Dogs will shower you with love, affection and loyalty. Cats will allow you to appreciate their felinity. Horses can empower and enthrall you with a bond beyond magic. Chickens will make you laugh, laugh, laugh!
Early last Spring at the behest of my dearly beloved we took advantage of “free” peepers at Southern States here in Charlottesville. In one hand a box, half the size of a shoebox with three white and three brown chicks, in the other hand, and in those of my sweetheart were a heat lamp, waterer, chick starter feed, a roll of chicken wire and a notebook full of scribbles from the chicken seminar we had just sat through on folding chairs next to the chicken supply aisle.
The chicks lived inside of course, first in a cardboard box and then in a horse trough turned chick village with abalone shell perches, climate control and a chicken wire roof to keep curious cats and dogs safe. Their chirping filled the house as they changed from fluff balls to fledges, insisting I get to work on their outdoor abode to be chosen from over one million designs found under the Google search, “chicken coops”. After banging together two failures their palace arose with a standing seam metal roof, private roosting boxes, convenient perches, ramps, hanging feed and water and most importantly, galvanized hardware cloth extending six inches underground practically daring chicken predators to take a shot.
We started with a chicken run which worked for a couple of days until the first chick said “watch this” and flew out. Round ups proved pointless and the run was abandoned and free range adopted. Fortunately, chickens put themselves to bed right around dark so all we have to do is latch the door and they are safe for the night.
Chickens start laying at about six months. We found the first egg out in the lawn and took pictures of it from all angles, posted it on Facebook and then fried it up as a huevo ranchero. We now get 5 or 6 eggs a day. “We” is a bit of a misnomer since Gabriela travels for work and I am usually home alone. That’s a lot of eggs so I carefully plan for future favors as I dole out precious dozens of Firefly Farm free range eggs
But here is the best part. These six “free” chicks have added enormous personality to our little country home. Yes, they all have names. They follow you around looking for treats, (dried meal worms drive them crazy), they walk between the dogs legs, pick up after the horses and peck at the sliding glass door to come inside. (No way Jose). When they run, you can’t help but laugh. Their sounds are as expressive and communicative as a zoo at feeding time and they’re seriously good looking birds, each with a personality and each giving us an egg a day.
I couldn’t recommend this easy entre’ into animal husbandry more highly. Urban chickens are allowed in most areas and more and more often we are seeing chicken coops included in the real estate listings even in the city. This is a great way to get your kids involved in animals and the outdoors, instilling responsibility for those who might take it seriously. Spring is just around the corner so think about wandering into Southern States or Tractor supply in April. Just prick your ears for the peeping and prepare to add a new dimension to your life.