Our Chickens

When I told my mother that I was planning to get chickens, she tried to dissuade me. "But Aya, you don't even like chickens." It's true. She raised chickens when I was a teenager, and the way the chickens behaved toward one another reminded me too much of the worst aspects of human behavior. I especially couldn't stand the pecking order.

It's because of the pecking order among human beings that I've pretty much stayed out of the mainstream -- sometimes by choice, and sometimes because I simply wasn't invited to join. And it's because of this, too, that I think it's important for my small family to try to be a little more self-sufficient now.

So that's why I brought home four baby chicks this Easter.

Sword with Rhode Island Red Chick
Sword with Rhode Island Red Chick

I bought two yellow fluffly chicks that were identified as Reds, and two chicks with brown speckled wings that were called Rhode Island reds by the owner of the local feed store. At first, the "blondies", as my daughter called the Reds, were dominant, and they tended to push the brown Rhode Island chicks around. However, as they grew, it became clear that the Reds were more cooperative, while the Rhode Islanders were less likely to go along with our plans.

All the chicks had been identified as female, so that we didn't end up with any roosters.

Sword with Red chick.
Sword with Red chick.

At first, we kept them in a cardboard box in the bathroom. That worked for a while, but then they started coming out of the box and messing all over the bathroom floor. So the next step was to get a bigger cardboard box and to put the top of a birdcage over it. They liked the perches that were designed for a parrot, and even though it was very crowded, they seemed happy to return to the cardboard box with the cage top over it at the end of the day, after spending most of their time in the back yard.

We made a sort of play yard for the hens out of part of a play structure, by wrapping chicken wire around the wood exterior of the structure that was attached to my daughter's swing set. Every morning, I would transport the four chicks in the tiny cardboard box in which I had brought them home from the store. They hated going in, but would walk out willingly from the box into their enclosure in the yard. Every evening, I would go out and force them back into the box to be transported indoors again.

At first it was easy, but then it got hard. They grew so fast!

Our hens today; how quickly they grow!
Our hens today; how quickly they grow!

Toward the end of this intermediate period, I noticed that Brownie, our chocolate Lab, was helping me to round up the chickens. When he saw that I was struggling, and that some of the chickens were getting away, he would come in closer, and even catch one of them in his mouth, if he deemed it necessary.

This scared me at first. I thought he was going to kill them. All my previous experiences with dogs and chickens had taught me to keep the two separated. I tried to keep the door of the enclosure closed, while I rounded up the chickens. But there was no way to fasten it on the inside, and crouched inside a child's play structure, I was at a distinct disadvantage. Both the chickens and Brownie were much faster than I was.

The miracle was this: though he held the chicken's neck in his mouth, Brownie didn't harm it! When I told him to release it, the chicken ran squaking  to me for protection!

The chicken coop is situated in the SE corner of our yard.
The chicken coop is situated in the SE corner of our yard.
Teyman looks but takes no action.
Teyman looks but takes no action.

Now that we finally have the chicken coop and the adjoining chicken yard up, things are easier. The coop is two inches off the ground, and there's a narrow corridor between the chicken fence and the eight foot fence of our back yard. Both of these are measures that are supposed to help keep predators out. The reasoning goes like this: predators could burrow in, if the coop had a dirt floor. If the chicken fence and the yard fence were one and the same, the dogs could not get to the predator before the predator got the chickens.

We have two dogs. Teyman, a tiny mixed breed female, is a mighty hunter and cannot be trusted with the chickens. Fortunately, Brownie is keeping her hunting instincts in check. She looks at the chickens and licks her chops, but does nothing else.

The chicken coop is pink, because that is Sword's favorite color. Now that the coop is up, taking care of the chickens is her chore. Every so often, she will let the dogs into the house and allows the chickens to have free run in the entire back yard.


View of chicken coop in relation to Bow's external pen
View of chicken coop in relation to Bow's external pen

I showed Bow the little chicks as soon as I brought them home the first day. He said he thought they were cute. However, no further interaction between them was allowed, as I was afraid he would squeeze them too hard. Now Bow enjoys going outside into his external pen, where he can watch the dogs and the chickens interact.

As Brownie draws near, the chickens retreat.
As Brownie draws near, the chickens retreat.

At the end of the day, as it grows dark, we no longer have to stuff the chickens into a box to bring them back into the house. Instead, they decide by themselves when to take shelter in their own chicken house, as night falls. Then Sword comes and shuts the door behind them. No predators can enter, and they are safe.

If for any reason we want them in the coop before nightfall, then Brownie helps round them up.

Our young hens form a tight clique
Our young hens form a tight clique
Brownie keeps a close watch on the chickens
Brownie keeps a close watch on the chickens
Brownie patrols the corridor to keep out predators
Brownie patrols the corridor to keep out predators

Our chickens are not the big bullies that I remembered from my childhood. They congregate together in a group, and there is very little pecking at others.

I can remember that my mother's chickens used to decide that one of them was the least high ranking and they would go about de-feathering it, until my mother had to intervene to save it.

Sword says that our chickens displayed a similar tendency early on, but she punished any chicken that tried to be mean to another chicken, and so they stopped! If only we could do the same with human beings...

