Category Archives: Pets

The Rooster Delima

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series Backyard Chickens

So, you want backyard chickens, but you don’t know about the rooster bit. . . so, here’s the deal with roosters:

The pros of having a rooster:

Some of the pros for having a rooster in your flock are:

  • You need one if you want to get new chicks every year.

If you want a truly sustainable flock, you have to have at least one.  A good rule of thumb for the rooster to hen ratio is that for fertile eggs, you need at least one rooster for every 20 hens.  Most backyard flocks are small, since city regulations often limit the number to as little as 6 chickens.

  • Roosters will protect your flock from predators.

This may be true out in the country where your chickens have more room to roam, however in the city where your chickens are probably more confined to a small area in your yard, this isn’t so much the case, especially if they are in an enclosed coop at night.

  • Fertile eggs are more nutritious and Fertile eggs taste better than infertile eggs.

This is highly debatable, and I have yet to see any conclusive evidence that either of these claims are true.

  • Hens lay more eggs when there is a rooster around.

My dad always said that having roosters helped the hens lay more frequently, but I haven’t really noticed a difference without. My hens still lay nearly 1 egg per day in the laying season.

The cons of having a rooster:

  • They are aggressive

The degree of aggressiveness depends on the breed, so if you have small children, you would want to consider not having a rooster, or at least having a more docile breed of rooster, but even the more ‘docile’ breeds are more aggressive in the spring and summer because it is breeding season, and even ‘docile’ breeds like the Rhode Island Reds can be very aggressive. The rooster that inspired the  name of my blog was a Rhode Island Red.

For a list of chicken breeds and characteristics, click here to see Henderson’s Handy-Dandy Chicken Chart

  • They crow

supposedly larger breeds crow less often than the smaller bantam breeds, with a lower pitched crow, but they are also louder. This is a problem if your city has a noise ordinance. You could silence them by having their voice box cut, but to me, that is animal cruelty.

  • They eat as much as hens, but don’t lay eggs.

I think that it is ideal to have a rooster, but in the city where your neighbors are apt to complain about the noise, the best use for a rooster is mean rooster soup.

The Continuing Chicken Saga

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Backyard Chickens

So, one morning I am woken to the sound of crowing. And so I think, OK, one of the 5 chicks turns out to be a rooster, no biggie. But I could never catch the crowing one at it. In the meantime, hubby is getting more and more irritated by the crowing in the morning, so I am all the while spying on them to see if I can catch the one crowing because I can’t tell by just looking because they are still pretty young. As I am watching them, I start noticing that three of the ‘hens’ which I was told were sexed at the factory, and were 99% guaranteed to be hens, (I asked him three or four times, and he was getting irritated — probably the guy had something he wasn’t telling me) seemed to be taller, skinnier, and were growing tufts of feathers out of their ears. Their tail feathers looked different too, longer than the others, and they were starting to fight each other, fluffing up their feathers and flying a couple of feet off the ground and attacking each other with their feet and pecking. Seemed really roosterly to me. So we packed up the three of them and hauled them out to my brother-in-law’s out in the country. They were having some grasshopper problems and thought the roosters would be happy to take care of it for them.

Problem solved, right?


The very next morning, I am woken again by crowing. And so after watching the two remaining chicks, I could not see a bit of difference between the two. I finally found a lady on a farm nearby who said that she would identify the rooster for me, and take it off my hands. We paid her a visit, traded the rooster for two hens, (one was blind in one eye) and came home with the other one, who she said was definitely a hen, plus the two new ones, and she gave me some very helpful tips on how to identify young roosters.

Problem solved for sure this time, right?


The next day there was no crowing and I spent one blissful day thinking that the problem had been settled once and for all. But the next day . . . you guessed it. Crowing!!!

At least I don’t feel so dumb anymore, because she was a very experienced expert and she couldn’t tell for sure if it was a rooster or a hen . . .

But, here I am, having paid for 5 hens and raising them thinking I would be getting eggs soon, and then I find out that I got cheated by a lousy sneak thief. I thought about taking them all back to his house and turning them loose in his yard. But it’s really not the chicken’s fault that they turned out to be roosters, so now I have one last rooster. Even the breeds were wrong that he told me — one of the identical roosters he had said was an aracauna, and the other he had told me was a black wyandotte.  They were both silver laced wyandottes. Anyway, if for some reason the two hens this other lady gave me turn out to be crowers, she said that she would trade them for hens. Meanwhile until I can get rid of this one, I keep hoping the neighbors don’t get so irritated that they call the police, since our area is not zoned to allow roosters. 🙁

So there you have the whole sordid story.

