Friday, February 06, 2009

A Boy and his Chickens

My 13 year old nephew is home from school today. He's not sick, he's observing his first batch of chicks as the hatch from their eggs. Actually the first one hatched late last night. The remaining four will probably hatch today. I adore my nephew. I mean, how do you not love a kid that not only has the most amazing and crazy blond hair, but one who defies the norm so naturally and with no effort. He just is. He is a gentle soul that not only loves animals but is truly curious about them and investigates to understand what's going on. The animals that he takes under his care really do get cared for and get close attention many times a day.

The story about the chickens began 11 months ago and I'm happy to say it was actually my idea. While visiting a local farm supply store for bird food and clover seed I was, as expected, drawn to the cheerful chirpings of the spring chicks being sold. I called my sister up and asked her why the hell they did not have chickens. A week or so later they had chicks. It was so obvious that I think sooner or later they would have done it anyway. The entire family cared for the chicks as they matured into beautiful and entertaining hen laying chickens. One of the hens, ironically named Chip, turned out to be a rooster. The fun and adventure of raising chickens got even better in the late fall when, as expected, they started laying eggs.

As winter rolled on I began talking of getting my own coop and chickens set up here on at the permaculture homestead and before long Jake started talking about getting an incubator so that he could grow any new chicks we needed. To be honest I wasn't sure it would happen but then they found an incubator on Craig's List and within a week or so he'd done his research and had the eggs on the incubator. Twenty one days later and last night the first chick broke free.

Chickens are one of the easiest and most productive additions to any garden in any setting. Country, suburban, urban, having hens is usually legal. Only a small space is needed though of course a larger space is nicer and the greater diversity of forage food probably results in optimal health. But really, practically anyone with any kind of backyard can have chickens. For gardeners they will add manure while they till the ground looking for insects to eat which lessens the amount of store bought food needed. Not only will they eat your kitchen scraps but you can grow much of their food right in your garden. They'll eat any damaged or rotting fruit or veggies in your garden as well. If you're in a setting where your garden is very small you could supplement their food by asking neighbors for their kitchen wastes in exchange for a few eggs now and then.

Given the arrival of peak oil and economic depression I have little doubt that keeping chickens will become much more common place. Ask Jake and he'll happily talk your ear off about just how much fun they are and just how well they integrate into any family.


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