Saturday, October 4, 2008

I went down to the coop to find almost 2 dozen eggs. I couldn't say which day I was down there last to collect eggs. It's been a busy month with packing, getting the house ready to sell, and coaching cross country. The chickens have been on their own lately. I leave the coop open all the time. They go in at night and roost up high so they're safe. They roam the yard all day, grazing for goodies. Their pelleted feed is moving much more slowly now that they're free-ranging so much. It takes the pressure off me. They're basically self-sufficient.

The only drawback is the crop of free-range poops all over the yard. Now it's mandatory to take your shoes off at our door. Who knows what you stepped in on your way here?

Chris trained the chickens to be little tame pets. Before, they weren't really interested in people. After feeding them treats and rounding them up like the Pied Piper, Chris trained them to come when called. It's fun to see them running expectantly, full tilt in your direction.

They have a new home in their future. I wish I could haul them to Michigan. (Maybe I haven't fully considered my options.) For now, there's a family that wants some layers for their little farm. I plan to transplant them there sometime in the next few weeks. It's hard to imagine being in the yard without little chicken-foot-stomp-through-leaf noises. It's hard to imagine life without farm chores, as minute as this 'farm' is. It's been a pretty simple equation the last few years: care for the chickens = eggs to eat. Buying them at the store seems so foreign and illogical. Raising chickens was novel three years ago. Now it's routine.

I love eggs. I take them for granted and I savor taking them for granted. (Is that possible?) We have what seem like limitless supplies of egg salad, fritatas for dinner, biscotti, and chocolate chip cookies. I seek out recipes that call for 6 or 12 eggs just to use them up. Fast food means fried egg sandwhiches for dinner. It's not that each egg isn't a little treasure, or that I ever waste our eggs. It's just that there's an abundance of them. And there is an abundance of eggs partly because of the care and effort we put into the hens.

There is a fine line. This summer, one of the hens got sick. Because chickens are chickens, it's tough to know what's ailing them, or to perform necessary procedures once you know what the problem is. So this chicken was weak, absent of appetite, squirting liquid green diarrhea, and generally droopy. I was nervous, and I didn't want to see it suffer. I was prepared to euthanize. I decided to give it a week of isolation, special food, and antibiotics. I agonized quite a bit, imagining that it was egg-bound and suffering from horrible pain. But it kept eating, so I kept feeding it. It kept drinking. After 8 or 9 days, it was looking really good. I eventually released it back into the flock and it's been fine ever since. I might have been less patient, and thus needlessly slaughtered a hen, but I gambled and I waited and the hen survived. It turned out to be worth it.

I can't exactly tell the chickens apart, but I do recognize different characteristics, as if they're all one organism. I know that one of the hens has short tail feathers because she got too close to the heat lamp last winter. I know two of them have worn wing feathers on their shoulders from when we used to have a rooster. I know one of them has a really floppy comb. One of them is smarter than all the rest: she seems to learn faster and change her behavior based on observations. If it weren't for the eggs, I wouldn't have chickens. They're not really the best pets, in my opinion. I prefer snuggly dogs. If they weren't laying eggs, I'd think of them as free-loaders, sucking up more than their fair share of crickets, worms and snakes. It's their eggs and manure that pay their rent here. But I have to admit that their enthusiastic little waddle run and friendly flocking has been nice ever since Chris, the chicken-whisperer, got ahold of them.

1 comment:

Sue said...

MMM...Fried egg sandwiches. :)