The Proper Care and Feeding of Chickens

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Backyard Chickens

Chickens are probably one of the easiest pets to take care of. As long as you supply them with food, shelter, and water, they will stay around and mostly take care of themselves. They do not do well with just one. They are flock animals and get lonely, so you should have at least two. If you have a garden, you need to create some type of barrier to prevent them from eating it, or you need to keep them in a pen. They are happiest if they have a large fenced in area (to keep them out of neighbors yards or out of the street) where they can run free, and they do need a small shelter with something that they can perch on. This keeps them safe from preditors like hawks, skunks, and the neighbor’s dog and also allows them a safe, dry place to rest that resembles the old habitat of their ancestors –tree branches–to satisfy their need to perch on a limb. Perching in trees is not really something that domestic chickens do, but they do need to perch on something!

You can buy chicken feed at the store, or you can just buy a mixture of grains and mix your own feed. When I was growing up my dad would just take wheat and dig out a shallow space in a small section of dirt, about four feet square, and he would pour in a layer of wheat. Then he would cover it up and water it really good. After a few days the grain sprouts and we would just dig up a couple of shovelfuls and toss it in to the chicken yard. Chickens love wheat or barley grass, so if you actually let it grow right in the place where they will be, they will graze on it for several days. If you want to do this, you have to keep them out of it until it is grown enough for them to eat, or they will dig it up before it has a chance to grow.

That and plenty of bugs got us enough eggs for our whole family (there were 9 kids at that time) Another thing that I have considered, since chickens require plenty of protein to keep up egg production, is to raise earthworms or maybe composting worms like red wrigglers, which are very prolific. You could also use traps to catch snails or grasshoppers, which are really abundant here in Utah. If you don’t provide them with access to plenty of bugs or other protein, you should buy laying pellets or chicken mask that has a high protein content, or they  will not lay as well.

The problem with pellets or mash (for me, anyway) is that I don’t know exactly what is in them, and I don’t like the idea of feeding my hens food that is not naturally grown. I am really sensitive to eggs, and certain brands of eggs when I eat them give me food poisoning symptoms. I think if we are what we eat, then chickens are what they eat, and if they are eating the equivalent of Twinkies day in and day out, then they will be more prone to disease and their eggs are not going to be as healthy for us.

Another thing to think about while feeding your chickens, is that chickens actually also need plenty of fresh greens. They can decimate an entire garden in less than two days (trust me 🙁 I have seen it.) Spinach or beet greens are both really good, because they are great sources of iron and calcium, and they are really easy to grow. You can grow them in batches all summer long, starting them a few weeks apart so you will have fresh ones all year round. In the hot part of the summer you will want them to be partly shaded so they don’t bolt as quickly. Also, if you grow them yourself, you will know for sure that they are truly organic.

Another good source of greens for chickens would be lambs quarters, which grow wild everywhere here. You probably have them growing in your yard even. (You can read about them here at the Veggie Gardening Tips blog)

Another thing that you can do is save bits of produce like the outer leaves on lettuce that you don’t use, strawberry tops (they LOVE those) cantaloupe rinds, and other greens to feed them. The kids love to take these little treats out so much that once they took my entire green salad that I had just made for dinner. I was putting the food on the table when I discovered that the salad had just vanished! It is not hard to make sure that chickens get all the nutrition that they need, and you shouldn’t have to rely on a store bought pellet or grain mix to have great results with very healthy chickens and plenty of eggs!

Our Backyard Chickens

This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series Backyard Chickens

Having chickens in our backyard has been really fun, especially for the kids. They love the chicks, and want picture-049to feed them and play with them all the time. It is a challenge sometimes to keep the kids out of the coop so that the chicks have some time to scratch in the dirt, run in the grass, and eat bugs and snails – all the fun stuff that chicks like to do. . . this is Bee with her favorite chick, Rose. (Rose is an Aracauna and will lay blue or green eggs.) We have been collecting one egg nearly every day since the beginning of April from our black bantam, Gertie, and the kids get really excited about bringing that egg in every day. I think it is really good for them to see where eggs come from. These chicks won’t lay yet for quite a while, but they really make great pets.

picture-055The one problem that I do have (other than keeping the cat at bay) is keeping the chickens out of the garden. Gertie loves the corn, and has eaten the tops off of almost all of the little corn seedlings since they came up about two weeks ago. Because of this, I am afraid that the corn is a little behind in its growth. I have also had to re-plant some of the peas and quite a few other things. The one thing that she hasn’t eaten are the onions 🙂 One thing that helps is that we dumped some wheat out onto the ground and let it grow — they really love the wheatgrass, and they have eaten it down quite a bit. I keep it watered so it keeps growing back, and every time I let them out, that is the first thing they go to. I am thinking of building a little run so that they can be outside without fear of the cat getting them, as well as skunks and hawks. This would also keep them in one part of the yard, so that I won’t have to worry about my garden. Then I can put a little ramp up to the coop and they can

Zee and His Chick Ruby

Zee and His Chick Ruby

come in and out when they want without me having to open the door for them and then worry about forgetting to put them back in at night.

