A couple of weeks ago, I ordered a textbook. I packed up my notebook and pen. And I went to Chicken School.
Because the reality is, there’s no way this home can be a homestead without a flock of egg-laying hens in the backyard. No, sir. My vegetables and herbs grow in my garden. My chickens will eat the scraps. I will eat the eggs the chickens lay. The chicken waste will create compost. The compost will nourish my garden. A beautiful cycle.
Owning chickens has been a dream of mine for quite some time. In fact, my mom says it’s in my blood. The first time I shared my aspirations for fowl with her, she laughed and said: “You got that from your grandfather!”
She told me the story of her dad, Gerald Otte. When my mom and her siblings were young, their dad decided they needed to learn to live off the land. That land was a neighborhood in Ft. Worth, Texas. And Jerry’s children simply weren’t exposed to enough country life in the city. So my grandfather decided to buy himself a flock of chickens for the backyard. Eggs! Meat! Farm life!
Sounds like a lovely idea, until he realized that half those chickens were roosters. And as soon as the headlights of a car driving at night would shine down the street, those roosters thought the sun came early. And so they crowed. In the middle of the neighborhood in Ft. Worth, Texas.
As my mom tells it, Grandpa had to call his mother-in-law in Oklahoma to come and slaughter those chickens. In the backyard. Running headless. I’m told one even flapped down the street. Yikes.
Clearly, Grandpa didn’t go to Chicken School.
My first unofficial chicken lesson came from Janice Cole. She’s a Twin Cities woman who wrote a lovely cookbook called Chicken and Egg. Recipes inspired by the small flock of birds she keeps in her suburban Twin Cities backyard.
She let me come and visit her last June. I’ll never forget meeting her lovely hens. I held a chicken for the first time in my life. I shrieked with delight when we gathered eggs from Janice’s backyard coop. Janice sent me home with a half-dozen of her precious, multicolored eggs. They were the best scrambled breakfast I’d ever had.
Almost exactly a year later, it’s time to really get educated on my future feathered friends. So I signed up for a class at EggPlant Urban Farm Supply store in St. Paul. Owner Bob Lies took me and my classmates through everything we need to know about raising chicks. I even made a friend at school. We exchanged contact information and made a vow of mutual chicken-sitting.
Clearly, I’m not alone in my quest for fresh eggs. The Pioneer Press reporter who wrote this article on the rising popularity of backyard flocks observed my class.
If I do say so myself, I was an “A” student. I sat quietly. I took pages of notes. I even asked a question.
And since then, I’ve been doing my homework. Researching coops (the city requires 4 square feet of space for each chicken), convincing my neighbors (whose reactions have ranged from “oh, sure” to “yay! I can’t wait!”) and working through the permitting process. Some may read another chapter of Fifty Shades before they go to bed. I curl up with A Chicken in Every Yard.
In fact, I think I’ll get through another chapter right now. And have scrambled eggs for breakfast in the morning.