Hello! I've actually been on BYC for about a year, but only decided to create an account... 45 minutes ago. I figured it was about time that I participated in some of the threads I've spent hours reading! I (I being a seventeen year old girl) and my family have always wanted chickens, so when we relocated from suburbia in Florida to outside of La Rochelle (a French city about two hours north of Bordeaux), the adventure began. In Florida we only had a terrace and pool, so coming here and suddenly having a two acre, fenced-in garden to explore/create havoc in is a luxury! Our story has some ups, some downs, and general chicken craziness... we have made mistakes, some cringe-worthy, but we've also learnt a lot along the way.
Last October, we headed to our local Gamm-Vert, a french gardening/home supply store to purchase our coop. Yes, we bought a tiny flat pack coop with attached run (if it could be called that) and thought it would perfectly suit the four hens we planned on buying to supply us with eggs. I put together the coop pretty quickly, and, stupidly, on the terrace. It fell off the wheelbarrow and did a roll with no apparent damage on the way to its location at the far end of the garden, against a stone wall for protection from the wind. We put tiles around it and some granite flakes to prevent mud. Here is the coop (suggested number of chickens: 4-6) before transit to the garden.
We were ignorant folk.
It took us several days to find ANY chickens in the area, partly due to lack of french language, also because we had no knowledge of anybody with chickens, any places that sold chickens, or any websites that advertised chickens (thankfully, we now have all of these things and more). Eventually we located a breeder of some POL hybrids. We picked up our four ginger hens from the farm, headed home, and crammed them into the tiny run for their mandatory quarantine/get-to-know-the-place period.
Five days and a very dirty coop floor later, the poor things (named Kaya, Big Chick, Chuckles and Buak Buak -- is it obvious that kids named them?) sprinted out the door the minute we opened it, and a few days later we started getting nice sized, cream colored eggs; complete with the bright orange yolks.
Our chickens are all free range, our garden is entirely fenced/walled in and we have a gate on our driveway -- we also have only foxes and wild cats that can make their way in, but so far *knock on wood* we have not been threatened by any predators. I suppose the small hawks we see occasionally could pick up chicks, but we keep them enclosed as we have cats.
ANYWAY, all was well for a month or so. But soon I started to wonder 'Could there be more to chicken-keeping than this?'
Naturally, a couple of days later and with very little research of any kind, my mother and I drove for two hours to the middle of nowhere to purchase a trio of Pekins (Cochin bantams in the US?). All were POL. The rooster, Fritz, is chocolate mottled and a frizzle.
His two bantam hens, Rosie (the chocolate) and Eleanor (the speckled hen).
They spent a few days in an extremely makeshift little coop -- some chicken wire draped around some branches and a kennel -- and then joined the glorious garden world and the little flock. Fritz turned into quite the little rooster, taking care of his 'girls' and crowing daily. Rosie, although small, lays a small (but large for a bantam) brown egg 4/5 days. Eleanor, on the other hand, was strange from the get-go. She always lingered behind the flock, and for a while we'd carry her to the other end of the garden to be put with the rest of the chickens, somehow always getting left behind. She also laid only a couple of eggs a week, tiny white affairs.
Fast forward to January, it had been two months of squeezing seven chickens into our max. six chicken coop every night. Three were bantams, but there was talk of extensions, and the trio were camping out in the nest boxes while the big hens took the roosting bars. We started shopping around for a coop, and considered building our own, but I read hundreds of 'My Coop' stories on BYC describing outbuildings recycled - garden sheds, dog kennels, horse stalls... - we bought a flatpack wooden garden shed from a local bricolage store, and planted it next to the little prefab coop. We put in three nest boxes on the sides, and used branches left over from the autumn as roosts. It's big enough to fit about twenty hens, as all of our current chickens fit on the top roost (and there's a couple who camp out in the nest boxes despite the mansion-size coop we built for them...
apparently this is the only photo I have on hand... I would say it's about 2 x 1.3 m. We put in a smaller pop door. No run attached as our chickens free range all day.
