D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has proposed outlawing backyard chickens in the District.
I had an adventure with chickens a few years ago, actually a misadventure. I was searching for a wedding gift for my brother and his soon-to-be wife. She is a serious gourmet cook, and organic everything is the order of the day. I wanted a gift uniquely “her.” I got the crazy idea to give her a few organic egg-laying chickens and a coop. The wedding was only two months away.
I set about researching chickens and coops. I read everything I could find online. I dragged a neighbor to a chicken seminar. Pullet hens were the way to go I learned, young hens 15 to 22 weeks old. Unfortunately the pullets had all been snapped up. I had only one option, so I purchased six 3-day-old hatchlings for $2.50 each. I naively congratulated myself on a great inexpensive find.
I soon learned that raising a hatchling to maturity costs about $25 per bird.
Though I only wanted two chicks, I was required to purchase six in Massachusetts, where I lived at the time.
My chicks, I was warned, had been shipped all the way from Texas packed in a carton with numerous others. I was told to be on the lookout for the killer pasty butt — extreme diarrhea, caused by the obvious stress of their horrible journey in the mail. They are not protected under the Federal Animal Welfare Act.
Undeterred, I bought a bag of feed, a bale of bedding, water dispensers, a heat lamp and a thermometer and set up shop in my bathtub. They grew fast. They ate voraciously. They kicked bedding into their water, which had to be cleaned out numerous times every day. They peeped incessantly until evening, which they somehow sensed, and then got quiet. They did unexpected things. They flopped on their sides and
stretched their legs out straight as though in rigor mortis. I never got used to this sudden switch from running and peeping to prone silence.
After a few weeks they developed budding pin feathers, which help them fly. With new-found moxie, they made erratic attempts to jump and “fly” from their enclosure with amazing energy. Long legs, tiny bodies and pin feathers are a powerful combination. Finally, after six weeks they were old enough to be split up into pairs and sent to new homes.
I gave two, and a coop, to my new sister-in-law. With no experience or natural affinity for chickens, she at first wondered about this gift, but, as they grew, developed personalities and began to lay eggs for her omelets, she found herself with a new hobby. Four years later, she has a flock of eight.
From my part in this project I learned about the horrible lives of most chickens and developed a great appreciation for them. Many folks with experience helped me when I needed it. I learned that given half a chance chickens bring healthy, inexpensive food to our tables in the form of organic, delicious eggs — no rooster needed. Chicken fertilizer does magical things for gardens, too. A great return on investment.
Given half a chance, chickens grow to be stately creatures with lush, colorful plumage. They bear no resemblance to the distressed, scrawny hens crammed together in egg factories or those raised for meat. They are friendly, even affectionate and respond to their names. My sister-in-law, a primary care physician, allows one or two of her flock into her kitchen periodically where they mingle with her, my brother and their cat. They seem right at home, she says.
That’s why Bowser’s proposed ban on backyard chickens in shortsighted.