When we embarked on this adventure, I knew that we were going to have animals, but I had no idea which ones I would like. Ducks? Goats? Cows? Chickens? I had no idea. And I do like them all, but nothing beats chickens for bringing a space to life with efficient, effective work. Really. If anyone wants anything scratched around, just throw a handful of chicken scratch on it, and it’s done. Poop on the floor of the chicken house? Scratch it into the deep litter. Barn litter needs fluffing? Chicken scratch. Cows pooping on the field? Chickens will peck out the yummy larva, and scratch the bejeezus out of it (ALL the bejeezus. There is NONE LEFT.)
Initially, we planned to make a temporary chicken coop and then over the course of a week or so, butcher all the chickens. As soon as they arrived, however, they started laying a BAJILLION eggs, and very quickly paid for their feed and the meagre price of acquisition ($2/ea). With eggs like that, chicken soup started to look less appealing.
Sometimes it amuses me to picture the chickens as tiny velociraptors. Especially as they steal bits of my lunch, or swarm towards me when I call them in for food. If they knew that it was what I wanted, they’d probably do headstands for cheese. They adore leftover scrambled egg, and I imagine their chickeny brains saying, “WOW! This is exactly what I need to make eggs!!”. The chickens are only slightly skittish, and are very food-motivated, and it’s lovely watching them out muttering to each other, singing their morning egg song, and doing their busy chickeny stuff.
Our chickens come from a more production-oriented organic farm to the west of us, which fed chickens well but for management reasons kept them inside. Initially, fearing the twofold doom of all-chickens-eaten-by-predators and chicken-poop-everywhere, I started building them an outside run. I thought it would take a day to get it put together, but stopping every thirty seconds to help kids do things really makes one’s work take longer. On the morning of the second day, hearing the chickens muttering about their inadequate inside space and looking at the beautiful green stuff outside in need of scratching, I shrugged my shoulders and let them out. It’s been at least two months, and we have lost one chicken to ?exposure?, but otherwise have our full compliment. And though we do have a fair amount of chicken poop, it mostly goes on places that could use a bit of chicken fertility.
The problems with free-ranging chickens do not end with the aforementioned twofold doom, however. If we want our chickens to earn their keep in non-scratching ways, we have to be able to find their eggs. Despite their ample compliment of nesting spots in the coop, our chickens find creative spots to keep their eggs. For a little while, their preferred spot was inside a tent filled with hay.
This made finding eggs relatively easy. Once the tent was emptied, the chickens found a lovely spot in the straw inside our hay shelter. We assumed that the expected winter laying slowdown was upon us, and resigned ourselves to fewer delicious chicken-presents, until someone noticed that there were eggs on the floor of the shelter, and that there were so many eggs in a little cubby in the hay that the chickens could no longer fit inside. Now, laying has slowed again, and we’re wondering where the eggs will pile up next.
Our rooster, named Cocktail by one of the kids, is a bit of a sorry beast. He roosters most diligently: he watches for predators, takes care of the hens, and makes sure that there’s some fertilized eggs in the mix. His tailfeathers were all pecked out by the hens at his previous home, though, and have not grown back despite a serious reduction in pecking. About a week ago, I crept with a flashlight into the coop and slathered his poor red bottom in Bag Balm (recommended by our Cow Mentor), and today I saw little poky pinfeathers coming out. Perhaps in a month or so he’ll have a glorious tail, but here’s what he looks like now:
The kids have been naming the chickens, and I have no clue who “Blueberry” or “Glorious” are, or any of a number of other names that have been given. ‘Cocktail’ and ‘Featherless’ I remember, due to roosterness or descriptiveness, but the others are all Little Brown Hens. The kids have asked that, if we end up eating any chickens, we eat Glorious first because she pecks people and steals lunches, so we’ll see how that turns out.
So far, despite our plans, we have yet to eat a single one.