Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Decidedly, The Chick Came First

Meet Julia. She belongs to my three-year-old.

Last week while the kids were on vacation, I picked up six new chicks and brought them home.

No, not that kind of chick. (My husband would have reacted much differently if I brought home those kind of chicks.) Chick, as in baby chicken. Six of ‘em. Cute as can be.

Currently these little balls of fluff are living next to my washing machine in an old Pack n’ Play on loan from my chicken-owning-guru-and-friend, Kristi. We’re into week one of chicken ownership and I must say, it’s been enlightening.

I’ve been wanting my own laying hens for over a year now and started working on my husband long ago because I knew that having chickens catapulted me into a different category altogether. No longer content to grow my own vegetables or make jam from my own blackberries, now I wanted food producing animals. What was I anyway? A closet farmer? And what would I ask for next? A milking cow or grass grazing goat?

His first response over a year ago was, “Hell no.” (Or something to that effect.)
Next came, “We are NOT having chickens in the yard.” (Again, I’m paraphrasing.)
I’d make a comment to him and let it simmer. Try again a few weeks or months later. Finally one night after more chicken talk, he tried a different tactic and said, “When you publish your book you can get chickens.” I know he meant it to motivate me to get off my arse and publish my book (or at least work on it) but the comment felt more like what we say to our children about their grades… “You can get a cell phone when you earn all A’s…”

“Look,” I said to my husband. “I’m a grown woman with a Masters degree. If I want to get chickens, then I’m going to get chickens. I’m asking you out of respect. I’d like you to be on board with me.” I knew I would need his help with the coop and set-up, in addition to how much easier it would be to have his support. After that we shelved the chicken conversation for quite some time.

Fast forward a few months and while he may not be all the way on board (as in, I’ll never ask or expect him to clean or muck the coop) he is being extremely supportive. He’s already built me four nesting boxes and is going to trick-out the coop for me, even making sure the thing has a sun porch. Gosh I love that man.

I’ve also gotten a pretty mixed review from my neighbors, who think I’ve all but gone mad and perhaps over-the-top with this sustainable-eating-fresh-food thing. Worried that I’m going to turn this neighborhood into a live-action set from “Beverly Hillbillies,” the comments I’ve gotten are:
“You’re what?”
“Why?”
“Have you ever been around chickens?” (This is coupled with an incredulous, dumbfounded look.)
“Do you know how much they poop?” (Add curled lip in disgust.)
“Tell me why you’re doing this again?” (Tilt head, add above.)
“Are they going to be just roaming around your yard, or what’s the deal?” (Peer at me over bifocals.)
And the best from my sister-in-law: “Rachel wants chickens? Is this the same Rachel that doesn’t like germs? Is this my sister-in-law we’re talking about?”

While their response doesn’t shock me much, it certainly isn’t the egg-colored-glasses perspective that I’ve been reading about in my chicken bible. Yes, while Jesus is present in this one, albeit omnisciently (seriously, how does chicken mash and a worm turn into something I eat for breakfast with toast? Amazing!) Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John have nothing to say about the matter. My chicken bible, The Joy of Keeping Chickens, by Jennifer Megyesi was a gift from a neighbor’s daughter who knew I was interested in having laying hens. Her mother (my neighbor)—while she admires my chickens currently because they are palm sized and therefore not loud or smelly—can’t quite be labeled “enthusiastic” yet about my new adventure, and I secretly wonder if she’d like to kick her daughter for getting me my poultry bible to begin with. But that’s all water under the feeder now.

Everything I’ve read online and in my book (and I’ve done a lot of research) paints this lovely, picturesque painting of hen owning, one that is not only filled with emerald green meadows, bird chirp, and a fresh spring breeze, but also touts the myriad benefits of owning chickens. They eat ticks. They eat worms. They are fabulous for your garden. Their poop is great fertilizer. They are docile, loving, and smarter than people give them credit for. They are easy to maintain. They are maternal. Oh, and their eggs are pretty good too. Full of vitamins and nutrients. With yolks the color of the setting sun. You’ll never find a yolk like that in the grocery store.

And then there were my neighbors and anyone who ever owned a chicken or lived near people who owned chickens who cock their head to the side (much like a chicken, I might add) and inquire as to what exactly I’ve been drinking or smoking lately to make me want chickens. For a moment I was confused that there seemed to be two completely opposite camps: haters and lovers. Haters were real people. Lovers were published. Hmmm.

I suppose a book titled, “Why Keeping Chickens is a Pain in the Ass,” wouldn’t sell very well. Or, “Shit That Makes You Gag: 1001 Reasons Not to Own Chickens.” That probably wouldn’t be a very good title either.

In fact, this epiphany reminds me a lot of a conversation I had with my priest-friend some years back on the subject of birth control, specifically vasectomies. “Most of the married people I talk to say that having a vasectomy was the worse thing that happened to their marriage,” he told me. It didn’t occur to me until later that people who invited vasectomy into their marriage and loved it wouldn’t exactly go running to their neighborhood priest to tell him about it, would they? “Hey Father, just so you know, you were wrong about the vasectomy thing. We should’a done it years ago.”

It’s all about the audience really.

So the truth about owning chickens resides somewhere in the middle grey area of my happy-go-lucky book and my neighbors’ aghast astonishment. While I’m not regretting my decision, it would have been good for me to have this awakening before I actually bought the chicks.

But there they are, regardless. Six little balls of molting fluff and feathers living in a Pack n’ Play in my laundry room. My neighbors ask me frequently how it’s going and how the chicks are. I know that silently they are biding their time, knowing at some point I’m going to complain about the chicken poop smell, the frequent cage cleaning, the messy, grossness of it all, which will open the doors for them to nod their head with that I-told-you-so look on their face. I say bring it. Of course I’m going to complain. What’s a good blog without complaining? But I also have the final product in mind: fresh eggs, with deep sunny yolks, from chickens who lived a happy life.

And while I promise my intention isn’t to ruin the neighborhood with my bohemian tendencies and free-range birds (c’mon; my children are almost always clothed and we don’t hang our underwear on a clothesline yet), I am keeping chickens and a garden in the south part of Easton; once known for its peasant and archaic traditions such as farming food and raising animals. I mean, it’s not like I’m out of my element or anything.

And you, my dear readers, get to be with me all the way. You can live vicariously through my foibles. Lucky ducks chickens.

Meet the girls! From Top to bottom, clockwise: Molly, Giraffe, May, Blackie, Milly, and Julia.

1 comment:

Tara said...

They are so stinkin' cute!