I have lived my entire life in towns and cities. That means the animals I’ve come across have been either pets or wild animals that adapt to urban landscapes. Food has come from a grocery store and I’ve never owned livestock.

Buff Orpington

That changed when I got chickens. It was my wife’s idea, and she thoroughly investigated the topic as she always does, reading books, finding urban chicken websites and looking up the city code to minimize the mysteries and know the legalities of keeping chickens. Now we have six: two Bantam Cochins, two Buff Orpingtons and two Marans.

The Cochins came first. Normal Cochins are huge hens that are Chinese in origin. But the Bantam Cochins are so small they first seem like they may be a whole different bird. But the chicken behavior was unmistakable. They jerk their heads as they walk, they cluck softly and constantly scratch or peck the ground in search of food. I’ve decided the chicken personality is like that of a fussy old maid, who never smiles and seems to want nothing to do with you.

Bantam Cochins are beautiful birds. One of them has a gold color with soft brown markings, and they have feathers covering their feet that make it look like they are wearing slippers. Their short legs give them a waddling gate that adds to a comic aura.

Our other birds are more rangey and wild-looking. The Orpingtons are yellow. The Marans are black with white spots that give them a checkerboard look. But all of the chickens are much more wild and omnivorous than I ever expected.

If there is a dead bird or lizard in our yard, they will devour it. We’ve had to fence off a garden to prevent them from eating everything in it. Chickens bear a strong resemblance to pigs in their way of eating anything available in their quest to survive. If they were forced to live in the wild I have a feeling they’d do just fine.

The urban chicken thing is a trend to which we’ve fallen victim. Urban chickens have spawned hundreds of books and websites. And they’ve made me wonder if they are supposed to be pets or livestock. My family has given our chickens names. But I can only remember half of them and I think that’s because chickens aren’t meant to be pets.

They are not affectionate. It clearly never occurs to any of them that the humans that live in the house may be members of their flock. They shit all over the place, unlike cats and dogs who regulate their elimination so well we can actually invite them into our homes. When you own chickens it’s easy to imagine wringing their necks and eating them when their laying days are done. It just seems to make sense.

There’s a move afoot in San Diego to make it easier to keep chickens in the city. Now, you have to keep the birds at least 50 feet from any residence. One proposal would make it okay, if your chicken coup is at least 15 feet from a property line.

Having fresh eggs is a pleasure. I’m not sure why, but the eggs from our chickens have a richer taste and appear to have darker yolks than the supermarket variety. So far we’ve been able to shield our chickens from predators, though we have seen a fox and a hawk in the backyard in unsuccessful attempts to turn our birds into lunch.

So if you’re thinking of keeping chickens I’d encourage it. But don’t expect them to be neat.

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