By: Rachel Bruno
Three years ago, when my daughter was 3.5 and my son was 1.5, I woke up in the middle of the night with one thing on my mind. Chickens. I think it was a hormone/brain miscommunication. My body probably wanted another baby, but my brain swapped one egg for another. So there I was, 3am, needing my own chickens with every fiber of my being. My mind swarmed with images of the breakfasts I would make with the organic, free-range, home grown eggs my children would collect from happily clucking hens who roamed free in our backyard.
I started Googling that night, and by morning, I had a plan laid out. We would get day-old Silkie chicks from a breeder in Tarzana named Ryan. Silkies are the chickens that are so fluffy they look like poodles. In my research I discovered that they are so friendly with humans, in China ladies actually tote them in purses the way we tote Chihuahuas. Plus, their fluffy feet and plumed heads are ridiculously adorable – with an emphasis on the ridiculous.
My husband, being a fantastic sport (and probably relieved it was chickens and not another baby I was craving), prepared a box sprinkled with newspaper, loaded the kids into the Sienna, and off we went to Tarzana. In my research, I also learned that we wanted to be sure to get female chicks, not male. Female chicks will grow into hens that will lay eggs (no male necessary), while male chicks will grow into roosters that will not lay eggs, but instead will crow all day, annoy all your neighbors, and probably warrant a visit from the city inspectors.
Ryan warned us that Silkies were very hard to sex. “You won’t really know until they start crowing or laying,” he told us. But when my daughter picked up a fluffy yellow chick and nuzzled it to her cheek, I threw caution to the wind and took three. “We’ll take our chances,” I told Ryan, and tucked those chicks right into their box in the Sienna.
Mission accomplished – for now. That night I slept like a baby.
We raised the chicks in an aquarium in our living room with a heat lamp until they were old enough to live outside in a coop – 8 weeks from my research. Kind of a long time to have chickens in your living room, but again, my husband is a great sport. It would be a long time, about 6 months, until they started laying or crowing… Meanwhile the kids loved the chicks – almost too much. They named them Tinkerbell, Spotty and Spotty. They cuddled them, drew pictures of them, played with them, sang songs to them, and invited everyone they knew to come over and play with their chicks. I worried we were actually torturing them, but they never got hurt, and seemed relatively happy, as far as chickens go.
Every day we took them out to the yard for exercise and fresh air. As time went on, they got fast! They were almost impossible to catch. It took at least two people and a great deal of strategy to accomplish it. I’ll never forget the times my husband and I spent the better part of an evening chasing chickens around the backyard. Not quite what you’d expect from film advertising folk. But as parents, we had already entered territory that was way out of our comfort zone. Chasing chickens was just icing on the cake.
Finally, they were old enough to move into the coop. We ordered one online and it arrived a few days later. My husband assembled it and the kids had a ball climbing around inside. As pullets, or teenage chickens, they were everything we ever wanted in chickens. Friendly but not needy. They got along great with our dog, Cosmo. They even liked to ride around on the handlebars of my daughter’s bike. Everyone was happy.
Until the dreaded morning we woke up at 5am to a sound we had never heard in person before. We ran downstairs in time to see Tinkerbell, looking almost as panicked as he did. Like she was possessed, an involuntary sound emerged from deep within her, shattering the calm of the pre-dawn morning. COCK A DOODLE DOO! Neighbors windows lighted up around us. No! It was happening. My husband grabbed Tinkerbell and stared deep into her little chicken soul. “No crow,” he ordered, low but firm. He repeated this as he walked her around the backyard. “No crow. No crow. No crow.” It seemed to work. Tinkerbell stopped crowing. He put her down gently, relieved. We looked at each other, the weight of the moment sinking in. Tinkerbell was a rooster. She would have to go.
We had no exit strategy. I got to work, reaching out to the vibrant Westside chicken community. Meanwhile, my husband repeated the “No Crow” ritual every morning with Tinkerbell, and it seemed to work. But two days later, it happened again. Spotty.
In the end, two of our three chicks turned out to be roosters. But since the third was so reliant on the others, we felt we could not separate them. We found a new home for all three. Luckily, since they were so ridiculous looking, and so kid friendly, they made a great addition to the local petting zoo. And, bonus - we got to visit them on Sundays.
It was hard to say goodbye to our beloved chickens, but we vowed to try again. The next spring, we got four new chicks – older this time, and 99% guaranteed to be female. Lavagirl, Wolverine, Fluffy and Star have been happily laying ever after.