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Adventures in chickening, and not 'chickening out'

Posted: May 17, 2013 - 12:00am
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What we've dubbed the "cardboard palace." Brooding boxes for chicks can be made of just about anything - a kiddy pool, a metal tub, a Rubbermaid container - as long as they have warmth from a heat lamp, access to food and water and a reasonable layer of litter beneath their feet, to absorb waste.   Abby Lowell | Juneau Empire
Abby Lowell | Juneau Empire
What we've dubbed the "cardboard palace." Brooding boxes for chicks can be made of just about anything - a kiddy pool, a metal tub, a Rubbermaid container - as long as they have warmth from a heat lamp, access to food and water and a reasonable layer of litter beneath their feet, to absorb waste.

At 4 a.m. two nights ago, I heard my son creeping down our wooden stairs. He snuck quietly into the laundry room and then, went silent. A few moments later, the “peep, peep, peep” of waking chicks perforated through the floor boards. Before long, he was stealing back up the stairs, headed for his bed, but not before an obligatory bathroom stop.

I smiled to myself. He had woken to check on our nine newest family members — four black sexlinks, three cornish crosses and two brown leghorn chicks.

We’ve begun our adventures in raising chickens, and I’m proud of our family for not “chickening out.”

For more than a year we’ve talked and talked about getting chickens. Our family eats a lot of eggs, and while I don’t expect these hens will be able to keep up with our needs, I take comfort in knowing where my food comes from each step of the way. My husband and I have picked the brains (no pun intended) of many local chicken owners, absorbing as much of the good, and bad, as we could. We scouted a coop location. We ho-hummed about the design. We definitely dilly-dallied.

On Wednesday, when my husband was out of town, I did it. Swampy Acres had chicks, but they were growing fast. The time was now. I sent a quick text to my husband — “I’m going for it,” I wrote.

With his blessing, I picked up the kids (mistake number one, though it seemed like a good idea at the time) and headed to Juneau’s local farm. We chatted with staff, got our supplies (mistake number two - get your supplies first!) and then picked out our chicks. After wrangling two small children, corralling a prowling cat, trying to keep the chicks from hopping out of the box and loading the feed, feeder and watering trough into the car, all while rain poured from above, we were off.

By the way, I should mention, I now understand why they call it “Swampy Acres.”

Anyway, we made it home, got the chicks settled into their palatial cardboard brooding box and sat back to take stock of what we’d done.

The kids held and fawned over the little balls of fluff and new feathers. The chicks eagerly sipped water and ate like little savages — even the short trip through town had been stressful.

Our sustaining flock will consist of six laying hens. For a brief time we’ll have the three cornish cross, which will eventually end up as dinner. All things chicken-related are new to my family, so butchering a chicken and dressing it will be an experience, to say the least. But we’re up for the challenge, and the benefit of growing and eating what we raise outweighs any uncertainty.

It didn’t take long to figure out the chicks were better off in the garage, and that an addition to their cardboard home was needed.

Now begins the construction of the coop which, thanks the incentive of our newest family members, is well under way.

Oh, and yes, my four-year-old son knows we’re going to eat the three cornish cross chickens. So far, he’s all for it.

• Stay tuned for more adventures in chickening in upcoming editions of Outdoors. Contact Outdoors Editor Abby Lowell at 523-2271 or by email at abby.lowell@juneauempire.com.

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