Sometime in late July, I become smug about chicken keeping. It’s just like everyone said – easy, peasy. Much easier than taking care of our three spoiled cats, and, an absolute breeze compared to chasing after our toddler. Gertrude, Virginia, Charlotte, and Emily get along, they entertain themselves with all their pecking and scratching, and they march right into their house when it’s time for bed. They don’t need baths or bedtime stories. They don’t get overtired and have foot-stomping tantrums. They don’t somehow pick up the word, “sh*#” and start saying it all the time. Hen keeping is the life.
Then, one morning, I trudge out to the garden … and half of it’s gone. The broccoli looks as though it was put through a paper shredder. The cauliflower, just budding the morning before, is now a stub with some limp strands hanging from it. And the first acorn squash of the season looks like the moon after a meteor storm. I drop to my knees. Was there some kind of hailstorm or elephant-aphid invasion? Then I turn and glimpse my sweet hens ambling across the yard, single file. Oh how lovely and pastoral, I think to myself. Except … they’re coming toward the garden, then they’re descending on it, and their beaks are all over what’s left of the broccoli like a set of jackhammers.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Yes, we knew we needed a fence around the garden. But we also knew we needed to finish painting the kitchen cupboards, repair the gutter on the west side of the house, split the firewood, prune the roses, pull up the miniature birch forest invading our yard, and on and on. In other words, it was on the list.
Oh well, we grew our hens some nutritious, organic vegetables in exchange for some beautiful eggs with bright yellow yolks. A good trade off, right? Except … oh yes, that’s right, they’re not laying eggs yet. No, these girls have decidedly not been earning their keep this summer.
Oh, and one more little thing. You know how I said that they all get along. Well, hmmm, not quite so much anymore. There’s some squabbling, some ruffled feathers, a little pecking – especially between Charlotte and Emily. It’s nothing serious, but it seems there’s some pecking-order tension these days.
However, lest I scare you from adopting a flock of urban hens for your own backyard, I should mention that I just adore these girls. They’ve become like family. They’re well worth some homegrown broccoli, cauliflower, and squash – and that’s saying a lot.