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Chickens - Down One, Up Three

We inexplicably lost one of our original hens recently. We miss her, but have also brought in some exciting new chicks to add to our backyard diversity.

My family started our first backyard chicken flock almost three years ago.  The first day-old chicks arrived via US Mail from the Meyer Hatchery in Ohio. We began with 10 chicks, four of which were Easter Eggers (layers of blue-green eggs, often referred to as Ameraucanas or Araucanas).  The other six were Silver Spangled Hamburgs.  Of our original birds, we now have just four left; one Hamburg chick died during the first week, three Hamburgs were sold, one Easter Egger we lost to the hawk last fall, and just recently we lost another Easter Egger.

Foster, our almost all white Easter Egger, was found dead in the coop by my husband Jay this past weekend. This is the first hen we’ve lost to natural causes as opposed to flying predators. The only explanation I can offer is that Foster had not laid an egg in about a year (Foster used to lay a paler, rounder green egg so I could identify her creations).  She had recently been hanging out in the nesting box, a behavior she’s never exhibited before.  Her feathers looked fantastic and healthy, and she had no outward signs of illness.  She just died.  Of course, there had to be some underlying cause like heart or kidney failure for Foster’s death, but since we didn’t have a necropsy done, I don’t know for sure.  If the rest of the flock seemed sick, I’d probably be contacting UCONN for testing.  I’ve heard of chickens suddenly expiring and also of life spans up to 15 years.

I was away at a cat show when Jay called to tell me about Foster’s death.  Since he ties his own fishing flies, often using feathers as material, I asked him if he was going to use any of Foster’s white feathers.  No, he couldn’t bring himself to scalp or pluck a bird he knew as a pet for three years.  Jay used to hunt, a sport he had to give up when I moved in, so dissecting a dead animal doesn’t make him queasy.  Pets obviously have an elevated status over wild animals, even if they are chickens. 

I’ll always remember Foster as the one who was easy to identify from the moment she arrived, as she was the only all-yellow chick in our first batch. Faye and Flo, our remaining Easter Eggers, look very similar, distinguished only by Faye’s darker head.

Although we are down one hen, we had, coincidentally, attended a small poultry show in Haddam Neck a couple of weeks ago.  My intention was to get a young adult Black Copper Maran pullet because that breed lays a chocolate brown egg. Many poultry exhibitors were selling chickens outside the show area, but all that I saw were either small breed pairs or baby chicks.  Chicks are more difficult in the beginning as they require heat lamps, special starter feed, frequent monitoring, an indoor cage and age-appropriate companionship for the first five to six weeks.

If I got one Maran chick, I’d have to get her a buddy.  So we ended up with three chicks, bringing our flock total to 17.  All of the new babies are deemed to be female by the breeder and have been named by daughter Kelsey. “Nestle” is our Maran.  One of her new buddies is “Lemon Meringue”, a cross between a Lemon Cuckoo Orpington (yellow striped) and a Jubilee Orpington (multi-colored) and promises to be a big girl.  The other chick is named “Narnia” and is a standard Buff Orpington. The new chicks are about two weeks apart in age and the smaller ones tend to rest under the larger Lemon Merinque who plays Mama hen. 

I love having chickens that all look different and lay different colors and sizes of eggs.  Nestle should start laying her dark chocolate eggs in the late fall and add even more variety to our egg collection.

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