I can feel myself developing a need to become politically active as I peruse the above title. A side bar in my mind:
Don’t count your chickens before they have hatched. Wait! How about “Don’t hatchet your counts before they chicken!”?
I have just spent a good two minutes debating how to properly punctuate the above sentence.
I have been feeling that desire for several years now. When I was still able to get eggs from my mother, it wasn’t as strong as it is now. For a while I had a couple of clients that brought me eggs from their neighbor’s chickens, and that also alleviated the ache.
But a few days ago I was frying a couple of eggs to throw on top of the calico potatoes I had just cooked up. All the veggies were from our garden, and here were these alien, pale-yellow, flat imitations of real fresh eggs. Suddenly, I really wanted to know where this egg came from. Did it get fed any flax seed? How about bugs? Did it get to run around and scratch in the dirt? Was there a rooster involved? Or was it raised in a cage on a diet consisting strictly of corn and antibiotics and hormones?
“So,” you ask. “Why don’t you have a few chickens running around your yard? Surely you have plenty of room on your two acres.”
Well, actually, yes I do have plenty of room. I also have several places that are properly enclosed so any chickens I had wouldn’t end up walking around in the street. I’m certain pretty sure that I can teach Ruby that chickens are not a play toy she is supposed to catch and bring to me. She has learned not to charge the doves and blue jays, so I think I can teach her not to go after chickens; especially if I have a nice, tall Buff Orpington rooster with good long spurs to help me administer the correction.
I am interrupting this post to remind the author that there are four loads of laundry in the living room occupying the space on the chair that Smokey regards as rightfully his. Also, she is to remember that she is roasting garlic and it is a good thing not to burn it.
Now, isn’t that the most beautiful thing you’ve seen in a long time? That is 3 lbs of garlic cloves stirred up with about 1/3C of olive oil after about 40 minutes in a 325°F oven. It got stirred regulalry.)
You are now being returned to your regular programming.
Suddenly, as I was musing on the idea of having some nice fat hens scratching around in the lawn eating the army worms, tick larvae and grasshoppers, I remembered the Bug Patrol.
The Bug Patrol was a group of roosters that we had parading around the house where we were living back when we first came to Missouri. For reasons that escape me now but seemed perfectly reasonable at the time, we were living in my sister’s 30% completed house looking after her flock of breeding Grey-cheeked parakeets, feeding them and the furnace copious quantities of fuel.
This is the experience that permanently soured me on the idea of birds living in captivity. The vision of these beautiful little social birds flying around the jungle of Costa Rica brought home to me how very wrong it is for them to be caged.
We were also partners in training on my mother’s cattle farm. This relationship broke down within a few years due to the fact that neither of my parents could grow out of the habit of regarding Jim and me as particularly lazy slaves hired hands. Plus they were stuck in the vision of us as stupid and untrainable children. These attitudes began to rankle after a while, and we decided to move to town and stop trying to be partners at the farm. This was a very good thing for our parent/child and in-law/husband relationships.
Once again we interrupt this program. Work on the blog is suspended to greet a couple of labyrinth walkers who have come to experience our labyrinth today. Jim mowed it this morning, so it is particularly lovely for walking right now. I had to show them the Abalone Wave on the fence, and then the garlic was done, and . . . oh I don’t know what all. Jim is off hunting and gathering at the Commissary at Ft. Leonard Wood today. Back to the Bug Patrol.
The family was still getting along fairly well at the time this story occurred. We did have a flock of chickens. They lived up at Mother and Dad’s house in a palatial chicken coop that Jim built. This shed was situated, through a mutual decision, at the center line of the big vegetable garden. There was a fence down the long axis of this area. The idea was that you ran the chickens on the half of the garden that was fallow, so that they could eat any weed seeds and bugs that were trying to propagate there. The other half, fenced away from the tender mercies of the flock (which in addition to liking bugs and weed seeds, seem to have a great appetite for tomatoes and bean sprouts) was where the vegetable garden was.
We were planning to be able to collect enough eggs for the use of all the family in the area. If there were too many in the summer, we would freeze them for future reference when the flock got the winter sullens and stopped laying. (Incidentally, if you want to freeze eggs, make sure you scramble them first. We found ice cube trays to be a marvelous tool for the freezing of eggs. If you don’t scramble them, something about the freezing process forever changes the proteins of the yolks, and they become too solid to mix into cakes and cookies.)
Mother had a few chickens, but not enough for a family flock. Also, we wanted enough chickens running around to really keep the weeds under control. If there aren’t enough chickens, the fallow plot becomes a terrifying jungle of pig weed, lamb’s quarters, thistles, dandelion, morning glory, and horse weed. So we decided to buy some chicks from our local hatchery, which is called (I am not kidding) Cackle Hatchery.
