When we began thinking in earnest about moving out to the country, chickens were not even on the radar. Dan and I were all about the sheep. Beautiful sheep with luscious wool and curly horns, triple purpose sheep that could provide milk, meat, and fleece, woolies we could be proud of. And the Icelandics are all of those things. Thanks to them, I discovered an affinity for felting and Dan discovered an affinity for fixing and setting up fencing (Well, “affinity” is probably a little strong for the way Dan feels about fencing, but it certainly keeps him busy!) and of course Maggie and the kids are thrilled with this new shepherd thing.
But chickens were sleeper livestock. They seemed like a reasonably good idea. Truly free range, healthy eggs—who could argue with that? Before chickens, I used to stand in the supermarket agonizing over the eggs: do I buy the cheap, factory farm eggs and support a cruel and impersonal sort of agribusiness, or do I spend $3 a dozen for the “free-range” label? Worse, I’d heard “free-range” might mean a square foot or two of space, not much “range” there. If we are going to eat animals, and use them for the products they provide, we should treat them humanely. And I couldn’t vouch for any of the supermarket eggs, $3 a dozen or not. So yeah, chickens seemed like a good idea.
We ordered them our first spring, a box of 24 chirping chicks. The post office called us IMMEDIATELY upon their arrival. Come get your ^$%#$% chicks was the basic tone of the call. And yes, they were noisy little buggers! We’d pored over the Murray McMurray catalogue and chosen a variety of “dual purpose” birds, and the chicks were a peeping rainbow of colors and patterns. We spent many hours down in the basement those first weeks, hunched over the brooder box trying to parse one type from the other. The hatchery had sent us a free chick with our order, and we had a lot of fun figuring out what he was (Golden Laced Wyandotte, as it turned out). The chicks were very little trouble, and that spring, the kids and I spent many happy hours digging up worms for them to tussle over. We gave eight chicks to my sister and her family (also newly rural and only a town away) and the kids named each and every one of the remaining 17. (Brave Sunny, Brave Sarah, Fancy Feather, Chicklee, Stripes, Madeline, Rangy, Dandelion, Sandy, etc. etc)
The original bunch, with a few more added to the mix along the way, free range right here in our yard and pasture. They still provide us with hours of entertainment, while ridding the pasture of excess parasites, oh, and they also lay plenty more eggs than this family of five (plus two dogs) can consume. Dan and I love sharing this bounty with students, friends, and co-workers because there is nothing like a fresh, truly free-range egg! The color is so much more vivid, and the yolk is stronger and more solid. I’ve even heard that fresh eggs lack the kind of cholesterol that blocks arteries and are high in Omega 3.
And so yes, the sleeper livestock. Chickens are pretty darn cool!