It suddenly occurred to me that I should probably start talking about agricultural interests. My preaching can get a little heavy handed… That’s why I don’t do it professionally.
We had just completed a Dark Night of the Soul when Farming began calling us. It was a lifeline because we had lost everything. It’s was when you realize that you really didn’t fall _that_ far that it occurs to you that perhaps it is time to try a different course.
We began with a Hobby Farm introduction to chickens, and the research began. My wife and I come from two different types of thought. She is a Valedictorian and I am an Obsessive Dyslexic. As such, we planned tackled the world’s combined knowledge of this feathery breed, much of it contradictory.
Nest egg before eggs in the nest, we moved back to my hometown, Cleveland, on some bad tips… but maybe that’s why you don’t order steak at the International House of Pancakes.
From a crappy long term stay hotel minutes from the airport, we began ordering any farming catalog that would send one to an address next door to The Crazy Horse Gentleman Club.
The only person that it was difficult to give directions to was my mother. It had everything to do with a ten foot tall Stallion’s Head with its tongue hanging out, done in pink neon. I could find my house in a whiteout because I just had to follow the glow. Did a couple of times.
We carried chicken catalogs everywhere we went and nattered in anyone’s ear whenever anyone gave us the slightest window to turn the conversation to chickens. We studied constantly, because what else are you going to do in Cleveland in the Winter? …Yeah, we did that, too. Now, with another mouth to feed on it’s-his-her way, our studies took a new urgency.
By this point, we knew we were going back to the desert. No one really escapes. I had heard of an old Indian legend about the mountains around Tucson, that due to their bowl-like circumference of the city, part of your soul stays here, dooming you to return. I told that to one of the Tohono O’odham, and he looked at me like I was sun-touched. He took it well though. The Tohono O’odham have a long history of having to deal with sun-touched Europeans babbling nonsense.
The things is that there is a wealth of knowledge about chickens, but it is woefully lax in the Southwest, and as you can understand, this is a very real concern. Summers start in March and hit 100°F fairly quickly. We get 12 inches of rain a year, and it still causes flash flooding because the top soil here is only a few inches deep before turning to natural concrete. After two years of research, we developed a list. Our tester breeds identified, we found a place and set up shop.
Now, a word of warning to the wise…. If you have a game plan, stick to it. This does not mean that there should not be an allowance for chaos.
We saw an ad with everything we needed to set up a tractor, plus all the extras, feed and two hens named Betty and Cornelia for some third the value. Normally, I would recommend trepidation when getting someone else’s chickens. Illness, too old, cannibal… the list is rather extensive, the problems you might inherit when you take one someone’s bird, especially on the cheap.
I arrived to find a young, disinterested professional gentleman who owns a solar panel installation service, slicker than owl turds. Someone had tried his hand at a little green-washing and found it not to his tastes. So I collected his entire lacquered deco-chicken tractor, his feed in pool chlorine buckets and two hens used to having to fend for themselves.
I put them in what, I eventually found out, was Chicken ‘Nam, and they were happy anyway. When one, the Dark Cornish that we called Corny, went broody, we got them a succession of roosters and learned a valuable lesson in Chicken Romanticism. Namely, that the duplicitous nature of the Female boils down to the fact that they have minds of their own and do as they please, just like everyone else.
Eventually, we settled on getting fertile eggs from a local, established farm. We figured that even a breed that is not supposed to do well in our brutal summers and bitter warm winters, after a few generations in this place, they would be. We borrowed some local genetics, and we successfully utilized a broody hen, which is the easiest way to make them stop brooding.
The last man standing was Big Red Oed. A Rhode Island Red that, I think, has a touch of Black Java. (*Edit: It has been established that he is an Auburn Java) Awash in flaming red feathers, he grew to the proportions of his massive Island kin. Tempered in the fires of a desert summer, he grew up hearing the coyotes right outside and a speedy feathery death from above.
(Also silly packs of domesticated dogs that always, inevitably, included a Chihuahua. Each pack is a psychic penalty for the hubris of my youth. As a young man, I would loudly proclaim that Chihuahuas had been bred for show, and that you’d never see a feral pack of them taking down a cow on the Discovery Channel. It turns out that these little [expletives] are quite adept as killing and survival.)
Big Red was a warrior, and he needed more of a name. I had already had a Big Red rooster before, so this one needed something to distinguish him. Something Roman and powerful, like 300 and Gladiator were put in a blender powered by War and eaten by Lance Armstrong the day before he got caught. He needed a legendary name for his legendary life….
Big Red picked that unfortunate moment to try and get freaky with the hen that hatched him and he’s been Big Red Oedipus ever since…. Or at least, ‘Big Red Oed.’
He doesn’t seem to mind.