Urban Chicken Wrangler

I go into the feed stores, and hear the peeping. It is so hard to resist the chicks. So cute running around pecking. Its hard for me to resist.

I think everyone should have a chicken or two, in their lives. When I lived in an urban center, I  decided that I just HAD to have some chickens. (We already had a duck that my daughter had talked me into, and, of course, you can’t just have one duck, so we had three.)

As I discovered…a lot of people have chickens. My UPS guy, the mailman,the clerk at the grocery store…a few teachers at my daughters school. I even joined an “urban chicken” club. I found people who showed chickens.  (I found this weird.) There is a lot more poultry around in cities that would seem “normal”. I had no idea until I had chickens. It was like being pregnant, you don’t notice anyone is pregnant until you are, then you see pregnant women EVERYWHERE.  In this case, I didn’t now that there was a very active underground poultry society until I had my own.

smaller chicken and laundry

White Crested Black Polish chicken under my clothesline.,

I learned by trial-and-error, and from other people. But, compared to a lot of pets, chickens are the least demanding of any pet I’ve ever owned. In the beginning, I had two full-sized birds, and two bantam “Silkies” (very odd little birds). Bantams are half-sized chickens…so chicken lite, and they lay these cute little eggs. (Great for a diet.) The challenge was in keeping them safe. So, we trained them to go into portable dog kennels (the airline type) every night, and then haul them in the house. (I say “train” this consisted of seeking them from wherever they had decided to roost in the yard, and snagging them, putting them INTO the kennel every night…until they figured out that the kennels were the safe spot to go. However, if you don’t put the kennels in the exact same spot every day, they get confused.  Then they’ll go back to plucking them from bushes and trees every night. (Which sucks.)  I started leaving the kennels where they were, from when I left them out.  The chickens got the clue, and sometimes would lay their eggs IN the kennels, which made me happy. But, sometimes I’d forget, or one of the kids would move the kennels, and that night, I was again, out after dark, with a flashlight searching for where the chickens were hiding. When you snatch a chicken in the dark, it makes a terrible, terrified noise. Poor things sound pitiful.  It did anchor me around their schedule, until I built a hen-house and yard with a covered top and sides. It was a constant worry and race to get home “before it was too dark” to put them inside.

On second thought, maybe they trained me.
In the day they’d go out in the yard and run around. Eat bugs, and we’d give them a little grain and leftovers in the morning, and a small amount of grain at night, about an hour before sunset. (I didn’t like to keep food out because I didn’t want rodents.)  Grain is chicken crack, by the way, they’ll eat that before they eat anything else.

I’ll admit, I was ready to throw in the towel, at first.  I mean, chicks are cute, but the teen chickens are just jerks. They are messy, loud, and smelly.  But, once we had the eggs — that was is IT! We were addicted. With only four layers (two small eggs and two large) we would wait with anticipation of “someone laying”. On average, two eggs a day, was more than a dozen a week. That was great. (Back then I wasn’t all that into eggs.)

Once I moved to a quasi-rural area, I ordered 25 from McMurray (big online/catalog hatchery). I cannot tell you that 25 are as easy as a few. They aren’t. Even with a big, “formal” hen-house, there is a lot more cleaning, more heartache. We’ve had problems with when raccoons discovered the easy pickings, eagles swooping down, large ravens taking a few out, a local dog had a blast one afternoon.  Chickens are prey. They’re not always smart enough to get out of harm’s way. And, then, the chicken breeds, themselves.  I wish I’d paid more attention to when the catalog said “calm bird” or “good foragers” “lively”, etc.   I’ve come to find out “alert” and the “good forager” are polite terms for crazy chickens!  And chickens that are “good mothers” also mean that they’ll go broody, all summer long. (A broody hen is one that stops laying, and starts gathering every egg they can find to put under her ample butt, so that she can hatch them. Often a broody hen will defend the eggs, with a vengeance, and will also go rogue in your yard somewhere – MIA.  The broody hen won’t eat or drink, either.)

The bigger heavier breeds are much easier to deal with. I am a huge fan of the Orpington breed (especially the Buff Orpington).

Two dozen chickens produced up to two dozen eggs a day.  On average, it was, at the very least, a dozen a day (and with the ducks, another half-dozen, and when the geese are laying another four. Eggs, eggs, eggs!) For a while, I tried to supply most of my neighbors with eggs, until they were politely saying “no thanks”.  I baked a pound cake each week. Made angel food cakes (hey! uses a dozen) and custards, and searched for more recipes.  I froze eggs (separated works best).  I even started (recycling?) cooking up the eggs to feed back to the hens . (Cook the eggs before giving them back to the hens so they don’t start eating their own eggs, and cut out the middle-man: YOU.)

Over the years my chicken population has dropped (from the aforementioned predators), to a more manageable number of chickens.  I think that two chickens for each person in the household is the right number of chickens.

Poultry is about the closest you’ll get to having dinosaurs in your yard. Chickens are amusing to watch.  And, can they eat! They are eating machines. The bugs in the yard get gobbled up and, most important: they eat leftovers.  No more guilt over tossing out a stale loaf of bread, or the rice that no one seems to want to eat as a leftover,  or that last bit of breakfast cereal at the bottom of the box…that the kids won’t eat because there isn’t enough for a full bowl. They also gobble up peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that come back from a packed school lunch all squished and miserable looking, vegetable trimmings, and wilted vegetables, bruised apples, and whatever else that would usually go into the trash can or garbage disposal.

I would recommend poultry for anyone. It’s hard to be depressed and feeling lonely when you have a flock of poultry that think you are a food god! You can’t be unhappy when all the chickens immediately stop whatever they are doing and  run over to see what you have for them. It adds a nice balance to life. They are always happy to see you.

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