Raising chickens has been a happy adventure. Though there have been bumps - in particular, discovering that one of our hens was actually a rooster - this has mostly been a really pleasant experience. I can only speak to my own little flock of two hens, of course, but they're easy to care for and fun to have around, and they provide food for us. Maybe we would have a different relationship with them if the flock were larger, or if we didn't interact with them so much. People have told me that the chickens they've known were mean, that they bit and chased kids and wouldn't allow themselves to be picked up. This hasn't been our experience. Maybe we're just lucky, but I suspect that our hands-on approach with them has helped. We held them from their first day with us. I think it made them gentler and more sociable with people. That's my theory anyway.
I tend to think of the hens as pets, though of course that isn't precisely accurate. They're more than pets; they give us food, they help control pests and they help us compost. They could be food themselves, and we've made sure that our children understand this. We observe them carefully, looking for behavioral patterns and monitoring physical growth and changes. But we also treat them as animal friends, and we have come to learn the features, and quirks, of their individual personalities. Betty, the Barred Plymouth Rock (black/white speckled) chicken, is sweeter and more interactive. Penny, the Rhode Island Red, is more shy and less likely to follow a person around the yard. But she's also noisier. It's hard to tell which is the dominant hen, though I think Betty is the likelier candidate. She seems bolder and is usually the first to investigate something new, with Penny following her. But then again, Penny usually leads the chorus of cackles and chirps, and even crows a bit, so it might be a basically equal relationship.
We're trying to savor these last few weeks before winter sets in, when we might see changes in their egg production due to diminished daylight. We plan to try a light inside the coop to see if that helps keep them laying, but we're prepared for a slowdown. In the meantime, we're enjoying their eggs as often as possible, while they're still producing an egg each most days. I've found myself enjoying eggs much more since we started eating theirs. I wasn't really an egg person before but their eggs taste better to me. I mostly eat them hard-boiled or poached, but the rest of the family eats them any which way. We usually have no fewer than a dozen eggs on hand so I always have plenty for baking. Last week, on a rainy afternoon, the small Bears and I made a loaf of pumpkin bread. I'm still working on the egg content in baking recipes; our eggs are somewhere between "medium" and "large," on the official designation scale. Sometimes I use an extra white or yolk, depending on the recipe; this loaf was a bit dry and I'd use another yolk next time, maybe. But it was very good; I enjoyed a slice with my afternoon cup of tea and thought about how nice it is to have those pretty little hens and - for now - fresh, pure eggs whenever I need them.
Pumpkin Bread (from my trusty old Betty Crocker's Cookbook)
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin
1 2/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 large eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottom only of loaf pan, 9x5x3 inches.
Mix pumpkin, sugar, oil, vanilla and eggs in large bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients. Pour batter into pan.
Bake 1 hour 10 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pan on wire rack.
Loosen sides of loaf from pan, remove from pan and place top side up on wire rack. Cool completely, about 2 hours, before slicing.