Chick Dispatch #2: The Unpredictability

chickens show emily peterson

Be prepared to dig your way to the coop in all kinds of weather.

Having chickens is awesome and keeping them is not difficult in the traditional sense of the word. The two things you have to be prepared for are the demanding repetition and the complete unpredictability. I recognize the incongruousness of those two phrases, and if you have a touch of a need for order (which I do) it will occasionally make you twitch.

A past weekend, I scheduled “Prepare Coop” for two reasons. One because the chicks are coming, and I need the coop ready, and two, because that was story #2 I promised you. Alas, nature and the weather did not agree; it was cold, rainy and super windy, so another weekend passed without prepping the coop. It’s fine. It will get done, and it gives me the opportunity to lay down some realness about keeping chickens.

The two things you have to be prepared for are the demanding repetition and the complete unpredictability.

Let’s start with the positives. I cannot stress how awesome having chickens really is. They are like tiny dinosaurs that wander around eating bugs, being curious and hilarious. (Have you ever watched a chicken hop to reach a fig on a too high branch? Hilarious!) They mostly come when you call them and they are excellent conversation pieces. If you are the person at the party who has chickens, everyone will want to talk to you. Going outside at dawn to let them out of the coop, give them some food and water, and collect still-warm eggs is just as pastoral as the idealized magazine spreads would have you believe. They are great for kids to learn about caring for living things that give you food in return and you will truly start to consider yourself a worthy apocalypse buddy because you keep chickens. All of this is 100 percent truth.

Now some realness:

  1. You will have to go out there to feed them and let them out in the dark depths of winter when it is the worst weather imaginable. If snow has accumulated, you’ll have to dig out a spot for them to walk around in, after you’ve dug yourself a path to the coop. They are like the post office: Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these chickens from their feed. And you’ll want to invest in a water heater lest you get all the way out there some mornings to a bunch of thirsty hens chipping away at a block of ice.
  2. You have to be home every single night at sundown to lock them up. If there is a hardest part about having chickens, this is it. Predators are waiting for you to go to after-work cocktails and forget your hungry flock of chickens. There are lots of security strategies (that I’ll detail in a later post) but the best defense against the wild kingdom is you. Consider your evening routine, your vacation plans for the next five years, your potential chicken sitters, and be real with yourself. Can you commit to being home every night to lock them up?
  3. They die. You’ll go out into the coop and for no apparent reason, you’ll have a dead chicken on the floor. It can be upsetting, so if you’ve got kids you, as the grown up, have to be ready to have the mommy-why-is-the-chicken-still-sleeping conversation, doubly so because chicks just up and die too. It gets a little worse. You have to get that chicken out of the coop and put it somewhere. The first few will get nice burials with ceremony and grave markers and tears of reflection. But after awhile … practicality will overtake sentimentality. Let’s just say that future archaeologists digging around our fence line will have a chicken bone puzzle on their hands.
  4. They get eaten. By hawks, fox, raccoons, opossums, each other and, if you are raising them for meat, (as I am) by you. Like realness #3, it’s part of the keeping chickens tapestry. I wish it didn’t sound so cheesy, but that whole circle of life thing is true.

I wish I could tell you that whatever the idealized snapshot of chicken keeping you have in your mind is all that there is, but it just isn’t that way. The net positive is that if you embark on this repetitive and unpredictable adventure, you will truly feel like a more capable adult than you do just reading this. You will have proof that you can get up at dawn and deal with all the beautiful and messy parts of life before your still-warm sunny-side up egg. And that feeling is apocalypse-buddy-capable amazing.

If you missed the previous entry of the chicken dispatch, feel free to click here to catch up!