All my chicks
And poults, and ducklings, and maybe one day, goslings…
Barry and I started with the very common hatchery bred Rhode Island Red and Barred Rock chickens. In March of 2011, we brought home 21 7-10 day old chicks: 8 Barred Rock pullets, 10 RIR pullets, and 3 RIR cockerels. You could say that I got to know them quite intimately, as they were in the bathroom of our 40′ coach for that first month.
Prior to our getting these chickens, I had bought all my eggs at the grocery store. As a child, I would go sit in my great-aunts’ chicken coop, hoping one of their hens would come sit in my lap. I don’t recall any of them ever doing that, but I never got discouraged. I was sure one day those chickens would realize I was their friend. So when we brought home all these little chickens some 50 years later, I still thought they would all be my friend. And, many of them were – especially the hens. But once those roosters started to grow up, I wasn’t a friend anymore – I was competition! The first rooster to go to freezer camp was not only attacking me, but was attacking all the hens. I decided three roosters for 18 hens was one too many and making that one Sunday dinner would resolve the issue.
It didn’t. The next one went to freezer camp about a month later. You know the saying about nature abhors a vacuum? Well, I guess he figured there was a vacuum of violence and needed to step up to the mark. Now we were down to one rooster, Mr. Grady. He was my favorite: the first to approach me as a little chick, the first to sit calmly on my lap as he got older, the first to explore new areas.
Until he, too, decided there wasn’t enough drama in the hen house and he needed to add some. He wasn’t rough with the hens, though, so I thought we could just work around his people-aggression. After all, he was only protecting his hens and that’s the job of a rooster. But it kept getting worse. By that time, the chickens were free-ranging all day and just going in their pen at night, so Mr. Grady was always out and about. And he would wait until you turned your back and attack. I still have scars on my legs where he nailed me. I told Barry that Mr. Grady would have to follow the other roos to freezer camp, but he wasn’t ready to make that call. If Mr. Grady goes, who would look after the hens?
One day while I was out of town, Barry was feeding the chickens and Mr. Grady came after him. I saw the light come on over Barry’s head, but he still wasn’t convinced. When I returned home, I took back over the chores. As I was finishing up one evening and heading back to the coach, I heard the rustling of feathers behind me and spun around. Just in time to catch a spur in my thigh. That was it – Mr. Grady’s hours were numbered. By the following evening, he was chillin in the freezer.
The search was on for a replacement rooster, but not another RIR. So what breed? Are all roosters going to be like Mr. Grady and his two nest mates? Would we just have to give up the idea of having roosters (which probably wouldn’t upset our neighbors any) and just accept that our eggs would all be just as delicious if they weren’t fertilized?
Being the computer geek that I am, I decided to research the issue. I was a member of this fantastic forum for people like me (as well as many more folks with years and years of experience with chickens), called BackyardChickens.com. So I asked the experts what breed would be more docile? There were many answers, but one that kept coming up repeatedly was the Ameraucana. I did more research and decided that what I needed was a wheaten Ameraucana cockerel. The rest, as they say, is history. What started out as just having a few backyard chickens has morphed into a full fledged breeding farm; well, mini-full fledged breeding farm.
Under the “chick” category, we have had wheaten and blue wheaten Ameraucanas, Light Brahmas, bantam Buff Cochin, game hens, Black Copper Marans, Blue Laced Red wyandotte, and multiple Easter Eggers (a mix of Ameraucana and another breed, also sometimes called Americana) and various and sundry other breeds. We have now limited our pure-breds to just Ameraucanas and also have Easter Eggers and Olive Eggers as our primary egg-layers for the kitchen.