Rhoda and Raquel turned four years old this month, which has gotten me to thinking about all we’ve learned and how far we’ve come in our chicken keeping adventures since the day we brought home our first three chicks. We instantly fell in love with the little fuzz balls and started spoiling them from the very start. Sean built a beautiful coop and attached run in our backyard in Portland which was dubbed the “Poultry Palace” by our next door neighbor.
It wasn’t long before we learned our first lesson in chicken keeping which is that inevitably your cutest most favorite little chick will turn into a rooster. Of the three chicks we brought home, Ramona soon revealed herself to be Ramon and had to be rehomed since roosters are not allowed within the city limits. I’ve come a long way since the day I returned Ramon to the feed store and handed him over to the friendly farmer who tried his best to console away my tears by assuring me that he would find Ramon a nice place to live in the country and that most likely he would not end up in a stew pot. We’ve had 11 more roosters come into our lives since that day. Some we still have, one died from a predator attack, two were rehomed, and a few ended up in our own stew pot. It’s amazing how quickly one’s perspective can change after having a few too many roosters around. I’ve also learned that with roosters, a little goes a long way, and one or two are really all you need. Of course that doesn’t explain why I still have four roosters. I guess all I can say to that is, the heart wants what the heart wants, and roosters are a charismatic bunch to be sure.
The first two years with our backyard flock, which soon grew to five hens with the addition of Rosie, Ruby, and Ramona, went very smoothly. There were no injuries, ailments, or problems to speak of – well other than the fact that five spoiled chickens were constantly squawking for treats right outside our bedroom window at 7 am! Then one day I noticed that Ruby had lost a lot of weight, and I decided to take her to the vet. After a month of trying to nurse her back to health with no sign of improvement, I took her to a different vet who gave me the prognosis that in all likelihood her condition was not treatable and that she was probably suffering from cancer or a reproductive disorder. That’s when I learned the second lesson of chicken keeping. Chickens are prone to a variety of very serious disorders, due in part to their long history of being bred to lay a lot of eggs at the expense of other traits that affect their long-term health. No matter how many trips to the vet you make and no matter how hard you try to save them, sometimes you just can’t. Of course that doesn’t mean that I don’t still try, and I certainly tried everything within my power to try to save the Sweet Peas, only to relearn that lesson time and time again.
In the last two years, our flock has grown to 25 chickens. Rhoda and Raquel are still the matriarchs of the flock. They are the first in line for treats and can often be seen reinforcing the pecking order with a swift peck of the beak whenever a younger hen forgets her place in the hierarchy. Rhoda and Raquel have definitely slowed down in the egg laying department. Rhoda has been giving us very small yolk-less eggs for the last few weeks, and we rarely see an egg from Raquel. But that’s just fine with me. These two ladies have earned a well-deserved retirement here at the farm. They are two of my favorite ladies, and I hope to be spoiling them for many more years to come.