The pecking order

It’s been a while since my last blog. In fact quite a number of things have changed since my last blog.  Back in April, a week or two after publishing my last article, my wife and I visited the local farmers market.  We were familiar with the vegetables and fruits section but we discovered they had a live animal section and decided to have a closer look. As we strolled through the isles full of chickens, turkeys, and ducks, of all ages and size, an idea struck us.: why not get our own chickens! We have enough space in the backyard and will get the benefits of eating fresh eggs.  As we neared the end of the isle, we spotted what has to be the picture perfect rooster and hen. We approached the man and inquired about his chickens. He told us they were an Italian breed of chickens. Awestruck by their beauty we bought them on the spot without too much thinking about it.  We told the man we did not have any experience with chickens and he helped us select the right feed for them, which luckily for us, was sold in another section of the market.  Normally we like to have lunch at the market for there is a place that serves delicious roasted suckling pig, but today, with our precious cargo, he headed straight home. On the way, my wife and I discussed various possible names for our new pets. And we settled on “Luigi & Luisa”.

Chicken_buffet

Chicken Buffet – Breakfast is served!

Now I must admit that such an idea would not have flown in the past as I know absolutely nothing about raising chickens; but, the eggs from the store have been tasting like fish lately and I find that quite disgusting to be honest.  Besides, how hard can it be? When we got home, I started building a fence so our dog would not eat our chickens before we have had the time to taste the eggs. We used the old dog pen  (our new dog refuses to go in the old dog house) as it been sitting empty since we lost them.  However since the pen does not have a roof, Luigi escape to the neighbor’s garden and Luisa disappeared! Half an hour later, whilst I combed the neighborhood looking for Luisa, our neighbors caught him and brought him back.  As we brought him back in the pen I also found Luisa, she had been hiding the whole time in the Cedar tree.  I quickly proceeded to cover the pen with wire fencing to ensure they stayed where the belonged. Luigi and Luisa spent their first night in the pen perch on top of the doghouse.

Luigi&Luisa

Luigi & Luisa getting ready for bed!

However it did not take long to realize that, being a family of four, one hen would not be enough to feed everyone. We needed more hens if we were going to enjoy their eggs. During the following four weeks, my wife and I visited all the nearby farmers market and, each time, bought a pair of hens: Lily & Lola, Gertrude & Olga, Stefitza & Katitza,  Dora & Dara. We now have 9 hens and one rooster.

Gertrude

Gertrude – our first egg layer

Olga

Olga – our smallest but bravest hen

As the flock kept increasing I also realized that the old dog pen would not be sufficient for our new pets.  I researched how to raise and care for chickens on the Internet and found a very helpful websites: Backyard chickens dot com .   I learnt that hens need a quiet and darkened place to lay their eggs so I looked up the basics principles of making a chicken coop, and went to work on it. If we were going to raise chickens, then we might as well do it right! I also found out that our Luigi and Luisa where not Italian but rather an Icelandic breed.  I guess Gunnar and Guðrún might have been more appropriate names but “oh well” we decided to stick with Luigi and Luisa.

Katitza

Katitza – the shy one

Stefitza

Stefitza -lays 2 yolk eggs

After having finished the coop, I realised I should have started with the floor. You see when we built the dog pen we laid down wood so it would not be to cold for the dogs, but now, years later, the floor is rotting.  I decided to pour some concrete, as it would make it easier to clean than wood.  This proved to take longer than I had anticipated. As the chickens were living there I had to subdivide the area into smaller square and tackle each one individually.

Lilly&Lola

Lily on the left and Lola on the right

The upside of this process was that I had lots of time to observe the chickens.  I had heard of the pecking order, I even learnt about the pecking order financial theory; but never had the opportunity to observe it.  Since we introduced our chickens to our flock 2 at a time, every new introduction was an opportunity to observe first hand and here is what I have learnt:

1) The rooster is the leader and he takes his job seriously.  One would think he would be the first in line to eat, but as a true leader, he lets the top hens eat first. While they are eating he chases the lower rank hens around and thereby provides them cover so they can eat in peace.  The rooster is also vigilant. As dusk approaches he is constantly looking up at the sky and is the first one to settle in for the night. He leads by example.

2) Size does not always mean rank.  Rank is determined by productivity. We have introduced smaller hens to the flock that have immediately risen to the top because they laid eggs. (Although this might have to do with the fact that egg-laying hens let themselves be fertilized by our rooster ;-))

3) Once the pecking order is established, there is no need for violence. The chickens accept their rank and live by the rules.

4) Hens are proud of their work! Every time they lay an egg, they sing a song, as if to celebrate their accomplishment.

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