Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sally Stansfield

Sally’s Secrets—There Ain’t Nobody Here But…Part 2

     Having probably dissuaded you from owning poultry for the rest of your life, part two of our saga might redeem the idea to at least neutrality.

     I cannot say for sure what ignited the idea of getting chickens again.  You would think that after such an experience we would have been content to buy eggs forever.  There were several factors at work here.

1. The amount of eggs our tribe (which had expanded to eight) could inhale at one sitting was the first reason.  Breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon would easily entail close to eighteen eggs, and if you added in all the baking and lunches, we were up to five or six-dozen a week! 

2.  My love for organic food and habit of reading too much about modern farming practices was another.

3.  Memory issues would be the third reason.  I guess we just forgot that it was more of an ordeal than anything else.

4.  We harbor masochistic tendencies easily proven by the fact that we have eight kids!

     After the idea came up (I am sure it was Doug's ) , we decided that the smart thing this time would be to do some research.  No impulse buys at the feed store this time.  We were wise to that little ruse.  

     In his internet travels during this process Doug came across a thing called a “chicken tractor.”  Before you start to try and imagine what this is, just stop because it will be a fruitless occupation.  Let me wipe all those weird images of a chicken on a tractor plowing a field out of your head.

     A chicken tractor is basically a run and a coop all in one.  Originally from England       (those Brits are brilliant aren't they) where it is old news according to my mum.   She was very blaze' when I enthusiastically called to tell her about our new discovery.  I had no recollection of them but I guess when you are growing up you are not really interested in chicken coops and the only eggs you really care about are the chocolate ones at Easter.    

     Anyway, to get to the point, it is basically a portable coop that has a run area attached and shaped like the roof of a house.  Rather than being in one place all the time and stinking up the 500 square yards around them the chickens and their home can be moved every few days.  ( as far away from the house as possible would be good).  This stops the soil from getting over fertilized by all that waste matter that I had such fond memories of.   

     Apart from reducing food costs, getting rid of nasty bugs etc in the soil and fertilizing it, it helps to stop them getting bored too.  Really?  Did I care?  I just wanted eggs, not to provide entertainment for a bunch of chickens.  

     The other bonus would be that they would never be loose, so the neighborhood dog, raccoon, skunk, coyote, etc. would not eat them for lunch.  Depending on where you live this might seem strange but we really do have all those critters running around.  I have never actually seen a coyote close to the house but you know the minute a buffet was laid out for them they would be here.

     One end of the tractor is enclosed for the roost and nest area and the other part is encased in chicken wire for a pen.  At night when they roost the door is shut, keeping them safe.  During the summer the whole thing is moved every few days giving them fresh food, really fresh, live food and lots of grass etc to scratch up and destroy.

     The draw back comes during the winter when everything freezes in Northern New Jersey.   The ground is frozen, you are frozen, the water is frozen, the contraption gets stuck to the ground, the door gets iced shut and the eggs crack.  That was not part of the equation on that balmy spring day.  When the plan was put into action we were oblivious to all the fun six months down the road.

     There was a certain eggcitement (couldn’t resist) in the air at the thought of owning chickens (again).   On the subject of puns, corny ones were thrown about with reckless abandon for weeks before the birds arrived.  Any word beginning with “ex” was changed for “egg.”   It was groan after groan from me as Doug had all the kids totally riled up and rolling on the floor laughing every mealtime.  It would go something like this ......  

 "This is an EGGceptional meal darling  "  from Doug, failing miserably to contain a smirk.

     Peals of laughter and snorts from the kids.  

"You CRACK me up dad" from one of the kids

     More peals of laughter.

"It is EGGcactly what I wanted for dinner"  

     Louder peals of laughter and snorts from the kids and a devilish smile appearing on Doug's face.

"SHELL I have a second helping ? " 

     Giddiness starting to appear in the laughter

"You made an EGGstra special effort to make it so EGGceedingly nice and I have to EGGstoll your virutes in the kitchen. "  

     Double the snorting and laughter and now falling off of chairs as the kids have been whipped into a frenzy and lose all control over their motor skills.

     Of course I play along in this good cop bad cop scenario.  I would sigh at first and then roll my eyes and let out groans as it goes on and on and on.  At some point I EGGsplode and stop the craziness.  Did I marry a twelve year old in a man's body and had we been magically transported back to the school cafeteria.  I began to wonder.  After a few weeks the puns were so over EGGsploited that the YOKE I am sorry, joke got old and things calmed down.  It did seem to take a rather long time to play out though.  

     Now we come to those cute furry balls of yellow fluff.   We skipped them.  No small fry going gaga at the farm store, no heat lamps, bathrooms covered in grossness.  We went straight for the egg producing birds that had been tenderly nurtured.... by someone else.  We didn't care who as long as it was not us!  

     For the fee of about $7 a piece we had birds that were six months old and a few weeks from laying those precious eggs.  Known as a pullet, they actually looked like a chicken, which would be normal because they were chickens.  Six months can make a big difference because we lost the cute fluffy part as well as the ugly buzzard so we were even.

     Feed was also an important component,  we did not want to buy nasty, CHEEP (I can hear you groaning but I couldn't help myself ) stuff.  The point was to get really good eggs.  The local farm that supplied them also sold feed that they grew themselves.  We were set, or so we thought.

     Things were looking good until a neighbor and fellow home schooler decided to follow suit.  This was not bad in itself but ended up adding a little glitch to our so far smooth plan.  The husband is a cabinet maker and makes the most gorgeous pieces for people for a living.  He could not build just any old chicken coop could he.  His chicken coop had to be well, big was one word. 
     As the plan of action called for a rather large construction the wife called the town to see if they could put the " Chicken Taj Mahal " as we called it on the front of their property.  Mistake number one.  She was informed that a minimum of six acres was needed to own a chicken. SIX ACRES!!! for a chicken?  It is not an elephant, it's a chicken!  You can keep a horse on an acre in our town but you have to have six for a chicken? 

     If I have not dissuaded you from owning chickens I have certainly put you off ever moving to New Jersey.  

    When we popped over to visit to see the neighbor's progress on their chicken coop.  I saw a truck filled with wood for the purpose.  I wondered if he had had a disconnect about the one acre for a horse thing.  Perhaps he thought chickens required a stable or maybe they were starting one of those home businesses as homeschoolers tend to do. Our little chicken tractor was going to pale in comparison.

    I really do not think the chicken police are running around rural New Jersey looking for offenders but our once ignorant bliss was shattered.  We would be law breakers, maybe even future jail BIRDS. (groan).  The delightfully kind lady at the town hall did let our neighbor know that a 4H club would supersede this law and there were no regulations about property size for a club member. 

     Problem solved, a 4H club was born and Doug was head chicken man and the children named it  "The EGGsperimenters ".   Membership was closed very quickly to include close friends that understood that meetings were never likely to happen after the initial one and the sole purpose was to supersede the land requirement.  

     The tale of our neighbors ended up being an " I told you so" but we never did tell them that.  Not only did they not follow our advice about a chicken tractor rather than a chicken hotel, they bought chicks.  Honestly, they did, they bought yellow chirping balls of fluff.  Before they saw full buzzard hood the rather ugly at this point chicks accidentally became dinner for their two large dogs and that was the end of their first chicken experience.  At least their house did not burn down.        

    We on the other hand (a bit of I told you so gloating here) were proud owners of twelve healthy layers that gave wonderful eggs.  This was all fine and dandy until the next summer when a female bear arrived with three cubs and started eating the chicken food and then the eggs.  She finally decided that chicken meat tasted better than their eggs but that is a story for another day.

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