Backyard chickens: ‘til death do us part

Illustration by Christy Shao

Illustration by Christy Shao

Early in the spring of 2014, while my partner and I were planning our garden for the year, we became convinced that in the distant future we should get chickens. It made sense. We already feed ourselves almost exclusively from the garden six months of the year, and heavily supplement our diet with garden produce year round. Chickens would provide a delicious source of protein, as well as fertilizer for the garden.

We live in Oak Bay, a neighbourhood of manicured lawns and picturesque gardens. Our hedges, overgrown to cultivate the blackberries and offer sanctuary for song birds, are an eye-sore to some but heaven to us. Our boulevard gardens intrigue walkers-by who like to try to guess what strange vegetables we are growing this time. We’ve mostly charmed the neighbours into accepting our eccentricities, but there are limits.

Nonetheless, one of our neighbours was all over the idea of chickens. He immediately went to get chicks for himself and some for us too. Our distant dream had suddenly become a reality. We worked fast and hard the entire weekend gathering materials and laying out plans for a coop, only to notice our neighbour on the other side looking anxiously over the fence at our well-constructed foundation. Was that a measuring tape in his hand? We consulted the bylaws (Oak Bay is notorious for massive over-regulation) and discovered that the coop had to be seven feet from his fence. Hours of labour were lost, but it could have been worse.

The coop was built and the chickens moved in. They were just a few months old when we received our first eggs. For some reason our neighbour’s chickens did not start laying quite as quickly (I think it was our super-deluxe coop and endless amounts of kale). He accused us of picking out the strongest of the bunch. If you’d seen me trying to catch them, you’d know I grabbed the slowest and dumbest ones. Anyway, it was a while before the grumbles subsided.

Then the squawking began. We let them out to run around the yard a few times, before luring them back to the coop with a special chicken treat called ‘scratch.’ Next thing you know, every morning they’re yelling at us until we can’t take it anymore and begrudgingly meet their demands.

However, the climax of our chicken woes came this past summer. It seemed as though things had settled down. We stopped meeting demands on a schedule and after a while they stopped making them. Then the summer’s endless heat caused an explosion of mites. I’ll spare some of the disgusting details, but an entire weekend was spent holding birds by their feet, spraying them with concoctions of garlic and tea tree oil, dusting them off with diatomaceous earth, then stripping our clothes off in the backyard and running into the shower. We built a new coop, and evacuated the chickens. The mite epidemic ended, but so did the era of eggs.

Now, with two coops which cost several hundred dollars in materials, we are pretty invested, and will likely get more chicks when our girls pass away. I’m not trying to deter anyone — I love my pet chickens and maybe it was just a rough start. I’ll just say this: if you are thinking of getting chickens, at some point you will not be laughing, because there will be no yolks, just shit.

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