Anatomy of a Chicken
Easy lessons in biology and animal husbandry come into play when you raise backyard chickens. This is a mature Buff Orpington hen named Zuzu. She's sporting a single comb on the top of her head, a pair of wattles in her chin area and earlobes behind the wattles the red fold. Her nostrils are located right above her beak. The color of a chicken's ears correlates to the color of its eggs. Zuzu lays light brown eggs. Bright or dark red combs and wattles are a sign that a hen is in egg-laying mode.
Peep, Peep, Peep
This baby chick is a few days old and for sale from a traditional feed store located on the outskirts of a large city. Chicks can also be acquired from chicken breeders, garden centers and online hatcheries. You'll want to know the breed and sex of the chick, as well as whether it has been vaccinated before finalizing your purchase. Choosing a baby chick over a pullet (teenager) or adult chicken has its advantages but comes with additional responsibilities and care. Like any pet, make sure you are confident the chick is in good health and has been housed in a clean setting.
Fine Feathers Make Fine Birds
While this saying refers to people, not chickens, one of the considerations that goes into selecting a pet chicken is the look and color of its plumage. Do you want an all-white flock or chickens that look exotic or ornate? The interesting pattern on the feathers of this Red Sex Link hen is called \"penciling.\"
Anyone Laid an Egg Yet?
Raising chickens can be great fun for children of all ages. This inquisitive toddler loves to look in on her pets and gather eggs with the help of her parents. It looks like this Buff Orpington hen is also interested in assisting with the morning chores.
Eggstravaganza: Time for Breakfast
Different breeds of chickens lay different colored eggs. For pastel blue, green or pink eggs, consider Easter Eggers or Ameraucanas. Red Stars and Marans are excellent layers of large dark chocolate eggs. No matter the color of the shell, they all taste the same on the inside good!
Dog's Best Friend?
While not all dogs can be left safely alone with chickens, this rescue dog named Parker was introduced to her feathered sisters when they were 2-day-old chicks. Parker would watch over them, occasionally sniffing the box where the chicks were kept. She even skipped the comfort of her doggie bed to sleep in the same room as the chicks at night. Now that the girls are full grown, Parker mostly ignores them. But there are days when her bird-dog instinct kicks in, and she gives the hens a brief chase.
What If I Have a Pet Cat?
Webster, the lounging cat in the background, initially wanted to eat the flock when they were brought home as baby chicks. But according to his owner, these days Webster prefers to lie around watching the hens, like this Easter Egger named Buffy, as they scratch around the yard. The size of the full-grown hens and their strong beaks have proved to be effective, but not guaranteed, cat deterrents.
A Lazy Afternoon
This is Fronk, an 8-year-old Rhode Island Red. Her owner says Fronk likes hanging out on their back deck just as much as scratching around in the grass or taking a dirt bath. Fronk is also known to slip into the house when the family dogs come inside.
The Lawn Care Challenge
It is possible to have a vibrant green lawn and a healthy small flock of chickens. In fact, chickens provide natural fertilizer. However, it's important to keep in mind that the products you use on your grass will impact your chickens and the eggs they lay (and you eat). Chickens diligently eat grass and scratch around in it to find worms and insects. If you want a nice lawn, consider restricting certain areas. Also, don't adopt more chickens than are ideal for the square footage of your yard.
An Apple a Day
These hens have gathered for a healthy snack of apple slices and papaya. On a hot summer day, a frozen cantaloupe or watermelon can be left in the run of a coop for a refreshing treat. If you're not squeamish, feed your chickens mealworms by hand, and they will be your best friend forever. It's important to research what foods are safe treats for your chickens and what can make them sick. Chicken scratch and chicken feed can be purchased traditional feed stores, as well as at local pet stores and garden centers in cities where urban farming is popular.
Eat Your Veggies
Unlike small children, most chickens love to snack on cucumbers, cauliflower, broccoli, corn, collards, chard and other vegetables. Daily treats like these are excellent diet supplements. Here a red cabbage has been hung in the run of a coop for an afternoon of munching. Different chickens will have favorite foods; it's not a breed-specific preference.
There is an art to raising backyard chickens. There's also a good chance that if you fall head over heels for your fine feathered flock, you will find yourself oddly attracted to chicken art. Here a giant steel rooster watches over actual hens.
The Big Question About Roosters
What's the number one question people ask urban chicken farmers? Don't you have to have a rooster to get eggs? Like most animals, you only need a rooster to \"turn\" eggs into baby chicks. That means this handsome (and sometimes noisy) Bantam rooster is an unnecessary addition to a flock, which you and your neighbors may appreciate.
Like the Buff Orpington pictured here cozy in a nesting box, broodiness is a phase hens go through now and then some breeds more than others. It's when the hen's mothering instinct goes into overdrive, and all she wants to do is sit on her eggs. (If you don't have a rooster, her efforts will be in vain.) Also, a broody hen stops egg production, and prolonged broodiness can lead to health concerns. There are various tricks or \"cures\" for a broody chicken. However, some chicken owners choose to let the broodiness run its course. After all, it's natural.
Grade A Large Eggs
A vintage egg scale is a fun tool for weighing your hen's eggs. This extra, extra large egg from an Easter Egger has topped the scale. Bantam chickens lay \"peewee\" sized eggs. In the old days, these scales were used for sorting eggs by size before they were sold at market. Today, combine them with vintage wire egg baskets for a neat display on a kitchen shelf.