Just after our chickens were killed by a coyote, our backyard neighbors bought seventy-two baby chicks. Our neighbors are a young married couple, both graduated from college, both working full-time jobs. They decided raising chickens and selling eggs would be a good additional income.
But after a few days, it was apparent the women didn't really think of the chicks as a second job; she was out there talking to them, cuddling them, and singing to them for several hours a days. As the chicks grew, she still spent hours with them. She began scolding them when they fought and even taught them to jump on her shoulder and ride around like a parrot.
The couple told us they would sell us four of the chicks as soon as they were old enough to lay eggs. Drek and I were excited to replace our older, lazy, non-egg-chickens with young chickens who might lay us some eggs, but at the same time we both thought "Will she be able to give up her babies?"
Because that's what she calls them; her babies. She calls herself their mama. She hand-feeds treats, has named each one and can even recognize them individually by the sound they make. Did I mention she cuddles them? She is always cuddling them.
So, the time has come. The chickens have just barely started to lay eggs. We worked out the payment, and decided on a date. The night before, she texted me, asking if she could move the date back because "I needs more time to mentally prepare the chickens for the big move." She also said she needed to bring them over to our house right before sundown, so she could get them ready for bed and sing them to sleep. She also mentioned that if they look up at with big eyes, it's because they want to be cuddled.
Now, I value the life of a chicken. I want the chickens to work hard and lay eggs for me, but I don't want to kill and eat the chickens, nor do I want them to be unhappy. We went out of way with our last chickens to make sure they had comfy nests and lots of treats and opened up the whole yard to them so they could free-range.
But I am not going to cuddle a chicken. I do not want a chicken jumping up on my shoulder for any reason. I am not going to sing bedtimes songs to the chickens and put them to bed. I'm just not.
We are friends with this couple. I'm afraid if I take the chickens and don't cuddle them, she will be offended. I'm even more afraid one of the chickens will die, and she will never forgive me.
Do I really want to own chickens? Or do I just want a steady stream of inexpensive, cage-free cruelty-free, free-range happy-chicken eggs? I thought the best way to guarantee that was to own my own chickens, but she definitively takes better care or those chickens than I ever could. If I'm getting my eggs from happy chickens, does it matter that the coup is three feet to the left of the fence instead of three feet to the right?