Thursday, August 20, 2009

Silly little amusing chicken antics

We have composted for a long time. It has always been a chore.

Suddenly, with eager hens with access to the compost, I look forward to taking out the compost.

They dive right into it, especially watermelon rinds, leftover peach pulp and even weeds. They see me coming with the bucket and come over in earnest.

I didn't realize that I would enjoy watching bird behavior or get attached to them. I'm in this for eggs. I'm not a great animal lover. However, these birds are winning me over.

We have collected four eggs now, so a whole new attitude has hatched. Literally.

However, there are other perks to compensate for the regular care. Just watching them is relaxing and amusing. Red Star -- the odd ball -- has a lonely life as the outsider. Red Star is older, bigger and more experienced.

She has become a little aggressive, but she also teaches the younger six birds a thing or two. They had no idea what to do with the compost until Red Star came along. And she knows how and where to lay eggs -- which is more than I can say for the rest of the flock. They harass her -- maybe out of jealousy.

According to the web, Red Star chickens produce the most number of eggs for the least feed, and in "this economy," that's important. She produces, that's all I care about.

Then there's Houdini. She likes high places and was fond of escaping until I put netting over the pen. Today she perched on the fence between the chicken yard and the compost. It gives her a sense of accomplishment, I think.

I went to my friend Denali's Chalet Poulet -- it's really the Taj Ma Chicken. It's HUGE, about twice as big as my coop. She spent a small fortune on it and built it sturdier and neater than ours. Ours is "just a chicken coop.

The best part of her setup is that the birds can be viewed from her deck, with a glass of iced tea, with your feet up, a restful and entertaining treat. Nature is like a dose of Valium. Daydreaming about butchering counteracts that.

Denali wants to raise birds for meat so she's game to learn to slaughter them. I'm willing. Being self-sufficient is appealing and part of the back-to-nature movement that I've been swept up in. There are instructional videos online on how to slaughter. Someone else is doing it for me at the slaughterhouse and CAFOs -- commercial animal feeding operations. They don't even have the courtesy to consider themselves a "farm." On a farm, people look at the animals, appreciate them and name them -- even though they will be sacrificed for food.

Hurray for sacrifice.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Two eggs, sunny side up

My chicken adventure started in January with an idea, followed by months of thinking, planning and talking.

Next came the building phase. After the mental phase of talking myself in and out of keeping chickens, the building phase was the toughest. We built a shed with doors and pseudo-windows. It took time and money.

Then the coop was vacant for a few months until my hen friend Lori gave me some pullets -- birds a few months old -- that were not laying yet. They settled in, but I don't expect any eggs from them until October or November.

Then Lori dropped off Big Red -- a solitary hen a few months older than the rest of the gang -- in exchange for a rooster. My other six birds have been together since birth and bonded. Big Red is often on the outside of their clique. She's a bit of a bully. Big Red has been lonely and isolated.

Allegedly, Big Red is a "layer." Three weeks have passed and I was beginning to wonder if Big Red was transgendered or mistaken as a rooster. Hens are very susceptible to stress. It was taking her a while to find her place in the pecking order.

I placed golf balls in the laying nests as a hint. I checked the nests every few days for eggs. My hen friend Denali reported, "I got my first eggs!" I was green with envy. All I wanted was a few eggs for months of effort.

Last night, I grudgingly checked the nests again, with low expectations. It was a chore. Nest one had a golf ball and some chicken shit in it. Nest two, the same. Nest three, WAIT! Amid a little chicken shit were TWO BROWN EGGS!

I gathered them up, took them into the kitchen and called an emergency family meeting in the kitchen before dinner.

"Did either of you lay these two eggs?" I held them up victoriously to my husband and daughter Kristen. "Did either of you place these in the hen house to make my day?"

We whooped with celebration. Bob put on the frying pan and we ate them immediately.

Those two eggs were ALMOST worth the six-month wait! They were delicious. Today I gave the birds fresh water with a little more joy, a bit less resentment, and a great deal more anticipation and appreciation.

I love getting eggs from nests in my backyard!