A Year with Chickens: Wisdom from the Flock
It’s been about a year now since a quick stop at the hardware store to pick up some duct tape and grass seed turned us into part-time poultry farmers.
Not that I blame my husband. Those little balls-of-fluff are enough to melt any man into a can’t-say-no-kind-of puddle.
But I had no idea what I was in for when I let my overjoyed children carry three peeping to-go boxes inside my kitchen.
Yes, in our 12 months of chicken keeping, we’ve grown a lot. And since new folks are trying out this urban farming gig every day, I’m here to share my wisdom from the flock. I won’t claim all I need to know I learned in my first year of chicken farming, but it’s something like that.
So, in an eggshell, a dozen takeaways from our year with chickens.
1. They’re warm enough. I can’t tell you how many conversations revolved around this question. Turns out chickens are resilient. And what doesn’t kill them, makes them stronger.
2. Chickens can fly. Over that fancy moveable barrier we bought and the six-foot-tall fence that surrounds our yard. We’ve been advised it’s not hard to clip their wings. But what would that do to all their chicken dreams?
3. Free-range chickens are nice — in theory. In reality, roaming chickens equals poop — in our yard, on our shoes, between our toes. I’ll stop.
4. Good fences make good chickens. Or maybe just happy chicken owners. Combing our in-town neighborhood for escapees gets old, quick.
5. Predators are real. A hawk (we think) took one of our girls when she was just three months old. It made us realize how responsible we were for keeping our hens safe. Their lives depended on us.
6. It’s better when hens lay their eggs where you can find them. Searching for hidden nests in the marigolds ranks right up there with chasing chickens down the street.
7. You cannot train a chicken. But they can sure train you.
8. Henpecked is not just a literary term. Once we were down to a pair of chickens, we decided to increase our flock. But melding two groups of birds was exhausting and frightening. For months, the older girls reigned terror on the younger ones. There is peace, now, in the coop. But, also, still pecking.
9. A flock’s pecking order is not something you can fix (or really even understand). Our flock's leader has changed continually. And the pecking order rules everything. But this is nature’s way and there’s no messing with Mother Nature.
10. Five hens can do a lot of damage to your garden. But they eat their share of bugs. And we do score some four eggs a day. It’s all about the give and take.
11. Every chicken cliche you’ve heard is true.They do step into the road for no good reason and dislike being wet. I’ve gained a new appreciation for our ancestors’ idioms.
12. Hens are good company. There’s nothing quite like holding a living, breathing being up close — yes, even poultry — to slow your pace when you’re rushing around like … you know, a chicken with its head cut off. In short, chicken cuddles are good for the soul.
So happy birthday Ruairi, Lily, J.J., Siobhan and Phoebe. Here’s to many more years together — and many more life lessons.
Christina Nifong writes about food, gardening and her chickens at christinanifong.com.