It was way back in the late summer of 1996. TMOTH and I, fresh newlyweds (we married young and there wasn't even a shotgun involved) took advantage of a nice morning by riding our bikes up and down the hills of central and east Lawrence. Or rather, coasting down and huffing and puffing up the hills of central and east Lawrence. Eventually, we found ourselves at the property of my then academic advisor, who owned a decent two acre spread at the junction of where "town" and "country" met. My advisor showed us around his old farmhouse and garden and introduced us to his small flock of chickens.
My recollection is that there were a dozen hens of various breeds, frolicking and clucking happily in the large fenced yard surrounding the coop. It was clear that each and every hen had her own personality, and their proud owner gestured and described their behaviors and antics as they came our way. The birds were so pretty and quirky and I immediately fell in love.
It was that night, as we settled down into our small, married student housing apartment, that I first spoke to TMOTH about wanting chickens someday. We had already established dreams a small homestead, so chickens fit quite well into that plan. But that plan was sooooo far out it was hard to believe that "someday" would ever actually happen.
Fifteen years later, friends, I finally have chickens.
After acquiring a ready chicken coop in the move to the new house we were initially on the fence as to how to approach the chicken issue. Just for eggs, or meat, too? Chicks or pullets? Small flock or large flock? Rooster or no rooster?
Recognizing that we have so much to accomplish to complete even basic tasks before seasonal deadlines (prepare the garden, clean and repair the coop, etc.) we decided that whatever approach we took this year we would NOT do a big straight run order for the production of meat. We still weren't sure, however, if we wanted to dedicate ourselves to the raising of chicks, or if we'd just try to snag a few pullets off of Craigslist.
And then, the day of the first big coop cleaning, the girls and I went to one of the local farm supply stores...and they had chicks.
Dammit if chicks aren't so cute.
After cooing and handling and talking for a good while the girls and I left the store with an understanding that later in the week (when a new shipment of dual purpose chicks came in) we'd head back and buy around 10 chicks for our own flock. We'd consider keeping one rooster, but any extra roosters and possibly up to five other chicks would eventually become dinner.
But then the next day I stopped at another local farm supply store for chick supplies and they had plenty of chicks. In fact, they were expecting another shipment of chicks the next day, and so were needing to sell some of their dual purpose chicks.
I'm such a sucker.
I came home with six sex-linked laying standards (guaranteed hens), four straight-run "feathered" variety dual purpose chicks and one Cornish Rock (straight run). For those counting, that's 11 total birds, with six guaranteed hens and five possible roosters.
The addition of a Cornish Rock was a bit of a surprise, since I don't like the possibly unethical growth-rate of it and similarly-bred "meat" birds. But it was the only one left in it's tank...and I'm a sucker.
So now several times a day we're checking on the chicks in the basement (it's still too cold to move them out to the coop, which still needs work anyway). We change their pine bedding every other day and have to freshen their water several times a day, as it is apparently great fun to stuff the waterer with pine bedding. It's amazing how quickly even the dual purpose chicks grow, and almost concerning how quickly the Cornish Rock is growing. They each have their own personalities, and most of them have acquired names via the girls.
The chicks at two weeks of age. Keep an eye on that black one perched on the food - she's watching...always watching...
As a homestead-experienced co-worker summed up, "It sounds like you have pets, not chickens." That may be true for the time being, but things may change as the chicks become more independent and roosters start to defend their territory. Eventually, a spare rooster having a bad day becomes dinner.
In the meantime, we better get hustling on the coop since the days will be warming and these little peepers can be awfully loud (especially at night). We'll be putting up new roosts, rehabbing nests boxes and getting the pine bedding ready for the deep litter method.
Let the chicken fun begin!