My mom received a call from the post
office last week. They called to inform her that a fragile package
had arrived, and she needed to pick it up immediately. She and my
little sister Lydia dutifully trooped down to the Traverse City
post office, and the friendly postman handed them a box with a few
ventilation holes cut in the side. He instructed them to open up
the box and make sure the contents were undamaged. Carefully
opening the top, Lydia uncovered 27 healthy, day-old chicks. They
happily chirped, and with an excited 10-year-old in tow, my mom
went home. The chickens are mine, but my mom is raising them for
the first month while I finish up school — my housemate Sam
forbid me from raising the chicks in my basement here in Ann
This summer, I plan on raising chickens and growing vegetables
on some land I am renting from my grandfather. The chickens are the
centerpiece of the operation. They are all hens, so I will have
plenty of eggs. Lydia is kindly letting me turn her playhouse into
a chicken coop.
Whenever I tell people about the chickens, I get the same
questions. How can you ship chickens in the mail? Well, when chicks
are first hatched, they ingest the remains of the nutrient-rich
yolk and white. This concentrated energy will sustain them for the
next 48 hours. As soon as the chicks hatch they are put in a box
and shipped airmail all over the country. A minimum order of 25
chicks is necessary because this way the chicks all huddle together
and stay warm. I ordered from the McMurray Hatchery located in
Iowa. They hatch up to 100,000 chicks a week and are the main
supplier to small farmers. In addition to chickens, they also sell
turkeys, geese, ducks and peacocks (for show, not for eating).
People are also concerned when I tell them that I only ordered
hens. Afterall, they ask, don’t you need a rooster if you
want eggs? In fact, chickens lay about one egg every other day
regardless of they are fertilized. These liberated chickens
don’t need men and, in fact, are happier without one —
roosters just chase around and generally harass the hens and are
always looking for sex. I guess chickens and people aren’t as
different as we like to think.
I ordered a mix of a variety of breeds of chicks. They came in a
rainbow of colors. Yellow, white and black spotted, charcoal and
rusty red, each variety has a different temperament. Already they
are sorting themselves into a rigid hierarchy — it’s
where we get the term “pecking order.” The more
aggressive ones peck and push their way to the front of the food
trough and bully the rest. One little red chick is the runt of the
batch and gets the most abuse — naturally this one is
Lydia’s favorite. Some of the chicks are very skittish.
Others seem to enjoy it when they are held. One of them will even
roll on her back and let Lydia pet her belly.
Unfortunately, I won’t get to see the chicks while they
are in this exceptionally cute stage. By the time I get home they
will have lost their baby fluff and will have regular feathers.
They will no longer want people to hold them. They will lose their
cute cheeps and develop throaty squawks. But for all their
development, they won’t mature much in the way of
intelligence. There’s no doubt about it — chickens are
pretty dumb. For example, if you decide to introduce new chickens
to an already established flock they will team up and attack the
new chicken, unless you introduce the chicken when it is dark out
— they won’t notice. Once they start laying eggs, I
need to quickly remove the freshly laid eggs. If the hens get
bored, they might decide to see what their eggs taste like and eat
the whole batch. Once they develop a taste for eggs, hens turn into
omelette lovers and eat eggs faster than I can gather them.
The hens should start laying in mid-September. To keep them
full, I will feed them a mixture of grains, ground oyster shells
(for calcium) and whatever they can forage from my garden. Chickens
will eat bugs and will help my garden by nibbling weeds and
fertilizing the ground with their droppings. Every day at the crack
of dawn, I will have to go out and fill their feed trough and get
them fresh water. They can forage for the bugs themselves.
Maybe it’s a good thing I won’t see them in their
cute stage. After all, once my farming operation is over in
mid-October, I’m not sure what to do with the chickens. While
I haven’t decided yet, it’s possible the chickens might
get the axe. Homemade chicken soup, anyone?