Fowl Play

I love imagining farm life and livin’ on a farm, (however, I’m in the Suburbs).  I dream of having chickens.  Backyard chickens are gaining in popularity, but I’ve gotten no further than ordering hatchery catalogs and having a chicken motif in the kitchen.  Having read up on the subject, raising poultry is one of those things I need first-hand experience on, to be shown what is involved.  Come with me as I visit my friend Susan and her family, and meet a real “Chicken Whisperer”.

I met Susan almost two years ago when our kids were both in the same class.  She’s a ‘farmgirl’ for sure, with a beautiful warm smile and a big garden.  The Burbanks live down the street from me, and just a block down is one of the busy, main roads in town.  Imagine my surprise when driving in my car, and a flock of Rhode Island Reds crossed my path…not something you see everyday.  Susan had chickens!  My name is Nicole, and I suffer from “Chicken Envy”.  Susan graciously agreed to give me the “411” on raisin’ birds in the ‘burbs.

Susan’s had chickens for two years. She put her first chicks in a barrel with sawdust while her hen house was constructed. Her newest babies are Black Australorps, now two months old, who will lay eggs at seventeen weeks.  Right now, the babies are kept in a re-purposed rabbit cage in the garage. Because they love to perch, they can be quite messy.  Sweet, docile birds,  their black feathers have a beautiful green sheen in the sun. The Burbanks say this type of chicken reminds them of penguins, with their white patches of feathers.  They don’t like to be alone, and one even started to go to sleep in my arms!

 

 Top pic:  James introduces me to a  “Black Australorp”.

Bottom pic: “The Nursery”

Susan’s “girls” in the hen house, now two years old, are my favorites:  Rhode Island Reds and Red Cross.  Susan hasn’t tried mail-order chickens, feeling you have to order too many.  Instead she purchases chicks and feed at TheTractor Supply.  She started with six chicks, and later added the four Cross Hens.  She ended up butchering her roosters, which she said in the end was not the drama one would expect.  Plucking the feathers was rather easy, and the whole process took about a minute and a half.  The only issue she ran into came at cooking time, when the bird’s legs wouldn’t fit in the pot and stuck straight up!

The Burtons built their hen house from recycled wood, with a flap that raises for gathering eggs. Attached is a re-purposed dog run.  Susan used to have netting over the top, thinking it would protect the hens. However, a hawk ended up trapped inside the pen.  Upon discovering it, Susan freed it, but it did not leave the yard until seeing the chance to take off with its dead prey.  Susan now leaves the top of the pen open, and only lost one other chicken to the hawks.   The hens lay five eggs a day in summer, three in winter.  The type she raises are cold hardy, but don’t like lack of light, so if you want more eggs, install a heat lamp.  Susan doesn’t have a heated water dish, but instead goes out a couple times of day to chip the ice.  She waters them twice a day. “Other than that, they’re pretty easy to have”, she says.

Now, not often am I rendered speechless.  When Susan told me her son could “hypnotize” chickens, I had to see it to believe it.  I’ve heard this could be done, but when James gently picks the birds up, in seconds, they’re on their backs in the grass, calm as cucumbers!  Chicken after chicken, none were immune to James, the grade-school “Chicken Whisperer”!

“I’m so relaxed…”

Susan says there are advantages to backyard chickens.  They eat grubs, bad bugs, and ticks.  Buying organic eggs can be costly, and eggs you gather are much fresher than any store-bought ones!  Susan loves baking, and says you’ll never see a meringue as high as one made with fresh eggs!  The yolks are more orange in color, and the shells have a natural invisible film that grocery store eggs don’t. They stay fresh longer.  Susan advises not washing them until just before use.  Make sure you have a compost heap, as chicken waste is a great compost!  However, it’s  a “hot” compost, so it must sit a year before use.  Disadvantages have been neighbors’ plants being mistaken by the chickens for food, and the occasional hole in the backyard (chickens dig holes to take dirt baths).

The hens decide to take a dirt bath near the house.

The kids decided to catch some frogs in Susan’s lovely backyard pond.

Two school chums, Audrey and James and one of the bullfrogs

What’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys?  How ’bout a barrel of bullfrogs!

I had a wonderful visit with my friend.  While we talked poultry, the kids had good, old-fashioned, summer fun catching bullfrogs in the Burbanks’ backyard pond.  I gave Susan some jam; she sent me home with lettuce to plant and fresh eggs! Now… how to convince my hubby that we need to build a hen house…..

