For all they do in our lives, chickens are undervalued as creatures and birds. I hate what factory farming has done to most things, but especially to animal husbandry. Companies may still advertise the “romance” of the family farm, but most animals are grown in large networks. Egg-laying chickens are kept in buildings in solitary cages all day to lay eggs–24 hours in bright, fluorescent light–365 days until they are worn out in one year. Just perform an image search on Google of factory chickens. Your first clue to their unhappiness is how pink and dull their combs are. Combs are naturally red. Then, look at their eyes. No spark or spirit, and chickens are spirited animals. I won’t even go into what they do to meat birds. It’s criminal really. If you want to know more, just watch Food, Inc.. There are other films on this topic, but I think Food, Inc. is the least difficult to watch, and explains the situation well.
In my family’s own protest against the system, and because it’s just plain fun, we have chickens. I like chickens a lot. They are smarter than people think, and although they are highly instinctual, they also have personality and charm. Every three years, I add several to the flock because older hens don’t lay as frequently as younger ones. I can’t stand to kill the older hens so I just keep them on in retirement. It’s not like I’m trying to make money at this. I still buy chicken to eat from local farmers, or at a store which purchases locally. If you don’t feel the same about the plight of the commercial factory chicken, just compare the taste. You’ll want fresh, local chicken. I promise.
There is also nothing like cradling a fresh egg, straight from the nest and warm in the hand. Crack it open–fry, boil or poach it soft and serve atop a spinach salad. Add some warm crusty bread to the mix, and it’s the stuff of dreams.
A couple of days ago, Bear and I traveled to the local feed store to pick up our baby chicks. We got a selection of breeds including Buff Brahma and Buff Orpington. I got a third breed, but I can’t remember what it is. I’ll ask when I go visit the feed store in a few days when I pick up five more of the fourth breed. When we picked them out, Claire and I were literally just pointing to pictures on the page. We’ve had chickens so many times, and we wanted to try some new and unfamiliar breeds. Then, we discovered they don’t hatch all at the same time, and so we had to change some of our choices. One had to be Buff Orpington because these big, gold chickens are favorites. I’ve ordered many times directly from the hatchery, but I decided I’d let the feed store owners get up at 7:30 a.m. and go to the post office for me because the price was virtually the same. The feed store owners also taught the babies how to drink before we got there. We had fifteen peeps, but one died after the first day. It was very sad, and both of my girls took turns caring for it. We fear it had internal injuries from being stepped upon. That first day is precarious.
We almost always lose one.
Having babies in the house got me thinking again about how undervalued chickens are. I listen to the contented sounds of the peeps, and I notice how beautifully they speak to one another. Chickens don’t just cackle and crow. They make many different sounds. The babies even trill like songbirds when happy. They also make other, gentle happy noises like all baby creatures. Like baby humans, they shout with alarm when badly startled. Each day, this gets less and less as we walk by their box, pick them up, feed and water them. They begin to see we are not predators. The box sits in a corner of the great room next to a large window, and we have two bulbs for heat that hang over the box. The little birds already have wingtips, and their fluff is going away. Soon, the heat lamps will too.
Birds are very instinctual, and chickens, especially those breeds we haven’t overbred for our own purposes–think White Leghorn–retain their wildness. For example, when disturbed, the peeps all scatter and run crazily around the interior of their roomy box. Then, they come together again like the flock they are and stand in the farthest corner in a pointed fashion, their backs to the predator. Their little golden rear ends become very still. It’s almost as if the chicks are thinking, “You can’t see us if we can’t see you.” It’s an instinct built upon the idea of saving at least some of them. They also almost instantly know how to scratch at their bedding as if looking for bugs.
They are babies, and like all babies, they need extra care, but I find baby chicks relatively easy after the first worrisome day. Because their “dust” is starting to bother my asthma, I’ll probably put them in another room soon until they feather out some. By then, the temperature outdoors should be good enough to put them in their bigger cage. I’ll place them in the unused side of the chicken pen and keep them separate from the other flock until they grow large enough. One night, I’ll let them in with the others. By this time, they’ll be pullets. Adding them at night helps minimize any damage. Usually, they are accepted by the other chickens, but I watch them together for several days to make sure. Part of the secret is numbers. If there are more of the newcomers, the hens and roosters seem to realize they are outnumbered.
So, with seeds growing in the seed station and chickens pecking feed in the corner of the living room, we are inundated with babies around here. These are the sounds of spring where I live.
What says spring to you?
I have debated endlessly with myself about having chickens on my city property (this is allowed by city code and the neighbors have them) but have always decided not. I grew up in an environment where I understood what came with farming and livestock, still it would be nice to eat fresh eggs in the morning.
Marie at the Lazy W
Loved every word, photo, and sentiment! Dee, how beautiful. Just as beautiful as your gardens. I agree chickens are not only a happy addition to the home but also MUCH smarter than people expect and FULL of personality. Love em Thanks for writing this! Good luck with your chicks this spring. xoxo
I love your blog, and every wonderful picture and story. I also raised chickens as a little girl and my dad was a butcher. As I have educated myself on the animal cruelty industry, my logical choice is to stop supporting it by choosing to eat other things besides animals. I wish it were different and maybe if everyone who loved animals would take a stand- it could be. Thanks for your honest approach.
Gosh Maribeth, thank you so much. You made my day. I understand why you’ve chosen to give up meat. We all try to illuminate this problem anyway we can. Thanks again for stopping by and commenting.
Oh, honey, what a great piece! I adore our Buff Orpingtons. They are so round and sweet, and lay eggs just about every day. It is quite odd, how much I love chickens. Thanks for your good description of how you let your babies in with your hens. I have to say–we did not build a big enough hen house, because I want more. 🙂
Rosebud, I love how you describe your Buff Orps as “round and sweet.” Indeed, they are. I love chickens. They are such fun. I wonder how yours are faring now.
