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  • Writer's pictureTina

Much Ado About Chickens

Recently, there has been an uptick in deaths here at the farm. No, I haven't made The Bibbed Wonder disappear...yet. No, my darling goats aren't crossing the rainbow bridge...thank goodness. It's my hens. I am averaging one chicken death a week. I am aware that chickens only live six to eight years on average in a backyard flock. However, those six years have snuck up on me. I figure, to the best of my ability, my hens are seven years old. We bought them as adults, already laying eggs in 2019. They were a 4-H project, so I estimate they were a year, if not a year and a half, by the time we bought them. My rooster, Romeo, is around six years old. Sadly, they are dying one by one at an alarming rate.

For most, I see no signs of distress. I go out to the coop every morning and now check for overnight casualties. Most of the time, they look as if they lay down and went to sleep. Some pass in the coop, while others pass under the trees near the front yard or under the magnolia bush by the house. They enjoy hanging out under the trees in the afternoon, but hiding under the shade of the magnolia bush seems to be their favorite spot. They lay down for a nap with their little heads curled under their wing and fall asleep, never to awaken. When I put them to bed the other night, I counted the roosting chickens. I was surprised only to count eight chickens in the coop. Two of those eight chickens are roosters. Sigh.

I hope Romeo passes away before the barn hatchling rooster matures and fights with him. Romeo doesn't stand a chance in surviving a fight with the half-Delaware/half-Icelandic six-month-old rooster. He outweighs him by over a pound, at least, and is much more agile than the now-ancient Romeo. The barn hatchling will have to be caught and placed inside fencing until Romeo passes. I would like to keep the barn hatchling, who has not been named yet. We have a tradition of naming our roosters with R names. He might be Roderick, Remington, or Rasputin...maybe Rascal. I think I like Rascal. However, I am not impressed with the personality of the Delaware hens. They are by far the meanest and least docile out of all the hens. The Rhode Island Reds are a close second. I like the Buff Orpingtons, Americanas, and Cochins. They don't peck me when I go in for eggs. One would be surprised by the punch a chicken peck packs...say that ten times fast...insert a smile and wink. It's a bit surprising when one gets pecked, and it actually hurts a little and leaves a small bruise.

We have been fortunate to have only docile roosters, for the most part. Romeo can be a bit of a bugger if one shows fear, but he hasn't flogged anyone to date. If the hatchling rooster is like his mother, it has the potential to be a nasty creature. The Bean will never forgive me if she does indeed get flogged by a rooster. The barn hatchling should perhaps remain unnamed and find a new home, come to think of it. A friendly Cochin rooster would be lovely...hmmm. I need to think. Anyhow, back to my chickens. So, dear reader, I have a decision to make. Perhaps more than one.

Right now, my biggest dilemma is whether to get chicks this fall, raise them over the winter, and have them ready to lay eggs in the spring, or do I wait until spring and try to find other laying hens already laying eggs, or do I buy pullets? The Bibbed Wonder is not a fan of chicks. Who is not enamored with little fuzzy babies? My bib overall wearing curmudgeon, that's who. He thinks they require too much time, effort, and feed.

On the other hand, I love little fuzzy chicks, and I like having hand-raised birds. They are friendly, come when called, and are less prone to peck the hand that feeds them. Also, I can get a wide selection of different breeds. I like a colorful flock of chickens. I know I will not get any Delawares or Rhode Island Reds. They are an unfriendly lot. I want lavender Wyandottes, silver Wyandottes, lavender Sussex, Orpingtons, Marans, Faverolles, and Plymouth Rocks. Perhaps a black Austrlorp or two, as well. I believe I will order the minimum of twenty-five, but our large coop could hold perhaps thirty-five to forty. I don't believe in overcrowding. I would like to do a little revamp on the coop if I have that many hens. I want to replace the windows, add a few more roosts, and alter/add to the laying boxes. I would also like to add a fenced-in yard to keep them contained when I need them not to scratch up landscaping and plants. Chickens are quite destructive when scratching young plants.

So, dear reader, we might not have a flock of chickens to speak of by Thanksgiving at the rate we are going. That makes me sad. I hate to see my hens pass, but I don't have the tight emotional bond with them I have with my other animals. The only hen I will truly grieve is Jordan Short. She is my favorite chicken and has the most personality out of the flock. She runs to me every time she sees me and walks with me as I do my morning chores. She likes to walk just behind me when I walk from the feed room to the chicken coop. She waits for me patiently as I fill the feed and water buckets. I always throw her a little treat to snack on as she waits. She is pretty smart for a chicken. My daughter, Jordan, named her after our young, handsome neighbor, Jordan Long. Sorry to call you out, Jordan Long, but my daughter has been smitten with you since she was six. My Jordan said our most beautiful chicken was an Americana, and she should be named Jordan Short because she is tiny and more petite than Jordan Long but equally handsome. Ah, I miss the rationale of a six-year-old. So, Jordan Short it is.

I would appreciate the insight if you have any chicken advice to help me with my decision. If you are looking for a young, handsome rooster who is docile so far, I will give him to you, but it must be a good home. Until tomorrow, dear reader, stay safe, be smart, and remember time is fleeting; before you know it, six years have passed, and your pet hens are dying off; keep washing your hands.

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