Monday, April 7, 2008

Counting our Chickens

Three or four? We have moved past our original question: Should we get some chickens? Now we are simply figuring out how many and exactly how to go about it.

When the mercury hit 68 degrees on Saturday, and half of our neighborhood was outside in shorts, I casually brought up our potential poultry adoption. The neighbor kids thought I was joking. Their moms quickly said, “I’ll buy eggs from you when you have them.”

Of course, everyone seems to know, now, that poultry is the new black (or something). The Star Tribune, Minnesota Monthly, and Minnesota Public Radio have all run stories about the growing popularity of backyard hen houses.

Last summer we attended a meeting at Unity Church in St. Paul about keeping chickens as a spiritual act. That is what really inspired us to adopt some chickens. The speaker told a compelling story about spending the summer with the kids in her neighborhood, teaching those concrete-bound urban children about the miraculous circle of life.

As farm kids, we were both hooked. Someday, we’ll do that, we told ourselves.

Why wait? At current egg prices, we’ll be able to get 3 chickens for the price of six dozen eggs; and our chickens will probably lay 300 or more eggs in the first three months. For the true beginner, interesting websites like Path to Freedom and Backyard Chickens offer great information, message boards, and design plans for a small coop.

I may be romanticizing the joy of chickens. I envision three really pretty hens pecking comically at the grass behind our garden while Maya and I harvest tomatoes and Elliot chases a ball around on a blanket in the shade. What a nice summer scene.

In reality, I grew up on a farm without chickens, so I don’t have a clue about how this will work. Joe grew up with pretty diverse aviary, including chickens, geese, ducks, peacocks and who knows what else. Therefore, he will be the resident expert. Just to make sure we won’t get stuck, we have contacted a local (and humane) chicken farm about buying laying hens from them in May. They assured us that they would buy them back in the fall (so we don’t have to winterize them – I’m a fair-weather chicken keeper) or earlier if it doesn’t work out.

So we’re keeping suburban chickens for the summer. Hopefully a few hens will help us feel a bit better about our role in the food production and consumption cycle, take full advantage of our enormous backyard, and try something new.

We still have a couple of neighbors to warn/bribe with the promise of eggs. Our city actually doesn’t have a chicken permitting process, so I’m following the St. Paul guidelines (including neighbor notification, regular upkeep of the chicken run, and maintaining a strict no-rooster policy) just to be courteous.

We still have to figure out the logistics and connect with the few other suburban and urban chicken owners we know. By the end of May, though, check back for some chicken pics!


I frequently put Elliot in the laundry basket to keep her still if I need to run out of the room quick.

Luckily I stayed nearby today, because she stood right up!

Then she fell right down while Mama took pictures... I'm terrible!

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