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The Chicken and the Egg

February 28th, 2013

In Colombia, having chickens on your small farm is vital and the eggs they give aren’t the main reason for having them. They are kept for pest control, particularly because they eat brown recluse spiders and scorpions.
Colombian Chicken (1)
For a while, there were no chickens at the camp, then they started having trouble with spiders and scorpions. A flock of traditional jungle type birds were brought in and the scorpions and spiders were history.
Colombian Chickens (1)
These aren’t your typical laying hens that we are used to here in the states. The chickens roost in the trees, no cozy coop to keep them safe. There are a few branches propped up into the crooks of the pomarosa trees to aid them in getting up there. They do a great job staying away from predators since they’re not penned in. In fact, there was someone that tried to keep some chickens contained in a coop and run at the camp and they were quickly eaten by ocelots that snuck in out of the jungle.
Colombian Chickens
My dad has one larger chicken that was a gift from one of his workers. She’s a big girl, much larger than the smaller jungle type chickens, more of the type we’re used to seeing here. It’s funny, because everyone that visits has their eye on her for the soup pot.
Colombian Chicken 6
One day while we were there, she decided to use the wheelbarrow as a nesting box and left us a big beautiful blue egg. We found another one later in the week.
Colombian Chickens 2
Colombian Chickens 3
A few days before we arrived at the camp, one of the smaller chickens showed up with 5 chicks. She was down to three after only a day or two. It looks pretty promising for these three, since they continued to show up every afternoon that week. No doubt they will have the skills to survive.
Colombian Chickens 1
It was fascinating to watch these chickens, they retain their wild instincts and they’re completely different than the ones pecking around my garden. I suppose these traits aren’t desirable for large scale agriculture, but they certainly would be in the small garden setting. This spring I’m hoping to find some chickens that are a little more like these, I’ve found a guy locally that breeds them. You’ll hear all about them, I’m hoping it won’t be long.

Would you be willing to keep chickens with more of their natural instincts and get fewer eggs if you had chickens?

23 Comments to “The Chicken and the Egg”
  1. Robin on February 28, 2013 at 6:38 am

    I had Egyptian Fayoumis for a while. They roosted 20′ up in the trees. We never got eggs from them. Their non-stop darting and dashing and crowing made customers nervous so we didn’t keep them.

    The chickens and turkeys we have do a lot to help keep the tick population under control. We found only two tics on our three dogs and two cats last year. I’d keep wide-roaming chickens just for that purpose.

    Reply to Robin's comment

  2. kristin @ going country on February 28, 2013 at 6:41 am

    The Rhode Island Red hens we have have retained more of their wild instincts. They almost will not lay in the coop boxes, preferring to roam around and find their own spots. Which is annoying for those of us who want to eat their eggs, obviously.

    We occasionally have trouble with them not wanted to even roost in the coop, too. For hens like this, a rooster to corral them is absolutely a necessity.

    When we get new hens in a couple of years, I’m going to look for some that are more domesticated. The dogs and our electric fencing will keep them safe enough, and I get pretty peeved about not finding so many of the eggs I know the hens are laying.

    Reply to kristin @ going country's comment

    • Joan on February 28, 2013 at 8:43 am

      This is interesting, because our Rhode Island Reds reliably lay in their nest boxes. The ones that we have trouble with hiding of the eggs is Aracaunas – they would much rather hide their eggs in the woods or in tall grass in the field. And our Reds are also the first to go back into their coop at night. Maybe different lines of the RI Reds are different.

      Something we found with the Aracaunas that helped… Once we discovered their nesting site, we left the eggs in it, but marked them so that we would know that they were old. Every day after they laid an egg we would go raid the nest site, taking out the new egg. If we removed all the old eggs they would just find another place to hide them.

      Reply to Joan's comment

  3. Joan on February 28, 2013 at 8:03 am

    What kind of chickens is the local breeder working with? I might be interested. I suspect that the finer built ‘jungle type’ birds would have trouble surviving our Maine winters, even in a coop, but if someone is doing it… Are the birds living outside even in the winter or are they in a coop? Are they heating the coop? If they can survive, the idea of having tougher more self sufficient birds that can spend all of their time out would be well worth trying even without eggs because of their value for tick control. But I would not be too thrilled if they became wild and we had lots of roosters crowing at 3:30 in the morning in the summer – one is quite enough!

