Still life with backyard chickens  »

So much talk about keeping chickens these days! I spent four months living in a developing country with intermittent and unreliable internet and I come back to find everyone’s gone crazy for chickens.

I lived on a small farm for two months, with three pigs, three cows, one dog, and about 15 chickens (…two monkeys, one father, six turtles, and me). The chickens had a big, hay-filled, covered roosting area, and they were free to run around the rest of the yard, which was big. They had a lot of room to roam.

Living with these birds, I learned that I don’t particularly like chickens. They’re noisy, they poop everywhere, and roosters are TERRIBLE. Terrible! Just crowing at any old time of day and mounting the chickens all over the place. You know how short, jerky dudes are compared to roosters? Totally accurate. I only ever had peace after they removed the rooster’s head to eat him over the Easter weekend.

Eating the chickens requires severing the connection between your heart and your stomach. Maybe people who eat meat have already done this, but raising chickens from hatching only to kill them for supper takes superior rationalization skills. The children I lived with were masters of it, having kept edible pets their entire lives. They “loved” the piglets, and they knew one day they’d eat the piglets. When a giant box with 100 day-old chicks arrived in the house in April, the kids and I fed them and cuddled them and played with them.

"What will we do with all these baby chickens?" I asked one day. Ana, reading a book, had her two favorite chicks sleeping inside her sweater. She considered. "They are meat," she said.

"Oh!" I said. "That’s sad." "Because you don’t eat meat," she said. "Yes," I said, "And anyway it’s sad that they will die."

"Yes," she replied, "but meat is delicious, so…" She smiled, rolling her eyes a little; I did not get it.

I still don’t get it. I especially don’t get why people in cities and suburbs would want to keep chickens. The birds won’t be happy in tiny yards; neighbors won’t like the sound or smell or sight of killing chickens. These concerns have been addressed quite ably in comic and essay (and snide blog post) form, and most recently on KQED’s Perspectives series by our hero Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. Even more seriously, people who are currently keeping backyard chickens are poisoning themselves and their families with chicken-borne salmonella. All that to eat fresh eggs?

Even if you like chickens, keeping them in sub/urban environments is a big responsibility that most people aren’t prepared for. You’re not Novella Carpenter, you don’t have a book deal that affords you the plush life of staying home and complaining about things all day caring for your livestock. And if you do, be like us and start a blog. At least learn some new eggless recipes. There’s no reason to keep chickens stuffed in your tiny backyard like a murderous slumlord.

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