There are many things that you learn both before and during the process of raising chickens. At least, I learned a lot. I researched the best breeds for our climate, and cross-checked them with the best egg-laying breeds, then cross-checked them again with the personality types. I learned what the best mixture of non-GMO food was, and approximately how much water per day each chicken needed. I figured out the minimum square foot per bird ratio, then doubled it when we built the coop. I made lists of common ailments and their remedies, just in case. I read articles about how to train your dog to not attack your birds. I thought I was prepared for a life of raising chickens and gathering eggs.
I was wrong.
My research, which took place over a period of a year before we actually got any chicks, was not as complete as I had thought. The things I didn’t know about chickens were, and probably still are, plentiful. There are more to these egg-laying machines than meets the eye.
For starters, I didn’t realize that each hen has her own very distinct personality. It wasn’t obvious at first, but as the chicks grew into pullets then full-grown hens, we noticed we could tell one from the other based on how they were acting. From there it as only a matter of time, probably days, really, that each of us became attached to individual chickens and farm animals suddenly became more like pets.
We told the children not to name them, knowing that death would occur; they named them anyway. Our girls are named things like Bob, Steve, Shadow, and Leo. My research didn’t prepare me for the simple fact that some of the hens know their names, and a very few will actually come when you call them.
I had no idea that hens will basically “yell” at you if they want something. Our girls have berated us for cleaning the coop when they want to lay eggs, called to us when they wanted to be let out in the yard, and run clucking towards us when they think we have a treat for them. If you have ever thought that chickens don’t communicate with their human caretakers, come visit us and I’ll show you otherwise.
Hours of reading and making charts never revealed the concern I would feel when we first moved the pullets from the house to the coop. I was worried they were going to be cold, scared, or hurt themselves somehow. My worries were unfounded, but I found myself going out late at night to check on them and then again first thing in the morning. I also wasn’t prepared for the heartbreak when we lost a hen, the nicest of the flock, to a stray dog and then two more to a coyote. I again worried as the rest of the flock reorganized themselves into a new pecking order, and in the process, one of the girls was sleeping outside the coop because the other hens wouldn’t let her find a place on the roost inside.
My study into the world of chickens also didn’t prepare me for the laughter as we watched them run after bugs and play “chicken tag” as they tried to snatch tasty grasshoppers from each other. I wasn’t prepared for the frustration, and sometimes anger, directed at my funny little hens scratching up my flowers when they were looking for bugs and worms, or the disgust when they ate a half-dead mouse that the cat caught.
We’ve had chickens for almost two years now. Even though we have had many experiences with them, I am sure there are more to come. Just when I think we’ve finally seen it all, our flock surprises us with something new.