Yesterday, as I stood by the grave where my father and I had just buried my big, beautiful, gentle, and kind Cochin Rooster, I considered the chicken journey I have travelled for the last 7 years.
This friendly, engaging, and noisy Rooster was a large part of that experience. He was the epi-center. His name was Mr. Coshie.
Mr. Coshie was one of the ambassadors of my farm.
I started with 17 babies back in the springtime of 2013.
CHICKEN TRUTH NUMBER 1: HAVE THE HOUSING READY BEFORE YOU ORDER THE CHICKENS.
I ordered an “Ornamental Layer Hen Collection” from Murray McMurray Hatchery in April 2013. I got the call from the Postmaster early one morning. The chicks had arrived. This was a day before I expected them. I wasn’t ready!
You know what you do? You GET ready.
I rushed to the feed store and then to the Post Office. “Cheep, cheep, cheep” that little box was filled with hungry day-old chicks. I peeked inside. Oh. My. Gosh. Cutest little things I’d ever seen.
I set them up in a bathroom and created them a home there.
AFTER THAT we started the process of building a chicken house. We soon realized that there was no way this was going to be finished in time. The birds lived in my bathroom for way too long.
They will outgrow the bathroom quickly. And when they do, you will want them out of your house. Do yourself a favor: have the coop ready before you place your order. This is the only guarantee that you will not have the odor (stink) of live chickens wafing out of your bathroom and to the front door to greet your guests.
The other thing I learned quickly is that should 17 chicks don’t look like a lot of chickens when they first hatch. But as they grow bigger and bigger, 17 chickens is actually a pretty large number for chickens. This is especially true if you, like me, have never had chickens before.
Here’s the chicken house and run we built with the help of a good friend, Scooter. This was a late snow, I notice my garlic was already up.
CHICKEN TRUTH NUMBER 2: MAIL ORDER GIVES YOU A GREATER VARIETY.
You could order any kind of chicken you have ever dreamed of via mail order. Also, with mail order the chicks don’t have all those many stressful days of being jammed with lots of other chicks in the some corner of some farm store, searching for food and water. We had a successful experience with mail order of our day old chicks. We lost one in the first month, but the others thrived for years and still others are continuing to thrive. I have 6 chickens from that first order, almost 7 years later. All of the chickens who have died did so due to natural causes, not predators.
A disadvantage of mail-order is that there are mandatory minimums. In order for the chicks to thrive, they need each other in the box. So, for example, sometimes the minimum is 25. Other times it is 6. So, you need to talk to your friends and place a joint order if you don’t want to start out with a lot of chickens.
Know this. At the end of making my order I was offered a free rare breed straight run chicken. You will probably be too.
I was thrilled. Of course! What’s one more? I would learn later that straight-run meant the bird had not been sexed. That means that you might end up with a coockle-doodle-doo in your flock. So if you are sure you don’t want a Roo or maybe you live in a city and can’t have a Roo, then check the NO box.
And that is what happened to us. I checked the YES box.
Thank goodness I did.
One of our chicks was this cutie-pie, a baby Black Cochin.
Cochins are amazing chickens. They are gentle and love people. They enjoy being picked up and petted. They are also beautiful, very easy on the eyes.
One day my daughter was in the bathroom with the little chicks, and announced about the Black Cochin, “This one is a boy.” And I said, nope, they are all girls. And she insisted that the little black chick with feathers on his feet was a boy.
Later, I thought about what she said. He did kinda strut in a way the others didn’t. As it turned out, she was absolutely correct. This little chick was a little guy. (I thought she could have a career in sexing chickens. I’m sure it’s quite lucrative. So far, she has not pursued that.)
We lucked out that our rooster was a Black Cochin. He was a dreamy rooster. I have heard so many stories about mean roosters. This rooster is SUGAR, pure SUGAR.
Here is he as a juvenile. He was just beginning to learn to crow at this stage.
As he grew more, he mastered the crow. Look at this gorgeous bird:
And he grew even bigger. Here is a photo I made around Christmas time, strutting around making sure his girls were all safe and happy. He grew up to me a real Casanova. 16 ladies and him.
The Rooster not only protects his flock, but he tells them when to get up in the morning and when to go to sleep. He gently “coos” them into the house and up on the roost. It’s a precious thing to have witnessed. Since he died yesterday, I have had to do his job and sing those girls into the house at night.