In April, at a spring farmer's market with friends, we somehow (?) acquired a pair of Muscovy ducklings. I would say they were about four weeks old when we got them, and we were completely unprepared - so much so that we thought muscovies were small ducks! At home, my dad (being a handyman and builder in his youth) put together a pen for them. We put it on the front lawn with a paddling pool and they slept in a cat crate at night (the nights were warm). In the meantime, a pond was built for them, a dog kennel concealed behind a hedge near the pond to serve as their coop, and they grew. It turned out that 'Penny and Adrian' were 'Paul and Adrian'... we allowed their little romance until they flew into a pane of glass and smashed it... just last week they were relocated to live some very lovely white muscovy hens in the countryside.
Here they are anyway, fully grown:
In May, Rosie (and Eleanor, and Chuckles...) went broody, but, being the first hen to do so, we decided she would have the honor of hatching out some chicks. Several of our home grown eggs had been put under her, but day 10 candles revealed all clears, so we bought five Faverolles eggs and put them under her (we put her in the old coop). 21 days later... four chicks! (One egg mysteriously disappeared and we never found any remnants of it). Rosie turned out to be an excellent mother; keeping them warm (literally sitting on them mid-stride); teaching them how to eat and drink (they copied her peculiar scratching method) and pecking up bugs for them to eat. She stayed with them for about five weeks, we let her out of the chick pen every afternoon and she slowly spent more and more time away from them. They started sleeping by themselves when one night we found her back on the roost with the rest of the flock. It's an experience we hope to repeat next spring, hopefully with more pullets and more than once!
Having already promised a pullet and roo to our neighbor, we were pretty sad when it turned out that three of the four were baby roos. One was sold, one went to live across the wall with his sister, and we kept one 'until it sold'. Fast forward to October, and Falafel is still with us and definitely not leaving. He's not quite full grown yet (still not crowing or chasing the hens) and avoids the other rooster, despite being bigger than him. Here he is, handsome fellow. He lives in the 'bachelor pad' aka the small coop. (And I apparently have no photo of him, despite my chicken photos album with over 1 000 photos. Hmmmm...
Over the summer, we lost Buak Buak (ginger hen) to mysterious causes - one morning we went to collect the eggs and found her passed away inside the coop. The vet told us that she had choked eating something (he performed a very cheap necropsy, we are lucky to have a good farm vet less than twenty minutes away).
Big Chick, another ginger farm hen, also passed away -- slightly more gruesome this time -- she developed a maggot infestation that we became aware of all too late. We now know the symptoms and have a well stocked 'war' chest.
Eleanor, after being broody (we lifted her off the nest every time she went back to it, after about a week she was back in the garden), never laid another egg -- that was the first sign something was off. Her comb slowly lost colour, and she stopped eating and drinking even after we put her into The Pen (a brilliant sort of tractor that my dad made; it has been handy several times!) and tried to get her to. We took her to the vet, believing that we had a very sick young hen... and the vet told us that we had been duped and she was an old hen just letting go. The breeder didn't return our calls, but we will most certainly not be purchasing from him again.
To reinforce our chicken numbers, over the course of the summer we bought two white sussex hens -- great layers. They are named Astrid and Eglantine, typical French names.
We also got a silkie, Constance. It was my childhood dream to own one...
And some time later, two more Pekin/Cochin bantams, Amy and Catya (this time from a reputable breeder...
Amy is white/birch colored and Catya is the largest bantam I have ever seen... she is a beautiful golden buff colour. Both are regular layers.
And then the latest development in our poultry world, after the departure of the ducks, is the beginning (hopefully) of an ornamental duck mini breeding program. We bought our first pair of ring teals; born in August, confined to The Pen and the paddling pool until they are big enough to free range (although we have two mousers and one very young Jack Russell who believes we have bought the ducks just for her benefit and cannot understand why we don't allow her to get to them). Our other Jack Russell, at eight years, has thankfully never shown an interest in chasing anything.
If the teals never become big enough for me not too worry about them being killed by predators, then there will be an aviary in the works... I just have to convince my mom that putting them in an aviary would be better for them than free ranging, as that way they'd actually be alive. I'm sure we'll find a compromise.
I'm not sure if this is the right part of the forum to have a continued 'diary' of our little farm, but I hope some of you have been entertained by our story. I'm still not sure how we went from 'Four hens and NO rooster, just for the eggs' to having chicks and getting a pair of exotic ducks.
So... that's all there is for now. Thanks! x