|With my buddy, Snowball the Silkie Rooster|
About nine thousand years ago, somebody in East Asia had the bright idea that they could nab some jungle fowl out of the wild and keep them in a little coop by their house. Thus, the chicken was domesticated and keeping chickens became a thing.
My personal history of keeping chickens is a bit more recent. I live on a mostly wooded acreage near the Twin Cities in Minnesota. In the nearly thirty years that I have lived here, I have considered domestic livestock from time to time. For many years we parked our cars in a 20 x 40 pole barn. When we finally built a real garage about fifteen years ago, the pole barn became this empty and unused space. That’s when I thought once again about livestock, and how I had an ideal building for animals. I gave it enough thought to go through the list of possibilities. Many farm animals are inconveniently large and ultimately get slaughtered for meat. I decided I didn’t want to go there. Alpacas and sheep can be kept for wool, and while my wife had a past interest in spinning, weaving, and natural dying, that phase had passed. So, if I got sheep or alpacas I would need to find people who could put all that wool to practical use. I could get cows or goats and put their milk to practical use myself. But cows are gigantic and goats are, well….goats. Chickens, on the other hand, produce eggs – another product I could use myself. I grew up on a farm and am sort of familiar with raising chickens – although, in the interest of full disclosure, it was my mom who did the bulk of the chicken chores. I thought they were pretty boring – a barn full of identical white hens who laid eggs for a while and then got turned into stew. But after some net surfing, I came to realize that there were a gazillion different breeds of chickens in an amazing array of sizes, shapes, and colors. They laid brown or blue or white or green eggs. They were intelligent, and had fascinating social interactions. Flock keepers were passionate about their birds. They were anything but boring! So maybe it would be chickens!
But it didn’t happen. Instead, the pole barn became a convenient place to store junk. Realistically, I was too busy with my career and raising my kids to think about animals.
Finally, in November of 2011, I started working part-time as the first step in a transition to ultimate retirement. It was then that my daughter taunted me with, “You’ve been talking about chickens for years. Now you’ve got spare time. If you are ever going to get chickens, it needs to happen now.”
I started building the first coop in 2012 and my first peeping boxful of baby chicks arrived in the mail in the spring of 2013. I had become a chicken guy! My colleagues at work followed my chicken stories with great interest. Several of them convinced me that it was absolutely incumbent upon me as a keeper of chickens to have a few Silkies. I finally caved to their pressure and told them I would get some Silkie chickens, but to make it clear to the world who was responsible for these fluffy little birds becoming members of my flock, I would name the Silkies after those very co-workers. This, of course, produced a severe case of workplace conflict which could only be resolved by my naming other chickens after other co-workers. Eventually, my original batch of eighteen chickens all had names. Many, but not all of them are named for co-workers. The tradition of naming chickens has continued and now I can’t imagine owning a nameless chicken.
I finally completely retired in July of 2015. I have been thinking about starting a blog about my chicken keeping experience since then, and today it has begun. I have been semi-seriously blogging about my international travel experiences for a few years, so it is a natural extension for me to also write about my other great interest. In fact, while I do a major trip about once a year, my chickens are here every day. And they continue to be a great source of material.
My plan at this moment is to pull retrospective material about my chickens from old letters and Facebook posts and include it in this blog as back-dated posts to give a sense of how I got started on this endeavor and the trials and joys of the first few years. So ultimately this seminal post may become lost somewhere in the middle. But for the moment, this will be both the first and the last entry in this new blog. There will be much more to come.