I recently returned home from an international business trip to the news that we would have seven more mouths to feed. My wife Elizabeth greeted me at the airport and, once I was in the car and buckled up, turned to me and said: "We're getting chickens." It wasn't a question. It was a statement.
Somehow, during the two weeks I was overseas, she had become obsessed with chickens. She claims she's always wanted them, but this is the first I'm hearing about it. She says it's all about experiencing what it would be like to have livestock. Chickens, after all, are the easiest of outdoor animals to own. (Maybe I should be grateful she didn't want llamas.) And just think of all the free eggs we'll be getting, she enticed. Eggs of all colors. Pink ones, brown ones. We'll have so many we can give them to the neighbors.
The next thing I know she's got me on the couch watching a documentary called "Chicken People." Imagine the Westminster Dog Show but with chickens, and you get the idea:
She reminisced about the conures and cockatiels she had growing up. At some point, I also noticed that she had hung an oil painting of a chicken in our living room. She claimed her poultry plans are destiny. (This painting also helped me realize that I should probably play a more active role in picking out the art for our home.)
At this point, the proverbial coop had left the station. I'm either on board with this poultry plan or the sad sack of a guy who didn't let his wife fulfill her apparently lifelong dream of owning chickens. So, I guess we're getting chickens.
Time to go chicken shopping
"Getting chickens" is a lot easier in 2019 than it was when the Farmers' Almanac was first published 200 years ago. Baby chicks are as easy as a click away. We surfed over to MyPetChicken.com where you can choose from dozens of breeds – from the Black Frizzle Cochin Bantam to the Appenzeller Spitzhauben. (Yes, those are both real and you can see some Appenzellers in the video below.)
The site has them organized by categories: Breeds that are particularly friendly, breeds that are rare, breeds that lay chocolate eggs. You simply choose the ones you want, put them in your shopping cart and you're good to go. It's the Amazon Prime of chicken shopping.
Every day another new book about becoming a chicken farmer arrives in the mail. To ease me into my chicken-keeper role, my mother-in-law sent me a baseball hat with a rooster on the front of it. She said she tried to find a hat with hens on it, but they all said "Crazy Chicken Lady" and she was afraid that would put me off.
So now I'm spending all my free time researching chickens. I'm Googling chickens so much that Facebook is starting to serve me ads for chicken tutus (sadly, all too real). While reading an article about disarming North Korea's nuclear arsenal, there was a banner ad for poultry oregano oil supplements alongside a picture of Kim Jong-Un.
At my wife's suggestion, I started following The Chicken Chick on Facebook. The Connecticut homesteader has nearly 1 million followers on social media and is the author of several books on how to raise chickens. Each day, usually in the late afternoon, she records a Facebook Live of herself walking around the yard doing chicken chores — collecting eggs, cleaning poop and talking to the cleverly named members of her flock. (Ellen DeHeneres is my favorite.) On a recent webcast, the hens had accidentally locked themselves inside the coop and she had to dramatically squeeze through the small entrance that the chickens use to help unlock the main door. I found it riveting. This is my life now.
The people who lived on our property before us were better equipped to be homesteaders — the wife had a green thumb and the husband was a plant and soil sciences professor. Our nearest neighbors use their acreage to grow all sorts of vegetables. We're not gardeners, at least not yet. Who knows? Maybe down the road we will be. But, for now, we feel like we can grow chickens. (Is that the right term?)
And now we're getting prepared for the chicks' arrival. We'll be getting seven baby girls. Until they're old enough to move outside for the free-range mountain life we have planned for them, they'll be spending their first six to eight weeks at the Cohen Homestead living in a coop in our garage. We need supplies: chicken food, a warming plate, a water bottle with a nipple. We've started to shop at a store called Tractor Supply Company on a regular basis. It's the perfect big box retailer for rural life.
Three weeks ago, I literally had never heard of the Tractor Supply Company, and now Elizabeth is wearing one of their T-shirts and we're members of their "Neighbor's Club" loyalty rewards program.
In the meantime, we just received an email from MyPetChicken.com. The chicks were hatched on my birthday and are being prepared to ship. Yes, they will be mailed via the United States Postal Service in a box with little holes in it. Any dates in our past will forever be marked with the designation B.C.E. – Before the Chicken Era.
Next up, the Co-hens arrive...
"Atlanta to Appalachia" is part of an occasional series about life in the wilds of West Virginia through the eyes of a man who never dreamed he'd love it there. Read previous installments here.