Chickens, Pt. 2: And the Dogs Who Love Them
October 08, 2012
This past spring, I posted a blog about my family's new venture of raising ten hens. I promised a continuation of the story. I also wanted to introduce the two dogs that live with us, but their appearance in this drama occurs later.
After seven months, we are well into being experienced chicken farmers. Our lovely Burnt Umber, New Hampshire Reds have become a part of our suburban lifestyle. Besides the usual feeding and watering, their daily care includes giving them time to forage in the backyard, so they can be free-range hens. In fact, if left to their chicken-run, the lead hen will pace the gate squawking for their release. Then, like chickens out of Hell, they awkwardly rush into the yard "flying" in clipped-wing liberation.
They've been eyeing the tall green grass since dawn because there's hardly a green blade to be found in their quarters. Someone once told me that chickens will eat almost everything humans eat. High on their list of preferred foods are insects. We don't think of chickens being omnivores. My husband enjoys throwing out an occasional meat scrap to watch the frenzy that follows. The lucky one has to rush away trying to eat the scrap before one of her flock steals it. Currently, I'm reading Free-Range Chicken Gardens: How to Create a Beautiful, Chicken-Friendly Yard by Jessi Bloom. This author paints an idyllic view of life with chickens. Perhaps, I need to read further to learn how to keep "the girls" from scratching up my daffodil bulbs and eating the petunias. They also tend to "fertilize" in the most impractical spots such as the deck!
When the young hens were first introduced into their coop, our two dogs wanted to jump into action. They each thought, "Finally, I have a job!" Eris, the Lab/Shepherd mix, wanted to either play or herd them, and Harley, the Jack Russell Terrier, wanted to kill and perhaps eat a couple. After much instruction and fencing, we have arrived at a sort of detente. Each species has the run of the yard in its time slot. We don't want to think about the chaos that would ensue otherwise. There was almost an incident a few weeks ago: that scheming rascal, Harley, had found a slight gap where the fences meet. Luckily, we discovered him just as he was slipping in like a "fox in the henhouse." (Chicken cliches have gained an entirely fresh perspective now, and I will use them.)
Life with chickens and dog, has become quite interesting. Sometimes, it's all so picturesque and relaxing; at other times, it just seems stressful. However, we are averaging nine warm, delicious brown eggs a day. A stable egg supply has provided a sort of "nest egg" security, knowing that food is right outside the back door. The girls, at least, give us tangible rewards for all the effort. The doggies manage to stay in our good graces by dosing out their many forms of affection (although, the infamous Harley is definitely on probation and not to be trusted.) If you want to raise chickens, be sure to check your city's laws. Currently, Smithville does permit a small flock, but it's best to ask about current codes before investing your resources.
I now understand the appeal of a hobby farm. For those of us who grew up dreaming about self-sufficient living, it's a small way to experience farming and outdoor life. You might enjoy a rural escape by reading a true life experience about farms, chickens, or dogs. Two recommendations I've checked out are Dog Days, Dispatches from Bedlam Farm by Jon Katz and Merle's Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog by Ted Kerasote. MCPL branches also carry periodicals about hobby farms, pets, and country living for you to enjoy. There may be an adventure awaiting you in your backyard.