Tomato Hornworm -- Moooa ha ha ha ha!

Start with _Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens_ by Gail Damerow. Next, point your news reader to sci.agriculture.chickens.
First of all, you'll want more than one chicken. Chickens are flock birds, and are very unhappy when asked to go solo. When we rescued a chick from sure death, it cheeped plaintively until we bought it a couple companions. I could quiet it by holding it in my hands, but that isn't a viable solution. In your situation, I would get three pullets. No rooster is necessary unless you want fertile (hatchable) eggs, or enjoy waking up to crowing in the morning (as I do).
Since sexing chicks is a chancy business, you will probably want to get one of the varieties with sex-linked traits. The three I can think of off-hand are the black sex link, red sex link, and isa brown. All three are really good layers, and lay brown eggs. My son's very tame chicken is a black sex link (a cross between a rhode island red rooster and a barred rock hen). I have found the isa brown chickens to be friendly, too.
Since you want hens that are good foragers, you'll want to avoid the commercial strains. The classic plymouth rock (white or barred), rhode island red, new hampshire red, and the like are classic breeds, and are quite adept at getting bugs and stuff. That, again, makes the black sex link and the red sex link a good choice. A non-commercial leghorn will work, too, but they are flighty birds.
The problem you may have with a black sex link, plymouth rock, rhode island red, or new hampshire red is that they prefer cooler weather. The book I use for reference lists Andalusian, Buttercup, Hamburg, Leghorn, Minorca, Naked Neck, Shamo, and Spanish as warm weather breeds. Of those breeds, I have only seen the leghorn, so I can't comment too much on them. I'm sure that someone in sci.agriculture.poultry has experience with warm weather, though.
I do know that the cornish rock rooster and broiler hen that we had were in distress whenever the weather turned warm.
Ray Drouillard

as a

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Ah, so true... :-) I've had a couple of those in the past. They seem to do ok, but it's not a trait you want to breed for. Same with angelwing in ducks. I culled those out of my muscovie flock and have not seen it since.

Guineas. <shiver> Eat them... <lol> Sorry, I know they are neat birds but the noise they made drove me _nuts_. I just could not take it anymore and I ate them.

They are excellent bug eaters, but so are muscovie ducks. :-)
Put up some tall poles with bright and metallic ribbons flying from the tops. I've read on some of the poultry lists that that helps to drive off hawks??? I have my birds in a large pen under lots of live oak trees, so hawk loss has never been a problem and I lock everybody in a henhouse at night to prevent racoon and possum losses.

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I have friends who have them (outside of the city); however, we cannot have them as the City only allows hens. A neighbor had one rooster in her batch; fortunately, I knew of a good home for it. In fact the new folks had one of their older and getting mean roosters for dinner and the new guy took over.
They are indeed beautiful birds! writes:

Because my chickens are five different varieties, each laying a slightly different color/shape egg, a full basket of eggs looks like an Easter basket.<g> I got two more Araucanas this year to join the single one, hoping to get a slightly different color egg from them. The light-colored one looks like a Buff Orphington (sp) with a smaller comb, etc., not at all like the other two. Without the typical face/head, one would never guess it's not a Buff Orphington like the one I already had.

The first place my granddaughters go (3 and 5) is the chicken house to see if there are any eggs.<g> So do friends' youngsters. My daughter-in-law did an experiment the first time they took home eggs. She told the girls they would try G.G.'s eggs and the store eggs and see which they liked best. She unwisely cooked the fresh eggs first. Though the younger one did eat the store eggs, the older one took one bite and that was the end of that. She will no longer willingly eat store eggs. I must admit, before these chickens became part of our lives, I had forgotten how real eggs tasted, it having been 30 years or so. There went any possibility of ever ordering eggs in a restaurant again!

Part of that enjoyment extends to no slugs or bugs where they are allowed to roam, such a bonus!
It's easy to waste a lot of time watching them, especially if they are allowed to roam semi-freely. Their soothing calls to each other, and to us, are so soothing, a true relaxant. :-)
We had chickens all during my childhood, and my grandparents had layers (commercial though not caged like today!), but I don't remember them each being so unique as ours are. My perception had been that of many, that chickens are stupid creatures. However, that is most definitely not true as observation reveals. They surely cannot think as we commonly perceive, but one left me to wonder a year ago spring. I had left the back screen door open for the cat, not even considering the chickens who often liked to congregate on the back step to see what goodies would be brought out to them. When looking into the utility room, right in front of the door had been left a most unwelcome gift. After shooing them away and cleaning up the mess, I closed the door of course. About half an hour later, I went outside and laying in the middle of the back step was an egg! As you know, chickens don't usually just lay their eggs in open, unprotected area, but there it was. It was like an apology for the indiscretion.
Yup, they are great fun, and good for the garden as well. What a deal.
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I have three Isa Browns, ten Araucanas, five Rhode Island Reds, seven Barred Rocks, and twelve unidentified white pullets that are probably at least part White Rock. I ought to get a variety of egg colors. I wish I had ordered some Leghorns, since white eggs would set the others off nicely. Since we are going to be selling some and giving some away, having an "Easter basket" variety of colors will be nice. I heard somewhere that there is a variety of hen that lays brown eggs that are so light that they look pink. I would like to find out where to get some of those.

possibility of

It reminds me of the picture I saw in some mag. This is your egg on ag biz. This is your egg on grass. Any questions?

