If you had told me even seven years ago that I would someday find it difficult to contemplate a life without chickens, I would probably have suspected you of being a few McNuggets short of a happy meal. As it is, I’ll be the first to stand up and declare that chickens rock, plain and simple.
My love affair with chickens began innocently enough with a visit to our daughter in Washington’s Skagit Valley. She and her husband were living in a little cottage on Padilla Bay, just across from Fidalgo Island. A neighbor up the road had asked them to take care of her flock, consisting of a few hens and a couple of roosters, while she was working a summer gig as a cook for an Alaska fishing crew — in return for which the kids could help themselves to all the eggs they wanted.
Whenever Erin and Nate would go up to Trina’s place to tend her flock, my wife and I would accompany them. I quickly learned my first great truth about the pleasures of backyard poultry: watching chickens is relaxing. It’s one of those “activities,” not unlike fishing, that allows you to claim to be doing something while not actually doing anything at all.
I also discovered a second great truth — one that surprised me much more than the first: chickens are highly entertaining. It didn’t take long to realize that far from being a pack of feather heads, chickens had definite personalities. It was the interaction of those personalities that made watching them so entertaining.
Soon after caring for Trina’s birds, Nate and Erin got their own small flock. Now, whenever my wife and I visited, spending time with my “grand chickens” became a highlight of our trip. My favorite, although I would never have admitted it to the others, quickly became Roxanne, a no nonsense Barred Plymouth Rock hen who, many years and coop companions later, rules the roost as the only surviving member of the original flock.
It was inevitable after this experience that my wife and I would get our own chickens. We adopted three adult hens from some friends whose flock numbered over 50, thanks to the size of their West Boise lot and its zoning regulations. Our time with Phoebe, Edith, and Amelia is a story in itself, but that experience taught me a lot of things about chickens I would never have imagined back when I thought of them simply as protein sources.
I learned that chickens enjoy our company — not just because we feed them, but because we are as entertaining for them as they are for us. I learned that chickens are great gardening companions — you can’t turn over a spade full of soil without their close inspection and tireless aeration (otherwise known as scratching). I learned that chickens are the ultimate omnivores. I learned that chickens can never encounter a pile of anything that they aren’t hell bent to level — a trait that can come in pretty handy in certain gardening situations, or that can drive you to distraction in others.
Most of all, I learned that chickens, like people, are their own unique creatures — an attribute that will, for the rest of my life, ensure that I will never look upon a chicken without smiling…or that I will ever feel my life is quite complete without some chickens in it.