For as many years as we’ve had the greenhouses, I have thought of options to throwing weeds and spent produce on the compost pile. I would imagine feeding these nutritious greens to hens we didn’t have and collecting eggs in return.
We use a fair number of eggs and I could feed hens all year with the very best in greens and surplus produce to supplement grains. When you think sustainable, it only makes sense to slowly eliminate dependence on others when you have the land and resources.
So, we finally made the plunge and built a chicken coop for 10 to 20 chickens. Perhaps, we went a little overboard to ensure a happy flock, even insulating the building. Outside, they have a fair-sized yard with a 6 ft high fence. Afterall, chickens are easy and desirable prey for many species of wildlife who live on our farm.
In October, we acquired ten young, cold hardy females of different breeds. But it wasn’t long before I had second thoughts. Rather than being a peaceful flock, they argued and fought like humans, even drawing blood from one very non-aggressive, peace loving, “just want to fit in” hen. We had to create a special room for her, but the fighting continued between most of the others with feathers flying. Our “idyllic” flock wouldn’t even leave the coop. They spent a lot of time fighting over who gets what spot on the roost or who gets to eat first. All this hostility went on while a lovely yard outside their little door was completely unexplored for about a week. No one was willing to let their guard down.
When I was a small child, we had egg-laying hens to supplement our market gardening income. It was so long ago that I couldn’t rely on experience to prepare me for dealing with this unsociable behaviour. I should have reminded myself that there must be a good reason for the expression “pecking order”.
This sounds a bit anthropomorphic, but I’ve been equating chicken behavior with human behavior. However, by all observations, I’m not too far off. Each hen has a unique personality and as one would expect with 10 humans, there’s a lot of friction as individuals find their place. In some ways it’s easier being a loner and just pretend that everyone’s equal and life is a lot of give and take with abounding good will.
In an attempt to make peace, we thought one rooster might be important. It did help a bit, at least to get them outside as the young, sexually mature male wasted no time terrorizing the unprepared, house-bound hens.
Then came my decree, “No more chickens, no matter how gorgeous!”. My attempts at supervision were futile. However, by the time our poor bullied chicken started to grow her tail feathers back, peace started to settle on the little flock. After the first 2 weeks of upheaval, we all found our place and purpose. Mine, understandably, was to be the door person, cleaning lady and supplier of food, water and a daily pail of fresh greens. A few hens, so far, have assumed their role as provider of an egg a day.
Dealing with potential infections
When we received the chickens, we were advised to give them antibiotics because of the stress associated with moving. There definitely was stress and opportunities for infections. However, a bit of research suggested that providing them with an assortment of herbs like oregano, thyme, rosemary, mint and lavender, would give them the option of finding a natural way to fight off infections. I provided some cuttings of a good number of herbs we grow and noticed they did pick at them, sparingly. So far, they’ve all stayed very healthy.
I planted some of the herbs directly into their yard. I also potted up some that we could bring right into the coop during the winter if there is any concern. With all the issues surrounding overuse of synthetic antibiotics, it is important to first try natural ways to deal with infections. Afterall, life before synthetic antibiotics did survive somehow and we risk selecting for “super bugs” which are becoming a real concern.
The First Snowfall
The first snowfall helped us understand the derogatory term, “chicken”. I had to chase the flock out of the coop only to have them sneak back in as soon as possible. I guess there was no one able to explain to them that snow was going to happen at this time of year. But then, I put myself into their “shoes” and agreed that I would act the same way if I saw snow for the first time; ”The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”
Now that they are used to snow, I expect the chickens to do well through the winter as do their wild cousins, namely ruffed grouse and wild turkeys. They will have the coop for protection from cold winds and enough heat to keep the water from freezing. With fluffed up feathers, they will be as cozy as we would be wrapped in a very thick, light comforter.
Any interaction with another being is an opportunity to learn more about other lifeforms and oneself. I have been told that the chicken venture will never “pay” for itself. I smile knowing that it already has been a worthwhile investment and will continue to teach us so much. In addition, the long-term investment in a chicken coop and occupants promises daily dividends with minimal overhead.