Archive for Thursday, May 28, 2009

Mail-order chickens make for lots of work, excitement

May 28, 2009

I’ve noticed a good deal of discussion in the media lately about chickens, and I don’t mean the unfortunate humans receiving that nickname for cowardice. I mean the real deal — clucking, crowing, feathered, but non-flying, domesticated birds. I consider myself something of an expert on chickens, even though I haven’t studied them. I grew up with them in my back yard.

Every spring, my mother would order a number of freshly hatched chicks. I imagine there are many people who don’t realize that chickens can come in the mail. Of course, they weren’t delivered to our door. Either the mailman would let us know that our chicks had come in to the railway depot or Mr. Hogg, the stationmaster, would call us (after we had telephones) to let us know that our chickens had arrived. Then my mother would put us all in the car and drive quite a distance to Rolla and the railroad depot there. We were always thrilled to have those large flat boxes with holes cut in the sides loaded into our car. We could hear the “cheep, cheep” and the scratch of their little feet on the cardboard all the way home.

My mother had a place for them so that she could unload them immediately after we returned home. Usually, it was a shed which had once served as the back half of an old-fashioned school bus. Since early spring was usually pretty chilly, she had a heat lamp suspended from the ceiling and plenty of straw bedding. A large metal chicken waterer was in place and chicken feeders full of nourishing meal were placed near the center of the area heated by the lamp.

The water trough around the metal waterer was shallow since the baby chickens could easily drown. The feeder consisted of long trays covered by lids with holes cut in them to allow access to the food without soiling it.

Those chickens were a lot of work – work that needed to be done whether my mother felt like it or not. But, given the care any animal needs, whether it be a dog or a bird, a few chickens don’t create a nuisance.

I can see problems arising with keeping larger domestic animals in the back yard. They need room to move about. But how can keeping a few chickens really hurt neighbors, as long as the chickens are confined to their back yard and the mess they would make kept clean? If we are encouraged to grow gardens, then why couldn’t we have a few chickens?

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