We leapt in to the farming life last year, building a chicken coop and purchasing eight hens. Our plan was to teach the gingerbread boys responsibility and business acumen, letting them sell the dozens of eggs that we envisioned they’d collect. We counseled them not to name the chickens so as to prevent emotional attachment. These were livestock, not pets.
Then one pullet died out of the blue, leaving us with seven.
That’s alright, we said. Chickens die.
Another sickened and died. Then another. We borrowed a dog crate from a friend to quarantine the next sick one. She died, too.
Every time we put a hen into the crate, she would die. We began calling it the Dog Crate of Death.
Gone were the dreams of dozens of eggs. Most of the chickens died before they even started laying. A couple of them had coccidiosis. One died from external parasites. One had the big daddy of all poultry diseases: Marek’s.
By early winter, we were down to three hens, one who has never laid an egg in her life and doesn’t appear to want to start any time soon, and two reliable layers.
Our plans of teaching our boys responsibility and business acumen dwindled. We were lucky if we got three eggs every two days. The coop my husband built seemed like an empty castle with its six nesting boxes and repurposed stained glass window.
In February, we ordered sixteen female chicks. One of them died en route to us. Another of them got pecked to death. For the most part, they grew into sturdy, healthy hens. One laid a tiny egg at 10 weeks. Another lays eggs with double yolks.
The gingerbread boys began selling eggs to neighbors. This was where the tide was going to turn, we thought. Soon we’d be getting about a dozen eggs a day, more if that one wyandotte would ever decide to earn her keep and start laying.
But then one turned into a big-combed, large-wattled, loud-crowing rooster. No eggs from him.
Days ago, our oldest layer, a Barred Plymouth Rock, began sleeping in the nesting box instead of roosting. We realized she had grown thin. We saw how walking was difficult for her. We suspected blindness in one of her eyes. Marek’s disease. Usually fatal.