If they hadn't eaten our cabbages, I would be a whole lot more happy with them. That part of the garden is now fenced in, but I didn't have enough fence to do the corn. When they discovered how tasty the developing ears are, their free-ranging days were over. They will be let back out once all the corn has been harvested. Next year, I'm going to put more thought into my fencing.

Considering the modern pace of life, that's a real blessing.

out to

One of the black and white Araucana mix cockerals keeps flying over the six foot fence into the hen pen (which already has two roosters). It's the one with severely bent toes. He is getting really good at dodging when we try to corner him. He's as calm as can be when I finally catch him, though. If he's trying to stay out of the freezer by distinguishing himself from the rest of the crew, he's doing a good job of it.

My plan is to plant an orchard and keep the chickens there. They do a good job of picking up windfalls, and keep the bug population down. I'm going to have to figure out an easy way to let them into the garden for a while, then boot them out before they have time to discover the cabbages.
Anyhow, today, I picked up my son's hen Racetrack. She is the only one that you can just approach and pick up. I let her perch on my arm while I carried her to the garden. I found only one tomato bug, which was good for the garden, but bad for her. I let her peck around the garden while I went behind the tomato plants to look for ripe tomatoes and more bugs. When she couldn't see me, she started clucking nervously. After a little while, it turned into that buck buck buck ACK type alarm sound that you hear from upset chickens. As soon as I went the rest of the way around the tomatoes so that she could see me, she stopped. I never expected a chicken to think of me as a surrogate flock.
It makes sence that chickens do endearing things, though. It's an instinct developed during the domestication process. Our ancestors may have worked hard to breed the old jungle fowl for desirable traits, and may have even tried to 'cull ruthlessly', but it's only natural that someone is going to keep a bird that he or she just happens to like. Therefore, looks and behavior that endears the birds to their human masters are going to be selected for in the long run.

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There is one of my hens that lays a very light egg that looks almost pink. Since there is never more than one in a day, logic says it belongs to one of my single breed hens. That would be the Buff Orphington or the Barred Plymouth Rock, with my money on the Buff. With the dark brown, medium brown and blue/green eggs, it really looks quite nice in a basket. Like you, I think a white (or almost white) egg in the mix would really do quite well at setting them off as well as provide a complete range. I have one hen that sometimes lays eggs with specks on the shell, but have not figured out which one it is. The Barred Plymouth Rock has been ruled out but that would have been quite cool if the speckled chicken (Speckles) laid the speckled eggs.<g>

Depending on the time of year, mine have their chicken yard change. I use 10' metal electrical conduit cut into 5' lengths as fence posts. They are easy to remove and place so it makes moving the fence relatively easy. For the "mobile" fence, they work better with a lawn fencing since chicken wire is so flexible. Definitely don't use any type of top rail; they are less likely to try to get over it if there is no clearly defined line at the top of the fence. They will usually try to rest on the rail, if there is one, if the fence is only 3 or 4 feet high. They seem not interested in the top rail of my chain link fence which is 5-6 feet tall.
Though it hasn't happened this year, for a variety of reasons, I often fence a small portion of the yard and move food, water and laying boxes inside it and give them a new area during the day. It's easy to get them back to their house in the evening. When they need "herding," those foam fun noodles for kids to play with in the pool make great extended "arms."
When you do turn them loose in the yard, be certain to put something over anything that matters. That first winter, they decimated the Pennyroyal. Except for the Irish moss and that, everything else recovered. They are great for cleaning out the lawn's weak spots, maybe too good.<g>
They are great for ridding the garden area of most of the weed seeds (in addition to the slugs). The disadvantage in my garden was that the volunteer tomatoes and pumpkins were no more. Normally, that wouldn't be an issue, but I gave my volunteers to anyone who wanted mystery tomato plants. Many were planted along the fence outside the yard for the neighbor children who all adopted a plant of their own for which I made signs with their names to identify their plants. It was really quite cool. This year, one neighbor planted some volunteer pumpkins plants from her last year's jack-o-lantern out there and has some of the largest pumpkins in the neighborhood. Not only do they look great, but I don't have to maintain that area. What a deal!

Ya think he's doing it for attention? Makes one wonder if he is calm when you catch him. My female cat will play tag, trying to get me to catch her. Animals are quite inventive. Much as some would deny it, chickens do form attachments

It's great to hear another's chicken stories. Thank you.
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