Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Are You Chicken?


It was a warm Saturday morning. A good friend and I foisted our children off on our respective husbands and headed out for a Backyard Chickens class at Common Ground. At the Palo Alto headquarters, we were redirected to a house fifteen minutes away. Wending past wildflower encrusted hills and soaring oaks, we arrived at our destination - an old farmhouse roosting on the edge of a cliff. A large hen house lounged in the middle of an edible garden. Bolted lettuce, grape vines and tomatoes sidled up with poppies, apricot trees and lavender. Straw paths slinked between beds filled with soil the color of chocolate.

We wandered through the gardens, reaching to touch a raspberry bush here, savor the tousled beauty of intermingled vegetables, herbs and "weeds" there. Four rows of white plastic chairs fanned out in front of the chicken coop. We scooted into the shade of a plum tree and awaited our host, Jody Main.
Over the next two hours, Jody alternately instructed us on feeding chickens (in addition to their feed all green waste goes through the chickens before landing in the compost pile), building and cleaning a chicken coop, explained how to store eggs, and charmed us with chicken lore. All takers, including yours truly, plucked a dinosaur sized leaf of Swiss chard and ventured into the coop to feed the feathered fowl.

Soon, the two hours were over. Reluctantly, my friend and I finished our homemade egg pate and emptied the ice tea with home grown spearmint. We shuttled past the chicken coop one last time, peering in at the girls as they pecked at chard leaves and comfrey. Jody waved good bye and we trundled back to the car, to our own small yards - where fruit trees don't yet sprawl into the street, wheat doesn't sprout from well manured mounds and the air isn't peppered with contented clucks. On the ride home, my friend vowed to get chicks next spring. She had just the spot - at the back of her property where it borders open space. The prior owners had had chickens there, she disclosed, and her husband was raised on a farm.
A couple weeks later, I visited my sister, who has likewise gone to the birds. She and her family recently adopted three heritage breed chicks and are well on their way to backyard eggs.



As for me, am I chicken? I am afraid I am. A bit. My yard is smaller than my friend's, more narrow than my sister's, my boys more boisterous than any of their children. Can I eek out a corner somewhere, big enough for hens but not so big as to encroach on the little play space we have left in our yard? Will we end up with a backyard farm of our own? Stay tuned.
How about you? Are you chicken?

29 comments:

Burbanmom said...

Bawk Bawk

We had chickens when I was kid, but we also had 80+ acres. I don't think I'd ever install a coop in my 50' x 25' backyard!

I'm pretty sure the President of the HOA Board will lay his own egg if I ever tried!

Tameson O'Brien said...

I'm not chicken. I have 6 of them (and geese and sheep). Don't go thinking I've got tons of space either - for a country lot it's very small - just under 2 acres, but with the sheep taking up most of it, we garden intensively on the remainder.

Might I suggest that if you aren't interested in the eggs that chickens provide, a rabbit or two (same gender or you'll be sorry) will provide your garden with similar benefits - conversion of veggie waste to gloriously fertile poop. Additionally, if you keep them in a tractor like an egloo or one you've built yourself they'll keep what grass you have in check.

I love rabbits and have had them in the past, but poultry does a superior job in pest control, and with sheep we need the pest control so we don't need chemical wormers and don't have tons of ticks.

I do hope you get some small stock (chickens or rabbits) they are very fulfilling.

Robin said...

I want chickens. My husband does not want chickens. Even in the city, we knew people who raised chickens...I think that this is, for my husband, a significant divide, a line to be crossed. It's one thing to humor me with my line drying, vinegar cleaning, vegetable growing, farmers marketing...another to open our yard to working animals. No turning back then.

Although we live in a 200+ year old farmhouse, the houses around us are all very new and tony and expensive. He wants us to appear more tony than farm for as long as possible.

Cheerfully wearing him down... Maybe next year, the pitter-patter of chicken feet...

knutty knitter said...

we've had chickens for about 10 years now. We started with full sized ones but now we run bantams which still give you eggs (small) but are not so destructive of small backyards. We even built a soundproof box for the roosters Grandpa and junior, so as not to annoy the neighbours too much :) They are great but make sure the chicks are hens before you give them to the kids to bring up!
viv in nz

Heather @ SGF said...

I'd love to have chickens, but our Home owners association won't let us. They have lots of rules and as a result, we've talked about moving.

eco 'burban mom said...

Have I ever said how cool you guys are on the West Coast? Oh, I have? Well, I'll say it again, you lucky west coast girls have all the fun stuff!

My neighbors had a hissy fit when my husband parked a trailer in our driveway for a friend for a couple of weeks. They acutally called the township code enforcement. Can you imagine what they would do with a chicken coop? I am sure I would find my chickens mysteriously flew the coop in the middle of the night.

So, I am chicken here in the suburbs with code enforement and wacky neighbors. To compensate, I get my eggs from a local farmer. At least we still have the fun of opening a box filled with a rainbow of eggs!

