So, we've been a crazy Chicken family for a year and I can't believe how fast the time has gone! It all began last Spring, as we were studying birds for our Nature Studies. Our good friends invited us over to see their baby chicks, and, well...
See, our children have learned that they can get almost anything with these simple words: "...but it goes with our unit study!" Uh huh - and that's how an adventurous Mom ends up incubating 48 eggs the next week. And a bewildered Dad stands by insisting that 'we aren't keeping any...'
We started with absolutely no knowledge of raising chicks or hens. And truly, I was with my hubs, I had no intentions of keeping the chicks, we had an easy 'out' in that the farm where we got the eggs was happy to take as few or as many chickens back after we were done raising them up. In fact, I had never been around a grown hen in my life and am one of the least likely 'hen mothers' around. But, there was something wonderfully intriguing about allowing our family to have this hands-on learning experience. I mean, it did go with our unit study! So, we went for it.
We started incubating the eggs at the beginning of May. We knew we had about 21 days to get ready for this adventure, so we spend most of our time preparing and studying. We particularly loved Once Upon a Flock, which is written for adults but wonderful as a living book about raising hens! We got our little chick box and heat lamp and food ready and we waited.
We did, however, have the fun of candling the eggs while we waited. What an amazing experience to see the chicks growing inside the eggs! By a week before hatching day, however, we were down to about 20 eggs. (A normal enough situation, starting with 48).
On May 21st, right on schedule, they started to hatch! It was exciting, exhausting, and terrifying all at the same time but worth every minute. We lost a couple chicks, but most did hatch and were so cute and varied in colours so widely!
I found the whole 2 days of hatching to be very stressful. I'm a major lover of animals and I literally got cramps in my legs and a major back ache from sitting hunched over the incubator watching the little chicks struggle to break out of their eggs. After researching and asking trusted 'chicken experts', I decided to help the final 2 chicks get out of their eggs. I was sure they would die otherwise (I had already watched it happen and was devastated.) So, this city-turned-coutry girl sat at 2am and painfully, carefully helped two sweet chicks come into the world. One of them was Chancie, who we still have today.
The days that followed were so joyous and full of laughter, visitors, and fun. The chicks were everything the children had hoped for - cute, fluffy, hilarious, and affectionate. I think there was a chick in someone's hand for a good 2 weeks straight! Which is probably a good reason why they are so friendly today.
My husband and I were very busy, however, making room for them as they grew FAST. They outgrew their 'bin' in a week and we struggled to figure out what to do next... we flipped a table upside down, added mesh around it and voila... that lasted another 2 weeks. Then we created a heater little coop area in an old shed. THEN they got their first outdoor coop about 3 weeks later. It was a lot of work, but also a lot of fun.
It has been a blessing learning to care for backyard chickens. SUCH a learning experience of epic proportions! It's a good amount of work while you're getting set up and caring for the chicks, but after that - they are a very easy pet to care for. We are vegetarians- so we don't think of these hens as anything more than pets. We do get eggs (naturally) which we sometimes eat and often give away to friends and family.
We gave the majority of the baby chickens to our good friend, Ann, who has a large local organic farm with free range laying hens and roosters. (We actually ended up with so many cockerels and we could not keep them!). We slowly brought them to the farm when they were about 6 weeks old. After much contemplation, we did decide to keep five hens for ourselves. Our children were so attached by that time, there wasn't really another option! And they are the sweetest, most friendly, most affectionate and funny birds! (And yes, my husband is cool with the decision now... though he wasn't thrilled when we started bringing the hens inside in the winter... ha!)
Their names are: Fudgie, Gloria, Champie, Chancie, and Charlotte. Respectively.
So, now... on to our Photo Album of the last year...
Welcome to the World (between 1 and 5 days old):
The chicks venture outside (they're about 1-2 weeks old):
Wings on day 4... feathers start growing - neat eh?
Fudgie... she was quite possibly the cutest chick in the world...
Growing up and loving the Backyard Chicken Life (from about 2-4 months old):
Our first little A-frame coop made from all re-purposed flats. Up where the 'roofing' is, there is a coop/box.
The last Rooster standing... this is Cocoa. We were sure he was a hen. Until he started growing a very suspicious looking tail and then, crowed... *ha* Here's what he looked like -
Cocoa grows up...
Autumn Hens and the first EGG (4-6 months old):
At this point, we were down to our final five hens that we now have.
Snapshots from the Winter months (hens are between 8 - 10 months):
Spring Hens, Happy Birthday, and Henny time-lapses...
Top left: Fudgie hanging out under the Evergreens, Bottom left: Chancie, dust bathing, Right: the, oh-so-hard-to-capture-on-camera, Charlotte.
More snuggles with Gloria...
How to celebrate a hen's birthday - MAKE CAKE! Just a loaf of whole grain bread, cut in half, topped with nut butter and oats and grains!
How a hen grows in 1 year...
Gloria grows up (love her...)
Champie grows up.
Fudgie grows up.
I have learned so much about chickens over the past year. I have a new respect and love for these wonderful birds. They are the most abused animal on the planet. They are largely considered to have no value, just throw-away creatures. It pains me to think of all the hens that are tormented in battery cages and all the death and torture billions of chickens grown for food have to endure.
When treated with respect and kindness, chickens are full of love, personality, and spunk. I have been humbled and pleasantly surprised daily by the joy they have brought into our lives. I hope this has given you a happy glimpse into the lives of backyard hens, and maybe you have seen chickens in a different light!
Have a great weekend...