Peace, Love Chickens . . . . Backyard Hen DramaPosted: June 30, 2012
I’ve been wanting to write about chickens, but it’s such a long, drawn-out story. It’s hard to even remember where to begin. Ahh, yes . . . . .back in April 2011, a small group of ladies from the community garden approached the city council with a proposal to allow chicken keeping in our little town. One of the ladies belongs to my knitting group. She arrived late and breathless to knitting that April evening because she had been at a city council meeting presenting the Chicken Proposal.
My ears perked up . . . . chickens in MY very own backyard? What fun! Let’s see, since I’ve lived in town with neighbors (it’s only been about 13 years of my life) I had a back yard turtle, some very obnoxious screaming parrots, two illegal quacking ducks, some very noisy terriers, and two wild boy children. Have I mentioned that my neighbors don’t exactly love me? But. . . I had never tried chickens in town. I GREW up with chickens on the farm (along with goats, horses, pigs, dogs, cats, etc.) One of my very favorite childhood pets was a sweet Guinea Fowl named, Kelsey, who followed me everywhere.
Yes, I was intrigued with the idea of chicken keeping within city limits, so I joined the Great Chicken Crusade of 2012. The debate with the city council went on for months. They sloughed us chicken lovers off to the planning commission. The planning commission soon tired of our proposal and sent us back to the City Council. I finally said, “Buuuuullll . . . shit! I’m getting my own damn hens.”
I started researching breeds . . . . because that’s what I do. I research and read until my mind is completely full about what kind of animal will fit with my needs. I needed something that wasn’t flighty because I didn’t want the dogs to scare them. I wanted a hen that was relatively personable and that I could handle easily. I wanted something pretty — because I love beautiful animals. I called the feed store and ordered Large Fowl Asiatic Cochin Chicks, I joined the Cochins International Group, and continued to read about chicken keeping. Finally, the darling little fat, fuzzy-legged chicks arrived. I named them Knit and Purl, and as I watched them in the brooder box under the heat lamp, my love affair with my own little backyard hens began. They ate, and grew, and ate some more, and grew some more. We built a coop that was just too cute for words. I tromped off to the lumber yard with my husband, and before you knew it, we sunk about $1000 into a spacious, grass-covered chicken yard, with edible berry bushes, an outside nest box, a dirt bath area, and lawn chairs so I could hang out with the hens. The wild birds, thought we had built the structure entirely for them. The house wrens are ecstatic, and we now have wild doves visiting every morning for breakfast.
Back to the City Council . . . .in the summer of 2011, they voted “No on Chicken Keeping.” What? As I sat in the meeting, I could barely believe my ears. What was I going to do with my Illegal Hens? I couldn’t (WOULDN’T) give them away. I was attached to them, I loved them, and they didn’t even lay eggs yet. Well . . . . . again, I said a few more expletives and decided this was just a bunch of chicken shit. If people could grow Marijuana in their backyards, then why the heck couldn’t I keep my little, fat hens? So we wintered through with our illegal girls.
In early 2012, the Chicken Coalition asked the city council to reconsider and put the issue on the June 2012 ballot so that the voters could decide the issue. Now, have I mentioned that we live in a very rural California County. Throughout the State in bigger cities, Chickens are hanging out in backyards. Hens are even legal in the State Capitol City of Sacramento. I dared to hope.
In February, Knit and Purl surprised me with two perfectly-formed brown eggs. We had an egg about every other day. Although, I had completely researched the Large Fowl Asiatic Cochin Breed, I failed to notice that they aren’t that great about egg production, they don’t like to get their beautifully feathered feet wet, AND they like to eat and are prone to heart disease and laziness. As my oldest son observed, “Why is it Mom that you always get special-needs animals?” Hmmm… . . .that is something to ponder.
As the June election loomed on the horizon, I became political — posted signs in my yard, pasted bumper stickers to my vehicles, and placed stuffed hens on my desk at work. I started bribing my neighbors. I took the scarce cochin eggs door to door and shared my fat little hens’ good work. My neighbors were receptive. They were also NOT surprised because they could hear chicken sounds coming from my back yard. I thought I was being so sly with my little illegal flock. The Chicken Coalition of 2012 finally won the vote, but only by 40. A win is a win though, and I couldn’t have been happier. My little hens, didn’t care at all whether they were legal or illegal, they continued to eat, cluck and spit out an egg every few days. I bought two more large fowl Asiatic Cochin chicks, Lace and Stitch. All was well in my backyard.
Last weekend, my husband and I went on a camping trip to the Coast. I hired a nice young lady to chicken sit. Together, we reviewed the feeding instructions (quinoa/rice and fruit in the morning, greens and mixed veggies in the evening), instructions on locking them up in their little coop at night, putting the babies out in the morning. . . . . not on wet grass, not if it’s windy, make sure they have shade if its sunny, etc. etc. Have I mentioned that my pets are a tiny bit pampered?
But . . . no matter the amount of pampering and the amount of care, sometimes hens just die. Knit was found dead in the chicken yard Saturday afternoon – no blood, no pulled feathers, just laying their peacefully “asleep.” Knit was the dominant hen — always bossing Purl around, always coming to the door and clucking for me to come out and play, always the first to scurry over when I was planting shrubs to find the best worms. She was funny and quite personable. Just like being with your very best girlfriend, Knit and I could chat up a storm but never say anything at all.
When I got home, the sweet little chicken sitter was devastated and I tried to comfort her and explain that animals die. It’s always sad for me, but when you love to be with animals and have them in your life, part of that love is accepting death. We (Purl and I) planted Knit in the chicken yard, under a blueberry bush. I cried, Purl clucked at my feet, and we will carry on the best we can without Big Beautiful Knit.
Now that we are LEGAL, expect more chicken stories . . . . .