Raising Chickens in Cuba


Sometimes we feel like tourists, and other times we feel like travelers. In Maida’s house in Las Terrazas, we were comfortably in the traveler category. We spent a lot of time with the abuelo (grandfather) of the household watching TV, learning about his fruit trees, watching birds and, most importantly, learning about chickens. Like most older adults anywhere in the world, he seemed glad to have found an audience who would listen to him talk and sit next to him on the couch as the Cuban ballet program played in the background.


Abuelo digs out some eggs from the nest of a free-roosting chicken.


Abuelo passed me warm, heavy eggs. I felt kind of bad for keeping them away from their mother. He insisted that they were absolutely fine, and he’s been doing this for enough years that I believe him.


He has around 65 birds: 1 rooster, 15 adult hens, 3 turkeys that he duped a chicken into raising, and the rest mixed sex juveniles and chicks.

Over decades of breeding chickens, he’s learned to select for two things: good mothers and good layers. If he has plenty of fertilized eggs from good mothers, he will eat or sell all of the fertilized eggs from the good layers. But if he is short on eggs and has a hen who is a bad mother but a prolific layer, he will occasionally give her eggs to a better mother to raise, in hopes he will have an excellent layer in the next generation. He also said as soon as the juvenile males start fighting with one another, it’s time to eat them.


We didn’t get to eat any of the juvenile males, but we did get to eat some of the eggs in an omelette!


One night, abuelo talked about how he was concerned because he couldn’t find the youngest turkey chick. The next morning I wandered out of the bedroom and he excitedly thrust a peeping bucket into my hands. I spent probably a half hour just sitting with that turkey, keeping him warm, petting him and admiring his fluffy yellow feathers. The mother hen was nearby and unhappily squawking about the fact that we had stolen her young, but abuelo didn’t pay her any mind. It was worth it.

Pardon the bed head. I really did wake up this way.


If anyone has the opportunity to go to Cuba and be one of the lucky few to stay overnight in this small community, we highly recommend staying with Maida and spending some time with her family as travelers, not tourists.