When Your Chicken Moves In With You

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Carol Ann Sayle


Not all of our chickens want to come into our farmhouse. Well, I take that back. If they knew that some of the delectable morsels that come to them in the late afternoon originate in the farmhouse kitchen, then yes, all one hundred of them would crowd in if allowed.

But only a special hen now and then is granted access to the fount of other things of culinary interest on the farm. It's where food beyond grass, worms, and organic feed exists. It's where the kale and broccoli leaves that they eat out in the vegetable field get special treatments involving olive oil or butter, toasted walnuts, and feta cheese.

A chicken can be like a dog or a cat, except that she will not like to be a pet after twilight, much preferring to sleep on the perch with her sisters.

The special hens are those who have a fondness for conversation with us. Typically, you have to be only willing to speak, one on one, to a chicken to garner a response. And if you get a reply, then this is the hen to "cultivate," to carry the human-hen relationship to a more complex level. You learn bits of her language, and discover the hen's innate personality, and she discovers yours.

She'll call out to you as you pass by the fig tree. She knows you didn't notice her in the shadows of the tree, and she'd want you to answer her greeting, to engage in a relationship that doesn't always depend on food.

The hen doesn't always want food, although sourcing food is her work. But if you are offering a treat ... one must be polite and practical. A chicken can be like a dog or a cat, except that she will not like to be a pet after twilight, much preferring to sleep on the perch with her sisters. She will not hanker for your soft bed; nor will she alert you to her bathroom needs in the middle of the night. On the perch she can just let go at whim. No need to bother you.

And that, of course, is what you must be vigilant about. Pooping in the house. A hen's digestion works extremely fast. And since she grazes all the time—when she's not laying a perfect egg, dust-bathing, or relaxing on cool damp soil—the pooping can be frequent. So a visit inside your house depends on you keeping an eye on passing time, and whether or not you have a floor that can be cleaned. Carpeting is not compatible with a visiting chicken.

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Carol Ann Sayle

The upside to a visit from your favorite hen is that she will clean up any crumbs you've absently let fall to the floor—even a melon seed lodged in the cracks between the floor boards, or a morsel that haphazardly bounced under the stove. She is like a kitchen inspector, scouting out your scrap-hygiene atrocities—but better, cleaning them up.

After a while, she'll head for the door; she knows where it is and how it works, as she has a terrific memory, but she needs your assistance; she has no hands you know. A soft high-pitched warbling will tell you she's ready to join the flock and its mundane pursuits, confident that when next she climbs onto the porch and looks at you, you will open the door and invite her in.

Of course folks who tend a small flock of chickens understand this kind of chicken. The "other" type of chickens—those who live in dank cages—wind up as "whole" or "parts" mounted on absorbent pads on Styrofoam and swathed in plastic in the refrigerated case at the grocery store. In most kitchens, they are always welcome ... and their poop? Well, we don't know exactly where that is. So wash the meat well and cook it to death. Same for those kinds of eggs.

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Carol Ann Sayle is co-founder and co-owner of Boggy Creek Farm, a five-acre urban, organic farm in Austin, Texas.

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