Chickens and Choices

Hey friends, I have chickens! And, oh, yes, some stories about my chickens. Cause getting these creatures has been a bit of a process. Keeping them alive, a whole other thing.

They have taught me some things. Because everything you choose in life is your teacher.

Back story; I’ve wanted chickens for years now. At least nine years ago. The husband said NO. Okay, understandable. Keeping the children and the cats alive was difficult enough. Once he became the ex-husband, I was unsettled; renting; figuring out where to grow roots and unable to commit to chicken-raising. A couple years go by.

Eventually, I purchase a house with some land; a modest beautiful hilly 7 acres. And then there was the man I was dating; the relationship. We were serious; and he agreed with me about raising chickens.

I don’t eat chickens anymore; but I do eat eggs. And I want them to come from happy, healthy chickens. Round these parts, there are giant tractor-trailers with hundreds of sad, terrified chickens being transported; to slaughter, to somewhere, I don’t know. But I’ve driven behind them and beside them and their palpable suffering led me to becoming a vegetarian.

Seeing that made me a person who has tried to eat food that doesn’t come from torture.

So I’ve been seeking out free-range eggs from chickens fed actual food – actual food that is also organic so that it is not wheat or soy that has been soaked in Round-Up — for a loooong time.

Though even when I bought my $5.99 eggs in the groovy carton with fantastic slogans like “free-range,” “happy,” “sustainable,” or whatever-the-hell the marketing phrase of the week is; I worried. I was concerned. Cause I know big business is more about money than chickens. Were these eggs really from well-cared for chickens?

Back to the boyfriend. He builds the foundation for a chicken coop; a really BIG chicken coop; on stilts, so they have room underneath to hide from rain and still be outside. Off the ground also minimizes the invasion of predators. He puts up the four by fours, the floor; the frame. My roofer adds a sweet little tin roof to my chicken coop.

And it sits; unfinished. No walls; just the bones. Uninhabitable. For a full year. Every day, I pulled into my drive and my first view was the incomplete coop.

I imagined finishing it myself; imagined myself being so INDEPENDENT and STRONG and RESOURCEFUL; sawing and nailing and Googling it to completion. But one of the gifts of aging is that you realize what you have time and energy for and what you do not. It was NOT happening.

So I found Cameron; my neighbor’s-brother-in-law contractor. And he finished my coop. It’s so perfect! And then, as luck or love or whatever would have it, one of my incredible neighbors is a chicken guru; he’s been raising them since high school. AND he’s RELATED to my contractor. So he sets me up with six perfect, healthy, beautiful chickens.

These chickens teach me about phrases that we toss around in our culture that all relate back to chickens. “Pecking Order.” “Flew the Coop.” “Come Home to Roost.” Seriously; these terms now have context for me now.

Abigail and Amelia, the Rhode Island Reds; Loki and Thor, Hillroamers (a sweet locally raised variety of chickens with tiny blue eggs); Petunia, a Leghorn; and Nugget, a Barred Rock. (Nugget – get it? Chicken … Nugget … ) LOL.

We were so excited – until they began to pick on Loki; literally, pick/peck on Loki. Her head became a bloodied, flat terror. We couldn’t believe it was happening – how to stop it? How to protect her? I felt so responsible!

We let them out to roam, to free-range, which helped with the picking and the pecking. Yes, the tiny Hillroamers, the ill-named Loki and Thor, were clearly still bullied. But they also could fly much higher than the others and took to roosting in a tree together, adorably. Loki’s head seemed to be healing. Things improved when they had space to roam and scratch during the day. They all were laying eggs.

We had such sweet moments; chickens are damn entertaining!  Like the time that we had leftover pizza and Nugget scooped it up and did laps around the house with all the other chickens chasing after. It’s so funny that they liked the same things that we do. They fight over watermelon and cherries; pizza and bread; and cheese is their absolute favorite.

 

Whenever we came out of the house, they came running. Sitting on the porch, pecking at the door for attention (and shitting all over the porch btw ….). So social that we had to leave the front door closed lest they roll on in, looking for treats. And then there was our sweet Nugget; she loved to be petted. Who knew chickens would want to be petted?! She would walk up to you and squat down, extending her wings and trilling as you stroked her back.

And the eggs! These are delicious and incredible eggs. Homemade pasta; quiche; tiramisu; tiropita. Eggs were highly featured on our menus this Summer, and like tiny treasures, we collected them gratefully.

And then, one easy Summer morning where I was still in my pjs, drinking my coffee and working on the computer, I heard a big unusual ruckus out front. I dashed out and spotted what looked like a mid-sized dog amongst the flock. Spoiler alert; it was NOT a dog.

It was a coyote. And it recognized that I had chickens roosting in the trees and it returned to eat three of them. The two hillroamers and the sweet barred rock, Nugget.

I was so sad; I am still, so sad.

But this is nature; this is natural; this is me, ignoring the truth of the way of things as sometimes I do. What a lesson about being too much a lover, not a fighter; what a lesson in the natural order of things. I was more worried about letting them have freedom than keeping them safe until I realized how unsafe they really were. A reminder to me to honestly see the signs and act accordingly. Whether its relationships or chickens or … well, everything.

So this Winter, I still have my three resilient survivor chickens; the two Rhode Island Reds and the Leghorn. They stay “Cooped Up” mostly; I only let them out when I’m working in the yard.

And I have a new wonderful man in my life too. One who seems committed to making things built to last and not doing things half way. He, too, has always wanted chickens; I am taking this as a very good sign, indeed.

We are planning to add to our flock this Spring by raising some chicks on our own; a couple barred rocks, for sure, eyes WIDE open this time. My children already have a named selected for at least one of them — Nugget 2.0.

Shanti,

Jill

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