What I learned from chickens

An Acts Matter Essay

The recent interest in changing the rules for raising chickens in Ashland brought back memories of my "chicken days." I truly love chickens and miss watching their antics, the soothing clucking sounds they make and, of course, the thrill of reaching into the nests and finding lovely warm eggs.

However, I'm wondering how many of my fellow Ashlanders know that:

1. Chickens dig really big holes looking for insects in the ground. They don't really care if this is in your lawn, under the roots of shrubs or fruit trees, or in the middle of flowerbeds or veggie gardens.

I mistakenly thought that a 6-foot-by-8-foot pen would be fine for three hens. But when they lined up at the chicken wire looking longingly out at the greenery and making sad noises, I let them out. Chickens are miserable if not given enough space to run, dig and take dirt baths, which is essential for them to control mites. Sure, they can survive in a small pen, but why not let them be happy?

2. Chickens need tree shade in the summertime because they cannot sweat. I found that they needed a hose with a misting nozzle on the hottest days. Out in the open with a chicken tractor, they would become miserable and maybe get sick. And, oh yes, an electric warmer under their water in the winter is required to keep it from freezing.

3. If a chicken dies for some reason, it is almost impossible to introduce a new one. They form flocks as hatchlings and a stranger is almost surely doomed to relentless pecking. Their beaks are very sharp, just ask my cat! I had to re-home one hen for this reason.

4. Chickens attract flies, although I found out that feeding them yogurt helped this problem tremendously. I still use the yogurt maker.

5. Chickens also attract predators, especially raccoons. When designing your pen and coop, be sure to dig a two-foot trench around the perimeter for the chicken wire and fill it in with rocks. Raccoons like to dig. They also can open latches.

6. Also be sure to be home as soon as it gets dark. Even though chickens go inside their coop, you have to be there to lock the door. I also found that travel out of town was a problem, especially in the wintertime when conditions are slushy. Hopefully you have helpful neighbors or friends.

If you think that you will save lots of money with your homegrown eggs, please excuse my giggles. My friends have heard all about my gold-plated eggs. It cost a lot to feed them organic chicken pellets, the best oyster shells, grit, scratch and yogurt.

But I still love chickens and if I had the large area they need to run and be happy, I would not hesitate to have some again. Sometimes I look longingly at the coop but manage to resist the urge.

Jacquie Milikien is retired and has been an Ashland resident for 10 years.

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