Wanting to be ready for our new birds, I went to the local feed store last night, only a few kilometers away.
A very pregnant woman sat at a three-legged wooden desk propped against the wall, surrounded by 50 kg bags of feed. (That’s 110 lbs. for the metrically illiterate out there.) I looked around wondering how a pregnant woman and myself (a woman who didn’t weigh much more than the feed bag) were going to get them in my car. I paid and she waddled out to the street (hint to men: never tell a pregnant woman she’s waddling, however true it may be).
She whistled at two young schoolboys, pointed, and they came in and carried the bag to my car. I felt guilty as I don’t think combined they weighed 50 kgs, but, they weren’t (a) pregnant or (b) as old as I am.
Early this morning Yvonne and I drove three plots over and around the corner and came upon this mansion being built. The chicken business must be good.
Behind it was the chicken house – that long brick building in the background (the piles of sand and bricks were for building the house, which was to my left at this point).
As we got closer I could hear the chickens and see them in their windows. (Chicken wire covers the windows and keeps them in; the old feed bags act as shutters/curtains of sort, keeping out driving rain.)
In one building were the very young pullets (below), in the other the laying hens, for a total of 1,700 chickens. The whole operation was very clean and well-kept.
The laying “hutches” were made of brick and wood and one person’s job was to go around every hour and pick up eggs.
Lyson, the manager, said that instead of pullets, he would sell me the young hens who were developing slower than the already-laying hens. He said that crowding or stress delays the development of some hens but once they are given more space and pre-lay development feed, they usually start laying within a week.
He showed me the difference between a fully mature laying hen (on the left with a developed red thingy) and one yet the develop (on the right). He also had me feel their (for lack of a better term) crotch area. In the fully developed hens you could feel an open wishbone-like area; for the underdeveloped hen it was still tight and closed. He said as soon as that opened she would start laying.
He then showed me what their eggs would look like initially – small, misshapen, discolored – these were all normal eggs for a hen just starting to lay.
Lyson gave me very specific instructions for feeding and said I was to use the National Milling Corporation (NMC) feed; not the Tiger feed.
I paid Lyson for the hens and he said I should come back around 16.00 or 17.00 (that’s how they do the time here; always on a 24 hour clock), because he would need time to go through the flock and pick out hens for me.
Woo-hoo! Finally! We’d be the proud owners of six Roman Brown chickens.
I drove over to Lyson’s at about 4:30 pm (16.30) and he wasn’t there. About 5:30 pm he pulled up in our drive way, but he had no chickens! He said he wanted to come make sure we were properly set up for chickens. (Thom thought he wanted to make sure we weren’t going to compete commercially with him. Men, they’re so suspicious.)
I had lined the coop with straw and he said, no, they needed shavings, and he would bring three bags with him. He didn’t like my plastic water bowl and my pie tin feeder plates either and insisted I needed ones like what he had. He said we had to spray our shoes with a bleach solution before entering the chicken area to keep them free of disease and that we needed to put a light in the coop and turn it on between 5 pm and 10 pm. It’s a miracle our chickens thrived in Michigan as we did none of this!
However, I nodded in agreement with everything he said. I just wanted my chickens. He offered to pick up the feeder and waterer for me and said he’d bring all of the supplies and the chickens over tomorrow night, after we had removed the grass and installed the light. He also said that he had decided to give us hens that had already started laying because he wanted to make sure we got ones in good health.
I said great, gave him money for the supplies, and with Danny the gardener made arrangements to install the light and remove the grass.
I know I’m repeating yesterday’s closing line, but by this time tomorrow I’m 99% sure we’ll have chickens!