More.

So the twelve chicks…I’m sorry, what?  You thought I had six?  I told you about chicken math and Tom had to go back to the Rural King for something and they still had chicks, and pretty soon we were driving back to the house with another box of peeping fluff.  There isn’t a 12 Step program for this, I’ve already checked.  Anyway, the twelve chicks settled happily into their brooder box in the garage.  I checked on them roughly every 12 seconds for a while and then finally relaxed and only checked on them every 10 minutes or so.  I would go bounding down the stairs to the foyer, where the entry to the garage is, and I’d hear Tom yell from the kitchen, “THEY’RE FINE!”  To which I’d reply “I know!  Just checking!!”  Because, you never know what kind of trouble twelve chicks can get into when left to their own devices in a stock watering tub turned chicken brooder.  On one of my check the chick trips, I found post-it notes stuck all over the inside of the brooder on which chicken revolution messages had been scrawled by my 21-year-old son.  There were hand drawn chicks wearing machine guns and messages about overthrowing the humans.  The chicks were sitting around just looking innocently at each other and at me and I knew he’d put them up to the whole thing.

It also seems that chicks have a hobby of putting pine shavings in their food and water.  I started with it on the floor of the brooder box.  Nice clean feeder, Nice clean waterer.  I came back to six feet of shavings in each.  Okay…not six feet, but there were LOTS of shavings floating around.

chicks

This went on for several days until someone online suggested putting the watering device on a block of wood.  Genius.  So I put the waterer on a block of wood and somehow it STILL managed to look like they were soaking the pine chips to whip up a batch of homemade paper.  So I just resigned myself to changing water several times a day and making sure the feeder was cleaned out so that no one got a sliver in their beak.

The chicks grew….and grew….and grew….and soon the brooder looked like a mosh pit at a grunge concert.  One of the chicks, a particularly sassy barred rock and questionable rooster, found a new hobby of waiting until all the others were settled in a chick pile at the other end of the coop and then ran as fast as his scaly legs would carry him and then would LEAP into the chick pile.  This was not well received by the other chicks and there was quite a bit of annoyed peeping and scurrying about while the barred rock chick sort of stood around and seemingly enjoyed what it had done.  I knew I had to get them out of that brooder and SOON before the barred rock chick drove the rest insane with treating them like a pile of autumn leaves.

So we went to look at coops.  Apparently, there are quite a few people out there interested in this hobby, because SAM’S CLUB had a chicken coop…much too small, but who knew?  We checked several places and all of them wanted too much money and the chickens would have been far too crowded and I’ve heard bad things happen when you squish chickens into small places.  So back to the drawing board…or rather the backyard, where I had the perfect coop under my nose the whole time.

Behind our detached garage, are two storage sheds…the kind you find at farm supply stores and that so many people have in their backyard for lawnmowers and things.  Both were filled with stuff that we were “going to get to” that we’d placed in the sheds when we moved onto the property (read as: junk we probably don’t need).  We decided that one would be a great coop and my son moved all of the stuff in that shed to the other shed…which now can’t be opened without setting off an avalanche warning prior to opening the doors.  We cleaned up the coop-to-be and figured out where the yard would be and it was all terribly exciting…well, I was excited.  My husband and son were a bit more skeptical because they were the ones who were going to have to build all the stuff I wanted on the inside.  I had GRAND ideas.  This was going to be not just a chicken coop, but a really decked out chicken coop with artwork and curtains and chicken ladders, and cool nest boxes!  I started shopping for a chandelier online because I figured that these were classy chickens and they needed a classy place to hang out.  When I asked my husband about hanging a chandelier in the chicken coop, his reply was “Hang a WHAT in the chicken coop?”  It was going to take some convincing apparently.

So we had the weekend all set aside for COOPMANIA.  My husband then landed in the hospital with heart issues which was truly frightening…not only because it was his heart, but because all I could imagine were those chicks in that brooder box getting bigger and bigger and bigger and I imagined that one day I’d go out there and all of their heads would be sticking out of the hardware cloth top on the brooder box and they’d have murder in their eyes because the little barred rock chick had pushed them over the edge.

Fortunately, my husband did well with his heart issues and I never had to deal with murderous chicks.  The barred rock settled down a little bit and stopped using the others as a trampoline and soon my husband was home from the hospital and all was in order…except apparently my priorities which became clear when I asked when we could work on the coop.

I couldn’t help it…the revolution posters, the crowded conditions, the rapid growth…it was all ripe for a Chickpocalypse.

 

Cute.

