Chickens, we wanted to raise for quite some time but never took the first step. When we shifted from hybrid cows to native cows, we realized it was time to buy native chickens. And it was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. Chickens and cows share a symbiotic relationship – cows poop attract a lot of worms and pests which chickens relish. They also help in keeping cow mites and a lot of other parasites at bay.
Our chickens are kept in an enclosure at night to protect them from predators and they’re are left open in our quarter acre cowshed to graze freely. They dig the cow dung, eat insects from the gutter in our cowshed. We also feed them rice, millets, rice husk, grass clippings and weeds during peak summers and vegetable waste from our kitchen.
Who let the chickens out?
One of the first problems we faced when we bought chickens, was to keep them safe from predators around. We kept them safe inside a palm woven basket in the night with heavy logs and bricks on top. But the mongoose were smarter. They somehow tried to pull the chickens out from the basket and killed them. We lost one rooster and one chicken to mongoose.
We also had no clue that Pani, our farm dog would be a biggest threat to chickens. Th first day when we brought our chickens to the cowshed, he killed a beautiful rooster when one of the women workers forgot to lock the cowshed gate. He also managed to scare all the chickens that they flew helter-skelter around the farm and even managed to perch on top of a neem tree. After we caught Pani and locked him in a room, we went about searching for the chickens and brought them all back into the cowshed. We immediately covered the chicken coop with finer mesh from all sides to protect them from such mishaps.l
After dogs and mongoose, came the next threat – crows and hawks. They do not harm the adult chickens but target the baby chickens as they are easy prey. We had to protect the smaller ones until they were atleast a month old and can run faster. So we decided to keep them inside the chicken coop and feed them until then.
Then next problem was training the chickens to stay inside the cowshed. Native chickens have the tendency to fly higher and our 10 feet high cowshed walls were easy for them to cross. Every time we tried to send them inside the coop, they started flying and perched on trees. And it became a huge task to bring them inside the coop.
A friend of ours gave us a simple solution. He asked us to snip a few feathers off their wings which would stop them from flying. We did that and it worked! The roosters and chickens stopped flying higher than the cowshed wall.
If you’ve ever been around chickens, you’d probably know how they keep digging the earth underneath to eat tiny worms and insects. Now imagine having a compost pile around chickens and how they’d go crazy with so many millipedes, earthworms and insects that get attracted to break down the organic matter. Any good compost pile will break down faster when turned frequently and chickens do a wonderful job at that. They also poop on the pile, thus adding more NPK to the compost. The only problem with them is the pile gets flattened soon by their constant digging. One needs to keep gathering the compost into a pile so that it doesn’t lose its moisture.
We know how maternal instincts are for dogs and cows. Dogs do not let any humans or other dogs come near their new litter until they are big enough. Cows, in a similar way do not let other calves come near them to drink milk.
Hens take their maternal instincts a step further and kill the other baby chickens which are not a part of her hatchlings. If ever a new chicken gets closer to her, she will peck them ruthlessly and even kill in certain cases. We learnt this the hard way by losing a couple of baby chickens when two mothers hatched at the same time. We had to build small separate enclosure for each other in order to save them from attacking each other.
Roosters are funny creatures who understand the real meaning of chivalry. Whenever they find worms or insects to eat, they make a call and all the hens around gather to eat. They also do a funny dance around hens to show that they are ready to mate. Roosters are also aggressive at times, they fight with each other to mate with a potential hen. It also gets stressful for hens with many roosters around. We had two roosters when we started out and we currently have eight in our coop. We will be selling a few this monsoon to keep the aggression under control.
Sudhakar and I are not huge fans of eggs, we consume once in a while. We get regular income from eggs right now and will get some income from occasional sale of chicken. The eggs are sold at a premium at Rs. 15 a piece because the nutritional value is known to be higher and also because country chickens give lot lesser eggs than broiler chicken. Diseases occur and spread during the monsoon much more than the rest of the year. For preventing losses to a chicken coop operation, chicken population is reduced to a minimum before monsoon hits us in November across Tamil Nadu. Our next plan is to introduce a couple of native ducks along with our chickens. What do you think?