July 12, 2014

10 Things I've Learned about Keeping Chickens | a chicken update

Lilly got two new young chickens for her birthday at the end of May. Joining Chiquita and Bandita (two of last year's birthday chickenistas),
we welcomed Boosul and Clementine to the coop.
After a few days of drama & hen-pecking, they smoothed things out & now the four of them go about as one happy little sisterhood.   

Chiquita & Bandita (one-year-olds):

Boosul & Clementine (babies):

Boosul means "beautiful" in Romani gypsy language, according to a book I read. 
She's black with iridescent blue & green in her feathers; a beauty for sure. 
She's going to be big.  She had already passed up the mature hens in size while she was still peeping like a chick.  What big feet she has!
Clementine is the youngest, named for the orange (inspired by her color.)
These two charmed me when we got them.  They would follow me, cheep-cheeping, and lay down next to me in the yard or garden.. just plop over on their sides & stretch out their gawky chicken legs.

All four of them are a happy sight to look down on from my window on summer mornings. 
It's one of my favorite things. 

The other day I looked out & saw Lilly having lunch with her chickens - had to snap a picture through the window screen.

I'm far from an expert -we've had our ups and downs in the poultry & foul department over the years and I'm still learning.  But here are
10 Things I've learned about Keeping Chickens

1. There are more chickens living on earth than people. 
We've found that four chickens are just right for the seven of us.

2.  Around 95% of all chickens raised in the U.S. spend their entire lives in small cages.
But when given enough space, chickens will run, jump, play and sunbathe. 
Ours love to free range the daytime hours away.  They have a favorite sunning location where they all go for siestas.  They're curious and amusing when they chase after butterflies & moths.  They're also curious about what we're up to & come running if they think we have treats. 
I've read that chickens can become bored and will start pecking & fighting when unable to access a varied environment, much like kids in a long car ride together.  Our four liberated ladies are pleasant to have roaming our yard. 
3.  We live in northern MN where there are plenty of predators.  The most common threats for us are fox, coyote, skunk, raccoon, weasel, owls & hawks.
It's important for chickens to be protected, particularly at night.  They go back in the coop to roost every evening and we close the door to keep them safe.     Their outdoor run is fully enclosed top & bottom when they are confined.  And when out & about by day, they tend to stay close to cover where they aren't vulnerable to daytime hawks overhead. 
Chiquita & Bandita, unsure what to make of a chipmunk below them:

4. Chickens are omnivores.
When living in their natural environment, chickens will spend the day foraging for bugs and slurping down fresh blades of grass.
I love to see them working bug and weed control in the garden & around the edges of the yard.
Our hens get kitchen & garden scraps.  They love to peck smoked ribs clean!  
During the summer months they've eaten almost no store-bought feed.  (Though it's available to them if they want it.)  They fill up on free ranging.
5.  Multiple studies have found that hens raised on fresh pastures boasted twice as much vitamin E and 2.5 times more brain- and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids as standard supermarket eggs had. Other tests show pastured eggs also tout four to five times the vitamin D of regular eggs, along with 1/3 less cholesterol, ¼ less saturated fat, seven times more beta-carotene, and 2/3 more vitamin A.  
All that pretty much means our chicken eggs are awesome!

6.  Some hens like to lay their eggs in private. 
Usually ours go into the coop to lay in a nesting box during the day.
One day recently we thought Bandita, our crowing hen, was missing.  She wasn't with the other three, and she wasn't in the coop.  After a few minutes, she popped out from a raised bed in the middle of our yard loaded thick with day lilies, as if to ask what the fuss was all about. 
The next day Johnathan found that she'd built a nest in there in which he discovered seven eggs. 
It's a funny sight watching her circle around then hop up and duck into hiding.
Bandita's hideout can be seen in the photo below.

