During the last few months, I have found myself in a chicken conundrum. After tending to the needs of our seven chicks all week, they force me to do the unthinkable. I shudder to tell you of my poultry-keeping horror. This terrible deed requires me to gather my inner strength and do something almost too horrible to mention here. I reach my hand into the confined, darkened space and force myself to remove something that I find to be truly frightening. Grocery store eggs. It’s true: I’m playing a real-life game of chicken with our chickens.
I knew getting into this chicken experiment that we would need to endure a considerable length of time taking care of chickens that were too young to make a contribution to our dinner table. It stood to reason when we started out with tiny, day-old baby chicks. It was a fact of chicken keeping that we were willing to accept because that’s what farmers do. They accept Mother Nature’s will even if they don’t always like it. It simply goes with the territory. But we were freshman farmers. Would we be able to?
Initially, it didn’t seem unreasonable to wait a few months for eggs as our baby chicks matured into laying hens. We watched as the chicks grew and began acting more like the chickens they would eventually become. Eventually, we finally finished their coop and moved the whole flock into their new abode. We felt like we were proceeding nicely along the timeline that was our flock’s transformation from chick to chicken. Although we were not collecting eggs as our chicken-keeping reward, we were collecting milestones. Each one made us feel victorious. Each one made us feel like real farmers. We started to believe that we might actually survive to see that first egg.
Then this winter hit us full in the face. The snow continued to fall in feet instead of inches. I know that I have already labeled this the winter of my discontent, but it has been. Since moving to New England almost a decade ago, it is my winter tradition to beg for this season’s mercy by the time we turn the calendar page and find March staring at us. This year is different. I’m not just counting the minutes until winter ends. I’m also counting my snowy trips to bring fresh water and food to the coop only to return empty-handed to our farmhouse. I’m beginning to take it personally.
I’ve done all that I can to encourage the egg laying to commence immediately. We’ve freshened the bedding in the nest boxes. We’ve transitioned our hens to a laying ration. I’ve even provided wooden eggs to give them the idea that sitting on an egg just might be something that they want to do. I don’t know if any of these steps will get me any closer to finding an edible egg in our coop. At this point, I’m out of ideas. I’m back to simply waiting for the days to pass and reminding myself that a watched pot never boils. Apparently, a watched pullet never starts laying eggs either.
So we’re back on our journey to becoming farmers. Along the way we have also become, dare I say, “chicken people.” We find it impossible to pass by the coop without peeking inside. We even celebrated a child’s birthday with a chicken-themed party. Yes, that’s right, I spent at least eight hours making a three-dimensional chicken cake modeled after one of our Golden Laced Wyandottes. On second thought, maybe we aren’t chicken people. Maybe we’re chicken-obsessed people.
No matter what this winter has brought to our farm, today the chickens at 1840 Farm reached their latest milestone. They turned five months old. To you, that may not seem like a reason to celebrate, but for everyone at my house, it means that we are one month closer to having fresh eggs. Believe me, it is definitely cause for celebration. If I had a party hat, I’d be wearing one.
I’m looking forward to the Sunday morning that we can finally enjoy an egg straight from our chicken coop. Until then, I’ll continue playing a real-life game of chicken with our seven hens. In case you’re keeping score, so far, the chickens are winning.