Too Many Chickens! Debut 1/4/2013

If you tuned in, I hope you enjoyed it. I enjoyed doing it. Here’s the text of this week’s Too Many Chickens!


“Weirdest impulse buy ever,” my wife said when we got home.

It wasn’t exactly an impulse buy. We had been discussing getting chickens here and there for a year or so. The final decision to move on this idea had been made a few hours prior, but the seed had been planted when we first starting looking at houses, and thinking about what options a yard could bring us.

Yards are wonderful, but here’s the thing – our yard is swimming with ticks. Sit down in a chair to enjoy the outdoors, and you could pull a couple of ticks off your leg within minutes. It was really ruining the yard experience. Maybe you’re familiar with the phenomenon of hearing the word “bedbug” and becoming very itchy. This happens to me. Perusing the Craigslist free section, with its mere hinting at the possibility of some stowaways sometimes gets me going. The Phantom Bedbug Menace has almost 100% curbed my desire to bring home things people leave out for the trash (though, I did take one old computer back to my office for a work project, and subsequently itched for two days.) But that’s imaginary bedbugs. Now imagine that you’re getting ready to take a shower and you find an actual in-the-flesh tick on yourself. A big, honking wood tick. I’ve pulled off ones that were just walking around, and I’ve pulled off ones that had gone in for a bite, and it doesn’t matter. You will not stop itching for the rest of the day. And I should also point out that ticks like warm, dark places. Think of the closest place to your leg that fits that description.

Collin (my wife) eventually sent me a link to a company that did tick control for homes and yards. The problem, for me, was that it was all chemical-based. I’m sure it works, but we have a kid who plays out there, not to mention the neighbor’s dogs who frequently hop the stone wall to leave enormous “gifts” in our yard. There’s also the local fauna that had a lot to do with why we chose to live where we did. So, while I was all for wiping out these buggers with extreme prejudice, I was also concerned about wiping out everything else in the vicinity.

I did a quick search for “organic tick control,” which, it turns out, is essentially something that eats ticks. Guinea fowl seemed to be the best beasts for the task. They roamed around, were big enough that not too many predators would bother them, and were fairly easy to take care of. On the other hand, they roamed around, and I could see them getting into all the neighbor’s yards, which may not go over that great, and we live close enough to a main road that I worried about them getting hit. They also like to eat seeds, which I’m sure would go over well with the farm across the street, so I decided we were just a little too close to stuff for these guys.

But I was now in a bird frame of mind, so I decided to see how chickens performed. Not as highly as guinea fowl, but they weren’t exactly slouches, either. I emailed Collin and said we should try chickens. “Will you be able to handle it when they die?” was her first question, and not unexpected, given that my attempts at having aquariums frequently ended in bum outs. Fish get weird illnesses! “I think so,” I said. “They’re just chickens. How attached can you get to a chicken?” Says the guy who gets attached to goldfish.

Once the big decision was made, we needed to decide on a breed. There are a lot of types of chickens out there. I wanted ones that could get around to eat ticks, deal with New England winters, eats ticks, and if they wanted to lay eggs and eat ticks, that’s cool too. I decided on Buff Orpingtons, which were rated #1 on a chicken website I found. They’re docile, decent layers, and pretty rugged. That sounded good. Also, that’s a fun name to say. Buff Orpingtons. From what I had read, chickens were social, so I decided we’d get five. (I was leaving room for one or two dying, since baby chicks seems pretty fragile, and I was putting on a brave face over the thought of imaginary chicken death).

The easiest way to get chickens, believe it or not, is through the mail. The problem you run into is that mail-order hatcheries frequently require you to get fifteen or more chicks at once. The large number keeps them warm in their parcel. Fifteen was the maximum we were allowed in town, and way more than I thought I could deal with.

This is how I came to remember that the feed store in town usually had a sign out when it was time to put in your chick order. I called them as furiously as one can make a phone call. “Is it too late to order chickens?” I asked.

“We always get some extra, and people sometimes don’t bother to pick up their orders,” she said. I asked what kind she had. She rattled off a list that I pretty much entirely wrote down incorrectly, demonstrating my ignorance of the vast chicken universe, but Buff Orpingtons were on there, so I was happy. “Just keep in mind that as the week goes on, we’ll have fewer choices as people buy them,” she said.

That’s when I started to panic. What if someone bought all the Buff Orpingtons before I got there on the weekend? What if there was a Buff Orpington craze about to sweep through town? (By now, you should be aware that my first reaction to pretty much anything is to panic. I have gotten my son to say “I think we should panic!” whenever something happens to keep me in check. Four year olds get it.) I decided I would have to rush there after getting home on the train (in a fairy tale world in which the train got me home when it was supposed to) grab some chickens and go.

I took my list of available chickens, and cross-referenced it with ones online, and found out how badly I had interpreted what the lady on the phone had told me. I checked each breed’s popularity rankings, and most were low enough down the list (oh, please, do I look like someone who would accept the #5 chicken into his life?) that the Buff Orpingtons remained the clear victors. When I got to Barred Rocks, they were listed as #2, so in the spirit of inclusiveness, I deigned to consider this breed. I looked for a picture.

“That’s a handsome bird,” I said, admiring their stripey (er, I guess I mean “barred”) goodness. “Maybe I’ll get three of these and three of the Buff Orpingtons.” And thus, without realizing it, got one chicken too many for a lot of reasons, most of which we will discuss at a later time.

The train, as usual, was late. Luckily on the way home, I got a call from Collin. “We are meeting you at the feed store. Babydude wouldn’t leave preschool, so I tried to lure him home with the promise of chickens, but he wants to be there for the transaction.” So she gathered up all the stuff we needed on the counter, and I ran in at 5:59 (6pm closing time), paid, and we got out of there. Graham (aka Babydude) wanted to ride with me because the chickens were riding with me. There was peeping. Have you heard peeping? It’s pretty nice, and very relaxing. All the rushing around felt worth it to hear these little sounds coming from the back of the car. Graham liked it too. “The chickens are talking,” he said. I liked what they had to say.


Baby Buff Orpington!

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