    Guinea hens are supposed to be even better for tick control than chickens, and I think they are quite hardy. Unfortunately we live close to the road and for some reason guinea hens like to hang out in the road, so they don’t work for us.

    Reply to Joan's comment

    • Susy on February 28, 2013 at 8:42 am

      He has a bunch of different kinds, mostly rare, interesting birds. I told him I wanted some with some of their natural instincts but ones that also would lay a decent number of eggs. He recommend that I go with Appenzeller Spitzhaubens or Hedemoras. He says they’re both very good at keeping safe from predators and has never lost one. They are left out with no pen and no closed doors and do fine in the cold (he lives 10 miles down the road from me). We hoping to interview him for our podcast about chickens.

      I’ll be getting a few guineas this year too, I almost got some last fall, but the lady I was going to buy them off of lost a bunch to hawks.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  4. Adriana on February 28, 2013 at 8:44 am

    We’ve had chickens for the past 5 years. Different breeds, but they were all the traditional egg layers. We also have a traditional run attached to the coop, but I’ve never been happy with that approach. In the past we tried letting them roam free, but lost half or our flock (7 of the 13) to a fox in less then and hour! Right now we have them in a movable electric fence, but I still think we can do better. If we could keep all the predators away, I would gladly want to keep more natural chickens.

    Reply to Adriana's comment

    • Susy on February 28, 2013 at 8:50 am

      That is one of the tradeoffs for more wild chickens, they can generally keep away from predators better than their heavier barn breed counterparts. The two different kinds I’m looking are bred/raised locally. The guy I’m buying them from doesn’t even have a coop and never closes his chickens in. He’s never lost one to a predator and he lives not too far from me. We’ve lost a few chickens to a fox as well.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  5. Melanie in Ca on February 28, 2013 at 10:01 am

    We have two sets of chickens, one traditional bunch in a coop with covered run and an extended family of we-don’t-know-what-kind that are totally free range. The free rangers look very much like your Colombian birds – small, light and fast. They all roost in our trees at night and the ubiquitous black widow spider population has been decimated. The hens are black or golden brown and the roosters are beautifully multi-colored. They are wonderful mommas and very stealthy with their clutch until the little fuzz balls are steady on their feet and wicked fast. We’ve lost a few to an owl that found an opening in their roosting tree but now that it’s leafing out the owl seems stymied.

    I’ve raised the Rhode Island Reds and Buff Orpingtons to be handled and friendly and they are reliable egg producers but, um, they’re not very bright and not nearly as fun to watch as the ranging birds.

    Reply to Melanie in Ca's comment

  6. Songbirdtiff on February 28, 2013 at 10:04 am

    I would prefer it. In fact, I’m thinking about keeping a few garden ducks (probably not chickens) just for pest control and a few eggs.

    Reply to Songbirdtiff's comment

    • Susy on February 28, 2013 at 10:07 am

      I’d highly recommend the ducks, they’re really great. We’re adding 10 more ducks to our flock this spring, along with a pair of geese. Hopefully our current flock of muscovies will start laying eggs and raise a few little ducklings for us.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  7. amy on February 28, 2013 at 11:13 am

    I have/had about every chicken under the sun throughout the years. Some stay in the coop but many escape and are free range….but all of them lay…you just have to know where to look….The guineas and ducks that we have are the very best though for ticks and mosquitoes…..The guineas drive some people nuts with their loud call….and manic….behavior…..but I adore them…..The ducks are my favorite to watch out of all of my birds…..Would not be without any of my feathered fowl. Very interesting post~Susy……brown recluse….scorpions…I do notta think so…..eek!

    Reply to amy's comment

    • amy on February 28, 2013 at 1:35 pm

      I feel compelled to add…..and I do not want to come off as a know it all….for I definitely am not…..and as I was reading the comments I see many who have chickens now or have had in the past….so I will not be telling you anything you do not know….but for those who have never had chickens, guineas, turkeys, ducks etc…..when you have free range… is not always quaint…especially if your gardens are not fenced in…..yes….they will eat your bugs….but they also can destroy your tomato crop….strawberries….young leafy veg….they will scratch entire plants of any kind out of the ground….because they love to get the bugs under the shaded damp part of a plant….or make for themselves dust baths… i said i do not want to seem presumptuous…..just something to consider when thinking about buying them…..

