Starting Our Chicken Flock

by Jenni

One of my authors teased me for saying we’d recently “acquired laying hens.” Apparently, that’s an awfully literary/businessy term for a farm girl. So let me instead announce, “We got some chickens, y’all!” And this literary farm girl is thrilled about it.

For years, I’ve been wanting a backyard brood. Not only do their eggs provide an unbeatable protein source for this vegetarian bod, chickens have distinct personalities and they’re just fun to have around. Our family kept a flock when I was in middle school and I loved the experience. So I researched city code and our HOAs to see if we could keep a couple hens on our postage-stamp lot in Sisters, but it wasn’t an option. As soon as it looked like we’d be moving, near the top of my “Next House Wish List” was a yard big enough to fit a flock of feathered friends. Upon visiting this rental property the first time, I had already mapped out the best place for my hens in the fully fenced round orchard on the side of the house. Just steps from the porch, it’s a convenient spot to care for them and I can keep an eye on them from inside. Plus, what chicken wouldn’t want to loll around under fruit trees all day?

The girls and their Gypsy Cart style coop

Well, it’s a good thing they’re nearby, because the other night after dinner, my friend Erin and I were relaxing in the living room when Seth shouted from upstairs, “What’s happening out there?!” Suddenly, I heard a horrible ruckus from the hen house. My adrenaline spiked and we dashed barefooted into the dark to find a flury of feathers and two of the five hens running around like, pardon the pun, chickens with their heads cut off. A moment later, Seth was there, equipped with a flashlight and gun. But the mysterious invader was no where to be seen. Was it a coyote or dog? A snake or raccoon? Then a moment later, Erin saw a huge winged creature lift off silently from the fence post to our left: a barn owl. Mr. Owl must’ve noticed the new birds on his turf and dive-bombed one of them in the apple tree where they’d been roosting peacefully. Fortunately he missed. All the hens were accounted for–three of them petrified in the tree branches, silently hoping for invisibility. One by one, we gently picked up the birds and placed them in the solid wood safety of their hen house, then shut the door. Looks like we’ll need to lock them up tight each night to ensure this kind of excitement–or worse–doesn’t happen again. I guess that’s life on the farm!

Meanwhile, by daylight, the girls are eating well on their diet of organic layer feed, oyster shell, and plenty of kitchen scraps. So much for my compost pile–they love picking at our leftovers and I get such a kick out of their enthusiastic eating habits! They’re Americaunas, so their eggshell color is a beautiful blue-green color. However, with the trauma of being transported here last week and a few of them not quite yet “of age” for egg laying, our actual egg production has been pretty sparse so far. Brave Matilda layed one perfect pistachio-colored egg the day preceding the owl fiasco. At this rate, it could be another week before we have enough for an omelette! But with an abundance of food and some peace & quiet, I’m hopeful we’ll have dozens of beautiful, organic eggs to share soon enough.

One lonely, lovely egg