Minimum Wage

The news is full of articles about raising the minimum wage. There’s no question that workers need a reasonable minimum wage in order to buy the things they need to live. Animals are no different. Now chickens have no use for money. They are not going to take a bill full of dollars and walk to the store to purchase things. However, they still deserve something of value in exchange for the eggs they provide. And what is amazing, is that the more you pay them in the way of space, pasture, and brush, the more they reward you with higher quality eggs.
The next time you purchase eggs or chicken meat, ask your grocer what sort of wages the chickens which laid those eggs receive? How much space does each hen have? How many acres of grassland do they have? Do they have roosters they can flirt with?
In the pictures below, I’ve listed a number of things I consider should be part of any chicken’s compensation package.

Maple or Ina?


It’s easy to tell chickens apart when they are as different as Ina and Maple. But how does one tell chickens apart when they look very similar?


Chickens of the same breed have slight variations in their color, shape, size, and personality. One thing that is unique to each chicken is the size and shape of their comb. When you look directly at their face, which is how chickens recognize each other, each chicken looks very different. There are flat combs, straight combs, wavy combs, spiky combs, wide combs, narrow combs, and on and on.


Disordered Hyperuniformity

Chickens have amazing eyesight, able to see ranges of color we humans can’t. Now, researchers from Princeton University and Washington University in St. Louis have discovered that the cells in a chicken’s retina have an unusual arrangement, and is the first known biological occurrence of a new state of matter known as “disordered hyperuniformity”.
Over large distances, they display order, but over small distances, disorder. For example, take crystals of sand. Each bit of sand is different, but when you look at a large volume of sand, it appears to be similar. At the same time, disordered hyperuniformity substances are similar to liquids in that they have the same properties in all directions.
According to the researchers:

In many creatures’ eyes, visual cells are evenly distributed in an obvious pattern such as the familiar hexagonal compact eyes of insects. In many creatures, the different types of cones are laid out so that they are not near cones of the same type. At first glance, however, the chicken eye appears to have a scattershot of cones distributed in no particular order.

Joseph Corbo, an associate professor of pathology and immunology, and genetics at Washington University in St. Louis, approached Salvatore Torquato, a chemistry professor at Princeton, whose group studies the geometry and dynamics of densely packed objects. Professor Torquato came to the conclusion that:

“Because the cones [in a chicken’s retina] are of different sizes it’s not easy for the system to go into a crystal or ordered state,” Torquato said. “The system is frustrated from finding what might be the optimal solution, which would be the typical ordered arrangement. While the pattern must be disordered, it must also be as uniform as possible. Thus, disordered hyperuniformity is an excellent solution.”

For a more detailed explanation, read In the eye of a chicken, a new state of matter comes into view at News at Princeton.

Mother and Daughter

The relationships mother hens have with their chicks can be rich. Watch hens interact with their chicks, and it’s clear that chicks need their mothers.

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Never a Dull Moment


Yuki-hime 雪姫 has taken to the new nests we built in the woodshed.


The chickens make good use of the paths we cleared in the snow. The snow stopped last night. This afternoon it is raining, and the forecast is for much warmer weather tomorrow. In a few days the chickens will have their grass and pasture back.


The chickens don’t care if the power is on or not. But we do. After 11 hours with no power and running off our generator, the power is back on.

Chicken Love

Five year old Billy and one of the hens who like him. Hens have their favorite roosters, and Billy is well liked for being a kind rooster. The oldest rooster at a man and his hoe®, he has the longest spurs of any of the roosters. Watch the roosters and hens for an extended period of time, and you come away with an appreciation for the intricacies of chicken life. Give them the space they need to live they way they want to, and you realize how absurd it is to cage these animals, or crowd them together by the tens of thousands.

Snow Day

We woke up to five inches of fluffy snow. Not the chickens favorite weather. Fortunately, the forecast is for much warmer weather tomorrow and the rest of the week, so the snow will be gone soon.


When it’s cold and snowy outside, the best place for a young chicken is to huddle next to its mother. And the Black Bresse hen in the red barn, isn’t sure whether to venture outside.


But the snow doesn’t deter Spikey. She likes to lay her eggs in one of the doghouses. She’ll even chase the dogs out of the doghouse if she has to. She is one of three hens who lay their eggs in the doghouses. Some days we get all three eggs before the dogs do. Other days the dogs get all the eggs. Life is hard.

