The Arrival of the Chickses

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RIR Chick Collage

>cue Arrival of the Queen of Sheba soundbite punctuated by clucks and squawks<

Growing up, my dad had an annual tradition of buying a recipe calendar for my mom.

My favorite was given to her when I was about twelve or thirteen years old and it was all about pies ~ beautiful pies featuring unique ingredients and beautifully photographed with antique serving pieces.

On the cover was a lovely woman with sandy blond hair, wearing an apron, and proudly rolling out a pie crust in her amazing kitchen.

The first pie I ever baked was her recipe for a buttermilk pie which, she claimed, featured eggs from her very own chickens.

She kept chickensHer own chickens?   Wow.

The woman on the front of the calendar was then still somewhat unknown but she was about to burst onto the homemaking scene to become a celebrity household name forever.

Her name was Martha Stewart.

Yes.  Martha, Martha, Martha was the one who initially inspired me to keep chickens.

When I read about her garden, and then about her chickens I was impressed.

How cool.

How cool to have eggs and vegetables right from your own backyard.

I wanted that.

Our first home shortly after we married had a large yard.  Much could have been done on it, but we had a funky septic/sprinkler system which prevented me taking over the back yard with a garden and chickens were not allowed by the HOA.

I was bummed.

Then we moved to a home with a smaller yard which I did take over with a garden.

Chickens, here were allowed within reason but we opted not to try.  We had four dogs, which were not allowed (we didn’t know that at the time) and in an effort to keep a low profile, we didn’t want to do anything that might potentially incite the neighbors against us.

Then we moved to an acreage in the country with no restrictions whatsoever.

I could keep elephants if I wanted to.

I began planning for my chickens before our house was built, researching breeds, and pinning my favorites to a pinboard designated just for them.

Shortly before our first Thanksgiving in our new home, I called a local hatchery and placed an order for eight Rhode Island Red day old pullets to be picked up the following summer.

We chose Rhode Island Reds for a variety of reasons: they were reported to be great layers,  they were reported to be good dual purpose breeds (no, we *ahem* don’t plan to keep them for pets), and they can supposedly tolerate heat reasonably well (we have terribly hot summers).

I was stoked and immediately circled June 12 on our calendar as our pick up date.

We spent the remaining fall and winter months reading up on caring for chicks and building a coop to prepare for our flock.

When spring arrived I started to count down the days while gathering what we needed for a brooder: a large plastic tub, chick starter, a feeder and waterer, and a heat lamp.

The day before we were to leave, I got a call from the hatchery.  They had hatched a day early and was there any way I could come and pick them up?

We were on the road in an hour.

The hatchery was one we had inadvertently found through a google search and I was delighted to discover they were within a two hours’ drive of us.  Using them, and making the drive to pick them up meant the chicks would not need to be shipped (something I was concerned about), and I would not be held to a minimum order (something else I was concerned about).

country hatcheryThe hatchery was located in a very small Oklahoma town, and although we had explicit directions we drove right past it.

In my mind I imagined a series of white clapboard buildings surrounded by a picturesque fence bordering a gravel drive.

The hatchery was, in reality, a red building the size of a mobile home just off the side of the two lane highway.  We entered to find a small office with vinyl flooring and a counter stacked high with boxes of peeping chicks.

I had imagined we’d visit a bit, chat about breeds and other poultry they carried such as ducks which I have decided I also need.  But they were busy and I was immediately handed a box of eight fur balls peeping for all they were worth.

Rhode Island Red Chicks

While I stood there counting them, checking to see if they were (to my very uneducated eye) ok,  husbie paid the $20 and we were back in the car.

Nine  years of waiting for chickens was over and done with in about ten minutes.

>now cue FRANTIC NERVOUS new chick mom analyzing and evaluating

every twitch and peep<

For the two hour ride home, we peeped constantly, pecked at the box, and slept for seconds at a time.

squawking sleeping collage

Chick mom, who had read somewhere that peeps could/should be analyzed immediately set to work.

