In May 2012 I pulled up behind a truck, parked just two neighborhoods from my own. The seller and I had been texting to arrange the exchange: “I’ve got your pullets.” “Great. Be there in 10.” “Just look for a white truck. Remember to bring cash.”
It was all over quickly, and I was on my way, a cardboard box on the passenger seat, grinning madly at the scratching noises and small bock-caws coming from inside it. I called my husband, “I’ve got them! Tell everyone the six of us are on our way!”
It was an exclamation point kind of morning. It was the morning we brought our chickens home.
We had been preparing for months for their arrival. We attended an information session at the library, searched the chicken internet universe for tips, and dog-eared a book called “City Chicks.” Along the way, we built the coop.
(Note the skylight. These are some spoiled hens.)
We researched nutrition, planned for pest control, and amused the well-worn country folk at Tractor Supply every time we went north to visit my parents. What are your organic options? Do you sell food-grade diatomaceous earth? What about treats? Is this waterer BPA-free?
Okay, we really didn’t ask the last one. They were still recovering from our discussion of non-GMO based layer feed.
Now. Why did we do all this? Well, originally we thought that keeping hens would save us money, but this hasn’t been the case. On one hand you’ve got housing, food and chicken accessories (waterer, heat lamp, etc.). On the other, you have… not nearly as many eggs as you would expect.
Here is the deal with chickens and eggs: First, they have to be old enough to lay. Second, they can’t be broody, molting or recovering from a traumatic predator attack (a story for another post). Third, it can’t be winter. Fourth, you have to be able to find the eggs…
Question: Why did the chicken cross the road?
Answer: To hide her eggs in the abandoned lot on the other side.
Let’s just say that the financial incentives aren’t overwhelming, but the daily Easter Egg hunts are a lot of fun.
So, why chickens? My answer is more of a hunch than a full-blown philosophy, but I suspect we keep chickens (and keep cleaning out their coop) because we love the sense of connection they give us.
An egg in a styrofoam carton is just an egg, but an egg that appears after “Queenie” struts out of the coop and announces her accomplishment to the neighborhood (bock, bock, bock, baCAW!) is something more. “It’s still warm, Mom,” my daughter informs me, “and guess what, it came out of the chicken’s butt!” “Eww!” the rest of the kids collapse into giggles, and then start chanting, “chickens butt, chickens butt, chickens butt!”
Maybe it’s just a bit disgusting, but I like it that my children know–and by ‘know’ I mean through immediate experience–that eggs come from chickens’ butts. Not from egg factories, not from sanitary supermarkets, but from animals that poop, crow, and cross the road. Eggs come, and thus breakfast comes, from animals who are part of our daily lives.
This is why we will keep keeping chickens–not because it is terribly practical, at least in the way we do it–but because they remind us that food exists in a web of connections beyond buying and selling. Eggs exist because chickens exist, and our particular chickens exist because we fill their feeder and lock up the coop at night.
I’m glad we do. The eggs are amazing.
(photo by Emily Duff, http://family2table.blogspot.com/2013/02/chicken-or-egg.html)