If ten years ago, someone would have told me that I would be rushing to get just-laid, warm eggs out of a doghouse before the dogs got to them, I would have told them they were nuts. It makes you wonder what I or you will be doing ten years from now. Life is like rafting down a river. You never know what is around the corner. You might as well enjoy the ride.


Growing Up Is Hard

Mother on the roost with two chicks
Life is full of challenges. Things are always changing. Nothing stays the same. And it’s as true for chicks as it is for us. The Milky Way galaxy we live in is moving at some 1,350,000 miles an hour through the universe. Every day we travel some 32 million miles. From the moment we are born until we die, we are never in the same space, traveling through space at incredible, unimaginable speed. All of us, even the chickens. At times it may seem like nothing changes, but every hour of every day hour we travel more than a million miles. At that speed we could buzz around the earth more than 50 times in an hour. So the next time you are in a difficult situation, close your eyes and remember that in an hour you’ll be more than a million miles away from where you are now.
Yesterday evening was a traumatic time for these chicks. Their mother decided it’s time to start roosting again after sleeping with her chicks in a small barn for the last two months. Two of her chicks followed her up to the roost. But the other two couldn’t understand why she wasn’t in their bed. So they spent the night huddled together, wondering where their mother had gone.
Today, they are all together, following her around through the pasture and woods. Maybe tonight, they will all figure out that their mother is roosting with the other grownup chickens and join her and the other chicks on the roost.
It won’t be long before they have an even more traumatic experience, when their mother decides that her mothering time is over and shoos them away when they want to follow her around.
Broiler raised chickens never have to face this ordeal of growing up. Broiler and most farmed chicken never have a mother to contend with. So they never have to confront separation anxiety. Then again, most farmed chicken, broiler-free range-pastured never live this long.
Chicks on their own
Note: The egg you see under the chicks is a wooden egg. I keep wooden eggs in the nests I want the hens to use, to encourage them to lay there. Hens prefer to lay eggs in nests where there are other eggs.

Surprises Every Day

When you let your chickens run free, you never know what they will do or where they will go. A few days ago I heard a rattling in the shed we use to store hay and straw, and where our wonderful UPS driver picks up and leaves packages. When we have an outgoing package, we put the package in the shed and leave the doors open for the UPS driver. Our regular UPS driver then closes the door when he picks up the package.

What he didn’t realize is that one of our hens had jumped up into the shed earlier and was quietly sitting on a bale of hay in the corner. He closed the door, trapping her inside, and I was hearing her trying to get out later a few hours later.

Now we leave the shed door open so she can lay an egg where she wants to. These are pictures of the shed, Yuki-hime on the bale of hay, and the egg she laid today.

Hay and Straw Shed
Hay and Straw Shed
Yuki-Hime in the shed.
Yuki-Hime in the shed.
Yuki-hime's Egg
Yuki-hime’s Egg

And below is a photo of a two and a half month old daughter with her mother. The mother is laying eggs again and is checking out the elevated dog house used by other hens for laying eggs. An older chick, she still spends much of the day with her mother, and roosts with her at night. Even with their tiny brains, chicks display a need to be with their mothers, even when they are well able to be on their own.

2 ½ month old daughter with her mother.
2 ½ month old daughter with her mother.

Which brings to mind this article by Nicholas Kristof, Is That Sausage Worth This, where he describes the dreadful conditions under which most pigs are raised. One has to question the sanity of modern farm industrialists who treat animals as if they are just machines. Spend time with any farm animal, be it a cow, a pig, or a chicken, and you realize that they are full of emotions. As youngsters they love to play. Even little chicks play with each other and with their mothers.

The drive to raise these animals as cheaply and as quickly as possible is making farmers to act as monsters. And all of us who go along consuming these products without thinking are their unwitting accomplices. The next time you go shopping for chicken, ask your grocer, “Was this chicken raised by its mother?” Does it matter? Did it matter to you that you were raised by your mother?

Never Enough Nests?

Two hens wanting the same nest
Two hens wanting the same nest

It’s not that there aren’t enough nests, it’s that hens want to use the same nest. Some days I’ll go to the coop to check out what all the cackling is about, only to see one hen on a nest, five empty nests nearby, and another hen expressing her frustration that the nest she wants to use is occupied.

By mid afternoon, the more favorite nests can have many eggs. It’s not always possible to tell which hen laid which egg, but by observing throughout the day which hens are using a particular nest, it’s possible to figure out the hen which laid a specific egg by the color and shape of the egg.

Nest full of eggs
Nest full of eggs