In Hawaii, in the cool and remote corners where real island life still exists, you say "chicken skin..." when something eerie, chilling, mysterious or unexplained happens. (With an island accent, it's more like 'cheekin skeen.')
It refers to that strange white and bumpy look of just plucked chickens and, by extension, the goose bumps raised on your arm when a cold wind blows or you think a ghost has entered the room.
Pacific Islanders have firm beliefs in the spirit world, and, as we know, our Peninsula too has a reputation for haunted places.
However, I think it's fair to say that the chickens being raised on our Peninsula are not reduced to chicken skin. Most of them have all their feathers intact - unless of course they're molting.
But let's start at the beginning.
There is a decided uptick in chicken farmers in my immediate circle of acquaintances. Raising chickens was a hot topic at the Tilth Harvest Dinner last month and several friends have lately mentioned rather elaborate construction projects involving chicken residences.
So it seemed a little research was in order.
I dropped by the Planter Box in Long Beach, our local source for chickens, and talked to Teresa Millner, daughter of owner Ray.
Employee Weldon Parks jumped right into the conversation, "I like chickens for eggs. My chickens are 50 percent free range. They eat bugs, grass, and weeds. I have a forty pound bag of feed and it has lasted almost a year."
Teresa added, "Between organic gardening and the economy, more people are thinking about raising chickens. Chickens are vegetarians - well, maybe they're omnivores - they'll keep your garden free of snails and slugs too."
Here are the basics: there is nothing like a fresh egg. It's rich, orange in color, sits up firm in the pan and tastes heavenly, not like the pale and flat week- or even month-old eggs we buy in most grocery stores.
Raising chickens is not rocket science, but a few things are non-negotiable. Chickens need a clean, dry and, most important, protected place to roost at night. Their main predators are raccoons, possum, rats, mice, cats, hawks, weasels and neighbors' dogs. So their coop needs to be wire-covered on the top and fortified against animals that can dig up and under.
Hens need fourteen hours of light to lay continuously. A fully-grown hen will lay one egg every other or every third day. Once the winter days grow shorter, chickens' egg laying sensors slow down or stop.
During our big storms last year, when all the lights were out for almost a week, most chickens closed up shop after two days. They just stopped laying.
Teresa says that some folks put a light bulb in the roosting area 24-hours a day to keep production up, but she adds that this continuous light and egg production can shorten a hen's life by several years.
You don't need a rooster unless you want fertilized eggs, or you want to grow more chicks. Roosters can be very loud and may not be the best policy for good neighbor relations.
Raising your hens from chicks is possible but definitely harder during these cold winter months. If this is your goal, it's probably best to wait until next spring to start. Also, if you buy chicks you may find that the sexing is off - when the crowing starts you'll know you've got a rooster or two in the mix. Additionally, it takes hens 6-12 months to start laying; so if you buy fully-grown hens you'll save yourself some trouble and get eggs sooner too.
Chickens, as we've said, will be glad to scratch around in your garden and help you out with the bug and slug population. But they'll also dig up and eat any plants you have as well. (If you're ready for a fall garden clean-up, chickens are the ticket.)
A good quality organic feed with no hormones and no meat byproducts will cost you between $40 - $50 for a 50 pound sack; and depending on how much free-range eating your chickens are allowed, this could last quite awhile. Feed needs to be kept dry. Moldy grain or rotten food scraps are not recommended.
Tereas says, "Don't let chickens gorge. Put the food down and leave it for about 20 minutes and they'll eat what they want. It's best to put the feed in a tray so that it's easier to pick up after they finish. Leaving grain in an open container or on the ground will attract mice and rats."
"Chickens are good companions for horses," Teresa goes on, " Horses are often sloppy and feed-grain spills on the floor of their stalls where they can't get it. Chickens will get in there and clean things up. And they'll talk to the horses while they're at it."
Teresa ticks off the benefits, "With chickens you get eggs, a companion that will talk to you, compost for your garden, and great yard clean-up."
Both Weldon and Teresa emphasize the chummy nature of chickens. Teresa says, "One friend of mine built a chicken coop with 30 separate laying boxes and she found that the hens only like to use about five of them."
"I have three chickens and they like to put all their eggs together in one pile and just sit in one nest," Weldon adds. (Wait - isn't that all your eggs in one basket?)
As I get to thinking about this, a big question pops into my head. How can those hens sit on a clutch of eggs when they only lay one egg every other day or so?
Millner solves the mystery. "A hen will lay an egg and it can stay alive and just lay there cold for a week or so while she lays other eggs. When she gets ready, she gathers her clutch of eggs together and begins sitting. Those eggs all hatch within hours of each other."
Mother Nature is phenomenal - she has thought of everything.
Stay tuned next week for tales and tips from first time chicken farmers.
Veterans Day is the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice ending World War I. Major hostilities were formally ended at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month (now, that's chicken skin...) in 1918.
For our family, Veteran's Day is extra special because it was my father's birthday. William Franklin Gable - born November 11, 1921 - served as a Captain in the Army, Transportation Corps, from 1943 until just after the war's end in 1946. He was in his last quarter, a senior, at West Chester State Teacher's College (now West Chester University of Pennsylvania) when he was inducted from his Reserve Officer's Training Corps (ROTC) unit.
Sent to San Francisco, he volunteered for transport duty and was stationed in Seattle and sent out on Navy ships assisting with troop and armament transfer to the Pacific theatre. During one extremely scary typhoon, several big guns almost did them in, banging and bashing against the deck and rails of their ship.
My mother, Virginia Catherine (Harmon) Gable, still remembers first meeting this handsome officer at Gussie Fladd's boarding house up on Broadway and dancing with him at the Seattle United Service Organization (USO).
My father never got to teach. That last quarter he withdrew to serve in the army broke his straight A's and Udub disallowed his degree. But his trans-coast transplantation meant that he married his blue-eyed sweetheart and was the only one of his 11 siblings to settle on the West Coast.
War changes lives, then and now. Let's keep our soldiers in our hearts all year long.