Monday, 26 March 2007

Chicken Rearing 101

Your Complete Guide to How Not to Raise Chickens
By Nola Kelsey

Capon: A castrated male used for meat. [How much could that yield?]
Pullet: A female chicken under one year old.
Hen: A female chicken over one year of age
Rooster: A male chicken over one year of age.

Raising Chickens for the first time can be intimidating. When I first called the Feed Shop, I was trying to sound like a pro. I asked, "Do you sell pullets?" "Yes", the man replied. "Are they all females?" It's been an uphill battle ever since.

Pullet parenthood is as much of an adventure as child rearing, only with more feces per pound of body weight. However, I've been reading quite a bit on poultry matters. [Yes, my coolness just turned over in its grave.] So if I am correct and I am quite certain I am not, here is how chicken rearin' goes.

Go to your local feed store and purchase $10 worth of chicks and $50 worth of food and supplies. Don't forget the water dispensers. Buying the metal ones, never plastic is always advised. Must be country humor. I have yet to see a metal one.

Next, place the chicks somewhere sheltered, like a bedroom closet. Toss in some highly flammable straw or wood shavings and promptly dangle a glowing heat lamp just above them. Note to self: Update homeowner's policy.

For the next several weeks feed them 3 lbs of food per day and remove 4 lbs of sh*t per day from the closet. Despite all logic the birds get bigger. As the adult feathers grow in be sure to clip one of their wings. That is one per bird, not just one wing total. If clipping is done late chicks will nest in your toilet. This is a bad thing.

Clipping can be accomplished by tossing your scissors and your body into the heaping mound of chicks, feces and straw. Grab a wiggling screeching bird from the bile pile. Restrain it with one hand. Stretch the wing out with your second hand. Clip off 50% of the wings outer ten feathers with your third hand.

As the birds grow adjust the heat light temperature down by one degree per day. No, this is not actually possible. That's not my point. You start at 100 degrees for hatchlings then continue down by one degree per day until your bedroom is a minimum of three degrees cooler than the spring blizzard outside your window.

Once you have frozen your ear to your semi-cannibalistic down pillow and the chicks have grown their adult feathers, they can be moved outside to the coop. I estimate the initial closet rearing stage to have taken five years.

Before the move, experience the Joy of Wing Clipping one more time. Feather clipping never works the first time. No one knows why. Still, after all the hassle you probably don't want them to fly the coop in under sixty seconds. Of course, if you're like me, by this time you may be inclined to pack them each a lunch and leave a stack of Greyhound tickets by the open coop gate.

Regarding habitat construction: Hen houses and chicken coops are a competitive art form. There are a myriad of websites showing off architectural designs from Chicken Chateaus to Bird Bordellos. The meticulous craftsmanship makes my own home look like - well - like a chicken coop.

Always fashionable, I went with a shabby chic motif for my coop. The nesting boxes are an eclectic mix of stolen milk crates affixed to the wall by anything in arms reach. As for the coop itself, there is a gift for tight chicken wire which eludes me. Quite frankly, my first attempt at a coop looks like Dr. Seuss dropped a hit of acid, blasted some Jefferson Starship and rolled around on the wire with every Who in Whoville. I think I'll keep it.

Inferior design aside, I ultimately learned a thing or two. The nesting boxes are supposed to be up off the ground. That is correct. For those of you keeping score you just spent two weeks cutting back the birds flight feathers only to hang their houses in the sky. It's just sick.

Higher than the nest boxes, you are to build a roost. This is where the birds crap at night so they do not crap on your breakfast eggs. Of course the roost is usually OVER the nesting boxes, so whatever you do, don't use those perforated plastic milk crates.

For young birds maintain a heat light in the hen house. Then on cooler nights an animal with a brain the size of a bulimic toe nail clipping will make the conscious decision to forgo your nest boxes, bypass the instinctual roost and leap into a tanning bed.

And finally there is the feed regime. I asked several experts and read up on feeding as well. Make sure to give your chickens starter formula, mash, growth formula, start & grow, brood formula, grit, no grit, scraps, no scraps, goat placenta, nothing suggested on the internet, tetramyaicn, no antibiotics, medicated starter, non-medicated starter and never, ever switch in-between.

