Sunday, February 20, 2011

Meet the Peeples

After almost three years of chicken-keeping, we are finally becoming chicken-savvy. And by that I mean, we feel comfortable enough around the chickens to feel confident in raising up some chicks.

Now, you can either order a box of 25 from a hatchery, get (invariably) older hens or roosters off Craigslist, or get chicks from the local feed store. When we dove into the poultry world with our acquisition of Marilyn and Pearl Wyandotte it was from a Craigslist post, and we got the Lakenvelders, Rhode Island Red Sonja, Lola and Frenchy Orpington, the Marans, and Betty Australorp the same way. But with the exception of Cleo and Coco Maran, who we acquired as pullets, the others were all adult hens of unknown age.

Chicken-keeping is hugely popular here in Humboldt Co., so when the feed store says it's gonna have chicks Friday morning—the first order of the new year—you really need to be down there Friday morning to get some. Not Sunday morning, which is the best I can manage with my post office schedule. So I had to enlist the aid of my husband, Greg-I-Am-Not-A-Farmer!, to go stand in line at the feed store, then bring them home and show the babies what water is by dipping their little beaks in their water can.

And surprisingly I-Am-Not-A-Farmer! said, Sure. He then went back on Saturday for another batch!

Last week's batch of chick-babies. The yellow ones are Leghorns (Buff? White? I don't yet know.), really good egg-layers. The sooty-yellow ones are Cochins, a gigantic meat-bird with feathered legs. The two dark ones are Barred Rocks, a dual-purpose breed (meat and eggs). Since we're keeping chickens for eggs, the Cochins are for entertainment purposes only; they can ride the productivity of the Leghorns.

Baby chickens (and baby ducks, it must be said, despite the extreme poopiness) are incredibly cute, and their contented peeping noises are very pleasant—a good thing, since their brooder box is in our dining room. (We're taking meals on a folding table in the living room.) I find them appealing in a way I do not find baby wild birds. Just goes to show the power of domestication.

They huddle together under their heat lamp, the race in a group to the scratch plate for chow, they run back to the lamp and pass out en masse. Very funny to watch, though it's beginning to irritate Orange Gina, who thinks free time is better spent in cat-oriented pursuits.

After we'd had the chicks for a week, Greg asked, What kinds of chicks will the feed store have this Friday? Great! I'm getting some.

 So now we have a big box full of eighteen chicks. The yellow and sooty-yellow ones are the Leghorns and Cochins from last week. Three brown ones with stripes (one's in the upper corner of the box, middle of the photo) are Ameraucanas (green- and blue-colored eggs), the little russet-colored ones are Rhode Island Reds (eggs, lots of 'em!), the two dark ones in the middle of the photo with light-colored spots on their heads are Jersey Giants (more meaty freeloaders, but should be great conversation pieces), and the small dark ones are, uh, Barred Rocks from last week and, mm, something else. (Greg wrote it down in his pocket-brain but I don't know where he put it.)

I expect half of these will end up being cockerels, which means finding them a home in the country or slaughtering them for the pantry. So maybe we'll end up with nine or so new pullets, some of which might be great egg-layers, some might not. But I think we're set on chickens for awhile.

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