There have always been legitimate excuses for me not to have chickens. Reasons have ranged from the rather exotic (“I live on the 13th floor of an apartment building in Shanghai”) to the mundane (“Chickens aren’t allowed in the Petoskey city limits”).
Yet I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of raising laying hens. I love eggs, and second only to growing a vegetable garden, which I also enjoy and plan to expand on this year, chickens seem like an easy way to get a better grip on food production. I told myself I’d get a few as soon as I could.
“As soon as I could” ended up taking a while. My various reasons for not raising chickens over the years frustrated me, but once we moved to Vermont I found it was easy to hide behind those reasons, too. For months after we moved here, I debated even asking my landlord whether or not he’d allow us to keep a few chickens somewhere on our ten-acre (!) yard. When I finally worked up the courage to ask and he said “Sure! Of course!” I turned my concern to housing; coops seemed too expensive. Then a friend gave me her old one. That problem solved, I worried over the logistics of chicks; should I really invest in a brooder, heat lamp, and feeders? Was I capable of raising them, or would I kill them all? Another friend offered to give me three of her baby chicks as soon as they stopped needing round-the-clock heat lamp care. I took a deep breath. “OK,” I said. “Deal.”
You’d think from all my hesitation that I didn’t actually want chickens. But that’s not it at all. I did want them–I do. It’s just that sometimes, inertia is easier. Sometimes thinking about something is easier than doing it. Sometimes the possibility is easier than the reality. When you’re just imagining something, you can’t mess it up. As soon as you start doing, well…then the mistakes creep in.
As I fretted over chickens, another friend of mine was waffling over switching to cloth diapers. Since I’ve cloth diapered both of my children, I offered my best advice. I realized I’d learned a lot about it over the years, and I knew that the concerns that seemed so overwhelming to her had easy solutions. Finally, she took the plunge and ordered a few cloth diapers. Once they arrived, it took her a few days to start using them. “I kept waiting for the right moment,” she told me later. “I told myself I’d wait until the baby’s rash cleared up. I told myself I’d wait until after the class field trip. Then I finally told myself, ‘Get over it! Just put a diaper on the baby!’”
I knew exactly how she felt. Cloth diapers were to her what chickens were to me (is it worth mentioning that this friend kept no less than twenty chickens in her barn?). I figured, if she could put a diaper on the baby, I could get the chickens.
And I did. I cleaned out a Rubbermaid tote. I bought $2 feeders and waterers, a bag of chicken food, a hunk of sawdust, and a square of hardware cloth at the farm store. Then I went to my friend’s house and came out with a cardboard box that peeped all the way home.
I was convinced they’d die the first night. I dreamed that our cats found their way into the bathroom, that the chickens found their way out. But when I woke up, there they were, peeping away. And a week later, they’re still here.
My kids love to hold them. I’ve figured out how to keep them from flooding their water with pine shavings. My husband and I are debating plans for fencing and runs. Is it hard? Not really. It’s something new, but that’s not actually the same thing. We just let ourselves think it is. Imagining having chickens, of course, was technically easier than actually having them. But it wasn’t very rewarding.
Bringing chickens into my bathroom has taught me a lesson so obvious it feels silly to write down, but I will anyway: The only way to start doing something is to start doing it.