Which came first, the chicken or the egg is a question that has irked many farmers. Chickens might possibly be the first barnyard animal on every farm. They don’t sound particularly hard to manage, don’t require a lot of care, and the plus side, farm fresh eggs. There wasn’t anyone to ask, no Aunt or elder to turn to, so we did what any budding farmer would do in our situation and bought a how-to book. Even though the book had pretty much everything you need to know about chickens, I’m embarrassed to say, it took us almost 8 years to actually figure out how to do it right.
We bought our first two full-grown hens, Rhode Island Reds, at the local feed and seed. Which we called Franny and Mooney. We were lucky because we were having a terrible time figuring out how we could raise chickens from chicks. Chicks require a heat source no greater than a light bulb but we didn’t have any real power to speak of, just enough to maybe run a solar powered light in our own cabin at night. Much later, a neighbor told us he had raised 50 chicks by heating rocks on an open fire and placing them near the tiny birds at night to keep them warm. Sounds like a lot of work.
We soon built Franny and Mooney their own coop and used whatever wood and paint that was here on the farm the previous owners had laying around. I had Injured my back* and had some down time, so I painted some whimsical illustrations for decoration while Bob constructed the coop, nesting boxes etc.
By leaving Franny and Mooney in the coop for a few days, we discovered, that they would return each night and call the coop home. Each day we were thrilled to open the hatches and find two beautiful brown eggs in the nesting boxes. The universe provided us with a rooster which we called Arthur. He didn’t seem to have a home and would roost each night in a mango tree. Bob was determined to catch him and have him join our girls in their two-chicken coop. For several nights in a row, Bob would don a head lamp, gloves and bring a sack in an attempt to capture Arthur from his nightly resting spot. I knew he had him when I heard the loudest chicken scream, if you will. Bob placed Arthur in the coop and we kept him their with the hens a few days until he too called the coop his home. He was a beautiful Rhode Island Red rooster and we would later discover he belonged to the farm next door and was booted out by their bigger rooster in the game of territories in the rooster world.
Now we had a rooster and two hens, we get chicks next, right? I mean that’s what the book said. Franny and Mooney would not sit on their eggs and could care less about brooding. A broody hen is about the funniest sight as she will sit on eggs and stare into space. You can wave your hand over her face in an attempt to gain her attention but she won’t even blink. The best part of a broody hen is that she will sit on the eggs for over 3 weeks and they will hatch and become baby chicks. After all, we were a farm and we needed a flock. All this is rather funny, because Rhode Island hens don’t go broody. They’re commercial egg layers and the genetic propensity to brood has been bred out of them. Good chickens to have, if you don’t want any more chickens.
As luck would have it, a neighbor was selling his land and getting rid of his chickens. We left his farm with eight Rhode Island Red hens and also their coop for free. Well, we had more hens and another coop but still no chicks. I went into the local feed and seed and had the clerk tell me that you didn’t need a light at night to keep the chickens warm. It was Hawaii after all and it was spring. So, I went back to my Chicken how-to book and decided on a breed of chicken that would raise chicks. I picked the Cochin variety because they also were considered a good egg and meat hen and ordered several dozen at the feed store. When the chicks were in, the caregiver in me, placed a hot quart of water in their cage at night wrapped in cloth so they could snuggle up and keep warm anyway.
Soon we had free range hens all over the farm and finding eggs was like Easter Sunday every day.
*One morning, leaving the cabin, I did an impromptu split and slipped on the wet grass and pulled a muscle or two. So, standing and painting chickens on the coop was just about my speed. I discovered that my $30 Florida beach flip flops weren’t designed for the traction needed in the rainforests of Hawaii. Like gifts from the woodland fairy or as we would come to refer to such things as “the universe provides,” I discovered a perfectly new pair of flip flops or what Hawaiians call “slippers” with jungle tread just outside my gate leading to my orchard. Later I would come to realize that our farm and its fruit was the local grocery store for many people over the years and these were probably forgotten in an effort to avoid being caught picking fruit. But for now, they were welcome gifts. To this day, no one has ever admitted to leaving or claimed those slippers.
Leave a comment, if you have a chicken raising story to tell.