The stars of this site are my girls – my three hens. You already may have caught a glimpse of them on the chicken cam. And I most definitely will be spending a lot of time talking about them. So I’m taking this opportunity to introduce them to you.
Mabel is a Plymouth Rock, a heritage breed that dates to mid-19th-century New England. Mabel is considered a “Barred” Plymouth Rock because of the gray and white-striped pattern in her feathers. The breed comes in other colors, too, but Barred Rocks are the most common.
Plymouth Rocks are considered by many to be one of the best backyard chicken breeds because of their docile temperament and their ability to adapt well to confinement. They also are hardy birds and can handle both heat and cold weather conditions.
Characteristic of her breed, Mabel is a calm and friendly bird. But make no mistake about it; if my little flock has a pecking order, Mabel is right there at the top. She’s always the first to get the worm, and I mean that literally. I sometimes pick earthworms off the driveway after a rainstorm to feed to the girls (yes, I know), and if I’m not careful in my worm distribution, Mabel would get them all.
Plymouth Rocks are considered to be dual-purpose birds, meaning they are used for both eggs and meat, although Mabel never has to worry about becoming dinner. She is a prolific layer, and I can count on her for a large, light brown egg almost every day during the spring and summer.
Hazel is a Golden Campine. This breed was developed in Belgium and was instrumental to the early Flemish commercial production system because Campine chickens develop rapidly and may be sexed for egg production at one day old. The breed eventually fell out of favor because it was not considered to be hardy. Today, Campines are classified as critically endangered by the Livestock Conservancy, meaning there are five or fewer primary breeding flocks remaining in the United States.
Campines are small in size and are used primarily for eggs. They are active birds that like to fly and may not adapt well to confinement if they do not have adequate space to move around.
True to her breed, Hazel is a bit flighty. She used to escape over the six-foot-high fence before we put a top on the chicken pen. She once went missing for so long that I had about given up hope of seeing her again only to find her sitting on a clutch of eggs in the garden. Then there was the time a friend and I spent about an hour chasing her through the timber to catch her before the Boxers next door made a snack out of her. (She eventually went back to the pen on her own.) She’s fine now in her fully-enclosed, 6 x 20-foot pen with plenty of room to run laps every morning.
Also true to her breed, Hazel matured early. She was the first of my chickens to lay eggs, beating the others by at least a couple of months. Her eggs are small with a light brown tint to them, and she’s a reliable producer most of the time.
Campines are said to be non-setters, but not Hazel. She wants to be a mama something fierce and has gone broody the last two Junes. By going broody, I mean she stops laying eggs, pulls the feathers out of her belly, and sits in the nesting box for days on end hoping to hatch chicks from non-existent eggs. I’m going to be ready for her next year with a couple of fertilized eggs for her to sit on so she can realize her dream of having babies and I can add more chickens to the flock.
Petunia, another Barred Plymouth Rock, is the most recent addition to the flock. Since I’ve already told you about her breed, I’ll share the story of how she joined the flock.
In June 2012, I started out with three chickens, all of which came from a batch of 36 baby chicks my sister-in-law Jen got by mail order that March. You’ve already met Mabel and Hazel. Sadly, the third, Penelope, died unexpectedly this past May.
Shortly after Penelope’s untimely demise, I was over at Jen’s house when, after a few glasses of wine, she said, “Let’s go get you another chicken.”
Jen yelled for Lucas, my teenage nephew, to get the cat carrier and follow us to the barn. The next thing I know, the three of us are traipsing down to the barn, me with a wine glass still in my hand, and Jen musing, “I wonder if I’ll be able to catch one.”
“What?” I said. “Don’t they run right up to you and jump into your arms when you go see them?” (That’s pretty much what my spoiled chickens do.)
She just gave me a look and said, “Deb, my chickens are wild.”
And wild Petunia was.
In my wine-induced fog, all I remember is Jen grabbing a random chicken off the roost by its legs and shoving it into the cat carrier, it squawking and me telling it, “Hi, chicken. Your name is Petunia. You’re going to come live with me now and you’re going to have a wonderful life.”
Although my research told me that it can be difficult to introduce a new hen to the flock because it upsets the pecking order, Petunia assimilated quickly and without issue. Perhaps she fit in so well because they all remembered they spent the first two months of their lives together, but who knows?
It didn’t take Petunia long to figure out the routine in her new home. She laid an egg the day after she arrived, although it was outside the nesting box. By the day after that, she had figured out the whole nesting box thing and has been a reliable layer ever since, with eggs that are a little bigger than Mabel’s and a little darker brown in color.
The biggest adjustment for Petunia has been getting used to me. She still keeps her distance when I’m in the pen. While the other hens will eat dried mealworm treats right out of my hand, Petunia will hang back and wait for me to toss her a few, never getting too close. But she seems to be coming around. Maybe someday you will spot her on the chicken cam eating out of my hand along with the others.
In Memoriam: Penelope
I know I shouldn’t have favorites, but I had a soft spot for Penelope, my dearly departed hen. She was sweet and cuddly with the sleekest black feathers and a white puff ball head, and I still miss her terribly nearly three months after she’s been gone.
Penelope was a White-Crested Black Polish. The breed’s distinguishing feature is a large plume of feathers on the top of the head. While beautiful, the crest tends to obscure the bird’s vision and make it easily startled.
The Polish breed is very old and was depicted in European paintings as early as the 16th century. Today, the Polish is on the Livestock Conservancy watch list, with fewer than 10 primary breeding flocks in the United States.
As a backyard chicken, the Polish has its pros and cons. On the one hand, the bird is gentle and friendly and, perhaps due to its limited vision, perfectly happy in confinement. On the other, the showy headdress can be high maintenance, making the bird susceptible to lice infestation and frostbite. Penelope never has an issue with lice, but I did have to bring her into the house one winter after her crest feathers became icicles during a blizzard.
The Polish breed is described as “very variable” in terms of egg production, and that description definitely fit Penelope. She was the last of my chickens to start laying and produced eggs much less regularly than the others. Her eggs, however, were pearly white beauties that I thought tasted better than the others. (But, again, I shouldn’t play favorites.)
Penelope’s eternal resting spot is a shoe box buried in the back yard. Rest in peace, Penelope.
Finally, meet Lucy
Okay, I realize Lucy isn’t a chicken but she may show up on the chicken cam from time to time. She is as enthralled with the chickens as I am and spends a lot of time hanging out by their pen.
Lucy is a five-year old English Springer Spaniel-Coonhound mix, which definitely is NOT destined to become the next designer breed any time soon. She’s high-strung and excitable, but also very sweet. She loves the chickens, most likely because she has figured out they are the source of one of her favorite treats. In fact, she has been known to alert me by barking when one of the chickens exits the nesting box so I can collect the egg.
Lucy also likes to help herself to vegetables straight from the garden, harvesting her own green beans, peas, and even potatoes for snacking. And, yes, that’s a cucumber in her mouth in the photo.
So have you spotted any of these girls on the chicken cam yet? Let me know in the comments below.