when life gives you chickens...

you are supposed to make lots of omelets.

when life gives you chickens that have decided to stop laying eggs, you find yourself shelling out the cash for eggs that come from cage free, organically fed, local chickens, because you have witnessed the plight of the chicken, appreciate the fact that they have their own personalities, and generally feel grateful for the fact that they give birth once a day so that you can chow down on things like egg salad. and, after shelling out said cash, you glare at the chickens in your own backyard for being total and complete slackers.

meet porter, foster & cee-cee. our backyard birds. at one point in their lives, these cuties (along with a 4th bird, called plum, who died of suspected illness this year) blessed us with more eggs than we could possibly enjoy. we got to give them away, which was fun, and people took them eagerly. well, times have changed. though we provide them with food, water, access to bugs, and a lovely little coop, egg production has ceased entirely. while that's pretty normal for this time of year, with the shortening of days and the cooling of temperatures, we sure didn't get many eggs this summer either. it turns out that chickens really only lay steadily for 2 years. after that, production declines at a pretty rapid pace. since our chickens are 3 years old, the slow down makes sense. now the question is what to do with a bunch of non-laying hens. we made the mistake of naming them, which makes the thought of giving them to someone who'll eat them pretty unbearable.

the average life expectancy of a chicken is 7-8 years. that's 4-5 more years of keeping eggless chickens. to anyone considering starting their own mini-farm, i'd say take this info into consideration first! but we do like having hens. most of the time, anyway. they're not a low-maintenance animal by any means--they make a lot of mess, and have to be closed up in a coop every night to keep them safe from predators. they are quite loud and can actually be completely obnoxious. they rip new plants out of the ground by the roots, are the sole reason that i cannot successfully have a sprawling pumpkin patch, and will annihilate a veggie garden if given the chance. jeremy has the not-so-fun task of getting up at dawn every day to let our trio out of their coop so that they don't wake the neighbors (or me). roosters aren't the only ones getting vocal as the sun comes up.

still, it is fun to see them come running across the yard at the possibility of a few breadcrumbs tossed their way. children love them--lucy is now at the point where she is excited to watch them walking around on the grass when we let them out of their pen. all that poo is great fertilizer for the soil. and when we're digging around in the garden, our chickens are sure to be keeping us company, dining to their heart's content on earthworms and grubs and clucking away with glee. we've learned lots on what's normal (and completely abnormal) about how often chickens lay--if you buy your eggs from a typical caged egg farm (95% of u.s. egg-producing chickens spend their entire laying lives in a crowded cage, till they are shipped off to be killed), then you are likely supporting animal cruelty.

i once saw cee-cee and jeremy share a pancake. i'm glad we could give our girls a (literal) taste of the good life. we'll let them hang around, i guess. my farmer's market sells cage-free eggs. good thing.

1 comment:

Emily said...

Sounds like your girls have it pretty good! I give you props for searching out eggs from hens as happy as your own. One thing to keep in mind when shopping though: even most "cage-free" hens spend their lives in buildings, and not on pasture. If you're looking for eggs from hens that lived the good life, visit the farm yourself or look for the Animal Welfare Approved label on the carton. The Animal Welfare Approved program and food label was recently endorsed by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) as having the most stringent animal welfare standards of any third party certifier. If you do find farmers in your area raising chickens right (on pasture, in small flocks, expressing their natural behaviors) let them know about our program! Accreditation is free for farmers, and it helps to show that they go beyond simply "cage free." If you'd like more information on these labels and what they REALLY mean, we have a great list on the website (www.AnimalWelfareApproved.org). Thanks for writing and keep up the good work!