“That peep ~ was that an ‘I’m ok just chillin’ peep or what it an ‘I need help peep?’ “

“Ok, that. That.  Did you hear that? What kind of a peep do you think that was?”

“That peep sounds weak.  Do you think it was a weak peep? You think we’ll make it home?”

In spite of new chick mom’s over attentiveness we did make it home.

Lydia and the chickOnce home, we had a brief “get to know you” session with the dogs on one side of a baby gate and the chicks on the other.  With the exception of Ollie neither party was really terribly interested so we moved to the brooder.

We introduced the  chicks to the water, turned on the heat lamp, and suddenly they went very quiet.

“THEY STOPPED PEEPING! WHY DID THEY STOP PEEPING?! OMG. THEY’RE DEAD!”.

Nope.  Nervous, frantic chick mom just forgot that a happy chick = a relatively quiet chick.

Except for one last scare when watching them sleep:

“THEY LOPPED OVER! WHY DID THEY LOP TO ONE SIDE LIKE THAT?! OMG. THEY’RE DEAD!”  we were good and everyone is getting used to happy chicks in the house.

Everyone except Ollie who has been beside himself since day one.  He sits in front of the brooder and cries for a chick buddy.

ollie wants a chick collage

We’ve been amazed at how fast they have grown, and while we’ve enjoyed watching them play, we’re anxious to get them settled into the coop and get them to work.  Yes, they’ll have to earn their keep.

In addition to laying eggs, we plan to let them spend the day “free ranging” of sorts in a chicken tractor around the garden, or in finished garden beds tilling and fertilizing them to prepare for the next growing season.

So hop to it girls, you’ve got lots of work to do.

Chicks in a brooder

Do you keep chickens?  What kind?  What advice would you give to a newbie?

Don’t forget!  There is still time to enter our blogoversary giveaway!  Click here for more details…

Giveaway from Black Fox Homestead

This is the book from which that calendar was printed. It is one of her older ones, but the buttermilk pie recipe is one of the best!
One of the books that inspired us to use our chickens in the garden.

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Find this post and others like it linked to: Homemade Mondays, The Homestead Barn Hop, Clever Chicks Blog Hop, The Scoop, Tuesdays with a Twist, The Backyard Farming Connection Hop, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Down Home Blog Hop, The HomeAcre Hop, Frugally Sustainable, From the Farm Blog Hop

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The Arrival of the Chickses — 46 Comments

  1. You make me laugh. I thought the same thing (OMG–they’re dead!) when I first saw them tip right over. Congratulations on the new arrivals. You’ll be fine. :)

  2. This is my third summer with chickens. They have been great fun! You’ve already avoided the #1 mistake people make, which is to get the chicks and then underestimate how long it will take you to build the coop afterwards. The only other thing I can think of is to be sure they can’t get into your vegetable beds. Every time I think I’ve finally got the garden chicken-proof, somebody proves me wrong!

    • My husband was great about getting to the coop early on. I kept telling him he didn’t need to wait, but he insisted on getting it done asap. I’m so glad he did, as it was much more difficult to put it together than we had originally anticipated.

  3. We have Barred Plymouth Rock, pretty calm chickens, lay like champs, and tolerate the heat well. My only advice is plan for 50 chickens, because you’ll start out with 8, then the wife will want 12, then she’ll want 15, then she’ll say “maybe we can sell eggs if we have 50. Can you build another coop?” Not that happened to me that way…

    • LOL. Yeah, I’m already making plans for more and looking at what to get next. I’d love to sell our eggs too.

