Posted Aug 15, 2014
Three years ago, I swapped positions with a colleague stationed in Belgium. He’d come back to the states for three months while I’d take his position, and housesit, to include taking care of his aging dog and his small flock (or brood, clutch, or peep) of Bantam hens. Taking care of the dog, Sampson, was no biggie – right in my wheelhouse, but I was a bit more concerned about the chickens. He assured me they’d be no problem, and he was right.
The first time I saw the eight birds, with their unique colors, relaxed disposition, and established routine, I remained skeptical. After all, birds had been in the news every day, none of it good. But this flock was healthy, engaging, and always curious. My colleague showed me the ropes, insisting the coup wouldn't require more than 15 or 20 minutes a day. I’d end up spending closer to an hour with them, but his estimate was right. The rest of the time was for me and the chickens to play. When I really looked at the birds, I saw they each had their own personalities, enough so that their owner had named them (I never learned their names, so it was more like Spot, Red, and Grouchy).
The hens were older (five to seven years), but did produce eggs, only not in massive amounts. I quickly lost any trepidation about gathering the two to four eggs a day they laid. That’s an average. Some days there’d be six, other days none. When I’d tend to them over my lunch hour, I’d walk into the coup, sweep away the annoying spider webs that reappeared overnight, and lifted the eggs from their nest boxes. I never had to coax the hens away because they’d be outside unless the weather was really bad.
The coup was larger, probably used to store farm equipment in bygone days, but converted for the hens. The space was divided into three equally sized areas. The first was their food (and sort of a mud room – the hens could be shooed back as I opened the outer door). They ate pellets, which were readily available in nearby shops, from an oversized pie-pan. Most of the pellets stayed inside the bowl so I only had to clean the area a couple times a week. The rest of the coup was layered with hay that I swapped out every one to two weeks, depending on how much rain there’d been.
Their water was in the fenced enclosure and could be replenished through the fencing with a hose. I checked their water frequently, because the dishes upturned and saturated the ground. This seemed to be a bit of a game for the hens, as they’d peck at the mud, perhaps hoping to find bugs to supplement the pellets.
For the most part, they were independent – they could come and go from the enclosure when they chose, but had their own schedule. Before work, when I checked their water, they’d be grooming themselves. Small feathers made a kind of ground-cover around the coup.
I enjoyed watching them play. Frolicking would be too strong a description, but they amused themselves when they’d climb the stump inside the fence. They’d chase each other on occasion, but I think that was more for fun. I didn’t observe any overt aggression between the hens. From my formerly-nervous perspective, they were easy to maintain. They weren’t noisy, never pecked at me, and were roosting in their nests by sunset.
The only bad experience I’d had was a couple days after starting. My colleague hadn’t fastened a back door to the coup/storage area and the hens found their way out. They didn’t migrate any further than a few yards, but when I discovered them over my lunch period, I had a heck of a time rounding them up. I managed to get six back in before returning to work. I used cardboard in each hand and ushering them toward the door. I’m sure anyone who’d witnessed this would have labelled me cuckoo. When I returned late-afternoon, the two remaining hens were waiting at the fence near the rest of the flock and were happy to be back inside when I opened the coup door.
I’m not sure I’d raise chickens myself, but not because of anything the Bantams did. I’m not sure I could devote the time and resources these little guys need. There’s a lot of effort with little return, from my point of view. If I had a young family that lived in a rural area, I’d have no hesitation raising Bantams. However, I do live in a municipality with ordinances governing livestock, to include chickens, so it’s best to know what statutes exist in your community before building the coup.