They’re finally here! I feel like I’ve been waiting for them for years. Well, OK, I’m not good at exaggerating. I’ve only been waiting since mid-June when I placed my order. But I’ve been talking about chickens, reading about options and talking to people about them for years, so it really does seem a lot longer than six weeks. Finally, I have chickens!
Being born and bred in suburbia, where I learned nothing about farming,I am starting small. I am the proud owner of four Australorp chicks, hopefully female. They will live in a 32 square-foot arc-style coop that I can move around the yard for healthy foraging. I picked Australorps because they can tolerate heat and cold as well as close quarters, they are consistent layers of large eggs, and I wanted a heritage breed. They are also reportedly affectionate, and that seemed like a nice attribute for someone not used to farm animals.
A friend of mine shrieked when I told her I was getting Australorps. Growing up she had an Australorp that actually would rub its head into her neck. I never would have thought a chicken would cuddle! I swear she said her bird lived for 17 years, but that would be one year longer than the hen listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. I’ll have to check on this fact. All this made me fall in love with my chickens before they arrived. Now they’re here, and suddenly, already three weeks old.
Chickens are precocial by nature. My chickens are especially so. Not only did they leave the nest (incubator) in 24 hours, they travelled from Ohio to get to me. As soon as I got them in their temporary coop in the warmest room in my house, they drank water and ate the chick starter feed I had ready. They seem both independent and vulnerable, endearing themselves to me immediately.
Within days the chicks were trying their wings and by three weeks of age they easily fly to the couch or top of the cage when I let them out to exercise. Twice, they’ve even flown onto my daughter Mauri’s head. Their feet are amazing. Once, in an attempt to fly onto their little cage, one missed and grabbed onto the side with its feet. It then proceeded to climb to the top, easily maneuvering the wiring in the cage and using its wings for balance. There are still some scientists who debate the dinosaurian origin of birds, and hence chickens. For me, its hard not to look at their feet and the way they walk without imagining I’ve miniature T-Rexs in my house.
I am fascinated by their eyesight. It took a few days to realize they might not be associating our voices with our bodies, so we held them close to our faces or lay on our stomachs in order to make eye contact. They became very interested in us. Chickens are attracted to the color red. Any little freckle or cut was fair game for a peck as they investigated their surroundings. This quickly became annoying. However, I discovered I can replace our freckles with torn bits of leaves containing squash bug eggs, which are orange. With expert precision, each tiny egg is plucked off. This is done very quickly so that whichever chicken was first to see the leaf handout, gets all the eggs. I can’t wait until the chickens can walk through the squash plants and eat the adult squash bugs too.
By the third week of age, Mauri and I were able to name the chicks. All along we kept watching for identifying signs, but they kept changing too quickly, not to mention hardly standing still enough to allow for a good observation. The only one I could keep track of since day one was Poppy. I named her this because she had enough white around her eyes and on her chest to remind me of a penguin. Her eyes seem to also have a blue tint to them. It turns out that using the coloration around the eyes seems to be the most handy for telling them apart. So the chickies now have names! There is Poppy of course. And Darky because she has all black around her eyes. There is Guapa. Guapa means cutie in Spanish, and she has yellow colored feathers around her eyes. The fourth chick is named Rita. She has a beautiful striping of yellow and black under her eyes. Her name is a contraction of Favorita.
My girls will be ready to move into their coop in two more weeks. I’ve got several hours worth of work left to finish their home, but it will be ready. I hope they like it and it holds up because I’m not keen on figuring out another option right now. Mostly, though I hope it is predator proof. I spent a lot of time weighing housing options with regards to predators because we have every type of predator possible, with the number one concern being our own dogs. I know I’ve a lot to learn about chicken husbandry, but I am enjoying what my chicks have taught me thus far, and I want them to stick around for awhile. Their safety is my responsibility.