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Advice & More May 2012

Tending Our Little Flock – It’s All It’s Cracked Up To Be

By Janice Doyle

For us – empty nesters that we are – raising chickens has become a point of conversation, a joint endeavor, something unique we have created together. Visiting children love it. It’s fun!

“It shouldn’t be this much fun to keep happy healthy chickens in your own backyard… but it is!” (from the blog Chicken Keeping Secrets)

Lately if I wonder where Dear Husband is, there’s a good chance I can look out the back window and see him “chillin’ with our peeps.” Our one-time little peeps, however, now perform loud and proud clucking after their egg-laying successes.

Our mixed-breeds “girls” – hens named Katarina and Ophelia (blacks), Click and Cluck (reds) and Dominique (black and white) – require some sort of checking on five or six times a day. Reality? Nothing much changes in their coop or attached chicken yard during any 24-hour period. We find it fun, however, to just go out and watch their antics. Or toss them some (quite expensive) cracked corn. Or just stand and talk to or about our girls.

How we became suburban Tampa chicken ranchers is one of those marriage things.

I said: “Growing up on a farm, I always loved chickens.”

DH heard: “Janice wants chickens.”

The new-aluminum-porch-salesman said: “Hauling away the old wood is included in the cost.”

DH heard: “We’re planning to take cedar 4 x 4s and 2 x 8s to the dump! Some of it is past using, but the rest…”

A day later I asked: “What’s your new book?”

DH replied: “Raising Chickens for Dummies.”

And that’s how DH became Facilities and Maintenance Director for our little chicken ranch and I became Acquisitions and Distribution Manager.

His hand-drawn sketches and lists of supplies were free. Wire fencing, nails, hinges and locks were definitely not. He was “man, the provider” as he flashed his credit card at Home Depot and wielded his power saw on boards stretched over sawhorses. The man and his tools became a thing to behold.

Then one day our pleasant, shady chicken kingdom was completed. Our future girls would go in and out from coop to yard on a clever ladder; their covered yard fence would allow no predators. An outside door on the nesting boxes allowed for clean and easy egg gathering.

A wire floor on the raised coop area offered the Maintenance Director easy cleanup for the anticipated six or seven pounds of manure each chicken is predicted to provide each year (think flower beds here).

We then took DH’s credit card and made our way to a tractor supply store to shop for supplies. Waterer? Check. Feeder? Check. Grower mash? Check. Magazines for backyard chicken people like us? Check.

It was time to find our first girls. From ads on Craigslist, we chose four babies and settled in to get connected in a small way to the earth, to the reality of food sources, to nature.

We discovered cliches based on chickens are found in literature dating back to the 1200s.

“Pecking order”: Katarina and Ophelia were – and still are – at the top of the pecking order. Taken as babies from a large flock, our girls had to establish their own pecking order. Guess what? They’re just a family of siblings who’ve had to work out how to live together, as one writer said.

We added Dominique recently and discovered that our girls didn’t want a stepsister. The pecking part of pecking order became real. She now has her own little coop next to the bigger yard, and Cluck sometimes still tries to henpeck her through the wire.

Ophelia was “mad as a wet hen” when we carelessly left the nest box door open and she “flew the coop.” I found her circling the chicken yard, rushing headlong at the fence every few feet trying desperately to get back with the other girls.

To say “sounds like a bunch of old hens” makes sense as we listen to their universal sound of braaaaap, braaaap, braaaap.

A good alpha rooster tells the world when the sun is about to rise and then crows again when the sun has followed up on his announcement. We don’t think our neighbors would enjoy that information, so there will be no alpha rooster for our coop. That means no fertilized eggs.

I never explained that to Katarina, and she recently tried to “brood,” sitting on a nest day and night like a good “mother hen.” We didn’t leave her daily “nest egg” under her (lest it become “a bad egg”).

You get the picture. We have fresh eggs which I, as Distribution Manager, figure are now costing us about $5 each, considering expenses to date. Because of the girls’ mixed heritage, one red hen lays dark brown eggs, the other lays large cream-colored eggs, and our little black hens lay small creamy white eggs.

For us – empty nesters that we are – raising chickens has become a point of conversation, a joint endeavor, something unique we have created together. Visiting children love it. It’s fun!

And the fresh eggs? Yes, they’re really all they’re cracked up to be.

If this makes you homesick for having chickens, you can watch a flock live on I’m not kidding! Someone put a webcam on their backyard flock. We’ll not be doing that.


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