A bit about us...

We are a modern family of three, living on less than two acres with a 3,000 square foot garden that meets our produce needs and allows us to share with friends and neighbors. Our laying flock of chickens seems to expand each year as we raise chicks each Spring to replace older hens. This blog is more of a journal, if you will, for us to chronicle and share our experiences in the yard, garden and kitchen. It is our hope that along the way a few folks might learn something, be entertained, or simply enjoy sharing in our stories and the lessons we learn on a daily basis. I named the blog after the times when I am the happiest, when I am elbow deep in earth.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Life rarely goes as planned

As always, life has a way of not moving along as we anticipate it will.  Raising chicks this Spring has been a lesson in exactly that.  A few weeks ago, I brought home six chicks to add to the flock.  My hens are aging and I am worried for egg production.  I decided to add six pullets to the mix so that by next Spring, I will have lots of birds ready to lay eggs for me regularly. (They will begin laying late summer and into autumn, but will slow for the winter and not really come into full lay for me until the weather warms next year.)

We went to our local farm supply store and purchased 6 Isa Brown Pullets.  They were labelled as pullets and I consequently paid more for them.  Isa Browns are super reliable layers, generally putting out an egg a day when they are in lay.  In fact, they are the bird commercial egg producers use for the brown eggs you see in the grocery store.  They were not my first choice in breeds though, but as the store informed me that this was the last shipment they were to receive this season, I decided to go ahead and get them since I would likely not have a chance at any other breeds.  Given that they were already sexed (I knew they were all female, as opposed to buying chicks from a "straight run" that could be male or female), I felt it was a good idea to pick up six.  We raised them for a few weeks and started to notice significant differences in their coloring.  Isa Browns can range a bit in color so I didn't think much of it.  I simply enjoyed having my babies to look after and watching them grow was fun! Looking at this picture (above) from the day I brought them home, I see the color variations, but I attributed it then to the variation found in Isas.

I popped into another location of the very same farm supply store to pick up feed for my adult hens last week and, lo and behold, they had pullets from the breed I was looking for.  I asked the man for three of those and headed home with them.  The public is not allowed to select the birds or handle them anymore, as we used to be able to do, since folks haven't been smart enough to wash their hands after handling the chicks and some have gotten sick as a result.  It isn't super common, but chicks can pass salmonella along, so it is a good idea to AT LEAST use hand sanitizer after handling the babies.

Consequently, I was not really able to choose my chicks as I would have liked to.  In the past, I was allowed to pick up the birds, to evaluate them by feel and appearance for health and vigor before taking them home.  This is no longer the case, as there is a new policy in place from their corporate office, so I hoped for the best.  I purchased three of what were labelled as Black Sex Link Pullets.  As you can see, one is not like the others.

When I brought the new babies home, I took a look into the brooder with the first batch of chicks and noticed something startling.  A Cockerel!  That's right, a young rooster staring back at me.  I have apparently been in such a rush, primarily checking food and water and overall health when I look in on the babies, I hadn't noticed one of my "pullets" developing a comb and waddle.  This is a problem, as I am not allowed to have a rooster where I live.  Secondly, I paid more to get sexed females.

As I have been watching them feather out, I have also noticed that I was not sold 6 Isa Browns.  Rather, it appears that I have 3 Isa Brown Pullets, 2 Buff Orpington Pullets and 1 Buff Orpington Cockerel. Looking at my new babies, it appears I have 2 Black Sexlinks and perhaps either 1 Araucana or 1 Black Star.  Black Stars are, I believe, a sex linked breed, so that isn't too far off.  Sex linked breeds are those that gender can be determined at hatching based on the color of the chick.  Cockerels are one color, pullets another.  It makes sexing very simple.  SO!  The chick plan is not happening as originally intended.  To be truthful, it seems to be working out for the best though.  I was a little stressed about adding 6 birds to the flock that looked the same as many of my other hens.  This way, I am adding 3 Isas, 2 Buffs and 3 dark birds.  This will make for a much more diverse flock and that makes me very happy.  I just love the look of a really mixed and colorful flock scratching around.  (It also really helps in telling them apart) :-)

That brings me back to Houston (as in "Houston, we have a problem).  Mom dubbed him with this moniker and I agree with it.  I can  not keep a rooster.  The township is very fussy about me keeping birds in the first place.  There is a minimum requirement of five acres of land to have any animals considered to be livestock.  Shockingly, this even includes rabbits.  Since I do not have five acres, I have an exception to have my flock. Given that the township supervisor lives directly across the street from me, I choose not to rock the boat with a rooster.  He could complain and revoke my right to have the girls.  That would be cause for me to move, likely.  I would not stand for that.  So, what to do with Houston?  When I ended up with Sterling, my rooster from last year, I knew someone who could and would take him.  Houston, however, is not so lucky.  Do we grow him out and have him in a stew when he gets to be of age? No.  Of course not.  Mom has been kicking around the idea of having a small flock of chickens or guineas for some time now.  This has given her the motivation to get looking for a suitable coop.  She will likely then acquire a couple pullets for him to grow up with and keep as his own.  She grew up on a farm and has, for some time, had a longing to keep a few birds of her own.

As I said, no part of this has gone as planned, but it really seems to be working out for the best.  I will continue to watch my babies speed along through their development and enjoy having them small and cuddly while it lasts.  Then they will move to their new coop area and learn the adult ways of chickenhood from the rest of the flock.  Before I know it, they will be repaying me with nutritious and delicious eggs!

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