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May 12, 2013
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Publisher's Notebook: Down a chicken, but prospects still good for eggs

Always the romantic, I thought Mother’s Day would be a good time to provide an update on my chickens.

It seems like forever ago that I brought nine new chicks home from the feed store and stuck them in my sunroom, where they would be warm and cozy under a red heat lamp until they got old enough to put into the chicken coop that came with the house.

There are eight left and I’ll get to that tragic event in a minute. First, I wanted to review what I’ve learned about raising chickens in my first two months on the job.

For starters, chickens grow fast. Seems like just yesterday they were cute and fluffy as they scampered about the plastic box I’d previously used to store tennis balls, rackets and other stuff we never use. We got a couple of water feeders, metal chick-food feeders and three or four heat lamps with extension cords. The chicken classes taught us the difference between chick “starter” food and regular chicken food and that the water must be clean enough for humans to drink, or the chicks will get sick and die.

For the record, I never drank from the chick feeder because it had chick doo-doo all over it because … well … chickens like to poop where they drink and I don’t. So I just had to assume that the water I gave them was clean enough for humans.

It should be noted that chickens poop a lot, which is not good because before you know it your sunroom stinks so bad it makes your eyes water.

It should also be noted that The News-Review came in very handy during the chick-raising period, so if you have a mind to raise your own, I can get delivery started as soon as you’d like. It’s not a good idea to line your chick box with an iPad or laptop. Some things just don’t work like an old-fashioned newspaper.

Since it’s likely that at least one of your new chicks won’t make it to chickenhood, it’s not a good idea to name them. It creates an emotional attachment too painful when the time comes to eat one, or when one falls victim to predators, which includes most of the Animal Kingdom. Let’s be honest, there aren’t many things that can’t kick a chicken’s butt.

Unfortunately, that’s the first thing my wife and daughter did when I brought the nine chicks home.

“Your turn, Daddy!” they cried. “You get to name three of them!”

“How about chick one, two and three?” I asked, looking to bail, but not wanting to curb their enthusiasm.

After almost three weeks in the sunroom it was time to move the nine chicks into the coop. They were making me gag and they were no longer as cute. They could also fly and my tennis racket container wasn’t large enough to keep them contained.

As it turns out, it was a brilliant move. The chicken coop is a great place to keep chickens, so long as the predators can’t get in at night and eat them. They had plenty of room and the heat lamps kept them warm through April. At least the eight that made it through April.

One day my wife (Happy Mother’s Day, honey!) was replacing the water and food feeders inside the coop when our Lab, Ben, darted in and grabbed one of the chickens by the neck, killing it instantly. I’m not sure which one it was because all the chickens look alike (except for the two Americanas) and I’m not the one who named them. All I know is that I got a text at work saying that something terrible had happened at home and that I should call right away.

This is a good time to pause. I know we live in a digital world, but it’s not a good idea to send a text like that. Some very bad thoughts raced through my head and none of them included a dead chicken. The list included wrecked cars, burned-down houses, an IRS audit, major water leak, or surprise family visit.

By the time I got home they’d already had the funeral for the chicken. She’s buried in the garden so the dogs can’t dig her up. Think compost on steroids.

I later learned that the best way to teach your dog not to kill your chickens is to tie a dead one around his neck and leave it there for a week or so. “He’ll never kill another chicken,” they promised.

That sounded logical to me. I can say with relative certainty that I’d never eat chicken again if they tied a dead one around my neck for a week. The same goes for a cow or pig.

The remaining eight chickens (we have since learned that one of them is a rooster) seem to be loving life in and out of the coop. I enjoy going out there in the mornings and evenings to check on them because they owe me some eggs after all this work and I want to make sure they stay safe and healthy.

And in an effort to somehow tie this chicken update into a sweet Mother’s Day message, all I can come up with is this: Raising chickens is much like raising children. You feed them, put a roof over their heads and, if you’re lucky, they don’t poop on your shoes when they grow up.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Jeff Ackerman is publisher of The News-Review. He can be reached at 541-957-4263 or jackerman@nrtoday.com.

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The News-Review Updated May 12, 2013 12:04AM Published May 12, 2013 12:04AM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.