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All the chickens come home to roost

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017 2:37 p.m. CDT

I love my hens. They’re ISA Browns. The literature on them said they are, “A docile bird, extremely easy to work with.” They are all of that and then some. It’s about a half-a-block from our house to the hen house. All I have to do is open the door of our house and step out and they come running—half running, half flying, skittering across the gravel drive. It’s so cute. They love me and I love them.

In addition to laying mash, I feed them—table scraps, peelings, popcorn, stale cereal, bread crumbs, what-have-you. They know it and come running—like prairie chickens or hen pheasants running across the prairie. They are so tame I can pick them up and pet them. They talk to me, I talk to them.  

There’s such a calming effect to just watching the hens, who are so much happier now that we butchered the bully roosters. I don’t know why chicken therapy isn’t recommended more as a cure for modern-day stress, except that a lot of people don’t have room for chickens, or city ordinances prohibit raising them. Many cities are beginning to allow a few chickens (no roosters), with the renewed interest in self-sufficiency and growing your own food. It’s so relaxing, stepping outside in the evening, watching the sun set and the hens looking for just the right roosting spot.

I guess our hens are what you would call “free-range.” I let them out during the day, to wander, eat grass and bugs, and do chicken stuff. If it’s hot, they like to chill under the hen house and take dust baths. A girl’s got to keep up her appearance, don’t you know. In the evening, they return to the hen house. The old adage, “All the chickens come home to roost,” is true. I shut them in at night to keep wily coyote away. If it’s a little earlier than their bedtime, and I want to get them shut up early, all I have to do is go out there, and they follow me right into the hen house like Pied Piper. Of course, I have a special treat for them. If we’ve had sweetcorn for supper, the left over cob is to die for.

We had a violent storm on the Empty Nest farm a week-or-so ago. It came out of nowhere, not even forecast. It appeared as a tiny spec on the radar that just sat there and vegetated. It was traveling very slowly from east to west, which is highly unusual. In fact, I can’t recall a storm movement from east-to-west ever. Anywho, Ginnie and I sat in the living room and watched the rain roll across the corn-and-soybean fields toward us, like a wet blanket. Wham! It hit the house. It was a squall, a gully-whumper! There was some pea hail in it also. Then I remembered. The hens! They were out! I hoped that they had enough sense to get into their hen house. Then a straight-line wind hit, blowing from north to south. I watched debris and my gutter hose go flying by. Both doors of the hen house were wide open, which meant the wind and rain was blowing straight through. Oh, my poor hens! They could blow away! When the rain and wind let up some, I scurried out to check on them. They were huddled under a Colorado blue spruce, soak’n wet, but alive, and full of recrimination about what they’d just been through. They came running to me and I herded them in their hen house. Lord-o’-mercy! We needed the rain, but two inches in 15 minutes is wild.  

The hens will be laying soon. I have a 14-compartment nesting station for them which should be sufficient for a dozen hens. Too many choices leads to indecision, you know. But we’ll have good brown eggs to eat and give away. People are saving egg cartons for us already in anticipation.

When we have visitors to the Empty Nest farm, like our grandkids, they always want to see the chickens, and Grandma and Grandpa are glad to accommodate. When we have a bucket calf next spring, we’ll have even more to see. No, we are not getting a goat. But I’ve heard they do a pretty good job of keeping the weeds down. Hmm.

Contact Curt Swarm at curtswarm@yahoo.com

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