I had no idea that you could buy chicks at a store. I’m not sure where I thought people bought them, but I was pretty sure that it wasn’t from a retailer that not only sold farm supplies, but also sold a wide assortment of food and country/western clothing and giant bags of sugared orange slices at the front counter. When I was young, living in that small Illinois town, I remember riding my bike every morning to the post office to get the mail. In the springtime, the post office would be filled with the sound of frantic peeping when the local farmers’ chicks arrived in big boxes with holes in the sides. This whole idea of just walking into a store and picking out baby chicks was completely foreign. Where I’d lived near Chicago, when you bought chickens in a store, you usually bought a couple of bottles of barbecue sauce too. Now we were on our way to the farm store and I had no idea what was waiting there. I was nearly insane with excitement.

The “CHICK DAYS” banner was stretched across the front of the store when we pulled up. Apparently, this was a big deal down here in southern Indiana. I’d been to this particular store before and it’s very “no frills”…although they do have free popcorn in a large popping machine with a warmer at the front of the store that was usually surrounded by old guys in seed corn company hats and plaid shirts. I didn’t remember ever seeing live animals of any kind for sale, so I had no idea where to find these alleged chicks who were the unwitting stars of “CHICK DAYS”. My son pointed to the floor.

The concrete was painted with yellow chicken tracks that trailed toward the back of the store. I think I might have squealed a bit…maybe jumped up and down a little…and then set off following the tracks. My son and husband followed behind me in a single file line. We followed the tracks toward the back corner of the store (I might have been skipping) and suddenly my son broke the single line formation and rushed past me. In the furthest back corner of the store were stock tanks set up with warming lights…lots of them. We had arrived at what I would come to call “Chicktopia”.

Each stock tank was labeled on the outside with the name of the breed of bird that it contained. I didn’t really pay much attention to it because inside the tanks was an undulating sea of yellow, constantly peeping fuzzy down. They were pecking tiny food crumbles from long feeders, stomping all over each other and just being generally adorable. I almost had to lie down from the overload of adorable. My son (who is 21), was smitten. I was a little sweaty. How in the world do you pick out chicks? I mean, you can’t go by picking out a “cute” one…you’d be there for the rest of your life. After walking from tank to tank for what seemed like hours, I finally stopped at a tank in the corner filled with an assortment of chicks of different breeds. All I could think about was my trillion dollar egg business as I watched the chicks totter around the tank on their tiny baby feet. The sign above the tank said “SIX CHICK MINIMUM PURCHASE”. Six? I’m good with six. A kid working at the store scuffed over with a cardboard box chick carrier and said wearily “Anything I can help you with?” I managed to get out something about wanting chicks…but only six…and watched while he and my son scooped three black chicks and three chipmunk colored chicks into the waiting box.

My husband was trying to figure out where we were going to keep these things and finally settled on a black, rubber stock watering tank that wasn’t the size of a Prius. We picked out chick starter, grit, a heat lamp, feeders and other chick sundries while the box peeped incessantly in the cart. My son alternated between saying how cute they were and offering me recipe ideas. We finally made it to the checkout lanes with our chick stuff and our frantically peeping box and headed for the car…which is when I noticed that my son was wearing a sticker that said “I SAW THE CHICKS TODAY”. Did I mention he’s 21?

We got home with our new charges and set up the brooder box with fresh pine shavings, the heat lamp and food and water and added our new babies to their temporary home. They toddled around and sampled the food and water while breaking all laws about being cute. They were IMPOSSIBLY cute. I hung over the top of the brooder and was immediately, hopelessly and wildly in love with them.

An addiction was born…and I knew…I needed MORE.  I hadn’t read about chicken math yet.  Chicken math is a phenomenon that chicken owners are afflicted with and I apparently had a terrible case of it.  The ordinance I’d read said that where we lived, I could have more than six chickens.   If you’re stricken with chicken math, it doesn’t matter how many you already have, you always need more.

More.  Yep…that’s what I needed.

Hooked.

At some point, when I was really young, I fell in love with the country.   We lived in a small rural town in Illinois and although we could smell the stench when the local dairy farmer cleaned out his barn, I still felt as though I was a “city” girl.  Many of my friends lived in the country and I loved going to their farms, just to be out in the open ad see the animals and just the way everything smelled.  I couldn’t get enough.

Farms made my dad a wreck.  For some reason, he was convinced that a rogue farm implement was going to come careening out of nowhere and mow me down.  His second favorite scenario was that we would be somehow trampled by wild farm animals.  Since the anxiety of the thought of either of those two events made him nearly insane, I was not allowed to go to friends’ farm homes very often.  Which made me want to go even more.  By the time I was in junior high school, I was convinced that I would someday live on a farm…and would have to have my father sedated daily.

