"Atlanta to Appalachia" is an occasional series about life in the wilds of West Virginia through the eyes of a couple who never dreamed they'd love it there. Read previous installments here.
Each afternoon around 4 p.m., I wait with bated breath for a very specific Facebook notification. Its arrival is coupled with a dopamine hit to my brain, my daily fix of something I never could've imagined being obsessed with just a few months ago. But then again, there's a lot of things I never could've imaged myself doing just a few months ago — like driving a tractor to clear out yard space for a luxury chicken coop.
But ever since my wife Elizabeth and I entered the bizarre world of raising chickens, there's not much that surprises me anymore. Like the fact that every afternoon I eagerly anticipate the alert from a woman in Connecticut with 50 chickens who starts a livestream from her backyard at that time. This isn't just any backyard. If a hen could conjure up the Garden of Eden, this is what she'd picture: Acres of green space, beautiful gardens, and multiple chicken coops that look like they came from the glossy pages of Country Living magazine. (That's, of course, assuming that poultry can peruse periodicals.) It's no wonder this woman's daily videos on Facebook are followed by nearly 1 million people.
Welcome to the world of The Chicken Chick.
Raising chickens today is a lot easier than in our grandparent's time. Amazon is replete with books to get you started. YouTube is an endless fount of how-to videos. Online groups devoted to backyard chickens can be fanatical — which is what can make it all so confusing. With the glut of information out there, figuring out things like the best way to treat mites that have lodged themselves into your hen's anus can be head scratching.
But then we stumbled upon The Chicken Chick. She's become our virtual mentor, our chicken guru. She's written two books – "The Chicken Chick's Guide to Backyard Chickens" as well as "Lifestyles of the Chick and Famous." She's appeared on the reality show "Coop Dreams." She has her own line of chicken products, which feature her photo on the bag. I'm not ashamed to say that sacks of her "Spruce the Coop" powder now line our garage.
But it's her daily videos that are her mainstay. During her Facebook live streams, viewers can type in any chicken question and she answers it – all while walking around her backyard attending to chicken chores. She was in the middle of collecting eggs when someone asked the best way to clean poop off a chicken. She grabbed one of her hens – I think it was the one named Nikki – and started giving it a booty bath right in front of us.
Another time, she was trying to show us something in the coop when she realized the door wouldn't open. It was locked from the inside. Good sport that she is, she crawled in through the chicken door to the shock of the hens inside. It was the most riveting thing I watched all week — I kid you not.
I reached out to her by email and asked if we could set up a time to chat. I couched it as journalistic query – "Hey, I write a column about living in the country and would love to interview you" – but, in reality, I was kind of starstruck. I couldn't imagine I would actually get to talk with her one-on-one. But then she wrote back and said sure. She signed the note "Yours in poultry." I was smitten.
Kathy Shea Mormino, aka The Chicken Chick, had no intention of becoming a social media star. Her career began as an attorney. Insurance defense litigation to be exact. "That was boring," she told me. "We did fraud cases for Allstate, but I got burned out really quickly." She quit her job and was contemplating what to do next when her neighbor asked her to watch over a small flock of chickens when she was out of town. "That sort of planted the seed," Mormino said.
One thing led to another, and a blog was launched. "The whole thing evolved organically. The format became me learning things myself and then writing about those experiences." When Facebook launched its live video feature to the public in 2016, The Chicken Chick was one of the first to take advantage of the new medium. "Ever since, it's been a runaway train. None of it was planned," she said. Mormino now has viewers from around the world – from the Mediterranean to Asia – despite the obvious time differences.
It's almost chicken o'clock, and Mormino needs to end our call so she can go live to her 1 million followers. Before we hang up, I ask her where she sees herself in the future. "I just want to keep educating people about what's best for the animals, how to keep chickens responsibly and simply. There's never been a blueprint for this. There's never been a business plan." She pauses. "I'm just going where the organic winds take me."
And with that, she hung up. A few minutes later, like clockwork, the Facebook notification arrived.