By Ashley Smith
Baby blue to aqua blue, each egg perfectly shaped and colored – after a morning’s work, Frances Taunton has a basket full of the prettiest eggs one has ever seen. While spring and Easter are on the way, baskets of such blue eggs can be found at the Taunton home throughout the year. Coloring and dyeing eggs for Easter are really not necessary; their Araucana chickens lay eggs far more beautiful than one could ever dye.
Delma and Frances Taunton have had a brood of chickens at their Tallassee home for years – more years than they can remember.
"Our 58th wedding anniversary is in May," Frances shared. "We’ve had chickens and usually some other type of bird for more than 50 of our years together!"
Right now Delma and Frances have both Araucana and Banny chickens. They also have a covey of quail. Over the years, Delma has also raised geese and ducks. Chickens have always been a part of his life. As a child growing up in Elmore and Tallapoosa counties, Delma remembered having chickens. Frances grew up in Macon County and her family raised chickens too. It was only natural they would keep a flock during their married life.
Over the years chickens have proven to be an economical way to keep food on the table.
"Chickens help with the grocery bill," said Frances.
Although they have used chickens for meat in tougher times, the Taunton chickens now solely provide eggs. In the summer months, the Tauntons have more eggs than they can eat so they share eggs by the dozen with their three grown daughters, Debra, Lessia and Julia, all of whom live within 10 miles of one another. The daughters can recall chickens and other fowl as a main part of their growing-up years. Stories of one particular old goose quickly surface when past feathered friends are mentioned. The goose was so mean and grumpy he would chase family members through the yard and even snatch clothes from the clothesline! Debra, the Taunton’s firstborn, remembers the goose all too well – he pecked and pinched her! The Taunton’s daughters, as well as their nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, have spent time collecting eggs, feeding chickens and even corralling them back into their coop.
While having chickens has a number of positive outcomes, there can be a few drawbacks.
"Chickens have several natural enemies," said Delma with chicken snakes, foxes, coyotes and dogs to name a few.
Although a chicken snake is pretty harmless to a person, seeing one in the chicken coop will still make one’s heart beat a bit faster and make young grandchildren run really fast! The chicken snakes typically come for the eggs and the young chicks. Each year the Tauntons set chickens and raise the baby chicks. By adding young chickens each year, the flock stays healthy and maintains size. Over the course of a year, they may lose a few chickens to the snakes as well as to the common dog. Whether they are just plain hungry or fascinated with the chase, dogs do occasionally come for chickens. Since many predators tend to come at night, Delma wired a light at the chicken coop. When the predator gets within a certain distance of the coop, a spotlight shines brightly on and around the coop. The spotlight often does the trick of scaring away most animals but certainly seems to confuse the hens who think it is daylight!
"We always knew something was after the chickens when we heard lots of squawking in the middle of the night," recalled Julia, the Taunton’s third daughter.
Sure enough, the morning after they would find one or more of the chickens missing, lost to the nighttime predator.
Delma and Frances gather their own brood (i.e. family) on a weekly basis. Every Wednesday, the entire family is invited for supper. If everyone makes it, 21 family members fill the Taunton home. This mid-week time together means much to the family, a time when they can all gather, catch their breath and continue through the rest of the week.
"Ironically, some type of chicken dish is on the menu," laughed Julia.
Julia’s nine-year-old daughter, Jalee, enjoys helping her grandmother, fondly called Mamaw, in preparing the weekly meal. She especially likes to help batter chicken for the family’s favorite Wednesday night supper – fried chicken!
The Taunton’s local Co-op serves as a good location to get their chicken supplies. Delma and Frances purchase hen scratch, egg pellets and cracked corn from their closest Quality Co-op, Taleecon Farmers Co-op in Notasulga. The store has all the supplies they need, and daughter Julia works there as the store’s bookkeeper.
If raising chickens is something you are considering, stop by your closest Co-op. From basic supplies to the most complex feed supplements, your local Co-p will have all the materials you need to get started in raising your own brood of chickens or taking care of the ones you may already have.
Maintaining a small brood of chickens can be an enjoyable pastime that comes with its own rewards. Over the years, having chickens has served the Taunton family well. Daughter Julia said her daddy just has a heart for things with feathers. And Frances said that owning chickens is "just good ol’ country living."
Ashley Smith is a freelance writer from Russell County.