One night, in late September, we brought home 34 chickens. Of course, it is not as simple as bringing home 34 chickens. It was an after dark mission, on back roads, in a rainstorm to collect a bunch of feral chickens living in a dairy barn that had to go. The instructions we received were “bring boxes and muck boots, we are a working dairy farm.” These chicken were free if you took them all, and we are always game for an adventure. We naively thought we could build our egg layer flock at no cost. We are wiser now, but at the time, a bunch of free chickens seemed like a good idea.
So, we arrived, armed with headlamps, muck boots, an assortment of nets we found in our barns, and five sets of hands. Sadly for the sake of adventure, most of the chickens were already packed into crates when we arrived. We still had to transfer them to our boxes, an adventure in itself, because, remember these are feral chickens. We reached into cages and cornered and captured whatever body part we could catch as these wild chickens squawked, and flapped and carried on like a bunch of screaming monkeys in the spin cycle of a washing machine. The flock also included a fierce mother hen sitting on a nest of eggs which we carefully collected and packed in straw before we raced home in the dark- heat blasting, hoping that against all odds those eggs would survive the move.
Once home, the real adventure began. We tucked all the smaller chicks into an old bathtub in the greenhouse, hastily covered with a piece of wire fencing. The rest of the larger chicken we released in to the barn room we had prepared for them. Quickly we realized we had a problem. The 34 chickens included a high number of roosters- just old enough to be interested in the ladies and instigate fierce bloody battles with one another. We had too much testosterone in that little room. There was one fully mature rooster- with a bold beautiful green tail, that was the now disputed champion and was so quick and fierce he was dubbed “Mother Clucker”. We realized we had to isolate the roosters and quick before someone got killed. So back into the boxes went all the obvious boy chickens.
The next day we had some decisions to make about our many Roos- who would stay and who would go. We were peeking into cardboard boxes to study the group, when one runty little rooster made a bid for freedom and burst out of the cardboard crack like a jack in the box. This little guy was a tidy little bantam with salt and pepper feathering and copper fringe. But he was now loose on the property and no amount of chasing could bring him back. In a matter of minutes, Everett had named him ‘the President’ and we decide he could stay- if he minded his manners. By nightfall he had found our three lovely black hens and proceeded to follow them, before he discreetly tucked himself into their tiny little coop- curled up at their feet like a faithful dog. During the day this scruffy little rooster would chase after his hens. He was quite the alarmist and would panic if a bird flew over, or the dog walked by, or if the hens would come to us for food. But he had earned his place and was allowed to stay. For now.
Meanwhile, the mother hen was still diligently sitting on her eggs, and we were discreetly watching to see if any would hatch. Mama Hen was fiercely protective and would puff herself up and hiss at us when we fed and watered her. I’ve never been scared of a chicken before, but I’ve also never heard a chicken growl. If I had any doubts that chicken are descended from dinosaurs, they have been erased from my mind. This hen was a small and feathered velociraptor. One morning a little head and beak appeared under her, and then another! It was a full week before we saw the whole brood peeping around. There were, twelve, thirteen, no fourteen adorable baby chicks. She hatched ALL 14 eggs. As these chicken grew, it was apparent that they too, were a bit on the wild and feral side, despite our best efforts to hand feed and win them over. In the end, we kept only six of her babies. The rest had a bit too much feral dinosaur in them… and were given away to other farms with a bit more tolerance for this kind of crazy.
Of the original 48 chickens we brought home that in egg or crate,- we only kept 12 of the hens who were not entirely bonkers. The experience gave us the chance to perfect out chicken wrangling skills and we had some great laughs while trying to catch them- sometimes out of mid air. The next time we get chickens, I think we will just order them in the mail like normal people. It’s a lot less drama than bringing home a mixed breed of feral barnyard chickens and trying to manage their lunatic tendencies and the housing challenges of chickens who do not play well with others.