The first chickens I ever had was when I was five years old and lived in Enterprise, Alabama. There was an old barn next to our house and my parents decided to get some bantam chickens to live in that barn. My grandfather in Tennessee always had chickens and I would help him gather eggs, so I was around chickens since I can remember.
Since I have been an adult, I have had at least a few chickens every time I have been fortunate enough to live in the country. I did not get any right away when we moved to the ranch in Spring Creek because I knew I would need a Fort Knox-like coop for them to keep them safe. Finally all the pieces fell into place early last summer and I ordered a dozen pullets and two roosters. At the same time, my husband decided if I could have birds, he could, too. So he ordered twenty Rio Grande turkey chicks. He had seen other ranchers raise chicks and then release them onto their ranches to become wild turkeys.
Things have not turned out quite like we planned, because some of the turkeys decided to be tame, the predators have not been as hard on the chickens as we thought they would be, the dozen new replacement chicks I planned to order turned into two dozen plus three bonus chicks, and someone brought us two half-grown pigeons they rescued from being eaten by a cat. One of the older chickens, Cinnamon Sugar, has decided she is different from the rest and comes in the house on a regular basis to see if we have dropped anything on the floor that needs to be eaten. At night she refuses to sleep in the coop, but sleeps on the porch right next to my bedroom window. Now the two pigeons and one of the turkeys have decided to share her sleeping space. The other turkeys sleep in a tree right next to the house, except one of the gobblers who sleeps on an upstairs porch rail.
Yes, I have to clean up droppings from the porch regularly, but there are some advantages to having all the ground-dwelling birds around. Where we would regularly see venomous snakes around the house and barn, since we have had the birds, we have not had snakes. Last week, my son found one of the hens running around with a dead water snake in her beak—the only snake we have seen so far this spring. This morning my husband brought to my attention that we no longer have many insects around our house. We certainly have very few crawling insects and a dramatic reduction in flying insects as well. The credit for the situation right around the house belongs at least in part to Mr. Blossman, but I believe the birds have helped out around the rest of the yard.
Besides the reptile and insect eradication, and the eggs, there are other advantages the birds have offered. They are very entertaining! Each one has its own personality and their social interactions are filled with drama. That could be why Cinnamon Sugar has decided to live amongst the humans—too much drama in the coop!! They make excellent companions. Every time someone is outside, there will be at least a small entourage of helpers somewhere nearby. They generally observe and comment from a short distance away, but occasionally, one or more can be encouraged to sit on a lap and be petted. They can be very, very good listeners. The turkeys, in particular, seem to understand and consider every word that is said—and they never tell your secrets!!
I have discovered that I am not alone as I have heard many interesting stories from other people who have enjoyed the companionship of birds. I will share some of them in another column. Meanwhile find me in town and tell me your bird stories, or send them to me by email so I can tell your stories, too!