. I believe that it's natural and as it should be and am glad to give them their time for a little R & R. My older laying flock had been on Sabbattical since late in December. I had to resort to using 'store bought' eggs for cooking which I do not like to do. I had gotten a sporadic egg or two during this time, but a couple of months is about average for a break. So, a couple of weeks ago, I rearranged things down in the chicken kingdom. I have three coops, which are actually repurposed mule stalls, circa 1900 or a little earlier. The chickens had previously been grouped roughly by age and breed. So, I began the spring 'sort', placing the younger pullets (this years up and coming 'girls') in with the venerable 'King" of the barnyard so that they could begin their 'training'.

My primary layer flocks for many years now have been Barred Rock chickens. They're a good sturdy dual purpose bird that is hearty and lays well. For the unitiated, dual purpose means that the breed provides both an efficient number of eggs and is a good 'table' bird. We'll get to that 'table bird' thing on another day...

Anyway, with no disrepect at all intended to the guy who's now the President of the US, but truly as a 'take' on his name, my big rooster's named Barrock...
Bar red Rock.... .. (get it? *big grin*). Barrock is an amazing rooster... gentle with humans, thoughtful of his flocks, he's the best rooster of 25 years of my being in charge of the chickens on this homestead.

Meet Barrock:


He presides over the girls, and will be joined in his duties by BJ, his son, later in the year.

Coop 2 contains the young Americaunas and at this point, it also contains the Welsummer pair which will be getting their own digs soon.

Welsummer rooster:

Coop 3, for now, contains the Bachelor Bullpen... the roosters... the 'table' birds.

What with the shake-up in the social clique (that story and the one about chicken personality is for another day as well), and the fact that the nesting boxes were cleaned and prepped and ready to go, including a few 'cheaters' (weighted down Easter leftovers), the girls have all decided to have an 'off to the races' 'I can lay eggs faster than you can' sort of start to the season.

My next door neighbor called me yesterday to say "Those chickens of yours are either laying or lieing about it." From quite some distance (you can't see her house), she was able to ascertain that the girls were in production mode. This makes her happy too, as she benefits from getting eggs, mainly because she's one of the world's best next door neighbors.

I enjoy the chickens, their company, their by-products. I like to know where my food comes from. I love to pick up eggs, still very warm in my hand and take them in. I love to crack one in a frying pan early in the morning and see the yolk, deep in color and standing high above the albumen. More than anything reasonable, I love to see chicken 'fluffbutts' turned up as the flock ranges through the grass in the pasture and orchard. I love to hear their crows and their cackles as they go about their day. They're one of the real 'quality of life' things on this farm.

And now, every morning and every evening, it's a lot like an Easter Egg hunt in my chicken coops... by grannies, there are blue eggs in there... and I can hardly wait.

With special thanks to Brian and Liz~! whose generosity and willingness to barter makes this happiness possible.


  1. Thanks for sharing, you have a beautiful flock. I look forward to visiting your blog again. For the record, all parties involved in the barter acted honorably. The "drop shipper" made things right. Yeah, there were some ups and downs but in the end it was all good. Liz and Brian.

  2. Hi Dawn,
    Love your blog and sharing.