Monday, August 13, 2007

Impractical Chicken Keeping

There’s an anecdote my mother tells to illustrate how Aunt Tillie was afraid of every living thing. One of the last of the family to emigrate from Rhodes to Seattle in the early 20th century, five-year-old Tillie encountered chickens on her way to school. She knew just enough English to recite, “Excuse me, chickens. Excuse me, chickens,” as she edged past them. By the time my mother was born in the 1920’s, chickens were outré. The family assumed only farmers and other country folk kept chickens.

That was until my husband and I moved our computers and graduate degrees from the city to the outer fringes of the Redmond suburbs in 1982. It was a mixed area of modest homes on acre or third-acre lots where a dog down the street trotted home with porcupine quills in his nose and the people with a few acres on the corner kept a flock of sheep. Our place happened to come with a combination chicken coop and storage shed larger than a child’s playhouse. It looked like destiny.

As a child I had wanted a chicken, not just the cute little fluffball chick sold at Easter time but a real chicken to peck around in the flower garden. My mother said no, chickens are dirty. For some reason a dozen guinea pigs in the house were OK but an outdoor chicken was not. We all have our prejudices. Over the years I, too, developed the idea that chickens were ugly and stupid. It lasted until the chickens arrived.

My only warning was my husband’s saying, “Gotta get some chickens.”

“I thought we were going to get a dog,” I said. (The dog came a few months later, then the ducks and the rabbit and the geese.)

John and a friend from the high-tech company where they both worked ordered the Heinz 57 chick mix from Murray McMurray Hatchery, sharing a grab bag of twenty-five chicks called the Special Assorted Bargain, the least expensive order. I discovered this meant an unknown number of meat chickens vs. layers and an unknown number of roosters. John assured me that all extra roosters would go to the friend and his wife, who were apparently made of hardier stuff and would deal with the birds accordingly. We—or I should say the roosters—were lucky. The two roosters of our flock of twelve turned out to be mellow types. They did not turn mean, as many roosters do, attacking everything that isn’t a hen; and they got along with each other. They stayed.

(more later)

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