Tuesday, May 11, 2021

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People & Pets

Why did the chickens cross the road?


Nine chickens and counting

Nicole and Butt Cheese.

Nicole and Butt Cheese.

Backyard chickens may be a trend of urban hipsters, but for Des Moines resident Nicole James and her family, they are beloved backyard pets. The James family has kept chickens since 2013, and it hasn’t always been smooth sailing in the poultry department.

“We started with two, but we were very new at chicken owning so they ran away,” James says. “It was pretty quick after we got them, so we learned a lot with that.”

The next go-round of chickens came in 2014 when the family hatched five eggs in an incubator. One was a rooster, and they opted to give him away. The City of Des Moines Ordinance No. 14866 does allow for roosters but with a clause to be mindful of noise.

“The coop is right outside my bedroom window, so I don’t want roosters,” she laughs.

Prep Iowa

Of the second round of chickens, one met its demise when a raccoon snuck into the coop. Nicole notes how the raccoons are able to come in through the tiniest of spaces, and her family has since made their coops more secure. She also thinks the masked bandits may have nabbed their initial two chickens that went missing.

Flash forward to 2017 and the James family has nine chickens split up between two coops: three 3-month olds and six adults. Nicole and her husband let their four sons name the flock — and it shows. The chicks are Picky, Snow Bear and Butt Cheese. The hens are PG, Goldilocks, Cool Chick, Iron Pick, Ink and Ziggy Jr. The nine chickens are five different species. The three chicks are Polish; Ink and Goldilocks are Silver Laced Wyandottes; Cool Chick and Ziggy Jr. are Road Island Reds; PG is a Leghorn; and Iron Pick is an Austrolope.

Nicole’s sons Eli, 10, Truman, 10, Winston, 8 and Abraham, 6, are very involved with their backyard pets. The boys often help feed and care for the birds. They will also hold and pet them, but one of their favorite activities is catching them — and there are plenty to chase. Their backyard is lush with foliage, and the hens know where to hide, so it’s often the chicks that are caught.

PG ferociously guards her eggs.

PG ferociously guards her eggs.

One hen, PG, has gone broody. Since the family didn’t have any fertilized eggs for her, they traded for some online with someone in town. Now PG — a favorite among the boys — can be found dutifully sitting on her eggs in a window well in the backyard. As of June, she successfully hatched five baby chicks, bringing the James family count to 14.

Aside from being family pets, the hens collectively lay about four eggs a day. But with the current heat wave, egg production has come to a halt. Nicole says it’s common for them to go on “strikes” like these. When they are laying eggs, Nicole says her husband ends up eating most of them. Most of the James family still eats chicken, but never one of their own. Winston, however, does not eat chicken simply because “We don’t eat our friends.”

While Nicole admits they may have initially gotten the chickens because it was en vogue, the birds have very much become part of the family.

“They’re our girls,” she says. ♦


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