18 April 2010

New Chicks in My Life

"You should really have your own chickens."

It wasn't a challenge - or if it was I was too dense to recognize it as such at the time - but when Stephanie first suggested I get some egg-laying hens a couple of years ago I didn't think much about it. Frankly, I didn't much care for the idea. It sounded like a lot of work. Picking up eggs at the store is so easy.

The notion, though, hung around like a bum at a plasma donation center. Then about a year ago I visited my neighbors just down the street and toured their little chicken operation. I later wrote about my conversion to local, genuine free-range eggs. I started looking at my big, empty, full acre lot a little differently. But, gee, I was way too busy to do it myself.

And then fate stepped in.

My son recently asked a local girl to a prom. Her response included a little poster with "I'd love to be your 'chick' for the dance." And, to punctuate the pun biologically, three real little chicks. Females.

Hello there!

Suddenly, I was a grandpa. Sort of. And so, the question: Should I drop them off at a local agricultural products vendor? Give them to my neighbor? Should I [hard swallow] keep them?

Steph and I have talked a great deal over the last couple of years about the evolution from local food systems to increasingly complex, networked systems. The powerful economic realities of cheap food production have led to the sad, perverse fact that it can be less expensive for a local rancher to buy commercial meat at the supermarket than it costs him to sell himself one of his animals and have it butchered. This, however, does not consider the quality of the meat.

I decided that it was time to try my hand at egg farming.

Asher and I built them first one, and then a second, larger box. We established feeding and watering systems. The bird box became a fixture in the kitchen. The little birds learned to get excited when their sugar-daddy (me) would come around. Changing their bedding every couple of days kept the place from smelling like an avian toilet.

"Peek-a-boo" through the cardboard windows

Now they're several weeks old, and their real feathers are coming in nicely.

The day before yesterday I put together part of an old dog run I had in the backyard, and turned it into a chicken run.

Mother Earth News published a good article about the superiority of genuine free-range eggs over commercial eggs. Even so-called commercial "free-range" eggs are misleading. It may mean that the eggs come from chickens that can see daylight or have somewhat more spacious cages.

I've had a talk with these maturing chicks. I've committed to providing for them and shown them what I expect. We've set some goals and I have a good feeling. I don't think they'll let me down. And I will be there for them.

Honesty and transparency are the bases of good relationships.

I don't yet have a coop, but I'll put something together during the next several weeks. I can run power from the garage to their run and give them the heat they'll need at night and during next winter. They're still a little young to be outside at night anyway. For now, my girls are enjoying being in the safety of the run during the day, eating seeds, bits of grass, and bugs, and living reasonably decent chicken lives.