“You have what?!” That’s the usual response when I tell people I have chickens. This question is followed by many others, asked with a tone of incredulity: “Do you live on a farm?” No. “Do they lay eggs?” Yes. “Do you EAT the eggs?” Yes, of course. “But – what do you DO with chickens?” Well, that requires a longer answer…
I bought my first six chickens back in 2004, at a large poultry show in Syracuse, NY. Poultry show?! Yes - I’ll get to that in a minute. I got my chickens primarily as pets, with the production of eggs being a fun side benefit. I have had many pets over the years – dogs, cats, rats, gerbils, fish, snakes, various caged birds, and even a pony when I was a child. (Police officers from the seventies might recall having to chase after our pony after her numerous escapes from our back yard in the Oak Hill section!) I quickly discovered that these birds were the easiest and funniest pets I’d had ever had. I came to realize their needs are simple and few – a secure shelter, a place to get fresh air and lay in the sun, and clean food and water.
Over the years I searched for others who had discovered what I felt was an unknown great secret, this keeping of backyard chickens. I became aware of such things as poultry clubs and shows. Similar to dog shows, purebred birds are judged against a standard for their particular breed, and the best ones receive ribbons and trophies, all the way up to Best in Show. I started showing in 2008, and this hobby has gained me many good friends from all over, and I have travelled to several states to either show my birds or merely to attend and admire other people’s birds. I am preparing for my “home” show on October 20 at the NJ State Fairgrounds, and I can’t wait to see all of my friends again, and have them see my beautiful birds.
Today my flock has grown from six to twenty-four. What do I do with them? I spend a lot of time admiring them. They are a constant delight to the eyes, especially as I have concentrated on buying only the best specimens I could find, in almost every color variety – black, white, blue, red, speckled, laced, and mottled. Their weights range from 2 pounds up to ten. Some have beards, and some have feathers on their feet, and some have both. Their feathers are so soft, and glow iridescent in the sun. Even their legs come in different colors.
Chickens today, while not renowned for their superior intellect, are remarkable in their natural instincts, too numerous to mention here. But seeing them take such delight in searching for snacks on the ground, and taking dust baths or sunbathing, brings me great joy. I have hatched some chicks, as well, although I do not have the facilities for a hatching program, per se – that is for the future. Until then, my focus is to keep learning about these wonderful animals, and to share this secret I have discovered.
To that end, I will be teaching an introductory lesson on having your own backyard flock on September 30th at the Middletown Public Library, Main branch. If you’ve ever wondered what entails the keeping of chickens, please go the library’s website at http://www.mtpl.org/, and click on the calendar. There you will find a link where you can fill out a form to reserve your seat. I will have some of my birds there for you to meet, and a great deal of fun information for you so you can join me in the appreciation of having your own backyard flock. (Please note, this program is for adults only!)