Although it’s still winter, today’s sunshine beckoned to me from the moment I opened the front door to allow it to spill onto the plants in the entry. I took my time when going about my early outside chores, for although there was frost on the ground, the wind was still. By late afternoon I could no longer stand staying inside and went for a walk around the neighborhood. By then there was a fairly brisk breeze, and I was glad I had my gloves with me.
Not being quite ready to go back inside, when I returned I cut around to the back of the house and let “the girls” out. There are only five of them left of the 10 we began with – because no matter how hard you try to keep chickens healthy and happy, sometimes they just decide they are ready to go. We said goodbye to Mamie – the lead chick – last summer. Since then, the rest of our little flock of banty hens appears to be faring well. Sometimes the type of weather we have been having lately, warm and wet, can cause poultry to ail. However, Buffins the Buff Brahma, Wallis the Black Crested Polish, and Dovey-Puffs, a gray Americauna, are doing well. We have two more, and I am ashamed I can’t tell the two black Americauna hens apart, so they don’t really have names.
We are fortunate that it is legal to have chickens within the city limits, as many municipalities, large and small, do not allow them. There are rules, however, and this limits the number, how and where they are housed, and it requires adhering to local and state noise ordinances. Hence, we host a roosterless henhouse.
Occasionally on sunny winter days, unless it is bitter cold, I let them out to browse around the yard for a little while. Chickens are omnivorous, so they are always able to dig up a snack of some sort. All sorts of tiny treats are in residence under the thick mulch of leaves in the wooded areas. In the winter there is no shade or cover, so I usually stay out with them. Hawks and other birds of prey are on the lookout for an easy meal, and especially so this time of year.
The girls are very spoiled, and because they are “getting up there” in chicken years, they don’t lay as prolifically as they used to. Plus, they stop laying eggs in late fall and don’t start up again until mid-March. It all depends on hours of daylight, not the amount of sunshine or temperatures. I have never used any artificial light to encourage egg production. I figure, what is, is. Unless there are a large number of chickens in the coop, raising them for profit is questionable. When we used to have upwards of 40 assorted hens, roosters, ducks, geese, and guinea hens, there was a huge surplus of eggs, so we sold them by the dozen. Even at that, it still didn’t cover the cost of laying mash, scratch grains, bedding and other feathery necessities.
It was fun and educational, although there were occasional sad times – I always said it could get violent down in the barn, whether the cause was turf wars or unwelcome predators. I’m not sure where the term “dumb cluck” began, but it is a misnomer as chickens are actually clever and resourceful. They know when evening falls that the safest place to be is in their little coop. Keeping chickens takes dedication, as they need to be let out of their domicile early in the morning and secured from predators at night. And that is not always easy, as predators are clever, too.
But, they are a delight to watch as they bustle around, scratching first here, now there, and sounding a quick little cluck that brings the rest running when something particular delightful is discovered. They eat up fruit, vegetable, and table scraps (within reason) and even after all these years chicken keeping, there is a sense of satisfaction when cracking a really fresh egg from one of our own chickens.