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October 2007

Life, at the moment, is comprised of chicken stories.  The most immediate, or next to most immediate is that of chicken feed.  Who ever coined the phrase "oh, that's just chicken feed" hasn't had a feed store bill of late.  Or maybe ever.  I'm doing a very intensive organization of the house these days.  And, among other discoveries all accompanied by the observation, oh, I'm glad I don't have to buy that, was a chicken book.  About raising chickens, not cooking them.  And in it was a table of how much it costs to produce a dozen brown eggs, in feed, that is, and only after having raised the chickens.  Now my Buff Orphingtons and Aracanas, to date, without laying an egg, have cost $9.20 including factoring in the rooster I hadn't wanted, two chickens who were killed, and one who had crooked legs.  Each.  To date the Marans have cost nearly $3.20 each and are 3 weeks old.  The older chickens are due to start laying eggs in a couple of weeks.  And, were the cost of their feed zero, while laying each would have to lay seven or eight dozen eggs to break even.  That is 84 to 96 days worth of eggs.  However, in 96 days they will eat 24 pounds of laying mash.  Each.  I guess at $13.00 a hundred weight for mash, or $17.00 for crumbles, that only adds about $4 to their cost.  Another 3 or 4 dozen eggs, or 36 to 48 more days.  Plus 12 more pounds of grain.  At about two more dollars.  You can see why this is driving me crazy.  I have three wild broody hens hiding around the farm.  Seven roosters.  Not hiding.  Prancing and in all ways making themselves known.  Especially to the neighbors at 5:00 a.m.  There also are sixteen pullets about to lay in the portable coop.  And 27 Maran chicks.  And three surviving pullets from the three wild chickens and their father.  That totals fifty-six chickens to feed this winter.  In all probability.  So it was with dismay that I heard an old familiar sound on the barn bridgeway when I went to find apples with which to make a pie.  Tiny loud noisy cheep cheep cheep.  There was the hen I haven't seen for awhile.  And a little yellow chick.  I grabbed it.  And the little black one cowering under the leaves.  And another little yellow one.  It was only then that she realized what I was doing and sent out the clarion call, flying at me.  It was all I could do to hold the four, yes four, now five, without crushing any of them, bundled in my sweater.  It was only the seventh which ran.  And, while the thought remained, should I leave her with one, I grabbed it.  Satisfying myself that there wasn't an eighth, with both dismay and delight occupying equal places in my heart I rushed back to the house and after showing my son the chicks, made still another box in the house for chicks.  Seven chicks.  Chick starter.  $12.00 plus or minus a fifty pound bag.  The April chicks, twenty to start with, ate 100 lbs. a month.  Two bags.  Five pounds each a month.  Two point seven ounces a day in their first three months.  That is about 35 pounds a month for these seven chicks.  Of whom, in all probability, 3 or 4 shall be roosters.  And another broody hen is sitting on eggs in the barn.  Damn.

Chickens Continued:  One Week Later.

One of the most important things on a farm is to have a plan.  And, perhaps, I have a plan.  One of the Aracanas is a rooster.  And there are seven other Aracanas in the outdoor chicken coop.  Due to begin laying at any moment now.  I have three wild and broody hens.  I called my friend Rosie in Kansas who knows far more about chickens than I ever will.  I've never understood how long a broody chicken nests.  And more importantly, how long a fertilized egg stays viable before it has to be sat on or goes bad.  Rosie said it is okay to gather the eggs for a few days or so before putting them under the hen.  The thing to do is to take the eggs I don't want to hatch out from under the chicken and replace them with ones I want to hatch.  Well, I have an Aracana rooster and some Aracana pullets.  Therefore, if properly managed, I may be able to substitute the Aracana eggs under my wild broody hens and raise Aracanas to sell.  Of course that means keeping the broody chickens in the carriage house all of the time.  But, if it means, perhaps, making some money, for a change, it will be worth the extra work.  My Aracanas would now have to lay eggs for 100 days to break even.  However, were I to be raising Aracana chicks, my wild hens would no longer bestow me with unwanted chickens and roosters, but rather, make me a couple of dollars each on the Aracanas.  All of this means some work on my part, initially.  Rid the carriage house of unwanted vermin.  Repair the electric timer.  Block up all holes in the walls. Replace a broken window.  But all of these things are good things to do.  The new chicks are eight days old.  They had to be only one day old when I caught them or they would have been able to escape me.  The first day in the kitchen they chirped so loudly that they were heard on the third floor of my house.  Momma momma momma.  They now hardly make a peep.  They don't fuss particularly when picked up.  I've not used a heat lamp on them as the books all advise to do.  They come from wild chickens.  They'll have to make it under my conditions.  They feel warm when I hold them.  The Marans have been outside in a small portable coop for a week now.  I tarp it at night.  But they, too, need to become acclimated to the constraints that exist here.  The twenty-two week old pullets are in a larger duplex coop in the south pasture.  They have the advantage of a hanging feeder of laying mash.  No eggs yet.  But any week now.  The wild chickens and one daughter range together now, with their husband/father.  All except the one who was last sighted on a nest in the barn.  I'll go and look for her this morning.  Two little and pretty offspring of those wild hens are living on some firewood on my porch.  They too were raised in a box, but in the outdoor living room. They are not particularly tame but never leave the immediate area of the house.  They love to be together and try, whenever they can, to get into the house.

At the moment I am looking for hope in the details.  It seems a fairly logical place to search.  My heart is nearly exhausted.  So that won't afford very much.  At least not enough to face the winter.  And my bank balance won't buy me much in the way of hope either.  However, I've crossed off 31 out of 32 hours on a to-do list.  Some things of which have been on the list for twenty-eight years.  And my son, in a whirlwind visit of a day and a half, crossed off twenty-four items, including a two hour fence repair, (some things taking five minutes) others, measured in hours, also having attained dust and cobwebs in their necessity.  Now there are two more lists.  One for me, of forty hours.  One for the tenant who is four months behind in rent.  But I begin to see a visible difference.  Therein lies encouragement.  And in encouragement lies seeds of hope.  And so I spin tales of chicks and chickens and roosters.  Looking in each one for possibilities.  As small as a newly laid blue colored egg from the Aracanas chickens.  That would be enough for me I think, today.

Sylvia Jorrín

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