The Chicken Experiment

Our Easter Egger, Sunshine, 2 weeks old
In our quest to eat healthier, we started buying all of our dairy and eggs from an Amish farmer last summer.  I've come to realize that in order for us to eat really healthy, we need to know where our food comes from.  Conventional "everything" (dairy, eggs, meat/poultry, veggies & fruit) is just not the best you can put in your body.  There are so many chemicals and a variety of food processing techniques that alter your food and cause all sorts of problems.  Eating food you grow or harvest yourself, when you know where it came from, is the best you can give your body.  

I mentioned to my husband how fun it would be to have our own chickens so we could have our own "organic, free-range" eggs.  I'm not sure if he thought I was serious back then, and to be honest, I'm not sure I was serious either!  But the more I thought about it, the more I really liked the idea.  I researched to find out that it was legal in my county as long as our neighbors were OK with it. And after talking to the neighbors, it seemed the project was on!

In January, we decided to finally take the plunge and order one chick per family member.  We went through My Pet Chicken.  Each of us carefully selected the breed we wanted and sent our order in with two other local friends.  We even paid extra to make sure we got all hens, plus we paid to have them vaccinated.  We paid about $40 for five chicks, including shipping:  2 Rhode Island Reds, 2 Silkies, and 1 Easter Egger.

In preparation of their arrival, I built a chick brooder.  The supplies I purchased and assembled include a large plastic tub with lid, wire mesh, fasteners, bird perch, bedding (we use pine shavings), thermometer, heat lamp & red bulb, chick feed & grit, and a feeder & waterer.  I cut out the inside of the lid and attached the wire mesh with some fasteners.  I lined the bottom with paper towels and bedding and set up the lamp.  Altogether we paid approximately $65 total.  Luckily, I found a hen house on ebay and even had some paypal credit, so our coop cost $300, shipped.  It arrived pretty quickly and was relatively easy to assemble.

Live chicks in the mail!
When the chicks arrived toward the end of March, my friend and I were surprised to learn that the hatchery included two extra silkies, and that the two we originally ordered weren't available, so they included Easter Eggers in place of the two we ordered.  We went home with six chicks that day:  two Rhode Island Reds, two Silkies, and two Easter Eggers.

Needless to say, my husband was shocked to learn we had an extra.  But one of our silkies was not guaranteed to be a hen (it was from a "straight run" that didn't get "sexed" before sending).  We promptly set about naming them:  Scarlett & Rainbow are the Rhode Island Reds, Sugar & Cinnamon are the Silkies, and Pepper & Sunshine are the Easter Eggers.

After a week or so, Cinnamon died.  We're not sure what happened.  We saw no signs of her health declining.  We were all so very sad, and even had a funeral for her.  She will forever be remembered by a rock our kids placed above her gravesite in our yard; poor little chick was so little we buried her in my iphone box.  Another friend who had hatched more than 20 chicks from eggs ten days after ours were born, offered to bring us one of her chicks to replace the one we lost.  And that's how we got our Barred Plymouth Rock, Spice.  So we were back to six chicks again!

Our Silkie named Sugar, 2 weeks old
 We kept them in their brooder and started letting them outside in the coop when the weather finally warmed up.  Once they were six  weeks old and had most of their feathers, they were certainly too large for the brooder and ready for the coop full-time.  It was a hectic first few days, worrying about them constantly!  We actually locked them into their hen house for the first two days (we'd read this helps them to know where their home is).  And on that third day they were just in the hen house at night and in their run during the day.  It took two nights for them to put themselves to bed, and now they do so every night by 8pm!
Ivy, about 5 weeks old
The same friend who brought us Spice had to start finding homes for their chicks since their HOA doesn't allow coops, and her three girls were sad to give them all up.  We offered to care for their two smallest bantams (a Silkie named Egglina, or Lina for short, and Violet who we think is a cross between a Silkie and a Polish bantam), as well as another chick we have yet to determine what her breed is.  She's a gorgeous grey (possibly "lavender") chicken that resembles the Americauna breed, named Ivy.

Introducing three new chickens into our flock wasn't easy.  Poor little Ivy was picked on quite a lot the first two days.  We actually brought her and Violet back into the brooder the first night we had them.  Then we just carefully watched them and made sure they didn't get injured by our big bullies.  Now they have been fully accepted into the flock.  Ivy still has be to careful she doesn't get in the way of the "top hens" (Sunshine, Pepper, or Scarlett), but for the most part they all get along.

So that's how we ended up with nine pet chickens in our backyard!  I must say, I really enjoy letting the "ladies" out in the morning from their hen house into the run, and then letting them free range in our backyard for one to two hours each afternoon.  The best part is when they take a dust bath in the mulch -- what a funny sight!  I was afraid they would be difficult to catch after letting them free-range, but usually after an hour or two, they start going back into the run on their own.  If they don't, we just grab one or two of the "top hens" and the rest will follow.  At night, it's so sweet as all nine waddle up the ladder into the coop for the night.

Scarlett, Rainbow & Sunshine, top hens of the coop
Some of my friends and family think we've lost our minds.  But I am really impressed at what great pets chickens make!  Since ours have been handled since they were only a couple days old, they are very friendly.  Each one seems to have a personality, too.  They are require very little work now that they're in the coop full-time.  And in a few months, they'll start "earning" their keep by providing us with fresh eggs!

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