So far, our hens are not laying any eggs, so we have spent money and have no return on investment. However, in the long run it may be worth it. A friend of mine who lives in Alberta, Canada tells me that a dozen eggs over there go for three dollars!

Sword recently asked me: "Do you still not like chickens?"

I answered: "No, I like our chickens."

"How come?"

"Because they're beautiful and well behaved, and they don't hurt one another."

"Yeah," she agreed. "Our chickens are special."


(c) 2009 Aya Katz

Our Chickens Like Watermelon

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Comments 26 comments

Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India

Absolutely delightful - is there anything you don't do Aya? I'm sure they keep Bow entertained quite a bit!

We had chickens once when I was growing up - we named them all and that was it! No chickens for dinner - they all died of old age!


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks, Shalini! There are lots of things I haven't done yet, but the sky's the limit as to what I will try. Our chickens are strictly laying hens, too, slated to die of old age.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

Enjoyed reading and seeing the pictures of your first venture into chickendom. Normally chickens only get into pecking at each other because of too little space or over crowding. I can see from your pictures that your hens should be content. Have you included oyster shell or "scratch" for them? They will need that for getting in the mood to lay. Thinking they are just on the verge from the pictures for being mature enough. Also have you provided boxes, or nests and straw?


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Jerilee, thanks for dropping by! I didn't realize they were this close to laying. Somebody else told me it might be a year before I have any eggs. I'm definitely a newbie at this, so I can use all the advice I can get. They currently have shelves to sit on in the coop, and nesting boxes are in the works. However, if it's this close, I can get them straw right away!


shibashake profile image

shibashake 7 years ago

A very fun hub. Really enjoyed the pictures!

I liked the part where Brownie helped to round up the chickens. The retrieving part is not very surprising, but it is amazing that he did it with a soft mouth. Most of the people I have talked to say they had to train their dog to do that.

"she punished any chicken that tried to be mean to another chicken, and so they stopped! If only we could do the same with human beings..."

Heh - I like this. Too bad humans usually get rewarded for meanness.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Shibashake, thanks for the enthusiastic comment! I was pretty amazed by Brownie, too. We certainly never trained him to do any of this. He was a stray who found as when he was two, so maybe he's had training we don't know about!


Isabellas profile image

Isabellas 7 years ago from Ohio

I love this! The chickens are so cute and people do not realize just how easy they are to take care of!


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Isabellas, thanks! It's really not hard, once you get the hang of it.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 7 years ago

Nice pictures and lovely account of your chickens and Brownie and Bow--co-existing in harmony. If only humans were that well-behaved!

Anyway, that brought back memories of my mother carrying little chicks home in big brown bags, so we would watch them grow. We housed them in big wooden crates unitl they were strong enough to roam. Yes, memories of pecking order too--I can now look back and smile--what a wonderful world.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Anglnwu, thanks! It seems many of us have childhood memories that involve chickens. I'm glad my daughter will have such memories, too, when she is grown.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 7 years ago

You're wise to impart such memories--free-range chickens and the sense of freedom and how the world is indeed the backyard to roam and discover.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Anglnwu, thanks!


nicko guzman profile image

nicko guzman 7 years ago from Los Angeles,CA

I see that the "Reds" could be a lighter version of RIRs or more possibly a buff orpington or another buff breed.As for the breed "Red",it is a shortened name for New Hamshire Red,or more commonly Rhode Island Reds.The color of the "Reds" is actually buff.Bow looks wonderful looking at the chickens.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Nicko Guzman, thanks for your comment! I'm not sure about the correct name for the "Reds". I may have misheard the salesman when he told me. It may well be that they are New Hampshire Reds. At any rate, they are much more cooperative than the the RIRs. Bow enjoys watching the chickens, as do we all.


nicko guzman profile image

nicko guzman 7 years ago from Los Angeles,CA

They could also be sex-links,but if they are NHR,then they are a strain of RIR that were developed to grow faster and lay more eggs.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Nicko, thanks for your comment. What are "sex-links"? Do you mean that the coloring is different for hens than for roosters in the same breed?


June Sun profile image

June Sun 7 years ago from Alberta, Canada

That is an impressive chicken coop. Cute hens and handsome, responsible Brownie!!


June Sun profile image

June Sun 7 years ago from Alberta, Canada

That is an impressive chicken coop. Cute hens and handsome, responsible Brownie!!


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

June, thanks. The chicken coop was more impressive than I originally bargained for.

Brownie is a great dog! I know you would like him.


cptnfab profile image

cptnfab 7 years ago

Aya, just sounds like a very loving and nice person. You lead a very interesting life.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

cptnfab, thanks! It's very nice of you to say.


nicko guzman profile image

nicko guzman 7 years ago from Los Angeles,CA

Sorry I did not answer.You are correct.Your chickens apper to be rir with white plymouth rock.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Nicko, thanks!


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 4 years ago from The Ozarks Author

For anyone who has been following this hub, I have added a video from this summer in which our current flock of chickens enjoys watermelon.


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 4 years ago from Southern California, USA

I never read your chicken hub before, but I saw it on Google +1. Very good info for those who are thinking about raising chickens. I am glad to hear yours are respectful to each other.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 4 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks, SweetiePie! I'm glad you got a chance to see this hub. It's really to Sword's credit that our chickens behave so well, as she helped to bring them up.

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