For three years, I waited to push send on my mypetchicken.com shopping cart. I read books, researched breeds and coops, free range vs. pasture rotation vs. predator proof penning, puzzled over exactly what I wanted, how many, the types, and the eggs, oh the colorful eggs! It's no secret that there's a little bit of farmgirl lust in me. You can read my essay about goats here or this blog post where I confess my secret cow milking fantasy. But the timing was never right, until last summer when we returned from our tropical adventure. I finalized my shopping cart, and hit CHECK OUT.
What has followed has been such a year of adventure and birdnerdom. I ordered our first batch to arrive during birthday week in early September. Since that original order, we have added to our flock four times, a second fall batch that included fun pet chicks for each child (they chose two Silkies, a Buff Brahma and a copper Marans--Welcome Poppy, Nugget, Posey and Fancy Pants.)
This was followed by an accidental impulse order from the feed store this spring since we didn't have any Buff Orpingtons and who wouldn't want a few more Easter eggers? (Welcome Sunny, Cleo and Pai).
Then this past month, when our Silkies Nugget and Poppy went broody, I drove 40 minutes in the pouring rain, and bought them fertile eggs to hatch. (Welcome Bright, a Wheaten Ameraucana and Clara, a black copper Marans.)
Last week, we adopted Orphan Annie, a rejected 3 day old barred rock from a friend, bringing our total chicken count to (cringe) 17. Seventeen chickens.
And I don't even consider myself a bird person.
But there is something about my girls. Maybe it's because we purchased unique, distinctive chickens that created the possibility for us to bond. If I walked outside to feed and clean and care for a random flock of seventeen Red Stars, indistinguishable from one another, I imagine I wouldn't feel the same attachment I do to my girls.
But we know each of our hens, their personalities and quirks, their habits. Good Girl is my faithful early morning layer, a quiet and fair leader of the flock. Magda has a bit of a mean streak, but lays gorgeous olive eggs. Posey and Fancy Pants are besties, never more than a few feet apart, so that I felt Fancy's devastation and betrayal the day Posey made a play for a coveted upper level roosting post spot, like one of the medium popular girls finding a rare entré into a posh clique, leaving Fancy running around the yard crying like Posey was dead to her. (Good news: Posey was promptly ousted by Prima and returned to her former second post status.)
Ding-Dong and Siren like to forage at great distances, way down by the stream. Prima dawdles at sunset; she prefers to be the last girl in at night. Nugget wants to hatch ANYTHING, and is very willing to be a lap chicken and ride on the swings. Poppy doesn't have many friends, but she'll do whatever Nugget does.
Raising chickens turned out to be surprisingly easy. We converted the 6x6x6 playhouse connected to our swingset into their night coop with minimal cursing and marital strife. We removed the slide and covered the windows with black coated hardware wire. We stained and mounted some AC Moore craft crates on their sides as nesting boxes and some 1x4 as roosting posts, and bam--we had an elevated, predator proof coop.
My middle son is an early riser and lets them out in the mornings, where they spend the day free-ranging. They put themselves to bed at sunset and we count heads and lock the coop door at night. Throughout the day we are endlessly entertained by their hilarious antics and the chicken politics, as they roam about, eat ticks, bugs and compost, dig dust baths under our rhodies, and lay their eggs.
EGGS GLORIOUS EGGS!
This is by far my favorite thing about the girls, other than sitting out with my coffee and watching them be chickens, is the eggs. Oh the eggs! I selected girls so that my egg basket is distinctive and colorful. No boring, red stamped, pale yolked white eggs in our house. In fact, Siren, my Silver Lakenvelder is my only white layer, and I find her egg beautiful because of its distinctiveness.
While most venture back into the coop to lay, a few of them have gone so far as to offer us kitchen door service, climbing into the box where I keep my gardening tools and depositing their treasures there.
I have a strange passion for animals doing what they want to do, and it benefitting humans. (Like my goats and poison ivy.) The girls are happily out chickening every day, running free, catching bugs, fluffing up their feathers in flowerbed dust baths, and then trotting up to the coop to lay their eggs with a faithfulness that defies the best egg predictions on the websites. Most of my girls, even the rare breeds, are laying daily.
As a mother, I feel good about feeding my kids a protein source as fresh and close to nature as I possibly can. And it never gets old. My kids run out to collect multiple times a day, if I haven't beat them to it, proudly announcing the egg and its layer as they drop it in our basket.
And even though we can eat some eggs (I used to buy 36/week) we have more than enough to share. Enter the idea of Hoffmans' Happy Hens. My kids love knowing who was responsible for their breakfast, and order them by name, "I'll have two scrambled eggs on a bagel, um, I'll take a Freaky and a Ding-Dong, please."
When we started getting almost a dozen a day, more than we could eat, we offered them for sale--fresh, free-range eggs. (There is usually a wait list.) We thought other people might like to know where their breakfast came from, so we wrote biographies of our chickens, and took some sunny morning glamour shots.
These inserts go in the tops of our egg cartons, like a box of chocolates, identifying the source and the personality of each of our gorgeous eggs. Truly, they bring me a ridiculous amount of pleasure and I am only sorry I didn't venture into chickendom sooner.
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Hoffmans’ Happy Hens
Know Where Your Breakfast Comes From (L-R in carton)
Good Girl (Red Star) our first and best layer has laid a large brown egg every morning for 115 days straight! Top in the pecking order, she uses her leadership wisely.
Slacker (Red Star) a beautiful dark auburn who took a while to get going; but now lays a medium brown egg almost as faithfully as Good Girl.
Prima (Plymouth Barred Rock) a docile curious girl, she’s the first to come find you out in the yard. She lays a lovely, pinkish egg.
Ding-Dong (Plymouth Barred Rock) named this because of the burnt feathers on her back when she got too close to the heat lamp, we are grateful for this distinguishing feature from Prima. Their eggs are as similar as they are.
Magda (Easter Egger) this bossy girl lays the more olive-tinted blue egg. We often catch her bearded face peering in the kitchen window to see what we’re doing.
Freaky Friday (Easter Egger) this sweet girl endured a scalping accident as a chick that earned her this name. We think the way she combs her feathers over the scar on the back of her neck disguises it nicely. She lets the world know, crowing from the railing of the coop steps, whenever she lays a lovely pale blue egg.
Big Mama/Fancy Pants (Buff Brahma) this full-bodied, feather-legged girl is hilarious to see running across the yard. She lays a pink egg with white speckles in the front porch gardening box and screams like an old lady if you check on her.
Posey (Black Copper Marans) Best friends with Big Mama, these girls are never more than a few feet apart. Posey lays a very large, gorgeous “chocolate” dark egg, sometimes speckled.
Nugget (Silkie Bantam) this tame sweetheart loves to be held and stroked. She lays a tiny cream-colored egg. She has recently gone broody and hatched two adopted eggs.
Poppy (Silkie Bantam) this little darling loves to hang out with Nugget but sometimes Nugget leaves her out. (This makes Piper sad.) She lays a tiny, golf-ball-sized cream tinted egg.
Siren (Silver Lakenvelder) this shy girl lays our only true white egg with a torpedo shape like her body. Her breed name is Dutch for ‘shadow on a sheet’ and we often catch a glimpse of her darting across the yard to forage.
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