Baby chick

Raising a chick to maturity satisfies the soul.

Tweetings, fellow birders! Thanks for flying in to read this column!

My latest installment will deal with a recent trend I’ve noticed, one which I find both interesting and refreshing. There are many people getting back to the land, pulling away from both computers and technology. One way of doing this is by raising backyard chickens.

Here in New England, or the East Coast in general, we tend to have a cooler climate – at least for now. Winters can be downright treacherous, so if you’re going to raise chickens, it would be best to select a hardy breed that can truly take the cold. Rhode Island Reds are highly recommended, being originally bred here in the six states back in the late 19th century. (It’s also the state bird of Rhode Island.)

A beautiful bird with red-brown feathers and pink-red wattle and comb (which regulates body heat), the hens will lay nearly 300 eggs per year. Fairly docile and always curious, they are a mainstay of many small farms in the area, so if you’re uncertain about which breed to start with, ‘Ol’ Red’ is always a great option.

There’s also the lovely Plymouth Rock chicken, another bird bred specifically for New England. A gorgeous specimen with layered black-and-white feathers and pink-red wattle and comb, they too can take the cold, laying more than 250 eggs a year.

Yet another similar-colored breed to the Rock is the dominique, which is the oldest chicken bred here in America. Also known as the pilgrim fowl, it was brought to the continent during colonial times, a good egg producer laying more than 200 per year.

However, if you want a big bird, you would have to go with the New Hampshire Red. Akin in appearance to their Rhode Island cousins, they are much larger and very sturdy when it comes to cold weather.

And if you’re seeking an exceptionally fluffy chicken, then get yourself a buff orpington. Adorned with soft feathers of black or brown, they are accomplished egg layers, and quite friendly.

A few other terrific breeds are:

  • Buckeye
  • Australorp
  • Wyandotte
  • Brahma

As far as where to purchase chicks or young birds, seek out farms and hatcheries in your community. If you go with chicks, make certain you keep them indoors inside a brooder, which can be a simple wooden box or plastic tub filled with fresh pine shavings. Provide a heat lamp for warmth, chicken feed and clean water (very important), and keep a close eye on them. Finally, lots of patience and love.

Now that you’ve found the right chicken, let’s talk about how to raise them. After maturing, they should be kept outside in a coop, if possible made from either wood or metal (these can be purchased preassembled). It should provide ample space for nesting boxes and a roosting bar, with animal-resistant door latches to discourage predators. The best versions have a sliding door and ramp, allowing your birds to enjoy a bit of fresh air.

You can also let your chickens free-range, depending upon where you live and the specific laws in your state. Also, check with town officials first.

Regarding feed, it can be found at stores or ordered online, but simple foods like seeds and grains are good options. You can mix in a little bit of whole corn now and then, but not too much as the birds need a proper protein diet if you expect any eggs from them.

Well, I could go on, but if I do my editor will “scramble” the column. So as always, please allow me to wrap this piece up with a bit of sentiment:

Chickens can be more than just egg layers. They can be genuine friends. They are affectionate and more intelligent than people think. Raising them from chicks is both rewarding and therapeutic. Sometimes in life, all it takes is a gentle chicken to make you realize just how much life really has to offer.

Hey, you know I wouldn’t leave you without the bad joke!:

Q: What does a Rhode Island Red eat while at the movies?

A: Popcorn chicken!

Or is it chicken popcorn? Hmm. Have to check with Foghorn Leghorn.

Happy Birding!

Born and raised in Methuen, Vincent Spada is the author of three books, as well as a plethora of poems and short stories. Reach him with questions or ideas for his column at vinspada@yahoo.com.

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