I’ve been mostly writing about my garden because surprisingly this year I’ve gotten more food than almost ever before. Simply awesome! But I set up this blog with more of a mind to writing about my various making projects and my chickens. Because really since they were about five months old, the girls been giving us food – that is, eggs. So satisfying given my record. No losses to squirrels or birds or insects or disease or shade or (I can go on) but mostly like clockwork, these ladies give us eggs.
The really unexpected thing, though, is how much joy they have brought me and my family. I would never have predicted it. Silly exploits, chaotic standoffs with our little terrier, fights over special treats I provide, all on top of giving us eggs every day. In all of the time I had been hoping and dreaming of having chickens, I had no idea how much fun keeping chickens would be.
For so many years I had wanted chickens. Well, really I wanted their eggs. Since I finished school I’ve really wanted to grow my own food. Over the years in my shady, squirrel-riddled yard, I’ve had a rough time actually producing much food. Something I’ve always been very focused on. So, why didn’t I just get chickens years ago? Really because I couldn’t figure out what to do with them after they stop laying eggs. After 2-3 years chickens reduce their egg output but can go on to live for another 10-15 years. What was I going to do with a slew of decrepit and hungry pet chickens for 15 years? We already have a dog. I am a vegetarian so there were no chicken soup options. I didn’t want just more pets. I wanted pets with benefits. I would come back to the idea every year, but I just couldn’t get my head around the cost-benefit ratio. So each spring I’d sigh and say something like ‘I really want chickens.’ And do nothing about it.
But then, two things happened. First, we took a family trip to Providence, RI where I came across Cluck! Urban Farm Supply. Well that little shop really got me thinking, perhaps I can. This clever, wonderful shop – driveway in front, chickens in the side yard and a cornucopia of things homestead inside – was downright inspiring. Not only do they have oodles of things for beekeeping, chicken keeping, preserving and permaculture, they give occasional classes. I signed my whole family up for one on composting while we were there. In the morning I planned my run around communing with their side yard gals. I was smitten. With the shop, sure. But really with the chickens and the idea of chicken keeping.
Then, right after we came home, I came across a self proclaimed chicken mama on my local listserv. This local chicken mama was willing to share her knowledge on chicken keeping. In my very own neighborhood. And what I learned from her was critical to breaking the l-can’t-do-it spell I had been under for a decade. She looked befuddled when I told her about my roadblock. 20 years? She couldn’t think of a single bird she had had or other chicken mamas had that lived more than 8 years. And she could only think of one at that. Not what I was expecting. She explained that a key unifying feature of chickens seemed to be th that they die. Usually suddenly and unexpectedly. We’ve got foxes and hawks she woefully pointed out. And she’s lost plenty to them. Then some just drop dead – which apparently they do. A lot. So in talking to more folks I learned that old for a chicken here in the Mid Atlantic region is 5 or maybe 6 years. Well, that’s not long at all. So the chicken bug bit. And bit hard. I was talking about it. And meaning it. Like really.
Over a year later, I have experienced so much fun and joy from my chickens, in addition to many yummy eggs. Really, in hindsight, I am surprised it took me so long to take the plunge. If you are interested and have some space – my advice would be to you – do it…and don’t wait. I wish I had done it sooner.