Monday, December 16, 2013

Important Things to Know About Chicken Math

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by Donna McGlasson from Gardens & Chickens & Worms, Oh My!

If you are a seasoned chicken keeper or lover you probably know what “chicken math” means.  If you are new to the world of chicken keeping, chicken math is 2+2=more, meaning once you get a few chickens, you’ll start seeking out chicken friends, Facebook pages, magazines and blogs in the cyber world to learn more and connect with other backyard or hobby farm enthusiasts.  After that, you will see all types of breeds with personality, beautiful feathers, funny antics and beautiful eggs and then chicken math takes over.  
Blue, pink and brown eggs

 Your coop gets expanded or new coops get added or built, lengthened runs happen and before you know it, you have 10, 12, 15, 25, etc., chickens.  Even if you live in suburbia, you can have from two to six chickens (if laws allow) in a blink.  And while all of this is something we, as chicken keepers, joke about and understand, there are some important factors that come into play as your flock expands. I am speaking from personal experience and I admit I’m a little obsessive about my chicken’s care but I imagine most of us think of our chickens as pets and we care for them emotionally as well as physically.

Mabel with a newly hatched Alice
When I started expanding my flock the decision came about because Mabel went broody in May 2013.  I ordered fertile eggs as I did not have a rooster and the 21 day process began.  Two hatched and then there were five.  In August 2013, I learned of a California breeder of Tolbunt Polish chickens and I wanted to get some so I set out to get three Tolbunts, two frizzled, and one smooth feathered.  While I was picking them up, the breeder also had a couple of White-Crested Black Polish Bantams and the rest is history. 

Sarah a Bantam White-Crested Black Polish & Minnie a Frizzled Tolbunt Polish
I now have three laying hens, two almost grown pullets, three young pullets and one cockerel.  I lost one of the Tolbunt Polish to an impacted crop I could not resolve.  That brings me to the important things to know about chicken math.
It’s very easy to sit and see all the pretty photos of chickens, eggs & coops and read about all their antics, however, when you decide to expand your flock do your homework.  Depending on your set up and the breeds you choose, you may face challenges you did not know existed. 

In my experience, the emotional factor of losing a pet chicken was heart breaking, Olive was still very young but I become attached very easily. In addition, breeds like Polish require more care in several ways I never thought of, such as needing extra protection in freezing weather and careful integration in to a flock since their crests, or bouffant as I call them, do not allow them to see well.  If I could free range my birds, the Polish would also be more susceptible to predators because of their bouffants. 

Front to back, Mildred, Mabel & Pearl
In another instance, I naively thought my original three girls would not be hostile or aggressive to Alice & Myrtie, especially Mabel who hatched them.  Think again.  I had to very slowly integrate Alice & Myrtie with Mildred, Mabel & Pearl.  Once Mabel abandoned them to rejoin her “sisters” she was no longer interested in their care and went about reestablishing herself in the pecking order.  To this day, Myrtie and Alice are careful how close they get to the original three and only Alice has dared to grab treats from the same bowl and then run.

Thick smoke from a fire in Yosemite National Park & Forest

My husband & I moved to the Sierra Mountains in April 2013, just south of Yosemite National Park.  I knew there would be more predators, and at my insistence, my husband and I built “the fortress” as he calls it.  It was a lot of work and now I’m expanding the run and trying to maintain fortress status in the process. 

I never thought about wild fire smoke and it's affect on chickens until we had two fires very close to us this last summer. 

We recently had our first snow of six inches.  Not only was this new to me as a native Floridian, it was new to my flock. I have had frozen water to deal with everyday, Polish chickens to bring back into the garage for protection from freezing to temperatures in the teens and trudging through ice and snow to the coop & run.

I tell you these things not to discourage you from enjoying your flock or adding to it but to make you aware that as chicken math occurs, you will face more issues that require time, money & energy.  It doesn’t matter if you are sick, if it’s freezing, if you work or if your time is limited.  These living, breathing pets require your love, attention and care at all times and depend on you for their lives.  The more chickens you have, that is more that is required from you. So when the chicken math urge hits you, do your homework on breeds, talk to other chicken keepers, read and research as much as you can and take your time, energy & money into account before adding 2+2=more.   Most all of, make sure you can enjoy old & new flock members because in spite of the challenges that will arise, chicken math is awesome!


  1. Great advice! Although I am more careful than some other flock owners I've met, I, too, have succumbed to chicken math. My favorite excuse is, " they're only bantams - they don't count!" (And I raise large fowl - do I NEED these little birds?? Of course not, but they're so darn cute!) I always advise people to wait, although it sure is hard to do that sometimes, to get the breeds they really love. If you fill your coop up with birds that were more conveniently available, then you won't have room to get the ones you really want. I have no more space for another coop - when my slots are filled, I'm done, unless time or illness creates more openings in the flock. So I am pretty choosy when it comes to acquiring more birds. I'm at about thirty right now, and I can attest to the extra work - be sure you're ready to take that on for another pretty face! (Having said that, I have dreams of moving to a farm where I can have 100 birds! Sigh. It's an illness.) Thanks for the great article!

  2. Of course it doesn't help my math problem when you have such great links on your page just waiting to be checked out :)

  3. Eat the extras. Problem solved. You're welcome.


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