the six-month saga of chickens

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Life as a chicken parent hasn't been easy.

I started off last May with 11 fuzzy babies: Two Araucanas and nine Brahmas (three each of the light, dark and buff varieties).

In non-chicken-nerd terms, this means: Two chickens with green legs and nine that look like they're wearing pants. (Kate, do not mock the pants! Not only are they fashionable, they provide protection from the elements! You know, since it gets so frigid in California.)

Within a week of arrival, two of the Brahma chicks -- a buff and a dark -- died. Not sure what happened -- they just got very lethargic and started breathing heavily. And then they were gone.

But the rest grew. And grew. And eventually, they got too big for their box, so they went outside. And since the coop at my house wasn't quite ready yet, they stayed in a friend's backyard.

Only they didn't exactly "stay" where they were supposed to.

I can't tell you how many times we found them wandering around in the front yard or at the neighbor's place. (Dear chickies: It was like you wanted something awful to happen to you. Do you have any idea how much stress you caused?) We ended up losing one of the white Brahmas -- she just disappeared without a trace. We went door-to-door looking for her, but no luck.

So we clipped the chickens' wings. And all was fine (well, except for the diarrhea incident when the chickens had to go on antibiotics for awhile), until we realized one of girls was really a boy.

And even though Bob was a lovely, well-mannered young man, he had to find a new home -- my landlord absolutely did not want a rooster around. So Bob and his favorite hen (affectionately known as Chicken Shit -- yes, I'm a horrible person) went to live on a farm in Bennett Valley. Last I heard, it's been happily ever after for the two of them -- Bob has quite a harem now, and Chicken Shit developed faster than the rest of her sisters and started laying eggs before Christmas. (Damn her.)

Meanwhile, the coop was completed in November ...

... and inspected by the resident Cat Princess (nothing happens around here without feline approval). And the six remaining hens finally came home to my house, where they subsequently drove me crazy by flying over the fence all the time. And I would chase them around and eventually catch them and put them back in their pen, only to have to chase them around again two hours later.

And not a single one of them was laying eggs. All they did was poo everywhere and eat a bunch of food and fly away. I clipped their wings and started lecturing them, accusing them of "low ROI" (you know you have issues when you start using corporate jargon with your backyard fowl). Huge amounts of frustration. Huge!

And just when I thought it couldn't get worse, General Tso, the smartest and prettiest hen, got killed by a neighbor's dog. This photo was taken just a few days before the incident:

So then I found myself filing complaints with Animal Control and basically living an episode of one of those shows on Animal Planet. And I also learned how to pluck and gut a chicken, so it can be transformed into this:

Yes, folks, I ate General Tso. Maybe that makes me an extra-horrible person, but I thought it would be best not to let her life go to waste. And hey, if you're going to preach farm to table, you might as well go all the way. (Perhaps this is TMI, but I even ate her brain. It tasted like really, really gamey pâté. I probably won't go there again.)

And still the nightmare continued: Earlier this month, the same dog returned to my yard and killed the other Araucana, Colonel Sanders. (OK, I guess with names like these, maybe I was kind of asking for it.) I ate her, too, although she didn't taste quite as good as the General.

So more calls to Animal Control were made. And more reports filed. And every day I'm sort of afraid of picking up the phone because I don't want to hear that another hen has been killed.

Four girls remain, all Brahmas: Repeep (far left), McNugget, Peep and Hot Wings.

And I don't let them free-range in their yard like I used to because I'm afraid the dog is going to come back. I hate seeing them enclosed like this, but until the dog issue is resolved, this is the best way to protect them. I give them my table scraps so they don't just eat feed all the time, but they're funny -- they won't eat the vegetables. They seem to only want to eat bread and tortillas. (Apparently chickens like to carbo-load?)

But despite six months of chicken drama, I finally have good news: I found eggs yesterday!

Repeep has started laying! Aren't her eggs gorgeous? And ginormous for a pullet? I'm so proud of her. I found two more this morning. (Way to boost that ROI, Repeep!) So now I'm less frustrated. And will actually consider buying these for my girls once they start molting.

Because they already have pants, so why not get them a fun top to match?

(Problems, I know.)


Layla said...

Peep and Repeep. HAHAHAHA!! Brilliant chicken names.
It's about time they started giving you a little ROI. Maybe they think you sicced the dog on them because they weren't laying...

naomi said...

Not sure if I ever told you this, but my Mom and her siblings grew up on a poultry farm, so these stories sound very familiar to me...

RoadBunner said...

I love hearing about your chickens! I'm a little jealous you live somewhere you can have chickens. In high school I raised a chick for a few weeks and named him Sheldon (after that chick in the Garfield and Friends cartoon). He ended up going to a farm after and wound up as dinner I'm sure. Some of my classmates vowed to never eat chicken again but I decided I didn't care if someone ate Sheldon so long as they ATE him. So for years after whenever I took a piece of chicken to eat I'd eat the whole thing. I'd only be miffed if someone cooked him up and threw him away. And I'm glad you're finally getting eggs!

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