Apparently I was raised on a farm. While I was growing up I didn’t think of it as a farm, but to most of my childhood friends and *all* of my adult friends it was definitely a farm. We didn’t really grow anything, but we had some horses, dogs, cats, and before I was born my parents kept some pigs, geese, and a goat. But the deciding factor, the thing that made my house a farmhouse was the chickens. We kept chickens and ate their eggs. In the neighborhood I live in now, this makes me a regular country bumpkin.
We didn’t keep a whole lot of chickens, normally somewhere between 5 and 15. They provided enough eggs that we didn’t have to buy eggs from the store. We could have bought eggs from the store for about the same price as keeping the chickens. However having live animals on hand was something my parents thought of as part of being self-sufficient and having a year’s supply of food.
One of my earliest chores was to feed the chickens and collect their eggs. This was something I loved doing. We kept the chickens in the same large enclosure where we kept the horses, so they laid their eggs wherever they pleased. This meant that every day was like an easter egg hunt. I would climb through the rocks and search all the nooks and crannies for hidden nests.
I also just really liked the hens themselves. I would chase them around trying to catch them. I’d catch them by the tail, wrestle them onto my lap and pet them. Eventually the hens learned that if they just sat still for me then they could skip the chase go straight to the petting part. During the years when I was 6-9 we had a flock of hens that were as tame as any pet. They’d gather around my feet and follow me around.
One year coyotes descended upon our neighborhood. One of our neighbors lost 32 hens in just two weeks. When they came to our house, we lost one hen a night until they were all gone. There wasn’t a whole lot we could do about it. Our dogs were too scared, we couldn’t stop/kill the coyotes ourselves, and at that point we had nowhere else to keep the chickens safe.
I asked my parents how the coyotes got to the chickens, as there were no holes in the fence, and no places where they had dug under. Could a coyote really jump a six foot chain link fence? Well no. But a chicken could. The coyotes stay outside the fence, running, barking, and working the chickens up into a panic. At which point the chickens jump over the fence out of safety right into the thick of it.
I find something incredibly meaningful in that. Feeling a fear so intense that one might mistake those things that keep one safe for things that would hinder an escape.
Even though I’m in the middle of suburbia I still keep chickens. I have two barred rock hens and I get about 5 eggs a week from them. It is technically illegal to have any chickens without the permission of my neighbors, but thanks to the housing crisis many of the houses around me are empty. And once I heard a goat bleating from a few houses down. If someone down the street is keeping a goat then there’s no way they’re going to complain about my hens.
My boys love our chickens, and I’m glad to have my kids learn something about life from watching them. I get after my kids for chasing the chickens, but I know exactly why they do. I used to chase my chickens after all.
Chickens may be dumb, dumb enough to jump right into a coyote’s mouth, but I like to keep them around. It helps remind me that I may not be as clever as I’d like to think.