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My Life with Chickens, or The Eggs & I

September 22nd, 2019

Keep Fucking Going

This life...

This life...

(Photos by Nancy Ellen Row Rawley)

I’m tagging this one “advice column,” even though after a year-plus with chickens, I know less than I did before I started keeping them.

It’s true, people.

Chickens will break your heart, but they do provide eggs. I read a blog post, advice from a chicken expert grandma, who said something along the lines of: If they can be eaten by it, drown in it, get trapped under or over it, get electrocuted by it… you get the idea… a chicken will. It’s like constant luck of the Irish, as far as fowl go.

We inherited our first flock of chickens about a year and a half ago, February or March of 2018, from a woman who lived in an apartment complex, kept eight big birds in a too-small coop, and was told by her landlord that they had to go. They were an older flock, with some health issues. Two weren’t laying anymore. They were a combination of Rhode Island Reds, Cuckoo Marans, and Buff Cochins.

We lost one right away to health problems — she had a bad foot and internal problems, as well. She was a Buff Cochin and so lovely.

We lost another two, within weeks, to our blonde Labrador, a female, who was hell-bent on destruction. It was horrible. I saw the whole thing happened, it happened so fast, and she was so much faster than I was. I still have nightmares about it. We secured the gate, which was flimsy, and she hasn’t been able to get in since. We lost one to the neighbor’s dog — she offered to buy us two to replace her (a beautiful Olive Egger who had a friendly, sweet personality) and never did.

We lost Mae, our big, gorgeous, black and gold Cuckoo Maran, to a raptor. And another one, Ackerman, who was a fierce and funny velociraptor of a bird, to a real raptor. Two more to natural causes — old age, peaceful deaths — and now, typing this, I’m getting depressed as fuck. We live in the country, it’s vicious out here — mountain lions, bobcats, skunks and raccoons.

Snakes. Mostly garters, but my son, his friend, and the dog (the lab, who wanted to fight it) saw a rattlesnake down the street a few weeks ago.

Yeah.

We live in the Willamette Valley, in Oregon, on the West Coast. #westcoastbestcoast I have been *told* that rattlers only live in the desert, and high desert, but apparently they like college towns as well.

Jerks.

I’ll go read Lisa’s blog for awhile, Fresh Eggs Daily, she always brightens my day. She’s the go-to girl for tons of stuff, not just chicken, geese and ducks. She has a real farm. I’m just faking it here, aight? Aight.

OK, let’s switch to bullet points:

* Fresh eggs, daily, as Lisa says.

* We don’t wash them — we keep in paper egg cartons in fridge, and let people we sell/gift them to know that they should wash them twice, lightly with soap and warm water, before using.

* They last a long, long, long time, this way. You don’t have to refrigerate them, but we do. Some of our customers don’t though, and that’s fine. (Farm fresh eggs are great for college students — especially if you keep them unrefrigerated in your dorm room, so they don’t get swiped from the communal fridge in the communal dorm kitchen).

* I love my damn chickens. I figured they’d be good company, that they would enjoy the roomy garden and chicken run we provided them with (we’ve repurposed our old garden shed to be a coop, by mounting nesting boxes and two perches, one low and one high). They are. They do. I was hoping that the kids and their friends would enjoy having them around, and they do, more than I ever could have hoped.

* My son has taken the lead on raising the chickens. I bought a small flock of Silkies for him, for Christmas, from a farmer in the country who needed to rehome them. Such a hit, and one of the best (and strangest) Christmas gifts ever. Silkies are fussy — they get broody to the point where they won’t eat, sleep, drink or stop nesting. We have two that we have to gently take out of the nesting boxes two or three times a day. They’re both named Peggy. We name most of our chickens Peggy, or Tiny and Dell, for my late, beloved great-aunts, Luella and Ludell. The rest? Who knows. Zini is the tiny caramel-colored Silkie; Henna is a huge Olive Egger, and along with Dell one of the two remaining birds from the original flock.

* “The squirrel that you kill in jest, dies in earnest.” — Henry David Thoreau

* They are sociable, funny and earnest, my birds. We have 16 now — 3 or 4 roosters, plus 12 or 13 hens. (We let the Silkies hatch some eggs, and ended up with mostly boys. Attitude. We need to rehome a few, but they’re getting along OK for now.)

* They help me stick to a routine. They enjoy the smallest things in life — fruit yogurt parfaits (in an egg carton, yogurt, sprinkled with a bit of raw oats and a handful of berries); they love watermelon. Not fond of green beans (unless they’re picking them themselves off the bush I planted?), broccoli, or honeydew melon. They like cantaloupe and leftover macaroni and cheese.

* I feel like a failure every time we lose a bird, but apparently that’s life with chickens.

* They start laying at about four months. If they get egg-bound, I pick them up, carry them around, and rub their tummies.

* Yeah, I know that sounds weird, but it works.

* No, we don’t eat ours, once they stop laying. They’re livestock, but they’re also pets. It’s a situation.

* Especially with these roosters.

All for now,

xo

Wacky Mommy

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