Michelle Bellamy: My farm life with scores of chickens

I have chickens. While I’ve never been much of a ‘dig in and get your hands dirty’ type, I have always loved the idea of farm life. I hate waking up before dawn, and I definitely lack that green thumb generally required for growing any kind of plant. I also have this bad habit of procrastinating if I’m not on some form of structured schedule. Because of that, I figured farm life wasn’t for me. I made different life choices that definitely did not include living off my own land.

On a seemingly unrelated note my own husband has this thing against too many pets- so of course we own a shih tzu, two parrots, a ball python, and a betta fish named Sushi. I was quite surprised when he suddenly got this idea that we should raise chickens. I mean, sure, we ate a lot of eggs, but weren’t chickens a ton of work? Didn’t we need land and a fence?

What don’t I know about raising chickens?

Bottom line: we got chickens. We actually purchased an already established flock of a dozen chickens who were all laying eggs already including a bantam. Bantams, I learned, can be any breed of chicken, but they’re smaller. They also lay miniature little eggs. It was adorable. She had mostly black plumage, while the majority of our chickens were ISA Browns- light brown and white feathered little mass egg producers.

We started collecting our eggs and it was really cool because we could sell a few dozen a week. These pets actually paid for their own food! The first dozen chickens took some time to get used to us, but in time, we had a small group of little clucking ladies who would run up to greet us every time we went outside.

Then, we decided that we wanted to grow our flock by just a little bit, so we bought 6 baby Rhode Island Reds to raise to (hopefully) like us and tolerate our presence a bit better. It was great. At least, until disaster struck.

Unfortunately, the disaster wasn’t one major event, but several things that could possibly go wrong with a chicken flock happened over a few short months. First, one chicken got hit on the road. They generally avoid the road, but this one made a mistake and paid for it. Second, another one appeared to have landed wrong on a leg and injured it. We kept her inside to allow time to heal, but she just got worse over time. We ended up returning her to the original owner.

Then, our six new Reds were ready to go out to the coop, but not ready to free range yet because it takes a few weeks to figure out where home is. We sectioned off a portion of the coop and fenced it in to keep them from leaving when our older chicks went out, but they nudged at a corner until two of them got out. Those two didn’t know home yet, so they never came back.

The final, and probably biggest issue was some type of predator. I could take guesses all day, but I am not sure what it was. Basically we’d be missing one of our ladies every night until our flock dwindled down to seven. Five of the original twelve, and two of the reds we had raised from babies. At that point, we made the decision to coop them up, quite literally, for a couple of weeks. Since it was still cold out, they weren’t gathering any nutrition from bugs, and since we only had seven in a coop for fifty, they could still get in some exercise. Then we started letting them out for shorter amounts of time, so there was less time to wander too far away.

Apparently, that did the trick, and the predator moved on- we thought.

We wanted to grow our flock again, so we bought a dozen of mixed breeds that would fare well in our climate and had decent temperaments. We tried to keep them outside in our barn, but after only a few days, something got in. There was a massacre. We were devastated. I was furious because we took these animals in, and we are responsible for their safety and well-being. I felt like a huge failure after this. I still feel guilty, but we really could not have known that a predator could fit into the tiny hole that we assume the villain came in through.

We didn’t lose hope, though. We tried again with another dozen. To prove we learned from the loss, these we kept inside our house until they could grow big enough to go in the much safer coop with the grown chickens. I kind of named all of them, but we got three each of four separate breeds, so I basically call them by a Hogwarts House. My Salmon Faverolles are Hufflepuffs, Sapphire Gems are Ravenclaws, Australorps are Slytherins, and Leghorns are Gryffindors. They are about seven to eight weeks old now, and we have just put them in the big coop with the older ladies.

After we got this group, our red ladies started laying eggs for the first time, so it was pretty fantastic to know we raised a farm animal to full maturity and productivity. There’s nothing like having my two red ladies following me around while I take care of the coop or check the mail. It kind of sounds like they’re griping about something a lot of times, and when I pause to talk to them they always back away and stop their complaining.

It’s been a lot of work with a lot of failure. It’s been minimal risk with plenty of tangible reward. When we sit down to breakfast our eggs are always rich in color and tasty. We have learned a lot about keeping them safe, happy, and healthy. I think overall, our first brush with farm life has been eye opening and definitely worthwhile.

Bellamy is a 35-year-old mother of three girls. She’s a teacher at a high school, which serves students with mental health and behavioral issues. She also guides walking tours in Over the Rhine. A couple of her favorite hobbies are a “little unusual,” such as ghost hunting and special effects make-up. In her free time, she likes reading, writing, drawing, or hunting thrift and antique stores for odd things.