Jennifer (of Veg*n Cooking) said...

I hope to eventually have chickens myself. Yes, I am a little bit scared of them, but I would get used to it. They would provide weeding services, pest services, company, and eggs that could be used for trading.

How fun that there are classes on all this stuff.

spelled with a K said...

I think a couple ducks might be a better fit for us given the close proximity to neighbors.(they're more quiet)

All in good time my pretty, all in good time...

Bugs and Brooms said...

Yes, yes, yes! I WANT CHICKENS! Convincing hubby is a little challenging and we are renting right now, but soon, soon I will have my way......

Jennifer said...

I'm not chicken... but my husband is. He's the one who has intimate knowledge of being chased and pecked by backyard chickens (not his... a friends).


When we moved in, our neighbor had chickens.

I would love to have them... and even though I'm vegetarian, I can find a use for old hens. .. my DOGS are not! (It's important to know what you will do for ALL parts of the life cycle).

Carla said...

Oh, Bean, I want chooks so badly! But now is not quite the time. Too many cats, I think (3) plus I've been working to build up my garden. I hope to be ready for them by the time I retire, at the latest (about 4 years) - if I can stand it that long. I did raise some chx many years ago, but just for meat. I remember they're free-ranging cleared out all my leaf lettuce right down to the dirt! LOL (wasn't laughing then...)
I've already been planning the names I'll give my girls...(sigh)
Carla in ID

arduous said...

I am DEFINITELY chicken. Although, I'm kinda lauging at the image of having a hen coop in my apartment ... what would you do if you came over to my place and I had chickens wandering the living room?!

I actually am convinced I have a neighbor with a rooster because SOMETHING very loud is waking me up at 5:00 am every morning. Not good.

Tameson O'Brien said...

to Spelled with a K...My next door neighbors have ducks...they aren't quiet.

Honestly, my HENs are quieter than their ducks - if I were to add a rooster, well now that's another story.

Green Bean said...

Oh my! There are a number of us who want chickens, aren't there?

Burbs: Damn those pesky HOAs.

Tameson: Thank you for the advice. It's so nice to hear from someone who has been there. I'm very much interested in the eggs a chicken would provide so I'd probably stick with chickens for now. My yard isn't much bigger than Burbs so I'm limited in what I can do. I am thinking of an Eglu thing. It's probably the best bet for my size yard.

Robin: Wear him down, girl. Wear him down. My husband and yours would get along but after a year of wearing down, mine is "warming" to the idea.

Knutty: Hmm. Maybe Bantam would be a better choice for our bitty yard. And good point on the chicks!

Heather: Those HOAs again! I guess we're lucky not to have any in my town.

EcoBurbs: It's so fun out here on the West Coast! ;-) Actually, I have code violations to work around - ones that basically put the coop in the middle of my yard. At least it's legal though.

Jennifer (Vegan): Yes, they offer all kinds of great classes and, at the class, people were looking for more kinds of classes (canning, dehydrating).

Spelled with a K: All in good time! But sooner the better. :)

Jennifer: Good point. I'm vegetarian and I'm not sure how much the cat could eat. I don't know how prepared I am to deal with ALL parts of the lifecycle.

Carla: How cute you are! Already selecting names. Hmm, I may have to think of a few ones of my own.

Arduous: That would certainly be different. Do you have a balcony, perhaps? Can you imagine?!

Tameson: Again, nice to have someone who knows what they are doing here. Guess, I'll stick to chooks.

jennconspiracy said...

I'm not a fan of chickens. I don't eat them nor their eggs and I don't think they're that interesting as pets.

My cats and the neighborhood raccoons, otoh, might be quite interested...

april@mygrandmawasgreen.com said...

I hope chickens are a part of my future. I have been told I can have 2 chicks in my city yard. Thankfully my neighbors are supportive. Although we will probably figure out how to build a coop, omlet.us has some great systems you can buy for chickens or rabbits. Their chicken "coops" would actually complement a more modern looking home (and they are recyclable). I love the colors!

arduous said...

No, no balcony. But if I did, I would guess that my neighbors would complain mightily about the hens. People in the building have cats and dogs, but I'm not sure my landlord would okay a chicken!! Luckily I don't really have much of a desire for chickens. As long as I can get my deeelicious farmers' market eggs, I think I'm good.

Nadine said...

I've been wanting chickens for years (we had them as kids), but where I live now wouldn't be ideal. I used to live in the perfect spot for having chickens. Darn...

abbie said...

I'd like to have chickens... someday. Maybe when I have kids. But for now, we don't use enough eggs to justify having chickens. I have this fantasy where we raise all of our own animals for meat, milk and eggs. Oh, we make our own honey and grow our own vegetable and fruits too. Maybe someday... But for now no.

Oh, and tameson, as for the rabbits, here's my grandmother's advice (she actually said this to me today): "I don't believe there's such thing as a male and female rabbit. If you put two together, you get more." I thought that was a funny one, since at times they've had up to 40 rabbits on our farm, all pets...

