Below is a guest blog by Arianne Waseen about a visit by an opossum. Thanks, Arianne!
“Possum come aknockin’ at the door.”
“I went out in the afternoon a few weeks ago to look for eggs. I opened up the large door on the front of our coop, and in the nest box was something grey and furry and curled up in a little ball. My first thought was that it was a cat, but looking more closely it was definitely possum fur. I yelled and jumped a bit, and ran in to tell my husband and mother-in-law to come take a look. By the time we got back the possum had woken up. We opened up a little door we have at the back of the nest box and my mother in law encouraged the possum to jump down by prodding it with a broom from the front of the nest box. It jumped down and ran off. The opossum has come back a few times, and while it has not harmed our chickens, we are getting fewer eggs than we should be, and the possum has suspiciously glossy fur.”
Mid-winter is a perfect time to order baby chicks to arrive in the mail as the weather warms in spring. Homeowners can create an international flock of six hens that will be fun to keep and produce many delicious eggs.
Many hatcheries allow customers to order a mixture of breeds, but often they require buying 25 birds so the chicks stay warm during shipment. Winter is a perfect time to get together with other families who keep chickens to place a joint order to meet the minimum. Stores that stock chicks will usually sell as few as six, but their breed selection is normally limited.
Winding Pathways encourages folks to start browsing catalogs and on-line sites now and order soon to make sure desired breeds are in stock.
We’ve been keeping chickens of many breeds for decades at Winding Pathways. Both our children, now adults living in distant states, grew up tending our small flock. We love our fresh eggs and also appreciate the personalities and characteristics of our favorite breeds.
It’s easy to create an international flock. Here’s how we’d choose breeds for a six-bird flock that come from many places, are fun to be around, and lay plenty of eggs.
One Buff Orpingtons. This is a golden hen developed in England. Large, fluffy, and gentle. Orpingtons are so-so layers but absolutely beautiful, fun to be around, and easy to care for. A young chick enthusiast named ours “The Golden Hens”.
One Rhode Island Red or New Hampshire Red. We like having a “Yankee” chicken in our flock. Rhode Islands are dark reddish in color and are outstanding layers. New Hampshires are a lighter red and good layers, although perhaps not quite as good as Rhode Islands.
One Barred Rock. Sometimes called Plymouth Rock, there are several colors of the rock breed and all are good. Not quite as friendly as the Orpingtons but a better layer. This is another “Yankee” breed either named for Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts or developed by a breeder in Plymouth, NH, depending on the source of information.
One Americana. People love the blueish/greenish eggs this breed lays. They are good layers that originated in South America.
One Maran. This French breed lays very dark brown eggs. Marans come in various feather colors that children love to gather. We sometimes collect feathers and give them to our fly-fishing son-in-law who ties his own flies.
One beautiful and unusual bird. Look at the photos in printed hatchery catalogs and on websites and choose an interesting and colorful brown egg layer. Often these ornamental breeds aren’t great egg layers, but they are interesting and colorful. Some possibilities include Wyandottes, good layers developed in New York; Brahmas, perhaps from India; Cochin, not so good layers but named for Cochin China – near the mouth of the Mekong River in Vietnam; Sussex, a good layer from England; Jersey Giants from New Jersey; or Buckeyes from Ohio.
In recent years we’ve purchased our chicks from Hoovers Hatchery but we’ve also bought them from McMurray Hatchery. The following three hatcheries have interesting websites and provide outstanding chicks of many breeds: Cackle Hatchery; Murray McMurray Hatchery; Hoovers Hatchery.
A variety of chickens lay beautiful and nutritious eggs.
Newly arrived chicks.
These colorful birds are interesting and fun.
I’m not sure where it came from but somehow I became fascinated with chickens. I was eight years old living in suburban New Jersey, didn’t know anyone who had chickens, and no one in my family had ever had them. The interest came on strong 58 years ago and I’m still at it.
Dad and Mom were supportive and, I think, saw chickens as a way to learn. “Let’s build a coop and get a few,” Dad said, and soon he and I were building a chicken house just big enough to hold four hens. It was an education in basic carpentry. I bought four hens from Mr. Lawrence, the local egg man in an era when eggs, milk, and bread were delivered to the door.
The hens were my pride and joy. What I brought into the kitchen weren’t just eggs. They were brown jewels. Sometimes I’d just watch the hens after school and learned they are intelligent, communicate with each other through various calls, and are clean and odorless. They taught me that if I cared for animals humanely I’d receive an education, entertainment, and delicious food.
Chickens are part of our lives at Winding Pathways, and they continue to amaze Marion and me with their intelligence, comical antics, curiosity, and amazing ability to convert weeds, kitchen scraps, and insects into the jewels we bring into our kitchen.
Chickens are colorful and entertaining transformers of kitchen scraps and garden waste into delicious organic food. What could be better than a small flock?
Chickens have been part of our lives for decades. We can’t imagine living without them. Today millions of American families are building coops and enjoying the benefits of flocks as small as a few hens.
Previously, ordinances banned chickens from many towns, but recent interest in local food has reached city hall, and antichicken ordinances are falling like autumn leaves. Many cities now allow backyard flocks in even urban areas, but often limit them to six hens and no noisy roosters.
Six hens will do these wonderful things:
Lay three or four fresh and delicious eggs every day.
- Quickly repurpose food scraps and weeds into eggs.
- Provide a wonderful opportunity for children to learn responsibility by caring for chicken. And they’ll learn where food really comes from.
- Add color and life to the back yard.
Chickens are easy to raise and care for but need attention 365 days a year. Anyone who has kept any domestic animal can easily learn to care for a small flock. They just need these things:
- A coop to protect them from the wind, rain, raccoons and other predators. Chickens only need four square feet per hen, so a backyard coop can be tiny and can be purchased ready-made, is easily built with simple carpentry skills and tools, or crafted inside an existing garage or shed.
- An optional but helpful outdoor run that gives the birds fresh air, sunshine, and plenty of plants and insects to eat.
- Someone to check on them daily to harvest eggs, fill feeders and waterers, close the door at night to keep nocturnal predators at bay and open it in the morning.
How to Get Started
The first step is to either call your town’s city clerk or check the municipal website to see if keeping chickens is legal and, if so, what restrictions are in place. Assuming that your city has endorsed backyard chickens here is what you can do:
- Read a few how to books that help beginners learn the basics. There’s also plenty of information on the Internet.
- Scan websites of hatcheries for information on chicken care and breeds. Just Google chicken hatcheries and a screen of websites appears. We’ve ordered chicks from Murray McMurray and Hoover’s Hatcheries. Both have been part of the Iowa business scene for decades. McMurray’s on line and paper catalog is a gem of information and they sell dozens of breeds of chickens. Hoover is a down home hatchery that sells fewer breeds but of top notch quality.
- Check with your local nature center or county extension office to see if a basic chicken care workshop will be held in your area. Take it in. They may be able to put you in touch with nearby families who have chickens.
- For a list of nature centers scan the website of the Association of Nature Center Administrators.
- Subscribe to on line chicken care blogs. Two good ones are Scoop From the Coop and Community Chickens.
- Read more on chicken care in future Winding Pathways Blog.
- Then, have fun with your chickens.