I may not be Queen of the Coop yet, but I'm working on it. Though I am a zoologist and I still know Birds 101. Here are two myths I can help with. First, you do not need a rooster to get eggs. Most folk, especially those who have never owned chickens, will advise you on chickens. Each will insist you need a rooster for a while to do his manly duties. Then you can slip him in the pot. As appealing as this concept is, your pot is a separate issue.

Roosters are only needed to make fertile eggs. Hens are all that is needed to make breakfast eggs. Fertile eggs are just peachy if raising chicks was such a joy the first time you want to repeat the whole freakin' process. In addition there is always the risk of breaking a fertilized egg open and finding a 50% formed chick fetus hitting your hot skillet. Yum! Years of therapy will follow.

To keep it straight in your mind consider this: You are going about your life. Suddenly massive balls of calcium start stacking up inside your abdomen. Are you going to hold on to them just because you have not had sex lately?

The second bird myth is totally unrelated so I thought I would mention it. Penguins occur in nature from the Equator on Southward. That is down to the Antarctica, not the Arctic! No, they do not hang out with Polar Bears who live in the Arctic. No, you did not see them when you worked in Alaska, in the Arctic. Those were puffins. No, I am not sorry you look stupid to all those folks you told penguin tales to.

Yes, some penguin species even reside on the Galapagos Islands at the equator (Cold weather would kill them), not floating around on icebergs - and not in the Arctic! Yes, I realize my eggs are not all in one basket. Delusional, close-minded people who insist you need a rooster to fertilize your penguin eggs so polar bears won't lose their food supply drove me crazy!

Satirist Nola L. Kelsey is the author of Bitch Unleashed: The Harsh Realities of Goin' Country & coauthor of the wicked political/self-help, satire Keeping the Masses Down. Both are available everywhere fun books are sold. More of Nola's work may be read at:


Anonymous said...

Hi Gina,

I don't think I have ever laughed so hard in awhile. Right now I am raising 3 little devils in a box in my livingroom- These little pullets are my first ever at raising chickens What was I thinking is something I ask myself on a daily basis as I clean out more poop than my 3 full grown boxers make !! Thank you for the letter look forward to the next one.


Anonymous said...

thanks a heap for sending me this email , !! I needed a good laugh . I am about to go out to my little farm and get on with the building of the chicken coop [ more like a cabin ] will send you a foto when I am done and have installed the troops .
Regards and thanks again .................peter

Anonymous said...

That was the funniest thing I've ever read! lol Connie p.s I did find
metal water dispensers!

Anonymous said...

This was a hoot. Thanks so much.

Anonymous said...

Thank you...that was hilarious!!!

Anonymous said...

OMG! I laughed myself hoarse when I read this! You hit the nail right square on the head! Still LMAO!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the pearls of wisdom....I laughed till I cried...great advise after reading 14 books on chicken raisen!...Thank you,
Margaret Pass

Anonymous said...

Loved it! Very tongue n' beak.
Best, Laurie

Anonymous said...

All I wanted to reply is that I just printed this out and put it on the fridge. LOL. My husband is JUST finishing the chicken coop door. My main chicken, Lucy, is sitting back with a mai-tai and a cigarette, watching the progress.

I absolutely loved Chicken Rearing 101!
Kim Mattson

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Oh, boy, I nearly died laughing, and may have changed my mind. I gotta send this to my husband's email, so he can see what we are getting into. He still wants to do it this year, but I don't see how we can. But, we'll keep you posted.

Anonymous said...

Hi Gina ~
Oh my gosh! I have never laughed so hard. We are purchasing my chickens this weekend, so I'll wait til afterwards to let my husband read this!
Thanks for the laugh!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Gina, this was a (LOL)...Such a great way to start the day...

Anonymous said...

I also went to the feed store to buy chicks. I bought 3 black ones and 3 red ones. I had no idea what the breeds were just the color. I put the chicks in very large containers in the family room and kept them warm with the expensive light that I got from the same feed store.

