Welcome to Dear Chickens
Welcome to Dear Chickens, a new and somewhat regular feature on the Silver Fox Farm blog!
How this column started:
I am a huge fan of advice columns and find them incredibly entertaining. I remember reading Ann Landers in the newspaper when I was a kid, and now enjoy reading newer columns like Savage Love and Dear Prudence. So of course I was thrilled when two of my favorite chickens on the farm, Janine and Egon, told me that they wanted to write their own advice column.
I get a lot of questions about chickens, but who better to give chicken advice than an actual chicken? As it turns out, folks want all kinds of advice from these two birds. All responses are from Janine and Egon; I just read questions to them and record their answers.
In need of poultry or life advice? You can submit your own questions to Janine and Egon through the form at the end of this post. They can’t wait to hear from you!
That’s enough from me. Let me turn it over to Janine and Egon, two young Olive Eggers living their best life together on Silver Fox Farm. This week they’ll tackle topics including how to deal with an overly friendly neighbor, returning to ‘normal’ life, chicken diapers, and the question of free ranging your flock. Enjoy!
Battle of the Cockerels
Dear Egon and Janine,
I just got my first flock, and my birds are about six weeks old. I’m noticing that two of the birds, who I think are roosters, seem to be fighting. Nothing bad has happened yet, but I am afraid that they will seriously hurt each other if I don’t intervene. They posture and peck at each other quite a bit. I’ve tried separating them during the day but they just end up continuing to fight. What should I do?
Do My Cocks Need to Be Blocked?
Your young roosters are establishing and reestablishing their pecking order. Since their behavior is not what you would tolerate from other humans, it can be alarming to you, but it’s totally normal for us. Think about all the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that your species expresses dominance or social ties--we see you, and you seem weird to us, too!
Believe it or not, repeatedly separating and reintroducing your roosters is actually exacerbating the problem. Every time they meet again they will feel the need to reestablish the pecking order. Allowing the two boys to remain together will help them get settled in a social structure. Rooster hatch mates often have a much easier time getting along as they grow up, compared to chickens that are introduced later in life, so give them a chance to figure it out. Depending on how many roosters vs hens you end up with later, you might be able to keep both guys to protect and care for the flock, and avoid sending one to freezer camp.
Yes, that’s right. Janine and I know all about freezer camp. And you people think that a couple baby roosters pecking at each other is aggressive--sheesh!
Not Feeling Neighborly
I am fortunate enough to have some great neighbors on my suburban street--they’ve never minded my chickens or gardens, even though my yard is the oddball plot in the neighborhood. We used to see each other more, but during the pandemic tried to respect each other's space beyond the occasional chat from a distance. Now that things have opened back up, one of my neighbors is stopping by the house ALL. THE. TIME. I know that she is probably eager for more contact now that things are going back to normal, but I’m still working from home and just don’t have the time for this much visiting and chitchat. I used to bring my work laptop outside but lately I’ve been cowering in my basement office like a fool. That’s gotta stop! How do I communicate my needs to her without crushing her spirit?
Not In My Backyard
Janine: I’ve been in your exact situation before! Whenever the humans come around I do NOT want to be bothered with the fawning, the petting, and the goofy names they invent for me. So the next time your neighbor stops by, do what I do: Flatten yourself to the ground, look angry, squawk loudly, and bite at her hands. She’ll assume you’re broody and be on her way. You might even get to keep some of your eggs!
(Side note: while you're sitting there pretending to be broody, take a moment to adjust your ego. Do you really think that some redirection of your neighbor's social enthusiasm on your part will really "break her spirit"? You're not the only fake broody on the block, mama.)
Chicken Tricks and Treats
Please settle a bet for me. My husband is wild about our chickens, and loves collecting our food scraps to give as treats to our girls. The problem is, he thinks that ANYTHING is okay to feed to the chickens, and continues to do so, over my objections. So, just what is okay to feed a chicken?
Hungry Hungry Chickens
Egon: Well, Hungry, the truth is, we will eat just about any treat you give us, even if we shouldn’t. If there’s something we won’t eat, you should be afraid of that food. Very, very afraid.
Janine: Don’t listen to him. Just give us steak. It’s the only safe treat for us. Steak. Chickens aren’t vegetarian.
