More With Less With Pets, Part 2

IMG_20180117_073810511.jpgI’m growing chicken food for my flock of 29 hens. Not all of the food, of course. We buy commercially milled layer mash, and I supplement with wheat grass, which I grow from berries bought in the market. The new hens have just begun to lay, and today was the first day we got 29 eggs from 29 hens—although maybe one or two was a leftover from yesterday.


Two weeks ago, the Government of Ethiopia ratified a state of emergency put into place after the unexpected resignation of the Prime Minister. Ethiopia has been teetering on the brink of meaningful reform since we began our term here, and it seems that reform is here, and the government has only to decide if it happens gracefully or not. The parliament is in session to vote on the successor. We keep hearing that the announcement will come “next week.” We’ve been hearing this since Hailemariam Desalegn’s resignation on Valentine’s Day.

My chickens are my antidote to anxiety. In times of stress and uncertainty–which is often these days–I go look at my chickens, and everything seems to fall into perspective. Since we arrived in Ethiopia, we have lived through two State of Emergencies, the resignation of the PM, protests, strikes, the election of Donald Trump. These are just a few items of concern–I could mention others, like the emergency trip to Kenya to attend Daniel while he had knee surgery–or walking long-distance alongside Christian through a broken ankle and surgery in far-away China. Stress and chickens are a good balance, whether the cause is political or personal.


I start with wheat berries–I’ve tried barley (too slow), teff (to small), and sunflower seeds (purchased, but actually not tried yet). I often go to a little suk or store down the road, or if I’m close to the market, look there. The sunflowers (tiny white seeds from clumped flowers, very different from the large yellow sunflowers we’re used to) I bought in the Mekele market from a young and enthusiastic vendor while I was shopping for honey. (Five kilos of Mekele honey are worthy of a blog all its own, but hey, don’t get your expectations up!)


I soak the berries for about 3 days, until there’s a lace of roots and the shoot has just started to germinate. I change the water and rinse the berries at least once. If left too long, the wheat tries to turn into home brew, and any longer than that, the stench is unbelievable.

IMG_20180113_213839713After three days, the wheat gets transferred to a basket strainer. It sits on the game shelf in the dining room and grows. I rinse it two or three times a day–too little water and the berries dry out; too much water and they get slimy and drown. It takes a bit of finesse.

After a week, the grass is about three inches long, and I hang the basket in the chicken pen. Now that I’ve added new hens and have a larger flock, I try to grow two baskets every week.

The hens peck at the grass and spin the baskets around. I stand there and watch them, a stupid grin on my face. Anything weighing on my mind just fades into the background. Lem lem sar and red-brown feathers! Bliss.


2 thoughts on “More With Less With Pets, Part 2

  1. Those look like happy chickens. And their house is pretty cool, too. I’m confident the day will come when I get to see it (the house) them (the chickens) and you in person. Can’t wait.


  2. Why on earth would anyone dangle a bowl of food by its side in front of its hungry recipients? I can only imagine it is because if it were right-side up and setting on the ground, eager diners would tip it over, jump in it, mistake it for a lavatory, etc. In other words, your dangling chicken feeder is brilliant!

    ‘Tis a lovely story and a good reminder we all need positive distractions! xxox


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