Six and a half years ago, our lives changed forever. We bought a house in Middle-of-Nowhere, Texas. Then we moved from our nice, conveniently located house in town to our new little piece of property that was an hour away from anything. At the time, Bear was around 18 months old, and we were expecting our second. I was so sick, and so busy taking care of a toddler. Andrew had to do pretty much all the moving by himself. I was useless! What were we thinking???
Once we got moved in and at least nominally settled, we had to get to work on a way to keep our agricultural tax exemption. We had always intended to stock the place with animals. I only had one rule. One rule, never to be broken, when I agreed to move out to the middle of nowhere:
No chickens. How hard is that rule to obey? We could get anything else…cows, goats, sheep, horses, even llamas. Just no chickens. The possibilities were endless. I always assumed we would get some cattle. I mean, this is Texas. Of course there would be cattle.
But then, my dear husband started with the crazy talk…
He wanted to get…chickens. Yes, chickens. I thought I had made myself perfectly clear. Why on earth would he want to mess with such foul, disgusting fowl which are useless for anything except feeding the local bobcat and coyote populations? My uncle had chickens years ago when I was a kid. I was certain that this one experience in my youth made me an expert on the matter.
Unfortunately, my husband did make some good points. We did eat a lot of chicken. We ate a lot of eggs. We would know what was going into our food. It would be cheaper to raise them than to pay full price at the store. It was starting to become clear that I was going to lose this argument. But, I held fast and firm to my decision.
Eventually, after many conversations about chickens, I finally made my fatal mistake. Instead of my patented “No chickens!” response to end one of these little talks, I said, “I don’t want chickens!”
“So,” says my husband, smiling mischievously, “You don’t want chickens. But that means I can get chickens. You won’t have to mess with them at all. They’ll be my chickens, my business.”
I was nearly 8 months pregnant, and I was tired. I finally conceded the loss.
“Fine.” I pouted. “But understand me now. I will NOT do anything with those chickens! They are yours, just like you said. I won’t touch those nasty chickens. And don’t come crying to me when the coyotes get them!”
We had finally reached an agreement.
A few days later, my husband came driving home from the feed store with a box full of chicks that he had ordered. Thirty of them. Thirty!
They were kinda cute. Even my hard heart had to admit that. They were all fluffy and yellow, with all the little cheep cheep noises. But I still wasn’t going to have anything to do with them. Nope…no way! Wasn’t gonna happen!
My husband had a big crate in the garage that he turned into a brooder for them. It was fall, it was actually rather cool, and chicks have to be kept very warm until their feathers come in. He put chicken wire over the top of the box, and a piece of plywood on top of the wire to keep the heat from the lamp in the box, leaving enough room uncovered for air to circulate. He weighted down the wood on the top to make sure it wouldn’t come off.
The next morning, as my husband was leaving for work, he asked me to come out to the garage every few hours to check the brooder to make sure the chicks weren’t too cold, and make sure they had enough food and water. Remember, that I was eight months pregnant. The walk (waddle) from the house to the garage was no small undertaking! But, the compassion for these poor little babies in my hormonal pregnant heart was stirred. So much for being completely hands-off with the chickens! My resolve had lasted less than 24 hours.
Tragedy would soon strike our household, however. The third day after their arrival, after my daughter was down for her nap, I went out to check on the chicks. My pregnant, hormonally-charged brain knew something was amiss the minute I stepped into the garage. It was too quiet. There were no sounds of cheeping and scuttling about as I approached the box. The lid was knocked off, and the chicken wire was pulled up on the corner. Oh, what a horrible, gruesome scene I found in that brooder! Something had gotten into the brooder and killed every single chick save one…but when I looked, I didn’t see the live one. It must have been hiding in the corner under the light. I thought they had all been killed.
They had not been eaten. They had been eviscerated. The perpetrator had extracted the parts he wanted with surgical precision from each and every chick. The rest of the parts were scattered about the bottom of the box, untouched. This MO suggested that a raccoon was to blame. I cried and cried and cried. It was too much. My emotional state was already unstable. I didn’t even want those silly chicks. And now I had to deal with this grizzly murder scene. I called my husband at work, and I cried at him for about 5 minutes before I could make any words come out. Of course, this resulted in a panicked husband. Imagine your very pregnant wife who is alone with your young daughter out in the middle of nowhere, calling you at work, unable to do anything but cry. I finally managed to pull myself together enough to tell him what had happened. He was also upset, but told me he’d take care of it himself after work. When he got home, he found the one chick that had survived. I held and cuddled that little chick while he cleaned out the brooder. All those poor, helpless babies were just gone!
It was the first of many life and death lessons we would learn about how hard, and sometimes vicious life could be out here. Andrew fixed the brooder up and made many improvements so this would not happen again. He also went on a raccoon hunting spree, the first of several. We got more chicks. In fact, since there was one survivor, we had to get more chicks the very next day. Our lone survivor would get too cold without some compatriots to keep him company. Andrew built coops and fenced enclosures when the new chicks were ready to move out of the brooder. Since then, we’ve grown our flock quite a bit. We keep a permanent flock of layers, and hatch out some as replacements for our older layers, and some for meat for our family each year.
I still don’t like the chickens. I like raccoons even less. And, despite all my big talk at the beginning, I was the one crying when predators got to the chickens. Whatever my opinion on the matter, the chickens are here to stay. I even have to mess with them occasionally. Guess who takes care of them when Andrew is out of town? Yep, that’d be me. And guess who has to make sure their water misters get turned on every day during our scorching Texas summers? Yep. Me again. I have to admit, I do like the fresh eggs, and producing our own food is pretty satisfying.
So…I deal with the chickens.