Sunday, April 5, 2009

Chickens for Hire

Now that the love/hate relationship I had with my flock of chickens has subsided into more of a love/respect for them, I'm able to appreciate their finer qualities. For obvious reasons their daily egg laying is a huge bonus. Now that the hens free-range all the time and return to the coop only to lay and roost, the eggs are more plentiful than ever and just about perfect: sunny orange-yellow firm yolks that stand high above clear, contained white, so unlike the pale, flat, runny eggs from the grocery store. At my current price of $2.50 per dozen (mixed brown and green/blue), the more I can sell the better the flock pays for its own food and coop shavings. My client base of last year no longer exists since I'm unemployed, so I'm doing my best to sell eggs to friends when I can. This is a good thing; today I have six dozen in the fridge, and with the hens providing an average of 7 eggs per day the past couple weeks, new eggs add up fast!

The flock has another attribute, though, that I'm completely amazed by: they are great compost turners! After Tabor broke through our garden fence, two of the hens (Little Red Hen, the Rhode Island Red, and one of the Black Stars) have spent hours in there each day ripping through the massive pile of spent hay and manure Paul dumped there a couple months ago. The pile, which started out about 5 feet high, had started to shrink in size on its own as it began to naturally break down, but the two hens have taken it to a new level, digging and flinging and ripping paths into the pile with abandon. I'm not sure what all they're finding in there, but whatever bug or seed or other delicacy they are after must be worth it. The funny thing is the rest of the flock can't figure out how to get through the fence to join them! Instead, they must satisfy themselves by scratching through the burn piles and old hay left here and there in the paddock, which has its own benefit to us. The more they rip and tear, the less work we have to do with shovel, pitchfork and sweat!

Some goat farmers like to advertise their goats for sale to those wanting to rid their properties of brush. "Got scotchbroom? Hire a goat!" "Blackberries getting you down? Our goats can help!" I actually saw a truck on I-5 in rush hour last week with slick, fancy decals advertising their goats for hire!

The chicken thing could take a while to catch on. Maybe backyard flock owners could start by letting their hens into their household compost piles. The need for those ugly, expensive black plastic compost bins would disappear! "Turn your compost AND get fresh eggs every day!" "Watch our feet do your work!"

Little Red Hen, Queen of Compost Mountain


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