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Norwich Bulletin - 1/10/2010

Chickens?

I have a friend in Lebanon who has always wanted to get some sort of ground dwelling outdoor bird to help keep the tick population down in her yard. Her husband has always talked about the superior fertilizer that is created by chickens. Since her husband also raved about how much better farm raised eggs tasted, they were already getting their eggs from a family chicken farm.

So they thought, why not look into getting chickens of their own. Since many people are learning more about how chickens used for consumption are raised (whether for eggs or for food), and they are looking into getting eggs from chickens who are happily roaming a fenced in pasture, I thought it might be fun to delve into backyard chickens.

The first stop for anyone wanting to raise their own chickens would be www.backyardchickens.com. A site that carries a lot of good information about the care and keep of chickens, starting with why raise your own chickens. Well, chickens are easy and inexpensive to maintain when compared to most other pets, you will get eggs that are fresh, great tasting while enjoying chemical free bug and weed control.

You will get the best fertilizer and have some fun and friendly pets, each with their own distinct personality. Because if you are going to get chickens for eggs, then you should treat them as your pets. Make sure you give them names and get to know them individually.

Although in many states, local feed stores have chicks available, there are not very many in Connecticut. And since most chickens are hatched in the State of Ohio, it makes sense to order right from the hatcheries. However, most of them have a minimum of a 25 chicks order per shipment. My friend wanted three hens and no roosters to begin with. Since happy hens lay eggs without roosters, there was no reason to have her own rooster flog her or listen to them crow all day long. Contrary to local myth, roosters do not just crow once a day.

So she found a hatchery that would ship out less. But what a surprise to find out that chicks are shipped out the same day they are born! Thatís unbelievable Ė there is no mother time necessary for a chick. Although it does seem sad to me somehow that chicks never get to know their moms. But the reasoning is that chicks have 72 hours of yolk stored in their bodies so itís better to ship them off immediately or else it gets complicated in that they have to eat really often. So I guess it makes sense.

Anyway, after being on a waiting list for about a month, four Americaunas and six Silver Spangled Hamburgs made their way to Connecticut this past summer to live in Lebanon. The Americaunas are friendly hens and lay blue-green colored eggs and the Silver Spangled Hamburgs are white with black tipped feather and lay white eggs. During that time the entire family learned about chicken care. First they had to get a young chick brooder which can be as simple as a sturdy cardboard box or a small animal cage, which is what these chicks would start out in.

The flooring was pine shavings and the temperature that needed to be kept up was 90 to 100 degrees for the first week and you can decrease by five degrees each week thereafter. They need to eat "chick crumbles" and get a chick waterer to start with. And of course, you have to make daily play time so that you can socialize your chickens so they will like being around people. Since the whole reason behind getting chickens in the first place is so they can be free roaming, you need to section off an area for the chickens that give them plenty of freedom and yet protect them from all of the predators that exist in Connecticut; coyotes, foxes, falcons, etc.

It ended up that one of the Hamburg chickens turned out to be a rooster. Because of his breed, he tends not to be aggressive to people and his crowing isnít as annoying as the family thought it would be. They figured itís a lot better than the incessant barking of the neighborís dogs. And he is very protective of his hens.

When there is a shadow in the sky and the hens duck and run for the coop, Shanay will stand in front of the coop and crow at the threat, whether it be a regular bird who happens to be flying by, or a falcon. The rooster protects his girls, even if he dies in the process. Okay, is that devotion or what?

My friends love their chickens. They all have names and personalities. And the eggs are wonderful. I donít know if that because you know where they came from and they just have to be better, or they really are. But no matter, because these chickens are free and happy and not living the life of the poor mass produced hens. If you are thinking of chickens of your own, log onto www.backyardchickens.com.

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