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For most of our marriage (39 years) I had talked about my desire to keep chickens, but when I told my husband I was actually headed to the local co-op to take a class from the “Chicken Whisperer” he was not too happy. While we live in the country surrounded by neighbors that own cows, horses, and goats, he thought having chickens might make our yard look, well, redneck. What! – like my grandmother’s washing tubs on our back porch didn’t already qualify us? So off I went to learn all there was to know about raising chickens. I think my mother found this “learning how to raise chickens” thing quite amusing. I’ve always wanted chickens and I’m thinking it could be tied to my early experiences at my grandmother’s house. Growing up on a farm, my mother’s family had simply built a hen house, thrown scraps out the back door to supplement their chickens’ grass and bug diet, and gathered eggs. There was also the occasional beheading, plucking and cleaning for a fried chicken meal (I had watched this as a child and had my share of fried chicken legs). But there was no disease control or wing clipping or deworming. If a chicken died there would be more chicks arriving – the rooster made sure of that.
My mother told me her own childhood chicken stories. One story was about the day she was feeding the chickens some food scrapes. The larger aggressive ones always got more than their share, so she was swinging a stick in an effort to make room for the smaller pullets. Unfortunately, about the time she swung, one chicken decided to raise her head and the impact of the stick broke her neck. In horror, my mother carried the chicken into the hen house and threw her below the nesting boxes. Fortunately for her, some animal had been getting into the coop and eating chicken heads (sorry – I know this is gruesome). Maybe her mother would think this had happened again. Sure enough, her mother found the dead chicken and was sure the same predator had struck again. To save herself from a switchin’ my mother decided not to inform her otherwise.
My mother’s own grandmother (well, it was really her grandfather’s second wife since his first wife had died when my grandmother was 16) used a large incubator to populate the neighborhood with chickens. The incubator was a square, wooden and lidded box. Pipes filled with water ran along the inside walls of the box and were heated by a kerosene light at one end. She placed as many as 100 eggs in this incubator each having an X on one side so she would know which needed to be turned. Once hatched, the chicks were returned to their owners (bartering neighbors).
Since I didn’t have an incubator I purchased my chicks and housed them in a large plastic container filled with bedding and warmed by a heat lamp. My two oldest grandsons came with me to the local Co-Op to help me pick them out. Henry chose a fluffy yellow one (Buff Orpington) and named her Fuzzball. Isaac chose a black one (Barred Rock) naming her Hedgehog after one of his favorite game characters.
For the first two months I kept them in the living room where I could check on them often. They were so cute and when they made those little peeping noises all the childhood Easter chick memories replayed in my head. Once the weather turned warm I moved them outdoors. The dander floating around the living room was becoming a bit much! My first coop was a mobile one. I found it on craigslist and borrowed my brother-in-law’s truck to haul it home.
The day we picked it up my face hurt from grinning so much. I think the thing weighed close to 200 pounds and it was all I could do to raise the front end and push it on its tiny wheels to the next spot. I was amazed at how quickly the chickens could devour a 4 x 8 piece of lawn! I tried to move it daily because if I didn’t the only thing left was dirt. They stayed in this coop for five or six months until I could have a larger run and chicken coop built (another blog story to come). Now I keep the mobile coop for new chickens, sick chickens, or an occasional “time out” if a chicken gets too aggressive with the others.
Even my husband has become fond of the chickens. He calls himself the “assistant flockster” and helps me whenever needed. I love gathering eggs and feeding the chickens. I even enjoy the clean up! The eggs taste so much better than store bought and I know there are no hormones or antibiotics. My grandchildren love gathering the eggs too (as long as I keep the chickens away from them) and when we sit down to a breakfast of eggs they ask if the egg they’re eating is from their own chicken. I’m always sure it is.