Getting Down & Dirty . . . at the Chicken Farm
During all of my researching for Captured by Love, there was one other strange research trip that I took.
My heroine, Angelique MacKenzie, raises chickens. In fact, in the opening scene, she's hiding fresh eggs in her pocket as she tries to smuggle them to one of her starving friends. In another scene, Angelique is mucking the hen house, a lovely job that was necessary every spring (particularly after all the droppings had accumulated all winter).
As I was attempting to write about the chickens, I realized I knew absolutely nothing about this awkward breed of animals, and that to write authentically about the wildly flapping squawking creatures, I would need to do some research.
Of course, I headed to Google, typed in "raising chickens" or something like that, and got one million websites and blogs giving me every detail I'd ever want to know (and then some) about raising chickens.
But I quickly realized that I needed to know how to raise chickens in Michigan, more specifically in the northern part of Michigan. After futile searching, I decided to do what I should have done to begin with, ASK AN EXPERT.
Fortunately, I have some long-time family friends who own a chicken farm. So I emailed my dear friend and pestered her with questions. In response, she invited me to come out, visit the chickens, and get a hands-on experience at the farm. She encouraged me to come in the spring, before they mucked the chicken coop just so that I could get a really accurate feel for what it would have been like for my character. She even offered to let me help them muck. Wasn't that SO sweet of her? :-)
Needless to say, for this city girl, whose idea of raising chickens is going to the store and "raising" the eggs off the shelf into the grocery cart, I learned a lot on my research trip to the chicken farm. In fact, after listening to my friends share their wealth of knowledge about chickens, I was quite amazed about how little I actually knew.
Even more importantly, I learned some things that are specific to raising chickens in Michigan's frigid winter temperatures.
- Did you know that chickens can get frost bite if they get too cold?
- Did you know that lanterns are needed during the winter for chickens to lay eggs? With so few hours of daylight, the artificial lighting is necessary for egg production.
- Did you know that even with artificial lighting, that hens still lay fewer eggs in the winter?
- Did you know that eggs will last longer and stay fresher if you brush them off rather than wash them?
I learned all those details and many more during my time at the farm. Believe it or not, I even appreciated getting to walk into a chicken coop in the spring, feel the nip in the air, taste the grit of dust, smell the odor of you-know-what, and hear the scratches and screeches of the various types of hens.
Even if all those facts didn't make it into the book, knowing the information helped lend an aura of authenticity to the story. And I had fun in the process. Isn't that what it's really all about?
So did I end up helping muck the chicken coop? Well, let's put it this way, some things are better left to the imagination! (But hey, I did wear boots and jeans as I was instructed to do. And as you can see, I did pick up the shovel. Does that count?)
What about YOU? How much do you know about chickens? And what's the dirtiest job you've ever had to do?
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About the author: Jody Hedlund is an award-winning historical romance novelist and author of the best-selling books, The Preacher's Bride, Unending Devotion, and A Noble Groom. She received a bachelor’s degree from Taylor University and a master’s from the University of Wisconsin, both in Social Work. Currently she makes her home in Michigan with her husband and five busy children.