Sunday, March 11, 2012

Chickens: "Old-fashioned" animals

Eggs from my backyard hens, November 2009

Every freshly-laid egg looks a little different from all the others. These were laid by my three hens in November, when the days are short, and chickens wind down the egg-laying season to begin their yearly feather moult.

Late-fall eggs are very exciting for backyard poultry enthusiasts. My friends in Minnesota and Michigan say their chickens stop laying in October, and don't start again until spring is well underway. There's a lot to be said for mild winters and a long growing season.

Since I've blogged about old-fashioned plants and abandoned old houses, it makes sense to blog about chickens. Sixty or so years ago, nearly every household included a chicken coop. Many working people raised their own meat birds, and kept layer hens too. It made sense in a time before refrigerated food transport and big grocery chains. People were close to their food sources—they were directly responsible for what they ate, and for how well they kept the livestock they would eventually consume.

I keep chickens for their eggs. It means a lot to me to know my birds are happy and healthy; when I eat their eggs, I know just what the girls ate to produce them. My hens eat cracked corn (scratch grains), insects, leftover cornbread and rolls, alfalfa pellets, steamed brown rice, watermelon and canteloupe rinds, raisins, white clover and other greenery from the lawn, and as many juicy bugs as I can round up for them. (They seem to get a special thrill out of the common garden slugs that gloopity-glop onto my porch in the summer.) My chickens also have room to roam, unlike battery-caged hens in commercial egg operations.

There's a lot more I could write about chickensand Lord knows I will some other time. Wherever you see heirloom-variety plants around the ruins of an old house, remember that "old-fashioned animals" likely once lived there, too.

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