Backyard Farm / Kids Stuff

How (Not) to Raise Chickens

by Amy Peterson

two chicks

You live in a small town where – you’ve checked the laws – farm animals are not permitted within city limits.  But you’ve bought a house just outside of city limits, a house that already has a coop in the backyard, and you plan to move in May 15.

A friend tells you that farm stores carry baby chicks, but usually only until Easter. You worry about finding chicks to raise after you move in to your new house. Should you buy chicks before you move?

You check facebook while grocery shopping with your two year old and see that a friend in another state is raising chicks this spring. You think to yourself, she lives in a similar climate and has small children and likes to read…she probably did her research.  So you ask her about breeds.

When you finish your grocery shopping, you still have an hour before you need to pick up the four-year-old from preschool.  So you head to the farm store just to see if they do, in fact, still have chicks, even though Easter has already passed.

They do.  You tell yourself that if you don’t buy them now, these little fluff balls will disappear.  You tell yourself that if you don’t buy them now, you’ll never do it, because you always over-think things, and you always avoid things if you don’t feel fully equipped to do them perfectly. And besides, you’re kind of bored and sad because it’s still cold outside, not spring-like at all, and buying these chicks would make you happy.

And it does make you happy.  You buy two black australorps, two buff orpingtons, and two golden laced wyandottes. Two breeds that your facebook friend also had, and one breed that you chose because the sign said it was a “docile” bird.

chicken sign

Back at home, you line a cardboard box with paper you took from the shredder at work.  You borrow a heat lamp from one friend, and a lightbulb for it from a second friend.  With a shallow dish of water and an ice cube tray full of chick feed, their home is complete. Your kids are ecstatic. You, meanwhile, are just glad you had kids before chickens – otherwise you might not be so ok with all this, well, this poop.

boy and box

rosie and chick

As the chicks grow, you realize that you might need to know a bit more than you know, and you hit up the library.

photo-53

Then the closing date on your house is postponed.  And suddenly, your chickens (who have been named things like Star Bright, Ducky, Queen, Goldie, Duke, and Celestia – then re-named and named again by your children and the neighbor children) are not babies anymore.  They can fly to the top of the bigger pen you’ve made for them in the garage (the one you made out of old pieces of plywood and paint canvas twined together).

And suddenly maybe you’re breaking the law a bit, because you have chickens running through your yard, and you’re probably going to have to finagle some way for them to move outside before you move to the new place on June 6.

chickens in grass

But these chicks are like puppies – they ride around perched on your daughter’s shoulder, parrots to her pirate. They’re happy, ranging freely through the yard, and they live in a (mostly) clean pen. And someday you’ll head out to the henhouse and grab four eggs, come in and scramble them, orangest yolks possible, full of Omega-3 goodness, and put them inside warm tortillas, with sauteed spinach and garlic from the garden, and eat. Because these aren’t just chickens – they’re a foretaste of glory and a promise of home.

chicken on rosie's shoulder chicken pecking rosie's finger

And someday that one that turned out to be a rooster will be waking you up far earlier than you’d like.  But let’s not think about that yet.

————

Books I read that helped:

Chickens in Your Backyard: A Beginner’s Guide by Rick and Gail Luttmann

Homemade Living: Keeping Chickens with Ashley English

Barnyard in your Backyard by Gail Damerow

Books I still want to read:

The Chicken Chronicles: Sitting with the Angels Who Have Returned with My Memories: Glorious, Rufus, Gertrude Stein, Splendor, Hortensia, Agnes of God, the Gladyses, & Babe by Alice Walker

Once Upon a Flock: Life With My Soulful Chickens by Lauren Scheuer

Amy teaches ESL Writing and American Pop Culture at Taylor University. She and her husband, Jack, met while teaching English in Southeast Asia. After three years living in international community in Seattle, they settled in rural Indiana with their two little children. Amy loves dabbling in gardening and composting, baking sweet things, repurposing through sewing, and making all kinds of things from scratch. She also blogs at Making All Things New and for Christ and Pop Culture.

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6 thoughts on “How (Not) to Raise Chickens

  1. Cute! Are you sure you can’t have a few hens within the city limits? Have you checked recently? City ordinances usually allow a few if they are confined. I live in the city limits of Phoenix and have hens…. sometimes too many. Just keep them out of sight, most neighbors probably wouldn’t even know you have them.

  2. …and then one sad day you enter your barn where the chickens reside and all 24 of them lay scattered around like a mass murder scene, with their heads bit off.

    • That exact thing happened to our chickens a few years ago. It was so heartbreaking. That’s why we built a new coop this year that’s critter-proof.

      • Oh man, I remember that, and how every night a few more would be dead no matter what you all did to secure the coop… it was bad. So glad your new coop is working so well!

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