I couldn’t believe my luck!  After we bought our new house, but before we moved into it, we had the opportunity to go take another look at the place.  The current owners were still there and had decided to hang around and chat while we measured the basement and planned our first half-dozen renovations.  

I was supposed to be taking notes and making lists, but instead I found myself in the kitchen chatting with the current owner about my plans for the place. 

Did I like gardening?

There was a garden to the north with asparagus already established. 

Yes, those were apple trees in the bush at the back of the property.  

Was I bringing horses? 

Absolutely not! They are beautiful, but they are money pits.

Did I plan to keep chickens?  

Yes! I was going to order some to come as early in the spring as possible!

Did I want them to leave their chickens?  They didn’t have a coop at their new place.

Oh my goodness! Yes, please!  That would be amazing!

There are 13 of them?  That’s probably 8-10 eggs a day! Thank you so much!

After our visit, I went home and immediately began collecting egg cartons.  I was practically a farmer already!

We scheduled our move for the day after we took possession of the new house.  The plan was to pick up the keys whenever the lawyer said they were ready and grab a pizza and just wander our new home, planning, dreaming and cleaning.  That way when our friends showed up on moving day to load and lug, we would be ready for them.  A number of things did not go entirely to plan, but I was delighted anyways because when I went to the barn late in the afternoon there were two eggs nestled in the corner of one of the nesting boxes. I assumed the previous owners had grabbed what was laid that morning and these were a couple of late arrivals.  I ran to the garage where the previous owners had left a very large stack of empty egg cartons (in retrospect perhaps that should have been a clue). Popping the eggs into one of the cartons and then into the fridge, I felt like I had won the lottery!  I was born to be a farmer!

The following day was a whirl of activity as moving days typically are.  Boxes and trucks and wonderful friends building our beds and unpacking our dishes, and in the midst of it all I had started a batch of sourdough bread because it seemed like a good idea at the time.  I have a tendency to always try to fit in one more thing.  It’s born of a need to feel like I am productive and therefore valuable, but nine times out of ten it results in me getting fewer things done, and many of them poorly.  But enough about my neuroses!  Suffice it to say it was such a busy day that it was evening before I got out to see the chickens.  Knowing it was going to be a pretty chaotic day, I opted to keep the chickens in their pen even though they were free rangers.  Our dog adores everyone and everything, and at roughly 100 lbs of enthusiasm and love, he can be a little overwhelming.  I thought it best to introduce them formally when I had some time to supervise their first play date.  So, on our first full day in the new house, when I discovered one lone, broken egg I guessed that they were out of sorts because they hadn’t been set free to roam. Day 2 there were two eggs and I decided that they were just getting used to their new owners.  Day 3 there was only one egg, and its shell was soft almost like a water balloon.  I started googling. Day 4 there were three.  One was broken.  How could they be so clumsy?  I didn’t think chickens could break their own eggs by sitting on them.  Day 5, none.  Feeling decidedly disillusioned, I added eggs to my grocery list.  I was also low on chicken feed, so I found the co-op and bought a couple of bags.  By now I had spent $45 on my chickens and had a half dozen usable eggs to show for it.  The math wasn’t working, and hubby was beginning to research the most effective ways to de-feather a chicken. 

I took to interviewing staff at the co-op.  Following their various suggestions, I added oyster shells to my chicken’s diet, cleaned their coop and nesting boxes fastidiously, and began to watch their food consumption closely.  I had no idea how much a chicken was supposed to eat.  I was giving them mountains of scraps which I was promised would make them happy  little egg producers, and they were still going through almost a bag of feed a week.  How could 13 underachieving layers possibly consume this much food? At this rate my eggs were costing me about $15 each.  Hubby started texting me chicken stew recipes.  Well-meaning friends continued to bring me empty egg crates which mocked me from their growing piles in the garage, furnace room and barn.  Thus far I had given them names like Kansas, Godiva, Roxy and Jezebel. I began to consider Alfredo, Parmigiana, Fajita and Teryaki. 

One afternoon as I opened the door to the coop, I saw movement in one of the nesting boxes.  A rat had scurried into the wall taking a broken chunk of egg with him. I had rats! In the coming days I approached the coop more stealthily.  I was finding them everywhere! Not only were they raiding my paltry egg supply (which I have since determined was the product of 13 very old hens who had all but stopped laying long before they were so generously left by the previous owners) but they were eating the chicken feed and the vast majority of the kitchen scraps I was leaving in the chicken yard!  So not only was I losing my few precious eggs to the vermin, I was keeping them extremely well fed with kitchen scraps and chicken feed, enabling them to multiply at near miraculous rates.  When we finally hired an exterminator and then moved them into a rat-free winterized chicken coop, my feed costs dropped by more than half.  

I was recounting my adventure with a friend a few months back and I couldn’t help but shake my head. 

“All that time I was feeding rats! They were stealing my eggs and upsetting my chickens and eating half their feed and I just kept feeding them.”  

My friend chuckled, “Don’t feel bad. I’ve fed a lot of rats in my life.”

The comment caught me off guard.  She was so right! I started to think about my rats.  Self-consciousness is one of the fattest rats in my barn.  It steals my joy, consumes my time and attention and, rather than calling the exterminator, I feed it with comparison and introspection.  Or people pleasing!  That rat is one cheeseburger away from a massive coronary!  I have lost so many hours and dollars and sleepless nights trying to make people like me when I have a God whose opinion is the only one that really matters.  And how many times, instead of spending time in his presence, growing and enjoying his favour, have I driven myself crazy trying to earn the approval of some fickle person? 

You know something?  Feeding those rats is just as counterproductive and frustrating as feeding the rats in my chicken coop.  Maybe it’s time to call that exterminator!

5 thoughts on “On Feeding Rats and Laying Eggs

  1. Michelle Wright says:

    A great read. Thanks Hope! Interesting lessons learned. Thanks for your honesty and transparency. So very true. We are SO loved by an incredible God. If only we could rest and trust consistently in his love for us. Thankful God is patient with us and always full of grace and forgiveness.

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