Our first chicken coop April 2009
How did we get started with keeping chickens? I think that decision was Sean's, originally. I remember that he had raised chickens before our dating and marriage and that he had enjoyed it very much. That first experience ended with something getting in and destroying his flock, but it left him with the desire to "someday" do it again. I was not opposed to chickens as I was to ducks, my only concern was that I did not wish to have any roosters in the bunch (I'd heard horror stories of evil temperamental birds) and I did not want to eat our chickens- ever.

Our first hens, so tamed, could eat from our hands.
Though I had little previous experience with chickens personally, I did remember visiting my grandparents in Maine on their chicken farm. They had 3 HUGE barns filled with baby chicks. They raised them for months, fattening them up, and finally, shipped them off to the slaughter house. That didn't bother me. I was young and it wasn't as if I got attached to any particular bird or the thousands on hand. Looking back, I do remember occasionally some of the young chickens dying and getting incinerated.  As a side note: I am glad that the chickens, though many in number, were not kept in cages. They may not have had yards to live in, but they had light, the barn was kept clean, they were well fed and watered and I don't recall my grandparents ever treating them cruel. That was a real working farm, nothing like what Sean and I were planning.

Years later when my family moved back to Maine, my parents kept some meat chickens. I remember vividly even now coming home from school on the bus to my uncle and mother slaughtering the birds one afternoon. It was awful! Then, came the messy business of plucking and cleaning them. I don't remember my parents doing it more than once. Either they didn't keep chickens after that, or I have blocked out the more carnal side to farming. For the record, I have no problem with people raising their own food. I respect that for many reasons; often these animals are more humanely treated. I am not vegetarian. I like meat and eat it fairly regularly. I simply cannot kill and eat my animals or take them to someone else to do so. I just can't.

Back to the reason for this page, chickens and how we came to raise them...  Sean and I found a notice at the Belfast CoOp looking for a home for 5 Rhode Island Reds. We answered it. The hens were over a year old, healthy, and very friendly and tame. They had a chicken coop I would have lived in; clean, spacious, airy. We loved it. They were just what we were looking for. We brought all 5 home that night to our happy girls who excitedly named them for every shade of red they could think of.
Pecked raw, but seeing "outside" for the first time.

Regrowing feathers.
Later, our oldest daughter saw a sign posted near the road for FREE hens. We went to look. These were kept by an older man in the back of his dilapidated garage. The room was roughly 18x10 with no windows. It smelled terrible. Old cobwebs blanketed the ceiling, the nesting boxes, and perches. He said he had 80 hens to give away, a mix of Black Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, and Bluff Orpingtons. I took his word for it- it sure looked like that many, but I had never seen birds look like these; plucked nearly bald, bleeding from open wounds, and as untamed as you can imagine. Sean and I decided to take 8. We wanted to take them all, but just didn't have the space. Chickens can and will cannibalize each other when confined in too small a space, as these had been doing. We were concerned that these girls were too far gone to recover or ever become friendly pets.

Chillin' with the peeps.
Thankfully, we were wrong. We started them separate from our current hens in a small coop with an attached yard. In this way, we could watch them for disease and convince them that this was their new home. (We were afraid to let them loose, with our girls, for fear they would wander off and get eaten in their current state.) We overfed them. We handled them gently and crooned softly to them. Often, one or more would find there was into our hands or laps to be petted while Sean and I watched tv in the evenings. It worked. Their feathers regrew, they tamed well, and in only a matter of weeks, we were able to introduce them into our flock.

A year passed. We discussed buying some chicks to supplement our flock. Our old girls would not be laying eggs forever and probably not for much longer, statistically. At least, not very regularly. So, we stopped into the local Aubuchon and picked out 6 feather footed Cochens. At another farm, we selected 6 Wyandottes to add to them.

Over the years our flock has grown, depleted (through old age or more commonly, disappearance), and regrown. Last year, my mother bought us 12 more chicks to raise and a friend gifted us her flock of 5 year old hens. Sean answered another Uncle Henry's ad and purchased a few Ameraucana hens, which lay blue shelled eggs. And, in September, we broke down and bought our first rooster (or so we thought) at the Common Ground Fair.

Currently, our flock consists of 21 Hens; 3 Lacy Wyandottes, 3 Buff Cochens, 2 Americaunas, 2 Barred Rocks, 3 Black Rocks, 4 Rhode Island Reds, 4 Buff Orpingtons and 4 Roosters;  2 Americaunas, 1 Rhode Island Red, & One funny fellow- part Rhode Island Red, part Black Rock, and part Cochen. He's my favorite guy, I think but, don't tell the others that!

What started with us getting 4 eggs on a good day 3 years ago, has grown to today gathering 17 eggs from the nesting boxes! We sell the eggs we don't use personally. Pullet eggs are smaller in size and are priced at $2.50/dozen. Regular/Large eggs are sold for $3.00/dozen. And, duck eggs (which are HUGE and excellent for omelets or baking) sell for $4.00/dozen. I love eating farm fresh eggs. I love being able to share their delicious goodness with others. I love watching the chickens play. And, since they are the only animals on our farm on which we actually break even on the cost, I imagine we'll continue with keeping them for a long time to come.

Now that we have raised chicks from one day old, our next plan is to hatch some of our own chicks to sell and to replenish our flock. These will be "Barnyard Beauties" and not pure bred breeds, since they are all housed together. But, it will be a new adventure for us. We'll let you know how it all goes!