Last night, our modest quest for self-sufficiency took a drastic turn.
I mean, gardening – fine. Making bread from whole grain? Great. I’ve even got my own recipe for homemade dog treats. I almost have to. When you have a pack of dogs and you care as much about what goes into their body as you do about what goes into your own, that can get real expensive, real quick. And OK, I’ll admit it; awhile back I was telling my husband that I thought we should get some chickens for eggs. I was extolling the virtues of chickens. Our neighbor behind us, Mr. F, keeps chickens, I told him. They don’t smell if you take care of them. Mr. F showed me his chickens, and they don’t smell! I’m talking about just three or four chickens!
Repeatedly, he laughed at me, and told me there was no WAY that we were getting chickens. He drew the line at chickens.
And yet, I cannot PRY the Northern Tool and Equipment Catalogue out of his hands. What does that have to do with anything, you wonder? Well, nothing actually, but when you still have one foot in suburbia, and homesteading is something new to you, a mere couple of chickens don’t seem to be such a tremendous leap from wanting to buy a tractor.
That Mom might want chickens (and a goat for milk) has become something of a family joke. When I ordered six chickens from a local farmer, I can’t tell you how many times my husband said, “These chickens will be dead, right? These are dead chickens that you’re getting, right?” Honestly, I wanted to thump him on the head with one of those dead chickens by the time I got them home.
The farmer offered to bring me over a few in a cage in the bed of his pickup truck just to mess with him.
But I declined.
I mean, I wanted to convert my husband. Not antagonize him.
And then last night, he threw the gauntlet down.
He said, and I quote, “If you want to get chickens, that’s O.K. Go ahead and order them.”
The last time my husband came to me with this kind of life-altering pronouncement, eleven months later we were bringing home a baby.
I mean, I’ve thought about it. I’ve talked about it. It seems perfect IN THE ABSTRACT. Philosophically speaking. But to actually do it?
Okay. It’s confession time. It may be – I’m not positive, but it MAY be – that that one foot of mine that’s still in suburbia is stuck fast in some recently poured concrete.
Still. Suddenly chickens are on the table (no pun intended).
So I pulled out my copy of The Backyard Homestead, a book that I love, and turned to the section on raising chickens; a section that I had given only a cursory reading up till now. And I know I have a GRIT issue around here somewhere that talks about chicken coops or raising chickens, or something about chickens … and I’m going to read every blog post about raising chickens because I know there’s a wealth of demystifying information right here at my fingertips and because quite frankly – I’m a little bit scared.
But I’m also kind of excited.
It seems that on the ladder of self-sufficiency, “Can you feed yourself?” may be the first rung. I mean, I’m sure it’s cheaper to poke seeds in the dirt and raise chickens than it is to install windmills or solar panels or to build your own home from the lumber on your property (if you even have any).
So. What the heck. I’m game.
I shared with him what little I did know about raising chickens for eggs – and the part that most concerns me about the prospect. It’s not the poop. Are you kidding me? We’ll have our own fertilizer! It’s not that I might occasionally get my hand pecked. It’s not that having chickens requires a twice a day commitment between the cleaning, the feeding and the gathering of eggs. It’s that they really only lay well for a year and two, and that after that, apparently, the best place for them is in the stew pot.
And around here, we tend to get attached to things. How else would I have ended up with four dogs? Quite frankly, having had a few litters of puppies around here over the years, it’s a wonder we don’t have twenty.
But the fact remains that we do eat meat; that the chickens we bought from the local farmer lived for about six or seven weeks before their trip to the butcher; and that they almost certainly had a better six or seven weeks of life than anything I might pick up out of most grocery store coolers.
And then my husband said something both surprising and interesting to me, something along the lines of how having to raise and care for and eventually eat our chickens was likely to reawaken our spiritual sides.
I couldn’t agree more.
I began gardening with gusto because of a perpetual concern about what I’m putting in my family’s bodies, and because of a distrust of the gargantuan pharma-medica-food monster that otherwise runs every aspect of our modern lives. What I didn’t expect from the experience was to be thinking about faith; about what it means to believe in something that you cannot see – like that little seed unfolding some fraction of an inch below the soil line – and upon which you are dependent. I didn’t expect that I would feel so closely dependent both on the earth and on my own efforts, and that this dependency would become tinged with reverence. I didn’t expect to feel a responsibility for every seedling I started, and for every transplant I purchased. And I sure didn’t expect to feel guilt and shame over all of the ones that I allowed – through neglect, or ignorance, and sometimes I suspect through no fault of my own – to die. That is, the ones that died for no good reason; the ones that were not able to fulfill their natural life cycle and end up on my table. I didn’t expect to have an increased awareness of and respect for nature; or a heightened awareness of the cycle of life, and the fact that we, too, are in that cycle, and that life doesn’t last forever, and isn’t supposed to.
So if we do this chicken thing, we’re not going to do it in ignorance. Because one day we’re going to have to look a living creature in the eye, and say, “Thank you” for an upcoming meal. And when we do have that last conversation, I’d like to think that they might also be thinking, “Thank you” to me.
That is both a radical and a sobering thought.
And one we ought to be having more often, I suspect.
So, chickens are on the table, and we have a lot of learning to do. We also have a lot of other, more pressing things to do in the meantime, like solve my compost problem that I just keep putting off, and reading the Root Cellaring book that arrived yesterday, and finding the right storage place for my eight million sweet potatoes. Oh, and finishing the addition we’re putting on the house. Hopefully by Christmas. So, if we can do all of that, and educate ourselves, and my husband builds the coop (no problem there), we may try a few hens this coming spring. So stay tuned.
Oh, and by the way. He’s also on board about the goat. But we’re going to have to work our way up to that.