Chickens come home to roost

I like chickens; hens to be precise.
Roosters are noisy and a bit self-absorbed in their strutting and cockle-doodle-dooing whereas hens are peaceful creatures, going about their business of scratching and laying eggs without a lot of fuss and fanfare.
I know, I know. They have been charged with cruelty to each other, especially when one of them is weak and sick. I guess that’s where the “pecking order” phrase came from, although I think that has more to do with their living conditions than with their natural tendencies.
At least, that’s my position—and I’m sticking with it.
Chickens have been accused of being simple-minded and having a pea-sized brain but I think they’re purists, choose simple tasks. They weren’t going to bother with splitting the atom when they could busy themselves with ridding the garden of bugs and grubs and all things green.
Of course, there was Foghorn Leghorn and his dim-witted antics that probably gave chickens a bad name. But again, a rooster not a hen.
When chickens sense a storm coming, they gather under the front deck for a little chat. They don’t run around like fools trying to get things done before the storm hits; they just accept the rain is coming and gather to wait it out.
They’re smarter than we are and they probably should get a job on The Weather Network.
I like the feathers that adorn chickens, especially the coppery gold ones; the smooth lie to them and their softness against my cheek. I lived next door to Rhode Island Reds when I was little, Annie’s chickens, in their long low red coop.
Annie let me help, let me gather the warm brown treasures the hens left in their nests, who mostly didn’t mind me stealing them—or at least didn’t protest too loudly.
I think chickens are just a friendly sight, a comforting hobby. A lot of urban areas allow chickens in the back yard or have never changed their early bylaws to limit their use. Chickens make great pets, I’ve read, coming in every size, shape, and colour.
So I’ve decided I must have some hens, maybe two or three. But what kind? There are more than a 150 breeds of chickens around the world, but only two of those originated in Canada: the Chantecler (which I’ve never heard of) and the Red Shaver that are prolific egg-layers.
The Red Shaver has a reputation of being a quiet breed and is used mostly in small flocks. I think three-five hens qualify as a small flock. Sounds like a good fit.
So where on earth do I find Red Shaver hens? I’ll have to take to the Internet and see what I can come up with.
But I’ll need to build a chicken coop. There are endless designs of structures to house a flock. Some of them look rather grand and complicated while others are called chicken arcs that are just small, pyramid-ish shaped contraptions that give the hens a place to nest and shelter from predators.
I want my hens to be able to roam about, to investigate the property, to check out the scenery. But I also want them safe at night from those who would have them for their dinner and I believe there is a long list of those in the wild that would happily dine on my hens if I let them.
So safety and security is a must.
What will I feed my hens? I think they eat almost anything: kitchen scraps, bugs and worms, grain seeds and, of course, commercial pellet feed.
I had the grand notion that hens would keep the bad bugs out of the garden, but I’ve wised up a bit and have learned they will destroy the entire garden if left to their own devices.
I think I shall fence the garden and not fence the hens. Can’t you just hear Cole Porter crooning, “Don’t fence me in”?
Grandma Moses said, “If I hadn’t started painting, I would have raised chickens.” She didn’t start painting until she was in her 70s so that means there is still time for me. Okay, it’s a plan. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
wendistewart@live.ca

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