We just celebrated a year with our backyard chickens last month, and I get a lot of questions and comments from friends, so I thought I’d address some of the questions I’m asked frequently and catch you up on what’s been happening with the ladies of Beak House. (If you haven’t read about how it all started, you can catch up HERE.)
So, we started with eighteen chickens: four one-year-old pullets, eight three-year-old pullets, and six chicks. Of the six chicks, we still have two. Henny Weasley was eaten by the neighbors’ dog when she was still tiny. Hermione Freeranger, Hester Preen, and Katniss Everpreen all turned out to be boys. Hermione and Katniss became known as Russell Westbeak and Serge Ibawka once we knew they were roosters. We traded them for chickens who were eventually attacked by the neighbors’ dogs and incidentally never had Beak House names. Hester Preen became known as Tranny for his/her short life because frankly, he was a rooster who thought he was a chicken. He died tragically and of undetermined causes after being nervoustwitchy his whole life.
Scout Finch and Jane Layre survived into adulthood and assimilated quickly into coop life with the big girls. Of the 12 original big girls, we’ve lost Anais Hen, Feathery O’Connor, and most recently, Emily Chickensen. All of their deaths were unexpected and shocking, but no fowl play was suspected (that joke is never going to get old in the world of chicken mortality).
One of the things people ask is why we decided to have backyard chickens, which is a great question I don’t mind answering every single time. After watching several documentaries and reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, I found myself searching for ways to improve our family’s diet. My focus shifted to eating locally and more ethically. As a family, we decided to limit our meat intake drastically (I was fully vegetarian for about eighteen months) because 1) I couldn’t unlearn what I’d learned in my research and continue with business as usual, and 2) one simple fact is that we (like most Americans) were just eating too much meat.
Fresh, organic produce is not hard to find (whether it comes from a store, your garden, a CSA, your local farm stand, or a local farmer), and when you are buying less meat, you have a lot more room for veggies and fruits in your budget. I’d had a somewhat secret desire to own chickens for sometime, and as I learned about the egg industry, it became abundantly clear that having a few chickens would provide us an excellent source of protein (and other vitamins and minerals), and I could feel confident in feeding the eggs to my family because I knew exactly what was happening during the process of getting the eggs to our table. (You can check out this short video about some of the verbage used in the egg industry to mask what is happening in grocery store eggs.)
The second thing people ask me most is something along the lines of “What do you DO with all those eggs?” Well, first of all, every time we have family breakfast which usually happens once a week, we eat a dozen eggs between the four of us (I only eat two, but I have three growing boys to feed). We eat a dozen or so more throughout the week for breakfast and snacks, and I obviously bake with them. I sell a dozen here and there, basically enough to cover the cost of the feed. Also, if you are getting married, having a baby, starting a new job, buying a new house, or doing anything else worthy of a gift, you’ll probably receive eggs from me. Sometimes I give people eggs because it’s Thursday. It always seems to work out, too, that we start to feel like the eggs are taking over, and then someone comes to our house for a visit, and we go through our stash with a quickness.
The third question I get usually involves whether or not having chickens is hard work, and the answer is definitely no. I mean, someone else built the coop for me, and my husband and I share the poop scooping, and that’s really all there is to it. Yes, they poop a lot, but it’s great fertilizer, and cleaning the coop takes all of an hour if I do it once a week. That means I’m spending time outside--with my girls--and call me a crazy chicken lady if you want (and my children do), but I actually enjoy hanging out with them. Sometimes when the sun is out, I take my lawn chair to the center of their run, and I read while they cluck around my feet and munch on stale pizza crust. I like to think they love me in the same way sorority girls love their house mom.
I put together a little list of the benefits of having chickens, aside from the things I’ve already discussed:
- When your four-year-old beeeeeegs you to buy a giant Costco container of peanut butter pretzels and then insists on sucking out all the peanut butter and leaving the pretzel, the chickens gladly accept a new treat.
- When one of your favorite chickens goes missing for four days and is presumed dead but returns half-starved, nearly featherless but full of spit and spirit, you learn the true meaning of a
- Chickens open up a new line of communication with your children when your kids begin to ask questions like “Mom, where do you poop out your eggs?” and “Do chickens have nipples on their breasts?”
- You can write 1,000-word blog posts about FREAKING BACKYARD CHICKENS, and people actually read it.
As always, I extend an invitation to be my best friend to anyone who can bring me empty egg cartons, and now I will leave you with the wise words of chicken extraordinaire, Maya Angelay: “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, buy chickens.”