|A chicken coop. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Capon: A castrated male used for meat. (How much could that yield?)
Pullet: A female chicken under one year old.
Hen: A female chicken over one year of age
Rooster: A male chicken over one year of age.
Raising Chickens for the first time can be intimidating. When I first called the Feed Shop, I was trying to sound like a pro. I asked, “Do you sell pullets?” “Yes”, the man replied. “Are they all females?” It’s been an uphill battle ever since.
Pullet parenthood is a much of an adventure as child rearing, only with more feces per pound of body weight. However, I’ve been reading quite a bit on poultry matters. (Yes, my coolness just turned over in its grave.) So if I am correct and I am quite certain I am not, here is how chicken rearin’ goes.
Go to your local feed store and purchase $10.00 worth of chicks and $50 worth of food and supplies. Don’t forget the water dispensers. Buying the metal ones, never plastic is always advised. I have yet to see a metal one.
Next, place the chicks somewhere sheltered, like a bedroom closet. Toss in some highly flammable straw or wood shavings and promptly dangle a glowing heat lamp just above them. Note to self: Update homeowner’s policy.
For the next several weeks feed them 3 lbs of food per day and remove 4 lbs of sh*t per day from the closet. Despite all logic, the birds get bigger. As the adult feathers grow in to be sure to clip one of their wings. That is one per bird, not just one wing total. If clipping is done late chicks will nest in your toilet. This is a bad thing.
Clipping can be accomplished by tossing your scissors and your body into the heaping mound of chicks, poop, and straw. Grab a wiggling screeching bird from the bile pile. Restrain it with one hand. Stretch the wing out with your second hand. Clip off 50% of the wings outer ten feathers with your third hand.
As the birds grow adjust the heat light temperature down by one degree per day. No, this is not actually possible. That’s not my point. You start at 100 degrees for hatchlings then continue down by one degree per day until your bedroom is a minimum of 3 degrees cooler than the spring blizzard outside your window.
Once you have frozen your ear to your semi-cannibalistic down pillow and the chicks have grown their adult feathers, they can be moved outside to the coop. I estimate the initial closet rearing stage to have taken five years.
Before the move, experience the Joy of Wing Clipping one more time. Feather clipping never works the first time. No one knows why. Still, after all the hassle you probably don’t want them to fly the coop in under sixty seconds. Of course, if you’re like me, by this time you may be inclined to pack them each a lunch and leave a stack of Greyhound tickets by the open coop gate.
Regarding habitat construction: Henhouses and chicken coops are a competitive art form. There is a myriad of websites showing off architectural designs from Chicken Chateaus to Bird Bordellos. The meticulous craftsmanship makes my own home look like – well – like a chicken coop.
Always fashionable, I went with a shabby chic motif for my coop. The nesting boxes are an eclectic mix of stolen milk crates affixed to the wall by anything in arms reach. As for the coop itself, there is a gift for tight chicken wire, which eludes me. Quite frankly, my first attempt at a coop looks like Dr. Seuss dropped a hit of acid, blasted some Jefferson Starship and rolled around on the wire with every Who in Whoville. I think I’ll keep it.
Inferior design aside, I ultimately learned a thing or two. The nesting boxes are supposed to be up off the ground. That is correct. For those of you keeping score you just spent two weeks cutting back the bird's flight feathers only to hang their houses in the sky. It’s just sick.
Higher than the nest boxes, you are to build a roost. This is where the birds crap at night so they do not crap on your breakfast eggs. Of course, the roost is usually OVER the nesting boxes, so whatever you do, don’t use those perforated plastic milk crates.
For young birds maintain a heat light in the hen house. Then on cooler nights, an animal with a brain the size of a bulimic toenail clipping will make the conscious decision to forgo your nest boxes, bypass the instinctual roost and leap into a tanning bed.
And finally, there is the feed regime. I asked several experts a dread upon feeding as well. Make sure to give your chickens, starter formula, mash, growth formula, start & grow, brood formula, grit, no grit, scraps, no scraps, goat placenta, nothing suggested on the internet, Terramycin, no antibiotics, medicated starter, non-medicated starter and never ever switch in-between.
I may not be Queen of the Coop yet, but I’m working on it. Though I am still a zoologist and I still know Birds 101. Here are two myths I can help with. First, you do not need a rooster to get eggs. Most folk, especially those who have never owned chickens, will advise you on chickens. Each will insist you need a rooster for a while to do his manly duties, then you can slip him in the pot. As appealing as this concept is, your pot is a separate issue.
Roosters are only needed to make fertile eggs. Hens are all that is needed to make breakfast eggs. Fertile eggs are just peachy if raising chicks was such a joy the first time you want to repeat the whole freakin’ process. In addition, there is always the risk of breaking a fertilized egg open and finding a 50% formed chick fetus hitting your hot skillet. Yum! Years of therapy will follow.
To keep it straight in your mind consider this: You are going about your life. Suddenly massive balls of calcium start stacking up inside your abdomen. Are you going to hold on to them just because you have not had sex lately?
The second bird myth is totally unrelated so I thought I would mention it. Penguins occur in nature from the Equator on Southward. That is down to Antarctica, not the Arctic! No, they do not hang out with Polar Bears who live in the Arctic. No, you did not see them when you worked in Alaska, in the Arctic. Those were puffins. No, I am not sorry you look stupid to all those folks you told penguin tales too.
Yes, some penguin species even reside on the Galapagos Islands at the equator (Cold weather would kill them), not floating around on icebergs - and not in the Arctic! Yes, I realize my eggs are not all in one basket. Delusional, close-minded people who insist you need a rooster to fertilize your penguin eggs so polar bears won’t lose their food supply drove me crazy!