My chicks are supposed to arrive March 25 and — much like a first-time father — I have no idea what I’m supposed to do when they get here.
The house we bought out in Garden Valley came with a high-end chicken coop. It’s even got an automatic door with a timer so the chickens can get out in the morning and back in at night without me having to remember.
There are two chicken books on my kitchen table and I plan to buy a subscription to “Backyard Poultry,” which comes out of Wisconsin and is considered by some to be the “Chicken Bible.” They even welcome subscribers to call them with chicken questions, so I’m sure they will hear from me at least once a month.
I’ve already heard, by the way, that there are only 10 things that can go wrong with a chicken and one of them is death. So a chicken hotline isn’t as complicated as it sounds.
I also signed up for a chicken class at the Douglas County Farmers Co-op out on Northeast Stephens. That’s where I ordered the eight chicks. They told me I should order a couple extra just in case one or two get eaten by a rat, or raccoon, or a list of other threats that feast on defenseless chicks.
If you haven’t already guessed, I’m pretty much a city boy. The closest I ever came to a live chicken growing up in San Francisco was in Chinatown. They’d hang them in windows, plucked and unplucked, and they never looked like something I’d ever want to raise. All of my eggs came in cartons from a supermarket and I had to make sure none of them broke when I carried groceries into the house for my mom.
In fact, for the longest time I thought the eggs came from rabbits, associating them with Easter. I got dropped on my head when I was maybe 10 months old, so I was never the sharpest knife in the drawer.
But I’m in Oregon now and there’s something about chickens that has revived my survival instincts. This isn’t about “Doomsday Prepping,” mind you. When the end comes I’m not sure I want to be one of the few humans left on Earth anyway. I’d kind of be dead weight, since I’m really not good for much of anything that would be useful to a band of people fighting zombies and perhaps some nuclear waste.
“Hey, Jeff. We need you to go out and kill a pig, but watch out for the zombies and that acid rain.”
“Can’t do that, but I’ll go with someone who can and then write about it?”
This chicken thing is about eggs and all the things you can do with them if the supermarkets are destroyed by a giant lizard, tidal wave, or tornado. “Who wants eggs?” I’d ask, walking proudly into the house with a basket full of fresh ones. They’d also be good for bartering, since we’d probably get sick of eggs after a week.
“I’ll trade you a dozen eggs and a hen for two tacos and a cold beer.”
I had a panic attack earlier this week when I realized I didn’t tell the lady I ordered the chicks from that I wanted girl chicks and not boys. She assured me that there was maybe a 10 percent chance I’d get a boy and that most all of my chicks would be pullets. I thanked her, dashed home and grabbed my chicken book to make sure that a pullet was a girl.
I was afraid to ask her because there were several people gathered around the counter and they all looked like they could tell a pullet from a rooster a mile away. I’ll guess there are as many “chicken snobs” as there are wine snobs and I get judged enough every day.
Once I sorted out the girls from the boys I had to choose from one of more than 100 breeds (the American Poultry Association recognizes 113 breeds, according to one of my chicken books). Good laying hens — which is what I’m looking for — share four characteristics and one of them is the ability to lay a bunch of eggs, starting at 5 months old. I told the lady I wanted a bunch of eggs as soon as possible and she recommended a Rhode Island Red.
I’m hoping this chicken class on March 6 will be an open forum and that the instructor will begin the session by letting us know there’s no such thing as a dumb question. Then I’ll raise my hand and ask why hens don’t need roosters in order to lay an egg.
Jeff Ackerman is publisher of The News-Review. He can be reached at 541-957-4263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.