Sunday, October 12, 2014

Poultry Peeple

The other day one of my egg customers asked me, "So how many chickens do you have?"

And I didn't know! I used to keep track of all that, but lately, not so much. Chickens come, chickens go. They get sick and die. They get dragged off in the night by raccoons. Sometimes they just drop dead, and when I go out to do my afternoon chicken chores I'll see somebody's little corpse lying in the coop while the other chickens step around (or over) her as they go about their business. It's all very New York City, life in the coop.

So yesterday I popped open Google Docs and started cataloging who's still out there. Amazingly, that includes Pearl, my Gold-laced Wyandotte (an old American meat-n-eggs breed) who will be 10 years old if she makes it through the winter. Ten! We expect nothing of her these days except to enjoy the sun and look pretty.

There's Cleo, the Copper Maran hen who's a crappy layer of eggs but an excellent brood hen...Gary Seven the Leghorn who is the first to awake, the last to go to bed, and lays eggs like a maniac, even though she's gotta be pushing 5. Lurch the Jersey Giant, I almost never see her in the nest box. Oh, well. Amondine the Rhode Island Red who is top chicken and her mellow breedmate, Mushroom Mike with the crooked comb. Hefty Brosis, so large that everyone initially though she was a rooster. Jasmine, Patrice, and Marina, the Cochins (fluffballs, good layers). Bodhi, Dharma, and Cinnamon Girl the Ameraucanas, plus Ama and Owley, more Ameraucanas (green eggs, pretty feathers, good layers). Zoppe, the Barred Rock that we got last week when our neighbors said, "Say, there's a chicken in the tree down by the circus; is it one of yours?" No, but she is now.

Pearl, the amazing 10-year old hen. See, isn't she pretty?

And so on. The thing is, many of our birds are older if not ancient, and if I don't add some pullets or chicks soon I'm not going to have very many eggs next summer. But of course, no one has chicks now! Plenty of people giving away older birds, but that I don't need. So when I saw that A&L Feed had gotten a box of chicks Friday--they come through the Arcata post office--I said "Hot rats! Let's get us some chicks!"

Because I'm not a breeder, and for fun, I like to have a mix of birds in the coop. It's certainly easier to tell who's who. But the entire box of chicks at A&L was Ameraucana chicks--the one breed I have a lot of. What to do? I could wait for a future box (they're getting a couple more before the season ends) and hope I have a broody hen when they do, but...Marina, Cleo, and Jasmine have already been broody and given up so I can't count on them raising the babies. Live Free or Die, our sole New Hampshire Red, is in the next box now, hunkered down as though through sheer willpower she can make the infertile eggs she takes from the other hens and shoves under her body hatch. It's a fierce concentration.

The only hens still with us are Pearl and the black one on the far right: that's Cleo. The others? Gone.
So we grabbed an empty box and drove to McKinleyville, coming back with four Ameraucana chicks. In the past I have brooded them in my dining room, but I've got somebody living in there right now, so that ain't gonna work. Plus, I am tired of chick dust getting onto everything. Two of the cool things about chickens, is that once the sun goes down they turn off, and they really have no long-term memory, or not much, anyway. Whatever they do have they do not clog with useless facts like, Yesterday the humans slaughtered our brothers the roosters!, or Yesterday these were just eggs! Now I have babies!

So once Live Free or Die shut down for the night, I took the box of chicks out to the coop, opened the nest box, took out the eggs she was sitting on and put the babies under her. Once I heard the happy peeping, I shut the nest box and went to bed.

When I went to let them out this morning, Live Free or Die had lost that look of fierce concentration and now had the look of ultimate vigilance: I have babies!

The variety pack.

Hopefully she'll be as good a mom as Cleo is. But I can already see some pretty green cartons of eggs next year. I gotta mix this thing up!

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