By Kellie Flanagan —
MOUNTAIN AREA — I mumbled something about picking up a daisy bush at the nursery and grabbed my keys, knowing full well there were baby chicks at the feed store.
I flew down the canyon to arrive before closing and, sure enough, under a bright light there they were, my hope for the future of the world: chirping and pooping and being adorable little fluffs of potential. Gazing upon dozens of week-old Rhode Island Reds, I offered my appreciation and three dollars each for a time-tested, sturdy breed of good egg-layers who tend to be on the cross and bossy side. Since these are qualities I enjoy in females, they’re a good chicken for me.
Asking a little boy nearby to choose three nice girls to-go, we packed up the new chicks with plans to purchase more later. I’m adding on to an old group of birds which has been reduced through predation and age to a salty triad of smart hens who have generously given gorgeous, rich and healthy eggs all winter, provided I turn over the dehydrated meal worms daily.
Only three remain of a once-robust flock, mixed in color and temperament as an artist would have her pallet. Not counting the latest additions/addictions, we have now an Americauna, one Barred Rock and a Golden Sex-Link and… wait, this article isn’t supposed to be about my chickens. Yet, there it is: my obsession accidently spilled out because I started talking about chickens and I cannot stop.
My name is Kellie and I am a chicken chick.
We’re not hard to spot if you check our shoes.
There may be other signs of our hobby, our special interest, our passion. We are women who love chickens and now, thanks to Oakhurst resident Tammy Simpson, we have a local online forum in which to express our concerns, share tips, exchange eggs and advice, and yes, buy more chickens and every conceivable item that goes with them.
Mountain Area Chicken Chicks (MACC) is a closed group page on Facebook that will top 600 members any minute now. What began as something small has caught on, big time, thanks to Tammy’s open-hearted, chicken-lovin’ methods and admitted madness.
“When I started Mountain Area Chicken Chickens as a group on Facebook, I asked about four friends to join,” explains Tammy. That was over a year ago. “I just thought it would be fun. I thought we could help each other and maybe get a few more members. Sometimes you want advice. Sometimes you want to share your special feathered friends. Sometimes you are looking to add to your flock. Sometimes somebody in your flock needs to be rehomed. Only chicken lovers understand.”
Of the hundreds of members, Tammy estimates about 200 are active, engaging in daily posts, being helpful towards one another, sharing wisdom and offering compassion as needed.
“Being a rural community, a great many people are already chicken keepers. With the recent hike in the price of eggs, many are considering becoming chicken keepers. Once you get the chickens you are hooked! They are funny, loving and entertaining.”
Tammy says fresh eggs are far superior to store bought in every way, and it’s no lie. For one thing, store bought eggs can be as many as 45 days old. When you head out to your hen house and pick up an egg that’s still warm, you know that’s fresh as fresh can be. It doesn’t hurt that they come in a range of hues including shades of brown, green, blue, sometimes spotted, and even a burgundy so dark it almost looks black.
On the inside, besides being a glorious color of orangey-yellow in the yolk, backyard eggs contain 25 percent more vitamin E, according to one homesteading blog, 75 percent more beta carotene, and as much as 20 times the amount of omega-3 fatty acids compared with factory-farmed eggs, and they contain only about half as much cholesterol. Don’t get any chicken chick started on factory farms, we don’t like them.
MACC isn’t just for chicken-owners, either. As it’s evolved, the group has grown to include conversation about ducks, turkeys, pigeons, and doves, but the site remains mostly chicken. It’s full of information about common breeds as well as exotic chickens with evocative names like Welsummer. MACC is also not just for chicks, as in women: many men have joined, as well.
It’s worth checking out the MACC feed online for the memes alone. Part of the fun of participating is comparing behavior and having a safe place to bad-mouth your beloved birds when they fail to lay, and while we may enjoy handing over a little public shaming via social media, MACC is also a place where you can brag, humbly or not, about your flock.
At this moment, for instance, I have chicks in my office and none of my family or friends will listen to me talk about them, so where can I turn? Their little scratching sounds, curious peeping and occasional trills keep me company. I’m looking forward to the days ahead, as they outgrow their banker box and eventually get carefully introduced to the original flock. My favorite moment in all of chickening has got to be the time I saw a chick see and quickly devour its first bug. It’s like seeing a baby take steps, the way they hop arou — wait. Stop! Back to MACC.
Keeping chickens has become so popular that awards are given out for the best backyard chicken blogs. On sites like MACC, some of the allure of talking chicken is the chance to buy, sell, loan, trade, post, and review accessories: fancy coops, pretty ribbons for their feathers, worms, garden signs about chickens, incubators, and more.
The group has even been known to have get-togethers, as in, they take their chickens out and get together. More such adventures are planned for the future by Samantha Chu, owner of the Mutt Hutt in Oakhurst. She’s a major chicken chick.
With all this adoration and excitement, what’s the down-side of keeping chickens these days?
“Carrying feed bags is difficult,” Tammy laments, but “I believe keeping the chickens safe in this area is the most difficult. We have bears, mountain lions, bob cats, raccoons, possums and skunks. Even a domestic dog can be a threat.”
That’s all true, and anyone with questions about chickens is encouraged to check out Mountain Area Chicken Chicks on Facebook or consult your local feed store. Yet, for all the trouble, most chicken people think chickens are worth it for one big reason.
“The best part is that they make us happy,” Tammy sums up. “I can’t speak for everyone, but when my son left home, he says I got ‘feathered children.'”
I know a few chicken lovers who resemble that remark.
Special note to the reader: thanks for clicking on this story. Now all my chickens are tax-deductible.
Kellie Flanagan is the managing editor of Sierra News Online