Let's Play Chicken

my misadventures with what were supposedly simple pets

by Charis Collins

I’m no Wisconsin native. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, where winter means 40s and rain. I had no idea what a pansy notion this was until I moved here a few years ago – a city girl with big rural ambitions, like growing my own food, getting off the grid (some day), and convincing my horses to pull logs out of the woods.

Of course if you’re pursuing this kind of lifestyle, it isn’t long before people start in with the chicken talk. “They’re easier than cats!” they say. “The fresh eggs taste like pure joy in your morning omelet!” So when we went and picked up our first batch of poultry, we were expecting nothing but sunshine and rainbows to trail after us and our new, low-maintenance pets. And everything was fine. At first.

While our chickens were enjoying their new shiny chicken condo very much indeed, we hadn’t yet gotten around to building their yard, which means they were stuck inside on a bright, sunny day. And just like my mom used to do when she’d catch us kids staring slack-jawed at the boob tube on a summer afternoon, I decided to kick those little chicken butts out for some free ranging.

Now, I’m sure this will come as a surprise to exactly nobody, but when you check the internet for information on this kind of thing, you will notice how wildly the opinions can vary. You get the folks who want to convince you there are HORRIBLE CARNIVORES around EVERY CORNER just waiting to DEVOUR your precious girls, most likely by RIPPING THEIR HEADS OFF and sticking them on a stake outside of the coop, just as a warning to the rest of them. Then of course there are the people who will REPORT YOU to the SPCA IMMEDIATELY if they hear you are keeping your chickens LOCKED IN A COOP like so many small, feathered inmates.

For the most part, though, I found the general consensus was that if the chickens had been in the same coop for at least a week, they’d consider it home, chilling out around the premises, eating a few ticks and other six-legged undesirables, and then popping back in when night fell, because they do like to cuddle up for bedtime.