Every summer, I would spend about a week at my best friend/cousin’s farm.  If you look on a map for “Middle of Nowhere”, this farm was just south of there.  At least it seemed that way when you’re twelve.   I lived for that week in the summer when my aunt and cousin would come to visit for the day and I’d get to go home with them to their farm. A REAL farm.  Not one of those grain farm operations, although they did grow grain as well, this farm had all of the typical farm-type animals…cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens, ducks, dogs, cats and KITTENS.  The barn smelled of cattle and manure and above the cattle was the most glorious hayloft you’ve ever seen.  Huge soaring space sparkled with dust specs as sunlight streamed through the windows set high in the peak.  We would climb into the loft with a bag of my aunt’s giant chocolate chip cookies and lay in the sweet hay and eat cookies and laugh.  Convinced we were being horribly emotionally damaged by boredom, we would craft all sorts of schemes in that hayloft.  We never accomplished one of them, but it was always a good time to eat cookies and plan.

Every morning I’d awaken to the crowing of a rooster, the contented clucking of hens in the henhouse, the slamming of the doors of the pig feeder and the bleating of sheep.  We’d get dressed, eat chocolate cake or something equally inappropriate for breakfast, and head outside where we spent the entire day harassing the animals, eating all of the raspberries, or finding other trouble to get into.  I think that it was during those times at the farm, that I felt the happiest.  The days were long and hot, everything felt a little bit dusty, evenings seemed to stretch on forever.  In other words, it was perfect.  The worst part was returning back to town at the end of the week.

I turn fifty this 0048-Roosteryear.  I can hardly even write that without twitching.  For most of my life, I’ve lived in an urban setting.  Some were more urban than others.  For the majority of my life, I lived not far from Chicago.  Five years ago, I moved to southern Indiana and got a fresh look at “rural”.  I resisted it like a hooked trout for the first four years, complained non-stop and eventually in the last year or so, I’ve started to calm down about it.  I mean, it’s really not so bad.  It’s definitely a different way of life.  I came to appreciate the area though and the diverse landscape that it possesses.  We moved to a home at the edge of a large city that was at the end of a cul-de-sac in a small subdivision.   We are surrounded by oak trees with a field and a small lake behind us and a small swamp and creek that borders one side of the property.  The home is close enough to civilization for me to not freak out if I need to run to the store for something, but still “country” enough that when we sit on our deck at night we hear owls and during the day we see foxes, wild turkeys, hawks, eagles and we often see the hoof prints of deer down in the swampy area of the property.  It’s pretty sweet.

I’m an animal nut too.  Six dogs.  If I could cram more in the house, I would but in addition to cramming them in the house, I’d have to get them past my husband and it would probably end poorly.  So, I gave up on more dogs.  There was still something missing to the whole country feeling though.  Then one day we got the mail.

“CHICK DAYS”, proclaimed a newspaper flyer from a local farm store.  You can buy chickens at a store?  I poured through the flyer several times, fixated on the adorable pictures of baby chicks that seemed to be covering every square inch of the flyer.  My husband was shuffling through the rest of the mail, not at all noticing what I was looking at.  I held up the flyer with a ridiculously cute chick on it,

“Chick Days.”

“Yep”

“People can buy chickens?”

“You can have a few chickens in town here.”

I froze.  Chickens?   I LIKE chickens.  I LIKE eggs.  This seems completely plausible!

“I want to get chickens.”

“WHAT?”

“It would be soooooo fun.”

He thought for a minute.

“You can get some chickens.  Just find out the ordinances and stuff.  We can go later if you want.”

I sat there stupidly for a minute.  He won’t let me have another dog, but I can have chickens?  Huh.  I’m good with that.  And in a moment standing at the island in the kitchen, I became an urban farmer…at least in my own mind.  I knew very little about chickens.   I mean, of course I knew they laid eggs and roosters are boys and they stink to high heavens on a hot humid day, but I didn’t really know what they ate or how eggs were made or how they should live.  I recall thinking, it CAN’T be that hard, for Pete’s sake I have six dogs, I can surely handle some chickens.  Right?  Suddenly, I felt very important!  I was going to have CHICKENS.  Egg-laying-sweetly-clucking-beautifully-feathered CHICKENS.  I got a little giddy and soon I was not only planning on having a few chickens, but in my imagination I started selling fresh eggs, cultivated a huge garden and had a wildly successful farm stand that sold out of everything every day and made a trillion dollars.  I could hardly stand the excitement!  So forgetting that I knew nothing about chickens and just going with that feeling of “I’m going to make a trillion dollars on eggs.”  I made the decision to get chickens and my husband actually went along with it.

Turning fifty, getting chickens, living in a subdivision…this was exciting stuff!  I bounced around the house chattering wildly about chicks as we got ready to head to the farm store.  My son came into the house about that time and I gushed,

“WE’RE GETTING CHICKENS!”

After he stopped laughing, I shoved the “CHICK DAYS” flyer under his nose and he cooed stupidly at the chick on the front page.

I’d suckered another one into my plan.