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Posted by tinako on February 17, 2011

I have been taking care of a neighbor’s seven hens for almost two months.  It has been lovely, and I will miss doing it when the neighbors come home.  I’ll offer you a bit about them in case you don’t know and are interested.

Being vegan, I did not want to use the eggs.  I decided to do what Farm Sanctuary does, feed them back to them.  Everyone I have mentioned this to thinks it is very odd, a taboo, almost cannibalistic.  But would anyone think twice about feeding the chickens muffin bits made with eggs?  It makes me very happy that they get to keep what is theirs.

I’ve read you have to take some care so that the hens don’t know what they’re eating; otherwise they might begin eating their eggs right in the nest, and beyond making an unhealthy mess, I am not trying to sabotage my neighbors.  So I collect the eggs every day, usually there are about seven, and I hard boil them and then run them shells and all through my food processor.  I scrape them into a container with vegetable peelings and toast scraps, etc., and take it over every morning.  They meet me at the door and just about trample me.

The first time I brought the eggs, they were not so sure what to do with this messy food, but it is definitely their favorite part now.  Other favorites are any leafy greens, especially celery trimmings.

They love snow!  I noticed when I first started coming that they were almost more interested in pecking the snow off my boots than in the eggs and veggies.  So I started scooping up snow every day and plopping it into their kennel – it was always mostly pecked away the next day.

While they’re eating I check their food and water bins and take any new eggs.  When there is a chicken sitting in the nesting boxes, I leave them alone.  Interesting, they usually all lay in the same bin.  The bin varies from day to day, I mean, but all the eggs are usually together.

Did you know that chickens will lay eggs whether they have a rooster around or not?  Without a rooster, the eggs are unfertilized and will never develop.  With a rooster around, the eggs would develop if kept warm, but otherwise appear exactly the same, inside and out.  Hens lay an egg a day but don’t really care about them and don’t keep them warm until they have laid what they consider “enough,” about six or seven I think.  Then they stay on the eggs and stop laying more.  This way, all the eggs begin to develop at the same time and the chicks hatch together, instead of one day at a time, running off while the hen is still stuck on the nest.

It’s cold here but there is a heat lamp and water heater inside their coop, and anyway every time I have come over in the daytime, even when it was below zero and windy, they are out in their sheltered kennel yard.  When it starts to get dark they are inside all together on their perches.

I usually make another trip over in the afternoon to let them out of their kennel.  They charge me and rush out into the patio area where they pick and scratch happily.  The snow was boxing them into this area until today, when for the first time they were able to go out into a larger fenced yard (photos).  They could get out of this flimsy fence easily, but they like to stay close to home.  They were very happy, digging in the mud and eating what seemed to be grass sprouts, and I hung out for probably 40 minutes.  I had a little more trouble shooing them inside today, but usually they go in easily.  I took a lot of pictures from which to possibly paint.

There are three sets of two of the same species, and one loner.  Their personalities between species are very different: the black and white ones are aggressive, the small speckled brown ones are timid, the big messy-looking ones don’t mind being touched, and the loner is very, very curious.  But between the two of a set I can’t even tell them apart.  The sets like to hang out together; I was wondering how they know they are the same, how do they know what they themselves look like, but my Dad suggested maybe they smell appealing to each other.

After my neighbors come home, I can still visit the hens, but it won’t be the same.  Impermanence.


4 Responses to “Chickens!”

  1. Rob said

    Great story and photos!

    I’ve often wondered what I would do with the eggs if I adopted a hen from a rescue group; I had never considered letting the hen eat them. I would have fears of the hen developing symptoms similar to Mad Cow. I guess that’s not the case with chickens; glad you found a solution!

    I helped some friends look after their bunny while they were on vacation and enjoyed it so much that when they returned I secretly hoped that Chloe the bunny could stay with me. She did not so I adopted Spike, an amazing and wonderful rescue rabbit. A year later the friends did ask if I would like to adopt Chloe and I gratefully accepted. Spike and Chloe became best friends and lived happily together for years. This was a long time ago and has changed my life in many ways. Have you considered adopting some chickens from a rescue organization?

    Impermanence, yes. The temporary nature of all things can bring suffering, but right view helps understanding.

  2. tinako said

    I’ve thought seriously about rescuing chickens, but I’m not sure we’re an ideal situation. We live in the suburbs. I feel kind of bad that the neighbor’s chickens (purchased) have to spend most of their time in an 8 x 12 dog kennel attached to the henhouse. It keeps them very safe from foxes, but especially in the winter, with tarp completely boxing the fence, well, that’s why I go over to let them run around outside. I’m not sure how I could do better than that at my house. I also don’t spend much of the summertime here. My husband would be caring for them weekdays during the summer, and I’m not sure he’s that much into chickens. …or a tarp-covered kennel sticking off the back of our garage. I’d want them to be happy, not just warehoused. I dunno, maybe they’re happy in the kennel.

  3. […] the full story. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  4. […] I finished this pastel of a chicken today.  She was one of the ladies who lived next door for a few years.  I cared for them for a few months in the winter a few years ago, which was a lot of fun (story). […]

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