by Mary Fearon
When I first started to keep chickens 25 years ago, I had no idea what I was getting into. In fact, I’m quite afraid of most animals but when a group of friends suggested it, I signed up. We started with 12 Rhode Island Reds. We all took turns driving about 30 minutes to the farm each day to care of them. The whole process was relatively easy and successful but after a few years it became less manageable so we gave the birds to a farmer.
Years later we visited friends in downtown, who kept chickens, and decided to give it another go. For about $500 we build a coop and got 6 little yellow fluffy chicks. Our kids and their friends were thrilled and spent hours playing with them. For the first 10 weeks the birds lived in a cardboard box in the house and then moved to the coop that had a small enclosed run.
A few days before Christmas we got our first eggs and after that the birds laid about 5 or 6 eggs a day. We quickly became egg rich so shared them with friends and neighbours. If we were away, we had lots of folks to check on them.
We opened the run each day and “the girls" (as they became known) roamed around the garden. They were quite adventuresome so we put up a simple fence to contain them.
As meat eaters we had discussed an “end of life plan” for when they stopped laying. Four years later we consulted YouTube for the most humane way to cull birds. It looked easy enough but the process was more emotional than we anticipated. Nevertheless, we persisted and that night we invited friends and family to the table for a chicken dinner. My son said it was “the best chicken potpie” he’d ever eaten. I, however, had some difficulty eating the meal.
Everything about raising these birds went smoothly so the following spring we ordered more chicks and started again. This time around was not quite so easy. My children were older and not as interested in them, we were out of town a lot and had different people caring for them. The birds were not as friendly, they became infected with chicken mites and we were not sure what to do with them once they stopped laying. My husband really wanted to keep at it so he ordered more chicks. At 10 weeks when we moved them outside the older birds became aggressive with the younger ones so we called a friend who offered to cull them.
With these new birds we spent lots of time with them as chicks. They were much friendlier and we were pleased with how it was going. Their first winter we were shocked one morning to find that a fox had come into the garden and killed two of the birds. The two remaining birds were stressed and in the spring one died. This was something we had not anticipated and it was difficult for us. We thought about giving the last bird away but when the new chicks came they all got along.
These new birds (like the ones we started with) are wonderfully social animals and very curious about whatever is going on. They are familiar with us and always come running when we bring them their feed or a vegetable scraps. I love to watch them from the window and find myself talking to them when I am collecting the eggs. Although for us they are something different than a pet we enjoy having them and the delicious gifts they leave us each day.
Mary Fearon is a storyteller and a social worker as well as being a chicken aficionado. She enjoys connecting with her surroundings and her food. Her two human chicks have left the nest, so Mary lives in St. John's with her husband and "the girls".
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