For some reason the red chicken grew much faster than the black ones, who knew that they might grow up to be different sizes. The weather turned warm and I decided that it was time for the chickens to go outside. I started with the bigger red ones. I got them in the wire pen that we originally had for a Basset Hound, there was a very nice dog house that should easily convert to a hen house. The red chickens seemed to like the pen, they were scratching around looking for their favorite, potato bugs. They were doing great so I got the black chickens and put them in the pen.

I noticed a large bird flying overhead and was sure that it must be a chicken hawk so I stayed in the pen to make sure that the chickens were safe. I soon discovered that, although I was in the chicken pen the smaller black chickens were on the outside of the pen. They were small enough to get through the wire. I jumped up, circled around and got the chicken herded back in the pen. I was able to catch 2 of them before they escaped again but was unable to catch the 3rd. I searched all day for the poor lost chick, there was never another peep. I went back to the feed store and got a replacement, when I returned home the pen held the 3 red chickens as well as the wayward lost chick. That evening the neighborhood cat was in the pen and the chickens were under the hen house scared to death. We covered the pen with bird net and hoped that the chickens stay in and the chicken hawk and the cats stay out. If the chickens, black or red, ever lay eggs that first one would have cost me about $100, so far.

Anonymous said...

Dear Gina,That was great and thanks for the tips..Life can sometimes be a B****. keep up the great work...Toni Walton

Anonymous said...

You are a FUNNY person! LOL! Made me laugh. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hi Gina,

Many thanks for taking the time to read this email, in between all the chicken excretia and feather clippings.

You have inspired me, I now know what to expect, I am under no illusion that this is living the 'Good Life' (an old english comedy serious, couple who want to live life green to the max of starvation).

I am about to put up garden shed for chicken house. It is great to hear that I am not the only one who knows about the birds and bees! I thought it was just the English.

I am in the UK near the sea and would like to thank you

Karen Orchard
Don't cluck like a chicken and dance like no body is watching..

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh was that funny!! Thanks for sharing. Makes me wonder if I REALLY want to attempt "Chickenhood".

Anonymous said...

Thanks Gina! This was awesome :) We will be starting our chick odyssey this summer and if we have any colorful adventures we will pass them on. Everytime we start a "simple" project it ends up being rocket science but hopefully with all your practical tips and funny advice, it will at least be a lot of fun, pity the poor chickens hahaha

Kathy Powers

Anonymous said...

This is fabulous. I busted a gut reading it. B

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness that was so funny and true. I got a good belly laugh from that.
Thank you, Bobbi Jo

Anonymous said...

Now this is funny would only be better if you were starting with eggs to incubate. Thanks for the smile

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this - most amusing (and a little alarming!)



Anonymous said...

Hi Gina,
There is nothing better than starting the week off with a good cackle - er chuckle - see, now you've got to me !
I've read some fowl stories, but that takes the cake!
Yes, been down the track with some very enlightened friends who've said exactly that: " ie - no rooster, how come you have eggs? !
Obviously no country is immune - maybe they have a form of "chook" flu waiting to hatch - god help them !

Must go, I work from home so better try & earn a quid to keep the buggers in the feed they are accustomed to - yes we know who rules the roost, & with a wife to boot (metaphorical speaking of course), I'm definitely bottom of the food chain !

Cheerful Chuckles



PS: must check out that author !

Anonymous said...

Hi Gina!!

Thanks for this. I got onto Nolas Website, and it is hilarious. I will look for her book. I am a Canadian living in rural New Zealand, and would like to have some chicks, so that is how I ended up on the self sufficient life website.

Keep up the good work!!!


Mayhem And Miracles said...

I came here just vaguely interested in a first introduction to general chicken knowledge. I certainly had no intention of leaving a comment. But as a writer, I have to tell you that I have not snorted-out-loud, doubled-over, squint-eyed laughed like this in a long, long time! This is a hilarious post! (And I even learned a thing or two about chickens.) "Hot sex" for chickens?! BWAHAHAHAHAH!