Chicken Thinking

We bought a farm last year. It’s a small old farm with only about four acres in southeastern Colorado, but it was big enough that it brought with it all the old farm needs, such as replanting fields, repairing outbuildings, learning how to irrigate with siphon tubes, and spending fabulous amounts of money. Buying a farm also brought with it a new way of thinking.

Country living changes one’s mental state. You think new thoughts, such as: We can raise hay or anything we want in the field! Hay is selling at an all time high! Maybe we’ll grow hemp! There are thousands of possibilities! We can grow a big garden and go to farmers’ markets! We were just! so! excited! about everything! And, a favorite and recurring new thought was “We can have chickens!”

My husband and I moved from town where we lived in a 900 square foot house on a small town lot. There, we had town thoughts like “What four minutes should I set aside to mow the lawn?” It’s not that we were city people, but our naiveté is kind of sweet when I look back on our early farm thoughts.

We got our first chicks in November. We had to special order twenty-five of them (Buff Orpingtons—sweet, docile birds), because November is not the normal time to get chicks. Normal is March. When warmth is imminent.

After building a cute brooder in a repaired outbuilding, we learned that it’s difficult to regulate chicks’ heat needs when Colorado is experiencing abnormally low temperatures. When they were six days old, the next morning’s temperature was supposed to be -7°. The chicks moved inside. When they outgrew the brooder, we built a pen in our unfinished basement, where they stayed until February.

By the time it was the normal time of year for raising chicks, our hens were laying their first eggs and they were experts at plucking bugs and eating whatever green thing sprouted out of our fertile soil. It was time to employ the chickens as pest and weed controllers.

Because chickens are not entirely discriminating about what green things they eat—they’ll eat ragweed or radish sprouts, dandelions or dill—Ihave to limit their freeranging. I do this by using a simple mobile fencing method.

I bought a roll of inexpensive plastic fencing (about $13) at Walmart. To stake it, I use long, home-crafted wood stakes, but the green stakes (about $2 each) at Walmart would also work well. Between rows of vegetables, I make two rows of fence, so the weeds are between. Then, I let the chickens go. It’s an amazing thing to watch chickens make a dash for an insect down the row and entertaining to watch and listen to them as they pluck and cluck to each other as they eat fresh greens. They’re happy, and I’m controlling pests and weeds without chemicals. Plus, the fertilizer between the rows helps the soil. When they’ve cleaned a row, I move the fence.

Weeds to be plucked. Photo by Kimi Kelley

Weeds to be plucked. Photo by Kimi Kelley

Happy chickens. Photo by Kimi Kelley.

Happy chickens. Photo by Kimi Kelley.

I know we bit off more than we could chew when we bought a farm with so many needs, and some days I’m so tired that I wonder if we made a mistake buying the quirky old place. But then I go out into the garden where my rooster follows me around and pecks at my ankle until I pick him up, and those bad thoughts disappear.

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Kimi Kelley

Kimi Kelley with Rowdy the ankle biter.

Kimi Kelley lives in La Junta and teaches English and literature courses at Otero Junior College and the Fort Lyon Supportive Rehabilitation Community. She has written a book, Just Passin’ Through, a collection of stories by and about formerly homeless people who now reside at Fort Lyon. It will soon be published by Rhyolite Press. She enjoys gardening, writing about gardening, and her chickens, which happen to be great pest and weed controllers!

Photo By: By Arnout88 via Wikimedia Commons