Dear Chicken Lady, Did you have a life before you had chickens? I am so enthused about my birds, I can barely remember what I did for fun before I had compost to move, cages to clean and feed to haul. After all, busy people are happy people and there aren’t many ways to stay as busy as when you have chickens. Sincerely, Finally Found Happiness As a Chicken Farmer
Dear Happy Farmer, As a matter of fact I did have a life before chickens. I would spend days at the Lake Michigan beach, listening to the waves, picking up fossils and bits of glass washed up on the beach.
Thanks to the recent visit of a friend from college I had an opportunity to spend a couple of days, playing at the lake, reliving gems of the past. The lake is wonderful and warm this summer, unaffected by dead fish, mats of algae and even far fewer of the zebra mussel shells that littered the beach, slicing toes and delicate skin these last few years. Indian beads, the pieces of crinoid fossil that we strung as beads (they are still living creatures, existing at depths of over 600 feet) are far more frustrating to find as they mix with the bits of mussel shells that mimic the look of a bead on edge in the gravel. Hopefully the 840,000 gallons of oil that recently spilled in the Kalamazoo River won’t make their way to Lake Michigan beaches, as they are cleaner than they have been in years. Take a break from those fine fowl and go to the beach.
When you get back to your chickens you will appreciate them more than ever. We are watching new chicks, Malay moms and Phoenix dads. How did that happen? After last summer’s predators cleared out all our free range chickens we let a few Malay hens loose in the barn to recover from overeager beaus. They preferred to stay inside rather than venture into the unknown outdoors. In need of cages, we also freed several bantam Phoenix cocks to roam free with a few Phoenix hens. Nature will take her course and hens lay eggs, eggs hatch if roosters were around, and baby chicks appear. The Phoenix hens tend to stick together but the roosters happily shared their genes with the Malays who are not known for being good as broody hens but by gosh, they managed to hatch quite a few. If you recall from earlier issues, the Malay chicken is large, huge compared to a bantam and rather like a pug, so ugly they are almost cute. They are also quite friendly, following me around begging for handouts as I seem to be the equivalent of the ice cream truck, providing treats for the neighborhood biddies.
The roosters are quite paternal, calling their broods whenever they find a nice tidbit, traveling from hen and chicks to the other clutches, chasing away any annoying dogs who might threaten a young fowl. As a result I have to watch my step and where I set the buckets because the hens come right up with the chicks, always underfoot, under feed bucket and under where I dump the water containers.
The Malays are still learning how to parent, looking quite awkward as they stoop to spread their wings over the babies and forgetting to call the chicks to come with them at times when they run after me. They are finally coming outside since the chicks run from mom to mom, evidently accepting anyone who calls as an acceptable parent. This means the Malays’ chicks follow the phoenix families outside, their loud chirps heard all around the yard calling their for their real moms out to find them.