I am afraid of birds. It used to be much worse. When I say afraid, I don’t mean bothered by their general presence, annoyed that they are on my car or scared that they will get close to me. I mean full on freaked the hell out by them, terrified that they will peck my eyes out and attack me from nowhere when I’m least expecting it. This could very well have been the result of my father insisting that I watch Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” at 2am in the morning because “It’s a classic movie”. Side note: any time someone has told me “It’s a classic”, it’s been boring as hell. Just sayin’. To each his own I guess. Anyway, if you haven’t seen this movie, I will summarize it for you. A small town of nice people get continuously attacked and killed by massive flocks of evil black birds. The end.
So you can imagine my reaction when Darren expressed that he wanted to get chickens. My rational mind thought, “Yes, this would be lovely! Fresh eggs, cute little chickens on our property…sounds reasonable.” But Alfred Hitchcock was knocking at the back of my brain saying, “They will peck you to death, Becca!” Trying to pacify my fear and anxiety, Darren took me to the farm supply store to check out the baby chicks. This, my friends, was evil. Baby chicks are so tiny and cute and you just want to hug them and love them and take them all home. Yep, it worked like a charm! I agreed for him to research the calmest egg laying breeds and get nine chicks to start (three of each breed that he identified as ideal for me to deal with).
His research steered him away from any bird laying white eggs, as most of them have very “flighty” tendencies and would likely freak me out. We landed on Ameraucanas, which lay blue-green eggs, Red Sex-Links, laying large brown eggs and Black Australorps, also laying large brown eggs. The plan was to purchase the chicks only a couple days old and raise them with the best diet that we could possibly supply them to see the quality of eggs that we/they could produce. We would only give them a minimal amount of quality, organic feed, but the majority of their diet would be kitchen scraps, wheatgrass and sprout scraps, any leftovers from our garden and produce scrap bags from our local grocery store.
The day had come to go and get our little babies at the farm supply store, but they only had the Red Sex-Links. Bummer! These birds would grow up to be a stunning orange-red, but they started off as your typical yellow chicks. We left with three of them and supplies to get their little area set up inside, heat lamp and all. A few days later, we found the Ameraucanas, who looked like little brown chipmunks with a black stripe down their backs, and brought them home to join the others. The Black Australorps were a toughie! We couldn’t find them anywhere, but they were the breed that we wanted the most. After calling farm supply stores around town, we made a trip up to Burnet, TX (about 45 minutes away) to get three two-week old chicks. They were a bit older than we wanted, but they were incredibly cute with mostly black feathers and white chests and we were happy as clams that we finally had our nine chicks! Literally the next day, though, Darren received a call back from a store exclaiming that their store had just received Australorp chicks and they would hold three for us to come and pick up since they knew how badly we wanted them. While I was fine with what we had, Darren smiled at me after he got off the phone and I knew we were going to pick three more chicks up. The newborn Australorps looked like miniature penguins, mostly black with a little tuffs of white on their tiny chests.
All of our little peep peeps were inside in our utility room with a sweet little set up of food, water, levels to play and jump on and of course, their heat lamp. Darren worked through my fears with me when they were tiny, and although I was still a nervous wreck most of the time, I slowly started to become more comfortable with them. They needed to stay inside until they were strong enough to be outside without the heatlamp and until we built their chicken fortress. The property that we live on backs up to a wildlife preserve and, well…everything loves chicken. While we would have loved for them to be completely free range, the lack of fence on the perimeter of our property, plus the imminent threat of foxes, hawks, coyotes and lord knows what else, required us to build them a large home with plenty of room to grow, play, eat, lay eggs, sleep and be happy, while still protecting them.
To accomplish this goal, we first had to tear down a horribly old, trash filled shed. We took it apart piece by disgusting piece and slowly emptied all of the random trash, dividing it into piles that we could burn, reuse, recycle or throw away. Also, during this process, we found four snakes living in or under the shed. (Did I mention that I despise snacks the most out of all animals in the world? I panic and cringe when I see them on TV! Darren is counseling me through this fear as well - we have a guide telling me which are dangerous, and Darren has worked tirelessly to convince me that they are more afraid of me than I am of them, they will not chase after me or suddenly grow and squeeze me to death.) After demolition, we utilized some extra greenhouse hoops that we had lying around, chicken wire, the metal panels re-purposed from the roof of the shed, rocks, logs, tubs for nesting boxes and 1x1 and 1x2 cedar pieces to build roosting bars. When the chicks had grown and were ready, they graduated to their new home and received their new name. We dubbed them The Chickensens! (a spin off of our last name...hehe!) And yes, of course...I made them a sign!
Over time, our little peep peeps have grown into gorgeous Chickensens, producing the most amazing eggs you’ve ever tasted! Often, the yolks look more orange than yellow and they are the creamiest, most delectable eggs that we get to spoil ourselves with. Chickens are also badass composters. We have the back area of their home reserved for their feeding, and we allow them to scratch and dig to their hearts content, slowly making nutrient rich compost. Once a year, Darren will empty out the coop and collect about five cubic yards of compost that we then use around our property for planting and further developing the soil across our 2.5 acres. It's the circle of life!
We have had the Chickensens for about four years now, and have lost a couple along the way (from natural causes as far as we can tell). Their egg production has slowed down a bit, so it’s about time to bring in some new recruits. One of the Black Australorps (Runt) tends to go broody every now and then (this is where they want to sit on the eggs to nurture what they hope will be chicks), so we are planning on introducing some new chicks this spring when it is warm enough and Runt is feeling broody (motherly). I have to say that my fear of birds is significantly less than it was before chickens. No, I really don’t want to hold them and I would still probably exit a pet store if they have one of those loose parrots sitting creepily in the middle of the store ready to attack - but I am generally less concerned when birds come near me and actually enjoy taking care of our peep peeps. We will likely continue to have chickens as they provide a great source of protein with their eggs, aid in composting and creating amazing soil for us and in general, bring us joy to interact with.