Full Coop, Happy Heart
It’s been a while since we added a big group of chickens to the farm. In 2012, we moved the founding members of 5R Farm – Rhoda, Raquel, Rosie, Ruby, and Ramona – from the backyard of our Portland house to the farm, and we also got 24 chicks for the farm. We built a big coop that was 10 feet x 12 feet and they had a big pasture in which to roam and live the good life. Chickens don’t live the longest lives, and over the years we’ve lost most of the chickens from our first farm flock. We haven’t had any predator losses of the girls in the main coop, but unfortunately there are a lot of reproductive problems and other fatal conditions that are all too common in chickens. These conditions are mostly due to the changes in their anatomy and physiology that have resulted from chicken breeding over the years to produce more and bigger eggs. Those of us who love our feather family could care less about the eggs after our girls reach a certain age, we just want our girls to be happy and healthy and live long lives. We still have Raquel, one of the first three chickens we got back in 2010. She’s our beautiful and bossy barred rock, and at 9-1/2 years old, she’s still our flock matriarch. We also still have five of the ladies we got in 2012 – Buttercup, Squeaky 2, Reina, Other One, and a speckled Sussex who just goes by Sussex – when you have dozens of chickens not all of them get names! So it’s pretty good actually that we have six chickens that are over seven years old. These ladies are all in henopause, they no longer lay eggs, but they will continue to live out their retirement here as thanks for all of the joy they have given me over the years. But as much as much as I love my elder ladies, the big coop that we built in 2012 had been getting a bit empty over the years, and I longed to see it full again.
Over the years we’ve hatched small batches of chicks, many of which have turned out to be roosters and have gone off to live on other farms. But we have added a few ladies over the years – Rosalie (daughter of Rosie), Ruby 2, and Pippi are three of the green egg layers we’ve hatched here on the farm. We also added heritage Narragansett turkeys to the farm back in 2015, and we spent a couple of years focusing on them and getting their set-up working smoothly. Over the last couple of years we’ve hatched and also bought a few chicks for the turkey yard, which is separate from our main chicken coop and backyard, and sadly we have had predator losses of several young chicks and pullets in the turkey yard, due to a weasel is my best guess, and they are hard to beat. Despite my efforts to build our laying flock back up over the years, it just hasn’t happened due to one reason or another. So this was the year that I decided that I would buy a bunch of chicks from the feed store. For the full size chicken breeds, the chicks are are sexed at the hatchery, and there is supposed to be an approximately 90% chance that the chicks will be be female. I wanted to get some of my favorite breeds from my original flock, which include barred Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island red, black Australorp, and Easter egger. I’ve also heard that the Buff Orpington is a great breed – like the puppy dog of the chicken world, so I added them to the list as well. Lastly, I wanted to get some silkies to replace our sweet silkie Millie that we lost last fall. Silkies are a bantam (miniature) breed of chicken and because of that they cannot be sexed at the hatchery, so they are sold “straight run” which means that you are equally likely to get hens as roosters (and in my case, usually roosters!)
In February we added 14 chicks, three of which were silkies, and the rest were my other favorite breeds that I mentioned above. They spent their first three weeks growing up in 2 foot x 4 foot wooden box (called a brooder) with a heat lamp that I had in my home office. Lap chicken training starts early around here, after all we do want friendly chickens! So those first few weeks are a really fun time of bringing the chicks out to the living room for evenings spent on the sofa, watching TV and getting to know each other. After the first few weeks, the chicks start kicking up a lot of dust as they scratch and peck in the pine shavings that line their brooder. Soon every surface in the house is covered with a fine dust, and it’s time to move the chicks to their outside accommodations. They are kept separate from the grown up chickens until they are old enough and big enough that they can’t be bullied as easily by the older chickens. During this transitional time, we raised the young chickens in a 10 foot x 10 foot secure outdoor run, which has a roof and wind protection on the sides, and had two heat lamps to keep them warm at night. When the chicks were about 3 months old they joined our existing older ladies, and the integration went surprisingly smoothly. I think it was because we added eleven young chickens to our older nine chickens, the relatively equal number of chickens in the two flocks made for an easy time of it. I’m happy to report that all eleven of the full size breeds turned out to be hens, which never happens to me! I fully expected one or two roosters in the bunch, but I got lucky this time around. As for the silkies, my rooster magnet was in full force again this year, and only one of the three silkie chicks ended up being a hen. As you may recall, when I got three silkie chicks last year they ALL ended up being roosters. But my silkie girl, Bella, is such a sweetheart that I say it was worth all five of those silkie roos just to get this beautiful and sweet little lady. Now when I do evening rounds, and I close up the big coop and I see it full of chickens, my heart is full again.