Wednesday, October 10, 2012

What Every Chicken Owner Should Know

Look, I've read the "Backyard Chickens are awesome" literature.

I've scanned the forums.

I've joined the Facebook pages.

They discuss shavings versus sand, and how to build nesting boxes, and other mundane details like that.  They're useful, but the truth is nobody seems to talk about what owning chickens is REALLY like, so I thought I'd let you know:

  1. Chickens are lazy.  I mean, LAZY.  My three hens get up about dawn, industriously scratch around for an hour or so, and then go stand in a corner of the yard and recover.  After a little relaxing, they'll scratch around for a bit longer, then retire back into the coop for a nice, long, three hour nap.

    They'll get up, eat some more, and then go to bed right about dusk to sleep for the next 12 or so hours.


    You guys are chickens.  I give you food, water, shelter, and absolutely nothing to do.  You don't run.  You don't fly.  All you have to do is lay the occasional egg.  You don't even have to sit on it, either.  All you have to do is poop it out somewhere and I'll run along behind you, cleaning it up.  So, what's with all the sleeping and resting?  I am chasing around two young children all day, and you don't see me taking naps all day long...

    Also, in other news, I am jealous of my chickens.

  2. Chicken sh*t.

    No, it's not chicken poop.

    Dogs poop.  They poop two or three times a day in neat, easily-spottable piles that are simple to clean up.

    Chickens.... sh*t.

    Like, all day long.

    I MEAN, ALL DAY LONG.  Maybe that's why they're so tired all the time - if I had to run to the bathroom and poop 4,312 times a day, I imagine I'd be a little worn out, too. 

    Have you ever had one of those moments where you wish you could go back in time to the way you were in the past, when you were young, and innocent, and life was still full of surprises and promises?

    This is kind of how I feel about the chicken sh*t.  I guess I always imagined that chickens would poop just like every other bird in the world seems to poop:

    See?  Bird poo.  It's white, kind of watery, and if you stepped on it, you probably wouldn't even notice. 

    Dear prospective chicken owners:  OMG, PLEASE PAY ATTENTION TO ME.  THIS IS NOT HOW CHICKENS POO. 

    This is a chicken poo:

    I've seen medium-sized dogs that left behind smaller piles than that.

    Now, imagine this.... only each hen does it about four thousand times a day, wherever the heck she wants.

    It's like having three non-potty-trained chihuahuas running around my yard, and their only mission in life seems to be winning a competition about who can nap and poop the most.

    There has got to be some kind of way to harvest this output.  I feed my chickens a little bit of chicken scratch each day,  a couple of baby carrots as a treat, and in return they gift me with one or two eggs and 2-3 pounds of poo each day.

    That..... that isn't even mathematically possible.  How are they doing that?  Cognitively I understand that this is impossible.... and yet I have the evidence.... the fresh evidence on the bottom of my shoes, the tops of my shoes, all over the kids' shoes.  Don't even get me started on what I find in the chicken coop each day.

  3. If you own a cat it is impossible to leave the house without bringing some cat hair with you on your clothes.  I don't care if you pull your outfit out of a dry cleaning bag, get dressed in a hermetically sealed chamber, and walk through a vacuum tunnel out the front door - the second you get to work, you will find yourself covered in cat hair.

    The same holds true with horses, only in their case it has to do with dirt:  there is no such thing as "I'm just gonna stop by the stables and drop off a board check on my way to work---- I won't get dirty." No matter how careful you are, even if you never actually get within fifty feet of your horse, you'll still slip back into your car, glance down, and discover that you are trailing hay, horse hair,  dirt under your fingernails, and the foamy green flecks from a horse sneeze.  You can't stay clean.  It's impossible.  If you try to convince me otherwise, I'm going to call you a liar.

    Chicken sh*t.  So, yeah.  I don't have a lot of experience with chickens, so maybe it's just me, but I cannot venture into that backyard without getting covered, head to toe, in chicken sh*t.

