The Lovely Ladies

I’ve made mention of them on facebook, but I don’t know if I’ve ever given you a thorough introduction to our resident chickens.  We have five of them.  Two were gifts from a friend who wanted to shrink her flock of Tetra Tints.  Born in March, they are the oldest and most dominant (you know that saying about the pecking order?  It’s true!).  The other three are the remaining hens from a batch of 6 day-old White Leghorn peeps we were given at the end of May by a teacher at Holy Family School.  One of the classes had been doing a unit on embryology, and when the incubated eggs finally hatched, they needed a home.  Four of those peeps ended up being roosters, and after growing weary of their pompous crowing and fearful of their growing aggression, I turned them into chicken soup.  White Leghorns are a good multipurpose bird, laying well and also producing good meat.

Most chickens start laying eggs 18-20 weeks after birth, so at this stage all of our hens are mature enough to lay eggs.  Each lays one egg a day; curiously, they always put their eggs in the same nesting box, so when I go out in the morning, this is what I find.

All the eggs in one nest!

The chickens live in a chicken tractor built by Super Volunteer Beth Mumper and her family.  A chicken tractor is a bottomless moveable pen.

Our chicken tractor

Ours has nesting boxes above, but there are countless designs available, from backyard models to ones that can hold 100+ birds.  Every few days, we pull it to fresh ground so the birds have access to greens, bugs, and weed seeds.  Moving it also spreads out their manure so we don’t have to clean up after them.  Organic regulations stipulate that there must be a 120 day window between the application of manure and the harvest of vegetables.  We anticipate improved yields on the fields where the chickens have foraged,  and we’re still figuring out the best way to incorporate the chickens into our crop rotation plan.

In addition to fresh grass and greens, the chickens are fed a grain ration.  You might be surprised to learn that they are voracious omnivores.  Watching them fight over a grasshopper is quite amusing, and I’ve even seen one hen dispatch a small snake. Other things you might be wondering about our chickens:

Do hens need a rooster in order to lay eggs?  Nope. Female humans ovulate monthly; female chickens ovulate daily.  The actions of a male would fertilize the egg, resulting in a embryo (for people, a pregnancy; for chickens, a fertilized egg that could be incubated until the chick is developed and hatches).  Both unfertilized and fertilized chicken eggs can be eaten.

Are you really allowed to have chickens in the city?  Yes.  Harrisburg City ordinances state that you must have 40,000 square feet in order to have a flock of 10 birds.  See my previous post for the complete regulations.  We are hoping to add five more hens in the spring.

What will you do with the chickens over the winter?  We plan to move them into the high tunnel so that they have some more protection from the elements.  Since we won’t be able to move the chicken tractor around in there, we’ll add sawdust and leaves to their coop to absorb their manure.  The deep litter that will accumulate over the winter will make great compost.

What do you do with all those eggs?  Josh and I share them, and we enjoy giving them to volunteers and friends.  Three dozen eggs isn’t really all that many, so it’s not worth it to wade through the regulations in order to sell them.

Other questions about our chickens?  Just ask!  Or stop by to visit the lovely ladies next time you’re at the farm!

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