When a friend posted on Facebook that she had a pet chicken, it caught my interest. One chicken? I’d always thought chickens only came in the plural—by the dozen or at least half dozen—in other words, that you practically had to run a farm. Owning just one little chicken sounded feasible, even fun! I’ve always liked chickens in their cute little feathered outfits. I like the classic reddish ones best, but those black and white ones are really cute as well. When my friend went on to say that her hen, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, furnished their family with eggs, I began to get really excited. I’m into emergency preparedness and the idea of fresh eggs right in our back yard sounded ideal. I pictured my grandchildren in overalls and gingham shirts, happily gathering them. It would not only be fun and practical, but an educational experience for all of us. If at that moment, I’d had any clue where a person even goes to check out chickens, I might have jumped in my van and headed in that direction immediately. Like most city dwellers, however, I knew where to get every conceivable kind of take out chicken and even where to find packaged raw chicken—in other words, pretty much dead chicken, but I had no idea where to go look at chickens that are still alive and clucking. I decided to ask my more experienced friend. And since things almost always end up being a little more complicated than you anticipate, I decided it might be smart as well to jot down a few additional questions regarding the care and feeding of a chicken. Well, here’s what I found out:
1. As smart as a chicken is about pecking around for grub (or grubs), something its ancestors have done for years, it apparently also needs what’s known as chicken feed to sustain it and keep it healthy. Recognizing that there aren’t take out places on every corner for chickens, I realized I’d probably need to drive to a feed store which I imagined would be located near farms where the majority of chickens hang out. At the price of gas these days, my husband, I knew, would be quick to point out that having to drive this distance would counteract the savings we’d get from free eggs. (He majored in economics) And he’d probably be right. I realized I was looking at my first hurdle. But then I smiled. No, it’d be okay. A genuine farm feed store would have a forklift. I could just buy the biggest possible bag of chicken feed and hope it would last our little chicken for much of its little chicken life. I’m not sure how I planned to get such an enormous bag out of the van once I got home, but, well, some things you work out as you go.
2. Even one little chicken apparently needs a roof over her head. My friend told me that her husband built a chicken house for their chicken right in the front yard. Now this was cause to pause. The last time I’d used a hammer, I’d learned the importance of the thumb and its relationship to the entire body and emotional state of being. My husband doesn’t mind doing repair work, but I estimated the chances he’d jump for joy at the suggestion he build a house for a chicken were in the zero to nil range. Further, it wouldn’t work to have this little coop in the front and even if we built it in the back, we’d then need to close up all the gaps in our cedar fence, because unlike my friend, we do not live in the southern US in a remote area where chickens can roam free. We live in a place where we need to look three ways in order to even back out of the driveway. I wondered how hard it would be to adapt a ready-made dog house to a chicken’s needs. I then remembered that I’d once learned how to sew. Would a little chicken tee pee do? But then my friend told me more. The chicken house would need an extremely secure door that closed tightly. Her husband had added a sliding door to their chicken’s coop which they never forgot to close at night because . . .
3. Chickens have predators. She mentioned raccoons and snakes. I’d heard that raccoons are not the cuddly little animals you read about in books such as The Kissing Hand. They can apparently grow to be enormous creatures that wash their not so cute Edward Scissor type hands after they’ve killed smaller animals just for sport. And snakes? I have refused to go back to the canyons since one crossed my path there. My friend told me more.
4. The little door to the chicken house would need to be opened each morning at DAWN because a chicken gets restless if it is not out at about the crack of it. Now this was even more cause for pause because unlike the The Little Red Hen who could run an entire farm and baking operation single-handedly, I seriously doubted that a real chicken could be trained to open its own little door. No, I had the feeling I knew who would be getting up to open the chicken’s door every morning at dawn—the door to the coop which I didn’t know how I was going to come up with in the first place.
5. According to my friend, in order for a chicken to produce a decent number of eggs, it needs to take some kind of an additive. Additive? What did that mean? I pictured little chicken pills of some sort. My husband and I had enough trouble remembering to take our own medications, let alone remind a chicken. And what if this chicken didn’t want to take her pills? Would I be required to pry open her sharp little beak and shove the pills in? That could prove to be unpleasant. But my friend was not finished.
6. She concluded with the following and I will quote her directly: “Chickens are great if you don’t mind the large poops.” Why it had not occurred to me that there was more that came out of a chicken’s backside than just eggs, I’m not sure. This P word has generally been a deal breaker in my life. It’s why as a teenager, I refused to babysit children under the age of six. It’s why I didn’t marry the rancher, and it was why for a short period of time I considered not having children. I remembered then that chicken poop I’d seen caked on chicken coops is particularly nasty-looking stuff which is maybe why people have another name for it that they use as a swear word. I pictured my husband and I stepping in it when we went out back to enjoy our yard. I pictured my grandchildren stepping in it when they went out to play or gather eggs. I pictured myself muttering the chicken poop “sh” swear word under my breath as the chicken stuff was tracked through my house. No, this last tidbit of information pretty much squelched what little desire I still had left in me to take care of or own a pet chicken. I did not need a chicken after all.
So, here’s what I’ve decided. In order to get the chicken experience, I will just take my grandchildren to Wheeler Farm, our local historical in the city farm, much more often. In between farm visits, we can get out my little red hen puppet which I just stuff into a basket and which doesn’t need a chicken coop, (but which from now on I’ll keep separated from my racoon and snake puppets) and which also does not eat and so does not eliminate what it eats. As far as eggs, I can buy a few more of those big cans of that bright yellow powdered dried egg stuff for emergency situations. I have, however, just had an interesting additional question come to me this very second. I wonder if you can get fertilized chicken eggs somewhere, freeze them, and then just grow a chicken when you absolutely need one. It’s worth checking into. In the meantime, since I’ve managed to survive all these years without a pet chicken, I think I’ll be just fine. Anyway, it looks like we might already have a pet. A cat showed up on our back porch a few weeks ago and refuses to leave. (See my last month’s post, “3 Conversations Concerning a Cat”) Judging by the feathers I see around every once in a while and the low guttural sounds she makes when she sees a bird of any sort, I very much doubt our cat would make a good playmate for a chicken.
I never did present my chicken idea to my husband, thank goodness, so I don’t have to deal with his intense disappointment. (And that is what is known as sarcasm) No, I can see this is all for the best. Things seem to work out in the end.