I probably don’t have to explain what chicken math is, but for those of you who don’t know it’s the insidious habit of acquiring a few more birds than you had originally intended. I often post memes and cartoons on my Facebook page that point out this phenomenon – it may hit close to home, we know that it might apply to us, but shrug it off. Chicken math sounds more benign than chicken addiction, but in some cases I think they are interchangeable.
I am as susceptible as anyone else to wanting one of every kind of chicken; keeping chicks my broodies have hatched; taking in rescues; or not being able to turn down a good deal. Whatever the situation it’s easy to rationalize our ever expanding flocks. At some point though, we need to ask ourselves how many chickens are enough?
I had the magic number of 25 in my head. This summer I was well over that – some of them were chicks I was growing out before re-homing, but even then, I was over capacity. When they were in the pen it didn’t seem like many, but when folks asked me how many birds I had I started to say ‘too many’. Truthfully, it was sometimes hard to know the exact number because the flock fluctuated as birds were coming and going. (I hatched @80 chicks). At least I recognized I was over my limit. Knowing you have a problem is the first step to getting a grip on it. I decided I needed to walk the talk.
I’ve been saying for weeks, if not months, that I will be downsizing my flock. I vowed not to be a victim of chicken math and take on more work than I wanted to manage. And after having a rough season of a series of health issues in my flock I wanted the opportunity to be able to spend more ‘quality’ time with fewer birds. One of the problems of having a larger flock is having to monitor how each individual is doing and oftentimes illnesses come to light only when a bird is really sick.
After having re-homed 14 hens last spring, I dipped my toe in the water by re-homing a few more: one family on Gabriola took four hens and two cockerels; two boys went off to Quadra Island and another to Lasqueti Island; a single hen found a home in a small flock and two olive eggers went off to an urban keeper looking for retirement hens. Two weeks ago, the frizzled cockerel was adopted and three girls went to another home. So that came to 16 and that didn’t include the many chicks who went off to new homes in the summer. That still left me with @40 chickens and my ultimate goal was 25.
How do you cut that many? Believe me, the decision was difficult. I looked at a combination of factors: beautiful birds, interesting features, age, egg shell colour and what genetics were in the mix. I was hoping to sell as many birds as I could to one buyer and I did.
Last Sunday, I assembled six moving boxes which I had picked up for free at the local recycling centre and filled the bottom with shredded paper I’d brought home from work. After dinner I packed them up in the dark with a headlamp (which died mid-project) and a flash light. I have electricity in my coop, but I knew if I turned the lights on the flock would be more difficult to deal with. Armed with my list, which I had carefully honed over the last couple of weeks, I methodically boxed up the birds – an exercise which took 45 minutes. My fear was, in the dark, I’d choose the wrong ones, but apparently I did okay.
Living on an island means, that for the most part, I have to schlep birds into town. I take my car on the ferry to work on Monday and bring it back home on Thursday, traveling the rest of the time by local bus. You can imagine me trekking down my long driveway, loaded down with boxes of chickens, waiting for the 7 a.m. bus at the side of the road, getting on and off the ferry, and then heading across the road to where my car is parked. That’s possible with one, maybe two, boxes but not with the six I ended up with.
If your chickens are like mine, the first thing they head for in the morning is water. I didn’t want them to get stressed from being boxed up and then deprived of water for longer than necessary. I’m happy that I was able to organize pick up early Monday morning – Adam met me at my office, having driven for 75 minutes to get them.
Fourteen went off to their new home. (It was supposed to be 15, but one was killed by a predator two days before). I think their new keepers got a nice mix of six hens from last season and eight pullets that haven’t started laying quite yet: a purebred white Ameraucana, a Naked Neck x Black Copper Marans, four Appenzeller Spitzhauben x hens and an assortment of pullets that are mostly Appenzeller Spitzhauben x Easter Eggers that came from blue or green eggs.
I keep pretty meticulous records, but I discovered I had two chickens on the ‘current’ list that had been previously re-homed. So with those scratched off the list, the ones gone this week and the victim of the predator attack I am now sitting at: 14 hens, 10 pullets, one rooster, two cockerels and two I’m thinking are pullets, but am still on the fence about. What did I keep? Three purebreds (an Ameraucana and a Crested Cream Legbar, both blue egg layers; and a Silver Laced Wyandotte), four frizzles, six 2017-2018 hens and a selection of ten pullets from this year’s hatch. The boys will be looking for new homes.
So how does it feel to have reduced my flock by 1/3 in one fell swoop? It’s a bit like swimming at the lake: do you inch in, bit by bit or just take the plunge? I tried a bit of the former and then ended up committing to the latter. To be honest, it’s akin to ripping a bandaid off – a bit painful, but necessary. It will be an adjustment going out to the pen to see a much smaller flock. I won’t miss lugging those feed bags or the burgeoning workload. I’m looking forward to not having to clean as much, fill as many waterers, deal with a succession of broody hens (though most of the ones who went off today aren’t the broody type), or contend with as many avian health issues. I’m hoping that I can spend more time with, and get to know, the birds I have left.
Featured image at top courtesy of: BaaKaawk