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The Whimsical World of Fancy Chickens

By Taylor Smith

“When I was six, I had a chicken that walked backward and was in the Pathé News. I was in it too with the chicken. I was just there to assist the chicken, but it was the high point of my life. Everything since then has been anticlimax.”

—Flannery O’Connor

As the well-known Southern writer Flannery O’Connor states, there was just something unique and entertaining about her brood of fowl. Somewhat of a recluse and a complicated figure herself, these birds filled the void of human companionship and were reliable stalwarts during her eventual success as an author.

While some may research backyard chickens and chicken breeds singularly for the purpose of fresh and ready egg production, those that are attracted to the traits and tendencies of fancy chickens are most likely drawn in by their comical behaviors, odd feather placement, and pastel array of eggs. Just like regular chickens, fancy chicken varieties need tender loving care. However, once a bond is formed between owners and their birds, the chickens often become part of the family. Many backyard farmers are quick to point out how comforting and unique the relationship between children and fancy chickens can be.

Guinea hens. (shutterstock.com)

The next time you visit Terhune Orchards on Cold Soil Road, be sure to look for the watchful crowd of guinea hens. Hailing from West Africa, a cluster of guineas is referred to as a “confusion” and it is soon obvious why. Guinea hens are natural watchdogs. They react to sudden movements and loud noises. Typically, the group will run from side to side, making them difficult to catch. Adding to this difficulty is that they are very good flyers with the ability to clear 400 to 500 feet. Wonderfully, guineas can serve as a backyard ally. They hate hawks and will do whatever they need to protect the coop from common New Jersey predators like foxes, opossums, and skunks.

At a recent baby shower, my sister-in-law’s aunt recalled several funny instances in which her teenage daughter was attempting to sneak into or out of the house late at night and it was the guinea hens, rather than the house alarm, that alerted her. Another hobby farmer and friend of mine described that whenever a plane flew overhead, the guineas would work themselves into hysterics. “And you don’t want to yell at them to be quiet, because that will just increase their volume and prolong the scene,” she says.

To keep guineas from leaving the property, it’s important to establish boundaries for them from the beginning. When they are first brought home, keep them in an enclosed pen with other guinea hens. Guineas do not like to be alone and will most likely be too insecure to leave the pen immediately. During this introductory phase make sure that the birds are comfortable. Plenty of food, water, and even treats will make an impact. After a day or two, allow the birds to leave the pen and make themselves at home. One thing to be aware of is that while guineas have many positive attributes (they are very effective at keeping the tick, moth, and mosquito population down), they can occasionally become antagonistic toward other birds on the farm. They will even take on a rooster or a peacock if they’ve set their mind to it. If you are a new chicken owner, it is suggested that you do thorough research and as to what breeds might suit you or your family’s lifestyle.

(shutterstock.com)

According to omelet.us, rules vary across the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania as to which towns, cities, and/or townships allow for backyard chicken farming. Chickens are legal within Princeton, but there is a $20 annual license required and the minimum lot size is 5,000 square feet for just two chickens. A 10,000-square-foot lot would allow for three chickens.

The Doylestown Township website (doylestownpa.org) notes that “no permit is required to raise and keep backyard chickens on a non-commercial basis at a residential property in Doylestown Township.” The rules do detail the location and construction of the chicken coop, the ability to own and keep a rooster onsite, and the fact that no bright lights from the hen house or manure composition and storage should interfere with their neighbors’ property and well-being.

In terms of creating a backyard coop, pen nesting box, choosing the right feed, and anything else you might need, Tractor Supply Co. has the materials to make sure that the healthy day-old chicks you begin with grow into successful and happy layers. Since the Garden State does experience four distinct seasons, it’s important to make some slight adjustments to the coop throughout the year so that it remains clean and comfortable.

Signaling the start of spring, the chickens on your property will be the first to inform you of the warmer days ahead. Hens may begin to lay eggs as early as February and it is important to keep the nesting boxes comfortable, dry, and sheltered from wind or rain. The boxes can be filled with a downy mix of straw and wood shavings.

Regular cleaning of the chicken coop should happen throughout the year. With the warmer weather, it’s imperative to remove all rotten or moldy straw, chicken manure, and wood shavings. All of these materials can be put into a compost pile.

Spring is also the time of year when broods (egg-laying hens) and baby chicks need extra love and attention. A quiet and well-insulated corner of the coop is ideal, along with a heat lamp if need be.
When considering the winter season in New Jersey, it’s important to prepare a chicken coop for snow, ice, wind, and possibly freezing rain. Good ventilation is a necessity (coop windows on the upper section should remain open). In the case of plummeting temperatures, chicken owners should block any excess wind chills with wool blankets. Bedding straw is also naturally insulating and warming. The birds should always have access to fresh, unfrozen water.

