Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Evolution of Chicken Ownership

Really, I don't quite know how this all started but somehow, some way, some one suggested to us that it would be neat to own chickens. This was about two years ago, at the beginning of our new-found and clear dedication to living more sustainably, so we jumped in with both feet. We found four Leghorns on Craigslist, a breed known for their superior laying but also their ornery behavior, and Garrett went to town building a coop for our new additions. I'll be perfectly honest here: we never named the chickens because we always had it in the back of our minds that if they didn't lay eggs for some reason then they might wind up as dinner themselves. That may sound cruel, but honestly we were trying to adopt a true farm mentality and have viewed our chickens as livestock, not pets, from the start. It took a couple months because they really are a picky and sensitive breed, but eventually we got eggs from our hens and were overjoyed to collect our 3 or 4 eggs per day.

Soon, however, we wanted more. There is something about this level of self-reliance which is terribly addictive to us, and we were excited to add to the flock. So the following spring we added 6 more chicks, bought "straight run," (in other words we don't know if they are hens or roosters yet) and raised them. It went well and we bought another set, as day-olds. We were also able to successfully raise this batch, although I will admit that I was very happy so see them head out to the coop to begin fending for themselves because in the very early days the chicks spent their lives in a Tupperware bin in my living room, which, toward the end of their infancy, didn't make my house smell very nice. In the interim we had a couple eaten by a fox, and wound up giving our Leghorns to a neighbor because they just couldn't seem to mingle with the new hens (and would bully them). We also discovered that one chick from the newest batch was a rooster, so Garrett bought an egg incubator and when the rooster comes of age we'll try our luck at egg incubation.

I love having chickens for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is watching my children interact with, and learn from, them. When one chicken died recently our next chicken dinner was somewhat suspicious to our son, who was absolutely sure that we were eating the deceased Americana. (We weren't, but only because neither my husband nor I have yet worked up the courage to pluck and skin a chicken personally.) It's fascinating in a natural and real way to consider the balance of their diet, the amount of time they can run around our yard versus being cooped up because we still live in a neighborhood, and their emotional well-being. (Oh yes- unhappy chickens don't lay eggs well!)

For the time being, we have 12 happy chickens and get enough eggs each week to give some away to the neighbors who put up with our rooster crowing in the early morning hours. Our son is charged with collecting the eggs from the nesting boxes, and our oldest daughter likes to sort them according to color. We eat them as a family and say our thanks for such an amazing opportunity.


  1. they are huge!! I only wish we lived near by, and could help take some of those fresh eggs off of your hand!

  2. Just really quickly - I don't want to sound all nitpicky and mean here; but if a bird ever dies and you don't know why, please don't eat it. It's not safe; it could be diseased and you could get the disease from the bird. It's different if it, you know, gets hit by a car (although honestly I'm not sure there'd be enough of the bird left to eat in that situation); but if it dies because it's sick, or if it just up and dies one day, please just get rid of it without eating it.

  3. Thanks for your concern. Perhaps I should have been more clear regarding my statement on consumption of our own chickens- we certainly appreciate the dangers associated with feeding tainted meat to humans and would never consider doing so. In this particular case, we knew exactly how the bird died and it would have been completely safe to eat had we chosen to do so, but we opted out for other reasons. It's a good reminder for everyone however, how essential safe handling practices are when dealing with your flock. Thanks!

  4. I'm the same anon as above. I'm going anon because I'm 'gunshy' after getting abused for saying the same thing on another blog. Thanks for taking it the right way. You'd be surprised at how many people there are who think it's totally okay to eat a dead animal, when they don't know how it died. Often these are the same people who wouldn't dare put anything processed into their mouths because of health concerns - but, you know, "My chicken, who seemed perfectly healthy yesterday, died last night, don't know why, didn't want to see the meat go to waste so we cooked it up." Not a good idea. BTW plucking isn't so bad - last year I plucked a turkey, it was long hard work but chickens are much easier. Gutting, on the other hand - we had to gut the turkey too and while we got it all out, the turkey did not look so pretty sitting on our table for Thanksgiving dinner. We didn't know what we were doing and wanted to be sure to get out all the guts, so we figured the easiest way to do it was to cut it up. It worked, and it was only a teeny bit gross after the first couple of minutes; but it sure wasn't the pretty Norman Rockwell turkey since it was all cut up. However, that mean old bird had terrorised our kids for months, so it sure tasted good!

  5. Hey, I'm all for not being wasteful.. but I have my limits, as should we all! :) So glad to hear that the plucking is possible- stick around because we may need a bit of advice on the best way to do it in coming months... we haven't yet been so brave, but we also haven't yet been presented with the proper opportunity! (I must admit however, each morning when the rooster starts crowing at 4 am I am tempted... I wonder how my neighbors feel??)

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