January

January 14, Katie Scarvey

Backyard Chickens

I began yearning for chickens after I wrote a newspaper feature about urban chicken farming. My husband finally caved, and a few years ago we got a mobile chicken coop and six, young, Golden Comet hens.

We move the coop around every few days so the chickens get fresh grass to forage in and, theoretically, no one part of our yard gets destroyed. A ramp allows the hens access to the coop’s upper level with its three nesting boxes and roosting area. It’s all quite cozy.

For a few hours a day, the chickens range in our backyard. Our dog, William, used to harass them so aggressively we had to confine him to the house, but he eventually stopped treating the hens as interlopers whose heads needed to be inside his lordly mouth. These days, our yard is quite the peaceable kingdom.

Every day, I collect four or five lovely brown eggs. And every day, that feels like a miracle.

Our friends and neighbors have grown accustomed to seeing me approaching with a full egg carton in hand. It’s a small thing, but it feels good to share fresh eggs with neighbors and friends.

Raising chickens offers a sense of self-sufficiency and, for me, a connection to my childhood. One of my earliest memories is of gathering eggs with my grandmother. She loved her chickens and ran a tidy egg-selling operation. I’m told that her egg money – probably gathered in nickels, dimes, and quarters – bought the furnace that heated their farmhouse. I often think of her as I drop the day’s eggs into an apron made from stretching out the bottom of my shirt.

It’s glorious to watch the chickens running around, exuberantly kicking up dirt and pebbles and scratching for insects. Occasionally, I turn rocks over for them to expose the creepy-crawly things they crave. They happily eat most human food, from garden tomatoes to steak scraps (sorry, William!), and I feel virtuous when they consume what would otherwise have been thrown out.  When they’re happy, they do a deep-throated vocalizing – chicken purring? – that makes my soul sing.

Life with chickens has a satisfying rhythm that’s reassuring in an unpredictable world. When the sun goes down, the girls find their way back to the coop and climb up the ramp to roost inside. In the morning, they make their way back down – and it’s a new day.

–Cheryl (Katie) Scarvey

Salisbury, North Carolina

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