In the spring of 2009, I was getting my day-old chick order together—meat birds and the start of a new laying flock. We had taken a couple of years off from chickens and were ready to get going again.
So out came that most beautifully illustrated Murray MacMurray catalogue. Choices abound! Big, little, feathered feet or not, all colors of the rainbow, eggs in brown, white or green shades—the varieties seemed endless.
We had some attributes in mind—standard size birds, brown eggs, and winter hardy. So I made my list and when I called, it was to find that my top three would not be available when we wanted them (it was very last minute). So we ended up with Black Australorps, aka, The Best Chickens Ever (as we came to discover).
When the day old babies arrived, I let Margaret have the day off from school so she could come to the PO with me to pick them up and hold the peeping box in her lap all the way home. She got to dip their beaks first in the food, then the water. It was clearly love at first sight on their part! We still have the majority of that flock, along with an infusion of “young birds”. Those original Australorps completely changed how we view chickens—they are mellow, friendly, calm, and curious. They don’t peck each other, steal feathers or freak out at random moments. None of them leap out at you, or try to peck when you enter the pen—this is completely UNlike other chickens we’ve had in the past! And, if you want to pick one up, they let you.
Margaret trained them, right from the start, by tapping on the food container before dishing it out. Now, whenever she goes outside, they come to see her. If they are out of sight and she taps on the compost bucket, black chickens come running and flying from all directions, and then fall in-line behind her as she marches down to the pen—just like the Pied Piper!
Of course all is not Eden just because the chickens are mellow—they still poop all over the place and excavate dust baths wherever it suits them—since they like soft soil, my flower beds are a constant target, and this winter the new go-to spot is the woodshed, with it’s soft dirt floor. And the “Young Birds” have a thing for Adirondack chairs and garden benches—especially in the morning. They perch all over the chairs chatting softly—all that’s missing are the knitting needles and the teacups!
Chickens generally are not too keen on snow, but this winter has been open enough that they are out most days—they will walk on the snow if it’s necessary to get someplace they really want to go, but they still don’t like it.
I just realized I haven’t said one word about WHY we have chickens in the first place—EGGS! These birds took a little break in December and January while they molted and grew in some new shiny black and iridescent green feathers—and then they were right back to it—we often see 5 or 6 eggs a day, from a flock of 14 birds, at least ½ of whom are over three years old, and the rest are almost two. Margaret has a little sideline selling surplus eggs, which was pretty lucrative for her last summer—we also froze a LOT of eggs (cracked, mixed, salt added and frozen in dixie cups)–we never have to buy eggs anymore. And we do NOT supplement with a light in the chicken pen, either.
So if chickens are in your future, as pets (which I never understood before) or for eggs—or both–check out the Black Australorp!