9/23/2013 2:53:00 PM Publisher's Column
has a lot of perks
In a week or two, our chickens should start laying eggs. They will be 16 weeks old toward the end of this week, so the chickens should start paying their way soon. Actually, I'd have to say they are already paying their way. The entertainment they provide for us is well worth all we've invested in them and in providing them with housing, food and water.
We allow the chickens freedom to range over our eight acres during the day and lock them in at night after they come in to roost. It appears to be a pretty good system, as we haven't lost any chickens to predators so far.
One hen doesn't like the system. She hides somewhere in the yard every night until after the other chickens have gone to roost and the door has been locked, then has the whole place to herself. I have no idea what she does all night, but when I open the front door in the morning, she is often waiting on the front porch. She cackles at me all the way from the house to the chicken coop, I suspect telling me that I should have gotten up and let her companions out a lot earlier. She demonstrates a decidedly mother hen-ish attitude. We've never had a "setting hen" among the chickens we've raised - I've kind of concluded they've all lost the instinct as a result of the way chickens are usually raised today - but we are thinking maybe this hen will be the first. Mel named her Gladys and Emily added McGillicuddy, so Gladys McGillicuddy has great expectations to live up to in our little kingdom.
There is a five-foot wide window on the end of the chicken coop facing the house. When we look out our window in the morning, the chicken coop window is full of chickens looking expectantly toward the house. As soon as I come out the front door, they vacate the window and gather up inside the coop door waiting for me to spring them. Gladys watches as the other chickens come charging out and race across the yard, then she heads into the chicken coop for breakfast.
The roosters start crowing as soon as the sun gives its first indication of rising, but the chicken coop is far enough away from the house so that we don't always hear them. Once they get out of the coop, however, we have no problem hearing them. Roosters are not born with the ability to crow - they have the instinct to try but can't quite pull it off. Once they get out of the coop in the morning, they really put their hearts into it. It takes practice and can be pretty comical. Melanie enjoys giving her impression of a rooster crow in an effort to teach them, which is also comical.
It is easy to believe chickens descended from dinosaurs when watching them race around the yard in a group. They remind me of the herds of dinosaurs racing across the plain in the movie Jurassic Park. They will be peacefully gracing and suddenly one of them will take off in a mad run and the rest just stop whatever they are doing and race after the first runner. Then they relax and start grazing again.
They seem very curious. When I am out working around the yard, they will come over and watch. They lower their heads, stretch out their necks and turn their heads from side-to-side apparently attempting to get a better look. When I pull up in the car, they come over to check it out and peck at the insects on the front bumper and grill.
They will come up on the porch to eat our dog Nellie's dog food. They apparently suspect that they aren't supposed to do that because, if we come out of the house, they either race off the porch and away from the house or hide under the table and chairs on the porch. Nellie doesn't seem to mind sharing her food with them, and they seem to have no fear of Nellie, so somehow they seem to have concluded that we human beings don't want them eating the dog food on the porch -which is close to true, we don't mind them eating the dog food but we do mind the chicken droppings they frequently leave behind.
I am looking forward to the fresh eggs and some delicious free-range chicken dinners, but I have to admit that we have gotten more than our money's worth of value out of our chickens already.