July 17, 2013
Just over a year ago, we added four hens to our family. I absolutely love keeping them in their specially constructed run in our backyard, positioned so that we can see them from our living room and frequently enjoy spying on their escapades, which include jumping up on top of the shavings bales, and pecking on the window when they know we’re about.
It’s still a joy to collect the fresh eggs each day, and the color and consistency of free-range, organic eggs is wonderful (more on that in a moment). I try not to think about the actual cost of each individual egg too much, when extrapolated out. It wasn’t the cost of the hens themselves, but rather the housing, run construction, organic food and – yes – hen treats.
Lavender and Rosemary are Ameraucanas – slightly smaller, golden and gray birds with distinctive beards who lay exquisitely colored blue and green eggs. Burdock and Dandelion are Black Australorps, bigger birds with dense black feathers that shimmer green when the sun catches them just right.
The hens themselves, we bought as pullets – youngsters, not yet fully developed but a few weeks old with a few feathers already in place. This meant we didn’t have to futz around with keeping tiny, fragile chicks inside the house in the early days, an undertaking, I’ve heard, which can send dust absolutely all over the place, and the added risk of the babies being devoured by our big Rhodesian Ridgebacks, while living under the same roof.
So, the hens were able to live outside right from the start. We keep them in an Eglu, a brilliant, British invention encompassing an easy to clean (if slightly space-age looking) plastic henhouse and an attached predator-proof run. The Eglu has a tray that pulls out easily to clean up droppings, can be hosed out, and includes some handy receptacles for drinking water and feed, so caring for them day to day takes no time at all.
I feed the chickens an organic, non-GMO feed from Scratch and Peck. I don’t feed any type of pellets to the dogs of course, and so when it came to choosing chicken food I was a bit torn. Fortunately, this small company out of Washington offered the perfect solution. The killer is the shipping cost, which currently actually amounts to more than the product itself, but I’ve been assured they’re expanding distribution and the feed will be available in my neighborhood very soon.
Little did I know, but you can also get a variety of different treats for hens, too. Mine enjoy the Happy Hen Treats Dehydrated Mealworms. They’re almost as awful as they sound to pick up, with their oddly silky, dry texture, but the chickens are crazy for them, and literally fly at me each morning after I’ve finished with the cleaning and feeding chores, lest I should forget the highlight of their day.
We’re able to use lots of kitchen scraps as supplemental feed for the hens; they enjoy all sorts of greens and have a particular penchant for leftover, slightly squashed grapes. I also give them plain yogurt on occasion, and Honest Kitchen Preference most mornings as a supplement to their regular feed, and they absolutely love it! I hydrate it as normal (as I would for the dogs) and of course feed it without any added meat. I’ve noticed that the yolks of the eggs are much more vibrantly orange when the hens eat Preference, compared with a grain-only diet.
I have a couple of friends who don’t think twice about popping one of their birds in the oven and enjoying a good roast when the time comes. Personally, I’d struggle a bit with that part, even when their laying days are over, but I suppose we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, for us, keeping chickens is a great way for the children to begin to connect with the origins of their food, and also experience friendships with some amusing, feathered beings. We thoroughly enjoy having the chickens as wholly productive members of our family (which is a little more than I can say for the dogs)…