The chicks are growing fast. They don’t need the heat lamp at night any more, and are getting to where they can jump out of the coop on their own. They like to play games where they chase after eachother and jump into the air flapping their wings. They can actually lift off of the ground a little. I’m thinking I may need to clip their wings after a while to keep them from jumping the fence into the neighbors yard. Now wouldn’t that be a dandy chase?

Looks Like Lunch to Me

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Backyard Chickens

Since our chicks have been out of the coop more and more in this nice sunny weather we’ve been picture-054having, I have had to be extra watchful of the cat . . . the chicks are pets, but they look like lunch to her. This is our cat Peppermint Schnapps, so named because of her shockingly green eyes and the fact that we rescued her from a bar where the drunks were making a game of trying to throw her into the rottweiler kennel that was next door. After a few nights of this, the bar owner called me and asked if I would please take her before she was killed. She is very independent and takes care of herself, but she also wants to be where people are, which explains why she didn’t just run away from the bar . . . it was the only inhabited building for quite a distance.

picture-0591One of the first things she did after we moved here was to make a quick dinner out of a nest of baby robins that I had been watching for a few days with the hopes that I could use the experience as a kind of science-project-from-a-distance for my kids — I imagined letting them watch while the birds grew and finally left the nest. No such luck with this little preditor running about. But the fact that she is so self sufficient, and yet kid friendly it is exactly the thing that makes her such a great pet.  I was really disappointed but I should have known that a nest low enough for me to see was not safe with our cat around.  Which brings me back to where I started . . . here she is watching the pigeons on the roof.

A Face Only a Mother Could Love

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Keeping Pigeons

picture-046Well, I have seen the poor, well loved little thing (it turns out that there is only one hatchling so far) and it looks much like a miniature plucked chicken with a bulging neck and an over-sized beak. (I caught a look while the mother left her nest for a few minutes today). The other truly amazing thing about this baby is that it has tripled, maybe even quadrupled, in size since it hatched only just days ago. It is now the size of a Jumbo sized chicken egg, from something about the size of the ball of my thumb . . . truly amazing! The picture is a bit blurry, since I only had one chance to snap a picture before mommy came back to shoo me off . . . but it really doesn’t look a whole lot better than this 🙂

Meet Our Rollers

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Keeping Pigeons

Last fall, my husband decided to try raising some pigeons. We now have four roller pigeons, and our newest aquisition, two homing pigeons. One of our pairs of rollers is brooding and has two eggs. The male has become quite protective and has chased the other pigeons out of the coop. He tolerates the chicken and her chicks, but I think he would prefer that they were not there either. It has been fun to watch the whole process. Zee brought the pigeon’s first egg in the house along with the chicken’s egg the day it was laid and I had him take it back out. I put it in a shoebox with some sawdust and wood shavings to keep the chicken and chicks from stepping on it, but at the same time thinking that she would probably abandon it because it had been touched. The next time I went out to check on them I was pleasantly surprised to see her sitting on it. She has been sitting on it for a little over a week now, and from what I have read, it takes 18 days for a pigeon egg to hatch. My husband took a peek in the nest the other day when she was off of her eggs and verified that there was a second egg. I don’t know if the first egg will hatch or not, since it was cold for a day before she started brooding, but from what I have read, that may not matter. I am thinking that we will probably need to get a second coop if we want to keep our birds all happy . . .

Poor Harriet! Poor Zee!

My son has learned a sad thing that no 6-year-old should ever have to know. Chickens do not need baths, and they cannot swim. And that the life of a pet is a delicate thing.

When my 11-yr-old went to take care of our hens Harriet and Gertie this morning, Only Gertie was anywhere to be found. As I was hunting for Harriet in the yard, Zee came and said that he had given her a bath, and then he burst into tears and ran around the house and hid in the bush. Apparently, he had put the chickens into a five gallon bucket filled with water for a bath, and Gertie was standing on top of Harriet to avoid drowning. Good for Gertie, very unfortunate for Harriet.

When she stopped kicking and then closed her eyes, my poor little boy realized that something was wrong and he pulled her out of the bucket, but by then it was too late. He buried her in the back yard with grass, and didn’t tell me because he was afraid of getting into trouble, so by the time I found out, he had been carrying the weight of her death on his shoulders for a whole day.

I pulled my son out of the bushes and took him in the house where I held him and he sobbed in my lap for half an hour, and I realized that this was the reason that I had needed to have the experience of accidentally killing a pet as a child.

When I was about 6, our cat had kittens, and when the kittens were about 6 weeks old, I had taken my favorite outside to play with me. My sister wanted to play with the kitten too, but I was selfish and would not share. When my mother called me into the house, I hid the kitten from my sister in a camping cooler, and then went into the house to do my chores. And I completely forgot that the kitten was out in the cooler.  When I remembered the next morning, I ran to let her out, but she had already suffocated.

To this day I still feel guilt over the death of my poor kitty, and I imagine that it will be the same for my son, poor thing!