  4. Lol, your post is great! I was the same way when I got my first chicks. I was like an over protective mother with her first born, and was worried about every sound they made! Lol! We have Barred Rocks and I really like this breed. They’re a very friendly and calm chicken that are great for laying eggs. Very dependable. Also, they’re a dual purpose breed so when the time came, we had that option. We also have teenager chickees that are Buff Orphs and Ameraucanas. Once I got started, I was hooked, and now I want every color egg! Lol, it can be addicting, so hopefully in a month or so, we’ll have beautiful easter eggs. :) Ollie crying for a chickee friend is the sweetest!! Hopefully he’ll be protective of them as they get older, which would be great if you ever decided to free range them. He’ll be watching over them. Good luck with your chickees! I’ll be following along!

    • Thanks Mary! I would love to have Ameraucanas some time too. I know we’re just getting started with these. And yes, Ollie is a sweetie. :)

  5. We too have duel purpose birds, plus a few muscovies (soon to be hopefully 4 more :D ), our 3 bitchy old biddy pekin bantams, 2 silkies for brooding purposes and 2 lil chickies hatched right here by Miss Blackie our black silkie hen! Not her eggs but dorking eggs but their father is a throwback or cross breed so he’s a lot darker and there is one black hen who we’re not sure of her breed so they could be her eggs. Black Boy is definitely the father though. Anyway, they’re 16 and 17 days old now and so sweet. We did have a scare with the younger one whom I found near dead the morning she hatched but a warm cuddle, some time in a lash up brooder box and then a reintroduction to mumma with some human mother serious (interfering) hovering and all is well.
    Do you think you would get a rooster and let them do their thing instead of buying chicks next time? I’m not sure if RIR’s are good mothers or go broody much but the Dorkings are supposed to. Silkie’s do too (hence why we have them).

    • Yes, we would like to get a rooster at some point. I’ve heard different things about them, and was a little afraid of starting out with one. We thought for this first time we’d start as easy as possible and ease into it. I don’t know what kind of mothers RIRs are (maybe someone with more experience can weigh in here?); but we also plan to experiment with different breeds to see what works best for our climate and our situation.

      The hatchery also carries muscovies and I really wanted to ask about those and/or take a look but they were so busy. I really would like to keep ducks too as we have quite a big pond, I’ve heard the eggs are really good for baking, and I enjoy duck meat. We’ll see. What sort of housing do you have for your ducks? Do you keep them in with your chickens?

      • We have five duckies – four Welsh Harlequins hens and an Appleyard Drake. I love to watch them walk around and chatter, and LOVE the drake’s little chat. A friend had Muscovies and said they were excellent for making pepperoni sticks, as their meat is already so oily. Then I saw on a website (eatwild dot com, I think?) where they sell duck tongues by the dozen…. cross between yuck and oh! That’s how to use the ENTIRE bird!..

        I was excited about duck eggs too, till I found out how very hard they are to crack! Plus I think that the yellows smell like fish, but that’s just me. The ducks have an old large swimming pool that has a hose always on in it, so it’s constantly cycling with clean water. They eat the sweet grain that the goats miss. We get two eggs a day from our girls.

        Though the breed is supposed to be mellow, we have to chase them to catch them (and they were raised in our bathtub!) but at least we can hold them. I don’t know if I want a bunch of them, but they are fun to watch and talk to.

        As for the chickens, we had a VERY friendly little chick that kept popping out of the bathtub and wanted to be with the people instead of “those birds”. We named her “Bo-Peep” but it quickly became evident that she was a HE and he became BRO-Peep. Of the 16 store-bought chickens, we got one Rooster, a very handsome Buff Orp that still likes to sleep on our porch like a dog begging to come in the house. We had another Buff Orp hen hatch out everyone else’s eggs (I feel so bad that she didn’t have any eggs in there! I didn’t know she was brooding!!) and now we have the neatest collection of Orp/Wyandotte crosses that LOVE my fingers (ouch, babies!!).

        • I’m happy to hear about your ducks. We have a large pond and have thought often about getting some Muscovies. I’m just nervous about taking the initial plunge.

