At palatial Kenney Manor, we have recently acquired four rather productive chickens delivering about one egg a day each. That means in the course of about two weeks, we are getting at least two dozen eggs. In a family of seven, it’s not hard to figure out how quickly we can dispense with a couple dozen eggs.
The investment isn’t terribly bad either — 50lbs of feed runs about $8.00 and lasts for weeks. If you figure eight weeks of feed vs. 16 weeks of feed, and the math works out pretty well.
What’s more, the chickens have several excellent by-products. Not only do we get eggs, we get four bug eating and grass-mowing machines! Even more, we get free fertilizer, which while not good for immediate use it is great to add to the compost heap and help amend some terrible, terrible soil out here in Fluvanna.
Of the chickens, there are about three who match, and one with that is rather fat with a big head and is very impressed with itself as pack leader (to the point she harasses the cats). The kids have named this chicken Jeff.
We’ve tried recommending female names. Jeff doesn’t care.
The other three chickens have assorted names as well (Bob, Ben, and one yet-to-be-determined) who passively obey the scatter of feed, the dinging of a water pail, or just following Jonathan around the yard.
But not Jeff.
This afternoon, I watched as Jonathan walked the chickens back into the coop. The anticipated trio dutifully walked (ran was more like it) into the coop.
But not Jeff.
Jeff decided that camping out near the garage was better, scraping at leaves and laying eggs there. Jonathan has to get a small stick and prod the poor animal back into the coop.
There’s probably all sorts of great theories about group theory, the safety of crowds, etc. Out here in Fluvanna, there’s always the occasional stray dog, the foxes, even the occasional coyote or bear. The sad fact is, for her independence Jeff is eventually going to buy the farm.
The best part? The cats are scared as hell of Jeff. The cats will get within three paces of the chickens before Jeff fluffs up her feathers and takes a peck at one of them.
It’s hilarious watching cats get picked on by chickens. And it’s interesting to watch Jonathan lead a bunch of chickens into the coop and see which follow and which stay behind. It’s almost as if Jeff tries for independence, protests just enough, then must be led into her chambers…
What’s the point in all of this? It’s amazing how much nature imitates human realities. What better classroom is there than a small farm for a young man? Some follow, some need cajoling. They all need feeding and care, and some need more than others.
In the end, for a few chickens and a few more dollars of feed, my kids get to learn about taking care of things. There is a book I bought just yesterday entitled Seat of Empire
that discussed why the Virginia gentry class produced so many great leaders — namely that they were the managers of farms, people (indentured or enslaved), bringing their product to market, and in short practicing the virtues of a Roman patrician.
While 10 acres isn’t exactly Monticello, Stratford Hall, Kenmore, or Mount Vernon, the lessons of a small farm and the care of animals is an excellent classroom for leadership and