By Emma Mayers
When my family first began to think about getting chickens I was dubious. I thought of the birds as messy, greedy and unfriendly…and some are. However, when my friend Isabella got some hens, they were so fluffy, warm and cute that my family decided we needed a small flock of our own.
On Christmas Eve, my dad secretly visited Callahan’s General Store in southeast Austin.
My parents had decided it would be fun to hide four tiny chicks in the spare room and surprise me in the morning. I shrieked in delight when I saw what was in the box. For some strange reason, I decided to name most of them after Greek gods, and chose Selene, Athena, Pan and Pig. I spent that whole winter break watching them eat, sleep and chirp in their box full of hay beneath the warmth of a heat lamp.
To my amazement, each chicken developed its own personality as it grew. Selene, a dark Australorp, was very assertive when she was small; she was the first to discover how to flutter up and out of the box. Now, though, she is very cautious unless we have food. And if we do, she is one of the first to enjoy it—which is why she has become as big as a tank. Athena, also an Australorp, was very sweet when little, but now she’s always slightly disconnected from the rest of the flock. She never seems to know when we’re putting down food, and goes into the coop at least 15 minutes early at night. Pan, a Barred Plymouth Rock, was a very calm and collected chick and grew up to be the most friendly of them all. I always thought of her as our pet because she would come inside our kitchen and ask for food. Sadly, she died of heat exhaustion during the hot summer of 2010. And Pig, also a Barred Plymouth Rock, was named because of her habits: All she did when she was little was eat large amounts of food and sleep.
After a year, we decided that our flock was too small, so we ordered three more chicks online. They arrived early one morning in a small box at the post office and were soon growing fast. These also had different personalities, but were very tight and did not stray too far from one another. Sussex, a Speckled Sussex, is a very bold chicken—definitely the leader of the three. She is always the first to be at the door in the morning waiting for her food. Persephone, an Easter Egger, is the sweetest of them all. She is always willing to be held and comes into the house. She loves to follow Sussex wherever she goes and she produces amazing green and blue eggs. Hestia, also an Easter Egger, is very shy and enjoys pecking our fingers when she can. She follows Sussex wherever she goes, and, like Persephone, she produces green and blue eggs.
Introducing the younger chickens to the older ones was interesting; we had heard stories of older chickens harming new ones very severely. After some research, we decided that the best method was to place them into the coop during the night when the others were asleep, and hope for the best. Thankfully, the introduction went well and we did not hear any squawks from outside. In the morning, the older chickens hopped out of the coop as if nothing was the matter and ignored the others. Thank goodness it worked.
Our six chickens usually stay in groups of three: Selene, Athena and Pig in one, and Sussex, Persephone and Hestia in the other. I think of our flock as a typical high school—like the ones you see on TV. Selene and Athena are the cheerleaders, Pig is the bully, Sussex is the student body president and Persephone and Hestia are Sussex’s helpers. The way they strut around then run to you when you enter the garden makes me laugh every day, and I’m not exactly sure how our yard will look in a year, but I know our six chickens will be there. Hopefully the trend of raising backyard chickens in Austin will grow even stronger as the years pass.
Thirteen-year-old Emma Mayers enjoys reading, writing, gardening and tending her flock of chickens. She attends the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders..