Running Around With Chickens

By Amy Miller

My family bought eight chickens. The good news is they are all hens. The odds of getting a rooster when you go out to buy hens are one in 10 so we were off to a good start. We got the four Buff Orpingtons and four Americaunas because my 9-year-old son loves tractors, animals and especially birds. Too bad he doesn’t love eggs. And too bad I grew up in the 17th floor penthouse before urban chickens were trendy.

No matter. I am a romantic and I live in Maine now.

So my cartoonist husband designed a cartoony coop and his strong and handy brother built it. I used my new power tools and some neighborhood men to build the pen. And voila. Chickens outside our paint-chipped in-town Victorian.

Of course now the facts of fowl care are coming out. Chickens cost more to feed and house than the eggs we would have bought. Between the price of feed, wire, and initial coop investment. You can expect to spend as much as $8 a dozen, depending on your feed and infrastructure. But selling or bartering with eggs can change the equation. They only lay during lighter months, and even though the chickens supposedly don’t need much care, there are the hidden demands.

Like what? Like the chickens dig in the dirt, constantly, so a buried fence is no longer buried after a month. And sometimes chickens peck at each other till they bleed and have to be separated. And oh yes, you better cover the top of the pen because even though chickens don’t really fly, hawks can come down for a meal. And God forbid you let the chickens out to play, you can bet a frisky neighborhood dog will wander by.

And raising your own eggs reduces the cost of fuel for shipping, improves life for the birds, gives you a connection to the source of your food and lets you feel at least partly self-sufficient.

I have no regrets. Because now I have somewhere to throw my apple cores, mushy grapes and overgrown bean plants. I have birds that cluck when they hear me coming. And my son has his very own mini 4-H club.
And soon I will get beautiful white eggs from the Buffs, blue Easter-like eggs from the Americaunas and fluffy omelets tastier than I’ve ever had.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

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