Friday, February 23, 2007

On Eggs and Chicks

Page my oldest sister, is a wife of Vance, mother of 8 and a registered nurse. She makes delish wheat bread, granola and cous cous salad. You can show up at her house anytime, and leave well-fed and happy. She spends her money at Anthropologie, Oilily, and at Tsunami in Sugarhouse for sushi.


I don’t really know how the chickens became apart of my everyday existence. It is kind of weird to try and recall how it all went down . . . hmmmm. Maybe it was because we are trying to be self-reliant. I think my husband is secretly hoping that the Apocalypse will start soon so that he can prove that the Checketts are ready! Bring it on—we can sleep in the snow, purify water, sprout our greens and provide our entire extended family with eggs.

Or maybe it was just our desire for the freshest foods. I’ve heard that the eggs from the grocery store were laid about three months ago! Gross! And my brother Christopher thought that a little feces on the outside of our fresh egg was gross (chickens only have one hole you know). Anyway, I believe that about store eggs because you can’t hard boil our fresh eggs—a sure sign of freshness. If the whites come off with the shell when you are peeling that means you’ve got a fresh one. I guess I better start laying some aside for Easter.

But really, I think that it was a little peer influence and curiosity that led us down this road of feathered friends. We have three other families in our neighborhood illegally housing chickens in their yards. Don’t tell the councilwoman. This area used to be zoned for it. Some things just die hard I guess. Honestly though, I didn’t want the chickens. I was well aware that in order for anything to be truly alive, a woman must be involved. I already had 8 children, a husband, one dog, a boa constrictor, a garden and a whole yard full of plants and trees.

It was unrealistic to think that my husband, who was so intent on getting them, would tend to them. And I knew the children would be thrilled with them at first but the newness would wear off in a matter of weeks and then they’d dread going out to the coop. But my husband was determined; in fact it was like he was almost possessed. He began the project with a single trip to Home Depot. I take that back, it began with hours of projecting, scheming and designing in his brain. Then he went to the Home Depot. Then he started working on the coop every chance he could get. Sometimes I was amazed and a little jealous of all the time he seemed to find for that coop. He even took apart the children’s swing set for support boards (he eventually built them a sweeter one). I know part of the drive came from wanting to one-up the backyard neighbors’ coop, but the other part was this beautiful thing about men—they really want to make sure their women have comfortable livin’. He was determined to see that his ten ladies had the finest coop in the land, one they could really strut their stuff in. So, twelve Home Depot trips later and some serious greenbacks invested, we had a weather proof, cozy, roomy coop to beat the band!

And like I predicted, his nurturing just about stopped there. He did set up a nice warming light which kept their water from melting and heated things up a tad when it was 4 degrees a few weeks ago. And he weekly cleans and fills their water, but what woman would be satisfied with a weekly drink of fresh water? But I am getting ahead of my story. I’ll now share the beautiful thing I’ve learned from these ten lady friends of mine.

Late one night my husband and oldest son went down to our generous neighbors who gave us ten of their finest looking chickens because, frankly, forty chickens were just too many for them, anyone would agree. They did it at night because, like me, these ladies are so busy all day that at night they go into a trance like sleep and you can pluck them from their roost and plop them down in your roost and they never make a peep. They just woke up in the morning and they had a new home, which seemed to suit them just fine.

And again, as I predicted, the kids were crazy about them. They went in and out of the coop a billion times, named them, took them handfuls of popcorn and cereal, showed them off to all their friends. They fussed over them and each egg they found. But, as the summer wore on, the excitement over eggs soon waned. And then school started and the chickens became a “work chart” job that someone had to do before school and after school before play time. Slowly, slowly the egg production decreased. We went from ten a day to three or four. And then we went away a few times and the neighbor girl helped us out, but her visits were even less than our two a day. And then some days the kids would rush out the door without collecting the eggs. Or dash out to play without checking in on them. We became seriously inconsistent and the darlings began eating their own eggs! They’d only lay a couple and then they’d eat them before we could snatch them away.

Everyone said it was because winter was coming, it was getting cold and chickens don’t lay in the cold. Partly true I admit. Or they’d say they are mineral deficient, so put some crushed oyster shells in their feed. We did that but no improvement. We researched and found that lack of sunlight can decrease egg production, so we put a lamp in their coop with a timer so that it would just blare out light in the middle of the night and turn off all on its own.

Finally I became so distressed by our chickens’ lack of egg laying and clear distress signals that I announced to the family that I was taking over the chickens and that I would reclaim them and nurture them back to health on my own. And so I began each day with a visit to the ladies no later than 9am. I’d always bring them a snack and a lot of it. Nothing leftover from a meal went in the garbage or down the sink. I made sure every plate was scraped into the chicken bucket at the end of each meal. And sometimes I’d add my own handful of Peanut Butter Bumpers.

I would spend a few moments each morning talking to them and telling them how lovely they looked and how proud I was of them if there was an egg awaiting me. I would return each afternoon by 5pm and repeat the process, wishing them a sweet night of sleep. Oh yeah, I also turned off the silly night light.

The turnaround seemed slow at first, an egg here and there, increasing more and more, but still a little egg nibbling going on. But after about ten days of consistent love and encouragement, things really started to change. And it was barely into January, very much still the middle of winter and cold weather. For several weeks we daily got five eggs and as the weather improved that increased to seven or eight. I have kept up the consistency, but allowed my family back in on the duties. First I told them my secrets of success. And I can clearly see that before my boys leave this house, it would be a cryin’ shame if they didn’t have the opportunity to care for these ten ladies by themselves and learn the secrets of success for caring for a woman. The secrets are this . . .

A woman really likes a nice, clean coop to roost in

A woman also loves good food and a treat

A woman needs DAILY love and encouragement

A woman needs someone she can count on regularly

A woman needs praise for a job well done and appreciated

A woman needs her man to be genuine—it’s a relationship not a “work chart” job

I figure if a teenage boy can do that for ten chickens for a year, he’ll be just about ready to take on the Brigham Young plural wives challenge. Or least he’ll be a step closer to a great marriage—truly the greatest blessing in my life.