Nearly two weeks ago we bought 60, one-day old chicks from a guy in the souk. We were walking back to the house having bought our weekly veges and Omar (husband) casually said “That guy is selling chicks”. I had to have a look. Once I saw them I asked if we could buy some, thinking 6 or 7 would be great. The man had lots of them crammed into two cages made of palm wood. Omar spoke to him and together we walked to our garden where we sat down by the wall. Omar and the chicken seller bartered for a good 15 minutes and I was not sure if he was going to get them after all.
But then he told one of his nieces to go and get a box and when she returned they piled, and I mean piled, 60 chicks into it!!! 60? I only wanted 6! He paid 20LE, which is about £2.30 for the lot!!! I had no idea what on earth we were going to do with 60 chicks. But it turns out that we were sharing them with the three other flats in the house where his family had their own. 10 chicks per flat, except that we somehow ended up with 14!!! Not sure who lucked out there!!!!
Ours came up to our flat and we made them a home on the back balcony. However, one chick was definitely not having any of it. He was the only one who was able to jump out of the box so he did…often. He thought we were his parents and would follow us around the flat cheeping loudly. If I sat down he would jump on my knee and hide under my arm/wing! I couldn’t move until he woke up! Then, when he did awake he would climb up on my shoulder and then onto my head. I was probably the largest hen he had ever seen!
Sometimes he would just jump out of the box, run, or rather slide, for a few feet on the tiles and then fall asleep! The only one who was not afraid to live outside the box! I got the message! He did this for a couple of days and then realised he was a member of a tribe and he fit in! Hm…Sounds like my process!
After a few days we set them up on the front balcony in their own little enclosure. I think Omar’s family think we are nuts but it has set up a competition! First it was to see whose flat had the most survivors and now it is whose flat can have the biggest chicks!!! They all think our chicks are getting a gourmet diet as they are the biggest so far!!
Here in Upper Egypt these chicks are generally kept and allowed to run around the garden and house as they please, until they are eaten!!! Reminds me of my childhood!!! My family use to have a hatchery and my Saturday job was to be with the chicks and find the ones which were unhealthy. When I found one I had to bring it to one of the men, Tony, who ran the hatchery and he would ‘dispatch it’ by putting its neck against the corner of the door and breaking it! A quick death!! But I couldn’t bear looking at the little pile of dead chicks by the door! I gave up after two Saturdays, event though it was earning me 50p a go!!!
On another occasion my friends and I found the hatchery’s dump. This was an incredibly smelly pit where all the un-hatched eggs, hatched eggs and dead chicks were thrown before being buried. My friend and I could hear faint cheeps coming from the pit so we jumped in and dug around in the smelly mess until we had rescued 6!!! We didn’t stop digging until we heard no more cheeping coming from the pit. We put them in a box and proudly brought them home so I could take care of them. However, my parents were on a business trip in Danmark and as soon as I showed the smelly chicks to our minder (the bane of my life!) she grabbed the box shouting ‘You can’t keep those, smelly dirty things”, and she promptly threw the entire box and its contents out the kitchen window and into the back river which ran beneath our kitchen! I was gutted!! All that care and effort and they ended up drowning in the river anyway!!!
Thinking back I wonder why on earth I want to keep chickens at all?? It always ends badly! Just before I moved to England we lived on a farm, which was my dream, and I had my six (of course) point of lay pullets who laid every day!!! They ran around the haggard all day and slept in an old shed at night. A farmer’s wife and I decided to go halves on keeping 36 broilers to fatten and sell so we kept them in a small shed in our farm. I wasn’t sure I liked this broiler idea at all, as it meant fattening them quickly and then, when they reach the desired weight dispatching them and selling them. However, it was an unpleasant experience! They put on weight so quickly that their legs could not keep up with them and soon their body weight outweighed their leg’s capacity to carry them and they just sat around all day! Some of them developed leg issues and the top of the leg would swell and turn black. At one point we discovered one which was close to death and we couldn’t bear to see it suffer any more so we decided we needed to put it out of its misery.
My then partner, Miguel and I could not bring ourselves to chop its head off so we decided to hang it instead! Bad move!! We tied a rope to the rafter in the barn then tied the other end around the chicken’s neck. Miguel then raised the chicken as high as his arms could go and then dropped it!!! However, the rope broke and chicken ran across the barn floor before collapsing in a heap!!! Never again! We were horrified.
The broilers were all dispatched shortly afterwards and, another mistake, I watched the woman do it!!! We sold most of them and kept a few for the freezer. I cooked one for a Sunday dinner but I couldn’t bring myself to eat it. Within weeks I was unexpectedly living in the UK and so I lost my chickens again. I did replace them within 6 months with a few Maran hens from Finkly Down Farm but they were killed by local dogs and foxes. One was even run over by a car!!! I gave up after that!
So will I be successful this time? I have decided that we should breed these and maybe cross-breed them with better layers! I will have to wait to see how many of ours are male so we can keep one to breed with the females, which we will keep. I would rather the eggs than the meat!
Once our chickens started roosting, which is not what they do here, we cleared out their space and gave them a proper roost, a long piece of sugar-cane, which they love. I want to build them a proper ark, like we have in the UK and Ireland. They’ll probably think we are mad yet again but hey ho!!! Happy chickens are productive chickens!!! And maybe, just maybe, we can make some extra money with them and have a little Hatchery business. Who knows?