    I thought I had managed it one time - I slipped out the front door, tiptoed carefully through the grass to the coop, lifted the door and gave them some fresh water.  I tiptoed back to the house, checked my shoes, and cheered.  I'd done it!  NO CHICKEN POO!  YAAAY!All was well until I sat down on the couch to watch a little television, and....sniff, sniff..... I knew that smell.

    I went to look in the mirror, and sure enough - chicken sh*t.  In my hair.  It was piled up there like the world's ugliest hat, or maybe some kind of really, really low-budget toupee.  Lovely.

    It turns out that I had used my head to prop open the door, and one of the chickens had left a giant, fresh turd spackled to the wall, just waiting for me and my freshly-washed hair.

  4. Chicken eggs:  You know they lay them, and still - it's just a complete shock to walk out there in the morning and discovered your chickens made you breakfast while you slept.  It's completely awesome.

    Also, double yolks... how awesome is that?

    The only thing that's kinda gross is when you go out there to collect the eggs, and it's still hot from being inside the chicken.... as well as kind of slimy.  And that's when you realize---eww.  I'm about to eat something that was inside this chicken's vagina only a few moments ago.

    I let my eggs sit in the fridge for a day or two before I eat them.  It helps me forget where they've been.

  5. Stupid:  Chickens are STUPID.  We all kind of knew this - they don't exactly have the world's biggest heads.  That said, they range in stupidity.  Moaning Myrtle (so named because she keeps up a constant stream of complaining, no matter how nice her conditions are)  is actually pretty bright for a chicken.  She comes when called, she understands that I bring food, and she was the first one to understand how to use the chicken coop ramp.

    Tanesha, on the other hand.... well, she's blonde.  And dumb.  She's really dumb, even for a chicken.   I sincerely hope the Craigslist lady I had the misfortune of emailing never googles and finds this, because her feelings will probably be hurt when she finds out I named the stupid chicken after her.

    Tanesha gets confused by simple things - like, for instance, if she is an inch off the ground.  If you pick her up and make her stand on your hand, she's too stupid to jump down, even though she desperately wants off your hand.  It's confusing.  I mean, she's up there, and the ground's aaaaaaalll the way down there.  What's a chicken to do?

  6. Speaking of eggs..... MOANING MYRTLE LAID A VELOCIRAPTOR EGG.  I'm not joking.  I'm pretty sure my chicken just attempted to recreate dinosaurs, or at the very least, branch off and give birth to some kind of lizard or turtle.  I went out there two days ago, and in addition to Martha Stewart's neat, pristine little egg.... there was a creepy little monstrosity of an egg.  Apparently chickens going through puberty need to take a couple of practice runs at laying eggs - and one of the examples of a starter egg is a "soft shelled" egg.

    "Soft shelled" sounds so cute, and innocent.  It sounds like something you might take a picture of, and hang in a little girl's room next to a poster of a basketful of kittens.

    It's not. 

    It was a leathery, horrible, wrinkled egg that looks like it was composed of human skin, was pliable to the touch, and it must have been fresh because as the day went on (I had it on the counter to show The Bean when he came home from work), it shriveled and hardened up until it was so creepy I had no choice but to throw it away.  I eat eggs.  I don't eat human-skin covered dinosaur fetuses.

    Today she didn't even bother with an egg.  She just squatted and splatted out a yolk on the shavings. 

    It's just.... it's just creepy.  Also.... come on, chicken. You have one job.  Lay an egg.  That's it.  Now you're suddenly too lazy to even bother putting a shell on it?  REALLY?

  7. The smell.  I'm sure it comes as no surprise to you, what with all the chicken sh*t and all, but chickens kind of stink.  I'm not saying they're not worth it, but.... you might as well know the truth.  Chickens smell like chickens, and there's no getting around that.

  8. Once you have chickens it is MANDATORY that you keep your yard absolutely pristine.  What does it look like when you have a couple of tools or kid's toys left out in your yard?  It's not that bad, right?  Now imagine the same scenario, only you have three chickens wandering around those items, pecking at them, scratching, and pooing all over the place?

