What's the Dickens with Chickens?

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
What's the Dickens with Chickens?

My grandmother would chuckle if she could see the backyard poultry movement--all rebellious and excited like a teenager drag-racing the family car.

Only a generation or two ago, everyone had chickens. Our grandparents would be shocked to learn that much of the urban chicken movement went underground because municipal regulations banned the backyard bird. Why would anyone ban beautiful creatures like these Black-Laced Wyandottes?

Perhaps we became citified and forgot our rural roots, but I see them being rediscovered. Even Oklahoma City, the largest municipality closest to me, finally agreed to allow city hens if your neighborhood association agreed. This change barely raised an eyebrow on the city’s south side. Immigrants from many nations didn’t care about chicken ordinances. They never quit having chickens – roosters, too. I saw one strutting down the street the other day.

After I married and moved to the country, the first thing I did was “make” a vegetable garden and get chickens. I blame my poultry fascination on my Grandma Nita who introduced them to me when I was barely four years old. Another part of the blame can be laid at the door of a favorite book, A Very Small Farm, by William Paul Winchester. His sweet and tender chronicle about his twenty acre farm in northeast Oklahoma, filled with musings on his Jersey cows and Buff Orpington chickens, made me want a flock of my own. Since I can’t drink milk, the cow was not an option.

Buff Orpington

If you’ve never seen a Buff Orpington in full feather, you have truly missed one of nature’s finest shades of gold. They are some of the prettiest chickens on the planet, and I’ve noticed they’re making a comeback.

I’ve had several flocks over the years, and I always prefer a mixed flock. I do not let my chickens free range at present because of the many dogs and coyotes in my neighborhood. I’ve lost too many birds to them over the years. Presently, we have two roosters, Rocky Rococo and Alexander, along with nine hens. They reside in two horse stalls of our barn, which we converted for the chickens, and have a large, covered run. I don’t recommend the two rooster idea. It simply happened, but Alex and Rocky maintain a fragile truce.

my flock

Speaking of roosters, these beautiful boys get a bad rap because people think they are loud and useless. True, hens can lay eggs without roosters, but if you have a rooster for your flock, it’s so much better. A rooster not only makes eggs fertile--important if you want more chicks--he protects his hens with his life. I’ve had more than one rooster who sacrificed himself so the hens could find cover when a predator attacked. Plus, a rooster crowing is a beautiful sound which evokes the pastoral. I wouldn’t be without one.

Beautiful rooster

My current flock consists of Barred Rocks, Aracauna/Americanas (that lay blue eggs), Rhode Island Reds and a black chicken of mixed parentage. Blackie is so gentle, and I love her the most.

Because backyard chicken farming has become de rigueur, your choice of chicken coops is nearly endless. You can find coop ideas and plans online, and below is one of my all-time favorites. It was built for a neglected hen who wandered from a neighbor’s yard into an Oklahoma City family’s lot. The little hen stayed, and when the neighbors finally moved, her new family named her Sunshine. They love Sunshine so much they added to their chicken family this year with three more chicks.

Sunshine's house

Caring for chickens isn’t difficult. They need good food--different types at certain stages of their lives--and water. I use a layer ration feed and supplement with greens from my garden--if the lettuce bolts--and other dinner scraps excluding those foods that might change the taste of the eggs. Provide chickens with plenty of clean, fresh water. We invested in a machine that automatically waters, which makes our lives easier. I’ve built nests for my hens to lay their eggs in, but they seem to like the floor under the nests so I keep fresh straw there to protect the eggs from breakage and dirt. Gather the eggs every day. Chicken coops should be regularly cleaned so choose a coop that is easy to maintain. Stockpile any manure and bedding for six months before using it in your garden. Otherwise, the manure contains too much nitrogen and is too “hot.”

Chickens are tremendous fun for the whole family. Why don’t you get a few birds and a coop and start your own flock today?