My life as a "Chicken Tender" began in March of 2019 and it has become a far more rewarding aspect of my life than I had ever imagined.
So, what is a Chicken Tender, you might ask? Well, in my personal dictionary, a "Chicken Tender" is "one who tends-to, takes care of, pampers, spoils, raises or otherwise watches over chickens.
I never gave the idea of raising chickens much thought until I worked at a place where two of my coworkers raised chickens for the eggs. Now that I am the General Manager of a Bed and Breakfast, it just seemed to make sense to give chicken tending a whirl.
Of course, I did a lot of chicken-tending research -- watched a lot of videos and read a lot of books -- and, while it was clearly going to be a lot of extra work, the chickens would eventually save us money by supplying on a daily basis what would normally cost money on a daily basis. Eggs, and not just any eggs. These are free range eggs, the sort that cost an average of $5 per dozen at your local grocery store. When the B&B is at full capacity, I can go through 28 or more eggs preparing breakfast for the guests alone. Add breakfast for staff and for anything that requires eggs as an ingredient and, well, you get the idea.
My first foray into the world of chicken tending was raising 12, two-day old hatchlings. I wrote a few of my own "how-to" blog posts about the whole adventure. You can read them here, here, and here. The breeds we started with (four of each), are Rhode Island Reds, Golden Laced Wyandottes and Amberlinks. Well, actually. I have three Amberlinks and one of what turned out to be a type of Ameraucana. She has green legs and lays green eggs!
(Admit it. You just thought, "and ham.")
While I was warned -- not only by the people I purchased the hatchlings from but in every how-to post, book and video I found on the subject -- none of my little feather-babies perished. I named them (of course I named them) after silver screen Hollywood starlets; Greta Garbo, Rita Hayworth, Shirley Temple... Today, the are incredibly healthy and exceedingly happy.
The Coop and enclosure are, in my humble opinion, the coolest collective set-up I have ever seen and nearly the entire things has been constructed with repurposed wood, windows and decorative treasures gathered from the many storage sheds on the property. In fact, The Coop has become quite a popular attraction with our guests, especially the kids. It is truly my "appy place." There is an awning with a seating area and there are days where I take my morning coffe and sit there for hours just
communing with my feather-babies. Its so soothing to watch them and to listen to them "talk" to each other.
I have planted grasses and trees, used a combination of bark and pine straw to keep the ground more "use friendly," and I have used a host of things to decorate in order to give the flock a beautiful pace to call home. After all, as my husband Tom says... "Happy chicken make awesome eggs!"
There's even a rabbit, the ever adorable Mr. Bun-Bun (AKA: Oscar), who lives with and free-ranges with the chickens.
Anyway, having successfully mothered a dozen hatchlings to hen-hood (and with "me" being "me"), I thought it was time to expand my Chicken Tender expertise. The next phase? Introducing two new chickens into the existing flock.
As it was when I procured my hatchlings, I was warned by every book, video and fellow Chicken Tender that this would be one of if not the most difficult challenges I could undertake. Just like any other established group, be they dogs, cats or even people, the existing clique doesn't always (in fact they rarely) make it easy for "the new kid" to find a place among them. The term "pecking order" -- "a hierarchy of status seen among members of a group of people or animals, originally as observed among hens" -- is a very real and potentially dangerous ritual. In the process of establishing (or sometime claiming) a position in the flock, a chicken can become injured or even killed by the other chickens. While "the girls" were growing up, I observed a lot of squabbles but (thankfully) everyone adjusted to their relative places in a reasonably uneventful manner. Then again, with everyone being two days old, they all grew up together. They have only known life as a group. When adding a stranger to the group all of that goes right out the window.
Still, undaunted (and with "me" being "me"), I set out to find the perfect new additions to the flock.
Meet Knick-Knack and Paddy-Wack. (Admit it. You just thought it... "give the dog a bone..."
They are Bantam (meaning, they are miniature versions of the breed) Cochins. I purchased them from E. E. Vaughn's, my favorite local farm/hardware store in downtown Lawrenceville, when they were just entering adulthood. I thought they were just so darn adorable! It isn't just their small stature. It's their feet! They have feathers on their feet! The look like little snowshoes! Their feathers are long and flowing and they glisten with an iridescence that is awesome on a sunny day. The things is, when I bought them, I didn't know if they were male or female. But it was a gamble I decided to take. I had already fallen in love with them so, as with all of my other "kids" (dogs, cats and rabbits), they are not "disposable" or "return for a complete refund if you aren't completely satisfied" acquisition. They are what they are and, because I chose to bring them home, they were immediately part of "the family" and any need for adjustment to make this work would be 100% my responsibility.
Prior of bringing the Bantams home I ordered a small coop to place inside the enclosure. It's important, I learned right away, to keep the new kids separated from the established flock during the initial introductions to prevent them from being attacked. Of course, "the girls" were curious and the new kids were nervous. They spent many hours checking each other out through the chicken wire of the little coop. Thankfully, I saw no signs of aggression.
When I would let the girls out for free ranging in the mornings I would shut the gate and let the Bantams out for some exploration and excersize time in the enclosure. Bun-Bun became absolutely transfixed with the golden Cochin and followed it everywhere, bouncing around it in happy circles as he tried to make friends. It was the cutest thing to watch.
I followed this program for about a week and, after that, I began allowing one or two of "the girls" into the enclosure for some "meet and greet" time. During these introductions I remained in the enclosre with them -- with the "chicken staff" I created in hand at all times, just in case I had to break up a fight. It was during this phase I discovered that not one, but both of the Bantams were roosters.
Nothing like making an already challenging endeavor more difficult.
One by one and then two or three, I patiently made sure each of the hens spent some time getting to know the new kids. There were a couple of squabbles. Shirley -- the top hen in the pecking order -- gave Knick-Knack a fit. But Knick-Knack encouraged the tension a bit. He kept challenging Shirley for the top spot but, in the end... she won, and he eventually accepted his submissive role.
It took about a month, but all is well. The hens and roos, while not all-time besties, are getting along quite nicely. They all sleep in the same coop... with Bun-Bun, who seems to have taken it upon himself to play the role of protector for his new little feather-brothers. If any of the hens start giving them a hard time, here comes Bun-Bun... charging at them to chase them away. Even my German Sheapherd, Einstein, hangs out with the chickens while they free range, keeping watch and keeping them safe. He does mess with them now and then just because he can. He'll stalk them and chase them and send them off screaching and running in all directions. Then he'll trot away... and I swear he's laughing.
The Roos have begun feeling a bit "frisky" these past couple of weeks. Paddy-Wack has even hopped onto the back of a couple of the hens. But, with his short little legs, it just doesn't seem to be working very well. Nevertheless, I have started candling my eggs. I need to make sure I'm not taking fertilized eggs from beneath the warmth and safety of the "mother hen." So far, so good. I'm not quite ready to enter the "incubate and hatch" stage of Chicken Tendering. But, then again... I didn't think I was ready for a pair of roosters either!
In the end, like I always say... "It's all good."