It’s been something I’ve been aware of, but it wasn’t until after reading the segment in Jamie Oliver‘s book, Jamie at Home: Cook Your Way to the Good Life, that I’ve become enthralled with the idea of keeping chickens. I guess the excitement Jamie Oliver conveys about raising chickens and how fantastic their fresh eggs are has sold me on the dream of having my own set of hens for egg-laying purposes. Not that I eat that many eggs to begin with. Actually, I don’t really care for eggs in general, aside from deviled and hard-boiled eggs. I don’t even like quiche all that much.
But I want chickens! When I get settled in somewhere and have a scratch of backyard, I’m going to get two or three chickens, and one will be named Henrietta. Of course. They can roost in a tree and cluck and hang out in the backyard. It will be great!
My history with chickens has been much like everyone else’s. I had been chased by angry chickens as an unsteady toddler in the Philippines, ate chicken adobo with rice, then abstained from chicken meat and all other meat at the age of twelve, with occasional dining mishaps in which I was fed chicken from a small collection of places over the years. My uncle Greg in Manila has raised roosters for cockfighting, which is a brutal sport that’s persisted throughout human history not just in developing nations, but here in the US as well, despite it being illegal in all fifty states and in DC.
I previously had a rather dismissive opinion on chickens until reading the chapter on this humble bird in Altruistic Armadillos to Zenlike Zebras: A Menagerie of 100 Favorite Animals, by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson. It’s a swell book for any animal lover, and my opinion of the chicken was changed to that of respect after Masson’s loving anecdotes and information about the fowl. It was in Masson’s book I learnt chickens can, indeed, fly. The reason why those of us not acquainted with live chickens seem to think chickens are unable to fly is because chickens actually don’t fly very high or far, and most conventional farmers clip or pin their wings.
Earlier this year, I had read an article from NPR, City Folk Flock to Raise Small Livestock at Home. The idea of a young man walking around LA with a fat, happy chicken in his arm amused me, and I was interested in this movement of keeping chickens, whether due to financial strains or a desire for a humane, sustainable source of food. Also, some of the comments on NPR’s website for this article are truly inspiring, such as Nancy Pullen’s:
I’m a backyard chicken keeper. I have two lovely hens, Clementine and Buttercup. Not only do they furnish us with fresh eggs daily, they are hilarious. They’re as curious as any cat and as eager to greet you as any dog. A fifty pound bag of feed costs about eleven dollars and lasts months. In return you get a dozen eggs a week and free entertainment. I have a Rhode Island Red and a Barred Plymouth Rock. They’re hearty, easy to care for (ten minutes a day) and truly a delight. I live in a subdivision on a half acre lot and my neighbors enjoy my girls as much as I do. The kids like to scatter feed and the adults know who to borrow eggs from.
Although I have to wait on getting my own little brood of feathered ladies, if you are intrigued, there are several websites online that will help you get started on learning the basics of chicken care, what to look for in a chicken, what sort of home your chicken needs, and soforth. The City Chicken seems to be a grand start, with an extensive FAQ section on how to fight City Hall if they try to smack some law down on your backyard brood, common chicken diseases, how to introduce new feathers into the existing flock, and more. You can also find information on WikiHow on how to keep chickens for an idea. Another great link is BackYardChickens.com, featuring an active Chicken Forum. Some cities already have developed a chicken-raising community, so you may want to see if your town has one; Duluth, Madison and Seattle are just a few places where people are raising chickens in their backyards (or maybe even apartments, considering this group in NYC).
There are also quite a few books out on how to keep chickens. Pick your favourite bookstore or library to see what they have in stock. YouTube is also loaded with videos of people filming their pet chickens.
I told my roommate about my feathered aspirations, and about how chickens will roost in trees (yes, chickens can fly a bit) and they like to be around people whose company they enjoy, and he told me, “You just want little friends.”
Perhaps I do, and what’s so wrong with that? Like Jamie Oliver, I’d like to reach the good life, with chickens in the yard, a couple of beehives here and there, edible plants in the garden, and, well, an urban ideal based on sustainable, locavore living. I can’t reach it now, but I’d like to be ready for the moment when it comes.