    Voila! Instant white trash!  You can almost picture the sagging, rain-rotted mattress leaning against the wall of the house and the too-skinny dog on the chain, can't you?  They may not be there yet, but between the chickens and the stuff laying in your yard, everyone knows it's just right around the corner

    Yeah.  Once you have chickens, your sloppy yard days are a thing of the past - at least, they are if you want to hold your head up around the neighbors.

  9. Dirty: CHICKENS ARE DIRTY.  I didn't realize this at first.  I kept those chickens locked up in their coop for a week.  The guy I bought them from told me "a couple of days".  I wasn't taking any chances - I kept them locked up in a tiny little area for a week just to be sure, and on the seventh day, right before I set them free, I clipped their wings.  HA.  Take that, chickens.  You're mine.... mine, I tell you!  Let's just see you try and run away, now.

    Where was I?

    Oh, yeah.  Dirty chickens.  For a week straight I'd been cleaning the chickens daily, sometimes even twice a day,  keeping the shavings fresh and clean, removing all of their millions of poos, replacing the damp shaving with pristine, piney-smelling new ones. 

    What did they do the second I set them free?

    All three chickens ran down the ramp and immediately dove into the dirt, scratching, fluffing, and rolling like I'd been depriving them of some basic chicken need for filth.  Tanesha and Moaning Myrtle busied themselves in the dirt with a frantic frenzy, but Martha Stewart at actually stopped mid-fluff to turn around and stare at me indignantly before returning to her rolling.  "Do you see what a terrible job you've done taking care of us?  Now we have a week's worth of filth to rub into our feathers all at once.  Damn you and your cleanly ways."

    Note to self:  Next time provide chickens with filth-infested, poop-spackled coops to provide ultimate happiness.

  10. Companionship:  There is something incredibly soothing about sitting in the back yards, watching chickens peck at nothing.  Maybe it's because I come from Okie stock.  I don't know - whatever it is, it makes me happy to see them.  Even better, after only a week of owning them, even though they'd never been handled before, they follow me around the yard, clucking in subdued, inquiring little voices.  I'm trying to teach them tricks - and by tricks, I basically mean I'm trying to teach them to come to me when I call.  We'll see if they actually get it - their heads are pretty small, so I'm not really hopeful.  Even if they don't, when I go out tomorrow they'll great me with some soft, worried complaints, some funny little head bobs, and maybe even an egg or two, so it's worth it.

It's definitely worth it, chicken sh*t and all.


Blogger mugwump said...


October 10, 2012 at 9:06 AM  
Blogger Wanderlust said...

Why is it that chicken moms won't talk about the truth of what chicken parenting is like? You'll never find this in "What to expect when you're expecting to buy a chicken". Thanks for exploding the myths.

October 10, 2012 at 9:23 AM  
Blogger AareneX said...

Our chickens (except Twelve, who is unusual) stay penned up so that they WON'T poop on everything. The "walking cages" that we use gives them a fresh patch of ground every day, and in return, they dig out the bugs, scrape up the moss, eat all the bugs, and leave a thin veneer of fertilizer. (and feathers...they are currently molting and it looks like I've been exploding hens in the back yard)

In winter, they are penned into the garden, where I dump the stall cleanings and all the peelings, cores, bones and other food refuse from the kitchen. They dig through, sift, and digest all that, and in 3 winters have created nearly a foot of beautiful garden soil where I started with gravel and lawn.

Managing chicken poop needs to be planned...BY YOU. The chicken's plan, it's naptime....

October 10, 2012 at 9:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought you might find this interesting:

Also, you can build them a run, you know. You can still let them out to free range a bit in the evenings too.

But, if you choose not to, I bet you'll hardly have any bugs (fleas, ticks, etc) in your yard next year. :)

October 10, 2012 at 11:29 AM  
Blogger Laura Crum said...

Having kept chickens for the last fifteen years, I hear you. But...bantie chickens (which I have) are MUCH livelier--they don't sleep in the day to speak of, have MUCH smaller poops, and are sufficiently in touch with their instincts to run/hide from predators, fly, roost in trees when needed, go broody and raise their own chicks successfully. In my view they are far more interesting than laying hen types--and I can still eat their eggs. Because they reproduce, I have plenty of chickens and I use two bantie eggs instead of one large chicken egg--works fine.

