We’ve got an exciting new addition to the farm this spring here at Northern Comfort!
Everyone, meet the gang.
Last weekend Jeff and I took the plunge into chicken ownership. We headed to L&M (northern Minnesota’s much better version of Tractor Supply) and picked out baby chicks to come live on the farm.
I’ve wanted chickens forever and ever. I’m enamored with their cute looks and soothing sounds. Plus, eggs! Jeff, on the other hand, is a more practical sort and apart from concern over all the chicken basics (brooder box, coop and chicken run) he wasn’t 100% enthused about avian husbandry in the dead of our super-cold winters.
But he’s a sweet husband and was persuaded to see things my way.
The original deal was that we’d start with three chickens, but then we started talking egg math and decided to go with six in the hopes that we’d have more eggs available on the regular. We picked up six chicks last Friday night at L&M.
Here they are right after we introduced them to their temporary digs:
After a night of obsessing (on my part), I engaged my mom in a flock enlargement and we headed back to L&M (with Jeff’s blessing, of course) to see if they had any of the ‘Easter Egger’ chickens left. This is a ‘mutt’ breed that produces blue or green eggs. Not only were we taken with the idea of blue and green eggs, but a couple of the breeds we settled on are not as prolific in the egg-laying business, so we wanted two more. You know. Just in case.
I’ve heard chicken math is a slippery slope. I’m starting to see why.
So now our little flock is up to eight chicks. Here’s the gang today with their beloved bowl of dirt (seriously, chicks. love. dirt.) and the nice branch I went and found for them to practice roosting on.
The little buggers have really grown in the last few days! And note the giant mess they’ve made of the brooding box. The brown clumps are (mostly) chunks of dirt they’ve kicked out of their bowl.
The Northern Comfort History of Chickens
While that’s rather grand sounding, I’m not actually sure the entire history of chickens here at the farm. The farmhouse that is now the B&B was built in the early 1900’s by the Kangas family and was a functioning farm, although most of the farming activities I’ve seen referenced were growing potatoes and other farm-related crafts like rug making and blacksmithing. The large white barn where the current antiques shop and studio are was built to support the dairy cows here on the farm. While poultry might not have been the primary farm-focus here, I’d imagine the Kangasas kept chickens for meat and eggs.
The Scherer family moved to the farm in 1960 and we’ve been lucky to have family members stay with us and fill us in on more of the history while their large family lived here until the farm was sold and converted to a B&B in the early 90’s. The Scherer family ordered 200 chickens every spring for personal use and also kept ducks and geese.
In the photo below we can see the large white dairy barn on the left, with a small log ‘coop’ attached. Today, the coop is home to Mama Kitty, the barn cat, although when the Scherer family was here, this is where ducks and geese lived, from what we understand.
The building on the right side of the photo is a barn that is half barn red planks and half log and is where the new Northern Comfort flock will take up eventual residence. We’ll be outfitting the left side of the building (the red side) as a coop with an attached run for the chickens. Previous guests might have met the goats in this spot during their visit! The log end of the structure is perfect for supplies — each side has its own entrance and there is a wall between the two sides with a door that can be barred. Plus this building has electricity and there is a water source right outside the door on the ‘supply’ (log) end of the building.
The Scherer family used the building for chickens as well, with the red end of the building being the brood house and supplies in the log side of the building. The adult chickens hung out in the area behind these buildings.
So our small flock will be carrying on a tradition!
Right now the chicks are living in my office in the house. Baby chicks are surprisingly quiet (and so far, they just have a woodsy scent) With the weather so cold and me so anxious for their health, we started them inside. In a few weeks they will graduate to a larger brooder that will likely be in the antique shop side of the barn since it’s more protected from the elements (and Mama Kitty the barn cat) and has heat. When they are somewhere in the five to six-week range we’ll have their permanent coop ready for them. Negotiations are still ongoing as to how much freedom they’ll have around the farm. I, of course, want them to wander at will, being charming and pastoral. Jeff, ever the pragmatist, says that’s fine as long as I don’t mind that some of them will be snatched up by hawks and the like.