Sage Acres Farm

Rachael Stewart of Sage Acres Farm in Central New Jersey is an established and successful private farm owner. Her experience with chickens, and specifically fancy chickens, includes operating as the president of the Ayam Cemani Breeders Association (ACBA). She is also devoted to the use of humane practices. “I am passionate about the breeds we raise and conserve,” she says. “We are NPIP [National Poultry Improvement Plan] Certified within the state. We take bio security seriously and use the highest quality equipment and resources to raise healthy and happy chickens.”

Stewart began her farming career in Northern California in 2017. Since moving to New Jersey, she has had to learn about the variety of climate, weather, and high-density population challenges.

Sage Acres Farm

“Challenges we have come across are weather and predator populations,” she says. “Both are easily controlled but must be considered. My coops are bear-proof. We use high-quality coops and runs. Double wired runs and coop door handles that lock. Never allowing poultry to free range unsupervised is a necessity. Having livestock guardian dogs and donkeys also helps us with predators.”

Each season brings new surprises and funny stories to Sage Acres Farm. Stewart recalls a little chick that made an unusual entrance into the world. She refers to it as the “surprise hatch.”

“Day 25 had come, and we were cleaning out incubators,” she says. “On that day, all chicks would be removed that weren’t going to be hatched. I emptied out the old eggs and went forward with sanitizing the units. The day went by as usual, but later that night I came into the kitchen to cook dinner and I hear a single peep. I shake it off and think I must be crazy … then peep! I call my daughter over and she confirms she can hear a chick somewhere. We follow the faint sound to the trash can and when I open the can,

I can see a puffy, perfect baby chick! This boy decided to hatch late and make his way up and out of the trash can. Ironically, he grew up to be a stunning perfect rooster that we are now using in our breeding pen. His name is Peter.”

Stewart shares poultry information and images of Sage Acres Farm life on her website, sageacresfarm.com. In addition to poultry, she also sells Olde English babydoll sheep.

New Jersey Chickens

New Jersey Chickens

Viviane of New Jersey Chickens in Sussex County breeds and sells a beautiful array of fancy chickens. Not only do these top hat-wearing feathered comedians provide lots of entertainment and general amusement, but they also lay an assortment of eggs colored blue, green, dark brown, light brown, and speckled brown. Just in time for Easter, the color palette of the eggs suggests home-grown food and decorations.

Originally from Bergen County, Viviane and her family relocated in the hopes of finding a slightly slower pace of life. As an emergency medical technician for over 20 years, she continued to commute to her job before trying her hand at raising chickens.

At first, her goal was simply to have organic, freshly raised eggs in the house each week. Immediately, she realized the quality difference in terms of flavor from what she had been buying at the grocery store.

What started out as a hobby became a true education and now a line of work. Viviane sells fancy chickens and chicks to new and seasoned backyard farmers. She and her family members are knowledgeable in addressing customer concerns and questions. They also love seeing images of their customer’s birds once they are fully grown at facebook.com/newjerseychickens.

“Two of my favorite breeds that we have on our farm are the cream brabanter and brabanter chicken. The Polish chicken is also absolutely adorable.”

Viviane can describe in detail the personality differences in each breed. For example, the cream brabanter was created in 1934 and there are still not many of them. They are white in color and excellent foragers. They also sport eclectic head feathers that any chicken fan will love.

The brabanter chicken originated in the Netherlands and is a very old breed of fowl. “Known for their strikingly beautiful looks, they are mostly bred for egg production and ornamental purposes,” says Viviane. In the U.S., they are generally only available in the gold or cream variety. Other physical attributes include head feathers and a beard. These chickens are submissive and generally good with children.

The exquisite Polish chickens are the glamour girls of the chicken world. They are visually striking with feathers that seem to leap out from their heads and puffy chests like fireworks. Gentle and docile, they are ideally suited to backyard chicken farmers. This breed first arrived in America in the 1800s and by the 1850s, had established a big following. They are especially gentle with children and quite lightweight.

While dual-purpose chickens are heavier and not as exotic looking as the aforementioned breeds, they are some of the friendliest. Viviane also suggests that barred rocks, buff orpingtons, and black australops are not to be overlooked!

To inquire about purchasing fancy chickens from Viviane at New Jersey Chickens, visit facebook.com/newjerseychickens.

By all accounts, fancy chickens can be an excellent addition to any backyard farmstead. A practice that is both educational and rewarding, the birds themselves also offer a chance to laugh and enjoy nature in a new way.

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