Leave a comment 18 Comments

  1. Jean Weeks says:

    Nicole, you will love having chickens. We have had our 7 ladies for a year now and they are just fun. Neither my husband nor I have been around chickens since we were kids and it has been a learning experience for sure, but a relatively easy one. We live in an older subdivision but have almost an acre lots. My husband made a storage shed into a hen house with a nice run. Our back yard is large and the girls have pretty much free range there. They are a bit destructive with their digging, but a bit of fence around flower beds you care about takes care of that. They are great company when doing yard work or hanging out . They are anxious to ‘help’ with any little thing you are doing. Our neighbors all find them interesting and entertaining and we all love the eggs. It has been a great experience and one I would recommend to anyone. It is so peaceful/comforting to look out and see them pecking their way around the yard.

    Jean, your comment makes me want to get chickens even more!  Thank you for sharing.  -Nicole

  2. Kimberly says:

    Loved reading your post! We just had our first shipment of baby chicks arrive yesterday and our world has changed! We live in suburbia as well and while my husband is a few weeks away from completing our backyard coop, the six little puffballs are doing fine in their brooder box for now. Basically, it’s an extra large borrowed dog crate with an inner shell of cardboard and a hanging red heat lamp. We have a 16 foot chicken run attached to the coop to protect from the hawks and owls that frequent the trees around here. http://www.mypetchicken.com was WONDERFUL and they only have a 3 chick minimum, allowing you to mix different breeds within your order to create a beautiful varied flock. Go for it! Believe me, you need chickens :)

    -Thank you for the website!  Enjoy your "little puffballs"! -Nicole

  3. Jenn says:

    As a child growing up, I learned so much from my grandmother about chickens. She had many mysterious talents with all animals, feathered and furry and human! I used to watch her with her flock of hens and listened very hard to all she had to say. Much was learned simply by watching her, for as she always said, "I can show you, honey, easier than telling you!"

    It’s so very neat to see other children living and learning all about chickens. I finally have a garden of my own and hope to either get our "three non-crowing" chickens the town allows or move further out and raise eggs and chickens just like my grandmother did. It was not uncommon for me to bring back forty or fifty eggs in a morning for breakfast and with all the farm workers and family, they went fast!

    Love love this article!
    Jenn

  4. Christina says:

    WoW! I hear you. I too want to raise some chickens and have lovely fresh eggs. Hope it will become reality soon. We’d like to move more toward the country to do this, but this crazy RE market is not allowing the house to sell fast. So guess it will be more ‘chicks’ in town!!
    Good luck to you too.
    Christina

  5. Joan says:

    Great article – Yea for chickens in the burbs – I too wanted some chickens and fortunately my son lives just a few miles away on 5 acres – so ‘we’ now have 20 chickens – yeah the first 3 grew to 20 – love the benefits (superb eggs) and oh what great knowledge for children.

  6. Denise says:

    Great article.Positive insight into a subject most people need to see to believe. Perhaps your journey into raising chickens will encourage many to follow your lead.

  7. TJ says:

    This is timely for us – we’re working with the city of Billings, Montana to get them to join the almost 70% of American cities who allow a limited number of backyard hens! We had to sell our beautiful Buff Orpingtons, which really REALLY upset my kids, when the city decided they needed to enforce the previously unenforced ordinance… after our article went in the paper about many of us wanting to change things. AUGH!

    Backyard hens are THE BOMB!!! :)

  8. Laurie Dimino says:

    Oh Nicole-
    You simply MUST get chickens- you will be so positively happy with them. I have had my hens for 3 years (Yesterday was our 3rd Anniversary- Flag day- hence the names Star and Liberty).They are a Rhode Island Red and a Black Australope We also ordered chicks from mypetchicken.com which we received on May 24th so our newest girls are now 3 1/2 weeks old. We ordered 4 girls- 1 Silver Laced Wyandotte, 1 Black Australope, and 2 Easter Eggers- which are going to lay pretty colored eggs (possibly blue/green or pink- hence the name Easter Eggers)
    We named our new girls Nina, Lila, Einsteine, and of course Henrietta!
    We are in the process of builing them their own enclosure right next to our other 2 girls and they have their own brand new coop. I am hoping to be able to "mix" my old gals in with the youngin’s once they are a little bit older. Its just so exciting, the eggs are great- soon I will have enough to share with my neighbors even more! Once you have chickens you will be amazed at how smart they are! You will also feel even that much more like a farmgirl! I love to wash my dishes and look out the kitchen window and see my girls…just makes me smile!
    Good luck on your quest!
    Smiles,
    Laurie
    Farmgirl Sister#1403

  9. Paula says:

    I live in a sub-division with an acre lot and can’t wait to start! I have been dreaming chickens for years!!! Thank you for the great and helpful article and the comments…now I know where to order them! Happy ‘farming’!

