As you know, I have chickens in my backyard. This is not the first time I’ve had chickens. I got a flock of 10 Rhode Island Reds back in 2008, and they became famous after they appeared on The Rachael Ray Show in 2009.
On Easter 2010, the neighborhood kids were out in the park behind my house having an Easter egg hunt. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun for the kids if there were chickens running around while they were hunting eggs?!?” So I let my ladies out into the park to forage, like I had done many, many times.
One youngster spotted them first, and he gleefully screamed, “Chickens!” and started running toward them. But his helicopter mother, once she caught of her son dashing toward one of these death machines, shrieked and fled after him, caught him up in midair, tucked him under her arm, covered his face with her hand, and hissed venomously at me, “Don’t you DARE give my child bird flu!” and bustled him off to the absolute safety of his home.
A few days later, Animal Control paid me a visit.
“We heard you have chickens here.”
“You can’t have chickens.”
“That’s not true office, I called the city before I got them and they said I can have up to 10 based on my lot size.”
“That may be true, but there’s also a code that says their coop must be 500 feet from the nearest inhabited building.”
“Well, there’s no place on my little lot that’s 500 feet from an inhabited building.”
“Then you can’t have chickens. You have 2 weeks to get rid of them.”
I was devastated. These were my pets. They followed me around outside. They would come inside the house for visits. I would hand feed them bananas and watermelon. And now I had to get rid of them.
I found an attorney who lived north of town who had 12 kids, and was looking for more chickens. (They go through 4 dozen eggs a day.) So I packed my ladies in a big wardrobe box and sent them off to another life. And I wept like a baby.
After several years of pestering my city council, the adjacent town (ie our competitors) legalized backyard chickens. And that was enough to spur the city council to compete. So in Spring of this year, they began meetings to draft the codes that would govern our ability to have chickens in our backyard again.
Backyard chickens are not a new phenomenon. In fact, even in urban areas with little or no backyards, people have been raising chickens as pets. Check out this Manhattanite who has converted his balcony into a habitat for his ladies:
More and more cities are moving toward classifying chickens as pets, rather than farm animals, and that couldn’t be more welcome. You can check out THIS website to see if your city allows chickens in your backyard.
So as soon as the City Council began drafting the new laws, my roomie Chris went shopping for chickens. And in February, a bunch of little fluff balls came to live with us.
They grew. They feathered out. Their peeping changed to twittering, then to gentle clucking.
When they got too big to live inside, I built them a big sturdy pen (devoting a full THIRD of my garden space to them) and a coop, where they would be safe and happy and have lots of room to roam, and my compost pile to dig through for treats. (At the same time, they aerate the pile for me, and they poop in it, adding valuable nitrogen that speeds the decomposition process!)
A few weeks ago, I filled the nest boxes inside the coop with hay, and put out “seed eggs” in anticipation. Seed eggs are fake eggs that tell the chickens where they should lay. Still, many chickens are surprised by their first egg, and they end up dropping it wherever they happen to be at the time.
This morning at exactly 11am, I heard one of the ladies squawking excited. And I knew that sound instantly. I grew up with that sound. It’s the sound of “Hey, everyone, look what just came out of me!”
I dashed outside in time to see one of my Red Stars hopping out of the coop. And inside was a perfectly formed nest with a warm brown egg inside!
That’s no tiny egg, either. Normally a chicken’s first eggs are little bitty…about twice the size of a quail egg. In farm speak, you call them “pullet eggs” because a female chicken is called a pullet until she reaches laying age. These pullet eggs are very cute and small. But not my lady! She laid a big fat grown up egg, the size of a USDA large or possibly even extra large! I’ll bet that was a surprise to her!
Chickens reach laying age between 4 and 6 months, depending on the breed. Chickens lay a variety of colored eggs, from white to brown to pink to green to blue to dark chocolate colored eggs, it just depends on their breed:
I ran around clucking, myself, so excited at our first egg! It is being saved for Chris, my roommate, who has been a much better chicken daddy than me over the past few months, naming each beautiful lady, spending time with them, feeding them, talking to them. When he gets home from work, I’ll cook it any way he wants it. And a huge thank you to Chris for picking up my slack in taking care of these extraordinary creatures, who, just like any other pet, responds to their name, gets excited to see you, follows you around, and loves to cuddle…but, unlike your dog or cat, gives you delicious, healthy food every morning around 11.
Please feel free to comment below, especially if you have chickens as well. Chicken stories are MUCH appreciated!