After months of hemming and hawing back and forth about whether to take the plunge and get chickens, I finally obtained two birds and a small coop. The first was an old chicken that was the sole survivor of the flock my next door neighbors once had. The chickens were a project that the semi-retired husband was passionate about, but after he passed on, his wife was not keen on the upkeep. I started taking care of the 3-4 birds and rooster whenever she was out of town, and they all died off one by one. I benefited from the manured bedding for my compost and the occasional egg.
Once only Holly was left and my neighbor sold her property, I adopted the elderly chicken and brought her to our place. I then purchased a 4 month old, Doily, and the coop she came with. I was extremely stressed out when we first set them up because I felt I was not protecting them well enough and was not prepared to house them. But very quickly, I relaxed and found that they have amazing inborn survival instincts and will flutter up to a low branch or railing when ground predators are near (we spotted a fox scoping out the front yard from the meadow), and they would run into their coop or under the bushes when a hawk circled overhead!
This does not mean that nothing can or might get them... but I feel better about giving them the freedom to free range, which provides a high quality of life, than I would over-protecting them by caging them, which is the life old Holly had before I got her. Now, they forage for the seeds I scatter every morning and peck apart the kitchen scraps I throw over their fence daily. And in the process, they are turning the woodchip covered soil into luscious, rich, manured compost. Although Miss Holly has stopped producing eggs, she is wonderful company for Doily, who, at 8 months old now, is producing a reliable egg every day!
I feel that their social contentment is evident when I muse how bitchy Holly used to be and how shy and nervous Doily was when we first got her. Now both allow me to pet them, they come when I call, and they talk back when I chirrup or purr at them. It is a great pleasure to have raised Holly's happiness and health quotient so dramatically in her final months/years. She has great value to me and to Doily, even though she does not produce eggs. She has taught Doily the social rules of chickenness and the skills to forage and survive predators. She is a source of friendship and companionship for Doily and is always the first and loudest to sound the alarm when a predator is near. She seems to even have "trained" the border collie to alert us in the house when she hears Holly's warning cackle!
I am planning to purchase a slightly larger and sturdier coop this weekend and add one or two hens to the family to increase our egg production. Let's hope that these two will be able to accept them graciously.
How do you provide natural care for your flock? Share some pictures of your setup!