So, you want to keep some chickens. Maybe you already know where to find a chicken. Like puppies, they are a dreadfully compelling thing in a shop window. Maybe you should read this too, it may have something new to say about where to find chickens. Firstly, what kind of chicken are you looking for? How do you want to keep it, and most importantly, what do you want to do with that chicken? I guess your first answer has something to do with eggs. You are, of course, aware that only girl chickens lay eggs, and there are no boy hens. You will need at least one hen. If you want to have a rooster as well, take note of two things:
You are not allowed to keep a rooster within city limits. The darn things crow at ungodly hours, your neighbour will contact you, and he’s not likely to be in a good mood after a ruined night.
A rooster is too much man for one hen, get at least four hens, or five, they can share the abuse and survive the constant, umm, you know.
Anyhow, where to find your chickens. Most pet shops on the outskirts of any town will keep some fancy ones. Many people actually want pretty chickens, and there are some real pretty chickens out there. Showgrade exotic chickens can cost a bundle, and many are quite useless as egglayers, and their meat poor, so do some research on that special breed you so much want. Those are really best bought at shows, from the people who show them. Like all thoroughbreds, there is a lively community to help you. For the common man, I say you go to the nearest smallholding. If they do not have extras to sell, they will probably know someone who can help you. Unless you know how to sex chickens, I suggest you get mature ones, who are easy to differentiate; hens do not have a hard, pointy bone thing sticking out just below their knees, which bend backward. It is called a spur, and it can hurt you bad.
Another warning about buying chickens: the real professionals, who ‘produce’ six thousand eggs per shift, they do not have any roosters, because they do not need them to eat expensive feed. Roosters are separated at very early age, and ‘made away with’. Apparently the modern way is to gas them en masse. Some are rescued, or rather, sold off to unscrupulous vendors for mere cents per live chick. These very handsome young fellows then end up as bona fide merchandise on the corner of every peri-urban community. Given they were bred to grow fast, they have some value as meat, if slaughtered early and tender, but you will never get an egg from a roadside cardboard chick tray roosterlet.
Another ready source of live chickens is the hens from the same egg factory. Battery hens are fed a cocktail of hormones, supplements and antibiotics to speed up the production of eggs and to stay alive in the severely unnatural confines of a wire cage. These hens’ production rates are carefully monitored, and hens beyond the age of profitability requirements are ‘done away with’. At least this time, they tend to be sold off to be slaughtered. It is possible, from certain factories, to buy these hens at fair prices. The easiest source for these chickens is Saturday Morning Pavement Market at any informal settlement. Do be aware; these chickens lived on a cocktail of hormones, supplements and antibiotics. If you do not continue feeding them this chemical smorgasbord, you have a guaranteed mortality rate after two days of 60-100%. If you can pull them through, you have another day or three to teach them to eat normally. This can best be done by putting a piece of fencing between the (by now exhausted and weak) chicken and her bowl of seeds. They seem to understand the stuff on the other side of the wire cage is food. Water is also a problem, as their beaks are likely to be malformed by the steel nipple they drank from all their lives; make sure there is some moisture in their first food.
At Greenpets, we made all these mistakes and more. We know how to get those chickens through their initial shock, we save most, actually, but we don’t bother anymore. They never learn to breed, raise chicks, run from predators… they are too stupid to keep themselves dry, and most importantly, the genes:
Last statistics I heard was that the two most popular strains of battery chickens in South Africa have between two and four allele pairs relating to immunity and disease resistance. Two or four, normal farm chickens have twenty and more pairs of immunity alleles. Battery chickens are not bred to survive nature, and freeing them is an expensive and mostly doomed exercise. Eating them, well now, that is now your informed choice. Genetically degenerated meat raised on a cocktail of hormones, supplements and antibiotics, yummy.
To sum up: Get a box as big as your car will hold, and take a drive through your any neighbourhood you see chickens running around. Like with all other business transactions, there are always sharks, but this seems to be the standard rule: you will pay per kilo, live or dead, for just about any edible animal on this earth, including some creatures you would never expect on your plate. Chicken meat prices available from your nearest shop, a very large chicken can weigh four kilos, but two kilos is considered fair deal on the average hen. The chicken at your supermarket is not a good guide, because after all the growth hormones and all that, you still have to add one last ingredient to your factory chicken: Salt water, at least fifteen percent, injected into the chicken ‘for flavour and softness’. You are paying forty-what per kilo for salt water! Those chickens weigh 1,5 or 2 kilos in the packet, real chickens are lighter after slaughtering.
One last consideration before you buy chickens: they attract predators. All kinds of hungry feet will find their way to your chickens, trust me, so newbies beware, buy three or so at a time, until you have been robbed enough to have learned the somewhat specialist trade of chicken security. This is of importance when considering your family’s security.