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Getting started with chickens.

In getting started on a homestead many of us have included keeping some chickens for eggs and meat. I guess I fell into this category when I moved to my place in the country five years ago. Never having kept chickens before, I figured it was easy, as I had several uncles who kept them for years.

I sent off for a catalogue from a well-known hatchery. When the catalogue arrived among other catalogues for seeds and fruit trees, I announced to my wife, "The chicken seed catalogue has arrived." This brought a puzzled look.

A bird with "spizzerinktum"

I must have read the catalogue from cover to cover several times with keen interest on what each breed and variety of chicken was like and what I could expect from them. After much thought and consideration I decided on a dual purpose breed: that is, a bird good for both egg and meat production. I placed my order for the breed named after my home state and noted for "being especially endowed with spizzerinktum." I still have not figured what that is, but at the time I thought it must be good.

On a warm Saturday morning in early April over breakfast I announced, "My chicks are coming Monday. Guess I'd better build a pen." This set the tone for all further activities with my chickens: the tall would wag the dog whenever a new coop or other facility was needed.

In building my first pen I learned something I would always remember for future ones and that was "never make a cage or pen deeper or longer than your reach." My first attempt was subsequently modified to accommodate that principle.

By Sunday evening my first pen was ready, the waterer and feed tray were all set up and a 50-pound sack of chick starter mash was waiting to feed my chicks when they arrived. That evening I reread the instructions sent by the hatchery and assured myself that I had not left anything out. The chicks arrived the following day and quickly adjusted to their new home.

It was three weeks later when my little fuzz balls had quadrupled in size that I realized a more permanent home would soon be needed. I then began designing and building my first coop. Within two weeks I had it completed and not a day too soon. My first pen had reached its capacity.

Let out to range

When my chicks were big enough they were let out to range, which did wonders for their growth and condition. They soon learned where the hand that fed them lived and would gather on the porch tapping on the glass door while I was having dinner. I guess the remark made by my mother about my place in the country "beginning to resemble Maw and Paw Kettle's, complete with chickens on the porch" prompted me to erect the fence.

The last lesson I learned from my first experience in keeping chickens was that when you order straight run, you get around 50 percent roosters. In future orders I would order 20 pullets and five straight run. This combination worked well as I would end up with only two or three roosters.

Much has passed since my first experience in keeping chickens. Besides my original breed I keep Barred Plymouth Rocks and Wyandottes. I have tried other breeds but found that they just were not the right birds for me. The Leghorns were too jumpy, another breed just not vigorous, and another seemed to take forever to mature.

I guess if I were to recommend a breed for a homestead in a climate subject to cold winters I would recommend the Wyandottes. They are a good-sized bird with a gentle disposition. The roosters are not as aggressive as some of the other breeds I have kept. Their rose comb is less susceptible to freezing in cold weather, they lay a nice brown egg, and will get broody (that mothering instinct).

The Wyandottes come in several colors and patterns. I keep the Silver Laced and the Golden Laced. There are also White, Columbian, Silver Penciled, Black, Buff, Blue, and Partridge Wyandottes. Not all these varieties are available from the large hatcheries, but they do exist in the hands of a few breeders around the country.

While I have found the chickens that I enjoy keeping based on my preferences, another person may feel that other factors are more important, such as having white-shelled eggs.

My suggestion is to read the catalogs and books. It also helps to visit a friend who has the breed you are thinking of keeping to get a feel for that breed. You can also visit an agriculture fair that has a poultry exhibit to see some of the many breeds. There are many breeds to chose from and if you decide the one you have is not the one best suited to your needs then there is always next year and a new learning experience.
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Author:Pimental, Rick
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Words:834
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