Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Five Reasons Why You Should Consider Chickens

We've had a small flock of chickens for nearly a year now...enough time for them to whip us and the dogs into shape. We've learned a lot, mostly by reading other blogs and sites on the Internet, and by sheer bumbling.

My sole Chicken Time, other than our current situation, was a few years in middle school with a flock of White Leghorns The Mama and Pa raised. We collected eggs (I remember being pecked regularly, doing it), and eventually we butchered and processed them all in one day. (Ever see multiple bodies-with-no-heads running around? Now there's a sight that would fit in on The Walking Dead.) The Mama hated it. My dad, who grew up on a farm with a large chicken yard, was indifferent.
    My grandma raised chickens and eggs commercially for many years; she had her own stand and regular customers in the Grand Rapids, MI area. Unfortunately, she died when I was in high school, long before the Brick...or children...or chickens...were on my horizon. I regret this many times -- she could have answered so many questions. Lesson hopefully learned, for those of you who still have your grandparents: talk to them now, while you still can!

Would we get chickens again? In fact, we're planning on ordering 9 or 10 more chicks this spring, to expand the flock. Here are five good reasons (and warnings):



*The best, of course, is EGGS. Fresh, warm and often with a few feathery bits stuck on. These are the meatiest eggs I've ever eaten. (A friend said, "I get full even when I eat just one!") They stay firm, whether fried or poached. (Most eggs don't.) The yolks have a rich color, and the taste is very good. Having extra eggs we can use, whenever we want, has been a real plus. There really is a difference between these and store-bought eggs.


*If you sell some of those wonderful eggs, the chickens pay for themselves. Even through the eggless months (and winter can be tough), we've still had enough to sell up to 3 dozen eggs a week. Three dollars a dozen for fresh, free-range eggs is a bargain around here; we have two regular customers, 2-3 more who would love to be regulars, and a whole passel of others who'd be interested in a dozen now and then. The problem has been the cold, lack of light and molting season -- each affects the chickies' ability to lay. Nonetheless, they were still putting out 4-7 eggs a day from Thanksgiving on. Now it's mid-March, their egg production is picking up. Which means even more customers.
     Do the math. A bag of feed costs approx. $16 -- and the chickies go through about a bag a month. Selling 3 dozen eggs a week = $9/weekly. It's enough to pay for their feed and make inroads on the initial costs for chicks, feeders, coop and fencing. Plus our own eggs.

*Less and more waste! Less, in that you don't throw out wizened veggies, funky meat, stale bread or mushy fruit anymore -- it goes straight into the voracious beaks, instead. I cannot express how virtuous this makes you feel. 
    The flip side is that you also get manure -- a lot more. (And get to scrape out the coop every month. Ok, that's not so nice.) Free-range chickens are big poopers...great when it comes to gardens, not so good for keeping sidewalks clean. (We plan to finish up a large pen this spring, which will give them plenty of room to run and peck, without 'surprises' on our shoes.)
Chickens will range all over, if you let them.
*Fewer bugs, mice and other ILBs.* These scrape-and-peck machines are amazing on bugs, moths and flies. Our flower and garden beds have had fewer pests than ever before, thanks to them. (Now if we could only teach them to keep pooping in the flowers - and stay away from the deck!)
     The surprise, honestly, has been in the lack of mice. Usually we have a family or two who try to winter over -- but other than a fat rat in the fall (found him floating in the hot tub - yuck), we've seen none. I'd read somewhere that chickens will chase after mice and literally tear them apart -- haven't seen it, but those mice have to be going somewhere.
     When it comes to meat, these hens are fearless. They even had the cojones to chase Charley the dog down while he had a meaty bone. Sir Charles finally outran them, but it was close, for a while.

*irritating little buggers

*They're good company. If you're careful to get only hens, chickens make surprisingly little fuss. They do like to 'announce' when they've laid an egg; we also get a big kick out of the 'guard chicken,' who patrols the yard last thing and pushes any protesting latecomers into the coop. Other than that, we rarely hear them -- only a soft 'buck buck' when they're looking for food, or a chirruping. (Purring, almost.)
    They're also surprisingly funny. Our hens' reactions to the first snow was fascinating. And when a pan of food's out, they'll grab...and chase each other...and grab again. Let's put it this way -- it's every chicken for itself. No sharing and sacrificing here.
     While I'm outside weeding, digging or hanging up clothes, they'll hang out, looking for a stray worm, or snapping up extra green. (That's the main issue, letting them free-range -- they'll eat anything. Including your garden. They don't care.) Another hen wanders by, and the group joins her. Or they sit, snuggled in under the trees on our hill, looking out over the hillside. What are they thinking about, while they snooze?
     At night, in the coop, they gather in a little circle. (Poker...or a book discussion?) I'll double-check the nests and toss down Mrs. Broody. (We've still got one chicken who is determined to hatch something.) Listening to them talk to each other, and knowing there will be more warm brown eggs in the morning, is a real pleasure.

So should you consider chickens? If you've got a good enclosed yard and the city laws are amenable, and you're willing to combine patience with a little work, the answer is an unequivocal YES.

Get chickens? Of course!

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Zzzzzzzz...

After four hours at Tuesday Morning's checkout line today, I can honestly relate. Okay, maybe a nap AND a cookie.