I had chickens when chickens weren’t cool.
Ordinarily, I would not describe myself as a trendsetter.
Usually by the time I get around to trying a new style, fashionistas have declared it “so last year.” My cell phone is such an embarrassing relic I have to press the 7 button four times to type an “s” in a text message –– not that I’ve gotten on board with the texting craze, either. And I’m still not sure whether a mojito is something you eat or drink.
But for once in my life, I can proudly say I am way ahead of the pack –– or perhaps the flock –– when it comes to a hot new fad among the beautiful people.
In case you haven’t heard, keeping chickens in the backyard is the latest thing in big cities and suburban neighborhoods across the country. That’s right –– ground-pecking, bok-bokking, egg-laying yardbirds.
If you think I’m joking, consider this Huffington Post item about poultry mania in the Big Apple: “From backyards in Brooklyn to schools in the South Bronx, chicken-raising is definitely not just for rural farms anymore –– it’s part of a much larger trend of people taking interest in where their food comes from and shortening the distance from farm to table.”
Fowl play, according to the New York Times, is a popular topic of conversation in chi-chi Westchester County, a wealthy suburb of the city. “Chicken tales are provoking plenty of laughs not only at cocktail parties but also in nail salons and on tennis courts,” the Times reports.
In Portland, Ore., believe it or not, there’s a business that offers to baby-sit backyard chickens while their owners are away. Portland –– as well as cities such as Austin, Texas; Atlanta; and Seattle –– even puts on an avian version of the Tour of Homes. Sights include backyard chicken coops, chicken castles, cottages and Craftsman-style henhouses with $800-plus price tags. In some circles, it seems, coop-building has become an art form.
Flaky West Coasters aren’t the only ones gone cuckoo for cock-a-doodle-doo, either. As evidenced by a recent story about backyard chicken-keeping in the Times-Picayune, “Urban farming is catching on in New Orleans.
Apparently, a good number of these city-slicking egg farmers are your basic organic “real food” types on a mission to avoid “factory-farmed” food. Others, I suspect, have just watched too many episodes of the Martha Stewart Show. Raising fancy chickens is one of Martha’s “good things.”
Whatever. All I know for sure is that long before newspapers were running stories about “chicken chic,” or even before Martha made Japanese silkies the must-have accessory of the season, I had chickens in my backyard. Not of my own free will, mind you, but there they were all the same.
It was right after Harvey and I married and moved into a tiny house on the farm. A covered porch almost as large as the house itself ran the length of the front. After I arrived with my furniture, we temporarily stored some of it on the porch while we figured how to make everything fit into our wee little house.
One night after visiting friends for a few hours, we came home to broken shards of mirror from my antique dressing table and a puddle of blood on the porch. It was a little alarming, but we chalked it up to some curious trespasser –– a raccoon, maybe –– that somehow toppled the mirrors over and cut itself.
I was still unpacking the next afternoon when a terrible ruckus sent me flying to the door. Peeking out, I was astonished to see one very angry rooster crowing and screeching at his reflection in what remained of the dressing table mirror. Suddenly, the previous night’s bloody crime scene made sense. A fighting rooster had been fighting himself in the mirror, broken the mirror and gotten cut. Now he was back for revenge. Not only had we solved the mystery of the blood, but we also discovered the previous tenants of our house had left behind a fighting gamecock –– a not-very-bright one –– as well as a hen.
In a tribute to our new pet’s pugilistic personality, we named him Evander, like the former heavyweight world boxing champion, Evander Holyfield. The hen we ironically called His Old Lady, in keeping with a local figure of speech we found amusing.
At first, life with Evander and His Old Lady actually was entertaining. As I began taming them with bits of food, they began spending less time in the woods and more time clucking and scratching around in our yard. Pretty soon I could call “Chicky! Chicky! Chicky!” and they’d come running. I never held or petted them, but they would snatch Tostitos chips right out of my hand.
Evander was a fine-looking fellow, and having a pair of chickens hanging around was always a conversation starter.
Plus, I was fascinated to discover that a chicken will eat anything. I still marvel at the time Evander and His Old Lady completely devoured two huge raw steaks that had gotten rubbery from being marinated too long. (I’m sure there’s a Chic-fil-A commercial in there somewhere.)
As things rocked on, our backyard chickens grew more and more comfortable with us –– a little too comfortable.
In fact, they began to prefer the porch to the backyard and were not particular about where they did their business.
Soon, the porch was covered with ooey-gooey, disgusting chicken manure (not that we ever used the word “manure,” of course.)
Then not even the porch was good enough. If we left the door standing open, they’d strut right into the house.
Getting them out was like something out of one of those old Wonderful World of Disney episodes where the animals go berserk in the house. The phrase “like herding cats” may be used to describe the futility of a difficult task, but herding chickens would have to be a close second.
One nice spring afternoon I decided to open the doors and windows before lying down for a nap. I was just dozing off when I heard what sounded like clucking in the bedroom. For a moment I assumed it was just one of the chickens near the bedroom window. Then I looked and saw Evander’s little red comb sticking up at the end of the bed.
Still, we might have continued to peacefully coexist with our fine feathered friends were it not for one revolting development: Evander started crowing at 2:30 every morning in an oak tree right outside our bedroom. The first night it happened, Harvey and I smiled at each other and chuckled about that wacky rooster. The second night, it was a little less hilarious. Before too long, our sense of humor ran completely dry. Finally, upon being awakened by Evander’s familiar “er-ERRRR” beside our window one night, Harvey jumped out of bed, grabbed one of his tall black rubber farmer’s boots and stormed out the door.
I heard Harvey hollering, then a bunch of squawking and flapping, then some more hollering and then some more squawking and flapping. A few minutes later I heard Harvey coming in the front door all out of breath.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I threw my boot up into the tree and chased him out of the tree,” Harvey said. “Then he flew to another tree in the driveway, so I shooed him out of that one and chased him farther down the road. Then he landed in another tree, and I ran him out of that one. I chased his little butt from tree to tree all the way to the end of the driveway.
“I don’t think we’re going to have to worry about him waking us up anymore,” Harvey said, sliding under the covers with a victorious little smirk.
All was quiet, and we began drifting off. We were nearly asleep when we heard it loud and clear, right outside the bedroom window: “er-ERRRR!”
Those city folk have a lot to look forward to.