CHICKEN TRUTH NUMBER 3: RARE BREEDS ARE RARE FOR A REASON. The rare breed chickens I have are poor layers. I’m guessing that’s one reason they became a rare breed. People generally want productive chickens who lay plenty of eggs. However, the sparcity was fine for our small family.
I ordered a collection similar to this one in 2013. Mine was called “Ornamental Layer Collection.” I was able to order all hens. (Except for the free chicken, who turned out to not be a hen.)
Here’s one of my 6 chickens. There were two Polish chickens that looked alike, but acted very different. The sweeter one, Polly, died a few years back. This is Polee, a bit more stern than Polly was.
CHICKEN TRUTH NUMBER 4: DECIDE ON FREE RANGE OR NOT. If you want to free-range your birds, you cannot get attached to them. They will not have the lifespan of protected chickens. It’s simply not possible. That’s a choice you need to make with your eyes open. Chickens have lots of enemies. Hawks, neighbors’ dogs, your own dog, coyotes, raccoons, etc.
If you decide you can’t stand the thought of a predator getting one of your chickens, then you need to do some research and provide safety for your flock. My perfect set up had a larger chicken run that was covered in wire on all sides and above. The wire went into the ground so nothing could dig underneath. The chickens had free access to their house during the day. I have never lost a bird to a predator. Here was my “perfect” set-up at my Appalachian Mountain Farm. There was a run on each side, and an attached coop for sick or stressed birds.
I picked a snowy photo to show you so I could drool over the deep snow I used to enjoy. drool.
About the snow.
What I learned to do was to shovel a path for them through the snow and then put hay on top. That was the only way they would get out of their house on snowy days. They enjoyed everything about the hay, including eating it.
CHICKEN TRUTH NUMBER 5: CHICKENS ARE INDIVIDUALS. If you’ve never been around chickens, then this fact might astound you. Chickens have individual personalities and traits. Some are clowns and some are quite serious, some snuggly and some stand-offish. Having a flock means that you are going to get to know the individuals who are part of that flock.
Discovering this truth interfered with our eating chicken for awhile.
I finally “justified” eating chicken because chickens would eat fried chicken too. I tested it. They did.
CHICKEN TRUTH NUMBER 6: CHICKENS ARE NOT THAT MUCH TROUBLE TO KEEP. Once you have the chicks healthy and large enough to go into their outside coop, chickens are very little work. You feed them, provide them clean water, keep them safe, and clean out their area. In return they provide you entertainment and eggs. It’s a pretty good arrangement.
Oh, will you break even moneywise? Sorry, that question always makes me chuckle. Um, no. Not if you keep chickens the way I do. I ordered an expensive ornamental collection that are poor layers. I built a beautiful house for them. So, no way. But that’s okay with me because they are pets. I don’t think like that for my dogs, cats, or horses either. I keep them because I love them and love having them around, not because they are money-makers.
Some people asked WHY I was moving my chickens to my new farm. Why not just give them away? I would say, “Do you even KNOW me??” Once mine, always mine.
Folks have asked me how I transported my chickens to my new farm, almost 8 hours away from my previous farm. The answer? My 1964 Yellowstone Camper. It was indeed a TRIPPY trip. I’ll tell you that story sometime.
WHICH BRINGS ME TO CHICKEN TRUTH NUMBER 7: YOU WILL LOVE THEM. NO CHOICE.
This little chicken is a Sicilian Buttercup. The sweetest chicken in the entire flock. Whenever you picked her up, she’d fall alseep in your arms. We cried buckets when she died. Her name started as “Tiger” but wound up being “TyGee.” Little angel.
Here’s the beautiful hen she became.
We loved her madly. It might seem weird to you, but I have feathers from all my chickens. TyGee’s are so strikingly beautiful.
CHICKEN TRUTH NUMBER 8: YOU DON’T NEED A FANCY, PRETTY COOP FOR YOUR CHICKENS. What you need for your chickens is a safe, comfortable coop. One that keeps them warm and dry in winter and cool and healthy in summer. Good air ventilation. Places to roost and hide. They don’t need fancy. However, you might need fancy. Or want fancy. And if you do, then you should have it! Just keep in mind that chickens get into things and are messy and dirty. Fancy and chickens don’t really go hand-in-hand.
