A little over a year ago, I finally convinced my hubby to build me a chicken coop and let me raise chickens. “It’s a great teaching experience for the kids,” “We can have fresh eggs.” Finally, we get the coop made, and our neighbors offer us free chickens out of their abundance. Now, I’m familiar with chickens, I mean, I know what they look like, I know they lay eggs of different colors depending on the breeds and I know how to cook and eat chicken bought from the store. That is essentially the extent of my knowledge. I’m basically taking this on like a crash course; Sink or swim. I’m over the moon.
We get our three free hens (at least we’re all pretty sure they are hens, but one may be a rooster. Thankfully, they all were hens). It took 9 months for them to mature enough to start laying eggs. Then after about two months and, maybe, 3 dozen eggs, they start turning “broody.” Basically, what that means is that they stop laying more eggs and just sit in the nest all day trying to hatch the eggs they already have. They do this even if we collect the eggs every morning and afternoon.
Doing some research, I found ways to try to “break” them out of this cycle. Nothing seemed to work, or it would work but, a week later, they’d go right back to being broody. Finally, at the end of summer, we adopted a beautiful rooster and allowed him to do his thing, which in turn would allow the hens’ now- fertilized eggs to hatch and, hopefully, stop this behavior of theirs for good, since they’d be raising chicks. Really it was just one hen that kept doing it, but then the other two copied her.
We allowed our hen to sit on a “clutch” or group of 6 eggs. She hatched one and lost interest in the others. This worked out okay, because one of the other girls turned broody. So we moved the remaining 5 eggs under her. One got broken and was disposed of. Over the next week or so, one disappeared into the aether. It just… vanished. No traces were found. I did some reading on what could have happened. Might have been a rat or, mama stepped on it, broke it and ate it. Nice! Down to 3 eggs and one more hatched. The other 2 turned out to be duds. Meanwhile, hen #3 drops dead out of nowhere. Not sure what happened. She was fine and then, a few hours later, dead. Did some more research (I do a lot of internet searching it seems). It might have been a heart attack but, sometimes, they just die. Sad but, moving on because we have two new chicks to care for. Each hen has a baby.
They are adorable. I love babies. Anything baby and I’m a goner. I’m still learning the ropes but I find it so easy to let nature take its course and let the hens do the work of raising the chicks. It’s a funny dynamic because they are so protective of their young, even pecking at their chick if they spend time too close to the other mama.
Now, we live in a mostly rural area, and have some predators to watch for. We had to enclose the coop on all sides, including a roof and making sure animals couldn’t dig down and under as well. For the first few months, I was religious about spending time with my hens, talking to them, getting them to eat out of my hand and of course locking them up at night in the coop.
After getting our dog, Jack, we ended up enclosing a portion of the yard just for the hens. Jack likes to “play” with the hens but is too rough and loves to snack on the droppings (Dogs can be so gross!). So the hens now have a “run” or play-yard to walk about in during the day and, with the rooster, I got a lot lazier about watching them. I even started leaving the coop door open at night because I knew that the rooster would protect them. One or two nights after his arrival he proved just that and dispatched a rat that came in. So, I get caught up in my kids, dog and daily living and become less of a nut over my “girls.”
Then one night a raccoon discovered the open door. Boy did the rooster make a racket. I ran outside, in the dark, in my nightgown and work boots flashlight in hand, hooting and hollering like a mad woman. It must have been quite the sight! The coon ran off and I found Mr. Roo passed out on his back, feet in the air. I thought he was dead! As I get near and crouch down to examine him, he popped up and ran from me. Scared me to death! I must have jumped a foot. I chased him down and looked him over. A scratch here and there, a bite mark on his comb, but mostly fine. I was so happy to have saved him. Lesson learned! I now close the coop up tight as soon as it gets dark.
Then one-day last week, the hubs was home before me and tasked with closing the door. He of course, distracted by managing dinner and the kids, forgot. Sure enough, the coon came back. Hearing the racket, we both ran outside with flashlights to try to save the day. Feathers are everywhere. We found one hen guarding both chicks and one hen guarding the door. One had slight injuries to one leg but she would be fine. Sadly, no rooster! Heartbroken that we lost him, husband feeling heaps of guilt, we go back inside. At least the hens and chicks were safe and, hey! One of the chicks might be a rooster. I bid my roo a sad farewell and head to bed.
The next morning, on cue, as usual, he is out at the edge of the chicken coop crowing his lungs out. I have never jumped out of bed so fast! “No way that’s him. He’s dead. The raccoon dragged him off.” Just thinking about it, I’m still speechless. I have no idea where he was taken or how he got away, how he survived, but that is one amazing rooster! He lost some tail feathers, looked a bit disheveled and wet but no apparent injuries. Needless to say, we are much more aware of the time and to closing of the door when darkness descends.
We are still waiting on the chicks to grow a bit more before we start getting eggs again, and we have no idea what will happen if we end up with another rooster (or two), but we love our little chickens and we are learning that you don’t have to travel to find adventures. Sometimes they are right in your back yard!