JEAN MARTIN

First Person / Raising chickens, never dull

Here are some tips in case you’re considering it


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In 2006 my sister bought the farm.

Early in 2007, she bought a bunch of baby chicks to raise on the farm that she bought.

She kept them in the bathtub until it was warm enough for them to go outside and live in the coop and chicken run she has behind her house.

Every now and then, I get updates on Aunt Elizabeth, who likes to come in the house through the dog door; Bill Sikes, who pecks; the handsome Boston Blackie and assorted other birds.

So I know a little about chickens.

I know chickens are loud. Roosters crow, and not just once at sunrise. Sunrise is when roosters start crowing. They keep crowing off and on until sunset. They want everyone to know that there’s a rooster on the farm. If you have more than one rooster, they have crowing contests. I think the object is to see who can cock-a-doodle-doo the loudest.

Hens cluck. The good news is they aren’t as loud as roosters. The bad news is they aren’t all that quiet, and they cluck most of the time, between sunup and sundown.

Roosters are inclined to assert themselves. Some roosters are more assertive than others. It depends on the breed. I’m not sure what breed Bill Sikes is, but you don’t want to get on his bad side. He went after a small nephew once who was just trying to collect some eggs. The nephew wasn’t badly damaged, but he wasn’t happy about it either.

Boston Blackie appears to be a pacifist, and he doesn’t crow all that loudly. Unfortunately, he’s a nice, fat bird, and there’s a possibility he may go from rooster to roaster one of these days.

You don’t need a rooster to raise chickens. You’ll still get eggs, they just won’t hatch.

Of course you may wind up with a rooster, even if you don’t want one. People who sell baby chickens do their best to sort out the males before they sell them, but it isn’t easy. Sometimes they get it wrong. I’m sure, somewhere out there, there’s a rooster rescue organization if you don’t care to eat them. But be advised, roosters happen.

Even without roosters, chickens lay a lot of eggs. The more chickens you have, the more eggs they will lay.

My sister sent one guest home with nine dozen.

Collect egg cartons. You will need them.

If you get chickens, start looking for recipes that begin “Take six eggs.” You’’re going to need them, too. A Lord Baltimore yellow cake can use up as many as 11.

Before you cook the eggs, you’re going to have to wash them. Chickens aren’t careful about relieving themselves. Fresh eggs sometimes have fecal matter on them. Washing eggs shortens their shelf life, so it’s best not to wash them until you’re ready to crack the shells.

Lily, the Great Pyrenees dog, protects the chickens from predators. There’s a fox in the area, and a bobcat. Then there’s my sister’s schnoodle.

Snickerdoodle the schnoodle is a perfectly adorable little ball of white fluff, with large, soulful eyes. He’s very sweet but he likes to mangle poultry.

He eats what he kills, at least most of it. But it isn’t good for the birds.

Not all dogs kill chickens. Lily never bothers them. But if you have a dog, having chickens may not be such a good idea.

Snickerdoodle likes eggs, too.

My sister’s chickens aren’t always good about laying eggs in their nests. Nothing unusual in that. Chickens will lay just about anywhere. Nobody minds if Snickers finds one and eats it.

Finding a three-month-old egg someplace on the property is never a pleasant experience, especially if you step on it.

You may do a better job of keeping your chickens confined than my sister does.

They don’t like to stay in the pen. I think they get bored. I mentioned Aunt Elizabeth, the hen who likes to visit the kitchen. Other birds check out the yard, or risk a visit to the woods.

Your chickens may decide to go visit the neighbors some day. Just keep that in mind.

My sister loves her birds. She still likes the salt shakers, lamps, plates and other objects de chicken I’ve given her over the years.

The chickens are beautiful. Noisy and fragrant, but beautiful.

Their eggs come in different colors, not just white and brown. I don’t think she’s tried serving green eggs and ham. But she could. Some of her chickens lay green eggs.

I understand that keeping chickens has become trendy. If you want to be part of the trend, that’s fine. But understand that your life is going to be a lot more interesting than it was.

It is never dull when you have chickens.

Jean Martin is a writer living in Swissvale (LadyJeandeBurg@aol.com).


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