          Our girls at this point are still not laying and not terribly friendly. I’ve heard that we should be trying Buffs next time. Sounds like yours are very sweet. :)

          Thanks for sharing.

  6. Our chooks and ducks share with our goat (day 3 of goat ownership here :D ) and as long as they have somewhere to have a swim… Muscovies are good mothers too and Mandy our duck is on her 2nd clutch of eggs (last lot went rotten :( ) They will eat bugs and chook food so they’re easy and their meat is apparently quite a dark meat and good eating hence why we chose muscovies but my husband can’t bring himself to chopping a duck. :( Pity, I LOVE duck meat and they were bought for breeding/eating.

  7. Ha ha ha…I was exactly the same way when I brought my first 8 babies home. I have had chickens in the past (several decades ago) but the hens raised the young chicks, not me! The first night I got no sleep worrying that the temperature was too warm or too cool. You will relax soon enough, and they will most likely be just fine in-spite of all your worry :-)

    They are a cute bunch of RIR’s, I hope they grow up quickly so they can go out in their coop and start ‘working’ for you. Enjoy them, and be careful…you may not intend for them to be pets but they can grow on you very quickly. I have named all of mine now, lol.

  8. Not sure I will do this right, but here goes. I really enjoy reading the comments from you guys and girls. I can relate to just about everything you write about. I was born in 1940, raised on a small 3 acre farm where we grew almost everything we ate. Left the country and returned 50 years later to just across the road from where I grew up. I had plans to retire from the University where I work and started building what I call my WannaBee Farm. I started with RIR chickens, and thinking I would put some in the freezer I ordered 35. I ended up with 12 roosters. I had a neighbor who was willing to butcher and clean on halves. After dealing with the babies and seeing how they responded to the sound of my voice I could not bring myself to kill them. After losing one baby and one adult, ( I think she smothered to death, she was on the bottom of the pile after a bad thunder storm), I ended up with 21 hens and one rooster. They have been laying for about 6 weeks now and I get 21 eggs almost every day. They are gentle, they walk all over me and never a peck. Because of the hawks around my house I can’t let them range free, but I do pull them arm loads of grass and weeds daily. They love to see me coming with the red wagon. We even have a wire top on the chicken yard. I was giving the eggs away to the neighbors on fixed incomes because they were very small, but they have now increased in size and I have put a price on them except for the needy families. I also bought two cows that are expecting a calf this summer and 4 Hampshire pigs 4 months old. I bought 6 rabbits, 5 does and one buck. I now have 60 rabbits. I have the same problem trying to find some one who will butcher on halves. I guess you can tell I love what I do and I get somewhat carried away when I start talking about the WannaBee Farm. I know being raised on a farm is the very best. I have 3 granddaughters who love to visit and can’t wait to get their hands on the rabbits. They think I always have baby rabbits, and I guess they are right.

    • Wannabee thank you so much for sharing. We have a lot of hawks around here too, and no trees and for that reason we plan to use a tractor instead of letting them free range. We’ve talked a little bit about rabbits, but we have very hot summers and I have concerns about keeping them cool. We do at some point perhaps want to get a pig. We’ve talked about that a lot. I’m so glad you feel that farming is best. It is encouraging to keep that in mind when the weeds grow rampant.

