Jack McCall

Well, we’re in the chicken business — again. A few years back when we lived out in the country we decided to acquire a few laying hens. Our son, Joseph, the one with mechanical and building skills, constructed a small hen house (I called it a chicken condominium) for our brood. It was complete with a small, covered “run,” roosting poles, laying boxes and indoor housing.

For all practical purposes it was varmint proof until a little possum, no bigger than a woman’s house shoe, chewed through the chicken wire and began to poach eggs. For weeks, I accused one of the hens of being an egg eater. Then one night when the beams of my flashlight lit up the chicken coop, there the little sucker was, grinning like a possum with egg on his face. He made the quickest exit I ever witnessed. I repaired the hole in the wire and never saw him again. I made the appropriate apologies to the hens for my misgivings.

This spring two of our granddaughters elected to participate in the 4-H Chick Chain sponsored by the local University of Tennessee Agriculture Extension Office.

On a specified morning I arrived bright and early at our local Farmers Co-op to pick up our allotment of “peepers.” We received 15 Black Star pullets and 2 Easter Egger pullets. Actually, in my excitement, I mistook a dark colored Easter Egger for a Black Star, so we have 14 and 3.

Friends loaned us a brooder, which we set up in the safety of our barn “office” and we were in business. The weeks that followed were filled with adjusting heat lamps and light bulbs, filling feeders and waterers, refreshing the pine shavings, and watching the pullets grow. While all this was going on, Joseph was building a permanent residence for our future egg layers.

To his credit, he used scrap metal and discarded roofing material in the construction of the hen house; but I watched with growing concern as construction costs mounted — a dozen 2x4s here, a roll of wire there. As the project took shape, I found myself making runs for more supplies almost daily.

Finally, my granddaughters and I were called upon to pick up field rocks to secure the chicken wire at ground level. We lined the entire chicken pen with rocks — inside and out. A varmint would have better luck at getting gold out of Fort Knox than getting to one of our hens.

To heighten security, our chicken pen was constructed inside a larger fenced-in area which is home to our beloved Australian Sheppard, “Quik Dog,” Quik is the only dog I have ever known that has more lives than a cat. He has been given up for dead on many occasions.

Like the day he fell off the back of the truck while traveling well over the speed limit. He was observed through the rearview mirror doing somersaults down the centerline of the highway. His limp body was gathered in loving arms and rushed to the local veterinarian’s office, where he regained consciousness while being attended to. After two days of pain medication he was as good as new. To get our hens, varmints will have to go through Quik Dog.

Finally, the day arrived when we moved the pullets to their new home. It was a day filled with excitement as our granddaughters transferred the future egg layers, three and four-at-a-time in boxes picked up at the local liquor store.

Our feathered friends seem to be perfectly happy in their new surroundings. But I, for one, keep thinking about how much money I have tied up in this project. So, I have done a little figuring.

If these hens start laying in mid-August, I am conservatively expecting 12 eggs per day. By year’s end I should have gathered approximately 135 dozen eggs.

Based upon the estimated cost of the building, I will need $8.88 per dozen to break even in the first year. And that is not taking into consideration feed, labor costs or paying Quik Dog for guard duty.

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