Hippy happy chicks
One of the great joys in summer is having my summer chicken at home. As I spend much of my winters in town or travelling, my summer chicken spend their winters in the excellent care of one of my neighbouring farms. There they live a free range life in a big weather proof winter insulated chicken coop with a yard in the company of their chicken friends, two roosters and seven chicks. But come the end of May, and I bring them home for the summer.
My chicken are a breed called Rhode Island Red and they were raised on an organic chicken farm in Kouvola. I was apprehensive at first, as I thought it would be difficult to keep chicken, but in fact once we got home I was happily surprised as I realised how easy and fun it is. The main thing is to see to it that they have a good clean chicken coop and a constant supply of clean water and food. I change the water and top up the feed daily so that they always have fresh water and can eat as much as they like. To keep things simple I feed my chicken a ready made organic food mix for egg-laying chicken, and added to that they have a mineral stone to pick in. Chicken ar omnivores, and so I do give them fresh food scraps too.
Apart from having a yard to run around in, chicken like to have a spot where they can bathe in sand to clean their feathers. My chicken have plenty of space because as they are on holiday I thought it would be nice to give them a really big yard to run around in. It doesn't get soiled as much as a year round yard does, because for eight months of the year the chicken are elsewhere. The yard is surrounded by chicken wire and has a roof of bird proof netting as well. The roof is not so much to prevent the chicken from flying off, but to protect them from birds of prey such as hawks and eagles.
What surprised me most of all is how friendly and sociable they are. As soon as they see you, they come running towards you making happy friendly noise! I haven't yet figured out if they are looking for food or company, as they seem equally happy with both. They love to be petted and crouch down with their wings out as close to you as possible, all the while making cooing sounds. Funnily enough they even like being lifted, as can be seen in the picture below where my friends son is carrying Agda. I must admit though, that after getting to know my chicken so well and realising they do have personalities and souls I have not been able to eat battery farmed poultry anymore. Just the thought of how battery farmed animals suffer turns my stomach, and consequently my diet has turned more and more vegan with age.
I named my chicken according to old fashioned names - Agda, Bertha, Gwendolyne, Hilma and Klara-KotKot - but to be honest it can be hard to separate them when they all crowd around me. Yet when spending time with them I do notice that they all have different personalities and traits, and by the end of the summer I recognise them from afar once again. Big Bertha was the first one to learn to fly up into the apple trees, and Hilma soon followed suit and nowadays the two of them spend their nights up the apple tree. Klara-KotKot is smaller and faster than the rest. Gwendolyne and Agda tend to stick together, and are the first ones to loudly complain when dinner is late or they haven't had a good chat for a while.
Most days the chicken like to spend their time perched outside the chicken coop. In the mornings and afternoons they are found scavenging for insects in the yard, but if it is very warm or on the contrary very cold or wet they will just hang out and chill. Some of them lay eggs in the morning, early, and some late in the evening. In the beginning I was amazed at the quality of the eggs, and really surprised at the gloriously orange-yellow colour of the egg yolks. Afterwards I learned the reason the egg yolks are so yellow is that they eat so much protein in the form of buggs hunted in the grass...
Chicken are actually surprisingly clever too, and more than once they have figured out ways to escape. They don't tend to go far though, and make enough noise to let you know where to find them. Once a friend of mine was visiting with her dachshunds, and of course they broke into the pen and all hell was loose! By the time we got there, all chicks were dead, spread out and floppy on the ground amongst a bath of feathers. Only they weren't! As soon as my friend had carted off her dogs to a safe distance the chicks sprung back to life and loudly told me off for the indignation of being chased down by dogs!! They are of course used to my old and peaceful Boomer, who is much more interested in any leftover chicken food than anything else...