Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Backyard Flocks

We are in our third year of having our own backyard flock of chickens.  We enjoy fresh eggs from our gals every week and sometimes are able to share eggs with family and neighbors.  Nothing beats fresh eggs.  They far surpass store bought eggs from hens crowded in small cages and fed a feed that contains ingredients you would never want to feed your family.  Hens that are free-ranged, even in a small area, and fed organic feed produce a much better quality product for your family.
The first year baby chicks in the chicken tractor

We started out with five chickens given to us by a friend.  We raised them from chicks and ended up with one rooster, which, we butchered.  We live in town and, while the sound of a rooster crowing is somewhat a comforting and lovely sound, I wasn't sure the neighbors would agree.  So he still served a purpose and fed our family.  That is one my youngest is unaware of....so keep it quiet.  :)  Our hens began laying eggs for us that winter on the date of the first big ice storm we had.  You can't imagine the excitement that one small green egg brought to us that day. 

The next summer we acquired 6 more chicks and raised them and ended up with two roosters.  I decided that we would raise our own chicks from our flock.  What could be a better science project for a homeschool family?  Since I was able to keep them separated from the hens and close them up at night where they wouldn't make so much racket crowing in the early morning, we kept them and in the spring of this year I had the kids choose which rooster they wanted to breed with our hens.  They chose Rusty, a beautiful black and green Ameracauna mix, and in late March Rusty was re-introduced to his harem.  We left them all together for a couple of weeks and then began collecting eggs in April to incubate.  I didn't want all the hens to go broody and want to sit on the nest.....that would mean no eggs to eat.  The other guy?....well, he was butchered. And the kids know about this one. It was part of the learning process. 

So, I borrowed my cousin's incubator.  He gave me 3 eggs from his hens and the rest came from our own.  We began with around 22 eggs.  I prepared the incubator and let it run for 2 days before we started the incubation process.  This helps to make sure you get the heat/humidity regulated.  It takes approximately 21 days for chicken eggs to begin hatching.  After 7 days you candle them to check for fertilization and those that show no signs are discarded.  At 14 days you candle them again to check for continued embryo growth.  During this entire process the eggs must be turned several times a day, just as the hen would turn them, to keep the membrane from drying and sticking to the shell.  After turning the eggs by hand, several times daily, for 18 days.....well, I highly recommend investing in an egg turner.  Especially if this is something you might consider doing more than one time.  :)

On day 18 you stop turning the eggs and leave them alone for the final 3 days, except to check temp/humidity levels.  It is very important that the humidity is high during the hatching time.  It helps the chick get out the egg much more easily.  One of the most cool things about being able to observe the eggs in the incubator is that towards the end you can see the chicks move the egg as they turn and prepare to peck their first hole so they can push on the egg and begin the hatching out process.  And, once the hole is pecked open you can hear them peeping. 
First egg to hatch

Well, on day 21 we all waited and watched expectantly.  Then I realized that I put the eggs in the incubator at 6:00 pm the day I did this and that our hatching would probably occur through the night while we were all sleeping.  At least the kids were able to see the beginnings of the holes being pecked in the eggs before they were too tired to stay up any longer.  The end result was 12 successful hatches and 10 that lived. 
He is now a large rooster.

2nd to hatch

This one is now a pretty hen.

Snuggled up after drying out

Being the mom that I am, I slept on the couch.  Our chickens began to hatch that 21st day and continued through the 25th day. 

From the first day I put the eggs in the incubator I felt like I was the mother.  Their lives were literally in my hands.  I had responsibility.  Some would say, oh they are just chickens, but, they are God's creation and I took His creation out of it's natural environment and took responsibility for their lives.  I took it very seriously.  Each time I candled the egg was special.  It was exciting to see the blood veins and the small dot in the egg that proved life was growing inside the egg.  On the 14th day you could see a small chicken curled up inside the egg and see it move around.  This life was sitting in my hand.  The kids really enjoyed observing this also but I don't think they felt quite as connected as I did.

As the chicks incubated, I pulled out my chicken handbook.  I read all about what was going on and shared with the kids.  We were able to view pictures of each phase of their growing.  I learned something new about why a hen cackles and makes so much noise when she has laid her egg.  I always thought she was just proud of herself and showing off.  Well, it's actually a protective instinct.  They make such a fuss and  so much noise to draw attention away from the nest and to themselves in order to protect the egg.  They too know the egg brings a great responsibility.  It's a wonder they ever let us gather the eggs from them.  So glad they have no clue why we're doing it.

The Lord also spoke to me through this process.  He brought to my mind the passage of scripture in Matthew 23:37 - O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.  Look, your house is left to you desolate, for I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord."  After reading this passage before an intercession set for Israel at my church I wept.  I understood how Jesus felt about the people of Israel.  He wept and cried for them, knowing that they were rejecting Him.  His desire was to gather them, hold them, protect them, love them, just like the protective and loving mother hen, and they pushed Him away.  They didn't want the shelter of his wings.  He hurt.  His longing and desire so strong.  He carried that love with Him to the cross as He died for all mankinds sin.  Knowing He could not return until His people cried out to Him.  Until they cried Baruch Haba Bashem Adonai...Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.  I urge everyone reading this to intercede for the people of Israel.  They need your prayers and they need the shelter of the wings of our Lord.  Think on these things Jesus shared with us to help us relate to how he felt.  I mean, Jesus, comparing himself to a hen?  In those days people understood agriculture and farming.  They were close to it.  He spoke what they understood.  We need to understand those things too.  We need to feel what He feels, pray what He prays, love what He loves, despise what He despises.  I know you didn't see this coming....but I hope it speaks to you as it did to me.


  1. Stacy, I only know you a little, but you are such an amazing woman. I love seeing your adventures with chickens, and how you relate it all back to God. We have one rooster and two hens, and I'm planning on letting their first batch of eggs get fertilized and let them sit on them. Our rooster crowed for the first time today!! I think that means they're all getting old enough, we should have eggs soon! We can't keep our rooster, but he's BEAUTIFUL. I'm really intimidated about killing and plucking him, although not opposed to actually eating him. I may put him up on craigslist and see if anyone wants him alive before we get to that. We can't keep roosters in Rogers city limits.

  2. Thank you Tracy! Just so you know...I always get someone else to butcher for me. Doesn't bother me to eat them either. Just not quite ready to butcher them myself yet.