Tonawanda News

November 17, 2013

CRITTER COMPANIONS: The $64 egg

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — In March of 2007, Algonquin Books published a book that follows an author’s humorous horticulture tale of planning and planting a large vegetable garden. 

Clashes with landscapers, groundhogs, webworms, weeds and weather; midnight expeditions in the dead of winter to dig up fresh thyme; and battles with neighbors who feed the deer his cost analysis results in him coming out with each of his loved Brandywine tomatoes costing $64. 

The book is titled “The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden.”

Last week I had mentioned I was moving in the direction of living off the land. I upcycled most of the supplies for a chicken coop and was just getting ready for the egg-laying chickens. I had repurposed a decorative human-sized door into a chicken-sized, guillotine-style door where I could lock them in the night house or release them into the coop all with a simple pulley system, without ever having to go inside the coop. 

An old metal dog kennel that came with the property was used as the bottom of the night house for easy cleaning, and pieces of old decking where used as the sides. Even some chicken wire was found in the shed so that was used as one of the four sides. I ran to Lowes and spent around $35 for another roll of chicken wire, screws and washers to fasten everything together.

But then I ran out of supplies. This time I ran to Home Depot and bought another roll of chicken wire — a different brand, meaning a different style and color — more screws and washers, eye hooks, and hinges for the door to access the coop. That was another $40. I was almost finished and ran out of chicken wire again. That led to a third trip to the home improvement store for chicken wire and two bags of play sand. 

I built a sand box inside the coop so they could take sand baths to rid themselves of ectoparasites or in case they just wanted to play. Since they don’t sell tiny pieces of chicken wire but 25-foot rolls, I spent another $20 on supplies, but in the end it was much cheaper than building from scratch. The wood that I had at the house would have cost me more than $100, so I felt like I was still ahead of the game.

Now the chicken search was on. I went to two different feed stores looking for signs or business cards of farmers who had chickens for sale. Then I went on Petfinder and Craigslist looking for bantam pullets. There are two sizes of chickens: bantam and standard. Bantam chickens can weigh less than a pound to 2 or 3 pounds, and standard chickens can get big, real big. 

Bantams are the miniatures of the chicken world. I wanted smaller chickens because of their calm disposition, and I wanted to provide them the most space possible in my coop. Pullets are female chickens that are under 1 year of age. I am not allowed to have males in the area that I live, which holds true for many parts of the country due to how loud they can become.

After about three weeks of searching I was unable to find bantam pullets. I didn’t want to give in so I posted an ad on Craigslist. Shortly after I posted my ad, someone responded. I drove an hour to her farm and was greeted by Linda, an older women, wearing a bath robe, and smoking a cigarette. Her voice was deep, as if she had been smoking her entire life and the sun was setting. We walked in her backyard, which was truly magical. She had made a skinny cement sidewalk throughout her backyard which led you to numerous chicken enclosures and gardens. 

“Go on, they won’t bite,” her deep voice said, as she pushed me closer to the chicken coops with a flashlight. “Aren’t they beautiful?”

And they were. She walked me all around the backyard and there must have been about 150 chickens and 15 peacocks. Then she walked me inside her double wide and showed me her incubator that holds 200 eggs and four bins of day-old chicks. I told her I had decided on a few older ones outside so we went back and she attempted to sex them for me. I am not sure of her farmer wives tale ways, so I might have to swap them in a few months if some of them turn out to be males. I did ask twice if I could exchange them if they turn out not to be hens and I was told that it wouldn’t be a problem.

On our way out she said, “Before you leave let me show you a few more.” She then proceeded to show us the exact the same birds, the same coops and tell us the same stories. 

“People say I’m crazy,” she whispered deeply, “but my husband married me. So who is the crazy one?”

Who is to say she is crazy? I am the one who is going to be spending $64 an egg.

Kenny Coogan has a B.S. in animal behavior. Please email your questions to kenny.coogan@yahoo.com, or search for “Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan” on Facebook.