Our Green Gurus

Guest bloggers share all you need to know to lead a greener lifestyle.

Family chooks


Erin's daughter, Harper, and their beloved chook, Daisy.

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Erin Johnson, wrote this heartfelt story for us, reminiscing about her valued family chickens.

As a child, I didn’t contemplate the ethics of removing chicks from their mother, or sending them miles in egg cartons. I lived on an isolated property in Western Australia, and every now and then the mail lady would deliver bread and milk along with the mail; she was our link to the outside world. Around Easter time, my mum would take me down to the mailbox and we'd patiently wait for the postie to arrive with a special delivery...

I remember the anticipation that filled the air as we waited to hear a car rumble closer towards us along the gravel road. Mum was calmly excited, and I was bursting with excitement. The postie's station wagon would pull up amidst a cloud of red dust and my mother would walk over and take delivery of the biggest egg carton I'd ever seen. Soon the six by six inch cardboard square was resting on my lap, filling our car with loud chirping. Back at the house, my mum would handle the carton with utmost care as she set it down in the laundry next to a large box I'd helped to arrange earlier. I was then allowed to lift the lid to reveal the fluffy 21-day old chicks, resting neatly in each egg-sized space looking up at me with wide eyes full of confusion
and fear.

I felt pure excitement and wonderment for our new brood, and would spend hours designing play areas, 'runs', and temporary homes from cardboard boxes. Some of the chicks grew fond of me, spending hours nestled on my shoulder, or rustling around in my hair. The large chook house would not become the home for these special ones; they would find themselves living on the verandah, spending time in my room or nestled upon my lap.

This time of my childhood fostered in me a great appreciation of our feathered friends; chooks, poultry, foul – whatever you choose to call them. I view them as peaceful creatures who spend their days scratching in the earth looking for goodness to devour. They are in tune with their environment, rising with the sun and heading off to perch for the night when dusk arrives. They are more tender and kind than many people realise. They form attachments to each other, to people, and can become an easy-going part of the family.

As an adult now, I've found myself finally settled in a house with a backyard. My own daughters love having a yard of their own to explore, and a few years ago they kept returning to the issue of pets. I realised it was time for my own family to continue the tradition and to embrace chickens. Little did I know the experience would be startlingly different from my own childhood memories.

The emotion that took me over when we brought our first chicks home was similar to the worry I felt after bringing a newborn baby home. I opened the door of the chicken coop to check on them embarrassingly often. I changed their water as soon as there was a speck of dirt in it. I compulsively checked to make sure they were not too cold or too hot. But all of this concern, care, and mothering didn’t amount to much of a reward. Three out of four of our young chickens died. My next door neighbour who has spent years raising chicks reassured me that the tiny birds probably had a disease, as my set up was perfect; there was nothing more I could have done. While dealing with my own grief, I had to explain the deaths to my five year old. She was surprisingly resilient.

We were left with just one chick, which clearly wouldn’t work out as chickens fret terribly when they're alone (just like most humans, they're social animals). So, I got more chicks – older ones this time, and started the process again. Each morning I was filled with dread to check on our feathered friends for fear one may not have made it through the night. I’m pleased to say they're all doing fine.

This experience has led me to reflect on my mother. Was she filled with worry and compulsively checking the chicks in those early days? Did she get up before me to remove any that didn’t make it before I found the casualties? I have no idea as my childhood memories are purely of the fun times and the joy of waiting for the mail lady and snuggling with the chickens. Luckily for me, as a child I was spared the farming tradition of killing our own meat, so my memories remained rosy. It was my Mum who was faced with the reality of providing the occasional chicken for the dinner table.

As an adult, having now taken responsibility for our young chicks, I have gained a new respect for the task my mum undertook with what looked to me like ease and grace. Mum would smile when she glanced into my room and saw a strange sized lump under a jumper. I was told again and again not to have chickens in my room, but she never growled when I would sneak my favourite chickens in; a fact I will never reveal to my daughter.

I've realised that as we age, our experiences of similar events are dramatically altered. Caring for young chickens as a child was filled with excitement and love; as an adult, these emotions became dread and sadness for a little while. It's like the excitement of Christmas as a child, versus the adult anxiety over how much food to cook or the worry that family issues will come to a head around the lunch table. Luckily for my children, our pet chickens will not end up on our dinner table – because some traditions are meant to be broken.