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Backyard Chickens a Fowl Idea?

A Family Trip to Working Farm


It seemed like such a good idea. And it was — until it clucking wasn’t.

Last week, I dragged my family for an overnight stay at a working farm. They didn’t want to go; it was a long drive, and they had concerts and ball games to attend back home. But I thought it would do us good to get off the grid for just a single stolen day — to slow our pace, dirty our hands, smell weird stuff, and touch base with our agrarian, distinctly non-iPodian roots.

Starshine Roshell

We fed pigs and cooked flapjacks on a wood-burning stove (you’re required to call them flapjacks in these circumstances). We petted sheep and hauled logs in a wooden wagon. We chased chickens and collected their warm, pastel-colored eggs. It was farmulous.

To be honest, though, my favorite part was leaving. To me, that’s why you go on hikes, or camping, or visiting working farms — so you can fully appreciate how clean and bug-less and easy your life is back home and so that the next time you’re inclined to whine about the timer of your Cuisinart Grind-and-Brew Thermal 10-cup coffee maker going off an hour too early, you can just be immensely thankful you don’t have dirt in your teeth.

But my plan backfired this time. My reluctant farmer boys — children and husband alike — had so much farm fun that they spent the whole ride home trying to convince me to let them build a chicken coop in our backyard.

And put chickens in it.

It’s a thing now, having backyard chickens. Suburban farmers-market frequenters — and even big-city locavores — have made it chic to keep a peep of chickens (yes, a peep, I looked it up) in spots where, say, a hammock really ought to go. Proponents say chickens eat your backyard bugs and snails, and their dung makes great compost for your organic veggie garden, which in turn provides non-GMO food scraps for the cage-free hens, who lay hormone-free, antioxidant-rich super eggs. Whole thing’s a gorgeous, buzzword-rich cycle of earthy, non-footprinty goodness. It’s like having a Whole Foods just off the back stoop.

Alas, I don’t want chickens. To be honest, I fret daily about my ability to keep alive the humans and small dog who are already living here. Plus, chicken claws look like Velociraptor feet.

But my 2nd grader’s plea got to me: “It’s fun to feel them and hear them and play with them! They’re something new to add to our family and find out about.”

So I found out about them. I read blogs and asked friends. “Chickens are friendly, smart, and fun!” gushed one, who keeps them. “Chickens are loud, stinky, and stupid,” countered another, who used to keep them.

You don’t want a rooster, because then you don’t get breakfast eggs — you get chicks. Plus, roosters wake the neighborhood at dawn. Still, hens don’t guarantee a sound slumber.

“Some chickens make more noise than others,” said a guy who knows about such things, “so you can eat the noisy ones, and, through a process of eating and replacing, you end up with a flock of quiet chickens.”

But … well … yuck. I have no intention of snapping necks, plucking feathers, or gutting yardbirds. Nor do I wish to clean coop poop or chase away rats that come hunting for eggs. And though the discussions this has spurred about avian biology have been informative, I’m eager for the phrase “rooster mounts her” to fade from my memory.

So this whole poultry plot has yet to hatch. I guess my own flock has called my bluff on the delights of dirty hands and weird smells. Getting a whiff of our agrarian roots is one thing. But mucking around in them daily? I’ll admit it. I’m chicken.

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Starshine Roshell is the author of Wife on the Edge. Contact her at starshine@independent.com.

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