Beware the feisty Cock-a-doodle-doo!
Keeping chickens in your backyard for fresh eggs and perfectly roasted Sunday dinners seems like such a sweet "Little House on the Prairie" idea, but are you cut out for the hardcore realities of urban farming?
My kids have been begging for backyard chickens ever since we saw some at the county fair this summer, so I went to have tea with a friend who has her own little flock, and some of the things she said made me afraid.
Here are five things that may happen in your very own yard if you turn it into an urban chicken farm:
1. Death by predator, including your very own dog: It turns out that even the sweetest dogs that wouldn't hurt a burglar can go instantly vicious on a chicken. Some sort of instinct takes over and they can turn into the Freddy Krueger of the hen house before you can stop them. And you can't stop them. In fact, you shouldn't try.
Dogs are predators, after all, and when a dog's in the middle of a chicken killing spree, they lose all sense of decorum and manners and might attack you if you get in the middle of their primal euphoria.
My friend tried to stop her neighbor's friendly dog who murdered four of her chickens while her daughter watched, sobbing from the porch: "He killed Fluffy! Oh no! Now he killed Stripy! NOOOO! NOT CUDDLES! Mommy DO something!" her 8-year-old daughter screamed. My friend tried, until she realized it'd be far worse for her daughter to witness the dog ripping her mommy apart.
2. Off with their heads! Killing your pet rooster is no fun, but in many cities, roosters aren't allowed to live in your backyard. Apparently people get all mad about the crowing. So you're supposed to only buy girl chickens. But sometimes a rogue male will sneak in with a bunch of baby chicks, and when he hits puberty? Oops. He must be sacrificed. Are you gonna chop off his head?
Jennie Grant of Seattle started a rooster killing company for tender-hearted wimps who can't bear to murder their beloved Mr. Cocky. For $20, she puts your rooster into a traffic cone, upside down, and lops off their head. It's all over quickly and humanely. But her listing got flagged and removed from Craigslist though. People were horrified. Do you think Mrs. Olsen would have turned Caroline Ingalls into the sheriff if she saw similar things happening outside the Ingalls' barn?
3. Baby chicken diaper duty and poop galore: You know those beautiful, baby yellow balls of fluff your kids want to kiss and pet? You're supposed to wipe their bottoms several times a day for the first few weeks so they don't get sick. No Huggies allowed.
4. Eating your child's best friend for dinner: Some people actually EAT chickens. If you're thinking you can get fresh eggs and Sunday dinner from your backyard, you better think this through. Are you going to butcher the chicken at home? Are you going to pluck or wax the chicken after you kill it? What do you do with the feet? Do you send the kids to grandma's during the process, or to the shrink's after? Is it easier to just pay extra for the organic, free range hen at the grocery store?
5. Snakes: when good chickens turn into Velociraptors It's true that in certain areas of the country, people have to worry about egg stealing snakes moving into their neighborhood when they set up their backyard coops, but in the Northwest, most of our snakes are small and quietly do their job of eating insects and rodents without much fuss. And chickens love little snakes. In fact, when one chicken finds a snake, she's suddenly so popular that all the rest of the chickens chase her to get it, and the closest thing to a real life Jurassic Park Velociraptors killing scene. And it's a bloody mob scene, according to my friend, one we're not really used to seeing in our backyard.
Despite all this violence and gore, my friend and her family are thrilled to be urban chicken farmers, and she says the fresh eggs and sweet chicken companions are worth the trouble. If all these horror stories haven't scared you away from exploring the possibility of raising chickens in your own backyard, check out these websites and blogs that are loaded with real and practical information.
Backyard Chickens: A popular portal packed with useful information and friendly forums
My Snazzy Chicken Coop: Which bills itself as "The Chicken Lover's Community for Fun and Information ... Without the poop!"
I'm sure the Ingalls family would have had a fantastic blog if they had wireless Internet access on Plum Creek. And I have new respect for Caroline Ingalls. She was a tough, brave broad who dealt with violence gracefully, every day.
Image via pbo31/Flickr