Monday, September 20, 2010

Chickens and Tractors and Cows, Oh My!

Chickens and Tractors and Cows, Oh My!

by Dee Dee Fox

I was one of those little girls; the kind who never liked to get dirty, and always preferred wearing fancy dresses and shoes, accessorized with little purses and frilly hats. I loved to play dress up and I loved pretty things. Almost as much as I loved these things I always dreamed of living on a farm. You know, chickens and tractors and cows; Oh my!!

Many years have gone by. I have since married the man of my dreams, and together, we built a lovely house in the country. I'd long since forgotten about my convoluted dreams of living on a farm. But somewhere along the line, we decided all those free-range eggs we were buying at the grocery store were really not free-range at all, plus they were far too expensive. And well, the organic milk we were buying... same story there. So my very sweet, occasionally eccentric, hubby agreed to a little farming experiment, much akin to that of the whole Green Acres experience.

We decided we needed to start with a milk cow. I read up on cows and did my homework. The more we learned about cows, the more my husband started coming up with reasons why we really didn't want to get Mrs. Butterworth, (yes that was going to be the name of our enchanted milk cow). So, for the time being I agreed to hold off on adopting a cow. ~ All I can say about that is thank God! Then came chicken research, which breeds are best layers, which sort can be cantankerous, because let's face it, no-one wants a cantankerous hen! And then... my husband came up with one of his brilliant thoughts.

Let me just preface this by saying that when our family goes out for ice cream, each and every member of our brood gets the largest size serving, whether they want it or not. You see, my husband is a 'numbers guy'. Because it only costs twenty five cents more for a large ice cream than a small one, you're really getting a better deal with the large. Never mind the fact that our extra twenty-five cents worth of ice cream ends up giving someone a belly ache. - That's the same mind-set my hubby had when he reasoned that 25 chickens are just as much work as 5 chickens. So... our little farming experiment grew... and it grew.

At first, we housed our 25 chickens out in the barn (yes we also have a barn, and tractors, but that's another story). All those cute and fuzzy little baby chicks were so incredibly adorable! That was, until I learned just how much excrement 25 baby chicks could produce in a single day. - Now, in case you're wondering, let me just tell you; based upon simple mathematical principles, I can undoubtedly attest that 25 chickens are not as easy to raise as 5 chickens. Yeah, well... live and learn.

As our sweet little chicks outgrew their temporary home in the barn and were literally ready to "fly the coop," my hubby began researching chicken coop designs. After attempting to make sense of the highly debated and profoundly contradictory research available on how best to house hens, he finally came up with a plan. One day as I glanced out my kitchen window, in a combined state of shock and awe, I saw the beginnings of what would soon be the "Taj Mahal" of chicken coops. Let's just say that, a small family could probably live fairly comfortably in this structure. So now, realizing that this hen house will be the view out my kitchen window for quite some time, (or for as long as we can stand this little farming experiment) I came to the conclusion that we really must decorate this 'quaint' little structure. So, our eight year old daughter and I scoured our favorite flea market and other fanciful haunts until we had accumulated a treasure trove of lovely items (or according to my husband, junk). Several gallons of paint, and many hours of sweat equity later, we had completed our chicken coop project.

Now, fourteen weeks into our farming experiment, we are all a little older, and considerably wiser. I have since learned that you must tread lightly when entering a chicken coop. Never mind the occasional, (or not so occasional) droppings scattered here and there. Because weeks earlier, having thrown caution to the wind in a moment of what, in retrospect, was sheer insanity. I had tossed my cantankerous vs. pleasant list of hens into the circular file, resolving to buy only the prettiest varieties (yeah, I'm all about pretty). After experiencing my own personal version of an Alfred Hitchcock scene from The Birds, I fully understand the meaning of the phrase 'hen-pecked'. Some of my very dear friends, understanding my love of pretty things, helped me find some fabulous couture galoshes. Now those pesky little ankle-biters have a fairly rough time getting past the heavy gauge rubber of my ever-so-lovely boots.

Of course, 98 days into this little endeavor (but then, who's counting?) we've gone through truck-loads of building materials, piles of paint and paint supplies, not to mention hundreds of pounds of chick feed, feeding equipment, and so on, and have yet to see a single egg.

All in all, I think I can safely say we're well on our way to saving a boat-load of money on our free-range eggs. And if ever this whole chicken thing grows old, we can always turn the coop into a bed and breakfast. Who knows, I might be on to something there. - I'll keep you posted!

Dee Dee Fox, an Arizona native and long time resident of Rapid City, South Dakota is a freelance writer and national public speaker who has worked in the publishing industry for over fifteen years. Having first begun her writing career as assistant editor for the Country Register in Phoenix, Arizona, she went on to publish the first Country Register of South Dakota, which she later sold and is still in publication today. She also started two other successful magazines from the ground up, including Mud Pie Parenting Magazine.

Ms. Fox is the author and illustrator of The Ruby Red Slippers, a children's picture book about a little girl and her magical shoes. To obtain a copy of The Ruby Red Slippers, visit Dee Dee's website at www.

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