Sunday, October 2, 2011

Silence is Golden

One of the things we look forward to on the farm every spring is getting our new batch of spring chicks.  Since hens only lay well for a few years, we find that getting a handful of new chicks each year ensures us of having an ongoing supply of farm-fresh eggs.  Plus, those fluffy little peeps are just too cute to pass up when they arrive at the local farm stores at the end of winter! 

Two years ago, my oldest daughter, Megan, decided to enter a few birds at the county fair along with her goats just to see what it would be like.  Turned out to be a good compliment to the goat showing as the poultry barn is attached to the goat barn, making it easy to care for both species during fair week, and the chicken show is the day before the goat show, so there’s no time conflict there.  We also learned that the poultry-showing kids can make a fair amount of money selling their birds to the public on the last day of the fair.  So, this past year, we once again looked forward to selecting our spring babies with the plan to get more than we needed to keep our flock going so that we could sell a few at the fair.

My younger daughter, Molly, and her friend, Holly, decided they’d like to get in on the “chick action”, too.  Holly lives in town but boards a goat at our farm, and she asked if I’d be willing to board a few chickens, too.  I figured a few more chicks would hardly be noticed, but I did tell her that no roosters could stay.  They get too aggressive and noisy and tend to beat up on the girls, so that was my deal.  Unfortunately, when it comes to getting baby chicks, there is no guarantee that you’ll get all girls!  Holly agreed to this condition and said that her uncle was also getting spring chicks and had agreed to take any roosters she might end up with. 

In the past, we’ve always been able to go over to our local ranch supply and feed stores during “chick days” and have plenty of spring babies to choose from between late February and early April.  But this year was a little different.  You see, the backyard hen craze has swept through our town making it legal for in-town residents to keep up to four hens in backyard coops for egg production.  This trend is growing all over the country, which is a great thing in my opinion, but the problem is, the hatcheries don’t seem to be able to keep up with demand.  We “special ordered” chicks for Megan early in the season and they came in just fine.  But Molly and Holly wanted to hand select their birds and each time they went to the store to look, they were either sold out or the order that was supposed to come in hadn’t arrived.  Finally, after several tries and adjustments to their breed preferences, they finally had their babies.  Molly got one each of three different standard breeds, and Holly selected two little black Silkies, a bantam breed (bantam chickens are about half the size of a standard chicken). 

Holly started off with her chicks in a small cage in her mother’s apartment where she was able to care for and bond with them before they outgrew that set-up.  When they got too big for the small cage, she moved them over to our farm where we took care of them during the week, and she came on weekends to do her share of goat and chicken chores.  Now the thing with bantams is that they are too small to identify their gender when they are first hatched, so you can only buy bantams that are “straight run”, which means you don’t know if you’re getting boys of girls. As the chicks began to grown, Holly noticed that one was quite a bit bigger than the other, and she guessed it was probably a cockerel (that’s official poultry jargon for “young rooster”).  She was just hoping she’d get at least one hen and when it came time to put leg bands on them as identification for the fair, she selected a pink band for the one she was hoping was a girl.

Not too surprisingly, around mid-July we began to hear the first attempts at a cock-a-doodle-doo out of one of her birds, although it wasn’t from the bigger one – it was coming from the one wearing a pink band!  So, we quickly changed leg bands, being convinced that surely the other one would end up being a girl.  But as luck would have it, about 3 days before the fair, I heard the now pink-banded bird begin the all-too-familiar beginner’s crow.  Darn, two for two.

When it came to the poultry sale day, Holly did her best to market her young lads and tried to convince anyone she came in contact with that they really needed a little Silkie bantam rooster!  But at the end of the fair, all the hens were sold and we came back to the farm with two little black, fluffy-headed cockerels.

Now, remember that plan for the uncle to take the roosters?  Well, turns out he ended up with 6 of his own from his young flock of 12, so he took back his offer.  We thought one of our 4-H families might take one, but they decided not to.  I found two other potential takers but they, too, eventually backed out.  As the weeks passed by, the little roosters got louder and louder and the sound of that cock-a-doodle-doo started wearing on my nerves.  Normally, I love that sound, but now every time I heard it, it reminded me that those two boys who were supposed to be long gone, were still here!

Finally, out of desperation, I posted an ad on Craig’s List – FREE, cute and friendly bantam-sized Silkie roosters!  MUST go this weekend!

You can imagine my joy and relief when the e-mail came in saying, “if you’ve still got ‘em, I’ll take ‘em”.  BINGO!  I felt like I’d hit the jackpot.  When the couple and their three kids showed up to get the boys, I met them at the driveway with the roosters ready to go.  I didn’t want to waste any time transferring them to the cage they had brought just in case they might change their mind at the last minute.  The exchange took approximately 2 minutes, and they were on their way.

Later that afternoon, as my husband and I sat on our deck sipping a glass of wine while looking out at our beautiful foothills view, I noticed with great pleasure how still and quiet it was, quiet being the operative word.  It was sheer bliss.

As for next year?  Well, let’s just say I’ve told Holly she can get chicks again, but this time they have to be Golden Sex-linked pullets.  If they’re yellow, they’re girls!

Life Lesson:  Be careful what you agree to

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