      • No, I don’t have a blog and have no idea how to start one. I will soon be 74 which means I didn’t grow up with technology like the younger generations. When I was young, the only technology we had was a battery operated radio. There was no electric lights, not even in town. We didn’t get electricity in our house until I was 13 years old. We had no running water, no telephone, no television, no car. My dad was a school bus driver so we did have the bus for emergencies. The problem with that was that gas was rationed and when dad used up his rations if someone didn’t have a stamp to give him, the bus didn’t run. Most of the people who didn’t have cars, and most people didn’t, were happy to give him their stamps to get the kids out of the house. But I do remember a few times when no one had stamps to give. The ration stamps were like money and even though they weren’t supposed to, people would trade them for things they needed and couldn’t buy. People gave up drinking coffee so they could trade the coffee stamp for something, and sugar stamps were very precious. My mother loved sweets and my dad was always on the look out for a bee hive to rob for her. My dad was also the person who picked up the commodities on every other Saturday and delivered them to our house and the people would come by and pick up their food. I think we must have had the first community garden too because my dad couldn’t stand to know there were families who didn’t have enough to eat. He would come home and tell my mom to fix a box for the so and so family. I remember her asking, “And where am I supposed to get it from?” But she always found enough to make up a care package. My dad would work so hard to grow a garden and then give the food away. He plowed the fields with a very small donkey. Her name was Braley, she had to work doubly hard cause I rode on her back while she plowed. I’ve done it again, sorry, I didn’t mean to write so much.

        • What the Backyard Chicken Lady said. It really is pretty easy (and free!) to start a blog. I recommend going with blogger as it is very easy to set up and navigate. If you can type, you can blog and you have so much to offer! Then you can link it up to various homestead blog link parties so that you can network with others and people can get to know you. Think about it, I think there are a lot of people who would like to read what you have to say. :)

          And I’m delighted with your comments. My husband and I both read and enjoyed them. Any time ~ please. :)

          • Jenny, thank you so much for your encouraging comments. I am checking into it and will try to set up a blog. I have a young friend who is going to help me.

          • That’s wonderful! I think you’ll really enjoy it and it is very easy. Please let us know when you have it set up so we can follow along!

    • Rebecca, if you don’t have a rooster you will miss out on one of the sweetest sounds where chickens are concerned. My neighbors have their coffee outside in the morning so they can hear my rooster welcome daylight. I was a little concerned that they may not like to hear him so early, but they are delighted. They also enjoy the fresh, free eggs.

  9. The photos of the baby chicks are precious…there’s something about chicks that is so sweet. I think God gives us a special joy seeing baby things. I don’t have chickens, but it’s fun seeing yours.

  10. Your chicks are adorable. I lean towards Barred Rocks because that’s what my grandma raised, but I have Easter Eggers and Rhode Island Whites also. I started with 6 chicks and now I have 42! They are surely addicting. If you bought from a hatchery it’s unlikely that your hens will go broody or be interested in raising chicks. If you want to do that, I’d be happy to let you have one of my Easter Eggers. They are broody CONSTANTLY!

    • Thank you Becky! I can easily see us ending up with that many; we’re really enjoying these. I didn’t think they’d have this much personality but they are a hoot to watch. Did you all build your coop? We have enough housing right now for about 12 and trying to figure out what we’d do for more. I’ll keep your offer in mind as I think someday we would like to do that.

  11. We love our hens! Our flock is mixed. It’s kind of funny. One of our sweet friends rescued at “white, beside the road” chicken. One of our young neighbors (still in school) had four hens for a school project. She asked us to adopt them as they were more work than she realized! ;-) So, this year we have received five “free” chickens. ‘Loved your coming home story. Thank you for sharing it at last week’s Tuesdays with a Twist Party! ‘Can’t wait to see what everyone brings this week! -Marci @ Stone Cottage Adventures

  12. Loved reading your blog. My husband and I are getting a late start on farming (our youngest just graduated from high school). We have moved onto our farm, oriented our house to be passive solar, built a chicken coop and have 15 chickens, 13 of which are Australorps with one being a rooster, and 2 are Rhode Island Reds. The Rhode Island Reds are more personable. My dog made a chick buddy of one of them and she is still his favorite. When the rooster goes after her, he rolls the rooster (but doesn’t hurt him). We have a website, http://www.powellacres.com, but I am a little afraid of blogging due to what tax agencies are doing now to up the value of your residence to charge more in taxes. I am very impressed with you already going to the farmer’s market. We are trying to get ourselves to the point that we provide all of our food first, and we are not there yet.

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