Happy Hen Farm


The Chickens

Getting chickens was an idea we had tossed around for several years but never acted upon. The time never seemed 'right' -- work and family responsibilities always seemed to get in the way. It took the combination of an article in the now defunct Kitchen Garden Magazine as well as attending a lecture on keeping chickens in the city that gave us the boost we needed to finally take the plunge. Poultry keeper extraordinaire G.W. Winborn (who we now proudly call our friend) and his 'ladies' (the hens Jasmine and Shenaynay) led the lecture and gave us the confidence to get our first birds. Shortly after leading the lecture G.W. established a fabulous online community for chicken keepers called The Cluck. Be sure to check it out! It is an invaluable resource for novice poultry keepers.

As residents of the Dallas we are allowed to keep chickens but not roosters. We started off by telling ourselves that we would limit our flock to 3 or 4 birds, but when the time came to choose our chicks in the feed store our resolve melted and we ended up with a mix and match total of 10. The untimely deaths of one of our Production Reds (the flock pecked her bottom apart) and a skittish Americana (she escaped from the run and our dogs caught her) brought the number temporarily to 8.

Resisting the urge to buy chicks is not easy. While in the feed store last spring we couldn't resist buying three babies -- two Australorps and one Americana. This was a big mistake on our part and one that we will not repeat. Our experience with integrating birds into an existing flock has not been a pleasant one. By human standards chickens can be extraordinarily cruel and our new pullets had to put up with quite a bit of abuse before we felt secure letting them mix freely with the larger group. Poor Baldy still bears the scars of misplaced chicken justice. I am convinced that the original members of the flock will never fully accept the three youngest members. Even now one of the Australorps, Blackie, has been brutally attacked (I believe with the intent to kill) and lives in a small coop across the yard. She frequently tries to rejoin the flock and each time is thoroughly rebuffed.

They're Growing Up! Baby Chick

How quickly they grow! One of the most interesting things about watching the chicks was noticing how the instinct to scratch is present from the very beginning. It's funny to see a tiny chick importantly scratching around their cardboard box looking for food. I couldn't help but be reminded of the old Warner Brothers Foghorn Leghorn cartoons.



Chickens on Ladder






Some people think that chickens and turkeys are stupid. Not so! Our birds are lively and intelligent creatures.Within the flock some birds are naturally brighter than others, but there is no way that we would ever place the blanket statement of stupidity on any of our animals. To that end we try to provide them with things to stimulate their little birdbrains. Matthew built a cedar ladder like climbing structure that all the birds enjoy. Since their day revolves around the search for food we try to provide variety and novelty in their snacks. A pile of freshly pulled weeds, a handful of fat garden snails or a lovely grub gives the flock something to think about other thantheir social hierarchy.

Angry Chickens

As I said above, introducing pullets into an existing flock is very difficult. We recently introduced two bronze turkeys into the flock and experienced true chicken rage. Initially the chickens were a bit put off by the size of the turkeys. That soon ended when they realized that the turkeys were easy to push around. It has been very interesting to sit and watch the birds in action as they walk by each other. The intimidation does not have to be overt violence. The smallest body movements will usually result in the turkeys getting out of the chickens way though this afternoon I watched our female turkey, Eleanor, grab the Production Red (creatively named 'Big Red') by the scruff of the neck and walk her around the coop just like an angry grandma grabs the top of a child's ear.

I like to take a few minutes each day and sit in the chicken yard to obseve what's going on and to try and clue into the energy in the flock. Recently it has also been fascinating the amount of chicken anger that has been directed towards me (Lara) over the last few weeks. Things have been rather tense in the chicken house which I attribute to my protecting the Australorp, Blackie, from abuse, but also for providing teatment to the turkeys that could be considered preferential. Take a look at my Americana, Chicken on LaraGoldie, as she attempts to tell me who is boss. In this instance she circled me several times giving me a 'fowl' evil eye before she actually flew to the top of my head (in her opinion the higher a bird is in relation to her flock mates, the higher her status in the flock). Since she had never before attempted to fly to my head and the behavior had been preceded by 'threatening' body language I can only conclude that she meant to challenge my position of authority. Some might say I am anthropormorphe my birds, but the more time I spend with them the more I am convinced of their individuality and ability to reason.

NOTE, 8/7/06: We are sad to report that Goldie passed away during the night last Friday. Despite steps taken to make the flock as comfortable as possible we believe the excessive heat was too much for her.


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