CHICKEN TRUTH NUMBER 9: THERE IS NOT ALWAYS PEACE IN THE FLOCK. This was a hard truth for me to learn. All the chickens will not get along all the time. Chickens can be unloving to their own kind. Sometimes things happen in a flock that are not pleasant to manage. I wound up building two places for my chickens. I’ve got the main house and a separate area to place any birds who are having trouble. For some reason, chickens seem to pick on a particular bird. When you’ve got a larger flock like I did, that makes for a lot of picking. You can also purchase sprays that you spray on the bird who is getting pecked on and picked on. The spray will help keep the others away. I use the blue spray on any chicken that had any injury or red areas. Chickens peck red, not blue. This gave the injured bird an opportunity to heal. I’m guessing with just 6 birds now, that won’t be such an issue? I don’t know yet.
CHICKEN TRUTH NUMBER 10: CHICKEN POOP STINKS. It’s not a contest on the farm, but if it were, the chickens would win. Yes, their poop is worse than a horse’s. Cleaning out their house is not pleasant. It is brutal. Going into their chicken run is not pleasant. They poop all over, and I haven’t found a way to avoid stepping in it. One must factor this in when considering adding chickens to their farm. There is a yuck factor.
CHICKEN TRUTH NUMBER 11: THEIR SCHEDULE IMPACTS YOURS. If you love your chickens, and I predict that you will, then you won’t want any harm to fall upon them. You will do whatever you have to do to make sure they are all locked up safe and tight in their house before dark. For me, this has meant leaving a function early to get home or arriving late so that I could get them locked up. I have passed going to a few concerts because the timing just wouldn’t work out.
The time that chickens naturally go in to roost changes with the setting of the sun. In winter, it might be 5 pm. In summer, it might be 9 pm.
Yes, there are electric and solar doors you can buy to help alleviate that burden. (I haven’t tried them, but I really should. I really really should.)
CHICKEN TRUTH NUMBER 12: IT IS A FACT THAT YOU WILL CHASE CHICKENS AT SOME POINT. DON’T. No matter how well thought-out your house and run is, there will come a time when a chicken will escape. You will be chasing said chicken across your pastures, into the woods, down the street. If chickens are being chased, they run.
So instead, find your bird and calmly sit down close to it. Bring some mealworms with you in your hand. Your bird is freaked out too. It doesn’t know where it is and wants to be with its flock. It will come to you. Just wait. Then you can scoop it up and put it back where it belongs. I had one fly out when I opened the door to go into the coop. I learned the hard way: don’t chase a chicken. You won’t catch it.
This is Phoebe. She’s the quick escapee. She’s a Phoenix.
CHICKEN TRUTH NUMBER 13: YOU NEED AN EXIT PLAN. Let’s say you start a flock this year. Eventually those girls will quit laying. What is your plan at that point? Will you keep them even though they are no longer providing you with eggs? Please realize at the beginning of the relationship that these creatures will be relying on you their entire lives to take care of them. Some people decide to eat them when they no longer produce eggs. The main point is to think about it and have a plan.
CHICKEN TRUTH NUMBER 14: OH YEAH, THE EGGS ARE WORTH IT. A home-grown egg is about as different than a store-bought egg as a home-grown tomato is from a store-bought tomato. NO comparison. Enjoying a fresh egg from a happy chicken is not the same experience as eating an older egg from the grocery store.
I was so excited when I started keeping chickens that I kept a wooden sign showing how many eggs I got each day. This photo is from the Old Wash Shed at my previous farm. But, I have it hanging here at my new house as well.
LONG STORY SHORT. DO IT! GET CHICKENS THIS YEAR. IT’S A LOVELY RIDE.
I’ve enjoyed my chicken journey. I love to go out in the mornings and feed them. They are always incredibly excited in the mornings to get out of their house. It’s as if they see the outside world for the first time each and every morning.
I have one bird that flies down from the roost every morning, straight outside, and slap into a wooden wall. Every single day. I’m like, “That wall’s not going to move, Chicken Child.” After the daily tumble, she gets up and runs around as happy as can be to have another day. (I need to do this every morning too. Except no hitting a wall. Just the joy of having another day.)
Chickens are heartbreakers. You get the cutest little fluffy thing as a day-old chick and he grows big and strong and then entertains you for seven years with his antics and crowing and you love him so much and then seven years later he dies on you. A sad affair indeed.
BUT. The old saying is true with hens and roosters: “Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved.”
In fact, I’d take another Cochin Rooster in a second…
Until next time, Friends, savor the flavor of life!
Lots of love, Rebekah, The City Farmgirl