We loved our home-grown eggs in Michigan, where we had six chickens. The yolks were an intense golden color, not the sickly-pale puny-yellow of store-bought eggs. So, one of the first things we wanted to do when we got here was get chickens.
On Saturday Francis our carpenter (and local furniture maker) finished our chicken coop. Isn’t it lovely?
See the handle in the back? That’s where we lift up the hatch to retrieve the eggs. He even added a sliding side door for when we needed to clean the coop.
Now, all we needed was laying hens!
Colorful village chickens are in abundance around here. In fact, our neighbor had several and said he would sell us some. But village chickens have a reputation for wandering far and wide, laying eggs wherever they happen to be at the moment, and not returning home. They’re an all-purpose chicken that can be used for meat, eggs and traditional ceremonies. I wanted real layers, hens that were bred to lay day-in and day-out, who pecked the ground all day and then returned to their coop to roost at night (just like ours in Michigan).
I called my friend Jackie (the one who runs the teen boys home) and asked her if Richard, the young man who farms on her property, would be willing to go with me to get some pullets. She thought he would so I drove the back way there, taking Kalingalinga road (say that three times fast), which is the industrial area for poorer people here. Food stands, used clothing huts, furniture makers, basket weavers, iron works and more line the dusty, gritty area. Then, I got a little lost and asked a guy if I was on Alick Nkhata Road. It was clear he only spoke Njanja, the local language, but he seemed to recognize the name and pointed straight, so on I went on a road that first turned to dirt and then narrowed into a string of potholes straight into a large unnavigable compound with hordes of people walking on either side of my car. Now, I’m used to being stared at as I’m often the only white person around but this time I think they were staring at me because I was driving in the middle of their courtyard and not on a street. I backed out and took the turn I thought was Alick Nkhata and sure enough things began to look familiar again.
When I arrived at Jackie’s Richard was ready to go. An older man with a straw hat, rubber boots, and a few missing teeth opened the door and got in the backseat. He said, I’m a friend of Richard’s. I thought, ok, and just drove. I didn’t know if I was giving him a ride to his home or if he was Richard’s bodyguard.
It had just rained hard and the dirt roads had turned to red mud. We slipper-slid through the countryside, the knee-deep potholes ping-ponging us from one side of the road to the other.
After about 15 minutes we arrived at “Hybrid” in Chisamba Valley where we’d get our laying hens.
Our first stop was the chick collection counter where we could hear thousands of peeps. The rubber boot guy led the charge and I realized Richard had brought along an experienced farmer to help us out. (That’s him in the olive pants to the left of the guy in blue. Remember me mentioning how helpful Zambians were? This is a total stranger helping me.)
Peeking inside we saw boxes and boxes of baby chicks, about a hundred to a box. They told us to go next door for pullets. The rubber boot man told a woman behind white iron bars that the muzungo (white foreigner) wanted six hens. The woman looked at me and said, 600? I said, no, six. She shook her head and told us to go speak to the manager. We found the manager and told him we wanted six laying hens. He said that they were a commercial farm enterprise and that they didn’t sell (a) that few pullets at a time and (b) this time of year. He wrote down a number for a place where he said I could get pullets and said that was the only other place in town to get laying hens. Otherwise I would have to make do with the village chickens.
I took Richard and rubber boot man back to Jackie’s, gave them a little tip for helping me, got to a paved road and called the number he gave me. They said they did sell pullets but wouldn’t have any until July. July! Last thing I wanted was an empty hen-house until July.
Well, I thought, worst case scenario we could get some village hens from our neighbor. But, I really wanted some bona-fide laying hens that would stick around. Yvonne (our landlord’s mother-in-law) was tending her tomatoes as I came up our drive. I told her about my travails and she said, hey, that guy three plots over has a commercial egg farm, it’s where I get my eggs, I’m going over later today to get a crate and I’ll ask him if he’ll sell you some hens.
I was thrilled when she came back and said he had said yes, he’d sell me some pullets. We agreed to go early tomorrow, about 7:15 am. So, hopefully by this time tomorrow we’ll have our hens!