Saturday, October 25, 2008

Chickens 'n such

Well, I don't have anything exciting going on. I AM going today to pick up a Kimbal Spinet piano that we're getting for free. It needs some TLC (crayon on the keys, scratches, water stains), and it's been sitting in a garage for goodness-knows-how-long. But we're getting it free and it can be tuned (let's hope). Now all I have to do is figure out a way to tell my mom that we don't want her to teach my daughter how to play. See, she tried to teach me... and I can't play. Get it? Besides, if Anna were to get upset with Mom because Mom's pushing her or something, that wouldn't be good. Better for her to be upset with someone unrelated. Sheesh, what a pain.
But I digress. Let's talk about chickens for a moment, shall we? OK!
The beautiful bird in the picture is a Barred Plymouth Rock rooster. Plymouth Rocks are dual purpose birds, meaning they are good egg layers and good meat birds.
Did you know that it is unnecessary to have a rooster in order for the hens to lay eggs? Yes, it's true! No need for the obnoxious, living alarm-clock with spurs. You can have a whole flock of chickens and not one rooster and still get a bunch of eggs. This is good news for the person who thinks they'd like a small backyard flock, even in town. They can have 3 or 5 hens to give them a nice supply of eggs (and fertilizer) and not have to worry about annoying their neighbors with a rooster crowing. Indeed, most towns will allow small backyard flocks, but ban roosters. Some towns require a permit or written consent from the neighbors before you build your coop.
A young female chicken is called a pullet and a young male, a cockerel. They don't become hens and roosters until they're a year old or a little more. A capon is a neutered male chicken - it's been caponized.
As for the rooster's crow... Well, you can't teach it not to crow. However, I think there is a surgery to remove the rooster's voice box. But really, I mean c'mon - you got money to spend on that? There are some breeds of roosters that are somewhat more quiet than others, but they all make noise. A hen isn't exactly quiet either. She will cackle and make a racket when she lays her egg, when something startles her, or when she's excited about some tidbit she's found to eat.
While there's no scientifically based nutritional difference between white eggs and brown, there are a lot of people that will swear by one or the other as being far superior. Me? I like browns. Don't know why. Well, ok, maybe it's because I grew up with white eggs from the store and using brown eggs makes me feel further from the store and closer to the farm. Yeah, that's probably it. You can usually tell what color egg a chicken will lay by looking at it's ears, located just behind and a little south of its eye. A white or light colored ear usually indicates white eggs. A red ear means brown eggs. There are eggceptions, though (sorry, couldn't help it). The breeds of chickens know as Araucanas, and Ameracaunas are sometimes called "Easter Eggers" because they lay egg with shell ranging in color from pink, to light green to blue, with shades in between. Again, no nutritional difference. BTW, Araucanas are just about the oldest breed of chicken in the Americas.
There are several words used in association with keeping chickens: Hen house, run/yard, coop, pasture.... A hen house is just that. It's the building the birds are kept in at night or in bad weather. It's where they sleep and lay eggs. The yard or run is an attached, usually fenced in area where the chickens can go outside and get some air, scratch around, take a dust bath. Both the run and the hen house comprise the chicken coop. Pasture is just that. It's any area where the chickens have more freedom of movement outside and can forage for food.
But how do I raise chickens, you ask? There's several ways. The old timers, and some folks nowadays, free range their chickens. Usually they have a small flock and they let them roam at will about the property. Chickens won't go too far afield, away from their roost and nests. Others pasture their chickens either with a chicken tractor or a largish pasture attached to the coop and house. A chicken tractor is a hen house on wheels or sleds that can be moved every so often (usually daily) so that the chickens, confined in a movable fenced yard, can graze over new grass and spread their fertilizer around the place. The advantage to these types of chicken management is that the birds forage and do most of their own food acquisition. Yet another way to keep the birds is in confinement. Either in a small house and run, or kept completely in a barn or house. This is generally not good for the birds, as it prevents them from getting much natural forage (if any), prevents them from getting the sunlight they need for vitamin D production, limits their exercise and can lead to feather pulling, picking, and fighting - out of sheer boredom. Also, it requires the farmer to supply all of the chicken's food.
Most breeds of chickens you can buy these days from a hatchery have been bred for egg or meat production. Through careful selection, the natural tendency for a hen to want to sit on eggs and raise them - called 'brooding', or 'going broody'- has been mostly bred out. There are certain species that still tend to go broody a little more than others. In all breeds, you'll sometimes find an old cackle that decides she wants to hatch her eggs.
I could write so much more, but that's probably already more than you ever cared to know about chickens... if you've read this far. Maybe I'll do some writing about cows......


Keetha said...

And that black and white chicken is a LOVELY example of Co-dominance heredity pattern!!!!!

Danman said...

Ummmm, sure. Yeah, feel free to use it with your science classes. ;^)