I had chickens as a kid. Let me correct that statement. My mom had a flock of free ranging bantams. And I’ll be honest. I hated those chickens. Due to their prolific elimination, I was labeled with the moniker of “chicken doo foot” for a couple of years of my childhood. There was also this horrible little rooster that would chase you at will. He had gigantic spurs for such a little rascal. My older brother spent a lot of time and energy feeding a deep anger toward that rooster, and would inevitably torment the chicken as much as the chicken ever tormented the rest of us. I don’t remember why mom got rid of them, but I remember it being a happy day.
Needless to say, it was a little confusing for me when I realized I wanted some. It was counter to everything I’d stood for as a young person. I was a confirmed chicken hater. I can’t even tell you when I stopped. Probably about the time I started thinking about the experiences my children weren’t having.
I was raised in the rural agrarian south, with all the life experiences that went with it. My friends and I grew up with an understanding and appreciation for livestock and the work that goes into it. My kids are somehow managing to grow up in the new rural south. A place where it’s actually possible to maintain a weird kind of quasi-suburban lifestyle. I’m not really okay with that. If you’re going to grow up in East Texas, you really need to understand and experience the whole rural agrarian thing. Otherwise, I might as well park them in a Dallas suburb and move on.
On top of all of that (and oh, how I hate to be a lemming but…) the whole industrialized food chain thing is freaking disturbing. I just want my kids to be able to eat an egg without wondering what the idiots have fed the chicken.
So I had chickens on my agenda for several years before I pulled the trigger. It was the unexpected gift of our little red coop that pushed the goal to reality and launched my three month chicken intensive as chronicled on Such the Like.
Today I’d like close out my generalist’s study of poultry keeping with a list of really important things I’ve learned about chickens the last few months. Because as it happens, I really knew nothing when I started.
1. They poop. A lot. And their poops are all different and some of them are weird, which can make you paranoid about the quality of their poop. And you find yourself inspecting their poop. Boo.
2. They’re work. Before I brought my ladies home, I had been told that a backyard flock was little or no trouble. “You throw them out there and feed them. No big” I can’t agree with my friend’s statement. Refer to number one on my list. Chickens poop a lot. I don’t like the way poop smells. I don’t want my neighbor to smell poop. I like him. It’s not something he should have to worry about. So I spend some time making sure the coop is maintained.
3. Plan your coop. I love the little red coop! There are a lot of things about it that are awesome. There are also a lot of things that aren’t working for me right now. It’s important that food and water be easily accessible for the chicken and for the human. My chickens have no problem getting to their rations. Unfortunately for me however, I have to crouch or kneel to change them out. Not ok! You don’t want to be kneeling in a chicken coop people (reference #1). So I’m looking at improvements to our coop to keep it from being a complete hassle-especially during the summer. We have a lot of 100 degree days inTexasduring the summer. I need this coop maintenance thing to get a little more streamlined.
3. Chickens can be brutal. Granted there was the mean rooster from my childhood, but that was a rooster. I thought hens were laid back, gentle, and generally vacant. Not so much as it turns out. The stories I’ve read will curl your hair…and the whole cannibalism thing! Wow. My ladies have spunk! They’re feisty! They’ve got that certain look in their eye, and I’m keeping my eyes on them.
4. Certain chickens are good for certain things. Make sure you’re purchasing a breed that works for your climate and your goals. For me, it was good layers that are heat tolerant and docile. Don’t get sucked in by the babies at the feed store. Do a little homework.
5. The more time you spend with them, the more gratifying the experience. But isn’t that how it is with everything?