7.  Chickens have all kinds of different combs.  Chiquita's is a classic single comb, bold & spikey.  Bandita's is small & simple, maybe a mixed rose comb?   (They are mixed breed chickens.)
Boosul is developing a nice red comb, which tells us she may begin laying soon, if she hasn't already.  Clementine's is just starting to grow. 

8.  We bed our coop with coarse pine sawdust, a natural bi-product of Mitch's sawmill.  It works well for us and seems much neater than shavings.   The chickens have never complained.

9.  About that crowing hen:  Who knows?  She is definitely a hen, we know that.  Her crow sounds a little awkward, like a young rooster still working at perfecting his cock-a-doodle-doo.   She doesn't do it every day, it's random.  Maybe she'll outgrow it, but we don't mind either way. 
We had a rooster many years ago, but have no interest in having another at this time. 

10.  Lastly, we learned that the chicken is the closest living relative to the Tyrannosaurus-Rex! 
This statement is paleontologist approved.

(I tried to get them all to look up and strike a pose at the same time... They're learning, too.)


  1. I would love to have chickens, they are so cute.. You seem to be doing very well raising the chickens. I love the shot of Lily eating her lunch with the chickens. They are all wonderful photos..Thanks for linking up with my critter party. Enjoy your weekend!

  2. What a great post and certainly I now know more about chicken rearing and I love the last shot of them all posing for you. Have a wonderful weekend.

  3. Lilly is so cute out eating lunch with her chickens. What a fabulous experience for her to own her own!

  4. Thanks for introducing your brood to me. I don't have the luxury of raising chickens, but I sure do like to look at them, and learning more about their habits. People in the house behind us had chickens for awhile, but they're gone now.

  5. Absolutely Delightful Post . . .
    A bit educational too!
    I was also reminded of the stories of
    my husbands pet chicken, Daisy . . .
    I imagine Lily will have stories to tell too . . .

  6. they're very cute. i love that they're happy and free-roaming - and that they stay safe (hope that continues). loved lily having lunch with her girls. :)

  7. So interesting to learn about your chickens! Love the photo of Lilly having lunch with them.

  8. Loved hearing about your chickens! They are all cuties. We had some backyard chickens many years ago, but they all got eaten by raccoons.

  9. I like that you named your chickens. My daughter has done that too - she used herbs (parsley, sage, etc). We always enjoy her eggs when we visit there, too.

    Hope you're feeling better every day.

  10. I enjoyed the photos and information about chickens, Lilly's in particular. The picture of Lilly having lunch with her chickens in priceless.

  11. Amanda, I loved this post and the photos of your little flock. Here at my house, the resident foxes and coyotes would be licking their chops, I'm afraid! I'd love to taste the eggs!

  12. Your chicken are happy chicken, with the sweetest names and the most caregiving feeder (Lily :)!
    I buy ecological eggs, that walk free and have access to outdoors environment as well ... we need to mind the animals and their welfare. Wonderful news of the vitamin levels of the chicken that can walk freely ...

  13. Amanda,
    Neat chicken facts! I think it's great that Lilly is interested in chickens and this is her project.

    I have 16 older hens and we get more than enough eggs for J and I and his folks. I send eggs to town with whoever is heading out the driveway. It's usually easy to sell farm fresh eggs.

    I really don't like to toss out food. It doesn't bother me quite so bad when I know the chickens will eat almost anything (mine are not fans of onions or lemons). They really LOVE watermelon rinds. You are right when the hens think I have a treat they come a runnin.

    Happy Hens to You and Lilly!

  14. Interesting. Everything I learn about raising chickens helps me communicate with my grandchildren in the Phoenix area. It seems they raise chicken in suburbia and demonstrate them for their 4H group. In the city. Surrounded by millions of people....:)

  15. They are going to have a blessed life! I usually buy my eggs from a small farm around the corner..they are much smaller than supermarket eggs but their taste is so much better. Wonderful pictures and I hope that you are recovering well from your operation? Enjoyed looking at the pictures , looks like you are having a great summer.