The downside is they are flighty and skittish--they don't tame easily--the kind I have, anyway. This works for me, because it helps make them good survivors--and I have lots of predators where I live.

The bottom line--its just what you said. Watching my chickens peck around the barnyard, and sometimes choose to hang out with me, come when I call them in the evening...well it just makes me happy.

So glad you have chickens!

October 10, 2012 at 5:20 PM  
Blogger Klein San said...

Your chickens probably need oyster shells. I had a young hen and never had any strange eggs. We got a special layer feed that had oyster shells and made it so their eggs had omega-3s. Also, they need to take dust bathes, it keeps the mites off of them :P.

October 10, 2012 at 7:58 PM  
Blogger AareneX said...

Our hens are also molting like crazy right now (feathers everywhere!) so their eggs are sometimes soft...we call them "water balloons" and feed those to the dogs.

Oyster shell will help. If anybody who will be handling the eggs is allergic to shellfish, use something besides oyster!!!

ALSO: chicken poop "goes away" in the rain, leaving behind VERY green grass. Just sayin': rain is a-coming!

October 11, 2012 at 9:53 AM  
Blogger Derpy Sparkle said...

This post reminds me so much of a story I just taught in my literature class: "The Egg," by Sherwood Anderson. Check it out -- not only his it hilarious, but I expect you'll relate.

As a teaser:
"One unversed in such matters can have no notion of the many and tragic things that can happen to a chicken. It is born out of an egg, lives for a few weeks as a tiny fluffy thing such as you will see pictured on Easter cards, then becomes hideously naked, eats quantities of corn and meal bought by the sweat of your father's brow, gets diseases called pip, cholera, and other names, stands looking with stupid eyes at the sun, becomes sick and dies. A few hens and now and then a rooster, intended to serve God's mysterious ends, struggle through to maturity. The hens lay eggs out of which come other chickens and the dreadful cycle is thus made complete. It is all unbelievably complex. Most philosophers must have been raised on chicken farms. One hopes for so much from a chicken and is so dreadfully disillusioned. Small chickens, just setting out on the journey of life, look so bright and alert and they are in fact so dreadfully stupid. They are so much like people they mix one up in one's judgments of life. If disease does not kill them they wait until your expectations are thoroughly aroused and then walk under the wheels of a wagon--to go squashed and dead back to their maker. Vermin infest their youth, and fortunes must be spent for curative powders. In later life I have seen how a literature has been built up on the subject of fortunes to be made out of the raising of chickens. It is intended to be read by the gods who have just eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It is a hopeful literature and declares that much may be done by simple ambitious people who own a few hens. Do not be led astray by it. It was not written for you. Go hunt for gold on the frozen hills of Alaska, put your faith in the honesty of a politician, believe if you will that the world is daily growing better and that good will triumph over evil, but do not read and believe the literature that is written concerning the hen. It was not written for you."

October 11, 2012 at 10:28 AM  
Blogger Veronica Foale said...

Yeah, you get better at avoiding the poo after a while. Now we only step in chook poo every few days and there's a no shoes inside rule for a reason. But ducks? MAN, ducks were like pooing machines. Worse than chickens. Truly.

The leathery eggs are kind of creepy. My bantam is a second year layer but her second egg this year was all leathery and awful. It didn't even have a yolk.

October 11, 2012 at 8:14 PM  
Blogger Half Dozen Farm said...

Crush your eggs shells up and feed them back to your chickens. They love them and it will provide calcium for future eggs (or you can use oyster shell). Also, they may need layer pellets in addition to scratch.

I'm glad you're enjoying your chickens!

October 18, 2012 at 11:31 AM  
Blogger Nicola Grimwood said...

Worse than finding a warm slightly damp egg in the morning is the when the super friendly chicken napping on your knee bkerks and lays an egg on your lap seriously it's 1 o'clock in the afternoon its not even egg laying time what is going on.

December 11, 2012 at 12:58 AM  

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