Greetings from the HillTop!
It’s been a little while since I’ve done a HillTop Highlight. For those of you who are new to reading my blog, I provide a highlight on our chicken flock. While most of you are scratching your head wondering why, a large portion of our readers are also our customers. This is new way of thinking buying local/small. So much so, I’m letting you know about our flock.
Shannon is one of two Barred Rocks that we have within our flock. She is from our original flock we started in Spring of 2017. Our original flock was named for women within our family. Shannon is the name of my older sister. She stood out from an early age. Both of our two Barred Rocks, both named for my sisters, were extremely friendly and curious. When chicks, they were the only two that readily let us hold them. In fact, they frequently hopped up onto our hands with no prompting.
It was that sweet gesture that helped us enjoy our first flock so much. They showed how sweet they could be.
While she is very friendly with our family, she is very domineering within the flock. She, along with Sara, are our top chickens. They work well together. Sara takes on the protecting role, while Shannon takes on the role of disciplinary. She does not put up with messing around from the others.
When we introduced four new girls to our original flock, Shannon did not pick at them as so many others did. She kept them in line, without a doubt, but she new her spot as top was secure. Our second year of keeping chickens, we more than doubled our flock. While we were able to watch the redistribution of power and the pecking order become established, we saw that Shannon never faltered from the top.
Even today, three years later, we’ve added to the flock again, not just chickens, but ducks, and yet she maintains her spot. She sleeps on the highest traditional roosting bar. Which for those of you new to chickens, the pecking order is a real thing. So top chickens have their choice of roosting bars.
At the top, we found that many of the the smaller girls would hover around Shannon. She had more tolerance for the young, small ones. And the girls who would stir up trouble and try to dominate the younger ones, would stay away while they were were near Shannon. She had a mother hen affect.
Shannon is the larger of our Barred Rocks, and one of the largest hens within our flock, if not the largest. Which probably helps her status a bit. She is a steady layer, and was one of first to start laying again after her first molt. Her eggs are brown, and quite honestly they appear to be some of my best eggs. They are smooth, large and very uniform from one day to the next. And since she’s almost three, they are large. She’s also intelligent when it comes to where to lay. Our girls will go through spurts where they lay in the corner, but Shannon always ensures there is bedding to support her egg. No cracks, no issues. Her instincts, across the board, are spot on.
We’ve always let our girls free range. While we may not let them all day, we’ll let them for a couple hours approximately every other day. More when possible, but we don’t want to loose them to predators. Shannon ventures, but never far. She seems to know to stay close and not head too far into the woods.
Shannon is a very fair leader and top chicken. While she won’t hesitate to put someone in their place, she doesn’t do it unnecessarily. When it comes to treats and attention she normally wants to be one of the first, but there are times where she will share the spotlight for sure.
She is one of my favorites because even when I’m working in the coop, she is content just walking along side me. Or she’ll sit on a roosting bar and coo while I’m working, like she’s telling me all the news of the coop.
She does not deal with squabbles or chickens bullying. Anytime we’ve integrated new pullets into the flock she doesn’t pick at them. It’s like she doesn’t have to, she knows her spot is secure and she isn’t cruel to the younger girls.
Shannon is three years this spring. While that’s nothing to us, she is aging to the point that her egg production will be dropping. After two years, chickens still lay but they’ll lay less and less each year.
In many large egg production farms, hens only are allowed to live during their prim, approximately two years. Once egg production drops, they’re culled and processed for food.
Backyard vs. Factory
The beauty of having chickens in your backyard allows us to enjoy our chickens and they get to enjoy their natural life. Shannon’s egg production maybe dropping, but we are seeing her uses elsewhere.
Bug Control (Tick Control)
Each chicken provides a great service with bug control. Shannon, like all our poultry, eat bugs around our property. Pennsylvania has a high tick population each year. My husband and I don’t have a fear of our kids playing outside and dealing with ticks because our chickens eat so many of them. Shannon will continue to aid in that.
Shannon continues to provide order within the flock. If Shannon was not at the top of the pecking order, another chicken would be. In time that may happen, but as long as it’s Shannon, she keeps peace fairly.
Like the bugs in the yard she eats, Shannon aids us in garden maintenance and growth. During the fall, winter and early spring, Shannon, like the rest of the flock, helps to rotate the soil, but scratching and pecking. She eats the bugs within the garden that are unwanted. And her chicken manure is used on the garden in the fall and winter to add nutrients back into the ground.
Our chickens help to minimize the waste we create as a family. They help to eat scraps from vegetables, fruits, some proteins and grains we have in our house. We throw away so much less food by having chickens. Since chickens are omnivores, they eat a variety of kitchen scraps. That’s less that goes into the landfills and more that heads to our garden in the way of chicken manure. All of our chickens help with this.
While these all may seem like a minor reason to keep a chicken, especially as the years go by she’ll be laying almost nothing, it is enough for us.
Shannon, the Barred Rock, will always hold a special place in my heart. She loves her treats, relishes her top spot in the pecking order, and will always be the happy little chick that helped us fall in love with our chickens.