If I hadn't started painting, I would have raised chickens.
It was an otherwise normal day. I woke, drained 4 cups of Starbucks Christmas Blend coffee (because I'm shamefully addicted), put on a slightly rumpled shirt, and went to the local feed store for a bag or two of garden compost. Only I came out with 24 baby chicks.
Here's what I can tell you: raising chickens is one of the coolest things you'll ever do. Yes, they poop everywhere. And yes, they can be a little more to maintain than, say, a lazy goldfish. But totally worth it. They're totally worth it.
For one, chickens are entertaining. Forget TV. Once you have chickens, you can cancel that cable forever. Instead you can snoop on their play time and catch them establishing the pecking order. The tiny, strange chickens are no match for the loud, stuffed ones. I watched as the small, most peculiar looking chicken ever- Haskins, the white one below- was put in line by an older, heavier breed chick named Hamburger. Not to be outdone, Haskins sneaked up on Hamburger while she was at the feeder and plucked out one of Hamburger's largest feathers. She then tore through the coop like a felon with bank loot with that feather clasped in her beak. The others crowded around and chirped Oh no, you didn't!
Oh yes, she did.
When you look like an angel/feather puff/clown with a chicken head, you'll do what you have to do to survive in the coop, apparently.
I have dual purpose birds, which means they'll be sufficient egg layers and chicken dumplings, depending on how it goes. I'm still many weeks out before I get my first eggs. I can't wait.
Here's what I can say after a month or two of raising baby chicks:
1. They grow. Fast. Quicker than quick. Have your brooder (the thing you raise baby chicks in) ready when you come home. And plan to have an alternate place prepared for between the time the chicks are too big for the brooder but too small to go in the coop. I wasn't ready for that and they actually had to come inside (shudder) for a few days.
2. Have a few good resources to help you out. Of all the books I bought, I like Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens the best. About three days in, I noticed two chicks moving a bit slowly. Not to gross you out, but Storey's Guide immediately told me they had pasty butt, and after dunking those chicks in a little warm water, drying them off and snipping a few feathers, they were back in business. To this day I haven't lost a single chick.
3. Chickens drink and eat tons. In fact, I think they should be called "Devourers" instead of "chickens". Be prepared. They can wipe out your spring herbs, strawberry bed, and 50 pounds of feed in a weekend.
4. You have to protect your devourers from predators, drafts, and drowning. Think like an overprotective Mom and you should be fine.
5. If you garden, expect instant, amazing results when you begin adding your own chicken manure to the mix. :)
6. Be prepared to fall in love with the little chicks. And, if you're in to such things, be prepared to think of strange/amazing names for them. All my chickens' names begin with "H", and my family and friends had fun helping me name them. They are, in no particular order: Haskins, Hamburger, Hank, HoHo, Honey Badger, Happy, Haggai, Habakkuk, Harold, Hazelwood, Horace, Hobbit, Hulk, Helen, Hotteedot, Hamlet, HoneyBun, Hadassah, Colonel Heaven and Henrietta. Some remain nameless as they might be gonners later and I can't even think about seeing someone with a name on my plate...
And yes, I know that most of my chicks are hens and most of those names aren't lovely. In my defense, I only named a few.