Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Skinny on the Chickens

We have mixed emotions about keeping chickens so here's a few thoughts:

  • They are interesting animals and fun to watch. We crack up a lot watching their antics.
  • Now that we've had them awhile, they are relatively easy to care for.
  • We have more eggs to eat than we ever desired...with just five hens!
  • We are the grateful harvesters of all their soiled bedding for use in our garden.
  • The chickens are great at eating bugs, though there are a lot of bugs we don't want them to eat so this fits in positives and negatives, I suppose.
  • There is a very defined pecking order, which usually works well so all chickens know their place. This results in pecking, which if blood is drawn results in a lot more pecking. These are blood thirsty birds and so we've had to stay vigilant and make sure no one does serious damage to each other. When we coated Rocky the Rooster's comb in Vaseline to protect against frostbite, the hens went nuts pecking it bloody since the red comb with the shiny ointment apparently made them think blood. Ack! Blu Kote usually helps us mask the red when blood is drawn.
  • The pecking order at some point early in the move to our place put Little Girl aka L.G. at the lowest of the low. You can see her outside the fence. She can in no way and at no time be with the other chickens anymore. After not too long here, we discovered that she wasn't allowed to eat, drink or roost with the other chickens. During the extreme cold this was a huge problem since all the chickens were in the coop constantly. Once the weather broke and the chickens could be outside more, we tried to reintegrate L.G. BAD IDEA. Rocky the Rooster went after her, knocked her to the ground and started pecking her head. Ugh.
  • L.G. now seems to have crook neck or wry neck. This is a problem caused by genetics, head injury or malnutrition. We think she's suffered from the latter two. Google it. It's terrible. She is still kicking, but drinking water is getting to be more and more of a problem. 

Because of the problems with L.G. and the other chickens, we build her a separate enclosure. This works well, but she can be outside only when we are home since she cannot get into or out of this space alone.

She finally gets to roost up high like the other chickens and even has a southern exposure!

She has access to her own food and water and feels safe. Her behavior is completely different than when she had to deal with pecking from all the hens and the rooster.

The increase in food and safety allowed L.G. to finally start laying eggs!

It hardly seems fair to us that as soon as we got L.G. all fixed up she developed this crook neck. Rocky's attack no doubt triggered it. She is still kickin' though and happy to run around in the garden. We will see what happens. We have been told that some of these aggressiveness problems are less when one raises chickens all of the same breed and starting out when they are chicks.

Chickens need space though, that's for sure, and keeping chickens makes us even more aware of the necessity to support humane raising of these animals. We're not sure what we will do in the long run, but we can certainly say this has been a learning experience!


  1. I kept city chickens for a while and I agree they need lots of space. I don't think the average yard is really ideal. My parents have had chickens for as long as I can remember and live in the country with a coop and a large area for them to range. Last spring they raised some chicks and added them to the flock and encountered all kinds of segregation. The old ones wouldn't let the new ones in to roost. They no longer have a rooster, maybe he would have made them figure it out....then again maybe he would have been mean too. They are tricky birds!

    1. They are such tricky birds! I think that's why so many end up as rescue birds now because people don't know how tricky they can be! We sure didn't!

  2. I had many of these issues when i had chickens...they picked on the rooster, picked all the feathers off his neck, picked it clean!! So I tried to put a leather "guard I made on it to keep them off him...but he flopped around like he was trying to commit I had to take it off, I found a new home for him..then one by one the owls, fox and etc got my chickens..when i would let them out to pick. I thought of trying again, I think the barnyard white hens are better to keep and they get along better when they can free roam...which is hard these days...I wish you good luck and hope your hen's condition improves.

    1. Yes, our roosters bum is completely devoid of feathers and I can tell by his sound each time one of the girls pulls another one. Oh my! Yes, free roaming is great for them and we let them out of their run when we can, but there are definitely animals around here that would love to eat them!

  3. I raised chickens for about six years when I was in middle school and high school. I didn't have the problems that you guys have had but I always raised them as chicks and they grew up together. I did have problems when I would introduce a few chickens to the existing flock. I think it helps if your coop is large and they have a large outside area to roam and eat. Our chicken coop was about 30' by 100' and they roamed in a 3 acre lot. We raised about 30 chickens at a time and had two roosters. I always thought that the more space they have the less destructive they tend to be. Anyway good luck.

    1. Hi! Thanks for your thoughts. We tried everything to reintegrate this little hen, but to no avail so she is not accustomed to her separation. Our coop is pretty large for the 5 other chickens as is there run. They get to go out into the yard and garden when we are around, but it doesn't seem to help anything. It's definitely been a learning experience for us! Thanks for the luck. :)

  4. Hey Jennifer and Steve, Oh, the dreaded pecking order...we struggle with that around here, too and we've only got 8 right now! We have on Auracana that is the sweetest girl imaginable, and all the other except the roo pick on her, especially one white rock that we have that is just a wicked pill. All in all, though, I sure do love my girls, they are hours of free entertainment around here! Peace to you, ~Vonnie

    1. Yes, the chickens are entertaining! We do enjoy quite a bit about them, but since we don't eat meat and are only so so on eggs, this might not be our best choice. :) It has helped out our friends though and that was the main goal. We will see what happens over the next couple of months.


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