Two blondes: Imelda the Buff Orpington hen and me.
I started out my hobby farming dream with a veg/fruit garden in England, but then we realized a farm isn’t a farm without a bit of livestock. So when Mark and I discovered we could have chickens in our back garden we purchased a moveable chicken ark and four hens: two Burford Browns (they lay dark brown eggs) and two Old Cotswold Legbars (they lay green eggs). Both of these are English breeds developed from more known breeds. The Legbars are related to the Aracuana, which trace back to a couple of roosters that survived the boat trip to England but the hens did not, so they bred them to English hens.
Our first coop in England.
We swiftly discovered that chickens were easy to look after, similar to hamsters but they lay eggs, useful, right? After one hen went broody, we bought 8 fertile eggs of various breeds, tucked them underneath her, and she hatched and raised four boys and four girls (we found homes for the boys). We built a bigger pen for our eight hens in our vegetable garden.
Mark and our second coop in England
When we moved to our hobby farm in the US we started out with 20 hens and one rooster and that number steadily increased to 90 as we ordered spring chicks each year from Murray McMurray Hatchery. I have a little egg business so the “girls” earn their keep and their rooster Dapper Dan looks after them.
Our new coop in America
We have all heritage breeds, such as Brahmas, Buff Orpington, Speckled Sussex, Australorp, something that we are very dedicated to doing. All of our hens lay different colored eggs: blue, green, dark brown, white, speckled. My customers are always fascinated by the rainbow colors.
I saw that chickens are the gateway livestock to hobby farming because they give the newbie farmer a little taste of the livestock experience, a chance to see if having livestock is doable. Soon enough hobby farmers move on to a second animal, such as the tasty pig or the useful goat (as we have done).
There is something really wonderful about producing your own food and knowing exactly what went into that process. It also gives you a new appreciation for farmers who earn a living producing meat and eggs. You understand the cost of raising a chicken or pig to market weight–both financial and emotional. It gives you a new respect for the food that goes on your plate. And boy howdy, is it ever tasty! My customers are not happy when the hens stop laying; they love the taste of their eggs so much.
My chicken hobby led to a new column in Hobby Farm Home, which will debut in November. And another in Chicken Magazine in the spring. And just last week I was approached to write a chicken breed profile magabook, out in December. Who would have thought that first coop of four in England could have led to this?
Cheers for chickens!