I owe some of my favorite childhood memories to chickens. Every summer, my brother and I traveled from our home near Miami to the Ohio town where my aunt and uncle owned a chicken farm. In the mornings we'd gather the eggs, and then we'd sell them at our roadside stand. Pure bliss for a girl from the burbs.
So it was no surprise when, years later, I told my husband that I longed to leave the suburbs and move a few miles farther out to the Kentucky countryside so we'd have space for a mini chicken farm. I wanted our kids, then ages 13, 11, 8, and 2, to appreciate life's simpler pleasures too. So off we went.
The kids and I wasted no time poring over a "hatchery" catalogue (yes, there are such things). We wanted to make sure we got eggs, so we ordered 15 chicks of a prolific breed called Barred Rock. At only $2.85 each, I wondered if they'd keep up their end of the bargain.
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We spent about $70 for a scrap-lumber coop and six weeks' worth of feed, but the big investment was time. The chickens were a lot of work, especially for the kids: cleaning out the straw bedding, replacing the water and food, and keeping away the roaming raccoons at night. We let "the girls" free-range during the day, and the kids marveled that the birds knew when it was time to hit the hay—literally.
In most months, our beloved hens produced about $32 worth of farm-fresh eggs—people were delighted to pay two bucks for a dozen. That barely covered the hens' room and board, not to mention the cost of the fancier breeds the kids wanted: Columbian Wyandottes, Buff Orpingtons, Araucanas, and the delightful Top Hats, with the flourish of feathers perched high on their heads. In the 13 years we've had chickens we've probably spent a few hundred dollars more than they've earned.
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Yet the chickens would make me happy even if they never earned a dime. From my kitchen window, I watch them scratch for bugs and take their dust baths. They seem so content. And we still get eggs: beautiful brown ones, lovely blue and green ones, and our little Top Hat named Lula Belle lays the tiniest white ones. I have heard of cat ladies—are there chicken ladies? If so, I am one. Buying and caring for them was the best investment for my children, and for me.
Lisa Burkhardt lives with her chickens (and her family) in central Kentucky.
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