Raising Chickens

Patacon, Sopa, Nugget. These were the names of my three Peace Corps Panama chickens. I bought them back in February 2016, after moving into a house of my own. I remember going to the ferreteria and picking them out- one black, one white, one brown. They were so small and chirped nervously during the ride home. Before this moment, I had never raised chickens or had much experience working with them. I cared for chickens on other peoples’ farms while WWOOFing, and had always romanticized raising them for eggs. Thinking “this can’t be too hard!” I picked up some ground corn and was on my way.
Practically every family in the community has farm animals running around- dogs, cats, chickens, pigs, cows, turkeys, ducks, and more. Therefore, purchasing my first chickens was like a rite of passage. Everyone fawned over them and loved their silly names (we would eventually eat Sopa in a soup, Patacon with patacones, and Nugget like a chicken nugget). Many volunteers name their animals for comic relief- desayuno, almuerzo y cena; rico, saboroso y delicioso. It is a great way to integrate into the community and get the gente laughing. I probably would not have gotten chickens if my house did not come with a chicken coop. That took about a week to thoroughly clean prior to purchasing the new chicks, as the previous homeowner never bothered to scoop out the poo. I’d come to love cleaning it out and putting all that wonderful manure in my compost! So, with a chicken coop ready and community members constantly asking me when I’d get chickens, I finally made the jump.
My favorite time caring for my three chickens was when they were little chickies. They would fall asleep in my hands or tucked under my chin. I even found it charming when they pooped while sitting on my shoulder. They never strayed too far from the house and Kabe (my puppy) was really great about protecting them. He understood very well that they were his kin and to not attack them, but any other chickens that tried to eat their food. As they grew at a rapid rate, so did their appetite. Like I said, I never cared for chickens before. In the end, I definitely overfed them as they each weighed 10 lbs on their death scales. At one point they were eating thrice a day, steaming through about 10 lbs of chicken food a week. This was also shared with another feathered friend- Bule Kri the duck! Some mornings it was pure madness, trying to feed all the animals at once. Kabe would try to eat their corn while they would try to eat his kibble. Kabe would then snap at them which made my heart skip two beats for fear of their delicate necks. After several weeks, I found a rhythm and could handle feeding time more easily. Another challenge was keeping the chickens out of the kitchen, where they loved to poop! A small chicken wire barricade worked fine enough.
Aside from the stressful times of feeding and pooping indoors, they were great chickens. They would forage and rest in the sun all day! It was adorable how they always stayed close to one another, clucking and pecking for grubs. At around seven months they began laying eggs. They were never “egg-layers”, so they produced one egg every day or every other day. It was such an exciting time and I felt like a mama chicken. I also still felt totally inexperienced, asking the community kiddos how to set up a nesting box and care for the eggs. The dogs kept coming by at night and stealing the eggs, so instead of guarding them to hatch I just collected them to eat myself. They indeed were delicious with creamy yolks. As they began producing eggs, their appetites increased as well. I tried adding crushed egg shells into their food to give them more calcium. They preferred pifa!
In November and December of 2016, all three chickens were put onto dinner plates. It was a LOT harder than I thought it would be to kill them! We killed Patacon during my friend Lilia’s visit. Ana taught us how to slice the throat, drain the blood, pluck the feathers, clean out and cook the chicken. We said a prayer of thanks and enjoyed the meat she provided. The two other chickens died sooner than I would have liked, due to injuries. I sobbed over their deaths and found it extremely difficult to enjoy the meals. The events did not turn me into a vegetarian, but reinforced my thanks for meat and the animals that provide it. We must be conscious eaters, understanding where our food comes from and how we obtain it. At least my chickens lived wonderful lives, spending their days frolicking and basking together. I was very thankful for the eggs and meat they provided, and moreso the company and good laughs. You will always be remembered as the first chickens I raised and my companions during the Peace Corps. ❤

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