I have a tractor (probably more properly called a riding lawn mower, but like I said, we like to pretend). My wife has now had a couple years of experience planting a garden. It isn't acres of food growing out of the ground, but our first season did result in a modest harvest (see, we already use farmer words), although we were overwhelmed with the sheer number of cherry tomatoes. While a tractor sure looks cool and a garden is a bit of commitment and work, we decided to take the next step toward a true traditional farming homestead ... we got chickens.
But before I made the commitment, I laid out one clear ground rule. We were not going to give the chickens names. I did this ultimately to protect my kids. You see, we have a lot of predators out and around our property. We've seen many hawks and birds of prey and we often hear coyotes, so my expectation was that some of our little feathered friends would end up casualties of farm living. I didn't want to explain to the kids why Chicken Little was now a pile of feathers.
However, I am confident in this venture as I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ farm as a child and had some limited experience raising chickens. Besides, we have the Internet to look up anything. How hard can it really be?
Apparently, it is a little more difficult than I anticipated. I immediately realized how little I knew about these little birds. First, I learned that only female chickens lay eggs, which seems obvious, but that we needed to have all female chickens (hens) or the eggs we'd get would be fertilized eggs (not a pleasant experience).
So, my first question was, “How do you tell which chicken is a hen?” The answer is still not clear and truth be told, I just don't want to know. Second, I had no idea how much waste these little birds produced. Wow! Something seems off with these chickens’ digestive systems.
Ultimately, we bought five hens and threw them into our chicken coop created with the great help of a close friend. We built them a roost, gave them some straw, water and feed, and waited ... and waited ... and waited. The first week, we got one egg. One solitary egg. At this rate, these five chickens would produce a whopping total of four dozen eggs a year, not quite what we were hoping for.
Nonetheless, the chickens finally started producing. Maybe they needed to get settled in to their new surroundings. Maybe they needed to know we weren't going to make them into dinner (although the thought had crossed my mind). The reality is we may not have to buy eggs again for quite some time. Success! Give me those overalls. I am feeling very ... farmerish (yes, I just invented that word).
Now, we just need to get a cow.
(Editor’s Note: Matt has a family of six — a beautiful wife, a son, two daughters and of course, the family dogs — Tucker and Boomer. Matt should have his children working in the fields by harvest time. His column appears every other Wednesday in the Cleveland Daily Banner.)