Chicken article in today's Wichita Eagle

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  1. WichitaKSClucks

    WichitaKSClucks Out Of The Brooder

    Mar 27, 2015
    Wichita, Kansas
    The poultry plunge is nothing to crow about
    Eagle business columnist Carrie Rengers and her husband take on the raising of chickens in their backyard – and it’s more complex than you might think.

    BY CARRIE RENGERS [email protected]

    The first time my husband brought up the idea of keeping chickens in our backyard, I was too flabbergasted to respond.
    In the 22 years we’ve been together, the only pets we’ve owned were two goldfish he had while we were dating. Jimmy lost his life in an unfortunate sink disposal incident during a bowl cleaning. Then Jerry died of a broken heart.
    Or perhaps a lack of food.
    Or the fact that my husband, Joe, never cleaned the bowl again.
    We’ve not had dogs or cats because I’m allergic. To everything.
    So chickens? Not unless they’re on a plate.
    But Joe worked on me.
    “Think of the eggs!”
    You mean those little white things I can buy at a store?
    He concocted a plan to turn our Ethan Allen armoire into a coop.
    “And we could name the chickens Ethan, Allen and Armoire,” Joe said, appealing to the side of me that loves naming all things.
    He took me to Atwoods under the guise of studying coops. But then there were all these fuzzy, cuddly little chicks right there in a box, further weakening my resolve.
    So on a rainy Monday morning, we unloaded three Wyandottes from a borrowed dog carrier into our – thankfully – store-bought coop.
    The chickens seemed as bewildered about the whole thing as I felt.
    Joe and I ran into the house and took turns watching out the back door, relaying information to each other on their movements.
    “They’re pecking at the ground!”
    “They’re checking out the stairs!”
    “Oh, my god! One of them is climbing the stairs!”
    If we’d known it would be this entertaining, we could have dropped our cable a long time ago.
    We named the biggest one Armoire in homage to the homemade coop that wasn’t. The other two went nameless until their personalities emerged to serve as inspiration: Speedy and Sneaky.
    What, you don’t believe chickens have personalities? Then you’ve clearly never met one outside of dinner before.
    I think Sneaky truly enjoyed being sneaky just for the game of it. And much like a toddler playing hide-and-seek, she wasn’t very good at it. She’d sit extremely still, peering out from under a table like, hey, maybe they can’t see me.
    Speedy, however, was speedy. On 2-inch legs, Speedy had no trouble eluding Joe with a getaway down the driveway. I think she came back only because she liked him so much – or was hungry.
    They made our backyard in North Riverside their home by finding various nesting spots under trees and among plants.
    Almost immediately, they started laying eggs, which led to on-demand omelets and egg sandwiches and hostess gifts.
    The girls became our joint focus. Have the girls been fed? Tucked in for the night? Should we give them a mealworm treat?
    So it was when Joe returned from an out-of-town trip that he said, “Hey, should we go see the girls?”
    We started toward their coop but didn’t see them. Even before Joe opened the nesting box, my stomach dropped.
    The three were curled together, completely still. We were confused and afraid to touch them. Were they sleeping?
    We walked away, hoping. The next morning confirmed they were gone, though.
    An extension agent speculated fertilizer may have killed them, but we don’t know.
    It happened to be a week of particularly awful national tragedies, so I didn’t think it wise to put anything on Facebook about my chicken loss, but I was down.
    For a good day and a half, I was genuinely sad, quietly wiping away tears at work before co-workers – the ones joking about a fried chicken memorial lunch – could see.
    For a few weeks, I returned home each day to an empty, lonely yard.
    Finally, on a Friday, Joe announced he was going to the Yoder Poultry Auction. We packed a big box in the back of his truck, ready for our next avian adventure.
    Clueless, Joe and I milled among the crates of chickens, roosters, ducks and pheasants along with row after row of boxed bunnies.
    We may have been just 40 minutes from Wichita, but the city seemed a world away.
    And I think they – the auctioneers, that is – saw us coming. Because one of the hens they sold us turned out to be a rooster. Henrietta is a he.
    So began our friends’ jokes about how we’d have to build another bathroom for Henry.
    We’re not doing that, though, because Henry isn’t staying. In addition to not producing any eggs, and in addition to being illegal within city limits – a co-worker helpfully handed me the city’s fine schedule for animal violations – Henry won’t stop crowing.
    There’s a rooster living in the yard behind us, too, and the two tend to get each other going – around sunrise most days, and then it just continues as they rile each other throughout the day.
    We’ve also not had much luck with the hens – Pepper and Gertie – so far. Our “layers,” as they’re called, aren’t laying.
    A friend bought us “Raising Chickens for Dummies,” which we obviously need to read. Quickly.
    Another suggested placing a golf ball in their nesting box to encourage egg production.
    Joe thinks he has solved the perennial riddle of which came first, the chicken or the egg.
    “The chickens, and they’re still not laying any eggs!”
    They are, however, doing a marvelous job fertilizing our patio.
    Some people manage to teach their chickens how to play tic-tac-toe and swing in swings. We can’t even potty train ours.
    Squirt guns didn’t work. Nor did the garden hose. I fear Joe may try water-boarding them next.
    I won’t let that happen, though, because I love those girls.
    And there’s one bonus. All this crowing has led to the discovery of my one true talent: I can cock-adoodle-doo with the best of them.
    When I do it, even Henry and the girls stop to look. Then the rooster behind our fence crows back. Then Henry chimes in.
    It’s turned into quite a party trick for me.
    So I will accept the taunts of my co-workers. I will continue to hose off the patio. And I am prepared to be hauled into animal court or whatever it is to defend Henry until I can find him a safe home.
    Long after this whole chicken fad has ended, I intend to still have mine. It’s not a stretch to say I see myself in them – my inquisitive Pepper and constantly confused Gertie.
    Egg producers or not, they’re staying.
    And I’m going to keep on crowing.
    So, here’s an update that’s likely to further damage our reputation as chicken parents. Fortunately for us, I don’t think there are any state agencies that are likely to get involved.
    We successfully found Henry a new home on a farm in Sedgwick where he can rule the roost.
    Almost immediately after he left, though, Gertie started making some strange guttural noises. The sounds grew and finally morphed into full-on crowing.
    Somehow Henry’s presence had held back Gertie, but now she – he – is free to be the rooster he was always meant to be.
    That’s right, we have egg on our faces again, if only figuratively, because we still have no eggs and clearly won’t be getting any from Gertie.
    At this point, it’s fair to ask whether Joe and I are the two stupidest people who have ever attempted to raise chickens.
    I have another question, though: Does anyone need a rooster?
    Carrie Rengers: 316-268-6340, @CarrieRengers

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