Maeg: I’m going to step in here and say that while chickens aren’t vegetarian, a steady diet of steak won’t really meet their needs. Ow!--Janine, stop that! Leafy greens and other veggies are great--you can give them those daily if you have them. Some fruit is okay, too. The exceptions are avocado, stone fruit pits, onions, and uncooked potato--those are big no-nos.
Chickens cannot eat uncooked or unsprouted beans and legumes, or uncooked rice and pasta, candy, chocolate, or super salty snacks (though they love popped corn and it’s fun to listen to a whole flock eat it at once!).
Things like cooked rice and pasta, mealworms, grapes, yogurt, and scrambled eggs are awesome as the occasional treat.
And while they love getting people food, nothing beats a super high quality chicken feed and time to run around and forage for greens and bugs. So if you can, let your chickens run around the yard to get their treats in.
Dear Janine and Egon,
I have kind of a delicate question for you. I allow my chickens to free range during the day, which is also my favorite time to get, err, frisky with my partner. Almost every time we do, we are startled while in the act by our chickens, who are watching us intently through our French doors. Why are they doing this, and how can we make it stop?
Perplexing Eyeballs Eyeing Nookie
Janine: Your chickens are watching you because they are wondering why it’s taking you so damn long to get the job done. Egon knows that he has five seconds, tops, to wrap things up with me before I get back to eating bugs and grass and flopping around in the dirt. Don’t y’all have better things to do?
Maeg: We can skip this one if you guys wan--
Janine: Don’t get me wrong, we are loving creatures with a strong partnership. We just focus our romantic gestures on the things that are important: snacks.
So if you want your birds to stop spying on your nookie, you’ve got two options: one, invest in some curtains, or two, start doing it right!
To Free Range or Not to Free Range
Should I allow my chickens to free range? I have a flock of six hens, no rooster. They have a coop and run, so while they are outside all day it’s not the same as having pasture. We also have a ton of predators where we live and I am afraid they will get eaten during the day by a fox, the neighbor’s dog, or a hawk. I want them to be safe but I also want them to enjoy fresh grass and have a quality life. I feel conflicted so I figured I’d just ask a chicken.
Really Agitated, Needing Good Expertise
Egon: Hi, RANGE. I’m going to take this one because flock protection is my mission in life.
Janine: You only have one hen. I’m your one hen, Egon.
Egon: Yup, and you’re still alive, aren’t you?
Janine: [chicken equivalent of an eye roll; hard to describe]
Egon: Okay, RANGE. We hear you and we appreciate your desire to help your birds live their best life. That said, is it possible your take on the situation is a little too black and white? There’s a middle ground between “safe but miserably caged” and “free but about to get torn apart by wolves.”
Yes, we are chickens. Yes, free ranging is life! Here’s the thing, though...I’m a rooster but I’m not invincible. We chickens also depend on our humans to take reasonable precautions to keep us safe. We don’t have opposable thumbs so our ability to make this happen for ourselves is limited. We do want to be protected.
You say you have six hens, no roosters. That’s something to think about, because a rooster does offer a layer of protection to his flock. If you are able to have a rooster where you live, consider getting one. Roosters have a reputation for being aggressive, but don’t let this scare you. You can find one that is respectful of people and a great protector, like me!
Janine: You do a great job when you’re not on the other side of the yard, chasing other hens.
Anyway, another thing--lots of folks protect their flocks with trained livestock guardian dogs. That’s probably more than you want to take on for a small backyard flock, but just putting that out there in case you expand or want to add a dog to your menagerie.
Another option: build a chicken tractor for your six ladies. A tractor is just a moveable structure that keeps us on fresh grass at all times. It wouldn’t need to be as predator proof as your coop if it’s for daytime use only, and it would only take a few minutes in the morning and evening to move your hens in and out of the tractor. I guarantee you they would be pretty stoked to spend time there.
Lastly, try letting your birds free range while you are home and outdoors with them. If you know you’ll be doing yard work all day, let them join you. Your presence will deter predators, the girls will have a safer opportunity to free range, and you’ll be more relaxed. Janine and I only free range on days that our humans are home. On the rare days they are gone all day, we enjoy hanging out in our run instead.
