I write against the background sound of constant sweet cheeping–three baby chicks now inhabit a corner of our mudroom, just off the kitchen. We first raised chickens about nine years ago, when it was still something of a curiosity to do so in the city. Now backyard chickens in Seattle are so hip they’re almost passe. Neighbors are comparing breeds and coop plans, Seattle Tilth can’t offer enough City Chickens 101 classes to meet the demand, and that nice clucking sound is becoming more common on my walks through our West Seattle neighborhood. We think that’s just great.
For various reasons, we’ve spent a couple of chickenless year since moving to our new house. I’m SO happy to be raising chicks again. There are many reasons to keep chickens, and they vary among families. My own reasons-for-chicken-keeping list is a mile long, but I can boil it down (don’t worry about that phrase, chicks–you’re just for eggs!) to two:
1. I love chickens. I love how they look, how they walk, and how they tilt their heads to look you in the eye. I love their funny, fluffy shape. I love their unique chicken intelligence, which constantly surprises me. I love the soft, calming cluck-cluck sound they make. I love how, if you choose the right breed, chickens are sweet, docile, and friendly. I love how…well, you get the idea.
2. Gorgeous fresh eggs. There are few things more satisfying than gathering your own eggs, especially when they are the most beautiful, golden-centered, delicious eggs you have every tasted. And even though it seems like your dearest friends and family couldn’t possibly love you more than they already do, just try giving them a bowl of your homegrown eggs. More love in the world.
I could also add:
3. Children can take a great deal of responsibility for raising chicks and keeping chickens. When Claire was tiny, she would go out with her “eggs basket,” which she could barely pronounce, and gather the eggs to make blueberry muffins while Genevieve the Polish hen perched on her shoulder. Now that she is 10 years old, and becoming both a food activist and a baker in her own right, I believe sharing our household with food-producing animals helps to grow a sense of self-sufficiency, a broader sense of “home,” and a great deal of kindness.
There is another dimension to chicken-keeping that plays into the modern psyche. In a recent Homegrown Evolution post (great blog–check it out), I read a quote by the editor of Backyard Poultry Magazine, who said that whenever the economy tanks, their subscriptions soar. This doesn’t make common sense–after all, unless you are supremely resourceful, it takes some money to get set-up for a backyard chicken flock. The ongoing cost of chicken food isn’t that much less than eggs–and anyway, it’s certainly not buying eggs that is making or breaking us. The current popularity of chickens might have to do with the economy, but it can’t be just about money.
Wondering over this, I picked up the phone and called Backyard Poultry‘s editor, Elaine Belanger. “You’re right,” she told me. “On the surface, there is a myth that growing our own food will save money, and I get calls from these editors in New York who think that’s what it’s all about. But if you’ve raised chickens, you know that it’s something else.” In troubled times with multiple crises–economic, ecological, global insecurity, swine flu–there’s a longing for independence, self-reliance, security, food safety, and idyllic living. Chickens give us a hands-on, tangible sense of satisfaction on all of these levels–it’s an emotional satisfaction. But Belanger points out that the current resurgence in “homestead”-style practices, including chicken-keeping, pre-dates the economic crisis by about a year. I believe we have just come through a long political cycle in this country that has left us feeling empty, and desperate for authenticity. We are finding, and creating, meaning in the most truly grassroots of actions–those that begin with our own household grass (another chicken benefit–they are adept at grass removal!).
Is Belanger cynical about the sudden faddishness of chickens, when she’s been preaching this lifestyle for over 20 years? Not at all–she’s happy about it. Thrilled, even. And she’s quick to offer her own favorite reason for keeping chickens: “Because it’s FUN.”
There’s still plenty of time to get your own little flock started and all settled in before autumn. If you’ve been thinking about chickens, I want to encourage you to go for it. In the coming week or so, I’ll be offering inspiration, information, resources, coop plans, and (I can’t help it) a bit more Chicken Philosophy here at The Tangled Nest. Tomorrow: how to make a simple biddy box/chick brooder.
