Here are a few of the young hens free ranging on the farm. These have come into the door yard and are looking in the window at me. All five Ameraucana pullets were hatched in early May and are five months old. They should start laying within the next two months. The chickens run all over the immediate area of the barn yard. One of their favorite stops is to eat the drops under the apple trees in the orchard. Here are a couple shots of several more youngsters hatched in late June. They are picking at apples. At the moment there are 29 chickens free ranging. Sometimes we have 80 or more birds running loose on the farm. That’s when we need to be hyper vigilant for predators.
Allowing unlimited exercise and access to the foods chickens really want to eat helps develop very healthy, strong birds who produce delicious free range eggs for us. This time of year when the year-old hens are molting and don’t lay well, and the pullets have not yet begun laying, eggs are in short supply. My customers complain bitterly about having to buy store eggs. They call them bland, tasteless, stale, pale and anemic. Which they are. Even eggs touted as cage-free or all vegetarian do not compare with free range eggs. That is because the birds are still confined and can’t exercise or eat as they wish. Chickens are not vegetarians, they are omnivores. They love fruits, vegetables, grains, grasses, legumes, insects, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians, eggs, worms and anything else that they can get. Their bright, beady eyes don’t miss a thing and they are very intelligent animals who know how to fend for themselves.
I think observing chickens has given me insights into the lives and behavior of the birds’ ancient relatives, the dinosaurs. The structure of their bodies, the way they carry themselves, their habits and methods of producing sounds all hint at what dinosaurs were like. Especially dinosaurs of the theropod suborder that scientists believe gave rise to birds. Give chickens long jaws with teeth and soft, downy feathers and they would appear very much like dinosaurs. Scientists have even discovered a supressed gene present in birds that if expressed would cause development of toothed jaws rather than beaks. Pretty strong evidence of bird origin. Watching my little prehistoric-like critters is one of the special perks of farm life.