Thursday, November 20, 2008

Counting Our Chickens

What the heck is it about chickens?? What is the deal with our love affair with chickens? 

Most city dwellers have no contact whatsoever with live hens, although in many cities, including Seattle, any single family dwelling is allowed to keep up to three hens (no roosters).  The ramifications of this common policy are huge - if most families kept three laying hens, protein would be guaranteed most days.  With three layers and a small vegetable patch, even folks plunked down on 4000 sf (like we were before moving here) could be assured greens and protein during any food crisis and could enjoy fresh eggs and salad during everyday life as well.

But, I digress. Though most small-scale farmers begin keeping hens for the pay-as-you-go breakfast and then farm-supporting workers they are, I don't know a one that hasn't simply fallen in love with their chickens on their merits.  It's tough not to be effusive about hens - even Whole Foods CEO John Mackey has waxed poetic over the effect of keeping hens.  

I order our chicks from McMurray Hatchery in Iowa.  I feel a little weird about these 1-day old fluffballs the post office calls me at 6AM to collect - factory produced, shipped in a box, 1 or more mortalities written into the business plan.  Our hope is to utilize our one broody (ie, wants to sit on baby eggs) hen and grow our own chicks, but that's more complex than it sounds.

But.  But, it is amazing how such a factory environment - these chicks are literally put in a box when they are 24 hours old - can produce such fascinating and diverse personalities.    We have 24 new hens (we hope....stay tuned for another accidental rooster post...) and they are 24 kinds of beautiful, funny, graceful, clumsy, friendly, aggressive, and hilarious as you could possibly imagine.

We order the "rainbow layer mix," which includes hens that lay white, beige, tan, brown, and - the most coveted - beautiful green eggs.  And this translates into a flock that delivers diversity in every way you can imagine.  Color, size, feathers, temperment, voice (yes, voice), and curiosity. The one thing they share is an intense interest in what I might, possibly, be bringing them.  I often look like the Pied Piper as I approach the chicken yard and their curiosity takes over.  I love me my Jessie, but for pure hilarity and fun, nothing competes with the TV better than chickens.

Chickens are not nearly as simple and dumb as our folklore would have us believe.  These gals have instinct we could only dream of, scratching the dirt for the good stuff when they're barely out of the box.  They form alliances, they pay attention, heaven help you if you feed them from anywhere you'd rather not have them loiter.  And they sure know how to come home every evening from hither and yon and get comfy in their nice warm house while they trust in their keeper to shut the door and ensure their safety.

Hens flitter and squawk and change course on a dime and attack leftovers with a seriousness dogs and cats might envy.  "Grab and Go" is the watchword of the hen yard.  They are entertaining and joyful partners in any farm experiment or enterprise.  I can't recommend them enough.  The great news is, if you can score a dog crate (say, on Freecycle), if you've got a fenced yard, you are good to go with 2 or 3 hens.  If your gals are out and about during the day, they really need almost nothing but security at night.  Don't overthink it.  Hens bring joy and purpose into your life. 

 Have fun-

1 comment:

Shea's Mom said...

Great photo! But maybe you should do a close up of the chix poop sitting on your nice garden bench!