It seems that more and more people are keeping chickens. It may be one of those things that you notice more once you have an interest in them, like when you get a new car, and suddenly you see that same car all over the place, but before then you had never really noticed them. It’s been like that for me since we got our first chickens a couple of years ago. Before then they were something I’d seen on the tv or in petting zoos, but after I had some, I found out that someone I knew had 24 bantam chickens in her garden. Another acquaintance regularly ‘hen sat’ for a friend of hers when they went away for a few days and the guy at the top of the road started selling eggs from his front gate. He has given his whole back yard over to several coops and tens of chickens that he got around the same time I got mine (although I didn’t know it at the time). Everyone is doing it!
It is easy to see how so many are drawn to these birds. There are numerous myths and truths surrounding chickens, for instance, you can tell in most cases what color egg a chicken will lay by looking at the spot of skin around their ears. White lobes on a chicken mean they will lay white eggs; a brownish lobe will yield brown eggs. You do get some individuals that are a bit standoffish or skittish but in the main chickens are rather friendly, nosey birds who will follow you around (particularly if you have food!) and can make great family pets.
The type of chicken identifies the color of the eggshell. However that has absolutely nothing to do with its dietary value. White eggs are every bit as healthy as brown eggs even though many have the belief that the brown ones are more nutritious than white eggs; it simply isn’t true.
It would be an understatement to say we weren’t extremely experienced about chickens when we initially began raising them. The feed shop was the only place we knew of where we could get some chickens and they didn’t have much of a choice. We chose 6 Rhode Island Red hens and one rooster since it was pretty much all they had. The rooster is larger than the hens now, but they were all close to the same size when we first got them. Being so young, his crow was a bit scratchy and weak – a bit like a party blower. However, the hens loved him and followed him all over the garden. We called him Freddy.
What Kind of Chicken?
There are a great number of different breeds out there to pick from. We have been happy with our Rhode Island Reds, but I do hanker for some of the more fancy looking bantam breeds such as the Polish and Silkie chickens. It probably wouldn’t be fair to add them to our flock now, though – I’m not sure they would be able to cope with the larger girls (and boy) if they didn’t all get along.
We have since found out that we do have one of the best breeds for egg laying – some other good ones for egg numbers would have been leghorns, red or black sex links, and golden comets (a variation of the red sex link). For meat then Cornish Cross are among the best for that. Within six weeks they can weigh as much as 4-5lbs and within 8-12 weeks they will weigh over 6lbs. Dealing with the ending of meat birds is not something I am ready for but apparently there are mobile processing vans in some areas, so it does not necessarily have to be something you do personally.