The allure of backyard chickens
Chickens have “personalities,” their eggs are slightly different enough so I can tell who is laying. They can be extremely funny — but they need to be tended whenever you leave town, by someone able to get a dawdler into the coop and deal with equipment failing in the winter. There is a lot of death. Hawks, raccoons, skunks, foxes want to eat them. Ours pecked to death a crippled song bird and devour dead mice who drown in their water bucket. A broody hen went on a rampage and pecked two other hens to death during the night. They get sick fast with the runs and can die. Changing their bedding, a mixture of new and old poo, poo dust, dander, and dust isn’t my favorite. But my husband loves the moments of peace in the evening, coaxing them with mealworms, picking one up and walking around, listening to them vocalize as they diligently scratch for bugs. It’s being part of a web of life and behaviors that isn’t human and mostly untamed and undirected. To hang out with a descendant of the dinosaurs is something else.
Yes, please, a thread prompt on regional food! I'm particularly interested (as always) at the connection between the food and the historic activities and people that created the food.
I grew up on an island where chickens are everywhere and wild (some people also raise chickens on the island). When I started reading the article and saw the term “backyard chickens” I thought it meant what we considered backyard chickens, the ones that came out of the jungle to hang out in your yard. Growing up, we would find eggs in the garage, or the hose piled on the side of the house or in a some little dip in the yard/grass. We hardly took and ate the eggs though, i liked seeing the hen come back to tend them and then seeing little lines of chicks running around.
I love that other people so enjoy their chickens. I am thrilled to get some of the excess eggs of said chickens. Several of my friends up here in northern WI enjoy participating in homesteading- of course not like it used to be, but a lot of our population enjoys trying to use local food, etc. we are not a particularly wealthy area- very rural in fact. That being said, my husband and his cousin raised chickens here on our land, and I hated it. Let’s be real here, I hated that they were always dying from something, I hated that something up here always wanted to eat them (lots of predators), hated making the meat they provided (I have since become vegetarian). And when they were old enough, hated them scratching up my gardens when they were that proverbial free range chicken. There I said it. Lol. No thanks, I will pass! Oh and then there was the time the rooster tried to attack me. Ugh. And I was raised in the country, not in town- so it’s not me not being used to it. 🤷♀️
I wrote my Masters thesis on backyard chickens (now 10 years ago!) and cannot wait to read Tove’s book. One of my primary findings in interviewing chicken-keepers was that people wanted to have options when it came to sourcing their food, and control over raising the healthiest, happiest chickens (tears were shed in more than one interview).
My nephew and his wife are raising chickens at their house outside Ann Arbor. Fresh eggs truly are something to be appreciated. Also, more than happy to participate on any regional food threads. I’m moving back to Ann Arbor this weekend from New Orleans. There is so much difference in food preferences and availability between the Midwest/Great Lakes and the Gulf Coast.
Back in the 70s, my mother somehow got a bunch of post-Easter chicks, definitely for free as we couldn't have afforded it otherwise. We fenced off a large section of the yard and that was their coop. We had fresh eggs for a while, and then they all disappeared and we had butcher paper packages in the freezer. I think my mother just got sick of dealing with it, but it was a nice food supplement at a time when we really needed it.
We just got chickens (still babies) with our neighbor here in Portland, so this is super timely!
It's been a surprising emotional journey. My motivation was to have access to happy chicken eggs and to teach my kids about where food comes from. But yesterday we brought the chicks out to the yard for the first time, and seeing my kids love on them and hold them...there's definitely something more going on there. Are they food sources? Pets? Something else?
When we moved to a place that allowed it we started with backyard chickens. I had two goals, control ticks and eat eggs from chickens with a better life than on a factory farm. The goalpost quickly moved and long story short we ended up with ducks and I am out there giving them calcium supplements and doing soaks and home laser therapy on this duck who has recurrent bumblefoot, googling antibiotic regimens because it’s really hard to find a vet for your duck. They are such enchanting little creatures though.
I work in agriculture, in the nation's leading egg producing state. I wish more people knew how eggs are raised -- farmers are trying to do right for their birds, their communities, their customers, their employees. I don't think it's fair to say those of us in ag don't focus enough on animal husbandry. Farmers do what they do because they love working with animals.
I' do have to admit that as a former farm kid, it's hard for me to see chickens as pets. Honestly, it's even hard for me to feel attached to dogs, cats & companion animals. I learned at an early age that farm pets don't stay long - they wander off, disappear or get hit by a tractor on the gravel road. I know so many people consider themselves pet parents nowadays, so I am trying to be open minded. Times change.
We had backyard chickens in Seattle and it was fun for a time. All the chickens had their own personalities and truly nothing beats daily fresh eggs (get a leghorn!). But it was really challenging in a small yard, especially one as wet as Seattle (their feet can’t be wet all the time). We let them out to roam the yard and the back porch and all our furniture would end up covered in sh*t. Much to our neighbors chagrin, it absolutely drew rats to our yard. And - worth noting - *everything* thinks chicken is delicious, so you are constantly battling to keep them safe. I will never ever get the sound of the 3am raccoon attack out of my mind.
In the little Mennonite town I grew up in, during the fall festival the Mennonite Brethren ladies would have a meal with borscht (chicken soup with cabbage, not the beet kind), verenike, and cherry moos. It was amazing. Also New Year's cookies (fried little fritters with raisins) were for sale and peppernuts/pfeffernusse were sold around Christmas. All of this food is delicious and very particular to the place.
Lost two backyard chickens to a fox recently, thanks to an electric fence malfunction and it was emotional. The responsibility of stewarding these little souls has made me more passionate about local, community based food systems.
My whole thing is backyard stuff, including documenting backyard chickens in my area (lower midwest). I won't post a link here to be mindful of any rules, but I did some audio and video about chickens a number of years ago for our local public radio & TV stations.
I still think about my 4 chickens (RIP): Betty Friedan, Julia Child, Emma Goldman, and Mae Brussell; Mae/Julia were Buff Orpingtons, and Emma/Betty were Speckled Sussexes. Life's different now, so I rely on my neighbor chickens for amusement while in the garden.
This is fantastic. I grew up with chickens on a farm and miss having them - but I also can't believe people let them roam in the house because they're disgusting. This book sounds wonderful!
Thank you for this lovely interview, I'm definitely going to have to pick up the book. As I type this there are three 8-week old hens in a pen in my guest room getting ready to move out to the coop in a few weeks.