When my family and I moved across the country to a remote rural area in the Northeast, I promised my children they could have chickens. They were so excited to have farm animals and fresh eggs. They promised me fervently they would do ALL THE WORK involved. Mr. Fox spent weeks building a beautiful coop that was widely talked about in our small town and we became known as those Chicago people with the huge coop being erected in the driveway. I’m sure they were all laughing at us when we weren’t looking. They knew what we were in for and were nice enough not to tell us.
The (probably thousand-dollar) coop was finally constructed and moved up on top of our picturesque hill. Then came the baby chicks. My children were in love, but already there were signs of their waning interest whenever the chick box had to be cleaned out and they were suddenly nowhere to be found. They spent lots of time cuddling the chicks, however, and naming each one. There were nineteen altogether.
The chicks began to grow too big for the basement, so we finally moved them out to their new coop, but there was no fence around it so they were allowed to wander freely. This was our first big mistake. A fox was watching our hen house and took a few one afternoon. He came back the next day and met the business end of a shotgun. My father-in-law and I skinned his tail together and hung it on the wall of the workshop. To say that was an experience a girl from Chicago never really saw coming is an understatement. But I did it without gagging.
This incident motivated Mr. Fox to build a predator-proof enclosure so our chicks would not be attacked again. He built a run and the chicks were able to grow to maturity before we started letting them roam. We got stuck with four roosters and decided to only keep one. Three went to a Mennonite farm down the way. One became the prince of the yard. That rooster was a beautiful jerk, but I loved him.
Prince was a good protector for the hens, but unfortunately, he thought he was protecting them from me, forcing me to have to approach him with a stick at the ready and never turn my back on him.
Life went on without incident for quite a while until one fall day the children got off the bus to blood and feathers littering their driveway. Another fox had struck and in one day, he had depleted my flock from 15 to 6. The rooster didn’t make it. He tried valiantly. His feathers were all over the yard and I found him under a rose bush, traumatized and injured. He’s the only reason the fox didn’t get my entire flock. He hung on for a short time until it was clear he needed to be let go from the misery.
Why were we doing this for eggs that we could buy in the store for a dollar and change? It began to feel as if it were an expensive, emotionally draining waste. Every day was like a poultry telenovela. The children disengaged emotionally from the animals after the massacre. The constant loss was too much. We had to bury Prince with a ceremony and a wooden cross marker in the yard next to his baby sister, Lavender, who had her neck broken by the last fox a few months earlier.
It was now my responsibility to care for the remaining traumatized flock. They refused to leave the coop for a long time. They also would not free-range anymore unless the dog and I were outside with them and then they would follow us around the yard. I cared for them after the mass murder, all through this winter, gathering my six eggs a day and sharing them with a neighbor. I began to resent these chickens no one seemed to care about and I resolved to get rid of them.
And then COVID-19 turned the world upside down. The grocery store shelves emptied and there were suddenly no eggs. I realized that what we were doing wasn’t a hobby or something fun to try, but a real necessity for survival. My six remaining chickens went from a burden to a blessing overnight. I realized that if the worst happened and we did run out of food, we won’t starve. We have fresh protein every single day and an excellent commodity with which to barter. In an instant, my chicken struggles became the best uphill battle I ever fought.
As the states began closing down all restaurants and schools, both my husband and I had almost the same thought at the same time: “Maybe we need more chickens.” My flock grew from six to twelve as of yesterday. The chicken supplier in town had sold 500 chicks over the weekend and was down to just a few. We weren’t the only ones with this idea. If you’d like to learn about chicken-raising, I’m documenting it this time on Facebook and Periscope (@MeganFoxWriter). Feel free to join me and consider a small chicken flock of your own. Real preparedness takes a lot of work and frustration, but when you reach the point where it’s just small daily tasks that pay off with fresh food for your family, the hardships are worth it.
(As a comedic side note, of the surviving six chickens, three of them are ones that I had named at the time of their hatching: Deep State, Black Ops, and DJT. The battle is ongoing, even in the chicken world.)
It turns out that my chicken project was the best decision I ever made. Find out why!
Posted by Megan Fox, Author on Monday, March 16, 2020
Here’s how you set up baby chicks when you first get them. It’s very easy. (Ignore the spilled water on the floor. I did that while I was filling up their water container.)
Baby chick talk
Posted by Megan Fox, Author on Monday, March 16, 2020
Megan Fox is the author of “Believe Evidence; The Death of Due Process from Salome to #MeToo,” and host of The Fringe podcast. Follow on Twitter @MeganFoxWriter