We did quite a bit of research on what kind of chickens would be most likely to be able withstand the depredations of the hawks. We had already completely fairly effectively excluded the rabbits, deer, foxes and coyotes from the chicken run/garden with the perimeter fence. The chicken house was tight to possums and raccoons, and for a while black snakes.
Eventually the snakes learned to enter the chicken house in the morning when the door was open to let the chickens out to forage, slithering in sneakily and swallowing as many as four or five eggs whole. We would find them curled, sated, in the nest box with the other eggs they had not been able to eat. We transported several of them across the hollow to the hay barn up there, but I swear they knew the way back to the hen house from there and would return when hungry for another “omelet”. But I digress.
After a certain amount of hemming and hawing, we all decided that the Orpington breed of chicken would make a fabulous breed of large chicken for our chicken operation. We ordered 50 chicks, free run. This term means that the workers at the hatchery have just taken 50 newly hatched chicks and put them in a box for you. They have not examined them and sorted them into pullets and roosters, which requires knowledge I do not have. If you buy free run chicks, you will get about half pullets and half roosters. Since some of them are not going to make it to maturity, you will probably wind up with about 2 dozen laying hens and a similar number of roosters.
We were happy with that. We figured we would butcher some of the young roosters for their meat, and things would be fine. When the roosters started crowing, we watched them get big. One day, we proceeded to butcher a half dozen of them. That is about as many chickens as it is convenient to kill, clean and chill in one day. The next day we did another half dozen. Then there was a big thunderstorm and a tree came down on the fence and the cattle got out so we had to go fetch them from where they had ended up across the river and also we needed to fix the fence so they wouldn’t go down there again. Then I think there were green beans to process. There was a cow and a goat to milk twice a day, and we were learning to make farmers cheese, butter and brie as well. So the cock killing got put on hold. Actually, we sort of forgot about it.
One day, my mother observed that her poor hens had naked sunburned backs. This was from being jumped on and bred by all the numerous horny little roosters that were running around. One day, a poor hen actually was suffocated by a pile of eight roosters, all of whom were on top of her having a big fight over who was going to have the privilege of breeding her. That did it. We spent a pleasant few moments in the evening after the chickens had gone into the hen house to roost, and caught all but the two biggest roosters, threw them into burlap bags and transported them to the yard where we were living.
We needed some chickens to eat the bugs down there. We were absolutely infested with ticks that the dogs had brought in from their daily run-around, during which they made sure all the squirrels were in their trees and not larking about unauthorized on the ground without permits or passports.
Within days, the group of roosters became named the Bug Patrol. This grew out of their original name, “The Dawn Patrol”, which they earned from their habit of having a group crow the second the sun started to think about rising. It was not long before our cats discovered the Bug Patrol stalking about the front and back yards of the place. They spent many happy hours “hunting” the roosters, who were not particularly concerned about the presence of a “pride” of house cats in the vicinity. For their parts, the cats were quite wary of the roosters, all of them having been roundly spurred when they got too close to the birds during their hunting activities.
I apologize in advance for the orientation of this photo. I scanned it into the computer from a picture I found in one of my scrap books, and I have not figured out how to get the image into iPhoto so I can rotate and crop it. Sorry. Turn your head to view this image, okay?
The two cats are Smokey and Bonnie. Out of the picture are Cio Cio San, Miss Kitty and Matilda. The cats would stalk the flock, and after a suitable period of time watching them forage and scratch, would “bounce” the group of roosters. The birds would pop up into the air, not unlike popcorn popping, and settle back into their foraging activities after a short period of scolding the fantasizing felines. We called this activity Cat TV.
Eventually, the roosters got eaten by either the local coyote or us, depending on which of us caught it first. Most of them went to the coyotes (and foxes, no doubt), I’m afraid. I guess it was a sort of twisted bird feeder — we feed the birds to the local carnivores rather than us feeding the birds bird seed.
The reason I do not have any chickens right now and that I may have to become politically active is that there is an ordinance on the books here in Our Fair City that prohibits the growing or having on your place within city limits any farm animals of any sort, and listing same in a detailed list that includes both hens and ducks and cattle in addition to many animals you wouldn’t necessarily think about wanting with a city.
How they think they can keep people who have ponds from having ducks and geese is beyond me. The wild fowl don’t ask about the local ordinances before they settle in.
I like to believe that I am a law-abiding citizen, and since I am prohibited by my city from having chickens, I don’t have any. For the life of me, I don’t understand the reasoning behind the ordinance. There are several large cities in the US (Austin and San Antonio for example) who specifically allow chickens. In this economy, with eggs costing at least 12.5¢ each, and no guarantee of the quality of the egg, I would really like to know the chickens my eggs are coming from.
So I may have to speak to my city council. Soon.
Meanwhile, I have to go put the rest of the laundry away. About time you got back to work!