In which Green Bean accepts her fate as chicken farmer.
Puff, a blue Cochin and my favorite hen
The February sun soaked over the back fence and slid down the hill, brightening every tree, bush and blade in its journey toward the house. From my desk, I watched its brilliant path broaden, saw the bugs and gnats outlined in its warmth and made out spider webs glimmering in the empty fruit trees.
The reason we moved to this house. The hill behind it holds infinite possibilities. Room for the kids to play, dig, make mud pools, explore. Space for more fruit trees - lemon, mandarin, pomegranate, pear. A place for raised beds where tomatoes and peppers will bake in full-day sun. A lolling slope for pumpkins to creep and roam. And most of all, room for the girls to stretch their wings, dig up a few worms, and poop to their hearts' content.
By girls, I am referring to my hens, of course - three of them going on their second year of laying and the other two just a few months new to the Poultry Palace. They dirt bathe in the sun. Cluck around under the apple and fig trees. Follow any human about, looking for treats. And, if the mood is right, lay the most delightful eggs on the planet.
Fluff #2, a buff Cochin
Our first year was fraught with tears. Chicks that grew into city-forbidden roosters. A pullet that ate a screw and, well, died. Another hen who has been to the vet half a dozen times. A true chicken farmer would have offed that last one and, while I'm not there yet, I have managed to see past the drama to the land of eggs and honey.
I love my girls but I've learned that they are not your average pet. They don't miss you when you are on vacation - provided you've got someone else caring for them. They don't live as long as cats and dogs but the life I provide is much than the life they'd live on almost any "farm." The nasty ones remain nasty and sometimes are better given away to torture some other flock or grace a stew pot. You don't want to place your coop right up against your fence line because chickens are early risers and loud! And you need to be prepared for a poopy yard.
Minerva Louise, a Wellsummer, and Ginger, a buff Orpington
I've learned that it is easy to replace lost flock members, that there are many choices ranging from chick, pullet to hen, and that the breed selection is overwhelming but really really enticing. Still, I've learned to look for quieter (notice I said quieter as there's no such thing as quiet) and more docile breeds when replenishing.
And, I've learned to accept a yard full of chicken poop - but only in certain places. My girls are restricted to the hill - an unplanted dirt landscape where their poop is an offering from the gods. Not to say that my friendliest chicken, Serena, the one with all the vet visits, doesn't climb down the stairs, venture across the patio to peer into the family room window. She does, until I carry her back up the stairs and give her a firm talking to.
Serena, a Barred Rock and queen of the coop
Finally, I've learned that our eggs aren't "free", as friends often times assume. Despite all the food scraps they eat and all the free ranging they do, these girls are biiiiig eaters and consume quite a bit of organic pellets, sunflower seeds, oyster shells and meal worms. Due to a too soft heart and a not strong enough backbone, we've visited the chicken vet more than I care to count. Then, there's the cost of the coop, the run, the chicken sitters. Let's just say that $7 for a dozen for eggs at the farmers' market or your CSA is a steal! Jump on that deal if you can . . .
resist the call becoming a chicken farmer yourself.
Everyone is friends on the farm.