The Web Cam Doesn’t Lie

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There are a lot of reasons I decided to both become a vegetarian and then to raise chickens. First and foremost, it was about animal cruelty.  What a lot of people don’t realize is that chickens by far live the most tortured lives on factory farms.

There is a better way.  I believe that if more people were allowed into factory farms, to SEE the reality of the horrific conditions, this kind of cruelty would end.

The Second Time’s a Charm

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After signing up to receive emails from the Oakhurst Community Garden, I received an invitation to attend the Chicken Symposium in Decatur, Georgia in February this year. Six sessions of information on how to raise chickens, egg production, composting information, how to build the perfect coop and more were offered. Most importantly, it would be a chance to ask some lingering questions and spend some time with a few live chickens.

The surprisingly large number of people that attended the symposium looked much like your average city dweller. No one was in overalls (except one of the instructors) or farm boots or smelled like manure. In fact, most of the instructors had “regular” jobs and didn’t live on a farm. These people were interested in growing fresh food without hormones, antibiotics or other nasty chemicals, while at the same time respecting animals and preserving the earth. Brilliant!

During registration, I wrote my name on a slip of paper and dropped it into a bowl.

There are a huge number of absolutely beautiful breeds of chickens in existence.  Some have feathered feet, some have feathered heads that look like dusters, some are small enough to keep in large indoor aquariums! A variety of breeds were presented in this session of the symposium, but my preference in breed was still very basic: friendly, hardy, egg layer.

Chicken Coop building ranges from a trash can turned upside down to a full blown poultry Taj Mahal! Chickens need protection, a place above ground to roost, and food and water. Lots of ideas on what my coop would look like swirled through my head as I listened to the instructor talk about building his own coop. One thing was sure: A good portion of the coop would be created from recycled or found materials in the basement leftover from renovating my antique house.

Maintenance of chickens is fairly minimal. As a chicken owner, you must gather eggs daily. Cleaning can be done periodically depending on how the coop is built, and the time it takes to feed and water is dependent on the types of containers purchased or built. It seemed about 5-10 minutes a day would be spent caring for the chickens and longer periods of time, but far less frequent, cleaning out the coop.

3-Day old Baby ChickAll the information gained at the symposium was extremely useful. However, I was still not ready to move forward. My mother was going through cancer treatments. Would I have time to do this?

At the end of the Chicken Symposium, an instructor drew names out of that bowl and, for the second time, I won something related to raising chickens! It wasn’t a bag of chicken feed this time…it was six three day old chicks. The decision was made!

I NEVER Win Anything

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My first class on Raising Chickens at Oakhurst Garden took place in the Fall of 2009. Andrew Wordes, who has made a name for himself fighting city council to keep his pet chickens in Roswell Georgia, taught the class. He explained the difference in chicken breeds, how to hatch them from eggs, raise them from various stages of life and spoke of all the benefits of having chickens. He spoke about their housing and feeding needs and what was required on a daily basis to keep a flock of chickens happy. I was touched by this man. He truly loved his birds!

Notice that blue bag of Layena chicken feed I would win shortly after Andrew taught us about chicken health and happiness!

Two pretty important questions needed to be asked. How long do the chickens lay eggs? And how long do they live after they stop laying? As a vegetarian, I could not kill these animals, so how long they would be pets only was important. It turns out chickens can live for QUITE a while – ten, fifteen, even twenty years in optimal circumstances. Hmmmm, that’s a big commitment! The proud owner of five rescues, two cats and three dogs, commitment wasn’t a problem for me thus far. But chickens are not dogs or cats. Would they respond to humans in the same way? It was something to consider.

As the class was ending, Andrew directed us all to look at the number written at the top of the handout we received when we arrived at the Garden. A little girl was asked to pull a number out of a hat, and it was lucky number seven. Guess who won a bag of Chicken Layer feed? While I was pretty excited, as I NEVER win anything, Oakhurst Garden received a donated bag of chicken food that day!

Immediately after the class, I purchased the book Chicks in The City. Still very much intrigued by the idea of raising chickens, this book would guide my decision one way or the other…

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Check out pictures from Oakhurst Garden!

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

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The egg. The expensive organic egg from the humanely treated chickens at Country Hen that I was buying for $3.00 per HALF dozen. The price really didn’t matter. It was simply the cost of refusing to buy the usual commercially grown caged hen’s eggs. (The reasons not to buy typical commercially grown eggs will be the topic of a future post at some point.)  BUT, I definitely consumed fewer eggs because of the higher cost.

The Chickens at Oakhurst Garden

The Chickens at Oakhurst Garden

I was introduced to Oakhurst Community Garden which was close to my place of employment at the time in Decatur, Georgia.  An avid organic gardener, I ventured to the garden in search of organic seedlings. What I found instead were chickens!

From the time I was born, I have loved animals – ALL kinds of animals.  Animals have magical powers. Children inherently recognize these powers. But we somehow move further and further away from this connection as we grow older…and as the conceptual space between food production and consumption widens.

The Oakhurst Garden’s chicken coop was beautiful! It certainly didn’t smell bad and the chickens were running around scratching, cackling, eating bugs and soaking up the sunshine. There were several different varieties and all were clean, healthy and clearly enjoying their lives. I was in love. I was intrigued. I signed up for a class on Raising Chickens!

And so my journey began with an expensive egg. Little did I know the joy that was ahead of me!

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By the way, if you are interested in the answer to whether the chicken or the egg came first, check out this article. The debate continues.