    -Paula, you, too! -Nicole

  10. Ginger Cobl says:

    Chickens are great! You won’t believe how much fun they are!

  11. Debbie says:

    Hi Nicole!
    Oh, I hope you are encouraged by all these great comments to go ahead and get your chickens! We’ve been keeping backyard chickens for 5 years and it truly does this farm-girls heart good to have them tucked into the rear of the yard in the midst of the garden. We love the fresh eggs, and the companionship too. Ours keep me company while I garden…Your kids will love it too! Great post
    Deb ( mjfbeachfarmgirlblogger)

    Thank you, Debbie.  Yes, it is definitely something I can see doing…I love the idea of them out keeping company in the garden!  The fresh eggs are so tasty (and huge)! -Nicole

  12. Tess Sole says:

    Nicole- I, too, have "chicken envy"! My backyard is just way too small for chickens even though Portland, OR supports having them. We’re planning a move to Albuquerque, NM and when we do, the only home I’ll accept MUST have room for chickens. My friends that have them wouldn’t have it any other way and, ooh, I’m sooooo envious. I can hardly wait! Good luck to you! Tess

    Tess, good luck with your move!  Hope you get your chickens!  -Nicole

  13. aurelie says:

    For over a year I had two muskovy ducks in my back yard. A few weeks ago a racoon got into their yard and killed both of them. They were pets that came when I called them and sat in my lap to be pet. I cannot tell you how sad I was and cried for two days. Yes, I am that sentimental. Now my daughter who has a hobby farm a couple of hours from here just got 61 new baby chickens. (she already had 30) Some of her chickens are destined for the freezer and new ones are replacing them for egg production. She gave me three of the cutest little chickens you can imagine. Since I have an amish made duck coup it will not be my new chicken coup. I live in a residential area with very close neighbors and the first one that complains will be reported for their very noisy barking dogs that bark all day. I am sure that my little pets will be quieter. My daughter says that if one turns out to be a rooster she will exchange it for a hen so the neighbors will not complain. I look forward to at least three eggs a day by fall. Yes may be a maverick in my town!!! Lee

    Lee, I would have cried, too, over those ducks.  I’m so sorry!  -Nicole

  14. Lora says:

    If the chickens have "the run of the yard" how do you keep them out of your vegetable gardens? Do you have to fence the gardens in? I have six raised beds so I’m not sure I could just let them run all over.

    – My vegie garden is fenced in. My cutting garden and hosta beds are not.  I wouldn’t let the chickens run loose unless I was watching anyway.  Susan’s did not seem hard at all to corral when we wanted to go inside.  -Nicole

  15. Rose says:

    Can you have chickens were you live? Check with your town. They even allow goats in city limits now.

  16. Shannon says:

    I live in Louisiana :) I woke up this morning and decided I wanted chickens and BAM here is your blog, newly discovered today. B/c it’s how I roll, I’ve decided it’s a sign from God. You rock!

  17. Hi Nicole, I am new to Farmgirl but not new to chickens. I have been raising chickens for years. I love my chickens and missed them when I lived where I wasn’t able to have them. I wish I knew how to send pics on here… I would send you some pics of my coop and run and girls and guys. They all have names and are very sweet. I have about 14 different breeds. I have 28 laying hens and 4 roosters. 3 of which I just acquired in the last bunch of peeps I raised. I will have to see how they get along with each other and with Big Sam my main rooster who is a Black Jersey Giant. I hope you get to have some chickens as they are so therapeutic. Or at least I think so. They are alot of fun to watch. Be Blessed and go ahead and get you some yard birds.
    Ms. Scarlette

    Ms. Scarlette, thank you for such a nice comment…makes me want chickens even more! I can just envision you out with your chickens running around!  I am working on getting some real soon!  Thank you for reading!
    -Nicole

  18. Georgia says:

    love this post! we also have chickens in the burbs and have lots of fun doing it!! love your post!!!

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