We have now been chicken-owners for a week and while they have survived, I am sort of surprised. My only experience with chickens in the past has been eating them. I’ve read some books about chicken-keeping and have always wanted to have laying chickens, but when I actually was ready to pick some up I realized I had no idea what I was doing. To start with, how do you move chickens? I had arranged to pick up 5 hens and a rooster from someone selling them on Craigslist. The destination was about an hour away and there was no way I wanted to have chickens loose in my car for ANY amount of time. I thought about taking my cat or rabbit carriers with me, but I really didn’t know how big the chickens were. Would I need one carrier per chicken? Could I put two in one? Did the rabbit carriers have enough headroom? In the end simplicity/laziness won and I just threw 6 moving boxes in the car along with a roll of tape.
I had heard chickens can’t fly and knew that wasn’t true. I had also heard chickens stink. I found out very quickly that was a HUGE understatement. Chickens don’t stink the way a dirty wet dog does, or even the way an intact male cat does – chickens stink on an entirely different level that makes most other animal stink more akin to Scentsy fragrance. It could have been that I’m just not used to it or it could have been the fact that I drove an hour on a hot day with 6 chickens in cardboard boxes in the back of my Element. Or it could have been the fact that these chickens were not kept in the best conditions. (It was still the Ritz Carlton compared to how most egg-laying chickens in America are kept.)
Picking up the chickens was also not as simple as I had hoped. The seller accidently let one out of the coop and it took 30 minutes for him and his wife to catch it. When the wife was putting the chicken in the box, the one that was already in the box escaped. Somehow I caught the feathered escapee in a bear hug as she flew out and shoved her back in the box. I was surprised at how quickly I reacted to catch the chicken since I had never before even held a chicken! The sellers’ chicken area consisted of an approximately 20 X 20 foot poop-puddle surrounded by wood/wire coops. The chickens were cooped during the night, but were free to roam the poop-puddle during the day, which meant their legs and much of their bodies were covered in poop…including the one I caught mid-air…it was a bad time to find out the box of diaper wipes I keep in the car was empty.
So now we have 6 chickens – 5 hens that are almost laying-age and 1 rooster. All are White Leghorns, which is the stereotypical chicken – an anxious little pecker with white feathers and a tall red comb. Leghorns are very good layers and I got a great deal on this flock. We will have to keep an eye on their tall combs during the winter to make sure they don’t get frostbite. Unfortunately this flock is not particularly friendly or easy to handle. I really want some more docile and cold-hardy chickens (specifically Lavender Orpingtons and Buff Chanteclers), but these Leghorns are a good start. The rooster is unnecessary but he was free with the hens. I plan on him being dinner at some point even though HS has named him Marshall. We are looking forward to having fresh eggs soon!