Part III: The Ladies
My friends Laura and Jacob, a young couple finishing up their university study and leaving for bigger and better things, sold me four chickens and a coop for $100, a fraction of their worth, at the beginning of last summer. Laura and Jacob are earthy people with simple tastes, and they live a deliberate life of service. They bought a house in a sketchy neighborhood in my town, not because they couldn’t afford somewhere better, but they wanted to live intentionally in a neighborhood where they could interact with people and make connections. They invested heavily in their chickens, building an urban coop that can be wheeled about like a wheelbarrow, so the chickens will always have fresh ground to scratch. It’s built like Fort Knox, out of treated 2 x 4s and heavy gauge mesh wire, with a red tin corrugated roof. There are two stories, so the chickens have yard to scratch and an enclosed upper level coop with nest boxes that can be accessed from the outside and a ventilated roost to perch on at night. The whole thing locks up so no fox, raccoon, or skunk can get to the birds. I’ve never raised chickens, and knew nothing about them. I kept thinking of the Napoleon Dynamite line, “Do your chickens have large talons?” But Laura and Jacob’s chickens were their pets, more or less, and while they couldn’t see moving them, they wanted them to go to a good home, to friends.
Toby is the leader. She is an Australorp, colored glossy black with grey speckles that shine in the light, dark gray feet, and a modest comb. Originally bred in Australia and crossbred with Orpingtons, http://www.mypetchicken.com describes the breed as “calm and friendly, excellent layers of light brown eggs. Peaceful and dignified, Australorps are an absolutely delightful bird which we highly recommend to anyone who wants a pet chicken that lays dependably.”
Next comes Anabeth, a rusty red Cinnamon Queen, which is a type of Sex-Link chicken. Sex links are cross bred so that the gender of the chicken is differentiated at hatching, making it easier to “sex” the chickens. If you wonder why this is important, try holding a chicken by the legs and trying to “sex” it. There’re a lot of feathers, and even people who know what to look for are often fooled. Imagine buying a “laying hen” at a flea market that turns out to be a rooster crowing the daybreak every morning at 4:30. Cinnamon Queens lay between 250-300 eggs annually, and they “have a reputation as being particularly sweet and docile birds. Many owners say they are the sweetest members of the flock.”
And finally there are Harper and Baily, Orpingtons, described by mypetchicken.com as “big, friendly dual-purpose birds originally developed in the UK. For many small farms and homesteaders, Orpingtons are the only way to go! They’re gentle and friendly on top of being good layers.”
Raising chickens, at least so far, has been easier than I imagined. Other than giving them clean water and fresh food and unlocking the coop to let them into the pen every morning, collecting eggs in the evening, and locking them inside the coop after they’ve roosted for the night, there is little maintenance involved. “The ladies,” as I call them, average three eggs a day, and they only fuss when they lay an egg—an act preceded by a mounting cacophony of clucking and punctuated by a very loud squawk. They only fuss when I wait too long to let them out of the coop in the morning, or when there’s a predator or something else unsettling in their lives. One day, their disturbed clucking came because a tomcat was pacing the perimeter of their pen, sizing them up for a meal. Another night, how I don’t know, a cardinal had gotten inside the coop and was flitting around the roost, trying to get out, causing the ladies to panic.