Birds of a Feather Make Delightful Pets and Provide Food
By Victoria Stewart / For The Chronicle
Chickens continue to grow in popularity both for small farms to provide fresh meat and eggs, and as backyard pets for children and adults.
“They are small enough they are easy to keep in the backyard, and they have interesting personalities just like dogs or cats,” said Pam Watson, of WSU Extension service, who shared her poultry expertise recently during a winter farm event at Centralia College. “Anybody young or old finds chickens easy to handle. Their requirements aren’t too great. People even modify dog houses and put a light in them so the chickens will lay.”
Vivian Johnson, of Oakville, attended the class in hopes of learning about how best to care for her six new “babies” she recently picked up at the feed store.
“I have three araucanas and three Rhode Island reds,” she said. “They won’t start laying until they are 6 months old, and I have them inside the house in the pantry until it gets warm outside.”
This isn’t Johnson’s first foray into chicken raising. One old hen still lives outside where she roosts in a nearby bush.
“Her name is Chicky Bawk Bawk,” Johnson said. “She needs friends. I had others, but they got old and died. And even though I like the idea of free range (without cages and roaming free to find and eat bugs and worms), I have too many predators.”
Johnson had plans to convert an old rabbit hutch into a chicken coop.
“Chickens are born with all the eggs they are going to lay,” Watson said. That number can range from 250 to 320 eggs.
“If you push them and keep lights on them, they will lay all their eggs in three years,” she said.
Without lights, chickens will lay for approximately five years. If a chicken is well cared for, it can continue to live upwards of 10 to 15 years.
Several misconceptions exist about chickens, such as the need to have a rooster to have eggs.
“You don’t need a rooster,” Watson said. “Unless you want to fertilize the eggs, or for protection of the hens.”
Some common popular egg layers include the commercial leghorns, the Plymouth barred rocks, Australorps and the Orpingtons (from Australia), as well as the very common New Hampshire red (often commonly misidentified as the Rhode Island red).
Living on a ‘Ma and Pa Hillbilly Farm’
Suzanne Northcutt of Centralia moved to her farm six years ago. Prior to beginning renovations on the Lincoln Creek area farm, Northcutt and her husband had no previous farm experience.
“We live on five acres and slowly but surely, we are getting the carport completely enclosed for the chickens,” she said.
Their chicken experiment began two years ago.
“I’d never had chickens before, and then we started off with 10 and our dogs killed them all.”
With the next batch of chickens, Northcutt took the extra time to teach their dogs not to kill. The second batch of 10 chickens turned into 35, and some were butchered for meat.
“It’s my dream to grow my own chickens for food,” said Northcutt, a stay-at-home mom to 5-year-old son Michael. Northcutt, who home schools Michael, uses the chicken raising and egg gathering as an opportunity for teaching.
“Michael collects the eggs and he gets a nickel for each egg he collects and so he is learning how many nickels makes a quarter, and then a dollar.”
Along with the chickens, the Northcutts also now have a dairy cow, a breeder pig, several goats and a guard dog to watch over all.
The first chicken home for the Northcutt flock was simply in the garage.
“They were not wanting to stay on the perches and were roosting on the skill saw and the work bench and it was getting really nasty in there fast.”
Now the pig roots in the ground under the perches in the enclosed carport, and makes nice compost for the garden.
“My husband and I are learning how to farm. We’re realizing it’s definitely teamwork when you have a farm,” Northcutt laughed. “This is a Ma and Pa hillbilly farm.”