The chickens are laying 4 or 5 eggs a day. When we're home we let them out and they roam our back yard pecking and scratching and fertilizing and occasionally cluck clucking. There were a couple of escape routes that we had to close up but they seem to be fairly contained and content at this point. I found them across the street at the neighbors once, but when they are up to no good, there is usually one that will tattle on the others with a screech, alerting us to chickens gone astray. We had one rogue layer, hoarding eggs under the deck, but after one lesson of putting her in the coop nest, all the eggs are now plopped out in the nest we made for them.
Truth is I've really become attached to the quirky little critters. I talk to them and try to reason with them, calling them the "girls." I scold them and try to teach them life lessons. We've never had pets as a family so I guess this is what happens when you have pets, but us chicken owners can say with pride, "My pets make me breakfast."
I'm discovering that funny things happen to you when you raise farm animals. On Saturday I walked into the house at dinner time and Nancy had an oven full of chicken cooking, and I had an epiphany; I no longer want to eat chicken or I can no longer eat chicken. In a fit of solidarity with my ladies I had no interest in munching on a chicken leg. It's not that I'm against chickens as food, I'm against the way chickens are typically raised and slaughtered in a six week cycle of precision protein science. I've been against it for awhile. Go here for my blog post expressing as much last year. But something changes when you are actually involved in raising them yourself.
While last year I expressed a philosophy of opposition to industrial chicken practices, I still went on with my conscience untouched by the occasional chicken sandwich or chicken salad at a restaurant. Since our official year long experiment has ended we've been getting chicken through more traditional means and I haven't given it a second thought. But now that I have a personal relationship with 5 chickens my conscience has caught up with my philosophy. My experience has trumped my pragmatism. Maybe that's what it takes to really change our food lives. Maybe that's why we have moved the farm animals as far from our living spaces as possible, making it illegal in most residential developments to raise chickens, at least until very recently. We know that if we let the farm animals into our neighborhoods and backyards and daily routines that we won't be able to turn a blind eye to the horrendous treatment of most of the animals that end up on our dinner plates.
Roosters waking us up at 5am might have something to do with it too.
UPDATE: There is a just released undercover video from Hy-Line hatchery, the largest in the country, where they are shown sorting out the male chicks and dumping them alive into a grinder. Warning - it is graphic. Go here for the vid. The conclusion of the investigators is to not eat eggs at all. Another option is to raise your own chickens with dignity.