Backyard Farm Stories
Chickens in my House!
My Chicken Career began at the local feed store where I purchased a handful of soft, fuzzy two-day-old chicks. I was excited but also anxious for I was now responsible for these tiny lives and this was all new to me. Sure, the nice man at the feed store had also sold me The Big Book of Chicken that he said contained all of the chicken wisdom I would require. But still…..
I gently placed the little box o’ chicks on the passenger seat of my car. They were cheeping up a storm and didn’t sound happy but I could hardly blame them. I mean, one minute they were all running around in a giant tub-world eating and drinking and pooping under the warm glow of a big 250 watt sun; the next they were crammed into a dark box and bouncing around in a car. To make matters worse, April is an iffy month around here – it can be 80 or 20 degrees on any given day – and today the Weather Gods had decided to freeze us. This would not have been a problem were it not that the hatch of my econo-box hatchback would not close over the coop-in-a-box (assembly required) which was jammed into the back of the car. There was no way the car’s heater could compete with the arctic air blasting through the open hatch door.
The danger on this day was that newly hatched chicks cannot regulate their temperatures and must be kept at 100 degrees - either under a light bulb or under a momma chicken – or they will die and the trip home took a good half hour. (I had to drive slowly lest I hit a bump and send the coop-in-a-box flying out the back of my car). And so I listened with trepidation as the cheeping from the passenger seat beside me decreased in volume and then faded away. Had my new babies turned into chicksicles? Would my chicken career end before it began?
I tried to keep up their spirits – and mine - by talking to them. I explained that their current dire straits were a temporary inconvenience and that they would someday have the perfect, idyllic life roaming around in my backyard. I promised that they would be as free as is possible and as happy as I could make them for this is the bargain I make with all of the critters who come home to live with me. (My ex-husband would undoubtedly challenge this last statement but I would point out that he was not nearly as much fun as the chickens. But I digress….)
I pulled into the garage and rushed the babies into the house where their new home awaited. (Plastic tub, food, water, light bulb) They were still alive but looked pretty sad, all puffed up and not moving. I placed them under their new sun. I waited with baited breath. And then I witnessed the most amazing, Lazarus-like metamorphosis. They simply thawed out and within ten minutes were running around cheeping and eating and drinking and pooping as though nothing untoward had happened. Chickens are tough little birds, is what I was thinking.
The chicks would be guests in my house for the next two weeks during which time I had only to keep them clean, fed, watered and warm. Or so I thought. Three days into my new avocation I was introduced to Pasty Butt, a rather revolting condition wherein poop collects on the chick’s bottom and turns into concrete. Fortunately my chicken friends had warned me that this might happen and had counseled me on my obligations. And so it was that I spent a great deal of time in those first two weeks holding chicks’ bottoms in saucers of warm water and gently working the muck off of them with my fingers. The chicks did not appreciate these hydrotherapy sessions. As for me, I looked upon it as a test of my resolve. In the end we all survived which is the best that can be said of the entire disgusting ordeal.
After two weeks in the house the chicks were ready to graduate to the coop. I had finally managed to assemble the contraption – the directions were written by a Chinese person whose English was a bit quirky so it was a challenge - but at last everything was ready. Their new digs had a soft carpet of wood chips and two suns to keep them warm day and night. They still did not have the freedom I had promised – they would remain on lockdown in the coop until they popped out their feathers – but it was much nicer and more roomy than the plastic tub in my den.
Liberation Day finally arrived and when I opened the coop door for the first time the little chicks literally spilled out into the yard. They flapped and flew and tumbled over one another. They ran everywhere and pecked at everything. They scratched the dirt and rolled around in it. They ate their first bugs and found them tasty. They discovered that worms are fun to play ‘keep-away’ with. Everything was exciting.
As I watched their euphoric antics I pondered the fact that in the not-so-distant past we believed that only humans were capable of experiencing emotion. Well, I’m here to tell you: Chickens know exactly what ‘happy’ is and they value their freedom as much as we value ours.
Over the next few months the chicks grew from awkward adolesence into gorgeous gals with red comb and wattle accessories. By late summer I was looking forward to my first homegrown, organic eggs but alas none appeared in the nest boxes. I consulted the Big Book of Chicken which suggested that the eggs might be elsewhere. Thus began the Great Easter Egg Hunts of 2014.
But that’s a whole other story……..
It was sometime during this phase of my farming education that my chickens insinuated themselves into my heart. Perhaps it was the sad, sorry sight of them trying to grow feathers. (It was like a really bad hair day in the coop for a few weeks). Or maybe it was their good natured, boundless energy. But whatever their magic and appeal, I was utterly smitten.
I brought them home for the eggs. Who knew I would fall in love with them?