Growing up in a small town in Northeast Ohio, I never had a dog or a cat. I didn’t have a gerbil or a hamster or a rabbit. No…we had chickens. We lived right there in the middle of the city on a residential street with a fenced in backyard and a small little coop my father had built and a we had chickens.
It was thirty years ago…and my parents probably had no idea how popular backyard chickens would eventually become. Dad just didn’t like animals in the house and mom liked having eggs. So instead of playing fetch with a dog, I had a chicken that jumped for grapes. Instead of buying dog biscuits, mom made hot oatmeal in the cold winter months and I trudged out through the snow to deliver it.
And instead of crisp white eggs from the local grocery store, I grew up with beautiful, orange yolked brown eggs from our backyard.
At various points in time, we had several different types of chicken, but the last breed and the one we had the longest (ELEVEN years…seriously…ELEVEN!) was a beautiful Barred Rock named Fluffy.
So it didn’t take long after I moved from a townhouse in Canton, Ohio to Mr W’s 22 acre mini farm in Western Pennsylvania before I started requesting a chicken coop and a backyard flock of our own. After all, this was once a working farm and it’s still replete with acres of hay, pasture land, a stream and a few barns.
We built our coop last fall, a project I’ve yet to share here on the blog, but that I’ll chronicle before too long. We’d planned on ordering chicks for delivery in March or April, but when I went to check on order dates a few weeks back, I realized the hatchery I planned to use was already sold out for most of those dates. Faced with the prospect of ordering for the end of January or waiting until May, we figured why not and shot off an order to Meyer Hatchery in Polk, Ohio.
We’d built our coop to hold 26-30 birds, but wanted to start off with around half as many until we got the hang of things. We also knew we wanted brown egg layers with a docile personality and who were on the larger size range. No roosters in our flock, just layers.
We settled on 3 each of Barred Rock, Silver Laced Wyandotte, Red Laced Blue Wyandotte, White Jersey Giants, Black Australorps and Buff Orphingons. For the most part, I was able to get the breeds I wanted, though I would have loved to have had both Buckeye and Golden Laced Wyandottes in the mix. Hopefully they can join our flock somewhere down the road. Unfortunately, Meyer Hatchery called on Monday to say they hadn’t had any Jersey Giants hatch out and we’d need to substitute. I was in a rush and didn’t have time to look up the breeds they offered, so I went with the Easter Eggers, thinking the kids would enjoy the mix of blue eggs in with the brown.
Fast forward to this morning at 7:30am and me being woken by a phone call from the local post office. Our chickens had just arrived and I could pick them up any time after 8. Of course these past two days have been among the coldest of the year, so I wanted to get them quickly and get them settled into our warm and cozy brooder. To top things off, the kids were on a two hour delay and were still sound asleep in bed.
I headed over to the post office and was told by the fellow at the desk that the delivery driver had actually driven the whole way with the box on the front seat next to him wrapped in Express mail bags because he was worried about them staying warm. (three cheers for the post office!)
Turns out we had nothing to worry about. Meyer Hatchery had done a wonderful job packing them. They were nestled into a cozy straw liner with a heating pad underneath it and every last one made the trip safe and sound. One had a mild case of pasty butt that we cleaned up easily with a warm wet washcloth and Mr W made the transfer of each chick into the brooder box, dipping their beaks into the water and then the food bin before letting them down.
They spent the first fifteen minutes or so clustered up under the heat lamp getting warm. We hadn’t expected them until later in the day, so we hadn’t had a chance to get the box warmed up and it was only at about 80 when we first settled them.
Before long they were bustling about all over the place, checking out the food, drinking the water, stepping on each other’s faces and bodies and generally entertaining every last one of us.
The kids had each claimed a breed of their own to name and claim. Thing One had planned on claiming the White Jersey Giants, but ended up being even happier when she found out the little chipmunk colored Easter Eggers were not only hers, but were going to lay blue eggs. Thing Two has laid claim to the Buff Orphingtons and has tried to convince the rest of us that he has the “regular” chickens and we all have the “funny colored ones.” Thing Three had wanted the Black Australorps to be “his” and based on their speed demon nature, I think it will be a good fit.
We spent a good two hours this morning watching them run around like drunken little maniacs.
Apart from the guessing the Australorps are going to be the bullies based on their propensity to peck at the others and step on their heads, the only problem we’ve noticed is one of our Easter Eggers that seems to have a broken toe.
After running some searches, the consensus seems to be that if they’re walking fine, we likely don’t need to worry but that taping it straight won’t hurt anything, we decided to tape it for a few days to see if it helps. After a few minutes of gingerly attempting to wrap her toe without hurting her, we finally got the “cast” in place and sent her back to join the others.
It makes me a little sad to know they’ll only be this soft and cute for a week or so, but I imagine that’s just a good excuse to spend more time next to the brooder box and less time watching TV or reading this week.
Speaking of…I think it’s time to head off for a little more fuzzball therapy before writing up another post.