Fun on the farm

I’ve always had that farm girl in me even though I am a semi-retired college professor. I want to raise livestock, drive a tractor, grow my own food, get my hands dirty, and have the sense of accomplishment after a rigorous day of work.

Don’t get me wrong, as a teacher, my harvest is educated students who graduate and make the world better. I wouldn’t trade 35 years of teaching for anything other than more time with my kids and grandkids.

But I want that small farm, chickens and all. In fact, not a week goes by that I don’t dream of chickens. I plan where the coop would go, how I could shade it and protect my garden while letting the chickens graze. For those of you who dream about it also, know that chickens are omnivores – translation: they will eat every plant they can reach along with bugs.

MY FIRST CHICKEN!

I think my love for chickens goes back to when I was 12 years old. My dad thought it would be really cute to give my younger sister and me two baby chicks for Easter. My sister’s chicken grew up to be a large Rhode Island Red rooster. Mine was a Plymouth Rock hen.

It was great fun for us, but my mom was anything but thrilled because we lived in a townhouse (WHAT was my dad thinking!). We hid the chicks from the neighbors and my hen wasn’t much of a problem in the back patio once she reached adulthood, but we were discovered the day my sister’s rooster learned to crow.

It wasn’t long before we had to find a new home for the chickens. Dad found someone with a small farm who was willing to take them. One night, we got a call from the people who adopted them. They were furious and they wanted us to take the chickens back. My sweet hen had snuck into the house (they were used to coming into our house) and jumped up on the table and helped herself to their dinner. When the family walked in, they found food spread all over the table and onto the floor with my dear Plymouth Rock standing in the middle of it looking quite satisfied. Mom told them the chickens were their problem. I hope they didn’t become Sunday’s dinner, but I suspect they did.

ROOSTER ON THE RUN

When my sons were very young, my husband and I bought an acre on South Mountain. It came with horse corrals but we couldn’t afford horses so I turned one corral into a chicken coop. My sons and I went to the local feed store and bought six chickens to raise. I paid extra to purchase sexed chicks, guaranteed to be hens. My boys were so, so excited.

The chickens grew up to be wonderful little hens, except for the unexpected rooster. Each day, my sons stepped through the back door to play and the rooster chased them around the yard as the boys screamed for help and bolted back into the house. Of course, it didn’t help that they were typical boys, crowing as they ran from the rooster. I asked my husband Rick to go outside with the boys to watch over them, and the next thing I knew, I heard Rick frantically yelling for me from the backyard.

As I walked outside, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The rooster had all three of them on the run. Rick was trying to catch the rooster then the rooster would turn on him. My husband was a “gentleman farmer.” I was always the one planting, taking care of the animals, and doing the urban farm chores as he simply dreamed of the pastoral life from his armchair.

So as I watched him grab at the rooster then jump back out of fear, I laughed, grabbed some chicken feed and threw it on the ground. That was the last of the chicken chase as the rooster ran for the treat.

The next day and several chicken chases later. the rooster was Sunday dinner. I thought of my little chicken as a child and wondered again if it had fallen to the same fate.

By the way, in my opinion, the smell of wet feathers as I cleaned that rooster was not worth the free dinner. To clean a chicken, you scald it briefly in boiling water, then dip it into cold water to prevent skin tears as you pluck the feathers. I vowed to buy my frying and stewing chickens in the future.

THE GOATS JOIN IN

The craziness on our little urban farm didn’t stop there. A friend of mine was moving and she had an adult male and female goat. She asked if I would take them. She couldn’t sell them because they weren’t registered.

The trick was getting those two goats home. I had an old SUV, so I lowered the back seat and pushed them in. My sons sat in front with me as the male goat pressed his head over the seat and tried to grab the wheel with his horns. It was a long 25 miles from Buckeye to our home.

We discovered that the male was an escape artist. We put the male goat into one of the horse stalls and Rick tied the gate with a thick rope. A few hours later, the goat was running around the yard terrorizing the boys. The goat seemed to respond to me as he let me lead him back to the pen.

We discovered that he had chewed through the rope. Rick tied another rope onto the gate and the goat did it again. I suggested that Rick buy a chain, but the gauntlet had been thrown down between the two of them.

Rick decided he would “fix the goat’s wagon.” He took Tabasco Sauce and coated the rope with it. We heard snorting outside the house a bit later and Rick walked to the back of the property to check it out. Rick was pleased with himself and thought he would discover the goat had learned his lesson.

As Rick approached the pen, the goat spotted him, backed up and charged the gate, busting it wide open. He chased Rick back to the house and pinned him against the wall while shaking his head furiously. Rick kept screaming for me. If Rick hadn’t been in a bit of danger, I would have simply sat on the steps and had a good laugh. He had his hands raised sky high screaming as the goat tried to gore him with his horns through the side-to-side motion. He wasn’t in any real danger because the horn tips pointed out. But my husband was panicked. I took pity, grabbed the horns again and dragged the goat back to the pen.

Rick quickly jumped into the SUV and drove to the store to buy a chain, a lock and some lumber to repair the gate.

We sold the acreage when we divorced. Rick became a city guy through and through while I kept getting my hands dirty through gardening. And here I am today, dreaming of chickens again.

Next week, I’ll write about the practical side of keeping chickens in a suburban environment, HOAs and all.

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Jknapp

I am a certified agriscape designer and Maricopa County Master Gardener. I have been gardening since I was six years old and worked in my grandfather's garden. I believe that the only way to be a responsible gardener is to garden organically. It improves our soil, is safer for us to eat, sustainable and it protects our pollinators and soil from chemical poisoning.

2 thoughts on “Fun on the farm

  1. You are a very talented story teller! Love your posts and your inspirational knowledge of all things gardening.
    I used to raise bees in Utah. Do you know much about raising them in queen Creek, Arizona? I’ve hesitated because of the high temperatures and Africanized bees. I’d love a post on your experiences, of you’ve had any!

    1. Thank you so much, Eileen. I don’t have experience with bees other than knowing what plants draw them to my garden. Africanized bees are not as large of a problem as it used to be.

      I will interview a good beekeeper and post the interview soon. Thanks for the idea!

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