Many of us who aren’t farmers or gardeners still have some element of farm nostalgia in our family past, real or imagined: a secret longing for some connetion to a life where a rooster crows in the yard.Barbara Kingsolver
They’re like the gateway animal to homesteading and farming. At first you’re just a gardener, but then you think to expand into livestock. Chickens seem like the perfect choice. A couple of hens laying eggs for the homestead, what could go wrong?
Well, it turns out you cannot buy just two. At least not in Ohio. You have to buy a minimum of six. But by the time you discern that you’ll either have to find a friend to go in with who also wants just a few hens or buy all six yourself, you’ve likely realized that they are relatively low maintenanace livestock. Easy, right? How hard could six be?
But there are so many different varieties! Suddenly six isn’t enough. Now you’re picking for the overall appearance, egg color, or temperament. And one of any variety isn’t enough, right? “They’ll be lonely without a matched companion,” we tell ourselves.
So now you’ve got sixteen. Sixteen hens that started out as just two. But, surprise! With a lot of 12 or more you get a free bonus chick!
Okay, maybe not all hatcheries offer the bonus chick. But our hatchery of choice, McMurray Hatchery in Iowa, did when we made our first purchase.
Two chickens seemed like a good idea.
And now… BAM! Seventeen hens were on the way to our brooder.
That, folks, is chicken math. A lesson we learned in 2022. Two birds became 17 before we could bat an eye.
As it turns out though, sexing day old chicks isn’t exactly as easy as you think it may be. Even the professionals at the most reputable hatcheries can get it wrong. While we were expecting 17 hens, it turned out that three of them were, in fact, roosters.
It took several weeks for that hand to play out. At first it was just some awkward calls, but eventually the roosters showed their true colors. Some names had to be changed. Not to protect the innocent, you see, but rather that no self respecting rooster wants to be called Thelma. So Teddy Roo-sevelt he becomes. Leia becomes Luke. Big Mama becomes Big Daddy.
Everybody is happy. Right?
Ha! Not so fast!
For the first year everything seemed to be fine. The pecking order (pun intended) seemed to work out on its own. Everyone got along. All was good.
Or so we thought.
The vaguareties of chicken math aside, three roosters amongst 14 hens proved to be two too many. We found that out over the early months of this spring.
At first it was just some feather plucking on the hen’s backs and necks. But it soon escalated to an all out brawl for flock dominance by two of the rival roostes. Big Daddy had been a flock boss based on his size alone. But when the introduction of a new dog on the farm seemingly threatened the flock, Luke deposed Big Daddy’s status as king of the hill.
Now Big Daddy was an outcast, ostracized from the flock. Squabbles erupted more frequently. The girls took a beating from the two roosters ongoing battles for dominance. There was too much drama in the coop. So we had to do something.
We raised these birds from day one though. Parting with any of them would be difficult. And while culling them was a thought briefly entertained, ultimately we did not want to eat the birds we had raised as pets. Finding them flocks of their own became our goal.
It took a bit, but finally we found a young couple looking for roosters for their flock. We’ll definitely be sad to see them go, but it is nice to know that they’ll find a home where they’ll continue to be loved and appreciated.
Oh, and regarding chicken math… We realized we wanted a couple of green and blue egg layers in our flock. So we’re introducing four new hens this spring.
Somehow though, that ended up being four hens plus another 25 meat birds. Plus a free chick. So that’s thirty. Thirty on top of the 14 egg layers we started last year.
Oh, and then there is the second wave of 25 meat birds coming in late May. Just in time for us to process our first batch of cornish cross for the freezer.
And then there’s the turkeys…