by Allison Krug, science/medical writer and BI chicken farmer
Chickens are alluring little creatures. Their bright colors add spark to our grey days, and they make any garden look happy. They are easy to love because they’re industrious: They give us eggs and meat (if we choose), and they don’t ask for much in return. They don’t mind a muddy run, aren’t depressed by rain, keep their feathers neat, and wake up happy and bright-eyed. They even go to bed on their own!
Sure, they’re also dirty, incontinent at night, and love to dig holes. They sometimes eat their own eggs. They’re strict (sometimes brutal) with their social order. They roost where they shouldn’t and make a constant mess of things. And yet we want them around. Perhaps it’s because their simple traits can be a good reminder for humans about sticking together, muck or not. But beware . . . once you start collecting chickens it might be hard to stop!
Beware Chicken Lust
Once you get into chicken rearing, you might find that you just “need” a couple more, or just have to try out a different breed. You start eyeing the “zebra” chickens with black and white stripes (Barred Rocks) or want a big Jersey Giant. Plump, huggable Buff Orpingtons might be fun for the kids, right? Some folks even love the sound of a rooster. They add drama to the flock, and they are excellent protectors (I know from experience, having been chased a few times!).
How is the reality of chicken rearing compared to the romance? What kind of chicken keeper has Julie become since she launched her coop last month? Is she still in the honeymoon phase where the coop is immaculate, the water never dusky, the organic seeds always fresh? Or is she in the affectionate but pragmatic phase–what needs to get done is done, and fussing over them can wait for the weekend. Or maybe she’s on her way to being a hard-beaked, full-on chicken farmer, culling the meat birds yearly.
Take Our Test: Where Are You on the Chicken-Keeping Continuum?
Are you an “eggs are a daily miracle” honeymooner, a soft-boiled chicken chum, or a full-on farmer pragmatist? Give yourself a point for each “yes” answer, and find out.
- provide a little table (could be a stump or round, could be an old picnic table) for feeding kitchen scraps?
- keep your organic seeds fresh and topped off all the time?
- find yourself wandering the organic grocery section to pick up flock favorites?
- run out with midday treats for your feathered sweethearts?
- scrub the waterer any time it is dirty, with something other than an alder leaf (those hold together under a jet stream pretty well)?
- use antiseptic wipes to clean the water trough once a week?
- hose off the waterer on the “jet” setting while keeping your eyes averted from splashing fecal matter?
- fabricate special nesting boxes so eggs roll out for collection so they don’t get dirty in the box?
- hose out the coop every spring and disinfect it, roosting bars included?
- sprinkle diatomaceous earth (DE) in the coop to keep mites and lice under control?
- mix food-grade diatomaceous earth (DE) into the feed (2% by weight) to kill gastrointestinal parasites?
- add apple cider vinegar to the water periodically as a prebiotic?
9-12 points—starry-eyed honeymooner
5-8 points—soft-boiled chicken chum
<5 points—full-on farmer
- How I Reluctantly Became a Hen-Struck “Chicken Sucker”
- Coop Scoop: Insight into a Fatal Illness, and Getting a Girl Back on her Feet
- Coop Scoop: How to Winterize Your Chicken Digs
- Good Dog! Why the Chicken Crossed the Road
- Bainbridge Island’s “Happy Chicken Sign” Lady Brings Style to Urban Farming
- Bainbridge Farm Goods a Finalist in Martha Stewart American Made Awards
- The 2012 Tour de Coop Scoop and Photo Gallery
- The 2011 Tour de Coop Scoop
- Tour de Coop 2011: Chicken Dumpling Photo Gallery
- Bucks for Clucks: Tour de Coop 2011 Earnings
Photos by Allison Krug.