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(post, Caroline Cummins)
It's been nearly three months since we brought six chicks home from the store in a box. In addition to the handfuls of dandelions and veggie scraps we toss into their chicken run, they can plow through a 25-pound bag of chicken feed in less than three weeks. Stevie the runt has definitely caught up in size with his five boxmates. But they all still only weigh about four pounds each. I know, birds have hollow bones — but sheesh, where is all that food going? (And no, you potty-minded types, we aren't spending that much time cleaning out their coop.) Some of their caloric energy seems to be coming out their mouths, because the birds — at least the Black Australorps — have sure gotten talky in the past couple of weeks. Aha! you are thinking. These must be the roosters. But no. Despite my city cred, I have seen real live roosters, and they really do make that cock-a-doodle crowing sound. What our birds are doing sounds more like practice crowing — or, for those of you who grew up with this particular toy, the mooing sound emitted by the Fisher-Price barn when you open its door. (Curt Ellis' movie "King Corn" featured this particular barn prominently, in the stop-motion animation sequences.) The effect is less cock-a-doodle, more rawrk. [%image reference-image float=right width=400 caption="Jailbirds."] At five o'clock in the morning, all that rawrking is downright annoying. And because birds are, as they say, bird-brained, a good deal of rawrking goes on at sunset, too. On the theory that putting them in a dark place would get them to shut up, my husband rigged up a birdcage in the garage and dumped the two Australorps we had definitely ID'd as rawrkers inside. Sure enough, they shut up — until dawn the next day, whereupon both the birds in the garage and the remaining four birds in the chicken coop all began yodeling. (At least, it sounded that way.) Grumbling, my husband dragged himself outside and plopped the garage birds back in the run. And everybody promptly shut up. The noise factor is aggravating the Big Question that's been hanging over our heads: If any of our chickens turn out to be boys, what should we do with them and when? At this point, none of the birds seem to have reached slaughter weight. But if we don't do something about them soon, our neighbors might decide to slaughter us instead. We could eat them, of course. But we've never killed animals before, and we dread the possibility of a butchering gone terribly awry. We'd like to recruit some friends with chicken know-how to help us do our chicken-killing duty, but that takes planning and time, neither of which we have much of right now. For a few dollars a bird, we could pay a local poultry processor to do the deed for us. Or, of course, we could give the roosters away to people who either want them on their farm or — ahem — want to eat them. But, heck, if a bird isn't going to some happy farm to strut his stuff, we think that we_ should be the ones to eat him. So here we are, with tiny, noisy birds that we haven't conclusively ID'd yet as boys. Sigh.