I think it was in 2009 when I first got the notion that I might want to have hens. It was my evolution phase – where I was waking up from the “American Dream” (you know the one, where it isn’t about getting a great job and house, but how much stuff can you have to show you have stuff no matter if you have nowhere to put the stuff? That one…). I had begun the transition after some great documentaries on our food system (Food Inc., Forks over Knives), and it came in full swing when I started working at Whole Foods. There was this burning desire that started innocently enough, as all vices do when we begin them. I just… looked… at pictures of chickens.
The photos I found on the web – people holding their hens, people building beautiful mini-coops for their hens, people parading the beautiful Rhode Island Red, or Buff Orpington, or Wyandot, or… you can see where this began. It evolved into looking at pictures of chicks (and not the sexy kind), mentally measuring our back yard and dreaming up placement for a coop, calculating how much we spent on eggs at the store vs. how much eggs would be from the back yard. It incubated (oh please, pardon my pun), and in the summer of 2011 we suddenly became the owners of four hens.
Now, I have to be honest with you. The initial idea was that once the girls were too old to lay eggs, we would eat them. I would do the dirty work and was all geared up to do so… but in that time of transition my family went from eating meat to being vegetarian. It was then that I would slaughter them and give the meat to a friend… then I leaned toward Buddhism. Now we have girls who are here on a permanent basis – what is called in the chicken community, a “forever home.” Even beyond this, what came from having these girls was shocking, something I never expected since I bought into the notion that chickens were not very smart. I love my hens.
The concept in society among those that even think about where their food comes from, is that chickens are idiot animals. I will attest, sometimes they really can be, erm, less than 25 watts. For example – whenever we would have a stray plastic bag blow into the yard, everyone raised the alarm, clucked loudly, and flapped wildly until I went out to get the horrible plastic monster. There is also the fact that when we wash the dog, she suddenly becomes a different and more dangerous version of herself because that dog with suds is not their dog. They have their moments. But the other half of this is an animal that names you. Each member of my family has a different cluck, and I can tell by the clucking who the hens are watching through the door. They are inquisitive – anything you do they want to see what it is and how you’re doing it. They are chatty – I’ve never had an animal that used so many different vocalizations. I know when they’re upset with each other, I know when there is a hawk in the sky, I know when they’re telling each other they found something tasty, and even when they’re a little concerned but not quite afraid of something new. I’ve sat outside before when I’ve felt down and watched these girls come over and look at me and even cluck softly to ask what is wrong. It sounds like anthropomorphizing, I know, but it’s real… ask anyone that owns hens.
Our initial four girls were two-years-old when we added three more babies. We raised them for a couple weeks in the house, then transitioned them outside where I had to play mama hen to keep the older girls from tearing them to bits (hens can be mean when they want to be). The new girls were even more docile than the old. They want to sit on your lap, be picked up and held… it’s something else!
It’s the little things. I feel an incredible sense of peace when I go outside and sit with my girls. I love hearing them “chat” to each other. I love watching them scratch in the dirt, preen, and just be chickens. On a final side note, however… don’t ever let them near your garden. If there’s one thing chickens love more than bugs, it is your greenery!!!
See more of my “Little Things” at: http://www.pinterest.com/nicoleagramlich/little-things-that-bring-me-joy/
Nicole has written three novels, a feature-length script, and many short stories and short film scripts. Her debut novel, “Carla’s Rivet” is scheduled for release on March 1st, 2014. Please visit http://nicoleagramlich.com for more information.