Backyard chickens

Susan Manzke
The Manzkes' three new hens

Two chickens — one old hen and one ancient rooster — have been our whole flock for the last year. That sure isn’t much for a farm, even our farm, especially since I love to have chickens scratching around the yard.

Because of a busy schedule taking us away from home, Bob and I decided not to buy chicks last spring. Besides, our daughter Rebecca said she didn’t want more here when she and Andy were house/farm-sitting for us. The last time they house-sat, the young chickens gave her a hard time. They leaped about every time she went to feed them and scared her (Rebecca has hated chickens ever since she was a kid and we had a mean rooster who chased her).

Anyway, with only one hen, we didn’t get many eggs. I actually had to buy eggs!

Recently, I visited my friend, Georgie. She showed me all the fowl critters she’s raising, from chickens to Guinea fowl to golden pheasants. After we admired her flock, she said she could part with a few Cochin Bantam hens if I wanted them.

I  hadn’t seen these birds and only remembered the banties I raised as a kid. They were tiny. Their eggs were tiny, too. The worst part was that the roosters were aggressive. After thinking it over, I turned down Georgie’s offer.

Still, getting a few more hens stayed on my mind. Later that week, I told my friend that I would take her Cochin Bantam hens. As long as we were taking care of our two old birds all winter, we might as well add a few more. It would keep our two company and make our trip outside to feed them in the winter worthwhile.

Georgie brought us three hens. Their size happily surprised me. They weren’t tiny birds. They were of moderate size — perfect for us.

The three hens — one white, one silver and one brown — stayed in their cage inside our chicken coop for the next three days. This was our way of introducing them to the others and to show them their new home.

Finally, we thought they were acclimated and let them lose. To our surprise, they didn’t move from their cage but huddled together in the corner.

I sprinkled a handful of chicken food outside the barn door. The brown hen ventured out first and clucked happily over the feed. The other two eventually followed.

After eating, Brownie ran about the yard, ending up under a bush. The others stayed by the barn.

When evening came, we went to lock everyone inside the chicken house, only to find four roosting — two old and two new. Brownie was nowhere to be found.

Bob and I searched the yard, gazing under bushes and anywhere we’ve seen birds before. No luck. We wondered if a wild critter had taken her for lunch.

I didn’t know what I was going to tell Georgie. She had even called to see how the birds were settling in, and now one was missing, possibly dead.

No Brownie the next morning but also no pile of feathers either. There was still hope.

Late that day, we got a glimpse of Brownie. She was still alive and heading toward the chicken house. Too bad she never went inside. Brownie spent another night outside, alone.

The following afternoon, we saw her heading toward the roost again. This time I didn’t wait for her to make up her mind to go inside. I raced out, snuck up behind her and shooed her in. Later, I had to open the door so our two old birds could go home, too.

We kept everyone locked inside for the next two days. When we finally set them free again for an afternoon of outside scratching — I crossed my fingers. To our delight, Brownie joined everyone that night on the roost. We now have one happy flock.

Backyard chickens can be fun pets to have. They can also be frustrating. Good thing they give eggs.

Susan Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54165;