Allow me to introduce you to my smartest hen, Serenity. She is a spangled Russian Orloff, which makes her one of the rarest chickens in the world. There are estimated to be fewer than 1000 of her breed alive in the world, although chickens that look a lot like her apparently live in the Middle East. She isn’t a perfect example of her breed. Her legs should be more yellow, and the pretty spangles on her head and wings should continue all over her body, the way they do on her friends River and Kaylee. Still, she is bright and beautiful, and lays eggs for us, and eats bugs all over the backyard, and (when she feels like it) lets me hug her.
We only started to keep chickens early in the spring of 2014. We already had peafowl and quail, but thought that chickens would be nice, and would provide eggs for everyone but me and my son, as we both had pretty nasty reactions to hens’ eggs. As it turns out, I can eat our own hens’ eggs without trouble, which was a bonus. Another happy discovery was that there are varieties of chickens kept today which already existed in the Middle Ages. That’s great for us in the SCA: we can provide eggs for feasts and introduce people to little-known breeds of chicken that also make really nice pets.
So, how did we end up with Russian Orloffs? Another happy surprise! We were starting to build our flock (mostly chicks at that point), and saw an ad on Craigslist for two laying hens, $25 each. The ad mentioned the breed and said they were pretty unusual. I looked them up and found that they have a reputation for eating ants, including fire ants, and were cold hardy, intelligent, good foragers. So we got the pair, Serenity and River.
Of course, a little more research told us about how rare they were, and so we decided we should get a rooster for them. While we researched roosters, we planned the coop for them: a cool, sheltered, tall, Tardis-sized structure in the south-east corner of our backyard retaining wall. Russian Orloffs are not famed for their heat-tolerance, though this year we’ve had quite a few days over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and they’ve done well. It took quite a while to find a rooster, and when we did, he came with another hen, all the way from Minnesota, where they’d had a terrible winter. Both of the birds arrived at our local post office with healed frostbite wounds, but otherwise healthy. The hen, I named Kaylee, and the rooster, Mal (Firefly references, for those who aren’t sure). They get along wonderfully, and are so good with other birds that we keep most of our small-breed chickens with them.
Yes, I know this looks like a rooster fight. No roosters were harmed in the taking of this picture. Mal, at about 8 pounds, is in the upper left, resplendent in his iridescent brown coat. In the lower right corner stands Chauncey, an American Serama rooster, weighing about the same as an apple. Chauncey started the fight, as usual, and Mal, as usual, menaces, jumps very near, and occasionally steps on Chauncey lightly, until I toss Chauncey into the small coop, or he runs away. Chauncey, poor dear, is in love with Serenity. The physics of it just won’t work: she’s knee-high, and he fits in the palm of a hand. All the same, hope springs eternal.
Back to Serenity. She is bright and shiny, remembers things she hasn’t seen in months, and will leap for a treat. She is rare, and imperfect, and wonderful. I love her dearly. A chicken can live as long as 30 years. A heritage-breed hen like her can keep laying until she is 7 or even a bit later, so since she lays almost every other day, she’s likely younger than that. She is a quiet hen, even when she lays an egg. She doesn’t pick on other chickens; even when a rooster makes an unwelcome advance, she just scrapes him off on a low-hanging branch or outruns him. She taught our yard cat to respect all the chickens, without a single peck. Still, I know she’s not with us forever, and rare as she is, I want everyone to know her and see what is cool about her.
Fido, the yard-tiger, trained by Serenity
The rest of this blog is really here for the same reason. I may not be here forever, and I certainly can’t reach everyone from my coop in Southern California, but I learn, make, and do things that have some beauty and interest in them. I want to share them, so here I am!