Gelas hem och trädgård
I´ve just got my first chicken!!! I´m searching for Brahmas and orpington still but im in no hurry. I really like your blog!!! Have a nice day/Gela
Hi Gela, I love your blog too. Isn’t it great that we can now visit across the miles? I hope you have a beautiful day too.~~Dee
I love the quote that u use by St Vianney, may we use it in our church newsletter? And do I say it came from you? Thanks.
Sure you can Sue. I love that quote.
I knew a little girl that got chicks for Easter on year.We lived in the city so the chicks went to live at the farm…..I was having dinner one night and guess what my father said? yes very cruel….I love this precious babies to make eggs…..yes it’s amazing all animals have personalities and sweet natures…I watched a show that showed even squid do….
Sharon, pardon me, but that wasn’t very nice of your father. How sad. It’s different if you grow up with the animal knowing the chicken will one day be on your plate, but to have it sprung on you? I’m so sorry.
Backyard chickens are the hot thing in Dallas, TX. They even have Coop Tours so you can see their fancy chicken coops.
How do you keep predators away?
Hi Ann, I am chuckling about the backyard coop tours. That’s so citified isn’t it? Here, I have a horse barn, and several years ago, we converted two stalls into a chicken coop and run. I used to let my chickens roam free and only bring them up at night, but I lost too many that way. So, they have have a covered run to keep the hawks and golden eagles away. This also discourages raccoons and other predators although I had a very hard time with a raccoon a few years ago.
I wish I could have chickens here, but sadly, they don’t allow them in my ‘hood. I’ll just enjoy yours, so keep posting pictures and stories about them!
You bet Carol!
Hope you enjoy your new chickens. I do feel bad about the way chickens are raised now, but I feel even worse about how people are treated by the ag industries.
Oh yes Jason, I hate the entire process. Farmers are forced to use those pens as required by contracts. Also, the immigrant population is treated badly too. Here, in Oklahoma, most of our farms are small and local anymore. Well, except for the pork industry. Some of those farms are very large.
Since I can’t keep chickens here on my corner of Katy, I enjoy hearing about them from those who do. Here’s to many happy days with your flock!
Thanks Cindy. It will be fun.
Teresa / A Garden Diary
You make me want to run out and buy little chicks. I not sure we can even have them in our neighborhood. Lovely story. Glad I get to enjoy yours.
Thanks Teresa. I hope everyone will value chickens one day.
Have a wonderful week!
Thank you Lea. You have a beautiful week too.
Aww I love this post. We used to keep chickens, well I should say 1 chicken–an Americauna–and I just loved her so much. Plus, like you said, there was nothing like having those fresh eggs. Also, we never had a insect problem when she was around. We would love to keep chickens again but unfortunately our township won’t allow it which I find utterly bizarre. Thank you for sharing your little peeps with us!
I think times are a changin’ with city ordinances. I’m seeing more and more that do allow the raising of chickens. Really, they aren’t that noisy unless you have a rooster.
Donna@Gardens Eye View
Oh Dee these chicks are so adorable especially the sleeping chick…I have been so enamored with chickens since seeing so many people raising them. I wish I could have them here.
Someday, chicks. They are so very cute when babies.
They are until they reach that ugly duckling stage. Many of the breeds make beautiful adults too.~~Dee
They are absolutely adorable. I agree with Frances, you tell a good story and these chicks are going to love their new home. xoxogail
Hey girl, Spring to me is going to your house and getting to see and hold the baby chicks and eat wonderful food grown in your garden, and of course all the beautiful flowers everywhere especially at your house. Love you Mom
Hey Mom, we always have a good time too. I like how casual we all are. We just enjoy each other’s company. Love you!
Lovely piece. I knew nothing about this until last year when I met a woman who just started a pasture-raised chicken farm with her husband. This year they are going to expand the varieties of chickens. Maybe in retirement I can have my own chickens…
Check out the piece I did on her farm in Massachusetts, its nice to know that these types of operations are growing –
Thanks Reed. I will.
I remember my mother raised chickens for a while when I was a kid and I’d love to try doing it. I have avoided that documentary because I know it will be very upsetting. 🙁
Phillip, that documentary changed my life.
Lisa at Greenbow
Oh be still my heart. I have always wanted chickens. I live where they are zoned out. My DB doesn’t want to fight city hall. So, I sit and drool over people’s posting about their chicks every year. I buy chicken magazines to read about them and make my spring trek to the Farm Store to look at the various chicks. Such fun. Thanks for one of my spring time chick cheerfulness.
You know Lisa, I’m never one for breaking the law, but . . . a girl’s gotta have her chickens.
Beautiful story! I’m new to your blog, so I’m looking around. Feel like I should check out Food.Inc., now.
Hi Elizabeth! Thanks for stopping by. Food Inc. is a very good movie. Michael Pollan was involved in it. I think it was well balanced. Finding local chicken isn’t as hard as it was two years ago either. Where do you live in Oklahoma?
I’m smiling as I always do when I read your articles. warmer days and rain showers mean spring to me. that and my daffs and crocuses blooming, not to mention the weeds – oh my!
and the fact that i planted broccoli, cauliflower and onions on Saturday!
Oh Jennie, there are so many weeds out there. I’m losing the battle against chickweed in my paths. I’m glad it burns out come summer.
thanks for the reminder that it burns out.
What an utterly charming story, Dee, and well told, as always. The baby chicks are lucky to have found a home with you.
Thank you so much Frances. You are too kind.