I Went to Chicken School

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.

13 thoughts on “I Went to Chicken School

  1. Here are a few more interesting details to your chicken story. It all started one day when Joey, your Mom’s little sister who was about 4 1/2 said, “Daddy if we got some little chicks today could we have fried chicken tonight?” That request set your Grandfather in action. His children needed to know more about farm animals. He went to the kitchen phone and called the chicken farm. As I was walking thru the kitchen I heard him say, “Well, send me 400”. I was almost speechless. “What, you want what!!!!, I said. Then he grinned and said, “Make that 40.” He was very smart because 40 chicks is still too many, but compared to 400!! Well ,what could I say. We had an unsed greenhouse in the back yard and it turned into the perfect chicken house for citified chickens. (Just an aside) Liz”s Grandfather was the Senior Pastor of a large down town Lutheran Church in Fort Worth. Not your typical Pastor I’d say.
    It was very much fun for me to read the rest of the story which is exactly the way it all happened. Love you Grandma.

  2. Love to read about your chicken fetish, ha ha. I gathered eggs as a little girl, my folks had a farm in Luck, Wi, and we had the cows, the chickens and added sheep and a horse years later. This article makes me want to have a few in our backyard, but when winter comes, I really don’t think I want them in the house, and by then I would have fallen in love with all of them. So for now, I’ll buy mine and follow your adventure too.

    • Sharon, you don’t need to bring chickens in the house in the winter. Just make sure they have a draft free coop with plenty of ventilation.

  3. I think a good business would be chicken rental! Rent the chickens for the a month or more in the summer, feed them, take care of them, eat their eggs… Then when you need to go on vacation, or for the winter, or for when you want chicken, not eggs, you can bring em back! (side note: there is a local chicken rescue for unwanted chickens!)
    I also love the sound of roosters crowing! Wish my neighborhood had wild chickens & roosters like Key West FL!

  4. I have wanted to have chickens ever since I saw Martha Stewart’s tv show way back in the early 90’s. Only when finally moving to the “country” 5 years ago, did my chicken fantasy happen! They are funny, full of personality, and provide the best eggs ever. Just be prepared to care for them everyday–even when the Winter snow and wind is howling. Making sure their water doesn’t freeze and that they are warm in the Winter, can be a bit of work. Just my 2 cents–look forward to reading about your chicken adventures!
    PS. Have you seen the cute chicken coops that Williams & Sonoma are selling?

  5. Hi Elizabeth,
    I’m so excited to hear you’re getting chickens! Good luck, I know you’ll have a fabulous experience. If you have any questions, just give a call as I’m happy to help you out. Just to follow up on my chicken story, I’m sorry to tell you that beautiful Coco passed away in February. There was no warning, she was fine in the morning and died in my lap that evening. It was hard as it always is when it’s a pet… I’ll be hopefully getting one or two more this summer to take her place.
    Have fun with your new venture!

    • Thanks so much for the note Janice! You are such an inspiration. I’m so sorry to hear about lovely Coco…she was a beautiful little lady and will always be in my heart as the first chicken I ever held. What a gift! 🙂 I’d love to come by and meet the latest additions to your flock!

  6. Elizabeth,
    Congratulations on your homesteading adventure. I am working to create an edible yard out here in Minnetonka. Some of our neighbors were skeptical to say the least – they couldn’t imagine why I would dig up my front yard like that! After sharing my gardens bounty, I think I have won them over. We added chickens last year (from EggPlant Urban Farm Supply). Not only do we love the eggs they provide, they are great companions to have when weeding.
    All the best.

  7. Hi Elizabeth!
    I am in Roseville and have a flock of 18 hens. I am going into my 5th year having chickens, so if you’d like a coop tour, please let me know. They are really fun, and good planning can make it easy.

  8. I realize I’m late in commenting on this post, but this is exactly where I am in my chicken quest. I am half-way through Chicken and Egg and have ordered my copy of A Chicken in Every Yard. My next hurdle is getting the hubby on board.

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