By Glenda Price: CNJ columnist
I hear some cities are changing their covenants to allow residents to raise chickens in their backyards.
It sounds great. People can have mini-farms in their backyards. I, however, don’t plan to participate because one spring and summer I was a chicken herder.
My mom ordered a set of 25 baby chicks at the feed store, expecting to have one of her setting hens raise them. When the babies arrived no hens were in the mothering mood, so guess who got the job of raising those little boogers.
All baby animals are cute, even chickens, but I can tell you by the time they are ready to be eaten or to lay eggs they are no longer cute. I was 12 years old, and definitely the worse for wear by the time it was over.
At first, I had to fix a box in the wood shed with a light bulb in it to keep the babies warm at night. I had to come up with a feed holder, so I used a round, flat pan. I made a watering device with an upside down Mason jar in another flat pan.
I thought I was in business, but my mom said I had to teach them how to look for tiny rocks to eat so their gizzards would properly grind their feed. I watched the real mother hens and learned how to excitedly cluck and peck the ground with my finger to help the babies get the hang of it. I understand nowadays what they call grit is available at the feed store.
Two babies died right away, I had no idea why, but I put their little bodies in match boxes and gave them funerals. The next mishap came when one baby fell and scraped his head on the fence. His so-called buddies pecked at that hurt place until it was much worse, so I had to keep him in a separate little box until it got well.
By then my surrogate mothering job was taking up all the extra time after school, which messed up my horseback riding bigtime. Plus my hands were getting chapped from all that pecking at the gravel and cleaning the pen.
Finally, they grew some real feathers, and began looking like actual chickens. Two more had died by then. Apparently, my herding wasn’t all that great.
Eventually, it was time for them to start spending the night in the coop, and my mom made me clean it up before we put them in it, because mites and other parasites love chickens. I had to check them often. They didn’t like it, and scratched me every time.
When they got fryer size we had to butcher them. We chopped off their heads with a hatchet, dunked them in boiling water, plucked the feathers off and dressed them. Nothing in this world smells as bad as wet chicken feathers.
At supper (fried chicken, of course) I asked my mom, “Can I please raise lambs next summer?”