The Practice of Keeping Chickens

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Chickens backyard

Keeping chickens isn’t just a hobby, it’s a practice. There’s a ritual you fall into when you take care of them every day, or at least we do. Each morning, after the sheep are fed, before breakfast or getting ready for school or work, Brianne bundles up, throws on her mud boots and trudges out to the barn near the garden. Once inside she pours fresh lay mash and scratch into the hanging feeder, and makes sure the water trough is topped off. Sometimes the hens get a stroke or two and hear about the world outside and the news about the day’s activities. She checks for overall health of the birds, and leaves with an egg or two, warm in her hands.

But, night watch with the birds is my favorite time. I love to let them out of the coop and watch them run around the barn, eventually making their way out into the yard. The routine is the same; the clothes are the same – mud boots, sweatshirts and jeans, only it’s after a long day’s work, after a walk with the dogs and a healthy meal. I’m tired, but content with a warm coat and full stomach. I stay past dark and even in my semi-rural area it’s black and dark without the distraction of streetlights or porch lights. My eyes dart around looking for owls or rats in the brush. Sometimes I see one (rat) and shake a feed bucket to make a ruckus, fending them off.

Needing to bed down the coop means I get to breathe in fresh dark air, see the stars, stare at the moon and smell a mix of wet leaves and burning fireplaces from other chimney’s on the street. These are things I’m grateful to do, and those birds make sure I do it every night.

Besides being outside with a purpose, keeping chicken’s means taking care of something, knowing that they rely on you for protection and food and their general well being. It feels really nice to provide all that. It really does. And it’s not all giving either – the ability to collect fresh eggs, a source of protein that doesn’t require taking their lives, is unique and special to the hens. I don’t know many other bi-species relationships that can offer feelings of responsibility, enjoyment, and a killer morning omelet. Well maybe ducks, but we all know ducks are assholes. And, the spring chicks ain’t bad either.

So thank you chickens, thank you.
Sometimes it really does take a village.

Meet Blue, a standard blue Cochin; senior rooster and king of the coop. Blue and his girlfriend, a black Cochin hen came to us quite by accident a few years ago. Brianne and I were at a poultry show, where she had entered some of her birds. These shows often hold raffles for all kinds of fowl and poultry supplies, and this one was no different. Brianne had seen a black hen she wanted. But, I thought we had too many chickens already so I told her no. The more I thought about it though the more I started to change my mind. So, on the sly I bought $5 worth of raffle tickets and put them all in the bag in front of the little black hens coop.

Now, poultry shows are interesting events, unlike any other type of livestock show because the show barn is closed while the judges evaluate each entry. There’s no need for the exhibitor to stick around. We usually take this opportunity to tour the town or visit friends in the area. This time we drove over the hills to the ocean to check out some of our favorite garden shops in a little seaside village. On the way back to the fairgrounds we got a call from the show organizer congratulating us on winning the PAIR of Cochins. I gasped and said there was just one – a black hen – to whit she replied, “No, it was a pair. The person who cooped in the chickens made a mistake and penned them separately.” I swallowed hard; we didn’t need another rooster, especially not a standard. Back at the fairgrounds we headed straight for the raffle birds and sure enough they had fixed the mistake and penned together was the little black hen and a giant blue Cochin rooster standing almost 2-feet tall!

I took a deep breath and resigned myself to the fact that we were adding two more birds to our coop. We scoured local markets for a box big enough to transport the rooster, but small enough to fit in the back of the Suburban. Once home we settled them into their new home and let everyone get acquainted.

Want to know what feels great? Seeing productive animals bedded down and eating a meal in a house you built for them.

We were happy girls. Well – at least one of us was.

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