Saturday, February 19, 2011

Noodles

The first spring we lived on the farm, we decided we were ready to try our hand at raising chicks.  I'd always loved the idea of collecting fresh eggs in the morning and couldn't wait to get started.  We got a kid's book on chicken care (a great way to get the basic information you need without getting overwhelmed), read up a bit and headed out to our local farm supply store, Murdochs, to pick out our new little darlings.  If you've ever been to a farm store during "chick days", you know how irresistible those little fluffy hatchlings are.  We knew from our reading that if we wanted laying hens only (i.e. no roosters) we would have to select our chicks from the bins marked "pullets", as opposed to "straight run".  Apparently, identifying the gender of a one-day-old chick is so tricky that only a professional Chick Sexer can do it (I kid you not, that is a job title in the Dictionary for Occupational Titles!).  The pullet bin contains little girl chicks (most of the time) while the straight run bin hasn't been sexed, hence you get what you get.  We decided to start with 6 chicks and picked out 3 different breeds which, from our limited research, we thought would be friendly and lay pretty eggs (no white eggs for us!).  We chose 2 Ameraucanas (known as the Easter Egg chicken because they lay eggs ranging from brown to pink to green and blue), 2 Golden Sex-linked (to add some color to the girls themselves) and 2 Black Australorps.  We brought them home in their little cardboard box and gently placed them in the pine-shaving-lined trough we had set up in the garage. 

We dutifully fed and watered the chicks each day and watched them grow for the next few weeks.  Meanwhile, Brian started building a chicken coop that would be their home in the barn once they were big enough, and we cut a small door into the barn wall so that they would be able to go outside into a fenced run to get fresh air and exercise.  Brian constructed three nest boxes with a hinged opening to make collecting eggs easier, and a couple of perches for the girls to roost on at night.  When the chicks were about 6 weeks old, they had outgrown their garage nursery and it was time to move them to their new digs.  It seemed hard for me to imagine that they would know to jump up onto the roosts to sleep, but when we checked on them that first night in the barn, sure enough, they were all lined up on the perch just like the book said they would be!

It took about 5 months until we got our first fresh eggs and once we did, we were ruined for store-bought eggs forever.  The yolk of the fresh eggs is almost orange and wonderfully thick and flavorful, while the whites are firm and viscous.  By comparison, store-bought eggs seem watery and bland.  So, now that we are spoiled with the real deal, we have found it necessary (and fun) to get a few more chicks each year, to keep the fresh eggs coming.  Hens tend to lay well for 2 or 3 years, and then they produce less regularly, so we decided that we'd add several new birds to the flock each year to ensure a steady supply of the delicious eggs.

Well,  a few years ago, when we went to pick out our annual spring chicks, we arrived at Murdochs mid-afternoon during the height of chick days only to find that every single chick in the "pullett" bins had been sold.  All that was left were the straight run babies.  We had our hearts set on getting chicks that day, so I decided to do some quick "research".  I figured, if we ended up with a rooster, it would be good to select a breed that was known for friendly boys and not one of the overly aggressive breeds.  I consulted the Murdoch's employee who specialized in chickens (I call her the Chicken Lady) and learned that the Japanese Bantams were my best best for a friendly cockerel if our 50/50 chance of getting a boy landed us with a rooster.  Bantams, in case you're not familiar with chicken types, are basically little chickens - when full grown that are only about 1/3 to 1/2 the size of the large breeds.  And so it was that we selected two tiny Black and White Japanese Bantam chicks.

Everything went fine as the chicks started out in the garage trough-nursery like all our other spring chicks.  And as they grew and matured, it became evident that we probably had ended up with a pair - a pullett and a cockerel.  We were actually somewhat pleased with the idea of having a little man in the hen yard and I looked forward to hearing his first cock-a-doodle-doos.  But then, at about 6 weeks, tragedy struck when we came out to feed the chicks one day and found that the little bantam pullet had suddenly died, leaving poor little Noodles (don't ask me how he got this name) a widower.  I was concerned that he would be lonely without his mate, so rushed back to Murdochs for a replacement.  Much to my dismay, the bins were all gone and I learned that chick days were over.  And it was too late in the spring to special order any new chicks because poultry breeders stop shipping them once it gets too hot.  Poor little Noodles was to remain mateless and so the Chicken Lady recommended that we put a stuffed animal in with him to cheer him up a bit.   Granted, there were other big hens in the coop with him but it wasn't the same as having his own partner.  So, we found a little stuffed pig, put it on the roost, and sure enough, Noodles squeezed up there next to the little piggy that night and made the best of it.

Well, I couldn't see letting Noodles mourn any longer than necessary and once again turned to one of my favorite resources, Craig's List.  I posted an ad that read:  Wanted - 6 week old Japanese Bantam pullett for my heart-broken little cockerel.   I figured it was unlikely, but what the heck.  And believe it or not, within 24 hours, I had a response from a small farm within 30 minutes of ours that had a dozen or so pullets available that were not only the same breed, but exactly the right age!  I couldn't believe my luck and quickly headed down to fetch up a new wife for the little guy.  In fact, I decided to buy two just in case something happened to the first one.  
When I got the two girls back to the barnyard and put them in with lonely little Noodles, he took one look at them and I swear his little chicken face lit up and seemed to express, "Wow - two for one!!"  He was overjoyed and followed them around excitedly for the rest of the day.  That night when I checked in on the roost, there was Mr. Noodles proudly nestled between his two new young harem wives.

Life Lesson:  When life deals you a bad blow, better days are usually ahead

1 comment:

Mindy said...

Kate-- These stories are too precious. I'm SO glad Noodles wasn't alone for too long --- my heart went out to him (of course).