Welcome to Chicken Scratch
By Jill Clingan
Here is a conversation I had with my 7-year-old son, Jack, last week during breakfast:
Jack: You know, Mom, some people don’t know what chicken poop looks like.
Me: You’re right, honey.
Jack: Some food fell on the cafeteria floor at school, and it was brown and white and shaped like chicken poop, and some people said it didn’t look like chicken poop. But they are wrong, because I know what chicken poop looks like.
Me: (Oh dear.)
A family photo with chickens and ducks.
A year ago such a conversation would never have taken place around our breakfast table. A year ago my family – my husband, Matt, my 11-year-old daughter, Amélie, Jack and I had been living in the country for just a little over six months. A year ago we had big dreams and zero experience. A year ago we had ordered from a hatchery catalog 15 chickens and three ducks that were scheduled to arrive at our post office in mid-March, but aside from exhaustive research on chicken and ducks breeds that were cold-hardy, heat-hardy, laid pretty eggs, and were themselves pretty, we didn’t really know a thing about having poultry.
Now here we are a year later. We are definitely still learning as we go, but we now have 24 hens, one rooster, two ducks and two drakes. Our spunky little flock of chickens is made up of Red Stars, Barred Rocks, Gold-Laced Wyandottes, Silver-Laced Wyandottes, Golden Comets, Buff Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds and Ameraucanas. Our ducks are Rouen, Pekin, and one whose breed I have yet to identify.
We have become a bit addicted to our poultry family. We have been researching the breeds that are going to be at our local farm supply store later this month so we can bring yet more home. (I am thinking more Ameraucanas, another Gold-Laced Wyandotte or two, and a few Polish Hens.)
Instead of counting down the months until Christmas or birthdays, I now measure my year from March (when we can go get our spring chickens) until September (when we can go pick up a few more). Matt built a nice-size chicken coop last spring, and just last night as I peeked in on them all comfortably roosting, I wondered how long it will be before the chickens need an addition.
We have a year of chicken-rearing under our belts, but we are still pretty green at this chicken-raising thing. We learned what we could from library books and Internet research, and the rest we have picked up through trial, error, and a good deal of listening to our chickens and ducks, who, it turns out, can be quite opinionated.
Our ducks are especially opinionated. They squawk loudly when we are late to release them from the coop in the morning, when they are out of food, or when their kiddie pool needs more water. (They boycotted our pond until fall, but now, on nice days when the ice is melted, we can’t get them in the coop at night because they have taken a liking to midnight swims.)
Our chickens are not quite as opinionated, but they like to communicate with us, too. They hover around the back door on cold days, begging to come in, and whenever we open the door to let a dog in or out or we go out and feed them, one or more scooch in and help themselves to whatever crumbs might be lurking about on the kitchen floor.
Our chickens trying to get inside from the cold.
One hen even decided to try out the piano last week.
An ornery chicken trying out the piano.
They also cluck proudly when they lay their eggs – be it in the coop, under the porch, in a random pile of leaves, or their latest favorite spot – the heated dog house. Our dogs have learned what this proud clucking means, and then it’s a race to see who can find the hiding spot first – me or the dogs.
Chicken laying her egg in the leaves.
Some chickens keeping warm in the heated doghouse.
A year ago I had no idea that chickens and ducks were quirky, spirited and full of personality. I had no earthly idea that I could actually fall in love with my feathered creatures, but I have. Oh, how I have fallen in love with them. I dote on them. I save them table scraps. I grieve whenever one dies. I clog my Facebook and Instagram feeds with chicken selfies, chicken videos, and proud pictures of tiny first eggs.
A pullet’s first tiny egg.
My chickens and ducks make me smile and laugh and take a little more delight in my world. I plan on sharing those moments with you here at my new blog. Welcome to Chicken Scratch!
Read this editor’s letter about her new chickens and their lively personalities.
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