So maybe not so much free ranging after all.
This section is for those of you super interested in chickens….
Our little flock consists of eight chickens who are egg layers (versus broilers, or ‘meat’ chickens). We are more interested in friendlier chickens that our guests can look forward to ‘meeting’ and that will earn their keep by providing farm-fresh eggs. Broilers are processed rather young (six-nine weeks, normally) so owning them is quick and intensive.
Egg laying chickens normally will start producing eggs when they are around five months and will produce well for the first year or two of their lives, although chickens will live naturally around 12 years and produce throughout their lifetime, just not regularly. The breeds we went with will likely lay 200-300 eggs a year, depending on diet, weather and the vagaries of chance.
And, of course, our eight little chicks might not all end up being hens. Chickens are notoriously difficult to ‘sex’ (tell the gender) until they are much older. There are people that specialize in it, though, who work for the hatcheries. The hatchery that L&M sources its chicks from guarantees the chicks they identify as pullets (female chickens) with a 90% accuracy rate. Nice rate, but as we all know, statistics are for the birds.
Here’s what we got,
We got two of these lovelies. I’ve admired this breed since a friend of mine got some at her farm back in Virginia. Here’s a baby fast asleep in my hand.
And here’s what she should look like when she’s grown up…
[image Backyard Chickens]
I’ll admit… I really wanted this breed and was unhappy when we went on a scouting mission last week that they didn’t have any. But lo and behold they had some on Friday when we were there! I’m curious to see what the chicks will end up looking like. This is a popular breed whose breeding lines have been a bit abused by hatcheries in an effort to keep up with demand. AND it was the most expensive at around $6.50 per chick.
We also got two black sexlinks, which I call sexies because sexlink is such a strange non-word. These gals are supposed to be good ‘pet’ chickens — friendly and good with kids. Also, very prolific egg layers. Finally, this is one of the breeds whose gender can be more definitely determined based on color. So our two little sexies should be hens. The adults are a very pretty bird with black and brown mottled feathers. These chicks were around $3 each.
The last two chicks we picked up last Friday were Cochins — a silver and a blue. These breeds are so fun and I was pretty happy that L&M had them! Cochins are special because they have feathered legs, giving them a really fun unique look. The breed is also known for being a very friendly chicken, although they aren’t the most prolific egg layers. The L&M Cochins were around $5.50 each.
This is our silver laced cochin and she’s a very endearing little chick. She’s very curious and is first in line to get hand-fed and doesn’t mind if I ‘pet’ her while she’s in the brooder (most of the chicks whiz around like maniacs if we try to pet them right now!) Note the little feathery legs!
The other cochin, the blue, is a little puffball of smokey grey feathers with a slate tinge. She’s not been doing as well since we got her home. She’s the littlest and a bit of a bully, but is dealing with some balance issues. We think she has something called ‘wry neck’ that makes her head floppy and in general unbalanced. We’ve been treating her with baby vitamins, so if she rebounds we’ll do a photoshoot with her soon. She’s a little spitfire!
Here’s what adult Cochins look like, first the silver then the blue — how fun, right?
[Silver Cochin | image cackle hatchery]
[Blue Cochin | image Cackle Hatchery]
As I said, after bringing home the first six chicks I really wanted a few of the blue/green egg layers. These are the two little chipmunk chicks we picked up on Saturday to round out the flock. The chicks are so cute – they really do look like little chipmunks! They’re big, like the black sexlinks, and love kicking the pine chips everywhere. The Easter Eggers were around $3.50 each.
What’s special about easter eggers is that they lay blue and green eggs. Technically, they are a ‘mutt’ breed, meaning that they aren’t a specific breed, but will have the gene to lay blue (or green) eggs, which is a dominant gene*. So they can look different, depending on their breeding. Our little girls are so sweet and BIG! I’m excited to see what they will look like!
*technically, they have the blue egg gene but I won’t bore you with genetics…
If you’re curious about exactly how our costs broke down and what you’d need to start your own flock, check out this post on Patty Brower.com where I dish on that!