Donna said...

Our yard doesn't even have much space for a few vegetables, let alone chickens, but there's a little part of me that wishes we could try it. Honestly, though, chickens wouldn't fit very well with our lifestyle right now, and I also have one of those boisterous little boys. :) But if you try it, I'll love reading about it!

Rebecca said...

I really want chickens! I'm not sure what the neighbors would say, or even if it's legal, but I keep thinking I'm going to give it a try. I'm also not sure if they could survive the Las Vegas heat, I guess I need to find out about that too...

Green Bean said...

Jennconspiracy: Yes, I'm sure your cat and the racoons would be mightily interested.

April: I forgot about omlet.us. I need to go take another look at that site. I'm not sure how supportive my neighbors would be. I have 4 sets to worry about. One (the one with me when I discovered the potatoes) is overly supportive. The other three? Anyone's guess. It would be legal, though.

Arduous: I predict 10 years from now you'll be frantically emailing me for chicken advice. ;-)

Nadine: Actually, I just realized this very moment that I too used to have a perfect spot for hens. My current house, so-so. Maybe we'll both end up waiting.

Abbie: Great dream. Mine is kind of similar. :) And I love your grandmother's saying. How cute is that?

Donna: Well, we both have 3 year olds. Maybe when they are a bit older, it might be easier. I think of Lily, Barbara Kingsolver's daughter and her egg business. Anyone remember how old she was? 8? 9?

Rebecca: I'm currently visiting family in wine country. It is 107 degrees and humid. Everyone around here has chickens. They stick them in the shade and give them little mud puddles and they seem to be ok though I guess they don't lay as much in the heat.

Verde said...

I'm chicken!

We're in town - two blocks from the center of town - and just got 25 chickens this year. We'll butcher the roosters and see if we don't have too many hens to care for before giving some away.

Hubby, gave over part of his workshop to wall off a chicken coop with a door to the outside.

innercitygarden said...

My partner and I both want chickens, so we take turns at being responsible and reminding each other that the landlord would have a fit, and that the chicken coop would take up half the veggie growing space. We're thinking about moving away from the big city to a smaller regional centre where we'd have a bigger yard and room for chickens, without losing the walkability of a city. We'll see.

Melissa said...

We live in a condo...but we do have 2 balconies, maybe 25 sq. ft. each...one for bees and one for chickens maybe? I feel like that's not quite enough space...

It's funny that you wrote about common ground because I just signed up for their container gardening class yesterday! I am really excited, even though the class isn't till Nov.

Green Bean said...

Verde: Awesome! Kudos to you . . . and your husband for parting with his workshop in exchange for free eggs daily.

InnerCity: I find it really hard to find somewhere with the walkability to city conveniences yet a large enough plot of land for veggies, some fruits trees, chickens and the dog my oldest desparately wants. I hope you find such a place.

Melissa: Maybe some day people will be putting bee hives and chicken coops on condo balconies. Don't they already do the former in San Francisco? I can't wait to hear about your experience at Common Ground. The chickens class was my second and we loved it. The first class we took there was from John Jeavons and, while we thought we were there to learn about biointensive gardening, he thought we were there to listen to him rant for 90% of the class about global warming and 10% of the time about what to do in our own gardens. Good luck!

Wendy said...

We have six laying hens, one pullet who should be laying in another month or two, plus the six pullets we're hand raising/taming for a friend of ours, and raised eight broilers that are now in our freezer.

We live on a quarter acre suburban lot. The backyard, where the chickens live is, roughly 50'x50', and in addition to the chickens, we have two rabbits, numerous garden beds, about three cords of split and stacked firewood, and a couple of fruit trees.

I love my chickens. They make great pets and add so much to our lives ... plus, they give us eggs ;), provide fertilizer for my garden, and eat the bugs that chew my vegetables. I don't know what I ever did without them :).

If you have the space and there are no restrictions against having backyard chickens, I highly recommend them. Your boys might even have fun collecting the eggs every day :). And there's just nothing like holding a baby chick to calm even the most rambunctious youngster.

Green Bean said...

Wendy: Damn you! Now you really make me want some hens. ;-) My boys would love it and my oldest talks about it quite a bit. My husband is getting on board but we have a very small lot and our city requires the coop to be 10 feet from any property line - which really does put it in the middle of our yard. Thinking. . . thinking.

Going Crunchy said...

We've been debating chickens for a good bit now in my household. I want, husband not so much.

I've read Val from "Hobbies of a Domestic Goddess" and her adventures in chickens and gotten several good tips about chickens in the suburbs.

I can't until we can afford to fence. I can't until I know if we are staying or selling. I also have lots of raccoons and coyotes in the area, so I'd have to make sure it was fenced and secure before I got them going.

Meanwhile......I dream. Did I mention I want a goat too? Shan

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