In April, my husband decided we needed chickens in our lives.
He spent a couple of weekends building a coop and preparing our backyard for a small flock of birds. On a shivery Saturday morning, we drove the couple of blocks to the Raeford Home Food and Feed store and selected six chicks ó three Easter eggers and three black Australorps.
I could tell the difference between the three Easter eggers immediately. They all looked vastly different, mostly because Easter eggers arenít a particular breed. They are really known for their egg colors, but are basically the mutts of the chicken world.
Since we could tell them apart, we named two of them within the first day of having them. Daphne and Sean Bean were both beautiful little chicks who made quite a bit of noise sitting in their box on the ride home.
The other four chicks didnít get names until a couple of weeks later. The Australorps were difficult to identify until their combs started coming in, and the other Easter egger didnít seem to fit any names that we could come up with. She ended up being called Runty, due to her slower growth rate.
The Australorps were named in different languages for the colors of their combs that began to grow after the first couple of weeks that we had them. Roja (Spanish) had a brilliant red comb, Jauneís (French) was yellow, and Asud (Arabic) had a black comb.
The first six weeks of owning chickens were a bit more work than we had anticipated. We set up a watermelon box in the garage and attached a heat lamp to the side. We had a water container for them, fresh pine shavings for their bedding, and a little trough to feed them.
Elke, our sheepdog, was more curious than anything about the little chirpy noises coming from inside the box. I would pluck out a chick and hold her close to Elke while my husband kept a firm hand on the dog. We wanted to introduce her to the chickies, but obviously didnít want a deadly scenario. Elke would tilt her head side to side, trying to figure out the noises coming from the small creature.
After a couple of times of letting her sniff the chicks, she began to get a bit more comfortable around them and ended up licking Daphne one day. Daphne, of course, was having none of that.
When they reached about six weeks old, we moved the chicks into their own coop in the backyard. They had a decent sized run and two sets of nesting boxes to spend their evenings. During the day, we would open up the coop door and let them roam around the yard. Thatís when things became interesting.
Elke is a sheepdog and she likes to herd things, but, until this point, had really only herded small children around our living room during get togethers with our friends.
She lost her mind with the chickens. They wouldnít go where she wanted them to go at first. She would get increasingly frustrated with them as they would flap and squawk about the yard. If they werenít in the corner that she wanted them in, she would run into the living room and ďtell onĒ them. If the chickens had the nerve to hop onto the back deck, Elke had something to say about it.
One day, it clicked. She rounded up the chickens and herded them into their coop for the night. If the chickens donít put themselves to bed first, Elke will now put them into their coop. Itís amazing to watch her count the chickens as they enter the coop. If she doesnít see six chickens, she searches for the missing ones.
Our chickens were touted as female chicks. One morning, I was woken up to the sound of crowing. It sounded like an adolescent, cracking crow. Hens will sometimes crow, so I wasnít too worried about the noise coming from the coop Ö until the next day when the crowing was more confident.
Elke herded up the chickens for me, and I picked up the one I thought was the crowing culprit ó Roja (she was the biggest). She was definitely a he. My beautiful black/green hen was actually a beautiful rooster. I redubbed him ďBrojaĒ (Rojo just didnít seem to work in my brain as well). Broja is now gigantic and struts around like he owns the yard.
If anyone had told me eight months ago that I would be caring for six chickens (who have laid seven eggs so far), I would have laughed at them. Somehow, my husband managed to talk me into having these silly creatures in our backyard.
I know once I get to start eating their eggs more regularly, Iíll be thankful that he pushed the chicken adventure so hard. Elke is incredibly happy to have a job, and thankfully has not felt the need to eat any of her charges.