Like many newcomers to Gabriola, Tasha and Keith had a dream of one day having chickens. When they bought their last house on Vancouver Island they thought they’d get chickens, but found the bylaws didn’t allow it. Just eight months after coming here they were ready to fulfill the dream. Keith, a carpenter, built a coop and they came to me for their first birds. I usually hatch with broody hens, but for the last few years I’ve also donated hatching eggs to local elementary schools who return the chicks to me when they’re about two weeks old.
They came by my place with their son, Shayle, to pick out seven unsexed chicks: two frizzles, some Easter Eggers and Appenzeller Spitzhauben x, all fathered by my rooster, Simon, a Silver Spangled Appenzeller Spitzhauben x Silver Laced Polish/Easter Egger.
I’ve had a few updates since then: one cockerel died as a chick after hitting his head and two cockerels needed rehoming. They had wanted to keep one, but had a complaint from the neighbour about his crowing. I think non-chicken owners view roosters as superfluous, but chickens are flock animals and roosters play an integral role: for protection against predators, mediating conflicts, finding food, reproduction and of course, they are gorgeous to look at. They are also often among the friendliest birds and bond with their owners.
I encouraged them to keep him with the view that we live in a semi-rural area and that we all make some noise: barking dogs, chainsaws, power tools, kids. They chose the high-road and asked me to help find El Chapo a forever home, which I did. Both boys are still on Gabriola, and reported to have grown up to be good roosters, having saved their girls from predators on more than one occasion.
Once their cockerels were re-homed they wanted to add to the flock, so picked up another two hens from me: a purebred Silver Grey Dorking and a Crested Cream Legbar x, who seem to have integrated just fine. They’ve got a wired pen with a huge tree stump, jungle gym and swing to keep them entertained. Just like with my birds, the swing has gone unused.
I visited their flock for the first time since they were chicks: an orange and black pullet, typical of the Easter Eggers I hatched last season, an Appenzeller x and two frizzles (a mix of bantam Cochin frizzle, Lavender Orpington, Appenzeller Spitzhauben and Polish).
I have to admit I felt a small pang of envy and regret that I hadn’t held on to those two beauties. I have a soft spot for frizzles. I still have two of my own and hope to hatch some of their eggs this season. If I get some frizzled pullets again I’m not sure I’ll let them go so easily.
In addition to their birds they have two dogs, a Husky x and a Desi, a greyhound-type, street dog rescued from India; fish and a gerbil.
Both of them have a long history of moving around. Keith was born in England and grew up in Regina. Tasha was born in Ottawa and has bounced around different provinces. Between the two of them they lived in 17 cities before they met and five more since getting together 21 years ago. When I asked if their current place was their last pit stop they responded, in unison, ‘No, maybe Gabriola, but not this house’.
They live on a half-acre lot in a house that Keith built. He took the year off work to do the build, weighing up lost wages vs paying someone else to build for them. They like the house, but are looking for more space, hoping for acreage. They moved here with two of their kids: Shayle, 12, the chicken whisperer, who spent lots of time with the chicks, but is now more interested in his computer and Fynn, who is about to graduate high school. The eldest, Wynona, lives in Victoria.
They typically move every three to five years. They’ve already been here nineteen months almost half-way through their typical stay. It’ll be interesting to see if the call of itchy feet will be stronger than setting down some roots and staying here awhile longer. In the meantime, they love living here and love having chickens.
Update October 2019: Tasha & Keith have decided to move cross country next spring. In anticipation of putting their house up for sale they wanted to re-home their birds. Tasha knew I felt a pang of regret that I hadn’t held on to the frizzles for long enough for me to sex, and keep, them. She asked if I would like them back and I jumped at the chance.