A Chicken Year
“I dream of a better world,
where chickens can cross
the road without having their
The seedlings are up, the garden is planted, mulched and off to a great start thanks to the voluminous amount of rain that has fallen the last few weeks. With that said, I wanted take some time to reflect on my first year with chickens as residents of Commonwealth Farm. In future blogs, I’d like to talk about specifics and offer advice on the care and feeding of these feathered friends, but for now just a few thoughts to get you thinking if a flock of hens may be right for you. It has been a year this month that my chicks came home to roost in a box with a heat lamp in my extra bedroom. (This went on for five weeks until everyone concerned was thankful that the chicks were ready to move outside into their new digs.) We have now been through every season together, including a couple of major heatwaves last summer and a polar vortex last February, and we have survived it all. If nothing else, chickens are resilient.
Over the year, I have found that chickens are pretty easy to raise, but you have to decide if they are right for you. They do require a little time and attention, but I think it is worth the rewards. You can expect to add about fifteen minutes to your morning routine with refilling the feeder, putting out fresh water and letting the hens out of the coop. If you get out there after the sun is already up, you’ll find them at the door raring to go and about ready to break the door down so they can get on with the new day. There are bugs out there to catch! I am a former middle school teacher, and when the hens dash out the door, it reminds me of a “flock” of middle school boys barreling out the door for recess. The chickens also eat like middle school boys. Chickens perch on any available surface as if they own it and poop pretty much non-stop.
In the evening when you are watching your favorite show, when the first commercial comes on after sunset and the chickens have gone up to roost, you’ll need to dash out to lock them up for the night to keep them safe. A good coop cleaning once a week should suffice to keep a tidy household. You can do a serious cleaning and scrubbing twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall.
I’ve determined that chickens are much smarter than they are given credit for. When I open my back door carrying a head of cabbage, they see me coming, start squawking and run up and down the fence as if to say, “Hey, here comes the guy with the food!” And talk about talking, I thought chickens just “clucked”. Now I find out that they have about twenty different vocalizations including the post-egg laying “hen song”. I’m not sure what each vocalization means, but I do love to listen. I have a sled dog and the breed by nature do not bark, but vocalize as well. I call it “yowling”. It has a few variations and I always smile when I hear that too. I love coming home from work to this urban farm cacophony. Imagine coming home, sitting on the patio with a glass of wine or a fine IPA and being entertained by a yowling sled dog and squawking hens running up and down the fence with a Charlie Chaplin-like waddling gate. I’m not sure it gets any better than that.
So if you think you have a few minutes to spare in the morning after eating your cereal and wouldn’t mind cleaning the coop after your Saturday morning trip to the grocery store, then go for it! You’ll love the eggs almost as much as the personalities of your hens. For an endearing book about connecting with and raising a flock of hens, I recommend The Chicken Chronicles by Alice Walker. I have read it more than once.