      Reply to amy's comment

    • Susy on February 28, 2013 at 1:51 pm

      Good point and very true. The book Free Range Chicken Gardens talks about this and has many great tips on how to work chickens into your gardens with the least amount of negative issues.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  8. Donna B. on February 28, 2013 at 11:17 am

    Yes and no
    I really like the idea of them being able to protect themselves because that’s one of my most primary fears about [eventually…] keeping chickens.
    Although I do dream of having a little flock following me around the gardens. Being able to hold them in my arms and have them coo and fall asleep on me while sitting on a chair drinking some tea and reading a book?
    Yeah. I’d like that too. What grandious dreams I have, eh? Hehehe…

    Reply to Donna B.'s comment

    • Susy on February 28, 2013 at 12:58 pm

      Perhaps two flocks would work for you, a wild free-ranging flock and a few pet chickens.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  9. Natalie on February 28, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    I would really like free ranging birds, even if it meant less eggs. I really don’t want a rooster, though. Two years ago, the ticks were so bad, I told my husband we should look into getting guinea hens, but we haven’t done it. I do see them around our area and in the road a lot.

    He’s slowly getting used to the idea of keeping chickens. Our neighbors do and claim they are easy. I’d probably start with meat birds, but not for another year, at least! Come summer, I’ll have a one year old and a newborn. I figure adding chickens might just be a little too much this year!

    Reply to Natalie's comment

    • Susy on February 28, 2013 at 12:57 pm

      Chickens are really easy, I think ducks are even easier, especially if you’re just looking for meat.

      Reply to Susy's comment

      • Natalie on March 1, 2013 at 11:32 am

        I have only had duck meat once or twice and didn’t care for it. My husband loves duck meat, though! I may consider it. I like chicken, but I don’t eat it for various reasons. So, unless I raise my own, I go without.

        Our neighbors provide us with very cheap eggs from pastured hens, so I don’t think it makes sense for us to keep egg laying chickens at this time.

        to Natalie's comment

  10. Maybelline on February 28, 2013 at 1:57 pm

    Thought your parents lived in Ohio. I must not be paying attention. I would love chickens for pest control but I don’t like eggs and I could never butcher what would become a pet. Doesn’t pencil out for me.

    Reply to Maybelline's comment

    • Susy on February 28, 2013 at 3:25 pm

      My parents have a home in Ohio which my mom lives at most of the time. My dad lived in Colombia, South America 8 months out of the year.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  11. Nebraska Dave on February 28, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    Susy, after reading all the comments, I like my situation the best. Wild turkeys roam my big garden (Terra Nova Gardens). Although, I don’t get eggs, they are the best at scratching around in the garden and eating the seeds and bugs. I could tell they had been all around in my fenced garden because they can fly but they never bothered the tomato fruits or any of the other vegetables. I never was bothered with any kind of bug problem in the garden. Even though there is a good sized portion (1/3) of the garden that is brush and woods, there were no ticks. I consider the flock of about 20 birds that roam the neighborhood an asset to the garden. They seem to function just fine in the neighborhood environment. It just so happens that my garden area has the watering hole for them so they like visiting quite often. I can sit at my picnic table and watch them drink about 20 feet away. As long as I don’t spook the guard turkey, they will stay that close for quite a long time. Even when I’m working in the garden, it’s not unusual for them to be 30 or 40 feet away scratching through the mulch around the plants.

    Have a great fowl day.

    Reply to Nebraska Dave's comment

    • Susy on February 28, 2013 at 7:53 pm

      Good thought, attract wild birds if possible. Many people forget that even wild turkeys and songbirds will be powerful allies in the garden, in fact the post I’m writing for Sunday is about just that.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  12. katie on March 1, 2013 at 9:36 am

    A little off subject, but we just recently watched the Natural History of the Chicken on Netflix. It isn’t anything what you would expect. It’s basically stories of people that are a little over the top regarding their chickens, but very….interesting we will say.

    Reply to katie's comment

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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