This is our hen Chico Chicken. She’s sitting on 15 eggs that are due to hatch soon.
When we first got chickens a few years back, we put in a joint order along with my mom at our local feed store for ‘australorp’ chicks. Because we didn’t have power to run a heat lamp or space in our house for baby chicks, we talked my mom into raising ours until they were six weeks old and could be outside without extra heat or shelter. The “australorp” chicks turned out to be black sex-linked chickens, but the operation was a success, and we had our first batch of hens and their eggs on the homestead.
A year later, Henry bought our ‘black copper marans’ rooster (“Toilet”) and a few mature ‘red sex linked’ hens off craigslist. He decided that he wanted to do a little breeding experiment to see if he could combine the egg productivity of sex linked hens with the signature dark egg color of ‘black copper marans’. He contracted a deal to incubate eggs and raise chicks until they were hearty enough to be outside in the elements with a 12-year-old neighbor, friend, and 4-H student named Wren.
That fall, Wren hatched 20-something chicks, about half male and half female. We stewed the roosters one at a time over the winter and spring, and kept the hens for laying.
While having someone else raise chicks for us has worked in the past, we knew there was an old-fashioned way to have the whole cycle happen here at home by actually letting a hen hatch eggs and raise them herself without our assistance or intervention. Last summer, our friend Chico was telling us about how he had more chickens than he knew what to do with because all the hens were broody and kept hatching more chicks. Chico had chickens that were some sort of ’Mexican Fino’ game crossed with laying hens. The hens were small and laid tiny white eggs, but they were apparently really good moms and really mean to any kind of curious dog or predator. Chico told us we could have one; he’d be happy to get rid of her.
We brought Chico Chicken home late last summer at the tail end of the chicken brooding season. She nested down almost right away, and after she was settled in, Henry stole her eggs and replaced them with his darkest eggs fertilized by Toilet, the ‘black copper marans’ rooster. She hatched and attempted to raise a small batch of chicks, but we lost them early on because of “issues” with other chickens and the cat.
Recently, Chico Chicken developed a habit of escaping out of the chicken pen, nesting down in strange places around the homestead (inside a roll of fencing, in the big greenhouse), and roosting in the bamboo. Finally, Henry caught her and locked her up inside our little greenhouse with a nice little straw nest full of beautiful brown eggs. She adopted it as her own right away.
Henry and his brother Trevor built our starter greenhouse in 2005 out of (free) used sliding glass doors and salavaged cedar framing. Early on, Henry used it to grow salad over the winter and to protect his pots of citrus trees before the big greenhouse was up. Nowadays, it’s filled with three avocado trees, a bunch of passion fruit vines, a Mediterranean tree alfalfa, a strawberry guava, lemongrass, and a few other random relatively exotic plants.
Chico Chicken has been setting on eggs in the greenhouse since March 4, so hopefully the eggs will start to crack this weekend. Henry says he’s seen that tiny chicken rotating some of the 15 eggs up under each wing and all around her little, warm body. I’m so curious to see how many hatch out.
Chico Chicken and her future chicks can stay in their warm, dry little shelter until the chicks are big enough to fend for themselves against the elements, bigger chickens, and our beloved chicken-killing cat (Exy). The avocado trees won’t be harmed by a little scratching and pooping, and actually, they’ll probably benefit from it.
In almost any other modern farming operation, a hen like Chico Chicken is pretty much worthless. Even though she doesn’t eat very much and doesn’t cause trouble, she doesn’t lay eggs often enough or big enough to justify keeping her around if we were trying to be “productive”. For folks like us who can’t raise chicks under a heat lamp or for folks who don’t want the hassle of tending to chicks in a cardboard box in the living room, having a broody hen around is super valuable.
Stay tuned for news about new chicks at the homestead in a week or so.