In 2005, United Poultry Concerns launched International Respect for Chickens Day to “celebrate chickens throughout the world and protest the bleakness of their lives in farming operations.” The thought was to do an action for chickens. Ideas they suggest include letter writing, handing out leaflets, radio call-ins, hosting a vegan meal or just talking with family and friends about chickens.
In our house, chickens are talked about a lot – or, more specifically, the two chickens that like to wander in our house. My husband sees them and starts saying “Why are there chickens in our house? They belong outside. They’re going to make a mess,” etc., while I calmly explain they’re only going from the backyard to the front yard. Of course, they like to stop and get a drink at the dog’s water bowl and then check to see if there’s any crumbs they can peck at. I do try to rush them down the stairs and out the front door, but it doesn’t always work.
These two girls are Australorps, a very friendly breed developed in Austria from the Black Orpington. While the American Poultry Association only recognizes the Australorp in its original color (black) they are also blue, splash, buff, white and wheaton lace colors.
My flock (chickens and ducks) is completely free ranging. They have a coop and greenhouse they sleep in or go in to in bad weather, but otherwise they’re roaming about, happily munching bugs and scratching up newly planted flowers in case there’s a worm under them. Currently we have seven ducks, 22 hens and six roosters. It’s not a good ratio, as it should be one rooster to eight to 10 hens. Luckily for the ladies, three of the roosters are Bantams and aren’t as aggressive to the hens as the larger ones are, and we are looking for good homes for four of the roosters.
With free ranging your birds, predators are always an issue. We came home one rainy day last spring to find five hens and four ducks gone. There were spots of feathers all over the yard, suggesting a fox had come to enjoy the feast and brought the family with her. A day or two later we found one of the missing ducks near the edge of our property with just her head eaten, which is what a hawk would do. It was a very sad day. It’s difficult to lose any animals, but all of them in one day was devasting. I mulled over fencing them in, but in the end decided not to.
This year I have lost two more hens. One was laying on a nest under a canoe near the pond. We had just discovered the nest the day before, and it appeared all the hens were laying eggs there as there were many colors and a lot of eggs. I didn’t think much of it and went to shut the birds up for the night. I usually check to make sure everyone is in, but it was dark and I did just a quick check before locking the door. The next morning, a strip of white caught my eye. As I walked closer to it, my heart sank as I realized it was my white hen. I went to check where the eggs had been and every single one of them was missing. Two days later there were black feathers between the greenhouse and our back deck. I could only surmise my Jersey Giant had somehow found her way out of the greenhouse early in the morning and was on her way to see us. Unfortunately, something ate her before she found safety.
It’s important to keep your birds safe, and we strive to protect them from the predators in our area, which are mainly hawks, foxes and coyotes, but they are very clever and persistent. One tried to grab a chicken shortly after they had been let out. Luckily, she was a feisty girl and started squawking. I heard the commotion and ran out to see a fox running away. She ended up with a large gash in her back, but with some disinfectant and antibiotic she healed well.
We now use a variety of methods to scare the various predators away. Anything that has movement or has been changed in our yard will make a fox or coyote nervous. We use balloons or large sheets of paper on poles and move them around the yard frequently. We have a plastic owl near the greenhouse and also move that on a regular basis, either just turning it or moving it to another spot. CDs on fish line are used near our house and we set off bottle rockets at random times in case anything gets the idea they can sneak into the yard and help themselves. We are lucky enough to have our son and his family next door, so they also keep an eye on the flock. In addition, when we’re home, the dogs roam freely so their scent is in the area.
Chickens (and ducks) can be fun and useful additions to a farm. Our granddaughters love holding the chicks and “petting” the ladies that allow it. Australorps are great for this as they are a very calm and friendly bird. They will even fly on my back or shoulders, scaring me when I’m not expecting it!
Our flock also includes Orphingtons, Silkies, Barred Rocks, Sebrights, various Bantams, Ameraucanas and Light Brahmas. The ducks are Indian Runners and Khaki Campbells. They all have their own personalities and offer a lot fun in watching them interact with each other and us. They do have fondness for whatever plant was just planted – keeping them out of the garden is certainly a daily chore.
On this International Respect for Chickens Day, maybe I’ll plant a few plants for them.
by Joan Kark-Wren