Chicken T.V.

Like anyone moving to a new home, my husband and I had certain things we were looking for: proximity to a Biblical church, driving distance from family, space for a garden, not too close to railroad tracks, and not too far from an airport. In particular, I carefully researched whether chickens were allowed in the neighborhoods we considered. In the last three places we had lived, chickens took up at least part of our yard and a bit of our time and money.

We started with only two laying hens, which was not enough to be cost-effective. After buying or building a decent coop that keeps out predators, you could have bought three years’ worth of eggs. Even in the longer term, hens still might not pay much until non-financial benefits also come into consideration:

  1. Fresh eggs not only taste good, but are good for our physical health. They are a good source of protein and antioxidants. Some people even call them the perfect food.
  2. Getting outside to care for animals is good for our mental health. Are you anxious, stressed, or worried? The gentle “bok bok bok” of a contented laying hen may be just what the doctor ordered. Spending half an hour just watching them roam the backyard lawn can bring a smile. We call it “Chicken T.V.”
  3. We have the opportunity to bless our neighbors with a carton of eggs each week. In our experience, this has led to pleasant conversations and lasting relationships.
  4. Chickens eat ticks. That would be enough to convince me to keep them. I hate ticks.
  5. They can clear a piece of ground right down to the bare dirt. I have a temporary pen set up in an area I want to clear, and our chickens are paid in mealworms to spend time out there scratching the area clean.
  6. Their droppings, mixed with their pine-shaving bedding, make excellent fertilizer. It’s a fairly effortless and inexpensive way to reinvigorate garden soil.

Our chickens rise with the sun. They make their way out of the coop and into the attached pen, one at time. Then they wait in what can only be described as a desultory fashion for me to come out and give them their breakfast. They scratch at the ground a little and drink some water, but they’re really just watching the back door. Once I toss their feed on the ground, I don’t exist to them anymore.

Every day at about 2 P.M., I let the chickens out of the pen so they can help themselves to grass and bugs in the yard. By that time of day, most of them have made the expected deposit in the nest. When I open the door, they all run out, anxiously looking for some bug or worm to snatch up. All except one go quietly. Margo, a grey hen with a funny hairdo, screeches out a long, loud squawk each time. I’m pretty sure it translates to “Freeeedoooooom!” in English.

Toward evening, the hens, which were scattered all around the front and back yards, begin to gather near their pen, waiting for the squeak of our back screen door—the sign that a light dinner of organic feed and dried mealworms is coming. Then they will be safely locked in for the night. They all run after me into their pen because they know it’s time for their special treat. I do believe they would go to the end of the world for mealworms.

Are chickens all gain and no pain? Of course not. Getting started can be expensive if you want a particular kind of coop and run. Sometimes they get sick and die at the outset of the whole operation. Sometimes a disease takes out the whole flock. They may break into the garden and help themselves to tomatoes. With free range, they will indiscriminately leave droppings on the entire property, even the back deck. Any new seedlings planted will be in danger of being taken for food or scratched out of the ground.

Chickens can also be difficult to catch if their owners haven’t slightly tamed them. They evade capture with amazing skill. The nickname “chicken” for frightened people comes with good reason. These birds have a seemingly exaggerated sense of danger, but they need it. Everybody wants a piece of them: foxes, raccoons, raptors, the neighbors’ dogs, and especially people. Naturally, there’s a reason for that, too. They make quite a meal. We eat a lot of chicken, prepared in many delicious ways. The chickens here at our place, however, are not meant to be our dinner, only to supplement it with healthy eggs.

We now have fifteen lovely layer hens. I enjoy feeding them, letting them in and out of their pen, and watching them comb the grass for insects. They are beautiful. The green lawn accentuates their colorful, patterned feathers, and when they scratch around in our little forested area, they blend right in with their surroundings. When I think of all they add to our enjoyment of life, I thank God, who provides so ingeniously for them and for me.

Author: Rose Peterson

Rose Peterson is a wife, mom, and grandmother who starts big projects in the house and yard. She finds out that she is older and weaker than she thought, and therefore she sits down to read a book. She writes for the pleasure of it.

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