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Fresh Eyes Column

by Caroline Downs

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Try chickens . . .

Posted 9/25/13 (Wed)

My uncle said, “Try chickens. I’ll bring you some.”

That response and the chickens came 17 or 18 years ago, when we lived in Wyoming and I couldn’t stand the grasshoppers taking over our yard and small pasture. We lived in a neighborhood with a fair number of children and pets, so I wanted to avoid pesticides if possible. Chickens sounded promising, especially as my uncle testified about the hordes of grasshoppers eaten by his birds.

He shared six of those with us, three hens and three roosters, the chickens he was able to catch before making a visit to see us.

The rest is history, and you’ve read much of it in this column: raising chicks, sharing eggs, moving a dozen chickens from Wyoming to North Dakota after a blizzard, fending off varmints, adding turkeys to the barn, and more.

If I take a conservative count at a dozen eggs each week, for 17 years, at least 10,608 eggs have passed from our birds through my hands and refrigerator into baked goods, egg entrees and the kitchens of friends and family.

Now, it’s over.

We just couldn’t move chickens and turkeys to Fairbanks, Alaska, with us. Crossing an international border twice complicates those endeavors.

The husband promises we can start with new chicks once we’re established there.

We’ll see. Right now, I’m missing my birds.

The poultry round-up took place a week ago Saturday morning. Actually, a young couple living in Burke County contacted me about a month ago to express an interest in our flock. Their sincerity won me over.

They already had laying hens, guinea hens, ducks, fainting goats, miniature ponies, a pot-bellied pig, a goose, and a sow with piglets at their place, plus a dog.

They really wanted some turkeys.

The young father had a plan involving a livestock trailer--parked in our yard so the birds could get accustomed to it--a bale of fresh straw, sunflower seeds for a diversion and a large net.

Things rolled along fine that morning as he caught the birds one by one and we loaded them. Everyone stayed pretty calm except for one turkey chick who flew out of the trailer into the trees, but I nabbed her later that night back in the barn, even as she hissed and beat me with her little wings.

She and I made the trip together to reunite her with the flock. The newcomers and the home birds seemed to be mixing fine by then, and the horses were pleased with the arrangements.

I was the one dealing with trauma. Our yard was too quiet all day. I was certain I’d find a renegade hen wandering in the lilacs.

I think I was being hopeful. Nobody clucked. Nobody crowed.

It takes some getting used to.

I know we made the right decision, and I couldn’t ask for better caretakers of our flock. They’ve promised to share eggs if I need some, and when we move back, we may be able to refill our barn with descendants of these hens.

It’s all good, but right now I miss my birds and our daily routine.

The damn grasshoppers immediately moved into my flowers, of course. My uncle is still right.

Try chickens.