Earlier this spring, our flock of about a dozen laying hens was doing just fine, puttering around in a fenced enclosure/future garden space. Then one day when I went out to milk my goat, there was a chicken hanging around, eager to eat up the grain Minnie spilled during her morning meal. Soon more chickens were wandering about the homestead, and eventually there were more chickens out than inside the fence. We made a half hearted attempt to patch the enclosure, but it was kinda cute to watch them through the kitchen windows doing their chicken thing.
This “extreme free ranging” worked okay for a while. We luckily didn’t have any predator problems, and the chickens, cats, goats, and dog seemed to get along just fine. The fence around the goat pen does a great job of keeping goats in, but it’s chicken permeable, so hens can pass through and scratch around in the manure filled bedding, pecking up fly larvae, which helps suppress our sometimes awful fly population.
It didn’t take too long, however, before we started having chicken problems. They began rooting around in the flower beds, roosting in the goat barn, and pooping all over everything. They developed a taste for cat food and got to it before the cats could chase them off. A couple even attempted to walk straight in the front door of the house. Being the fastidious sanitizer that I am with all elements of my dairy program, I was more than dismayed when a chicken literally landed on my goat’s back while I was milking. (Chicken dust! Ack!)
Luckily, most of the laying hens continued to lay in the coop’s nesting boxes, but one particular hen got in the habit of laying her daily egg in the hopper of the hay feeder in the goat barn, which often didn’t end well. Levi also found almost two dozen eggs in a nest in the bushes the other day. I’m sure we’re missing some, but we still have enough to meet our own needs and pass off a dozen or two to friends and family on occasion.
In addition to the lack of confinement for the general population, we’ve also been “blessed” with chicks, lots of chicks, this summer. I wrote about the origins of our chicken program here, but that chicken program has, how shall I put it, “blossomed” since the last update. In 2012, Chico Chicken (above) managed to hatch and rear, I think, three batches of chicks, two with eggs we intentionally swapped into her nest, and one ragtag bunch of chicks from her own eggs crossed with Toilet (below), our ‘Black Copper Marans’ rooster. (Chico Chicken and Toilet are currently the only chickens in the flock with names.) We still have four of the half-Chico hens that hatched last year.
Chico Chicken and one of her daughters each hatched a few chicks maybe four months ago. There are nine of those now-pullets left. Then two and a half months ago, another Chico daughter hatched 12, and though I can hardly believe it, they are all still with us. Just last week, a third Chico daughter hatched 15 (though we lost five a few days later due to an unfortunate water dispenser situation), and Chico Chicken herself hatched a second batch of 13.
That’s all well and good, except for the fact that we don’t really need 44 new chickens. To make things less opportune, Chico and her daughters have a tendency to head off into the brush when they’re feeling broody, so we only managed to swap out two nests with our preferred laying-hen eggs. That means that most of them are 1/4 ‘Mexican Fino Fighting Chicken’ and 3/4 ‘Black Copper Marans’, unless of course the hens actually bred with any of the 20 or so roosters of various breeds we had here briefly (that Henry traded for a horse hoof trim) before they made their way into the stew pot.
What are we going to do about all this craziness? That’s a good question. Currently, we are making a more concerted effort to patch the orchard fence where the mobile coop is housed now. We’re hoping that will eventually keep in the fully grown chickens even if the little ones can still pass through small gaps. All grain and chicken food is on lockdown to keep the temptation of escape to a minimum, and we’re checking a couple times a day to ensure that chickens have access food and water inside the fence whenever they want it. We’re also trying to keep tabs on the half-Chico hens to prevent or at least control (by swapping in preferred eggs) their brooding and breeding.
The 44 chicks and pullets will grow up, except the ones that inevitably won’t make it. About half of them will be roosters that we’ll eat or trade with our Mexican friends in exchange for fresh tortillas (a pretty sweet deal in my opinion). We’ll probably keep most of the young hens. The half-Chico and half-Toilet chickens lay smallish, brown eggs that aren’t nearly as pretty as the ones from our main laying hens, but they’re nice, and they taste good. Hopefully the 3/4 ‘Black Copper Marans’ hens will lay even larger and browner eggs (and more of them). We’ll see.
And now, I’ll leave you with some photos. Hope you’re having a great weekend.