Monica Tidrick Chaisson loves hanging out with chickens, and chickens love hanging out with her. Just check out how she’s holding Guardian, a spunky Black Copper Maran who also rides on her shoulder. Sometimes he even lets her give him a peck–as in, a kiss on the cheek, or whatever you call that part of a rooster’s face–when she pets him.
Then again, Chaisson, a Certified Master Dog Trainer and veterinary technician by trade, knows her way around all the birds and animals on the three acres she and her husband tend in Henniker, NH.
While Chaisson raises chickens for their fresh eggs–an important source of protein in her vegetarian diet–she also enjoys just having them around. “If you hand raise them,” she says, “they’ll let you pet them and sit on your shoulder. They each have different personalities. Some are shy, but some will follow you around and want to be held all the time.”
Her feathered friends live in three large pens in chicken houses her husband built, because even though the couple live in a college town, they’re surrounded by woods where bears, bobcats, foxes, and mountain lions lurk.
“These are extremely strong pens,” Chaisson says with a laugh. “My husband built them like a fortress, so we haven’t had any predator problems.” The wooden pens use clear roof panels overhead so the chicken can enjoy some sunshine, but they’re still protected from passing hawks. (Want to build your own coop? We’ll get you started here.)
Currently Chaisson has 23 chicks. “Some are Easter eggers, the ones that lay bluish-green eggs, and i have Black Copper Marans that lay dark chocolate-red eggs. Marans are originally from France, and they’re rare.”
She also keeps Buff Orpingtons that produce light brown eggs, and an olive-egger that gives khaki eggs. Her Mille De Fleurs, which are booted bantams, or chickens with feathered legs, add little pink eggs to the mix. A bowl of eggs at her house is a virtual rainbow.
“My eggs look like they’ve already been dyed for Easter,” she says. “All of them taste pretty much the same, but they’re fresher and more flavorful than store-bought. If you crack one in a bowl, you’ll see that the fresher the egg, the bigger and more orange-y the yolk. Typical store-bought egs are a paler yellow, because they’re older and dehydrated.”
Chaisson is choosy about her chicks, acquiring them from heritage breeders. “They don’t necessarily lay an egg a day; it might be every other day. But they can lay for up to 7 or 8 years, and if they’re healthy and protected, heritage breeds may live 7 to 10 years.”
Chaisson’s chicks don’t take a lot of daily care. “The hardest part is in winter, because I don’t have heated water in the houses. I have to jug it up and walk out to fill up their water twice a day.”
She uses sand in the bottom of her coops, which the chickens use much the same way a cat uses a litter box. “Wood chips or hay get wet and dirty and have to be shoveled out. With the sand, I just use a big scoop, go in every day and sift it. I put the waste in the manure pile, and that keeps the sand clean.”
It’s fun to share her chickens with her stepsons and little nephews from the city, Chaisson says. “I let them collect the eggs. I like being able to provide (that experience) for them. I can’t image not having chickens!”
Don’t want to build your own chicken coop? Choose a pre-fabricated house instead.
Monica Tidrick Chaisson image credit: Kait Berry. Other images: Monica Tidrick Chaisson