Not Ready for Normal
Dear Janine and Egon,
Now that the world is reopening, I have to go back to in-person work and return to “normal life”. Honestly, I’m anxious and I just don’t feel ready to be living at my old pace of life! I guess I was kind of holding out hope this past year that capitalism would implode and I wouldn’t have to go back to the office. Turns out that was a terrible back-up plan and now I just don’t know what to do, other than hide under a blanket until the bank comes for the house. Do you have any advice for me?
Fearful of Material Living
That sounds really hard, I’m so sorry. We can relate to not wanting things to change. This year has been pretty rad for us too, with our humans home and around to give us lots of extra TLC and free ranging time.
That leads me to my advice.
We are birds. We don’t work. We eat, sleep, forage, play, and relax 24/7. Our food, housing, and medical is provided for us free of charge. In exchange, we lay eggs--or in Egon’s case, make sure those eggs are fertile. It’s a good deal, since we get a good life in exchange for things that we do involuntarily (lay eggs) or we would happily do anyway (mate--but not for more than five seconds, as we’ve discussed!).
In human terms, you might say that we have an exceptionally strong social safety net. We never have to live in fear of our needs not being met, though some of us have understandable concerns about the aforementioned freezer camp.
From what I’ve heard, this kind of social safety net isn’t really available to humans. That’s truly unfortunate. So instead, my advice is that you consider another human convention we’ve heard about: find someone to give you free stuff. I think it’s called a sweet person? Or a sugar someone? Anyway, I’ve heard this person will give you a coop to live in with clean bedding, plus food, fresh water, an outdoor run or free range time, and even medical care. Since you don’t lay eggs, I’m not sure what you could give them in exchange but I’m sure you’ll think of something! Good luck!
How Much is Too Much?
My girlfriend and I live together and last year got chickens for the first time. I am really, really fond of one of our hens, Ruby. So much so that I would like her to live with us. I’ve looked into it, and it turns out that washable chicken diapers are a thing. They work really well and would allow Ruby to be an indoor pet without a lot of drama...or accidents.
My girlfriend is totally against this. She thinks it would be gross to have a house chicken, and also super gross to eat an egg that might be laid inside a diaper. She’s also concerned that Ruby herself might not like our company. What are your thoughts on house chickens? If you tell me it’s a bad idea, I’ll let it go. I’d ask Ruby but she doesn’t have an advice column and she can’t really talk to me.
Is a House Chicken Too Much?
Dear Too Much,
Short answer: Yes, it’s too much.
Let us elaborate. A house chicken situation can be EXCELLENT for all parties involved, bird and human, under the right circumstances. Sometimes house living is right for a short amount of time while a chicken is recuperating from illness or surgery. Our friend and neighbor Mollie was a house chicken briefly while recovering from crop surgery. And we’ve heard that she had an awesome time, eating all the best food, wearing a fashionable diaper, trying to dust bathe on carpets, and laying eggs under nightstands. But as soon as she was feeling better, she went back to her coop and NEVER LOOKED BACK.
And that’s the thing--Mollie never looked back because her true home was with her flock. With other birds, who could fully understand and communicate with her.
We are incredibly social creatures, and enjoy the constant camaraderie that flock life brings. We are guessing that you and your girlfriend have jobs, or at least leave the house for long stretches. What will Ruby do during all these lonely hours in the house without you? And when you are home, will you really be what she needs?
Plus, your girlfriend is clearly against the idea. In all likelihood this means that Ruby will get limited attention from her, and both her and Ruby will wind up less than pleased with their situation, while you are caught in the middle.
While we can’t speak for all chickens, both of us feel that house-chickening is great when a bird is sick or injured and needs time away from the flock to recover. Or a bird might have an ongoing issue that requires special care, like severe cross beak, or might be the only bird you have--a rescue, perhaps. There are definitely plenty of scenarios where chickens might love living with humans, and be lucky to do so, but this doesn’t sound like one of them. Ruby and your girlfriend both seem happy where they are, so please don’t change anything.
xo Egon and Janine
Got Questions? Egon and Janine want to hear from you!
If you need advice to help you navigate life OR your chicken coop, Egon and Janine got you covered.
Submit your questions below for the next column! All queries will remain anonymous.