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What does a chicken eat? Almost anything. Chickens don’t have teeth, so they also swallow small rocks, which get stored in their crop (a pocket between the beak and the stomach) to help break down larger chunks passing through. Chicken food purchased at any feed store consists of ground corn supplemented with vitamins and minerals. If you have infants less than 2 weeks old, ask for specially formulated “chick starter” to get them off to a good launch in life. If you have laying hens, you should either be feeding them laying mash, which has calcium supplements to support the egg shells, or mixing crushed oyster shells (also available at feed stores) into their food.
What is the average life span of a chicken? Five to seven years. On commercial farms, laying hens are slaughtered after two years, when their productivity starts to decline; roasting chickens live 14 weeks; fryers, six.
When does a hen start laying eggs? At about 5 months of age. For her first two seasons, she’ll lay an egg every 30 to 34 hours. If she’s outdoors and perceives the days getting shorter, her system will shut down for the winter, and resume in the spring, when her pituitary gland senses an increase in daily light.
Does my hen need a rooster to lay eggs? No. She only needs a rooster to lay fertile eggs for hatching. The vast majority of eggs purchased in supermarkets are not fertile. Some health-food stores carry fertile eggs. There is no nutritional difference between a fertile and a non-fertile egg. Once your hen lays eggs, you have to wait about a half-hour for the shell to harden to eat them, but it doesn’t get any fresher than that. If you aren’t going to eat them within a day, you should refrigerate them.
Can I turn my chickens loose in my home? Yes, if you enjoy cleaning chicken shit off the sofa and tabletops. Adult chickens should be maintained in an outdoor pen with a floor of sawdust or cedar chips, with room to run and perch, a nesting space, and protection from local predators such as raccoons, coyotes, opossums and hawks.
Can I talk to my chicken? Of course you can.
Will my chicken answer? Yes.
Will I understand my chicken’s answer? I don’t know.
What should I name my chicken? Chuck. Zeus is also good.
How do I hold my chicken? If you haven’t raised it from a chick, gently seize and hold both feet in one hand, and support the body under the sternum with the other. Baby chicks can easily be trained to jump onto your hands and perch on your fingers. Show the chick your hands first, and then slide them in under the chest and raise them up. The chick will happily jump aboard, and will remember this trick through adulthood. Never swoop down on the bird from above and grab it by the wings: Chickens are pre-wired to know that they’re prey, and all you’re doing is imitating a hawk and triggering panic.
Can I hypnotize my chicken? Yes. Gently hold the bird’s beak to the ground; then, using a finger (if on sand or dirt) ?or chalk (if on pavement), draw a straight line extending away from the beak. You’ll be able to release your hold and the bird will remain in a silent daze for up to a minute.
Is there any good reason to hypnotize a chicken? No.
Are there other ways of obtaining chickens?Yes, you can hatch one in an incubator, if you wish to fully appreciate the wonder of life and its origins. For this you will also need fertile hatching eggs.
Where can I find fertile hatching eggs? I usually get mine from Ken Arno (818-774-0744), who has a free-range farm outside Van Nuys. After Clifford was stolen, however, it was the middle of winter, and Ken’s chickens weren’t laying. John’s Feed Store has a year-round supply of Rhode Island Red hatching eggs, trucked in from Texas. Fertile eggs from a health-food market are typically too old to yield live chickens.
Where do I find an incubator? At flemingoutdoors.com, for about $20, you can buy a simple “still air” plastic incubator that holds three chicken eggs. Last month, after three days of incubation, six eggs in two incubators were showing signs of development — the network of arteries around a spiderlike center that appears when you hold the egg up to a flashlight’s beam. Humidity needs to be sustained by keeping one of the incubator’s hollow legs filled with water, and the temperature kept between 99° F and 103° F for 21 days. The eggs must be turned two to three times a day to prevent the embryo from sticking to the shell. After the 18th day, you triple the humidity and stop turning the eggs, as the chicks are positioning themselves for the hatch. A ?7-watt bulb generates the heat, strips of tinfoil strategically added or removed from atop the plastic dome regulate the temperature, while a thermometer attached to a 2-inch-long strip of card stock — gently nestled on the top of one egg — measures the five degrees of separation between life and death.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? The egg, obviously. What a stupid question.?
For more writings by Steven Leigh Morris about chickens and chicken hatching, go to: www.laweekly.com/a-considerable-town/10998/chicken-hearted; www.laweekly.com/a-considerable-town/10689/cock-tale-a-spiteful-rooster.