It is three o’clock in the afternoon and all I want to do in the world is sit on my porch with my chickens. If you told me even five years ago that this was a statement I would put into writing, I would probably file it as insult.
When they hear the front door open “the girls,” as we call them, come full tilt across the yard with a gait that most resembles a fat man running with his hands behind his back. Mine are fancy, chubby Speckled Sussex and Red Star hens – five in all. At exactly one year old, they are each giving me an egg a day. This turns out to be a profound amount of eggs for just me and my boy, my G, to consume. It’s nice though. I can not tell you how gratifying it is to wake up on a Sunday morning in the mood for french toast or a sunnyside-up on toast, pop out to the coop and return with fresh, delicious eggs ready to go. Surplus eggs also make novel, welcomed gift to friends and coworkers. Even if it is generosity born solely out of desperation, that still counts as a win/win, right?
And here I sit. The girls come up looking for goodies, often leftovers from dinner or a handful of scratch grains, but quickly settle into a thorough inspection of my clothing, my shoes, all things attached to me. If I have a bag within reach, they will quickly pull out its contents and “chicken scratch” them to bits. A chicken scratch is an endearing little dance chickens do. It is two big steps in place followed by a quick hustle backwards, so that they can push their little noses (beaks!) down into the dirt to look for tasty bugs and shoots of grass. Think: one, two, cha cha cha! The best is when one finds a frog or a moth and takes off running with the entire flock hot on her tail. Sometimes a gory tug of war ensues and we have to witness a frog drawn and quartered at our feet, but I forgive them these trespasses. They give us eggs and they dance.
Oh, and they sing too! I think that’s what I love most about their company. Sure, there is the loud cough-call alarm they do if a hawk flies over or a blunt “Fup! Fup!” that announces the discovery of some sort of delicacy, but mostly it’s just a light trilling song of contentment as they dance along. They remind me most of a group of old ladies shrilly oohing and aahing over a new baby or good gossip. It’s a quizzical little song that adds such peace to our farm.
They adore us as well, it should be said. Some say a chicken’s interest in people is purely food motivated, but this is not the case with my girls. As G and I roam out to the orchard, in and out of the barns and the “wild” woods in between playing pirates or steam trains, the girls are always close at hand, hustling across the open spaces to keep up with us on our adventures. Twice I’ve accidentally locked one or two in the shed overnight, written them off as a loss to coyotes or hawks, only to find them unscathed the next morning.
Right now, I’ve got this year’s chicks in a brooder in my living room. (You heard me, my living room. Oh, the horror!) The old farmers in the neighborhood say that in order to stay “in eggs” you have to add to your flock every year. My coop is only 4’x6’. I figure since I free range them I can safely squeeze in 8 hens. So, I picked up 3 ameracaunas from the local feed store. I will give away or harvest one in the fall. I’m not entirely sure I have the balls to actually do the deed, but that is next on my list of self-sufficiency / farming endeavors (ok, follies). Ameracaunas are funny looking “bearded” birds that are winter hardy, prolific layers of blue/green eggs. And yes, they’re in my LIVING ROOM!
Again, five years ago the notion of raising chickens was nowhere on my radar. The notion of raising and brooding chicks in my living room – a little (completely) insane. When our lease went up on our Depot Town apartment in Ypsi two years ago, I knew I needed a safe place to raise my boy, free-range him even. After months of searching, G and I landed on this beautiful centennial farm on the northern tip of Ann Arbor. Steeped in the writings of Michael Pollan, Joel Salatin, and Novella Carpenter, I decided almost immediately that I’d try my hand at chickens first.
And here I sit on my porch with my girls, my heart full of gratitude and wonder at the strange turns this life has taken me on.
If you think this piece waxed a little too poetic about livestock, wait. The working title for a follow-up: “It’s Just a Fuckin’ Chicken.”
Elena lives, works and tries to farm just within the limits of Ann Arbor.