Getting an oddball pet can be a great motivator, especially when it provides food for you as well as bug control and an endless supply of fertilizer for the garden.
I never thought I’d be one to raise a flock of fowl ever again in my life, but I’ve obtained a few birds in the past few weeks that have completely changed my mind. I’ve raised what could be considered farm animals multiple times in my life, the most recent being a pair of chickens almost two years ago. After the most recent duo, I figured I’d be fine with only ever caring for a cat or dog from here on out.
Then a neighbor began the process by donating four juvenile Claret hens.
The problem was, while I’ve been quickly expanding my garden, I have made slow plans to move ahead with converting an old rabbit hutch into a chicken coop. It would debut spring 2021. Suddenly I had four chickens with no real home. Fortunately, a friend with farmland wanted them, so off to his property three of them went. One was intelligent and tame enough to keep in the rabbit hutch without a dedicated run or ramp, so she stayed.
But the idea of chickens had pecked and scratched its way into my mind, and I wanted to get more. Setting up the garden meant visits to L.A. Hearne in King City for supplies, and every time I’d go there, I’d intentionally pass by the chick cages and give a second to entertain the idea of purchasing a trio of Ameraucanas.
With plans in place to renovate a chicken coop, I figured I might as well get some fowl to keep in a brooder while construction finishes. When they’re big enough to go outside, they’ll join the big bird already waiting for neighbors in a new decked-out coop.
The flock was boosted by an additional five chicks (Rhode Island Red, Barred Rock and Ameraucana) and three ducklings (Rouen and Pekin) from Hearne’s.
What I’ve re-learned along the way, first of all, is how much these birds convert food into messes. This is why I highly recommend having a garden if you’re considering chickens or ducks. All that poop makes great compost. With the ducks, the way they turn a clean container of water into a swamp in 10 seconds flat just means I get free compost tea for my plants.
Even if all they did was eat food, they’re a great source of plant nutrients. All their initial visits into the garden have been great at pest control, too. Although I’ll admit I may have made a mistake by showing my ducks how delicious ripe tomatoes can be. Time will tell.
The great part is they’re interesting pets. Once large enough to wander about with little supervision, they’ll be a calming element in the yard. And then there’s the eggs. By December they should all be old enough to lay eggs, so I might go on about the wonders of baking desserts with duck eggs for Christmas.
They are a ton of work, so as much as I recommend chickens and ducks, I advise considering them as much of a personal investment as getting puppies, since they’re small and defenseless and need you every day. So far I’ve been happy with that trade, as I have a flock of chirping critters who love the garden as much as I do.
Release the quacken!