Wheaton’s Way

Just call me the Chicken Lady

Before I begin this one, let me just say that I get the fact that not many people are going to share my enthusiasm on this subject. Two words: wild chickens.

At my former residence, I only saw a flock of these much-maligned local birds wandering the area as we were on the brink of transferring to another home. The word of cat food on the front porch had clearly got around on whatever the chicken equivalent of the grapevine is. I remember pulling out from my parking space, only to see an organised brood of hens moving in formation across the garden and towards the front door. I recall thinking that I wouldn’t give a cat odds against that purposeful lot, before my mind turned to the day at the office ahead of me.

About two months later, now firmly ensconced in our new house, I noticed a few chickens across the road (yes, yes … that old chestnut). I tried to get a closer look, but they ran from me like I was Old MacDonald looking for dinner.

Each morning, there were toast remnants in the kitchen, courtesy of my flatmate, Lynne. I took them with me to the car and dribbled them along the front lawn. Heads popped out, but no one was making a move until I was well down the lane in my vehicle.

About a month passed, and I noticed that the birdies were getting a little braver with me. I think a few more had joined the flock, but perhaps I was wrong. As I exited the house to go to work, they would cautiously approach, looking for the daily toast.

I was beginning to find that there really wasn’t enough to go around. Unlike the loaves and fishes, toast doesn’t multiply. Within seconds of the dried bread hitting the ground, it was gone, followed by a lot of vocal squabbling.

I started to go through the cupboards. Surely, we had boxes of old items with expired best-by dates? I was not surprised to find the odd collection of Carr’s Table Water crackers near the back that could be sacrificed for the greater good.

Of course, old crackers will only take a person trying to build a relationship with chickens so far. I sensed that a bridge of trust had formed between me and my feathered friends. They were counting on me to feed them. I couldn’t let them down. I could swear they were multiplying …

Determined to not admit to myself that I was actually spending money on food for wild chickens, I went to Animal House to get some cat food and just happened to pick up some bird feed at the same time.

With a bag of it in the back of my car, I was first able to test it on the chickens in the parking lot at work. One of my helpful coworkers, Telman, pointed out that although this mixed grain stuff was OK for chickens, they were always going to go for the corn in it first. Dismissing this information as a load of old hokum, I upended the bag and poured a small amount on the gravel. The birds made a beeline for it and, unbelievably, immediately sought out each individual yellow kernel before resigning themselves to the remaining seeds. As Telman smiled knowingly, I accepted that I was going to have to take this up a level and buy crushed corn only.

Through various underground sources I gathered that Cost-U-Less stocked the good stuff. I looked everywhere on the shelves before I was told that they had sold out. It was going to have to be mixed seed until the containers arrived.

For a couple of weeks I called the store and when I finally got the word that crushed corn was in, I drove over there and picked up three large bags. No more denying it – I was officially feeding these birds.

It has now been eight months since we moved into the house. Every morning, there is a flock of chickens basically at my front door waiting for me to come out. When I drive home at night, they run across the road at the sight of my car. It takes about 10 minutes for Lynne and me to pull out of the driveway in our separate vehicles for fear of running over tens of hens, roosters and a sea of chicks. Lynne has begun to moan at me – some nonsense about the roosters crowing in the bush outside her bedroom in the morning.

“Vicki, they are roosting there! That’s what they do!”

Last week I got a lead on the crushed corn motherlode: the Department of Agriculture in Lower Valley. They sell 50-pound bags for $11 a bag. Guess we’re building some coops.