Our chicks have arrived! We ordered 16 but are playing host to another 21 for some friends of ours for a few weeks. Last night we got a phone call from the post office in Castlegar saying that our cheepers were there and would be arriving at our local post office this morning. This morning, true to form, the local post office called on the dot of 8 a.m. to say "your babies are here -- they're cute for about five minutes, but the noise starts to drive us nuts after that, so come and get 'em!" The kids, wonder of wonders, were awake and ready to go. So we drove down and picked them up, and dumpster-dived on the way home to get enough big pieces of cardboard to create a temporary indoor brooder in the basement.
Our new chicken shed is ready, attached as a lean-to to an existing shed that formerly served in part as the chicken shed. The "old chicken shed" has been claimed by the wanna-be blacksmith of the family as a smithy. The new chicken lean-to is awesome and will be great once our cheepers are ready for slightly cooler temperatures.
In the past we've had homogenous flocks of either Isa-Browns or Barred Rocks. This year we've purchased a mixed flock. Six are Red Rock Cross hens, brown egg layers. Right now they're all black, but they'll end up black and with reddish chests. Six are Barred Rocks. These are unsexed, so some will no doubt grow into roosters. They will grow into lovely barred black and white birds and the hens are reliable brown egg layers as well. These chicks are black with white spots on their heads. We also splurged and bought three 'heritage breed' chicks, a breed called "Ameraucana." We may end up with three hens, or three roosters, but we're hoping for at least one of each sex, because we are considering keeping a rooster and hatching some eggs next spring. These birds lay very large eggs that are sky blue to turquoise in colour. Noah is holding one of the Ameraucanas in the photo above. We ordered from Rochester Hatchery in Alberta. Their on-line catalogue has pictures of all the breeds.
All the breeds we've ordered are what are called "dual-purpose birds" meaning that you can eat the meat of the cockerels, or get good egg production from the hens. While we don't eat meat, our friends are happy to take our cockerels and use them once, at 18 weeks or so, they've declared themselves visually as males. I like dual-purpose birds, rather than strictly layer breeds. They seem a little "closer to nature" to me, and are hardier, especially through the winter and a little more assertive with smallish predators like weasels. They also grow very quickly over the first 16-18 weeks of life. It is very fun to watch cute babies turn into gangly adolescents and then feather out as beautiful, substantial adults just in the course of a season.
The kids are excitedly checking the brooder temperature, feed and water levels about every half hour. I'm sure the novelty will wear off to some extent, but I hope they stay interested and intent on caring for the chickens over the weeks and months that follow. Gathering eggs should be much more interesting with the blue-green ones in the mix. Keep your fingers crossed for at least one Ameraucana hen.
I love having hens at home. It's one small project that helps connect us, and the food on our table, to its source. We can be fully in charge of how our eggs are produced, the conditions our hens live in, and the impact our egg production has on the earth. We've watched a lot of documentaries lately on environmental issues, the politics and economics of food, the organic and whole-foods movement. This new flock of birds fits in really well with all this interest and energy.