Want Chickens?

The decision to get chickens was perhaps made too lightly. Their main purpose was to eat ticks and maggots, the former reducing the risk of Lyme disease to human and horse, the latter decreasing the number of stable flies come September.

I envisioned a property so devoid of biting insects that I might even be able to wear shorts. Call it a dream.

The first chickens were big girls, bred to eat, sun bathe, and lay eggs. Did they eat unwanted bugs? Perhaps, but they preferred ripping the legs off toads and chasing swallowtail butterflies while I screamed, “No, no, no, no, no!” to obviously deaf chicken ears.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, they dug dust wallows in every corner of the yard until my flower gardens and lawns took on the appearance of a lunar landscape. Holes everywhere, with upside-down hens sticking their silly feet toward the sky, fluffing dirt through feathers, eyes closed in chicken bliss.

And the poop. With five acres available to them, they chose the front walk and the lone lawn chair as their personal bathroom. It smelled, especially when adhesed to jeans and jammed into sneaker treads, tracked into the kitchen, ground into the grout.

But all was not lost. These big girls had no talent for avoiding foxes and red-tailed hawks. They provided a chicken buffet so tempting and so easily plucked from the shelves that a young pair of foxes moved into an old shed just over the property line and raised three kits without ever having to forage beyond our lawn. Meanwhile the hawks raised a single obese chick who, I believe, to this day hasn’t flown more than a hundred yards. We could feel the aftershock when she hit the ground, squashing a slow-moving hen to nothing but a smear of feathers and half-digested corn.

That sort of carnage gets to a person after a while, so I gave the big hens away and bought a starter flock of bantams – small, agile birds who could better avoid predators and, hopefully, have a smaller impact of the landscape.

The first thing we learned was that it takes three bantam eggs to equal the volume of one egg laid by a hen of average size. And the banty eggs are heavy on yolk, light on white.

The second and more important fact is that bantams are prolific. There’s no danger of losing a flock of bantams to predators, because they’ll make more.

It doesn’t matter if you gather every single egg every single day. Somewhere beneath your radar, a hen has a stash. And in twenty-one days she will walk proudly into the yard followed by eight chicks, seven of which will be roosters. And the very first chick to die in the claws of the neighbor’s elderly, limping, half blind cat will be the lone pullet.

We, of course, couldn’t bear to have the little fluffy lives snuffed out, so we did our best to protect them. And as more and more hens managed to slip their clutches past us, we gained more and more roosters, until every mockingbird in a thirty-mile radius learned to crow, and the neighbors referred to us as the crazy rooster people in the old Grant house at the bend in Brookline Road.

Sure, I occasionally suck it up and harvest a rooster. But they dress out to a whopping eight ounces, including bones, and they have to be stewed for a minimum of twelve hours if we expect to have something that can be chewed by ageing teeth. So it’s hardly worth the effort and angst and ensuing nightmares.

But the eggs – so rich with the chickens’ diet of green grass and bugs (and toads and baby birds), that the yolks are nearly fluorescent. Jim and I are low-carb dieters, so the abundance of banty eggs started out as a boon. We had omelets for breakfast, quiche for lunch, soufflés for supper. We made homemade ice cream sweetened with stevia, ate cheesecakes, frittatas. We scrambled and poached, made crepes and filled them with cheese, fruit, even bacon.

This is in the past. Because after two years of fevers and rashes and an unimaginable amount of time spent in the smallest room in the house, I finally realized.

I’m allergic to eggs.

We still have a yard full of chickens, and so far this year we have no chicks. I’m vigilant. I remove all the eggs every day. I plant dummy eggs in the nests – a selection of porcelain pretenders with grease pencil Xs on their sides, that give the broody hens something to mother and a reason not to hide their clutches in the woods.

So far, so good. It could be that I finally have a handle on keeping bantams. Or, only slightly more likely, maybe all eighteen roosters are shooting blanks.


18 thoughts on “Want Chickens?

  1. Nancy, you can’t imagine how much Judy and I are enjoying reading these wonderful stories, and laughing our heads off! 😀

    • Hah! 🙂 I did leave extras at the end of my driveway in a cooler with a note suggesting an optional 50-cent donation. Someone took two dozen and left $4. WOW! Then all but two of the hens went broody, so now we barely have enough for Jim. Silly chickens. 🙂

  2. lmao – I’ve never liked chickens much but your post really reminded me of the alpacas we bought to mow the grass! They do a good job on the grass they /like/ but leave small islands of the stuff they don’t like and they poop in big piles which would be good except that the piles are always close to the house where they like to relax whilst digesting. They also love my roses and vegies so now my decorative/useful garden beds are surrounded by unsightly wire fencing.

    Guess there’s always a price to be paid for every ‘service’ 😀

    • It’s so true. 🙂 Pastures have to be mowed every bit as frequently as lawns if you don’t want them to become nothing but weeds. I am thinking of fencing the lawn for the horses, though, because the chickens didn’t do nearly enough damage. 🙂

      • lmao – or maybe you could just add ducks to the mix. I’ve heard they are good at messing things up too!
        For me the alpacas are a necessary evil as they give me a bit of peace of mind over summer when the bushfire threat hangs over our heads. And I’m sure all that poop will do the soil good eventually.

      • Rofl acflory–“eventually” being the key word here 🙂 On a more minor scale, it’s the same way I feel about oak leaves and pine needles. Why rake? They will improve the soil…”eventually”.

  3. This was hysterical! You probably already have, but if you haven’t, you should read “Enslaved By Ducks”, which is all about the dubious “joys” of raising birds.

    • Thank you – I’ll look it up. I am most definitely enslaved by the animals here. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like without them. Then I bring home another chicken. 😀

      • Then there is the book “Sheepish”, recommended to me by my sister Emily DePriest Brooks. Two city women decide to start a sheep farm. So they buy 50 acres and 50 sheep after diligently researching the issue. Then they think, wouldn’t it be nice to have a goat (or two)? And so on and so forth..you can imagine how that goes 🙂

  4. LOL You kill me! You just wrote the truth about chickens, messy, and all in all usually Hawk food. My daughter has the chicken fever and has some now, or had some, a couple of days ago she met a coyote in her driveway…… he/she had eaten all six of them. 😦 Not for the faint of heart.
    Keep writing, you amuse, and have heart in your prose. I think magazines like Equus would publish some of these, especially the trials of Ms. Louise. Good luck.

    • Aww, sorry about your daughter’s chickens. It used to be that predators left them alone between dawn and dusk – except for hawks. Now, everyone hunts by day. They’ve adapted to our patterns. Thank you so much for reading. 😀

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