Wild Wednesday – Spring Chickens

Brrrr!  It’s the depths of winter.  We haven’t had snow yet in Seattle, but we have had cold, fog, and the ever-present rain.  My garden is sleeping, buried in a warm bed of straw.  It’s dark, cold and wet.

But it won’t be for long.  I’m already planning which seeds I’ll be starting early indoors; grapes, peas and beans.  Maybe more, with me, you never know.  I know what I’m not planning for this year…baby chickens.  The flock Hub and I raised last year are laying beautifully.  They’re coming up on their 1-year birthday.  It’s hard to believe in just a few short months they went from this:

We are chicks with 'tude!
We are chicks with ‘tude!


To this:

She's so well behaved.
She’s so well behaved.


To all grown up and laying delicious eggs:


Brahma Mama
Brahma Mama

Isn’t she gorgeous?  You want chickens now, don’t you?  Have you always had a secret desire to be an urban chicken farmer?  Do you realize the benefits of raising your own food, even if it’s only in small quantities?  If so, now is the time to start planning for your new flock, and I’m here to help.

Before you go any farther, check with your local government, and familiarize yourself with the city codes concerning livestock.  In Seattle, they recently upped the number of chickens you can have in the city from three to eight.  Lucky me, I’m in an unincorporated zone where the only requirements are minimum square footage per animal.  It’s also a good idea to have a friendly chat with your neighbors about your chicken plans.  Usually, free eggs help ease any concerns, and you’ll likely have plenty to share.

How many chickens should you have?

Chickens are flock birds, so just one is not a good idea.  She’ll be lonely, she may make extra noise trying to find friends.  Two are okay, but they’ll constantly be vying for top bird status in the pecking order, and that can get noisy, not to mention uncomfortable for the birds.  It’s best to have a minimum of three hens so they can keep each other company.

This time of the year is perfect to plan what size flock you want, where you want their coop, and what breed of chicken you want.  You can check out these earlier posts on some basics of chicken coops and care, and the breeds I have right now.

What breed should you have?

I can hear you asking; you mean there are different breeds of chickens?  There are actually hundreds of chicken breeds!  Check out the wiki list for an overview.  But which breeds are going to best for you, a new chicken farmer?  Here are some suggestions for your consideration; these breeds are generally easy-going, hardy, and readily available.

Buff Orpington


Pretty gold ladies with mellow temperaments, often described as calm and friendly.  They are excellent egg producers, and lay light pinkish-brown eggs.  Buff Orps are heavy-bodied birds, that can tolerate colder climates.  They are considered dual purpose (eggs and meat) if you are inclined that way, but to be honest, egg-layers are tough and stringy after a year and take a lot of cooking.  Buff Orpingtons will likely be available at your local feed store (if they carry chicks) come spring.


Silver Laced Wyandotte
Silver Laced Wyandotte

Wyandottes come in a variety of color schemes; gold, silver, blue, to name a few.  Like the Buff Orpington, Wyandottes are heavy-bodied birds with an easy-going nature who are also very good egg producers.  You can expect about 4 brown eggs a week from one of these girls.  Wyandottes are hardy in cold weather.


Rhode Island Red

Rhode Island Red
Rhode Island Red

These birds do it all.  They are excellent egg-layers (some report 6 or 7 eggs a week), hardy in winter and heavy bodied.  They are even the state bird of Rhode Island!  Most report mild and friendly temperament in these birds, although my two girls were the dominant birds in my first flock and were on the bossy side.  That’s okay, every flock needs a leader!  For a first time owner, 3 or 4 Rhode Island Reds will provide you with more than enough eggs for you and your family.

Have you kept chickens?  What are your favorite breeds?  What birds would you pick for your flock?  Would you want a variety or keep all the same breed?  Good luck, and be sure to check back for more chicken, garden and animal training tips!

For Love of Little Chickens

Wednesday is usually dog-training day, but I’m expanding the topic to include raising backyard chickens.  Eventually I’ll add in some of my zoo animal stories as well.  Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of dog-training tips and advice coming!

Monday I ordered my new crop of chickens!  I’m so excited!  Before, I’ve always tacked my chicken order on with my friend’s and she’s taken delivery.  So I have not had the joy of hurrying to the post office to collect my fluffy little peepers.  This year though, I have no one to share a chicken order with, and so placed my order for 25 to arrive at the end of March.  Yes, you read that number right; I will soon be the proud parent of 25 fuzzy little babies.  They are every bit as adorable as they look in pictures, too!

Ten of the little cuties are egg-layers, and I picked 5 different breeds, some I’ve had before, and some are new to me.  The other 15 are meat birds, Cornish crosses, and will end up on my dinner table.  Yum!  They mature at 2 months, and in that time they grow amazingly fast; they go from little and cute, to huge, to my freezer in that shockingly short time frame.

Most people though, get chickens just for the eggs, and I have 10 new egg layers on their way.  This year I’m getting 2 Buff Orpingtons, 2 Partridge Rocks, 2 Black Minorcas, 2 Araucanas, and 2 Dark Brahmas.  Plus, the hatchery is throwing in one very rare, exotic chicken for free!  Yippee!  Too bad they’re not telling what breed, and it could be a male, which would not be good.  But it’ll be a cool surprise, can’t wait to find out!

You probably know there are white eggs and brown eggs, but did you know some birds lay pale pink eggs, some lay blue-green eggs, and some lay a brown so dark it looks like chocolate?  Buff Orpingtons lay pale pink, Araucanas lay blue-green, Black Minorcas lay white, the rest of my girls will lay brown eggs.  I’ll have an Easter basket with all the different colors and shades!  If you ever get close enough to a chicken, look at her ears.  The color of the skin of a hen’s ears is the color of egg she will lay.  No joke.

Why do I grow my own chickens?  Taste and nutrition. Have you ever had eggs fresh from a small farm?  Maybe you have had chickens yourself at some point in time?  If you’ve only had store bought eggs from large production farms, then you are missing out.  The egg of hen who has access to fresh air, sunshine and is able to move about and do normal chicken things, like scratch in the dirt and eat bugs, is richer in vital nutrients than one kept in tiny cage it’s whole life.  Eggs from pastured chickens have:

1/3 less cholesterol

1/4 less saturated fat

2/3 more vitamin A

2 times more omega-3 fatty acids

3 times more vitamin E

7 times more beta carotene

(Thank you, Mother Earth News for the above info, and read more at: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Real-Food/2007-10-01/Tests-Reveal-Healthier-Eggs.aspx#ixzz1myKaftR9 )

Have you ever thought about keeping chickens?  It’s easily done in the city, and many are discovering the joy of having these beautiful birds share their home.  I’ll bet you never thought of a chicken as beautiful before, but just check out what my girls will look like when they’re fully grown:

Dark Brahma

Photo from http://poultrykeeper.com/brahma/the-brahma/photos-of-brahmas.html

Partridge Rock

Photo from http://www.mypetchicken.com/about-chickens/chicken-pictures/Partridge-Rock-Hen-X45.aspx

Black Minorca

Photo from http://media.photobucket.com/image/black+minorca+hen+/shay20_2009/allpics493.jpg

Buff Orpington

Some of my girls from previous years


Isn't he gorgeous? But Brewster was a rooster and had to go.

Over the next few weeks I’ll share with you some of my chicken stories.  Keep checking back for hints on housing, raising and enjoying a small flock in your backyard.  If you have questions or hints, please share them!  I’d love to hear about your own adventures in chicken keeping.