The Simple Life

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Baby chicks in a basket with a yellow cloth in it

    Three years ago I moved from bustling Long Island to rural Westchester. The new house was twice the size and twice the price but the real gain was the five beautiful acres it sat on.

           The first year I planted my normal Long Island favorites, impatience, petunias, and begonias. In the year that followed I met a variety of neighbors who bragged they had gone back to the simple life of growing their own food, organic gardening, and even keeping farm animals.  I was in.

           It was July 12th when I received the call. The elderly gentlemen in the post office smiled when I gave him my name and returned from the backroom with a pizza-size box full of small holes and loud chirping. There they were. Twenty-four of the cutest balls of fur you would ever want to see. I had chosen the brown layer selection, which was a cross of yellow, white, red, and black hens.  The rooster was clearly marked with a tag around his leg.

           Like a proud parent coming home from the hospital, I had their carton all prepared in the back of the garage equipped with a hot light to keep them warm, multiple feeders, and several waters. While I labored turning the home’s original outhouse into a chicken coop, the little hens grew at an impressive rate. Their box became two boxes as I continued to sand, paint, and install windows in their coop. As they found their wings the garage became covered in white dust with smatterings of grower food and chicken poop everywhere.

            I am not sure who was happier when the day came to move them in their new home, the chickens or my husband who now could reclaim his garage. The fenced in pen was covered in soft green grass, which in a week was pecked clean of any sign of life. The refurbished coop was soon covered in the same dust, food, and poop the garage was rescued from. The rooster crowed before the sun rose and the fly population quadrupled. I continued to read articles how backyard chickens were the easiest of the farm animals to take care of. I am assuming none of those people who authored these editorials ever bought chicken food. It only is sold in fifty-pound bags.

           As the chickens grew so did the muscles in my arms. I was amazed how much water these six-pound creatures could drink. I found myself running back and forth to the spigot filling up jugs every other day. Then the magical moment came when I looked into their nesting box and saw it. An egg. It was a perfect oval, beautifully brown. I went running in the house to show all the kids this miracle.  They nodded and went back to their video games. My husband asked for an omelet.

Before I knew it I was collecting two dozen eggs a day.  I ordered cartons and began giving them to friends and family. My husband said to sell them. I said I couldn’t sell them to my mother and our friends. He said it would be cheaper to buy eggs in a store. I said these were organic. He said we could buy organic. I said it wouldn’t be the same.

The winter came and the outside water was shut off. I now needed to make daily trips inside the house to fill the watering cans, leaving a trail of feathers and dirt throughout the house. With the cold weather comes less food and more predators.  The first chicken to be taken by a raccoon was dragged up the oak tree and its carcass strung out mimicking a scene from predator.  I cried for a day. Three weeks later when I was closing the coop up for the night I peered over in the roosting nests and saw two little eyes and a long nose looking back at me. My barely clothed husband came running out to my screams and with a long broomstick nudged the reluctant opossum out of the coop and away from his night’s dinner of fresh eggs. My husband went to sleep mumbling something about hating chickens.

           The spring finally arrived and the water once again flowed. The chickens were in a comfortable routine in their home of a nearly a year and I finally had a routine of my own. Mother’s Day I went into the coop and heard a familiar chirping, one that I recognized from ten months earlier. As I peered into the nesting box, out from behind a hen popped a little face.  I eased the mother to the side and there were five little chicks peeping a mother’s day song. 

           That morning we enjoyed a big breakfast of omelets, homemade jam and fresh baked bread. The kids were jabbering about school, my husband was reading the paper and I thought the simple life wasn’t so simple but it was worth it.