Our family of course champions our chickens and yours! It is always nice to see your well-written thoughts on something I can’t quite articulate. I, however, wish I could unanimously send this to our neighbor who complains about the clucking (as I listen to her power mower in the background)!
Thanks Nancy! What are we going to do with this neighbor of yours? Have you tried bringing her eggs? I mean, clearly she’s not egg-worthy, at least not on the surface. But everyone has the inner potential for Egg Worthiness!
Great post. I’m only just getting into chicken raising – wife’s been bugging me for months to build her a chicken coop – getting there slowly – great to hear stories like this though 🙂
Preach it, sister! Your chicks *are* adorable – and you couldn’t be more right on the nose – it’s not a non-event financially to made the move to urban (or any!) chicken keeping! But oh, the benefits!
I agree on the neighbor issue… Our naked gardening neighbors (too long a story to go into! egad!) who HATED our rooster (that we and the rest of the neighbors adored) has gotten much chummier once gifted with a couple dozen fresh eggs! I also added a jar of picked from our own blackberry vines jam – that didn’t hurt, either!
Thank you Dina. (Hey everyone–try Dina’s link, she has a lovely blog.)
I have to heartily concur with all of your sentiments above. We’re on our 4th batch of hens and they’re each different, but hilarious in their own special chicken way. There’s nothing like the one-eyed chicken look, or to have them come running with their chicken-waddle the minute they hear your voice.
Our newest buff orpington looks exactly like the one on your daughter’s head. Awesome pic!
Isn’t it interesting how individual they are–even very young birds of the same breed? Thanks for the comment, and have fun with your new girls.
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Why do people who live more than 200 miles from the New York State line always use us as an example of farming ignorance? I’m a native New Yorker, born and bred, living within 60 miles of Manhattan and chuckle every time I hear “country-folk’ speak of us.
We are a pretty big state — it’s a nine hour drive from Niagara Falls to New York City. The city occupies only a few square miles. So the state contains far more country than city!
My immediate neighbors have goats, chickens, and guinea hens. We drink local wine, eat local produce — gorgeous corn, tomatoes, peaches, strawberries, potatoes, herbs. At Thanksgiving we welcome local turkeys, duck, and venison to our tables. And our Long Island chevre is hard to beat. All produced by New York families who love and live off the land.
Our Catskill Mountain apple orchards stretch for miles as do some of the nation’s oldest vineyards. Mushrooms and onions grown in the cold plains off Lake Ontario are wonderful. Black Angus and sheep herds can be seen along our upstate highways. New York cheese is recognized as some of the finest. I don’t think those cows are grazing on 42nd St and Broadway.
And lastly, has anyone checked out Eli Zabar’s rooftop produce garden set smack in the middle of our city that never sleeps? Ooooooh, his heirloom tomatoes and upstate buffalo mozzarella on his freshly baked artisan bread — what a meal!
Thank you for letting me vent. New Yorkers are not just ‘city-folk’ but ‘country-folk’ too. Yes, there are ignorant ‘city-folk’ like those who were asking Elaine Belanger about the economics of chickens. But there are also ignorant ‘country-folk’ who implicate New Yorkers as being unaware of the joys of self-sufficiency.
PS — We have no clothesline laws in our community. All of us revel in sun-dried sheets and hang our undies with pride!
Thanks Muddah! Point well taken.
Really enjoyed reading through your chicken article. My husband and I raise 5 hens right in the city . We started raising them 3yrs ago. I must tell you it is simply wonderful experience. Thanks again for your interesting blog. Will surely look for your book.
You make some very good points. Raising chickens can be so healthy it is amazing. fresh eggs every single day is so much of a plus right there. Also, kids love chickens and it teaches them a lot about respecting animals and about resonsiblity. My children love our chickens and have learned to take care of them pretty much on their own. Lovely post
Chickens are fun. As long as the neighbors do not care then you are good to go. I had a few neighbors that would complain of the smell and noise. But, who cares right? lol
Just wondering…is Clara still playing with the chickens after a few years since this was posted?
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